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

Archive for December, 2012

The Christmas List: a Bittersweet Time to Bring Out the Sherry and Candles

Who else finds writing Christmas cards a bittersweet task?

I’m reblogging this post from a version first published last Christmas – because it still seems so relevant!

Candle, Christmas tree and sherry

Candle, Christmas tree and sherry

I put off “doing” my Christmas list until I’m in the mood – and light a candle and have a glass of sherry or wine to help create that mood. Why? Because each year I have to engage with the major change in people’s lives; the gap of a year between communications throws those changes – for good and for bad – into sharp relief.

There are those who must now be addressed The … Family, because a new baby has been born. You remember the mother as a tiny blonde cherub herself.

Then there are the divorces, where you refer back to the previous year’s Christmas newsletter and gaze at the photo of the mother with her two tall sons, and remember when you rejoiced at her marriage, at the news of the arrival of their first baby… and now “he” has disappeared from their lives, and is no longer referred to.

Then there’s the lady whose previous husband beat her up – a fact she communicated to you in a Christmas newsletter 5 years ago – and who sent you the news 3 years ago that she was marrying someone else she only referred to by his first name – and hasn’t been in touch since. You’d like to try and restore the lines of communication, but you only have the surname of the ex-husband. You presume she’s now living with the new man – unless that relationship too has broken up – but you’re not quite sure, and you have to address her  in such a way that takes account of different possible scenarios.

And there are the couples whose children have now grown up and left home and started their own families, so you can now revert to sending cards to the couple alone, without their children’s names… and that feels sad too, despite the fact that this has been in many ways a happy change.

Then there are the people who have died, and whose names have to be crossed off your Christmas list and out of your address book – a task that always feels callous to me, every time I do it. And the people you’re going to send a card to who may well have died, but nobody has told you, so you won’t know, unless your card is returned to you by some helpful relative in the New Year.

So much change for good or bad. Then it occurs to me that at least my own family unit is “the same as last year” and perhaps that fact alone is a cause for at least one small flare of gladness and relief in the hearts of those who receive our greetings.

But should it be? For those on our Christmas list often only communicate the stark facts that will affect the way we address our envelopes to them next year. Behind it all lies the complex reality of their lives.

As a novelist I know what is in my characters’ hearts; but not in the hearts of everyone on my Christmas list –  the new parents, the newly-bereaved, the freshly-betrayed, the lonely, the divorced, even those who superficially appear to have everything in order, even those who claim success and triumph all round for every member of the family… their lives are far more complex than can ever be conveyed in the artificial confines of the Christmas card or newsletter.

Perhaps the candle flame is there  to remind me of that.

The Next Big Thing: A Passionate Spirit

I was invited to take part in “The Next Big Thing” – a blog hop for authors –  by Fay Sampson who has written many wonderful books for children and adults arising from Celtic history, and also includes mystery, suspense and crime fiction in her output.

In her capacity as a manuscript editor for The Writer’s Workshop, Fay also read my novel “Mystical Circles” in draft form, appraised it and gave me guidelines for revision.  I reworked it according to her suggestions, and she then read the novel again. It was Fay’s encouragement that led me forward to publication, and she kindly allowed me to print her testimonial on the cover. So thank you Fay!

And now for ten questions on my Next Big Thing:
 
1.  What is the working title of your book?

A PASSIONATE SPIRIT

2.  Where did the idea come from for the book?

As this novel is set in an English retreat centre I’ve drawn upon my knowledge of these centres (several of which I’ve visited and stayed in over the years), & also any environment in which disparate people are drawn together for a period of time in an enclosed setting. I’ve drawn too upon my  insights into human motivation and behaviour; chief among which is that “nothing should be taken at face value: people are often not what they seem”.

3.  What genre does your book fall under?

Romantic Suspense

4.  Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Zoe Blake, main protagonist, age 23:   Amanda Seyfried

Theo, Zoe’s husband of 15 months, and Warden of the Centre:   Bradley James

James Willoughby, unexpected guest:   *Hugh Grant

Natasha, his sinister girlfriend:   Talulah Riley

Llewellyn, Poet-in-Residence:   Matt Baynton

Bernie, the House Manager:   Mark Williams

Alice, Retreat Centre Secretary:   Georgia Moffett

Jessica Leroy, Chair of Trustees:   Sarah Lancashire

* As a postscript to this particular casting, may I say I’d love to see Hugh Grant play my character James Willoughby, because this is a role that would require Hugh to be sexy, villainous, very handsome, manipulative, double-dealing, charming and treacherous. Also, I ‘d love to see Working Title Productions do this film.

