Upcoming Events November 2021: Scotland and Kenilworth

Two fabulous book events will be happening in November and I’ll be at both of them.

The first is the Brechin/Angus Bookfest in Scotland.

The Brechin Angus Bookfest takes places over the weekend of 19th to 21st November 2021 in the Northern Hotel, Brechin, near Dundee in Scotland. Several authors of different genres will be there chatting to readers, leading workshops and sessions, and showcasing their books. An amazing variety of events is planned over the weekend including a Meet the Author Scottish high tea, so that sounds like something not to be missed. I’ll be there with all my books, and together with historical fiction author Fen Flack I’ll be leading a session called ‘From Australia to Scotland’ . Intrigued? Well, if you’re in Scotland, then put it in your diary!

The next November event I’ll be involved in is a Meet the Author event at The Priory Theatre, Kenilworth, Warwickshire. That will take place on 24th November from 10am to 1pm. Again, several authors will be present, all local women authors from the area of Kenilworth, Warwick and Leamington, all looking forward to chatting to readers and showcasing a wonderful variety of books.

Don’t forget these are all excellent opportunities to buy Christmas presents in your local area!

I’d love to see you there if you are in either of these areas. I’ll have all my books on display: Mystical Circles, A Passionate Spirit, Perilous Path and Paranormal Warwickshire. All of these are of course available through my website, and through online stores or through bricks and mortar bookstores. But do come along and join in the fun, chat to authors, and stock up with some books for your friends and family for Christmas!

Why not join my mailing list? I’ll send you a monthly newsletter with all my publishing and writing news – no obligation, and one-click to unsubscribe. If you’d like to join, please click here.

Blog Tour for ‘The Trials of Isabella M Smugge’: new fiction by Ruth Leigh

I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for this, the second of Ruth Leigh’s contemporary novels about Isabella M Smugge, lifestyle blogger and instagram influencer. The Trials of Isabella M Smugge is published by Instant Apostle.

Ruth Leigh, author of The Diary of Isabella M Smugge & The Trials of Isabella M Smugge, both published by Instant Apostle in 2021. Ruth is a novelist, blogger and freelance writer based in beautiful East Suffolk.

I found the previous Isabella book a surprise, expecting a high farcical content: instead, it was a poignant and touching story of about contemporary family life and relationships. Fans of the first book will find this follow-up exceeds all their expectations.

I was intrigued by how Ruth chooses to handle the character of Isabella: lifestyle blogger and Instagram influencer, a style guru with enormous expertise in fashion, interior decor, and haute cuisine. Ruth is acutely observant about our consumer society, obsessed with brands, trends and image. She is brimming with phrases like ”carefully curated personal appearances”; “doyenne of the lifestyle blogging world”, “so not me”; “I was the first to spot that seagrass was over”; “my trademark eye for a good finish”; “conceptual layered pieces”; “a delightfully on-trend and vibey air”. I did love this, and it often made me laugh out loud.

Behind it all, we feel great sympathy for Isabella herself, in her increasingly chaotic personal life: betrayed by her husband, coping with an unexpected baby on the way, targeted by a vicious gossip columnist, and trying to rebuild her life as a single mother. Alongside all this, her drive to keep up her perfect online image becomes increasingly ridiculous.

Johnnie, her faithless, charming, hedge-fund-manager husband, masquerades as protective but in fact is emotionally manipulative and controlling. Around Isabella and her family, the author develops a cast of characters who either support or goad or torment her, some leading her along the path to true authenticity, others urging her to negative behaviour and values.

Ironically, Isabella appears to be “a woman in control”, on top of things, telling other people how to attain high society‘s false idea of perfection; yet in reality we can see she is not in control at all. She is not liberated in the true sense of the word, she is enslaved by what her husband thinks of her, and is rarely true to herself. We just want her to break through the web of artificiality she weaves around herself, to become real and honest about who and what she truly is.

As the story builds, the author includes sharp and waspish descriptions, especially of church services and Christians praying. Yet it is Christian friends who become a lifeline to Isabella. Following childbirth she suffers what many would recognise as postnatal depression: nothing she has to say about her baby is loving: the only things she notices are very negative and even cynical. Then we feel a great sense of relief when Isabella’s friend Nicki speaks the truth to Isabella at last, about herself, and Johnnie.

