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

Archive for February, 2013

The Lovely Bones Film – New Insight Onto a Terrifying Subject

What could be worse than losing someone you love through untimely death?

Poster for The Lovely Bones movie

Poster for The Lovely Bones movie

And what could be even worse than that?

Losing them through murder.

And then worse than that?

Just imagine – the person you love, who is murdered, is a child, with all life and hope ahead of them.

This is the nightmare scenario for many parents.

And I would share those feelings absolutely. For this reason, when I first read about Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones it immediately struck me as a novel to avoid reading.

But I watched The Lovely Bones movie on DVD recently.

Why, you may ask? The reason was because my teenage daughter wanted to see it. She’d seen a trailer and found it appealing; she likes the young star of the movie, actress Saoirse Ronan; and her friend had recommended her to see it.

So I added it to my “LoveFilm” list and it duly arrived a few days ago.

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold was a book which has elicited very mixed responses. Although we are told “it  received much critical praise and became an instant bestseller” on its publication in 2002, nevertheless I have spoken to people who have described it as “depressing”.

A young girl is raped and murdered by a serial killer and watches her family fall apart, from limbo.

From my point of view, as a romantic suspense author, I thought this a painful and difficult subject to handle in a novel.

Yet upon watching the movie I was totally captivated. The delicacy and beauty and wisdom with which the subject was handled reversed all my expectations.

Without reading the novel, I had thought the premise of the story essentially flawed. Firstly, telling people in this situation to ‘move on’ for its own sake, seems specious. Evidence tells us that in such cases victims above all desire justice – and until they have seen justice to be done, they cannot ‘move on’.

Secondly, to my mind, telling the story from the viewpoint of a murdered child in limbo, seemed to me a device that changes the subject in an artificial way right from the beginning. In this life, any such tragedy would be instantly rendered less agonizing if you knew for sure the lost person was in fact very close to you, present with you, and also in heaven. And of course the idea of wandering around in “limbo” as part of the post-death spiritual journey, is derived from Catholic tradition, and one of the explanations popularly given for ghosts.

I believe that in real life we never do have such immediate and uncontrovertible assurance – with or without religious faith.

So I thought it a very dubious quasi-spiritual approach to such a theme. And yet, in the hands of a skilled director – in this case,  Peter Jackson – a book can be turned into a movie where these difficulties recede, and another message comes through.

In some respects, the subject invites comparison with the book The Shack.

In this book, too, a young girl is lured to a ‘killing place’ and murdered. The story follows the reaction of Missy’s father to this tragedy, and moves on into an exploration of God which, I dare to believe, hs the power to transform our habitual attitudes.

I felt that in each story a device of separation is used: defamiliarisation. It seems that some of the worst experiences in life can only be truly understood from a distance. This has long formed part of the genres of mystery and imagination.

This was well underscored by the music – slow, languorous and dreamlike behind the “In-between world” and edgy clanging discordant notes as the murderer starts to saw wood and construct his next killing den. The visual effects too were very powerful; shadows moving across rays of light “in the blue horizon between heaven and earth” like images in dreams,  and the creepy dismal gloom of the world of grief which the family inhabit, with the father’s initial denial and continuous refusal to let go. Very striking too was the silence behind the murderer as the blackness slides aside to reveal him sitting in his house.

The words “I knew then even though he loved me he had to let me go ”  restate the theme, as do the words, “I begin to see thing in a way that let me hold the world without me in it.”

Have you seen the movie? Do you believe that a flawed premise in a novel can be transformed by a movie director? Please share your own thoughts, on this, or on the issues it raises.

Take a Look at My Author Interview on Rebeccah Giltrow’s Blog

Hi everyone!

Mystical Circles cover image

Mystical Circles cover image

Another kind blogger has just published an Author Interview with me. You may like to take a look at the interview here.

Many thanks to Rebeccah Giltrow for giving me this opportunity!

Why Les Miserables Is So Popular

How is it that the story of Les Miserables has tapped into the emotions of so many?

Les Miserables movie 2012

Les Miserables movie 2012

I first read Victor Hugo’s novel in my late teens/early twenties, and a central idea stayed with me over the years (though not necessarily in the exact words Victor Hugo used):

You have been taken away from evil, and been given back to God.

When questioned, often even the actors and actresses in the movie cannot necessarily explain why Les Miserables has such power.  This may of course be because they’re so close to the story. Ann Hathaway was a recent example. When asked this question, all she could reply was, “I don’t know. It’s just a great story.”

