Inside the mind of a writer www.scskillman.co.uk

This is the first in a series of character studies from my mystery romance novel Mystical Circles.

Meet James Willoughby, a shady academic with a dual personality, signalled by unexpected appearances as a tramp. In James’ “socially acceptable” personna he has high social status; a don at Edinburgh University, and Craig’s former PhD supervisor, he is an imaculate dresser, urbane, charming and turned out in Saville Row tailoring. But when will James swap this personna for the reek of the gutter? When will he descend into the ranks of the squalid, the hopeless, the marginalised? Meet someone for whom Jung’s theory of “The Shadow” is a reality:

EXTRACT no. 1 FROM NOVEL “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”

“Come in,” called Edgar. The door banged back, and a dishevelled figure lurched through the doorway, dumping a well-stuffed plastic carrier bag down onto the quarry tiles.

“James!” cried Laura. “Why must you do this at meal-times? Every time you do, I swear you get filthier and filthier. It’s a good thing Craig never saw you in this state up in Edinburgh. Otherwise, I’m sure none of us would be here now.”

3 

Being Drawn In

James wore a filthy, tattered gabardine coat, and his hair hung in oily dreadlocks. He seemed to have smeared his face with greasepaint. His teeth were a sickening mixture of black and yellow. The eyes he turned upon Juliet were filled with undisguised curiosity.

It was those eyes which gave him away. Despite being bloodshot, they fizzed at her, keen and intelligent – totally out of keeping with the rest of his image.

“So you’re Juliet Blake, our radio interviewer?” His tone was unmistakeably cultured.

“Yes,” she said, astonished.

“James Willoughby. We’re all on first-name terms here, so call me James. I used to teach Craig at Edinburgh.”

Teach him? She was appalled. But, controlling her feelings, she remained cool. “How do you do, James?”

“Excellently, thank you.”

She tried not to flinch as they shook hands – especially as his needed washing.  “Would you mind telling me why you’re dressed like that?”

“Ah,” he said. “You haven’t had the chance to meet me in my socially acceptable persona yet have you?”

She shook her head. Did he have a socially acceptable persona? It seemed barely believable.

“Well, let me tell you,” James said, “I dress very smartly when I’m in that guise.” He dragged back the seat next to her, and slouched into it. Juliet tried to avoid recoiling.

“I “I first started dressing up like this,” he continued, “shortly after I was appointed to my position at Edinburgh.”

“Why was that?”

“I saw that everyone around me hunted honour and prestige. So it seemed a good idea to try shame and squalor instead. My plan was to do it every few days.” He paused. “And then, well, I must admit I got hooked.”

“That sounds fascinating, James, but I still don’t see how…”

The Shadow,” interrupted Edgar. “That’s what you call it, don’t you, James?”

“Exactly.” James seized upon the prompt Edgar offered. “The Shadow is Jung’s term for the dark side of ourselves. And in my case, it’s had one or two extra advantages. I’ve picked up a few cameo roles from film production companies – and not least when the BBC’s been filming up my way.”

“Isn’t that cheating?” Juliet asked. “Earning money from it?”

“Not if you’ve got an Equity card it isn’t.” He leered at Juliet, displaying his ghastly dentures once more. She could only speculate that he must have a very well-stocked stage makeup kit.

He grabbed the cheeseboard, smearing it with grimy marks.

“No, James,” cried Laura. “Wash your hands first.”

“If you say so, lady.” He scraped his chair back, lurched to his feet, and sloped across to the sink, where he began to run the hot water.

“So,” Juliet said, when he returned with cleaner hands. “You were Craig’s mentor, were you?” She struggled to suppress the laughter bubbling up in her.   

“Oh yes,” James said, becoming serious. “I met a need in him, one of the many unmet by his father, I might add.”

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

EXTRACT no. 2 FROM NOVEL “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”

A current of approval rippled up and down the table. Over the other side of the Beaujolais, next to Zoe, a smartly-turned-out man in his forties banged on the table with his spoon. “Well said, Craig.”

“Thank you, James. Why don’t you start the introductions?”

James! Juliet could barely believe it. He was so different from the vagrant at the lunch table, she would never have identified him as one and the same.

From his neatly-combed hair, distinguished features and elegant bearing, to the shiny brass buttons of his navy blazer, he looked like the sort of person who might command respect anywhere.

She quickly recovered from this slightly troubling reflection. “I met your alterego at lunch, didn’t I, James?”

“Indeed you did, Juliet.”

She glanced at the dark smear from his collar up to his cheekbone. He evidently hadn’t washed all traces of his disguise off.

She wondered when he got his Equity card. Presumably he’d fitted his drama training in prior to acting as Craig’s PhD supervisor.

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