This is very much a book about family life and friendship as well as growing self-knowledge. I do like the end, very much: it is clever and perceptive, and the signs of transformation in Isabella may give rise to sparks of amusement and recognition in the reader.

A highly recommended book. You may find it online among contemporary women’s fiction.

Ruth may be found on Facebook as Ruth Leigh Writes and as @ruthleighwrites on Twitter and Instagram. You can visit her website at ruthleighwrites.co.uk if you would like to order a signed copy of the book.

Published by Instant Apostle, Ruth’s books are widely available in bookshops and all online book retail stores as well as from her website.

If you enjoy my blog posts, why not join my mailing list? I’ll send you all my latest writing and publishing news each month. Please do sign up here.

A Visit to Stourhead National Trust: a Perfect Vision of an Idyllic Landscape and Lake; an Infamous ‘Romantic’ Encounter in the Temple of Apollo

Before visiting the gardens at Stourhead, Wiltshire the other day I looked forward to seeing for myself this ‘living work of art’, for I had created a brightly coloured, stylised copy of a photo of that iconic view just last year, during the first UK lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic.

When we visited the garden, originally created in the eighteenth century by the Hoare family, we learned that Henry “the Magnificent” (‘gentleman gardener’) had relied on elements of concealment and surprise in his grand vision of this classical landscape. So we took the route that Henry had set out specially for his guests to take, from the house to the lake, and experienced the concealment and surprise and revelation for ourselves.

The first lookout point, Stourhead gardens, from which you can see the Temple of Apollo
Further along the path from the first lookout point, Stourhead gardens
The second lookout point, Stourhead gardens – here you can see the Pantheon
The third lookout point, Stourhead gardens – a clearer view of the Pantheon

Finally, having received glimpses of both the Temple of Apollo and the Pantheon through the carefully selected, planted, cultivated and shaped trees, we came upon the iconic view itself, where you can see the Pantheon across the lake beyond the bridge:

The iconic view of bridge, lake and pantheon at Stourhead gardens

I was enchanted as this was the view I had copied in acrylic paints from a photo back in the lockdown. I felt as if I was walking into my own painting, albeit with more subtle colouring than my own fluorescent production!

Stylised acrylic copy of photo of the iconic view of lake and pantheon in the gardens at Stourhead

Later, after visiting the house, we walked around the lake and climbed up to the Temple of Apollo.

The steps at the Temple of Apollo at Stourhead gardens – this was where Keira Knightley stood, in the role of Lizzie Bennett, in the film of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ when Darcy came striding towards her to propose marriage in the pouring rain – she turned him down.
The Pantheon which you can see across the lake, beyond the bridge, in the iconic view of Stourhead gardens
If you enjoy my blog posts, why not join my mailing List? You will receive a monthly newsletter all about my writing and publishing news. Please do sign up here.

A Visit to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard: HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and the Mary Rose, a perfect time capsule that transports us into another world

On a recent trip to Portsmouth, we were absorbed into the lives of the great ships there, and their rich histories. The Mary Rose Museum shone out for us with its immersive experience and its astonishing recovery of details of the sailors’ lives back in 1545.

View of Portsmouth Gunwharf Quays Marine from the HMS Warrior

But HMS Warrior and HMS Victory also enthralled us as we explored both ships, full of wonder at the insights flooding in on us (in the metaphorical sense only!).

HMS Victory

The audio tour of the HMS Victory helped us to relive the dramatic and heartrending moments of Admiral Horatio Nelson’s fatal injury, his journey to the surgeon’s quarters and his final hours, with his loyal second-in-command Captain Hardy.

HMS Victory

The audio narration and dramatic re-enactment engaged us on every level, enabling us to imagine the feelings, sights, sounds and smells of that experience, along with all the emotions of horror and disgust and tragedy and to guess at how the news of victory may have provided some compensation to Nelson for the imminent loss of his life.

Underneath HMS Victory in the dry dock
Underneath the bow of HMS Victory

HMS Warrior, a magnificent Victorian armoured ship in immaculate condition ‘never fired a gun in anger’. Built in 1860 it ran on half sail half steam.

