Writing Superheroes: Margaret Skea

By day a diminutive library assistant who lurks behind the bookshelves in the local library pretending to be very, very busy shelving books… Read on and find out more.

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If you were to write the ‘origin’s episode’ of your writing what would be the most important scenes? What did your early efforts look like? Are they still around to be used as bribes and blackmail material?

  I began Turn of the Tide with an historical character as my hero, and I actually produced 70,000 words on that basis – about ¾ of the book. Then one day I had an epiphany and ditched 67,000 of them in favour of writing from the POV of a fictional character who at that time only had 3,000 words devoted to him and no name at all. Not surprisingly it became a very different story!

And yes that first manuscript is still around – I’d be rather afraid to get it out again. Potential blackmail material – maybe – but almost certainly embarrassingly amateurish writing…

As for the most important scenes – the one thing that did stay the same was the key scene – the ambush and massacre  at the Ford of Annock in 1586. But the change in POV may it so much easier to write. The bare bones of the second most important scene came to me as soon as I made the decision to change the main character – it is the final scene of the book – which was handy because it meant I had a target to aim for!


All super heroes have their mild-mannered secret identity, what is yours? I promise we won’t tell.



I’m the diminutive library assistant who lurks behind the bookshelves in the local library pretending to be very, very busy shelving books – actually I’m reading them all – but when inspiration strikes I can curl up in the corner with paper and pencil because no one really notices me anyway.


Who are your partners in crime?

A couple of equally invisible friends, who share my love of antiques and auctions – as they take up whole days at a time, they are the perfect cover for clandestine writing.  And if I have sometimes brought home a ‘lemon’ I’ve bought in a hurry to back up my story – a table with only three legs springs to mind- I can always claim it was a job lot that I hadn’t had a chance to examine properly…


What are their superpowers?

The most useful partner in crime should really work for the grammar police. She can spot a stray comma (my arch enemy no 1) at 200 yards.


Where do you get your superpowers from?

I think they were probably inherited from my mother. When she and my dad were students, so the story goes, they both had an essay due that required research. My mum hadn’t got round to it, so talked my dad into letting her read his. She then tidied up his prose and got a much higher mark for very little effort. (Amazing he still married her actually, but maybe he recognized her super abilities.)


Where is your secret lair and what does it look like?

It used  to be a secluded hollow in the grounds of my old school , where there was a stream with a rope swing over it – no-one ever went there out of hours except me, It’s not so easy now, but when I do slip away I sit by the river near our house – it’s amazing how ‘invisible’ you can be when in full view.


What kind of training do you do to keep your superpowers in world saving form? How do you insure they are used only for good?

Toning my writing muscles means write, write, write – every day if possible. And read, read, read as much as possible too – it’s so much easier to assess other people’s work – which in turn highlights weaknesses to avoid and strengths to build up. As for only using my powers for good – my personal faith In Christ means that I don’t include strong language or explicit sex in anything I write – and yes sometimes this feels like a David and Goliath clash.


Granted, you probably don’t’ get to wear your superhero costume a lot, but if you did, what would it look like?

Think the modern version of the Three Musketeers – I’ll blend in nicely there.     


What is your kryptonite? What are the biggest challenges faced with in your writing?

The sound and movement of water. Sometimes the river is enough, sometimes when I’m really struggling I need to drive 25 miles to the sea. Just looking at it revitalizes and exhilarates me.   


What was the supervillian that threatened to stop your latest project and how did you vanquish it?

Difficult circumstances meant that half-way through writing A House Divided, the sequel to Turn of the Tide, I had a lay-off of almost a year.  Kick-starting myself again was incredibly difficult.

Enter another ‘super-hero’ in the form of a person I didn’t know, who when she overheard me telling someone else how difficult it was and what I really needed was to lock myself away somewhere, interrupted our conversation to hand me a set of keys to a remote cottage she owned, accompanied by an offer to let me use it totally free of charge. It had a table, a chair, a kettle, a microwave and a portable gas heater and I went c three days a week for 6 weeks. Each day as I drove up the single-track road towards the cottage my brain clicked into writing mode and the story began to flow. And I discovered it’s perfectly possible to type wearing hat, coat, scarf and (fingerless) gloves.


What important lessons have you learned along the way?

My own strengths and weaknesses and how to combat the latter.

To value the kindness of strangers.

That time is a precious commodity and shouldn’t be wasted.


What have been the best/most memorable experiences along the way?

I had no idea how A House Divided was going to end until about two weeks before I actually finished it. That was a very uncomfortable experience, consequently  when I woke up one morning knowing exactly what the final scene was going to be, it was a real eureka moment.


If you did this again what would you do differently and what would you not change?

I would begin as soon as the first book was out of my hands and not allow myself to re-write in the early stages. It’s all too easy to revise the first chapter again and again as an excuse not to write chapter two.


What is the best (writing or otherwise) advice you have ever gotten and why.

That the first draft of a book is like gathering up an enormous mound of sand which editing will sculpt into a castle. And allied to that – It’s only when you have something written down that you have something to change.


Tell us about you new book and why we need to drop everything and get it now.

A House Divided is the sequel to Turn of the Tide, both of which are Scottish historical fiction set in the late 16th century. They focus on an historic clan feud and the impact it has on a fictional family trapped within it. Turn of the Tide won the Historical Fiction section of an Harper Collins competition and the Beryl  Bainbridge Award for Best First Time Author 2014 but the biggest thrill has been to hear so many folk saying they love the story and demanding to know what happened next. 

If you haven’t head a chance to read Turn of the Tide, A House Divided can be read as a stand-alone book, but if you do want to read the first part of the Munro family story the e version of Turn of the Tide is currently on sale at .99p / .99c


What’s in store for you in the future? Do you have any other big projects on the horizon?

I now have a huge decision to make. Do I continue with Munro, or do I begin another project altogether. I have various ideas fighting it out in my head and hopefully one will emerge the victor soon!  However in the meantime I’m intending to publish a collection of short stories, most of which have either won or been placed in competitions.


 You can find Margaret at:

Website~Facebook~GoodReads ~Twitter @margaretskea1

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  1. Thank you for hosting me, Maria Grace.

  1. […] slightly different and fun set of questions from Maria […]

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