A Passionate Spirit has the potential to be a great British movie.
5.  What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Inexperienced young woman finds herself running an English retreat centre in the teeth of intense opposition from two malevolent guests.

6.  Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’ll be seeking representation from a literary agent to win a contract of publication with a traditional publishing house.

7.  How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

One month – I wrote it during November 2011’s National Novel Writing Month.

8.  What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

My story has elements you may find in books by Susan Howatch, Barbara Erskine and Phil Rickman.
9.  Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Various people I’ve met over the years have inspired me for the characters of Zoe, Theo and James. I’ve also been inspired by characters and themes in my favourite films and TV dramas. Additionally, I interviewed a retired Anglican parish priest who told me several stories from his own experience around the subject of the deliverance ministry; one of his stories in particular not only forms the basis of a scene in my novel, but also inspired my character Natasha.

 10.  What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The exploration of the psyche of a dysfunctional person holds a fascination for today’s novel reader, and therefore a strong place in the fiction market. Alongside this runs a deep interest in mental health issues and in spirituality, the supernatural and paranormal. These are in high demand, and extremely popular subcategories within today’s market. A Passionate Spirit contains elements of all these.

This is my vision:

to offer readers everywhere stories that delight and entertain, capturing their imaginations and touching their hearts with powerful universal themes that affect us all.

The themes that most engage me are these: love, loyalty and bravery; intrigue, longing and desire; redemption, reconciliation and forgiveness.


I am tagging Meg Harper

Lindsay Rumbold

Wendy Jones

Their posts about their new projects will be live on or around 19 December.

Darkness into Light: Celtic Spirituality

Heart of Darkness, Sharing the Darkness, embracing the darkness – the archetypal theme of darkness versus light is ever-present in our lives, through books, movies, media, faith, life experience.

The church at Morton Bagot (photo credit: Julia Gardner)

Last week – on the night of the full moon – I was at a Celtic Christian service in the 13th century church at Morton Bagot, Warwickshire.

And the theme: “Sun, Moon and Stars: Finding a Way in the Darkness.”

The Celtic-inspired service was led by Annie Heppenstall, and comes from her book The Healer’s Tree.

Ten of us gathered together in the chancel, where Annie had hung from a central chandelier a large hoop, to which she had tied the feathers of local birds, which she had found in her garden. The hoop represented the circle of the year. During the service we tied ribbons to the hoop to represent ourselves.

This lovely ancient church (which has no electricity) was lit only by candles.

I am one of those who is sensitive to atmospheres, and the feeling I receive from this church is one of deep peace, goodness and harmony.

Angel in the church at Morton Bagot (photo credit: Julia Gardner)

Angel in the church at Morton Bagot (photo credit: Julia Gardner)

My sister Julia, on a recent visit to the Uk with her husband, visited this church with me,  and both were conscious of this very special atmosphere. Julia took the photographs that illustrate this post.

During Annie’s Celtic Christian service, we each took two dark pebbles, and considered how these represented different aspects of the darkness for us, then we carried the pebbles to the lighted candle and placed them there.

Annie loves to focus on animal symbolism, rich in Celtic spirituality and in the Bible. The two animals she chose for this service were the bear and the cat, to represent different aspects of the darkness.

Interior of church at Morton Bagot (photo credit: Julia Gardner)

Interior of church at Morton Bagot (photo credit: Julia Gardner)

I find the incorporation of pre Christian Celtic spirituality into contemporary Christian practice very moving.

Religions and all thought systems assimilate elements of what went before, and then we move on.

To me, the ability of the Christian faith to assimilate aspects of the pagan world – nowhere more evident than in our Western celebration of Christmas – is part of its strength and enduring power.

In all things, we take with us something of what went before, and we move on.

About the Writer

SC Skillman is a British romantic suspense author Her debut novel “Mystical Circles” is available to order at your local bookstores or online. A signed copy may be purchased direct from the author’s website, and the ebook may be downloaded on Amazon Kindle.

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