New Cover Design Coming for Edition 3 of Mystical Circles To Be Published by Luminarie on 31 August 2017

Mystical Circles will be published by Luminarie in a new third edition on 31 August.

Instead of the present cover, it will have a new cover created by the designer behind the cover of A Passionate Spirit.author SC Skillman at booksigning at King Edward VI School Christmas Fair SUA 3 Dec 2016

The cover design will be darker and more mysterious than that for edition 2, in keeping with the tone of the story, and will harmonise with A Passionate Spirit.

Both novels  share themes of psychological tensions, spiritual threat, religious cults, paranormal, and shape-shifters; and both are set in the same Cotswolds manor house. Although each story can be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone, the second does follow on from the first, and draws through a couple of the characters who appeared before. So to demonstrate more clearly the connection between the two, a thematic relationship will be seen in the two cover designs.

More later when I’ll be able to give the cover reveal!

In addition my book of encouraging  tips, insights and reminders for writers, Perilous Path: A Writer’s Journey, will be published in a second edition with Luminarie, on the same date – 31 August 2017.

The new edition of each of the above books will be available as a paperback and as an ebook. Mystical Circles paperback will be priced at £8.99 to bring it into line with A Passionate Spirit, and Perilous Path will be available for £4.99.

Meanwhile I’ve reached 70,581 words in my third novel, Director’s Cut. This will continue the themes of my first two novels, with a strong emphasis on modern Gothic. I know the way the story is to end – but my main antagonist is more frightening, subtle and cunning than those in my first two novels, and the power struggle with the chief protagonist is nearing that ‘black moment’ when it seems all is lost. I still don’t know how she is to survive or to prosper, through the things she will learn from this encounter.Expectations (2)  Perhaps that’s the best way for it to be, when creating a first draft; to maintain a dynamic relationship with the characters and their inner worlds, there must be a strong element of uncertainty. If the author is to defeat the reader’s expectations, she must first defeat her own!

 

 

Gazing Out to Sea: The Beauty of the English Coastline

I recently visited Beachy Head, East Sussex, with a friend and  my two teenage children.

Shining cliff (photo  credit: Abigail Robinson)
Shining cliff (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

As we walked along the cliftop, we all agreed: Where in the world could we go that’s more beautiful than this?

Beachy Head, together with the Seven Sisters Country Park and Birling Gap are all protected by The National Trust and they are  a short drive  out of Eastbourne on the south coast.

on Birling Gap Beach (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)
on Birling Gap Beach (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

 

Bright path (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)
Bright path (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

I was born and brought up in Kent, and it was only thirty five minutes drive from where we lived to the south coast. Camber Sands was a particular favourite, and we regularly visited and ran over the open dunes, usually going on afterwards to the lovely old fishing town Rye, with its evocative fifteenth century Mermaid Inn.

On every trip, I felt the excitement of that first view of the sea.

And now, I say to my own children, just as my father said to us: “who’ll be the first to catch a glimpse of the sea?”

Everything depends upon our own inner state, as we contemplate such landscapes, which can then become sacred spaces.

gazing out to sea (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)
gazing out to sea (photo credit: Abigail Robinson)

For me, standing on a cliff gazing out to sea is a thing of beauty, a joy for ever. 

Sheila & Abigail on Birling  Gap Beach (photo credit; Jamie Robinson)
Sheila & Abigail on Birling Gap Beach (photo credit; Jamie Robinson)

Page-Turning Psychological Suspense Free on Kindle

Mystical Circles cover image
Mystical Circles cover image

Mystical Circles

by SC Skillman

 

PAGE-TURNING ROMANTIC SUSPENSE   

FREE ON KINDLE

Download for free any time between 8pm on 24 November and 8am on 27 November

“Hi, you in crowded, stressed old London from me in the peaceful, perfect Cotswolds. Massive change of plan. I’m in love. Craig is gorgeous, sexy, intelligent. Paradise here. Staying forever.”

Juliet, concerned that her younger sister has fallen for the charismatic Craig, leader of the Wheel of Love, sets off for the Cotswold hills to investigate.

She arrives at Craig’s community hoping to rescue Zoe. But intrigues, liaisons and relationships flare and flourish or fizzle out quickly within this close circle and, despite her reservations, Juliet is drawn into the Wheel of Love – with completely unforeseen consequences.

PRAISE FOR MYSTICAL CIRCLES

“Skillman weaves romance and attraction with spiritual searching and emotional needs, powerful universal themes”
Marie Calvert (Arts Psychotherapist and Retreat Leader)

“Mystical Circles will captivate you from the first paragraph… From page one my antennas were up… like any good mystery the more I read the more questions I had.. if a great mystery would not keep you reading there was a touch of romance as well… Mystical Circles is definitely a page turner. I recommend this book.”
Marsha Randolph (US Book Reviewer)

“I highly recommend this book for anyone!”
Kristina Franken (Goodreads Book Reviewer)

“AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Paddy O’Callaghan (Goodreads Book Reviewer)

Childhood Imaginary Worlds

When I was a little girl, my friend Alison and I created imaginary worlds.