On board HMS Warrior

Now, with Living History actors on board playing the part of the original sailors we felt a real sense of how it must have been to spend time on board as a member of the crew.

HMS Warrior

Beyond these two wonderful ships, the Mary Rose Museum filled us with awe. Sunk in the Solent in 1545, and raised over four centuries later, the Mary Rose and her story exerts a curious power over us: her many artefacts recovered along with the mortal remains of 129 crew, this exhibition was a truly amazing experience for us. The number of people originally on board at the time of the tragedy is not known for sure and it varies between 500 and 700. It is thought the shop was overloaded, and this may have been one of the factors causing it to sink. The number of survivors is also thought to have been between 35 and 40. They would have chanced to be in the right place on the ship at the right time to escape and be rescued by small boats sent out to save them. Many others were trapped by the “anti-boarding nets” stretched over the decks to prevent the enemy swarming on board. The ship sunk very quickly, and half of it ended up deep in silt so it was preserved.

Now, the recovered part of the timber hull is held in a state of perfect equilibrium, so the timbers no longer need to be sprayed with water or viewed through portholes. Instead, thanks to a fine balance of atmosphere and temperature and a series of air-lock doors, we may gaze at the recovered hull in its entirety, at every deck level.

Most poignant of all are the many objects and possessions of the sailors and the remarkable amount of details about several individuals on board: the Master Gunner, the Master Carpenter, the Pursar, the Archer, the Surgeon – their lives, medical histories and personal items.

I am in awe of the skill, ingenuity and expertise of the archaeologists, the divers, the forensic anthropologists and other scientists and all those who made this exhibition possible, for us to see and imagine and empathise with those many hundreds of people who lost their lives that day in 1545.

If you enjoy my blog posts why not join my mailing list? I’ll send you monthly emails with my writing and publishing news. Please do sign up here.

A Poignant Story from Charlestown, St Austell Cornwall

We recently visited Charlestown, a beautiful little Cornish seaport, which opened up several stories for me. Not only did we explore the moving and compelling tales of numerous historical shipwrecks and recovered artefacts  in the Shipwreck Treasure Museum: but also I learned the poignant story of the man who created, designed and built Charlestown: Charles Rashleigh.

Along with the history of Charles Rashleigh’s rise and fall, we have numerous heartrending accounts of shipwrecks in the museum. As we wander through the museum gazing at the recovered treasures and reading of the sea tragedies  we may reflect once again on the high risks humans take, for the chance of adventure and the dream of making their fortune. Some succeed; others perish. In no other sphere of human aspiration can we best reflect upon fate than in the realm of sea voyages. The sea remains powerful, mysterious, cruel and merciless: yet a source of unending wonder and attraction.

Charlestown Harbour  St Austell Cornwall

Charles started building the seaport in 1790. It was completed by 1804 and  has changed little since: now it is popular among film location scouts and has appeared as a film location on several occasions.

Views of Charlestown Harbour

The poignancy of Charles’s story lies in the fact that he created Charlestown out of his own personal wealth and was a hugely gifted man, for the port was highly successful: yet in later life he formed an attachment to 2 young men, Joseph Dingle and Joseph Daniel, who betrayed him and brought him to bankruptcy.  The whole story is told in the book ‘Charlestown: a guide to Charlestown and the Shipwreck Treasure Museum’ by Richard and Bridget Larn.

A Walk Around Port Isaac on the Cornish Coast, from One Headland to Another

subscribe SC Skillman mailing list
subscribe to the SC Skillman mailing list here

Book Blog Tour for ‘The Migrant’: action thriller novel by Paul Alkazraji

I’m pleased to be hosting a stop today on the blog tour for Paul Alkazraji’s powerful novel of Albanian and Greek aspirations, politics and social tension, The Migrant. In view of the current world situation, the themes of this novel are acute: “Crossing borders does not always lead you further from home.”

The Migrant: action thriller fiction by Paul Alkazraji

The action of the novel is set during the 2010 anti-austerity movement in Greece. But all the themes and issues raised in the story are highly relevant to what is going on in the world right now.

