As a fan of Margaret Skea’s Munro Series, I was intrigued to discover she was about to publish ‘something completely different’ this year – a fictional biography (you know how that topic gets me going!) of Martin Luther’s wife. Martin Luther had a wife? I hear you say. Yes, it was news to me too, but I found the book absolutely fascinating (my review’s on Amazon and Goodreads) and so I had to have Margaret along to find out how she came to write it.
Hi Margaret! What is the origin of your interest in Katharina – how did you find out about her, when did you begin to think of her story as a novel?
I knew about Martin Luther, of course – it would have been somewhat embarrassing, as an evangelical Christian, if I didn’t! However, it wasn’t until two years ago that I realized he had a wife. I suppose, thinking more of his theology than of the man, it had just never occurred to me to consider his private life. (Not that his marriage was exactly private, but that’s another question.)
As soon as I heard of Katharina I felt impelled to write about her, reckoning if I, who should have known, wasn’t aware of her, then probably lots of other people weren’t either. When I woke up to the Luther 500 anniversary in October 2017 I realized that any book on Katharina really needed to come out then. At the time I was immersed in the writing of the third book in my Scottish series, but poor Munro had, temporarily, to step aside and let Katharina take centre stage.
How (roughly) did you go about your research?
That was the tricky bit. I quickly discovered that there is debate over most of the key ‘facts’ of her early life. As far as her later life was concerned, we get tantalising glimpses of her through her own actions and the reactions of others, but there is no direct evidence of her character. Perfect for a novelist, you might say. Well, yes, and no. I thought that any evidence that was to be found would be in Saxony, so off to Saxony I went. That posed a wee problem – I don’t speak German, and for most people I met Russian was their second language – not exactly my forté – but I was fortunate to be able to talk to the Directors of various key sites and the Luther foundation, who spoke good English, and folk to translate for me in other places.
Having dealt with fictional heroes / heroines in the Munro series, what did you find were the advantages and/or challenges of writing about a real historical figure?
Munro and his family are fictional, but all the other characters in my Scottish novels were real people, so initially I didn’t expect it to be too bad. My two main concerns with Katharina were, 1) how to bring such a shadowy character to life, and 2) a hope that I could do her justice. To address the first issue I began by writing random snippets in 1st person in order to try and write myself into her ‘voice’. That was something I’d not attempted before in a novel, though I have in short stories and was never intended to make it into the final book. The (unexpected) end result was that I wrote the whole book in the 1st person, and that, I hope, has given substance to the shadow.
As far as doing her justice is concerned, the more I thought about her and some of her actions, the more my own (long-dead) grandmother came to mind – I could imagine her acting in a similar way and so I tried to think of her as I wrote.
Without giving too much away, are there any episodes or characters you consider completely fictional, or did you stick to the story you found in your sources?
Some peripheral characters, servants and so forth, are entirely fictional, others are fleshed-out real people to whom I have attributed motives and emotions that I felt were in keeping with what we do know. In both cases their actions relate to the scant details we have of actual events. The known history provided the framework for the story, individual, invented episodes are suggestions of the way things might have happened.
It’s clear from the ‘flash-forward’ scenes that the end of Deliverance is not the end of the story. Was it difficult to divide the narrative and can you give a hint of what is to come in the sequel?
Initially I had intended Katharina’s story to be one book, but as I began to write I realised that her life splits neatly into two – her pre-marriage life and her post-marriage life and they were very different, both in terms of internal and external pressures. In any case, one book would have been far too big (and have taken too long to write in the time scale I had). Once I decided to split it I felt completely relaxed, which to me is a sign that I made the right decision. However, it left me with several problems. Katharina doesn’t meet Luther until she is 23, yet I needed him to have a place in the story from the outset, hence the inclusion of Luther quotations at the beginning of each section of the book.
The early part of book is episodic, as a result of the fragmentary nature of the evidence, though the latter part of Deliverance and the second book, Fortitude, are less so. I needed to find some way of unifying both books and as a result chose to use the device of ‘flash-forward’ sequences. Whether that is successful or not will be for the reader to decide.
Any other writing plans for the coming year?
A book tour of Germany? Maybe not… though it would be rather lovely! Outside of my fantasy world I am back to writing Book 3 of my Scottish series, though as I say Munro seems still to be in a huff at being abandoned! When that is finished I will get on with Katharina: Fortitude, which I hope to have out this time next year. After that, will it be Munro 4? Or something completely different? I don’t know. What I can say is that Katharina: Fortitude will definitely finish Katharina’s story.
Thanks, Margaret for that insight into your writing. Best of luck with Katharina which pulls off the challenge of biographical fiction with great success. As fellow Scots, writers and St Andrews alumni I also think it’s high time we got together – a match on the Himalayas, maybe!
Katharina, Deliverance is out now in e-book and paperback from Amazon UK or from bookshops.
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