This is the first in a series of extracts and character profiles from Mystical Circles.
Juliet was trembling. It had all happened so fast. The explosion of anger between the two men. The rush for the car park. The engine roaring into life. As the rear lights picked her out, she dodged aside just in time. The next thing she heard was a loud bang. And the sickening crunch of metal giving way. And a fountain of fragmenting glass.
He’d slammed on the brakes too late.
And it was all her fault.
Ten days earlier
Juliet’s palms were slippery on the steering wheel; she wiped the sweat away from her upper lip. The air conditioning might offset the strong heat of this June day, but not the burning anxiety she felt. Even the spectacular beauty of the high limestone hills and deep valleys as she headed west from the A417 had failed to calm her. A sign half hidden by the trees proclaimed that she’d found ‘The Wheel of Love’. She turned in at the entrance.
Further down the valley, she could see the two steeply pitched gables of the farmhouse with its mellow honey-coloured stone. It looked idyllic. But that held no pleasure for her; her stomach twisted with apprehension for Zoe.
She drove round the house to the gravel parking area at the back. A Bentley and a Saab were parked up against the woodland fence. She was about to nose her Renault Mégane in between them then realised there wasn’t quite enough room, and reversed into the space on the other side of the Saab. She drew to a halt and turned the engine off.
She pulled a copy of an email from the door pocket. A few phrases leapt out at her with the same force as when she’d first read them.
Hi, you in crowded, stressed old London from me in the peaceful, perfect Cotswolds…massive change of plan…I’m in love…Craig invited me out for supper…got to know him a whole lot better…gorgeous, sexy, intelligent…all I ever dreamed of…moved to his place…fantastic farmhouse a few miles from Cirencester…group called Wheel of Love…changes people’s lives…won’t be coming back…glad to leave London…paradise here…staying for ever…why not visit?… Material for a documentary here!..I’ll tell Craig you’re ringing…know what you’re like with a story.
See what you think!
Juliet bit her lip, folding the sheet of paper. Zoe’s tone still needled her as much as when she’d first read it. Zoe knew her sister wouldn’t be able to resist coming to find out what was going on. And the suggestion about a documentary had worked out just as Zoe had proposed. Still, Juliet didn’t like it, not one bit.
She was deeply suspicious of this Craig guy, for a start.
This morning I was listening to Howard Jacobson, comic novelist and Booker Prize winner, on Desert Island Discs, and among the many things he said which touched and amused me, the most striking was this, “I have always felt myself to be on the outside of everything, looking in.” He gave this reply to the interviewer’s question, “Now you’ve won the Booker, do you feel you’ve arrived? Do you now feel you’re on the inside?”
What a wonderful response she received to this question! And this seemed to me a true writer’s response. I identified with it absolutely. This is what I have spent my life doing. When I was researching for my newly-published novel Mystical Circles, I was an observer. I was on the outside looking in. I investigated many New Age spiritual groups and lifestyles and philosophies, and I always saw myself as being on the outside looking in – just as Juliet does in my novel. How anxious Juliet is not to get involved, not to be drawn in, to keep her objectivity as a journalist. It almost seems a personal threat to her to get involved. Yet as more than one character says to her, “You have to come alongside us to truly understand.”
My character the Rev. Theo sees this clearly. “I’m all about people on spiritual journeys,” he says. “I’ll go anywhere, come in on anything.” It is no contradiction to him, a young clergyman, to enter a New Age spiritual group and to come alongside the members of the community and to live as one of them.
So you, my readers, will probably have spotted the apparent contradiction here. Do I believe in being an outsider looking in? Or do I believe in getting involved, coming alongside? The truth lies in paradox. And this is the paradox Howard Jacobson embodies. Of course he is on the inside! Of course he has arrived! And yet – he has the soul of a writer. And so he feels always on the outside looking in.
Do you identify with Howard Jacobson at all when he describes himself feeling like this, despite being successful in the eyes of the world?
Today Ezine Articles have published my article on “What can we learn from the sacred places of other religions?” (see below). I wrote this after a visit to Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) in Central Australia, back in 2009. The thoughts expressed in this article feed into the content of my new novel “A Passionate Spirit”. I am working on this now, and it is a sequel to my first published novel “Mystical Circles”.
I am particularly fascinated by the relationship between spirituality and place. Last night I was reading “The Spiral – Crop Circle News” published by the Wiltshire Crop Circle Study Group. What stood out for me was the crop circle enthusiasts’ idea of places “where the Otherworld prevails and the veils are thin.” This connects to the awareness of the Celtic Christians that some places are “thin places” where the veil between this world and the spiritual world is thin. This applies to all sorts of places which have numinous quality e.g. Lindisfarne/Holy Island, or Iona, or St Cuthbert’s tomb in Durham Cathedral, or Cheddar Gorge, or Wells Cathedral, and there are many other examples that readers of this may already be well aware of.
I am reminded of something Rabbi Lionel Blue wrote: “Eternity is all around us. Part of us inhabits it already.”
Read my article on Uluru here:
This was my live interview with Liz Kershaw of BBC Radio Coventry & Warwickshire on Sunday 7 November 2010. Liz clearly understood the struggles of a writer and asked some very good perceptive questions. I greatly appreciated the opportunity she gave me to talk about my writing journey on live radio.
This is new territory for me – though I’ve written lots in my life I’ve never written it “nearly live” (apart from Facebook of course)! Usually I correct what I write over and over again – even emails. Yes, I still long for those far-off days when Mr Darcy sat down and composed carefully-thought-out letters to his little sister Georgiana and impressed the watching Lizzy Bennett with his devotion. I love the radio programme in which celebrities read from and talk about their teenage diaries. I enjoyed listening to Meera Syal’s weight loss miseries at the age of 13. Surely the very essence of the personal diary is that it is private and totally honest and never going to be read until after you die and it is unearthed from an attic (if you’re lucky). So this is “nearly live” writing, and a very exciting departure for me!