When History came to Life – Scotland’s History Festival 2014

After many years as the ‘Cinderella’ subject, history has been making a comeback. Authors of historical fiction are beating all comers in the big prize stakes, our TV schedules are full of (less than accurate) dramatizations such as The TudorsScreenshot 2015-02-05 09.05.46 and Reign, and currently the excellent adaptation of Wolf HallScreenshot 2015-02-05 09.07.09 and accessible documentary-style histories abound – who wouldn’t immediately recognize Neil Oliver’s flowing locks? Interest in history is alive and well and perhaps never more so than in 2014 when we remembered the start of The Great War.

There are now at least six festivals devoted to history in the UK, and they bear little relation to the dull history lessons I remember from my school days. From History Live at Kelmarsh Hall – an all-round ‘experience’ including the sights, sounds and smells in the living history encampments and re-enactments; to Harrogate’s History Festival, focusing on writing and writers. North of the border November is History Month, with PreviouslyScreenshot 2015-02-08 11.22.11 – Scotland’s History Festival delivering 140 events over 18 days in six towns – Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling, Dunfermline, Moffat and St Andrews. I was proud to be part of the programme.

As the introduction to the 2014 programme said: ‘History can shake the entire world – or just yours. It’s the story of nations, the clash of armies…and the scar on your knee where your brother pushed you on the rocks when you were seven. History hasn’t finished, and neither have we.’

That comprehensive view of history was reflected in the variety of events which were on offer, from workshops and walks, to tours and talks, from exhibitions and discussions, to music, art and theatre. It’s impossible to cover them all, but to give you a flavour…

Walking tours included Edinburgh’s atmospheric, underground Vaults;Screenshot 2015-02-08 11.27.48 the Secrets of the Royal Mile explored the closes, wynds and Screenshot 2015-02-08 11.31.07courtyards of Old Edinburgh; and the Dean Cemetery Screenshot 2015-02-08 11.29.08explored the host of fascinating characters interred there.

Historical novelists Andrew Williams, William Ryan and Edward Wilson discussed the shadow world of spies and secret policemen from WW1 to Vietnam; Shona Maclean, Marie Macpherson and Louise Turner talked about riot, murder and reformation; and Register House unveiled the story of the Kaiser’s Spy and the landlady who help the authorities to snare him.

Politics in Rhyme was much more entertaining than the real thing; and Stirling Castle hosted the FlytingScreenshot 2015-02-08 11.46.12
a verbal war between two of James IV’s makars, described as ‘a brilliant, beautiful and bawdy battle of verse and verb, originally written to please a king’.

There were four days of events celebrating the life, work and travels of Robert Louis Stevenson,Screenshot 2015-02-08 11.35.21 this quote is definitely one to live by, and a series focusing on significant women- in war: Weapons and Wounding; in education: Watt Wonderful Women – a talk on Heriot Watt University’s trailblazers; in trade: Women in 17th Century Fife Trade; and in drama: Miss Julie, Strindberg’s classic play.

As you might have expected in this centenary year, war was well represented; Leaving it all– Scottish soldiers’ wills and appeals against military service in WW1 a refreshingly different angle.

Food and drink weren’t forgotten: from The History of Gin and Distilling to Fireside Feast a three course banquet served in Riddle’s Court, in Edinburgh’s Old Town, similar to one that was served in 1598. (One I was sorry to miss.)

A host of events focused on family history: Getting Started with Family History Research, and the more unusual Hospital Records for Family Historians.

If your taste was for the creepy there was the Dark Truth Tour, Screenshot 2015-02-08 11.37.57or Ghosts and Ghouls.

Glasgow focused on the Irish connection; Dunfermline, on Andrew Carnegie; and St Andrews hosted a variety events in honour of St Andrew’s Day.

For children there was The Reluctant Time Traveller with Janis McKay (21st) and a varied schools programme; and two events for writers: Writing Your Story, Writing History with David Simons and Chris Dolan; and my workshop event: Screenshot 2015-02-08 11.40.17
History in Historical Fiction – Icing the Cake or Main Ingredient. I had the opportunity to present it twice – once in Edinburgh and once in St Andrews, the latter a particular pleasure for me returning to the old haunts where I’d spent my student days. And amazingly, one of the participants had gone to the same school as I had in Ulster, though not at the same time. I thoroughly enjoyed both events – I hope the folk attending did too! The feedback was good, so I guess they did.