A map of the imaginary world "Coneland" created by Alison & Sheila as children
A map of the imaginary world “Coneland” created by Alison & Sheila as children

One of these was the land we named “Coneland”. We wrote stories about the royal family of this land; at the bottom righthand corner of the map is the palace and the royal park, situated of course in the capital city, Coneington.

Alison is now a gifted textile artist who regularly exhibits her work in London and throughout the UK. Early expressions of her creative imagination may be seen in the worlds we designed before the age of 10.

Among the most famous examples of imaginary childhood worlds is that composed by the Bronte sisters, “Gondal”. Emily and Charlotte and their siblings actively worked on the complicated fantasy world of “Gondal” for 16 years, and some of their creations at this time may be seen in the Bronte Museum at Howarth in Yorkshire.

Painting of the Bronte sisters by Branwell Bronte
Painting of the Bronte sisters by Branwell Bronte

Of course, the artist Grayson Perry is well known for his childhood teddy bear Alan Measles, who was “the dictator and god of the imaginary world” in which Grayson Perry dwelt throughout his childhood (and of course well into his adulthood!)

In 1979 an author called Robert Silvey wrote a letter to “The Author”, a journal published by the Society of Authors, in which he invited contact from anyone who had created imaginary worlds in their childhood. He was gathering material for a book which was to be An Enquiry into the Imaginative Worlds of Childhood.

Alison and I sent off copies of our material; pictures and maps, a description of our imaginary world, the land of “Coneland” and its inhabitants.

This is an extract from Robert Silvey’s reply:

 “It’s so interesting having two perspectives on this same ‘paracosm‘ (as we call it). The first thing that struck me about the map of Coneland was the similarity of the outline to that of the New Hiniwan States of which I was for some years the President. I suspect that this similarity has something to do with the dimensions of foolscap paper!”

Sadly, Robert Silvey died before completing the book.

But it remains true, as he said in his original letter to “The Author” magazine, that “had it not been for the subsequent fame of the Bronte sisters, no one would ever have heard of Gondal or Angria. Yet they were not the first, not will they be the last, children whose fantasy-life takes the form of an imaginary world.

Did you ever create imaginary worlds during your childhood? And how has that influenced your adult life and vocation? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

 

Promises of Freedom and a World That Refuses To Be Healed

I’m off on holiday for a week. While I’m taking a break from my laptop my blog will be quiet. However there’s a post or two in the pipeline for when I get back – but you can expect a delayed response to any comments etc.

Mystical Circles new edition
Mystical Circles new edition pub. August 2012

Meanwhile, though, consider this thought from an excellent book I’ve just read, Jeff Goins’ “Wrecked”:

The world is broken and remains that way, in spite of our efforts to help it…. In a world that refuses to be healed, we must face the fact that we are not the heroes of our stories. It teaches us to rely on something bigger than ourselves and teaches the source of true compassion.”

I think this is a very profound statement: an acknowledgement that the world “refuses to be healed”.

I spent the first part of this book relating what Jeff Goins says to my own life experiences; and the next part seeing those experiences in a new light, and perhaps making sense of them. Finally the book challenged me to go beyond my comfort zone and to be willing to behave in ways that are “counterintuitive”. I found this book very moving and penetrating. It is full of wisdom, compassion and humanity.It’s an ideal book for young people to read – and the sort of book I wish I’d read during my university years.

In my romantic suspense novel “Mystical Circles” you will meet a number of people who ostensibly do want to be healed, and have come together – into a very beautiful, idyllic place – for that very purpose.

Not necessarily physical healing – but healing in mind and spirit.

You will also meet somebody who believes he can heal, and that he is the hero of his story.

We enter an esoteric community of people all of whom have come here with a range of different emotional and psychological and spiritual needs.

Freelance journalist Juliet believes she’s only here to rescue her sister from the arms of charismatic Craig, the group leader. And she feels distinctly put out when the group members start targeting her with questions about her own feelings and  “needs”.

“Therapy or treatment?” queries one of the group members, Edgar. “What about those, Juliet? Have you ever had any?”

“No. There’s nothing wrong with me.”

“There doesn’t have to be anything wrong with you, dear. But you’ll have needs. We all have those. And they are what have brought us here.”