But I’m fascinated by what lies behind this: for Les Miserables is an intensely religous story. And this is a society in which the majority of people would not describe themselves as ‘religious’ (if collectors of statistics are to be believed). And so this begs another question: Why is the opinion I quote below such an uncommon one?

The authors have pared down Victor Hugo’s great wallow of a novel to its dumb, pious moral (Christian forgiveness always wins, though you might not live to break out the champagne).

(David Edlestein)

I would dare to believe that the majority of the 60+ million people who’ve seen Les Miserables as a musical over the past 3 decades do not agree with him.

I believe that part of the success of Les Miserables is due to the fact that it has many hot story moments.

And these are bound up with the archetypal themes of the story, redemption, forgiveness and unconditional love.

As a romantic suspense author, I know only too well how vital these hot story moments are.

For me, the most emotional moment in the movie was when Cosette (played by Amanda Seyfried) sings, “Papa, you are going to live.”

Superficially, this is just a young girl who refuses to believe she is about to lose the dying man in front of her. And for Valjean, this must be his supreme moment when he is given a sense of belonging.

But the power of these words, for me, works on another level; as does most of the movie. Cosette is re-stating the theme; the theme of eternal life through spiritual redemption.

In creative writing, we cannot afford to ignore the different levels on which a story moment may work. For me, our ability to do this is a matter of both mystery and imagination.

Although the characters of Les Miserables are in extreme, unjust circumstances, their emotions are, I believe,  emotions many of us share on the spiritual journey.

Though you might not dare to believe your own deprivations compare with those of Valjean, Fantine and Cosette, being minor by comparison,  we do feel the same.

Over the course of this life, at different times, we too may feel the same wretchedness as Fantine, the same self-doubt and guilt as Valjean, the same obsessiveness as Javert, the same grasping small-mindedness as the Innkeeper and his wife.

I believe that we’d feel the same if we were also visited with a great act of grace; and especially if we were in Jean Valjean’s position, and heard these words: “My brother you no longer belong to evil. With this silver, I have bought your soul. I’ve ransomed you from fear and hatred, and now I give you back to God.” (words the Bishop speaks to Valjean after he has given him the  silver Valjean tried to steal). When I read the Bishop’s words to Valjean in Victor Hugo’s novel, for me they had the power of a blessing, one which would stand by you throughout your life – as of course they did for Valjean in the story.

Over the past 3 decades Les Miserables has been seen by more than 60 million people in more than 40 countries and in more than 20 different languages.

I believe that Les Miserables shows that many more people respond to themes of spiritual redemption and forgiveness and unconditional love, than would ever call themselves ‘religious’.

These are archetypal themes, and they are written on our hearts.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Men Into Monsters – Spidermen, Octopuses, Lizards and Aliens – Why Do We Love Them in Books, TV Dramas and Movies?

Who’s the most compelling character in a Spiderman movie?

Rhys Ifans as Dr Curt Connors

Rhys Ifans as Dr Curt Connors

For me, it’s Dr Otto Octavius (Doc Ock) and Dr Curt Connors.

As I watched “The Amazing Spiderman” DVD again the other day, it was Rhys Ifans in the role of Dr Curt Connors, that my eyes were on. Rhys Ifans is an actor I love from his numerous movie roles, including that of Hugh Grant’s Welsh flatmate in Notting Hill, and Luna Lovegood’s father in the Harry Potter movies.

This was such a different role – with a pleasant, understated manner, he was just a low-key, decent man… until he was driven to extremes by the pressure of circumstances and by the threatened destruction of his dreams.

Ordinary we may be, but I believe we can relate to that!

We’re engaged by the transformation of ordinary, nice, reasonable human beings, into rapacious killers.

Alfred Molina as Doc Ock in “Spiderman 2” was not only horrific, but moving and poignant. Even more so, because, in his monstrous octopus form, he  still had his own, recognisable face: the same face he wore when he gave up his time to chat kindly to Peter Parker, giving him a sense of belonging. A similar idea was used in the Doctor Who episode about The Lazarus Experiment, when we saw Mark Gatiss’s face recognisable in the alien monster.

Dr Curt Connors in the process of changing into a giant lizard

What is it that makes people change, in this life?

I look at this here, in a blog post about people being elemental.