All in all an exciting 18 days – I’m already mulling over options for a workshop or talk that I could present this year…roll on November!

Writing Authentic Historical Fiction

Sticking my neck out a bit here – there is general acceptance that striving for accuracy when writing about the past is neither achievable nor neccessarily desirable, but authenticity – that’s another matter. I believe Historical Fiction writers can and should aim (as far as possible) to be authentic in representing the past. Clearly the farther back you go in history the less source material you have to work on, but whatever is available should be examined. As far as how much of your research should make it into a book, I’m a firm believer in the ‘Iceberg Principle’ – 7/8 of research not visible. The aim (in my opinion) is to know as much as possible about a period so that you can write as naturally about it as if you were writing a novel set in your own time / place, but only to include details that have relevance to the characters / story – not just because they are interesting in themselves!

(But rules are made to be broken… there is one tiny little detail in Turn of the Tide that I desperately wanted to include and I found a way. Hopefully a reader wouldn’t be able to spot which detail it was!)

I’m excited about the opportunity to run a workshop on Writing Authentic Historical Fiction as part of Scotland’s history festival – ‘Previously’ It is on 18th November at 5.45pm in Adam House, Chambers Street, Edinburgh. Hoping for a good evening…

Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 09.54.58

5:45pm Monday 18th November

Writing Authentic Historical Fiction. – Why the Devil is in the Detail.
Adam House, Chambers Street Edinburgh EH1 1HT

A writer’s workshop looking at topics such as –

Does authenticity = accuracy?
When accuracy gets in the way of the story.
Historical background – Can there be overload?
How important is detail?
How serious are anachronisms?

Join Margaret Skea, an award-winning short story writer and historical novelist, (author of the prize-winning novel Turn of the Tide) to examine the practicalities of writing convincing historical fiction.
£10.00 / £9.00 Book online at http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/event/9165667759/es2?rank=1&sid=89e87211460111e3acf012313913b211

Accuracy or authenticity?

Screen Shot 2013-11-05 at 09.54.58

5:45pm Monday 18th November

Writing Authentic Historical Fiction. – Why the Devil is in the Detail.
Adam House, Chambers Street Edinburgh EH1 1HT

A writer’s workshop looking at topics such as –

Does authenticity = accuracy?
When accuracy gets in the way of the story.
Historical background – Can there be overload?
How important is detail?
How serious are anachronisms?

Join Margaret Skea, an award-winning short story writer and historical novelist, (author of the prize-winning novel Turn of the Tide) to examine the practicalities of writing convincing historical fiction.
£10.00 / £9.00 Book online at http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/event/9165667759/es2?rank=1&sid=89e87211460111e3acf012313913b211

Wet Windy Edinburgh, but thanks…

Home from a wet and windy Edinburgh.

A HUGE thanks to everyone who attended Blackwells or Waterstones for the Launch http://www.facebook.com/TurnoftheTide.Novel
and who contributed to making both events a success. Special thanks to Marianne Wheelaghan and Prof. Ian Campbell for chairing the events and keeping me calm! Able to eat again – didn’t feel like it at all on Thursday – for anyone who knows me well a sure sign of just how nervous I was!

How nice is that?

First debut novel ‘event’ tomorrow in Blackwells, Edinburgh, http://www.cityofliterature.com/whats-on-results.aspx?sec=5&pid=23&item=3901 discussing ‘Writing History’ as part of the ‘Previously’ Festival.

Then official book launch in Waterstones, Edinburgh on Thursday… a little bit scary…

And an event in Eyemouth next week as part of Book Week Scotland. 1http://www.facebook.com/events/268168133295152/

I am delighted to have received messages from Cathy Kelly, Anne O’Brien and Jeffrey Archer – People’s Novelist Competition judges – sending me ‘best wishes’ for the book launch.

How nice is that?