The Tube Station – Fresh and Imaginative Worship Space above the Surfing Beach at Polzeath, Cornwall

I’ve just visited this creative worship space in Polzeath and was delighted with the vibrant atmosphere and décor.

The Tube Station Polzeath

Working in partnership with the Methodist Church, the Tube Station has a café, an indoor skate ramp, an art gallery, a chill-out space for surfers and all beach-users, a worship venue, and much more.

When I visited one September Sunday morning, the place was packed, with standing room only at the back.

Café Bar in the Tube Station Polzeath

A brilliant speaker, Jude Levermore, who is the Head of Mission for the Methodist Church, gave an engaging talk about “our NHS stories” and how many of us have stories to tell about how the NHS saved us. And so do we have stories to tell about how the grace of God has transformed our lives. An interesting thought: everything the Good Samaritan does for the injured traveller in Jesus’ parable “The Good Samaritan” is now done for us by the NHS – and we expect it too.

Surfboards James and Judas at the Tube Station Polzeath

And her second message was “God wants to use us even though…” then fill in with all your weaknesses and excuses and reasons why you hang back and think you’re not worthy or good enough and don’t believe in yourself. She herself said God wanted to use her as the Head of Mission for the Methodist Church EVEN THOUGH she is a woman, she’s divorced, she isn’t ordained.

I particularly loved the surfboards up on the ceiling, each with a disciple’s name on it. And I noted that Judas Iscariot is there too. Judas is a name that means betrayer to many. And yet I believe Judas was ultimately forgiven and redeemed and saved too. EVEN THOUGH…

I do recommend you experience the Tube Station if you are ever in Polzeath, and especially if you’re there on a Sunday morning.

SC Skillman

psychological, paranormal, mystery fiction & non-fiction

My new book ‘Paranormal Warwickshire’ will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020.

Remembering Binna Burra Lodge, Glorious Mountain Eyrie in Queensland, Australia, Destroyed by Fire, September 2019

In South East Queensland, Australia, high in the mountain ranges that rise up behind Surfers Paradise, forming the Gold Coast hinterland, you will reach the small town of Canungra. And there you will find the road to Binna Burra.

Photos taken at Binna Burra, in the Lamington National Park, Gold Coast hinterland, South East Queensland, Australia

At the end of the road is Binna Burra Lodge, set in lush rainforest, high in the glorious mountain ranges of the Lamington National Park. Or at least, you could find it until 7th September 2019 when raging bushfires burned all the cabins and buildings to the ground, felling massive rainforest trees and sending them crashing down across the only road to the site, preventing firefighters from reaching the grounds of the lodge.

Rich with wildlife this rainforest eyrie is a paradise location I visited at least four times during the few years I spent living in Australia 1985-1990, and then visited again when I returned to Australia in 2007 – and was planning to visit again in November 2019. But everyone had to evacuate the site in the face of encroaching fire on Friday 6th September.

The first time I visited Binna Burra on my own, I was delighted with the warm welcome, the conviviality with others who had also come alone, the joyful meals together in the Lodge, the immensely knowledgable tour guide whom I dubbed ‘Peter the Rainforest Host’, the walks through the rainforest, the many magical discoveries and the sublime views.

Binna Burra has special memories for me. Birdsong echoes from peak to peak, the blue haze of eucalyptus vapour often veils the richly forested slopes, and the lure of the Coomera Falls on the 22 kilometre Coomera Circuit awaits keen bushwalkers who love majestic views from rocky outcrops.

I remember feeling as if I was in another dimension up at Binna Burra, the atmosphere so rarefied, the air wine-sweet, a magical presence separate from the world. Here it was I had one of the few mystical experiences of my life.

Another with memories of the Lodge, Cecilia O’Grady, who worked there 1982-1986, said: “I feel quite emotional thinking about it, the history of the place. It’s very spiritual. It’s beautiful.”

The cycle of life in Australia, well known to the aborigines, involves controlled burn-offs. The periodic apparent cataclysm of fire turns the fertile landscape into a devastated waste of blackened stumps, where you would think all life had been eliminated. And yet life returns. The rains come, the green shoots spring up, and the fertile land renews itself.

But for Binna Burra fire is unknown. It is a lush, green, wet environment normally resistant to such fire. “It’s a rainforest, it’s a lush wet green place, how can it be burning?” said Professor Darryl Jones, Griffith University ecologist.

It is impossible to look anywhere else other than climate change for the reasons behind this tragedy. Nevertheless I hope that the rainforest will demonstrate once again its miraculous power for the renewal of life, and I have faith in the restoration of this glorious mountain top eyrie with the construction of a new lodge and accommodation.

I’ve previously written on this blog about Binna Burra: read it here. Also I’ve written about another rainforest lodge in Lamington National Park, OReilly’s, which you may read here.