Paul Alkazraji, author of The Migrant

I found the novel a rich and detailed evocation of Albania and Greece: the people, their lives and longings, the geographical landscape, and the huge political, economic and ideological challenges they must navigate. The story is relevant to all of us who care deeply about the the plight of those who are deprived of the opportunity to live a fulfilling life in an environment that respects their rights and allows them to flourish on every level.

We follow Pastor Jude, an Englishman who has been working in the Albanian church, as he sets off on a rescue mission to Greece with two unlikely and rather tough companions – Mehmed, a reformed gangster and Luan, a secret-service agent. The tensions between Mehmed and Luan are sharply conveyed, as Jude – whom I found a very attractive character – acts as a bridge between them.

They are searching for Alban, Luan’s nineteen year old nephew, young and vulnerable, who has dodged border police to cross into Greece in the vain hope of finding work there in a country hit by anti-austerity riots.

I have spent some time in Greece in the past, and I was captivated by the author’s evocation of various locations in Athens. His description of the car journey from Albania to Greece, too, is rich and detailed. I could sense the atmosphere strongly and especially his lovely descriptions of the sights and sounds and scents, and particularly the taste of the national dishes and the food and drink they order in the cafes and the tavernas.

Jude’s fears for Alban are fully realised, because this young man’s most likely fate has always been either to fall into the hands of callous sex-traffickers, or to be drawn into the turbulence of violent anti-austerity riots.

This novel held my attention throughout and I was fully engaged in the search for Alban. On the way, I found very different lives being opened up for me in a fresh and compelling way. Highly recommended.

Book cover image for The Migrant by Paul Alkazraji

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY 

Paul Alkazraji worked as a freelance journalist in the UK from the mid-nineties. His articles were published in Christianity Magazine, The Christian Herald, The Church Times, The Baptist Times and other publications. His travel articles were also published in The Independent. His first book Love Changes Everything, a collection of seven testimonies, was published by Scripture Union in 2001. His second book Heart of a Hooligan, a biography of ex-football hooligan Dave Jeal, was published by Highland Books in 2000. His third book Christ and the Kalashnikov, a biography of missionaries Ian and Caralee Loring, was published by Zondervan in 2001. From 2004 to 2010 he was editor and publisher of Ujëvarë magazine in Albania. His first novel, ‘The Silencer’, was published by Highland Books in 2012. His new novel, ‘The Migrant’, set in Albania and Athens during the austerity troubles, was published by Instant Apostle in February 2019. 

BLURB

Fascist populists, callous sex-traffickers and murderous mafia gangs – these were not what Pastor Jude Kilburn had expected to face when he moved to Albania. But when vulnerable 19-year-old Alban disappears from his poverty-stricken village to seek work in Greece, Jude has to undertake the perilous journey across the mountains to try and rescue him from the ruthless Athenian underworld. Accompanied by a volatile secret-service agent and a reformed gangster, Jude soon finds himself struggling to keep everyone together as personal tensions rise and violent anti-austerity riots threaten to tear them apart and undermine the mission. Caught between cynical secret police and a brutal crime syndicate, the fate of them all will be determined by a trafficked girl – but not every one will make it home. The Migrant is a tense and evocative thriller with a powerful redemptive twist.

EXTRACT FROM THE NOVEL

Chapter One Part One

Alban Gurbardhi lay with his face pressed into the earth. He eased his breath out through pursed lips as he tried to stifle any sound he might make. It seemed his heartbeat would be heard across the valley as it pounded in his ears. An angry, black beetle marched across the thyme-grass centimetres from his nose. He glanced at Ervin, who lay in against the crumbling stone wall, and saw his eyes darting.

‘Sssst … They are near here. We’ll get them,’ Alban heard one of the men say in a low voice. ‘Keep looking. Óchi … over there.’ Ervin lifted a finger to his lips and gestured with his palm forwards to stay put. Alban blinked and thought. They should have waited at the last Albanian village for the full cover of darkness before entering Greece. He remembered Ervin saying he’d come this way many times before and not to worry. The Greek border guards were less active these days – they were lazy. As they’d taken the track up from the old Communist hut at dusk, they’d still been visible in the open from lookout points in the woods to the east. That’s why they’d been spotted. He glared at his friend: older, yes, but wiser? Stones ground underfoot as one of the policemen trod close to the other side of the wall. Alban waited for a hand or something worse to strike down on him.

