Friday 28 August 2015

**Around the World Blog Tour with Trip Fiction and #Book Connectors** and Margaret Skea

TripFiction was created to make it easy to match a location with a book and help you select good literature that is most pertinent and relevant to your trip. A resource for armchair and actual travellers, it is a unique way of exploring a place through the eyes of an author. We blog, and chat books and travel across Social Media, and love to meet authors and bloggers as we take our literary journey.

Book Connectors  was created as a place on Facebook for Bloggers, Authors and small Publishers to share their news.

We encourage book promotions; information about competitions and giveaways; news of events, including launch events, signings, talks or courses. Talk about new signings, about film deals .... anything really.

Book Connectors is a friendly group, there are no rules or guidelines - just be polite and respectful to each other.

You can find Book Connectors on Facebook

 I am delighted to be part of this Around the World Blog Tour starting in 


~And with huge pleasure I introduce my guest on the blog ~

Margaret has won or been placed in quite a number of short story competitions including Neil Gunn, Fish, Mslexia, Historical Novel Society. She now loves writing full length fiction and was thrilled to be awarded the Beryl Bainbridge Best First Time Author Award for her debut novel, Turn of the Tide. 

Turn of the Tide

Turn of the Tide

Set in 16th Century Scotland Munro owes allegiance to the Cunninghames and to the Earl of Glencairn. Trapped in the 150-year-old feud between the Cunninghames and the Montgomeries, he escapes the bloody aftermath of an ambush, but he cannot escape the disdain of the wife he sought to protect, or his own internal conflict. He battles with his conscience and with divided loyalties and to age-old obligations, to his wife and children, and, most dangerous of all, to a growing friendship with the rival Montgomerie clan. Intervening to diffuse a quarrel that flares between a Cunninghame cousin and Hugh Montgomerie, he succeeds only in antagonizing William, the arrogant and vicious Cunninghame heir. And antagonizing William is a dangerous game to play...

A House Divided

The sequel to Turn of the Tide, it continues the story of the fictional Munro family, trapped in a notorious vendetta in 16th century Scotland.
Eleven years on from the Massacre of Annock, the Cunninghame / Montgomerie  truce is fragile. For the Munro family, living in hiding under assumed names, these are dangerous times.
While Munro risks his life daily in the service of the French King, the spectre of discovery by William Cunninghame haunts his wife Kate. Her fears for their children and her absent husband realized as William’s desire for revenge tears their world apart.
A sweeping tale of compassion and cruelty, treachery and sacrifice, set against the backdrop of feuding clans, a religious war, and the Great Scottish Witch Hunt of 1597.


I'm delighted that Margaret has chosen to share her love of Scotland with us .....

Confession time. Although my main focus at the moment is writing Scottish historical fiction, I’m not a Scot.  And despite having been married to a Scot for 36 years and having lived in Scotland for 33 of those 36, I’m still regarded as a ‘blow-in’ ie a foreigner.  (In case you’re counting, I was a child bride, well, close anyway).

But my love of Scotland goes much further back than my marriage – right back in fact to a caravanning holiday when I was 12. How could I forget my dad trying to negotiate Highland roads - single track with passing places almost long enough for the average car - while towing a caravan. Taking a wrong turn meant unhitching the caravan to turn it by hand while a stream of long-suffering locals built up behind us.

Passing Place

As an adult I appreciate the grandeur of the mountains and the fabulous scenery. As a child it was the silence that captivated me: the eerie atmosphere of the remote valleys, the dark lochs lying silent and undisturbed brooded over by ruinous castles that set my imagination aflame and sent me scurrying to my local library to devour every book I could find, both fiction and non- fiction, that focused on Scotland. From Mary Queen of Scots to Montrose, from the Highland Clearances to the Massacre of Glencoe, from Macbeth to Bonnie Prince Charlie, heroes and villains, I loved them all.

Loch Awe

But neither of my novels – Turn of the Tide and its forthcoming sequel  A House Divided feature kilted highlanders, or indeed any of the iconic figures of Scottish history. Instead I have chosen to focus on a period and people and places that most readers won’t have heard of before. How I came to focus on the ‘Ayrshire Vendetta’, a 150 year feud between two families in South-West Scotland, is another story, one which has its roots in Ulster, not Scotland, but to a large extent it is the setting of the Scottish Borders that inspires and informs my writing.

My main character, Munro, is a minor laird, and it wasn’t hard to find a prototype for his house, for the area in which I live is littered with tower houses – rather gaunt and forbidding dwellings, built more for defence than comfort and generally in inaccessible positions. Munro’s home is an amalgam of the two closest to me – Greenknowe, though ruinous, retains enough of the walls to provide an interesting exterior - it is the basis for the cover of my second book.


Smailholm is complete and allowed me to experience what it would be like to sit by the fireside in the hall, or peer out through the narrow window slits; how much breath it takes to climb up the slope to the tower, or to run up the spiral stair. It gave me the length and breadth and particularly the height of rooms, a sense both of the narrowness of their existence and the pleasure that the rare opportunity to sit at leisure within the shelter of the barmkin on a sunny day might provide.

A major feature of the history of our area is the legacy of the reivers – this panel, part of the Great Tapestry of Scotland, which I was privileged to help stitch -  illustrates a core feature of their lifestyle. Violent men for whom family and loyalty were all important, they rode out on wild, windy nights to steal sheep and rustle cattle from their neighbours … and worse. Suffice it to say the words ‘bereave’ and ‘blackmail’ have their origins in the reivers’ activities.