SC Skillman

psychological, paranormal, mystery

fiction and non-fiction

My next book ‘Paranormal Warwickshire’ will be published by Amberley Publishing in 15th June 2020

Book Review: “The Power of Seven” by Emily Owen

A book of faith and courage, which the author structures around seven biblical themes: Creation, God Is, The Lord is My Shepherd, I Am, Echoes From the Cross, Add to Faith and Revelation Churches. Under each theme, Emily Owen arranges her thoughts and reflections in 7 parts.

In a poetic style which appears deceptively simple at first, the author intersperses autobiographical fragments and anecdotes, with reflection, prayers, and quotes from the Bible in a beguiling conversation with God.

Through this we clearly see the source of the author’s strength through her own challenging life circumstances. Diagnosed with neurofibromatosis at age 16, she then underwent numerous operations which left her deaf at the age of 21. Emily Owen’s gift in using her own personal story is that she reaches beyond her individual situation to reach a place where the reader can identify with what she writes and claim her insights for their own lives.

The author’s tone is gentle and reflective, and ultimately she has created a poignant, beautiful, uplifting book, in a world which stands more than ever in need of the power of contemplative prayer. Authentic and profound, “The Power of Seven” draws you in, showing how painful life experiences can bear a rich harvest of illumination and hope.

SC Skillman

psychological, mystery, paranormal

fiction and non-fiction

Book Review: ‘Lifelines’ by Andy Croft and Mike Pilavachi

I stood in a queue of those waiting to have this book signed by Andy Croft, at the CRT (Christian Resources Together retreat) several months ago.

I remember Andy asked me about my interest in being at the conference and I told him I too was a writer. He asked me about what I write and when I said fiction (psychological suspense / paranormal thrillers) he said, “Oh they sound much more interesting than my book.”

Well, having confessed that I left it several months before finally getting round to reading ‘Lifelines’ by Andy Croft and Mike Pilavachi, I can now confirm that it is superb: funny, interesting and challenging.

The two authors take us through some of the great biblical heroes: Joseph (of technicolour dreamcoat fame); Elijah (who beat the 400 prophets of Baal in a fantastic challenge as to whose god could call down fire from heaven); Ruth (who chose to go forward into a new and very different culture, to support her bereaved mother-in-law Naomi, and who then met Boaz); Daniel (captured with his friends and taken to Babylon where he eventually became famous to us for his survival of the Lions’ Den and the Fiery Furnace); and David – great King and Psalmist, formerly the lowest of the low as a shepherd boy, famous to many for his showdown wth Goliath).

We also hear of John (the Beloved Disciple, and writer of letters, a gospel, and the book of Revelations); and Mary of Bethany, who scandalised everyone by pouring perfume worth thousands of pounds in today’s money, onto Jesus’ feet at a dinner party in her home.

Interspersed with tales from contemporary life and plenty of anecdotes we can relate to and identify with, this book moves along at a sparkling pace.

The two authors, with their own colourful personalities, demonstrate their ability to relate the circumstances of those heroes to our own situations, translating from a very different culture into ours, in a breathtaking display of what we know as ‘dynamic equivalence.’

The stories surrounding these heroes are among the most outstanding, captivating and dramatic in the history of story-telling. They abound with human interest, transferable messages that are sharply relevant to us in our culture, and the most stunning imagery that burns them upon our imaginations.

These heroes genuinely are people who stand out – for courage, personal commitment, self-sacrificial giving and love – all of them through various human weaknesses. In every way these people are heroes not only for their times but for ours to us today, right where we are, in this culture that pays homage to individualism, freedom of expression, and the vital importance of being independent and somehow ‘true to ourselves’.

SC Skillman

psychological, paranormal, mystery

fiction and non-fiction

Book Review: ‘Less Than Ordinary’ by Nicki Copeland

Less than Ordinary‘, published by Instant Apostle, is a non-fiction inspirational self-help book, an account of one woman’s journey from low self-esteem and negative self-limiting beliefs to a place of wholeness where she is able to blossom, nurture her relationships, rejoice in her own inherent worth, and offer her gifts to the world.

A quote attributed to Nelson Mandela: As we let our own lights shine we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.

During the early part of the book, as I read Nicki’s story, I found myself wondering where all these ideas about herself had come from. What messages was she given when she was a young child? But later I thought that maybe the people who gave her those messages had no idea they were doing something so destructive; perhaps no such intention lay behind their words.

And then I realised I was identifying with some of her experiences, and I recognised the mindset. It may be that cultural presumptions about the role of women have something to do with it – even in our society, male/female equality still has a long way to go – but I also know there are men who feel as Nicki describes in these pages.