Books, TV drama and movies, and of course, creative writing,  are all safe places for us to explore our dark side.

I explore this trope in my novel Mystical Circles. Although I’m a romantic suspense author, my own Other Side – exploring strange spiritual and psychological alleys in characters – is always there.

And if, after a lifetime of struggle, our dreams were to be utterly destroyed, I believe that many of us may fantasize about going on a rampage, expressing all our darkest emotions. This may come out through images in our dreams. Of course, the checks and balances present in the psyches of most of us, prevent this happening in reality. And so it stays in the world of mystery and imagination.

Would you dare to believe that, on the spiritual journey, alongside our capacity to evolve and improve and be redeemed, there might run another, dark strain: that our nice and reasonable selves might be changed into monsters?

Do you identify with this in any way?

Please share, if you dare!

People of Inspiration Part 6 – Gareth Malone, The Love of Singing and the Rediscovery of the Power of Sound

What or who would inspire you to start singing?

Gareth Malone, British choirmaster and broadcaster (credit: www.independent.co.uk)

Gareth Malone, British choirmaster and broadcaster (credit: http://www.independent.co.uk)

Gareth Malone, self-described as an “animateur, presenter and populariser of choral singing” (Wikipedia)

Even if you’ve spent years of your life  thinking  you “can’t sing”?

And there are many people with this gift – I’ve met quite a few in my own life of singing – but today I celebrate Gareth Malone.

What a difference Gareth has made to the popular perception of choral singing, here among the British people!

In the UK, according to a recent article in The Independent:

A nationwide choral singing boom is giving fresh meaning to the sound of music, with new choirs popping up at the fastest rate in decades.

Increasing numbers of people are starting their own vocal groups, inspired by the nation’s new choirmaster-in-chief Gareth Malone, ….  because they want to boost their wellbeing, mental or physical.

I’ve sung in choirs since I was very young. I was first introduced to it by my father, a great choral singer himself – he held high-value currency, as a tenor.

I sing in a number of different groups, and I love singing! But, even with all that experience, I would still love to sing under the direction of Gareth Malone! Perhaps one day I’ll achieve that wish!

I belong to the Warwick & Kenilworth Choral Society. Right now, we’re rehearsing to perform Bach’s Mass in B Minor in Leamington Spa in March.

Personally, I can’t get enough of singing! So now I’ve also joined a local Community Choir in Leamington Spa called “Songlines”.

“Songlines” is one of many community choirs. They’re all linked into the Natural Voice Network.

In a “community choir”,  the singers stand in a circle, without having to follow printed music, and the leader is at the centre, teaching the lines of music by singing them, and the choir members pick up the music from this. The lines of music seem very easy to sing, you master them quickly, then the fun comes when the leader directs you to sing it, perhaps, as a round, accompanied by movement. He may divide the choir into 4-8 groups and get each group to stagger their entries.

The sound of the voices blending is magical. And this – with the right direction – is really very easily achieved.

The Guardian article above refers to “wellbeing, mental or physical”. To that I want to add “spiritual wellbeing”.

Many different spiritual traditions have recognised this, and make full use of it.

Bliss through sound, using the human voice, is part of the Buddhist and the Yoga traditions. Years ago I went to the Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green, East London.  There I joined weekly sessions of Buddhist chanting: an experience of joy and deep peace.

The Yoga tradition, too, has fully understood the healing power of sound, incorporating yogic humming and chanting into their practice.

Taize prayer , in the Christian tradition, also uses beautiful harmony singing, to achieve a similar sense of upliftment, and connection with God. I do this, too, every month,  at St Peter’s Catholic Church Centre in Leamington Spa.

Of course few experiences of body, mind and spirit can equal that of singing with a large choral society in Bach’s B Minor Mass –  and, indeed, any other major choral work. Being part of this grand swell of sound can lift you right out of this world.

So I celebrate Gareth Malone for spreading wide the love of choral singing and the knowledge that we can all sing – whether or not we currently believe so.

What about you? Do you believe you “can’t sing?” Has Gareth Malone encouraged you to believe otherwise – or perhaps to join a singing group yourself? Or maybe you’ve already experienced joy through singing in a group, large or small? Have you been inspired by the work of Gareth Malone? Let me know your experiences – I’d love to hear them!

You may enjoy these other posts by SC Skillman Blog on the subject of singing:

Susan Boyle

Heavenly choirs

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