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Archive for June, 2015

People of Inspiration: Russ Parker, Poet, Priest, Author, and Champion of Celtic Spirituality and Healing Dreams

My upcoming novel A Passionate Spirit tells the story of a young woman who defies a sinister spiritual healer.

A Passionate Spirit, the new paranormal thriller from SC Skillman, due to be published by Matador on 28 November 2015

A Passionate Spirit, the new paranormal thriller from SC Skillman, due to be published by Matador on 28 November 2015

The novel is about a conflict between good and evil, and I am fascinated by the idea of great beauty used to mask malevolent spiritual power. But the story also deals with the subject of healing, and what part psychic and spiritual power can play in this.

Among many who inspired me during the course of research for this novel I may number the Rev Russ Parker, whom one may describe as “an unconventional priest” (along with one of the principal characters in my novel).  He writes non-fiction books and poetry, he works in such areas as international listening and reconciliation, healing wounded histories, both of individuals and communities, and he explores the ways in which dreams and Celtic spirituality and a much freer attitude to spiritual matters may all open up our being and contribute to our healing.

I first heard Russ Parker speak at a local retreat centre several years ago, and he made a strong impact on me then. Since then I’ve heard him speak a number of times and have also attended a weekend retreat led by him about the Road to Emmaus. In addition I’ve read several of his books. Foremost among those which most impressed me are: Healing Dreams, Requiem Healing, Healing Death’s Wounds, and Wild Spirit of the Living God. So impressed was I by Russ, that I suggested a particular poem of his be read aloud at my father’s funeral, with a few personal biographical twists. This poem is called “The View From Here”. Afterwards some who were at the funeral service said, “That was the most uplifting funeral I have ever been to.” I believe this was in no small part due to the power of Russ’s poem.

Russ manages to be wise, vulnerable, poignant, down-to-earth, moving and funny during the sessions he leads. I don’t believe it’s possible to come out without having been entertained, inspired, uplifted, intellectually challenged or emotionally stirred – unless you’re in a coma at the time.

I listened to Russ speaking about Visions five years ago at a church in Derby. He spoke about how a vision takes an increasing grip on your life. Visions, he said, are something God brings that disturbs us. Sometimes they have their timetables. This is the way vision work, he said: it may be that God spoke to you two years ago, but has put you on pause. Maybe today – or at a time of His choosing in the future – he will press the unpause button.

We should learn to “hold our vision and wait with it until God fires the release gun.” I’ve held my vision for a long time, and I too am looking forward to the firing of that release gun!

A Passionate Spirit – My New Thriller / Suspense Novel

I’m excited to present the cover design for my new novel A Passionate Spirit, due to be published by Matador on  28 November 2015. Do let me know in your comments what you think of the design!

Here is the Advance Information provided by Matador:

A Passionate Spirit by SC Skillman cover design

A Passionate Spirit by SC Skillman cover design

Zoe ran through the wood in gathering dusk, her heart racing. She clutched the child’s hand, which kept slipping out of hers. Sweat drenched her blouse, sticking it to her jacket, despite the dank chill in the air. They pounded along a narrow bramble-choked path. Zoe winced and the child sobbed, as spiky stems tore at their clothes and flesh, drawing blood.

It’s a dream come true for 25 year old Zoe when she and her new husband, unconventional priest Theo, move to the Cotswold hills. But fearsome dreams about a young girl running for her life disturb Zoe and she can’t shake off the idea that a child’s life is in danger… and so is hers.

When two unexpected guests arrive, James and Natasha, Zoe’s friend Alice immediately senses something amiss with James – and particularly Natasha; but no-one except Zoe agrees with her. Natasha embarks on a series of mysterious healings which astonish other guests and convince them that Natasha is a miracle worker. But Zoe can’t abandon her feelings of unease around Natasha. Then a series of disturbing events hits the centre; Zoe fears that Theo has been unfaithful to her with Natasha, and Theo falls into severe depression for which Zoe believes Natasha to be responsible.

When Zoe confronts Natasha she is completely unprepared for the terror she is about to face. Zoe will need more than the loyalty and strength of Alice to survive the frightening paranormal forces that are unleashed against her…

A Passionate Spirit is a fast-paced and thrilling novel that will keep readers in suspense throughout. Inspired by Susan Howatch and Barbara Erskine, this book will appeal to readers who enjoy paranormal thrillers.

Witty Insight into the London Art World

For all those who’ve wondered how one starts to get noticed as an artist in London, and is in the mood for a light-hearted approach to the subject I can recommend a book which might have escaped my notice if I hadn’t recently met the author at a conference.

witty look at the London art world by Emily Benet

witty look at the London art world by Emily Benet

Emily Benet first posted her book chapter by chapter on Wattpad and had such a good response from readers that she came to the attention of Harper Impulse, who published the book as “The Temp”.