He flinched and screwed up his eyes, bracing himself, and a tear welled out of one corner. Oh, Lord … let us pass, he pleaded in his mind.

The sounds of shuffling over fallen branches and rocks moved away. Alban waited. He raised his body slowly with his hands and slid his feet under him. He glanced at Ervin, who nodded, and eased his head over the top of the wall. The two men were moving up into the pine trees around five metres away. Alban saw their dark blue T- shirts and black military boots. The taller of the two looked a strikingly muscular and athletic man. His hair was dark and razor-cut close in at the sides with a quiff on top.

AMAZON LINK TO BUY

If you share this blog post on any social media platform, please do include the hashtag #THEMIGRANT

Here are the author’s social media links:

Twitter: @paul_alkazraji

Amazon Author Page

 Goodreads

Blog Tour for ‘Creativity Matters’, a new inspirational anthology compiled by Wendy H Jones

I’m pleased to be hosting a stop on the blog tour today for an exciting new anthology for writers, Creativity Matters, the third of a series published by Scott and Lawson, and compiled by Wendy H Jones.

Wendy H Jones is a fellow author who has been a great encouragement to me and many other authors, and for this book she has invited a number of writers to contribute chapters. So you will find a wide variety of different types of writing represented here, together with varied outlooks and themes. This makes for a stimulating collection of encouraging pieces which seems set to be very popular among aspiring writers.

Wendy H Jones, author and compiler, Creativity Matters

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY 

Wendy H Jones is the Amazon #1 international best-selling author of the award winning DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries. Her Young Adult Mystery, The Dagger’s Curse was a finalist in the Woman Alive Readers’ Choice Award. She is also The President of the Scottish Association of Writers, an international public speaker, and runs conferences and workshops on writing, motivation and marketing. Wendy is the founder of Crime at the Castle, Scotland’s newest Crime Festival. She is the editor of a Lent Book, published by the Association of Christian Writers and also the editor of the Christmas Anthology from the same publisher. Her first children’s book, Bertie the Buffalo, was released in December 2018. Motivation Matters: Revolutionise Your Writing One Creative Step at a Time, was released in May 2019. The Power of Why: Why 23 Women Took the Leap to Start Their Own Business was released on 29th June, 2020. Marketing Matters: Sell More Books was released on 31st July 2020. Bertie Goes to the Worldwide Games will be released on 5th May, 2022,  and the third book in the Fergus and Flora Mysteries will be published in 2021. Her new author membership Authorpreneur Accelerator Academy launched in January 2021. Creativity Matters: Find Your Passion for Writing, the third book in her Writing Matters Series, is published in September 2021.

BLURB

Have you always thought about writing a book but don’t know where to start? Are you an experienced author and want to spread your wings? Are you looking for inspiration for every step in your writing journey? This is a book for everyone who wants to write, whether history or contemporary, science fiction or humour, local fiction or set in a made-up world, fiction, non-fiction, memoir, there’s something here for you. Join thirteen authors as they share their passion for why you should write in their genre and find your own passion as you read.

It’s time for you to spread your wings, follow your dreams and find your passion for writing.

MY REVIEW OF CREATIVITY MATTERS

This book brings us the work of several different authors, who have each contributed a chapter about the particular genre in which they write, and why they love it. The editor and compiler, Wendy H Jones, herself provides three chapters: on writing Humour, Crime and Non-fiction. In her introduction, she promises “ideas will be popping up and exploding all around you.” She  encourages the readers to have confidence in their ability to try new genres.

I enjoyed the array of authors who share their passion in this anthology. Sheena McLeod opens up the subject of historical non-fiction; she was first motivated by a desire to convey little known stories about Scotland’s history.

Next, Janet Wilson sets out her thoughts and feelings about children’s books; what she writes is powerful and inspiring, and it rings with truth.

Allison Symes writes flash fiction, and I will certainly be following her recommendation to polish up my writing exercises, turn them into flash fiction and submit to writing competitions.