On a lighter note, I might mention that PG Wodehouse’s novels are full of young men browbeaten by domineering aunts and other authority figures, who are too shy and timid to express their true feelings, or be assertive. Light or not, the issues Nicki shares with us are not just a female thing.

What interested me in the book was Nicki’s description of how she came out of all this. She says that she ‘gradually began to consider…’ or ‘it occurred to’ her that… or she ‘slowly realised….’

For me the process was the same. Observation of people and experience of life eventually teaches you a stunning truth: that many of those who appear confident are not, underneath; that probably the majority of people shrink from meeting strangers; and that, in fact, when we humans seek to achieve our goals, we seem to be hard-wired to take what Robert McKee describes, in his book Story, ‘the most conservative action first.’

In Story, McKee points out that when constructing a plot, the author sets the main protagonist a challenge to overcome, a goal to achieve. Then the protagonist considers how to get what they want. And they always take the most conservative action first. In other words, they expend the least amount of energy to get what they want. This seems a rule of human nature and in the natural world too.

And if that works, good. But if it doesn’t – then you’ve got to spend a bit more energy, exercise more ingenuity, and do something a bit less conservative. And so on, until only the most extreme measures will do. It’s often only when people are pushed to the limit that they conquer great challenges.

So we can apply this rule of life to what Nicki says in her book Less Than Ordinary. All her early presumptions about herself were utterly false; and when the truth of human nature and behaviour finally broke in on her, she threw those false ideas away and she let her light shine.

I do believe there is great value for us when an author describes this process as well as Nicki does. If you feel this book sounds like one that would speak to you, I’d recommend reading it and pausing every once in a while to think about it, as you go through Nicki’s story.

Courage doesn’t consist of being naturally ‘confident’, and having high self-esteem written into your DNA and grasping challenges eagerly.

Courage is all about those who go on a long journey from out of a dark place, and discover the truth through life experience, then change in the light of it using the new knowledge to transform their lives.

SC Skillman

psychological, mystery, paranormal fiction & non-fiction

Book Review: ‘Half a World Away’ by Mike Gayle

Book cover: Half a World Away by Mike Gayle

This is a profoundly moving novel set in our contemporary society, which works on so many levels, intimate, insightful and also demonstrating panoramic vision.

In ‘Half a World Away’ Mike Gayle takes as his subject those children who are born into deeply dysfunctional situations in the UK, and thus come to the attention of the social services. Setting his story in London, he tells us of Kerry, a cleaner, and of her half-brother Noah, a barrister, who were separated when Kerry was 10 and Noah (formerly known as Jason) was two.

The story is on one level a very moving portrayal of the different destinies lived out by those who are adopted by a loving family, and those who go into care. On another level the story explores family relationships with discernment, sensitivity, compassion and a sharply observant eye. Then the novel works as an insightful account of how fate and chance and small decisions and choices interact in our lives leading to huge consequences.

As I read the book I was reminded in part of ‘The Love Story of Miss Queenie Hennessy’ by Rachel Joyce. This is a book of which you may say, “I had to put it down” because it was so highly emotionally engaging. At such times the reader may feel the need to take a rest from it, for that reasons. Some of it is painfully acute in its depiction of the most heartrending circumstances. And in addition to that, Mike Gayle’s observation of human behaviour, from the most callous and selfish – and no less tragic for that – through to the most kind, compassionate and caring, is of the highest order.

A brilliant book, which I may recommend to all – and to those personally involved in issues of adoption and social care, though some may find it almost too painful to read, it is so finely and accurately observed.

SC Skillman

psychological, paranormal and mystery

fiction and non-fiction

Author of Mystical Circles, A Passionate Spirit and Perilous Path

My next book Paranormal Warwickshire will be published by Amberley Publishing in June 2020.

Book Review: ‘An Eagle in the Snow’ by Michael Morpurgo

‘An Eagle in the Snow’ by Michael Morpurgo

Set in the second World War, this story is appealing in its simplicity yet powerful in its implications. A young boy and his mother are on a train bound for the countryside, away from their London home which has been destroyed in a bombing raid.

During their journey they meet an unassuming stranger to whom they might never have spoken – if it wasn’t for the fact that their train is threatened by German fighters, and they stop in a dark tunnel, and he begins to tell them a story to comfort them all in the darkness, by the light of the few matches he possesses.

On one level this is a story of “What ifs” and “If onlys”. It has emerged from a real story, of a British war hero who may have saved Hitler’s life during the First World War – thus leaving him alive and free to make the choices he did, and to wreak havoc upon the world during the 1930s and 1940s.

And yet the real story itself may not be accurate. Hitler apparently identified the British hero who spared his life, from a painting which he kept in his study. And yet, even that knowledge of the mercy shown to him did not hold Hitler back from his own massive betrayals and merciless actions in the future.