I bought the book after listening to Emily talking about social media for authors at the recent conference at the University of Leicester. Emily certainly incorporates her knowledge of social media into this novel.

I learned from her that the book was originally called “Spray Painted Bananas”, and I believe that was a much more original title. Purely from the cover design and title that Harper Impulse have given this novel I would have identified it as generic chick-lit and probably not have picked it out in a book shop.

And yet, reading the novel, I find it much more than chick-lit. It gives a delightful and witty insight into the London art world, and I found myself thinking of the main protagonist, Amber, as a budding Tracy Emin.

It’s so easy to look at installations in the Tate Modern and think, Oh I could do that. But the reality of getting yourself known as an artist is far more complex and challenging. Emily Benet has great fun, not only with the motivations and behaviour of those who visit art galleries for private views, but also with the ways in which an artist may start to become known, particularly in London.

I loved this story, found the characters engaging and entertaining, especially Amber’s flatmate Egg, and enjoyed the rom com element as well. Highly recommended for a fun read.

For some of my previous posts on the contemporary art world, see https://scskillman.com/2013/10/09/what-do-we-do-about-art-theres-always-a-little-shop-at-the-end/ and http://ezinearticles.com/?Inspiration-for-Creative-Writers-From-Artists&id=6783241

Action Adventure Tropes and Powerful Archetypes in Stories

I love to see how tropes specific to certain genres of story telling can cross boundaries into different genres.

one author's question about story tropes

one author’s question about story tropes

One example came to my mind recently whilst watching our DVD of Tintin and the Adventure of the Unicorn again.

This story centres around “an old Sea Captain’s estate”; we learn from the villain (an unreliable source) of “a shadow of ruin over the family for generations… we’re talking years of drinking and irrational behaviour.”  A few generations back, the villain declares to the hero Tintin, Sir Frances Haddock was “a failure and a hopeless reprobate. He was doomed to fail and he bequeathed that failure to his sons.” As soon as we know this is the opinion of the villain, an expectation is set up in us that the hero will work to quash this negative scenario.

In this story there are two policemen from Interpol who are on the trail of the same thing as Tintin, but with much less insight and inspiration.. They seem like a pair of fools / clowns, but at a later stage of the story they turn up at just the right moment and save the hero’s life.

The central question of the story is: Can Captain Haddock lay his demons in order to claim his inheritance and redeem the family fortunes and lift the intergenerational curse?

I feel that all these themes, beloved of the action adventure genre, can be translated into other genres too.

Genre is a fascinating subject; I write contemporary fiction but it has something of mystery, something of suspense, something of psychological thriller too. In my new novel there is the element of the paranormal and supernatural as well. How do we determine which genre predominates? Traditionally it’s the preserve of the traditional publisher to decide that, and this then becomes the cornerstone of how the novel is marketed and promoted.

In many ways, genre is all about the psychology of the readers, and their expectations.

Successful fiction touches the spirit of the readers in some way. But we cannot ever write to please others; only to please ourselves. And so, ultimately we must write for the love of it, and leave the response of the reader in the realms of the future unknown.

Exotic Lands and Mysterious Cultures: Ancient China

Recently I finished reading a book about “The Forbidden City” and this coincided with a BBC Radio 4 programme presented by Melvyn Bragg about the first western missionary to China, the Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci.

The Emperor and the Nightingale by Hans Christian Anderson

The Emperor and the Nightingale by Hans Christian Anderson

I heard that Matteo Ricci set out from Portugal to convert China to Christianity in 1584, and published a book in 1603 called “The True Meaning of the Lord of Heaven” which was a dialogue written in Chinese, between a Western scholar and a Chinese scholar, in which he sought to accommodate existing Chinese religious beliefs with his Christian teachings.

Subsequently the Western image of China was dominated by rules which Ricci set down.

During the radio programme several references were made to aspects of Chinese culture which had only just come vividly to the forefront of my mind, through reading about The Forbidden City. One of these was the fact that 100,000 eunachs formed a buffer around the Emperor so it was extremely difficult to gain personal access to the Emperor himself.

When I was a child I read a book in which the main protagonist, a little girl, goes off into a magical world, which included “nodding Chinese mandarins”. I realised that my own views of ancient China are conditioned by images and references in children’s books and fairy tales: the mysterious, inscrutable, exotic figure of the ancient Chinese emperor.

Cut off from their own people these Emperors existed like pampered golden birds in a precious cage of priceless gems. Any attempt by later Western visitors to gain access to the Emperor would probably be met with a distant message relayed to them by one of the eunachs.

One of the earliest stories I read about the mysterious world of ancient China was Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Emperor and the Nightingale.” This came back to me as I realised it was a perfect image not only of the way the ancient Chinese emperors lived their lives, but an image of power and despotism in the world today.

It’s good to read of ancient civilisations and to reflect upon human power, and how transitory it is. And once again I realise the power of children’s stories to lay down the background for our understanding of the world, having an influence that may last throughout our lives.

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