Fay Rowland offers a witty and funny piece about scriptwriting.  Joy Margetts expresses her own passion for historical fact-based fiction; her dedication to research is evident.  Kirsten Bett writes Cat Tales, and again her passion for this genre shines through.  Jennifer Ngulube’s piece on writing memoir is challenging and stirring.

Maressa Mortimer provides two chapters:  in the first, on writing faith-based fiction, I found her arguments moving, convincing and thought-provoking.  The second, on writing novels set in a different world, sparkles with infectious enthusiasm, and fills the reader with a “can-do” attitude.

Nanette Fairley moves and excites us with her thoughts on writing in the ‘Third Age’. Andrew Chamberlain’s chapter on Science Fiction and Fantasy, I found fascinating, and it may well be the chapter that most inspires me.

Wendy H Jones writes in a stimulating and enjoyable way about crime and mystery; she gives good practical tips on the topic of writing Humour; and makes some intriguing points on the subject of writing Romance.

I love the quote at the end of the book, under the title “What Now?”

Fortune favours the brave and the future belongs to those who are not afraid to step out.

This is certainly a book which will awaken fresh enthusiasm and new ideas in its readers and encourage writers to try out new genres.

AMAZON LINK TO BUY 

Please include the hashtag #CREATIVITYMATTERS  and the following social media handles when you are sharing your posts about the book. Wendy’s website may be found here.

FACEBOOK

https://www.facebook.com/wendyhjonesauthor

TWITTER

@WendyHJones

AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE

INSTAGRAM

https://www.instagram.com/wendyhjones/

Compton Verney, Warwickshire

Sunflower at Compton Verney

Compton Verney is one of my favourite places in Warwickshire, and it features in my current WIP, Illustrated Tales of Warwickshire. A gracious Georgian mansion set in a Capability Brown landscape with a tranquil lake, it has a fascinating history. During the course of the twentieth century, this brought it through a variety of owners, into a state of near dereliction, and on to its ultimate rescue by a major arts foundation who renovated the building and transformed it into a well-loved arts centre and magnificent art gallery. Amongst many other artworks in its permanent exhibition, it houses an outstanding British Folk Art collection, which I love.

Here is a selection of photos taken at Compton Verney. Here, I have tried to show the wilder aspects of the planting around the grounds.

subscribe SC Skillman mailing list
subscribe to the SC Skillman mailing list here

Book Review: ‘Urban Angel’ by A J Chamberlain

Today I review a recently published Christian Fantasy novel, Book 1 of the Masters series. Urban Angel by A J Chamberlain was published by Nielsen both as paperback and ebook on 23 May 2021.

‘Urban Angel’ by A J Chamberlain

This is a fascinating story: for the young main protagonist, Alex Masters, the journey to faith has been marked by grief and loneliness, but still she chooses to believe…. Alex thinks she is truly alone; but she is not, and never will be … Daisy is a child of the social media generation, lost in every belief and none. When tragedy strikes, she seeks out her cousin Alex because she knows that Alex understands what it is to face the darkness.

Alex and Daisy come together, hunted by an enemy that will do whatever it takes to achieve its goal. Alone, Alex and Daisy would be defenceless, but this is not a struggle against flesh and blood, and not every weapon is visible.

As I read the story, I loved the way the author describes the interactions of angels and demons as a seamless part of the narrative, weaving in and out of the choices and actions of the characters in the physical realm.

The story reminded me a little of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s film Bedazzled, and also of the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley in Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens – and this despite the fact that I am well aware the respective creators of those works hold a different worldview from the author of this novel! One part of A J Chamberlain’s story even reminded me a bit of Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, when he is in the mind of The Assassin, and when he makes mysterious references to ‘his master’.

I believe all these comparisons show how well tuned in to our culture A J Chamberlain is, whilst handling this subject of a spiritual battleground. The dialogue and relationship between 20 year old Conner and Daisy absolutely rings true. The dilemmas, conflicts and temptations the characters face are all so authentic and relatable.

The narrative moves at pace, and is very tense, strong and gritty. I found this a wonderful depiction of spiritual warfare around human activity. This first book promises very well for the next one in the series.

A highly recommended novel.

subscribe SC Skillman mailing list
subscribe to the SC Skillman mailing list here