The story Michael Morpurgo tells will help young readers to engage imaginatively with some of the events and larger issues of the two World Wars – and despite the tragedy and huge moral dilemmas the story poses, goodness and humanity does shine through.

Book Review: ‘Reparation’ by Gaby Koppel

I first heard of this book via my local independent bookshop Warwick Books, and planned to go to an evening with Gaby Koppel, to hear her talking about ‘Reparation‘.

The subject of the book – a young Jewish woman’s research into her mother’s past as a survivor of Nazi persecution during World War II – immediately appealed to me, but in the end I wasn’t able to get to that evening. Instead I ordered the book later, and now having read it, how I wish I had been there to see Gaby Koppel and hear her talk about her inspiration for the novel. When you’ve finished reading a novel, that’s when you are hungry to find out details about the author’s personal biography.

This is one of those books which will surely increase your knowledge in a number of areas, not least insights into how Hungary is currently addressing its baleful wartime past, and a vivid description of the fiercely insular life of the Hasidic Jewish community in Stamford Hill, in London; and indeed into how a modern Jewish person with no religious belief feels.

Alongside that, it is a heartfelt and passionate exploration of a mother daughter relationship. And the book helps you to understand wherein Jewish identity lies. It is undoubtedly based on the author’s real life experience of her Hungarian mother and her German father. And the main protagonist, Elizabeth, works in TV production just as Gaby does in real life.

As I began the story, for some time I found the first person narrator’s attitude to her mother Aranca very judgmental and sardonic, expressed in waspish style. Then gradually I began to see how Elizabeth had developed this attitude, and to understand the pressure on her of her mother’s volatile and temperamental behaviour and alcoholic episodes.

As my reading of the novel progressed I liked Elizabeth more and more, with her sharp and sassy wit, and her habit of always saying exactly what she thinks. She is a character who never wears a mask, and I often felt myself identifying with her thoughts and feelings.

As for Aranca herself, known always as Mutti to Elizabeth, she comes over as very challenging and exasperating, but the more we understand what she has suffered in the past, the more we empathise with her. And I was captivated not only by her quest to seek reparation from the Hungarian government for her past losses, but also by Elizabeth’s accounts of her relationships with Dave and with Jon, and by her exploration of how being Jewish profoundly affects every area of life.

I was fascinated by what we learn in the story about the Jews, about their feelings, beliefs and attitudes, and in particular about the Hasidic Jewish community. Reading this book opens up the lives of others to us, and I believe stories like this teach us to respect and accept our differences, and the various ways in which people seek to express their identity.

Highly recommended.

SC Skillman

Psychological, paranormal, mystery

fiction and non-fiction

Author of Mystical Circles, A Passionate Spirit and Perilous Path

My next book Paranormal Warwickshire will be published by Amberley Publishing in June 2020

Book Review: “A Vision of Locusts” by SL Russell

Today I share with you one of my latest book reviews: in fact the last book to which I awarded 5 stars!

Book cover image for "A Vision of Locusts" by SL Russell

A Vision of Locusts by SL Russell is an unusual contemporary novel which introduces a number of themes including religious intolerance in the world today, the nature of evil, and the mysterious source of the main character’s “visions” or “seeings.”

Abbie, the main protagonist, is a young girl, half English, half Indian, who possesses what we may call a gift of “the sight”. I was gripped throughout the novel as the storyline explores Abbie’s struggle to be taken seriously by those closest to her, especially as the insights her visions bestow have the power to save them all from a highly dangerous situation.

Tension increases as an apparently charming man enters the neighbourhood and begins to make inroads into everyone’s lives.

I highly recommend this very thought-provoking and powerful novel.

SC Skillman

psychological, paranormal, mystery fiction

author of Mystical Circles, A Passionate Spirit & Perilous Path

I’m pleased to announce that I have signed a contract

I’m pleased to announced that I have signed a contract with history publishers Amberley Publishing for a book about Warwickshire to be published in June 2020. This will be a highly illustrated book full of stories arranged under themes from Shakespeare’s ghosts and spirits.

St Mary’s Church Warwick at night. Photo credit: Jamie Robinson.

The book will explore some of the supernatural and spiritual stories in the region. It describes a number of Warwickshire’s most iconic locations which I believe have spiritual resonance and which I’ve visited many times.

These include Guy’s Cliffe House and the Saxon Mill in Warwick; Hall’s Croft and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon; Warwick Castle and Kenilworth Castle among other locations.

I’m weaving into this insights from Shakespeare’s ghosts and spirits. And I’ve also been out and about interviewing and listening to people closely associated with the properties who have rich and fascinating stories to tell.

More news on this to follow!

SC Skillman

psychological, paranormal, mystery fiction

Author of Mystical Circles, A Passionate Spirit & Perilous Path