Reivers from the Great Tapestry of Scotland

Nowadays each town has a festival centred around rideouts to out-lying villages and places of particular significance. Large numbers of riders, in some cases as many as 400, take part and those elected as festival principals must lead all the rides. One of my earliest memories of moving to the Borders is of standing in a field on the edge of a village, hearing the distant thunder of hooves and watching as around 130 horses and riders appeared over the brow of the hill, heading straight for us. Hardly surprising then that, although the majority of my characters are historical, Munro, my fictional main character, rode into my head one day on his mare, Sweet Briar, almost a character in her own right.

Common Riding

The landscape of the Borders is just as beautiful and as wild as the Highlands, though on a smaller scale.

Our hills are rolling, punctured by outcrops of rock, smothered in spring and summer by a riot of colour as first gorse and then heather springs into bloom. The moors are bleak, lonely places, criss-crossed by hidden streams and boggy ground making it treacherous underfoot for travellers whether on horse or foot.

While I was training for a charity walk on the Great Wall of China I spent many days walking the Eildons, rough terrain that gave me a real feel for what travel in the 16th century  would have been like.



Some of the action in both my novels takes place in Edinburgh and I’m fortunate that it is only just over an hour’s drive from me. Some of my most enjoyable research involved wandering up and down the Royal Mile, where if I closed my eyes I could imagine the street lined with luckenbooths*  and hear the stall-holders crying their wares. And if I needed a little extra help in that I could visit Mary King’s Close– part of the medieval city, buried under the existing town, and Gladstone’s Land – a merchant’s house of the period. It was in Gladstone’s Land that I found a medieval baby-walker, almost identical to the one I had for my own children, except that it was wooden rather than metal. That was a detail that I just had to fit into my story somehow!

*Luckenbooths are covered booths or stalls which can be locked.

Mary King's Close

One of the tasks of an historical novelist when writing about people who actually existed is to find out as much information from the historical records as possible about them. In my first novel I broke that rule when writing about one character about whom I knew very little, yet instinctively making him one of my primary villains. Imagine my excitement when, during the editing process, I went to his home, Newark  castle, to check what could be seen from the windows of the Great Hall,  and discovered that in real life he was much more villainous than I had painted him, having gained notoriety as a wife-beater. That really was a ‘eukeka’ moment.

Newark Castle

I have travelled to many of the locations in my novels, scrambling up to stumps of castles, driving the routes that my characters take as the action unfolds, stopping wherever and whenever I can to take pictures to pin up on my notice board to refresh my memory as I write. But landscape isn’t a static thing and  many features change over time: river courses alter, deepen in some places, silt up in others, so an additional challenge is to try to understand what a landscape might have looked like all those years ago. In my second novel my main character hides in a cave system beside a river, but these are now some 12 metres above the water due to the excavation of the gorge by the river.

 Though nothing can beat visiting the locations in my books, it isn’t always possible and when I can’t get to a particular location I spend hours pouring over maps, both modern and ancient – particular favourites are those drawn by Timothy Pont, many of which survive in the National Library of Scotland. It is Pont’s map of Ayrshire that forms the basis for the maps in the front of both my novels, and I’m grateful to the NLS for giving their permission.

Living in such an atmospheric and lovely environment, perhaps it’s not surprising that the part of writing I most enjoy is description, even of weather – and in Scotland we certainly get plenty of that!

All photographs by kind permission ©Margaret Skea


Turn of the Tide

I first discovered Margaret's excellent historical novel Turn of the Tide when in November 2011, I watched the Alan Titchmarsh show, always a favourite programme of mine in the afternoons, and I learned about Margaret's involvement in the People's Novelist Competition, in which she was a finalist in the historical fiction category.

Turn of the Tide appealed to my love of historical fiction , firstly because of its Scottish setting, but also because it was about a set of warring families living within a harsh environment and with their own unique moral code. The story is evocative and atmospheric and really brings to life the inherent danger of living within the Scottish clan system of the mid part of the sixteenth century. Based on the true, and it must be said, violent feud between the Cunninghame's and the Montgomeries, the story literally abounds with skulduggery, political conflict and a real sense of rivalry between two stubbornly fierce adversaries.

It's beautifully descriptive, with a real sense of history and conjures sixteenth century Scotland in a such a glorious way that allows time and place to truly come alive in your imagination..

You can find Margaret on her website
Follow her on Facebook
Twitter @margaretskea1

Huge  thanks to Margaret for sharing her love of Scotland so eloquently and to #BookConnectors and @Trip fiction for the invitation to join this exciting Blog Tour around Scotland.

Do follow #BookConnectors on Twitter to discover more authors sharing their love of all things Scottish



  1. It was lovely to read all about Scotland and hear some personal stories and thoughts. Thank you both (or should that be thank you all 3! :) )

    1. Thanks so much Trip Fiction Team for your kind words.
      I'm afraid to say that Jaffa is more of a sleeping partner. It's been great fun to be part of this wonderful Around the World Blog Tour and Margaret's view of Scotland is amazing.

  2. Beautifully written piece and lovely photos!


Thanks for taking the time to comment - Jaffareadstoo appreciates your interest.