Craig promises to “heal” the members of the group. This is what his brochure promises:

If you’ve been searching all your life, but have so far not found what you’ve been looking for, you’ve come to the right place. Here at the Wheel of Love, you may sharpen your subtle knife and cut a window into heaven. There are no limits to what you can achieve here: only those you impose upon yourself. You’ve chosen to come so we promise to supply the necessary tools. If you accept these tools and use them well, you’ll enter a freedom you’ve never dared dream of.

Craig will reach deep down into your spirit and touch a part of it you never knew was there.

Read the novel, and judge for yourself whether Craig – and numerous people like him whom you may meet  – delivers on his promises.

“Mystical Experiences and Glimpses of Eternity” Mini Series Part 5 – Secret India: The Land of the Gods and Neel Kanth, Mountain of Light

Does an experience of joy and spiritual upliftment only count as a mystical experience if it changes your life?

I believe these experiences gather significance cumulatively, over the course of a lifetime, through the repetition of events grouped around a similar theme – just as in a recurring dream.

And for me the recurring theme is mountains.

Welsh Mountains
Welsh Mountains

When I was about seven years old our family went on holiday to Wales. Early one morning, a few of us got up and set out from our guesthouse for a walk before breakfast. To me, the world was fresh and new, everything was full of potential and wonder, the air held a miraculous clarity, the sky was a pure translucent blue… and at the end of the road was a mountain.

All I could think was “At the end of the road there’s a mountain – and we’re going to climb it.”

And that “start of the holidays” experience of mine was to inform all subsequent “glimpses of eternity” throughout my life.

Several years later I joined the Yoga for Health Foundation which was then led by Howard Kent (1919-2005). I wouldn’t describe Howard Kent as charismatic – probably one of the things I appreciated about him – but I liked and respected his character – wisdom, spirituality & a dry sense of humour.

I went on a Yoga Tour of North India and Nepal with Howard Kent and a group of yoga enthusiasts.

We flew to Delhi and our trip included Agra (the Taj Mahal), Varanasi  (the Burning Ghats by the Ganges),  the erotic temple carvings of Khajuraho, as well as the Red City of Jaipur, and finally Khathmandu in Nepal.

I have a vivid memory of time spent at twilight on the roof of a derelict maharajah’s palace in the jungle near Khajuraho, with Howard Kent and another member of our party, during which we talked about whether it was a good idea or not to renounce the world. (We concluded it wasn’t). Out in the jungle we heard a tiger growl. Otherwise there was an overwhelming silence and tranquility. And I even remember the cloud formation in the sky, which presented itself to me in the shape of a giant fish.

But this post is about one other aspect of that Indian tour – our journey through the Gharhwal Himalayas, (known as “the land of the gods” ), a journey which took us from Rishikesh to Badrinath, centre of Hindu pilgrimage.

And there, in Badrinath, one peak – Mount Neel Kanth – encapsulated all my recurring experiences around mountains.

Mount Neelkanth, Badrinath
Mount Neelkanth, Badrinath

I quote here from a passage in my journal, written on the night of our arrival in Badrinath.

“this town and the mountains around it have an awesome quality… an almost palpable presence filled the valley… the source of this power was Neel Kanth, a mountain of white crystal whose peak appeared between the two dark slopes of Naryan… luminous in the full moon.. it shone out like a mystical vision.” The next day, I wrote,”the spiritual intensity of the night had vanished but a deeper serenity remained.”

Is there a recurring image in your life – in your dreams, or in the real world, which means a lot to you on your journey? Whatever you believe, does this ring any bells for you? Do you identify with this journey? Share your thoughts and feelings with me about this journey of the spirit. I’d love to have your comments!

Mystical Circles – Is Everything Really As Perfect As It Seems?

For those who’ve been following my series on “Mystical Experiences and Glimpses of Eternity” you may recognise this as the perennial question – unspoken – in the mind of anyone on the spiritual journey I describe.

And it’s certainly the question behind much of my exploring."Mystical Circles" new print edition published August 2012

My heroine Juliet explores this too – in an idyllic farmhouse in the Cotswolds.

Hi, you in crowded, stressed old London from me in the peaceful, perfect Cotswolds. Massive change of plan. I’m in love. Craig is gorgeous, sexy, intelligent. Paradise here. Staying forever.

Juliet, concerned that her younger sister has fallen for the charismatic Craig, leader of the Wheel of Love, sets off for the Cotswolds to investigate.

She arrives at Craig’s community hoping to rescue Zoe. But intrigues, liaisons and relationships flare and flourish or fizzle out quickly within this close circle, and despite her reservations, Juliet is drawn into the Wheel of Love with completely unforeseen consequences.

“Mystical Circles” is available now in the new print edition from Booklocker. The new edition has a well-designed interior & is a smaller size than the previous (US Trade) edition. Plus a brand new cover design. If you enjoy romantic suspense why not try it out here? You can try before you buy – and download the first three chapters. Enjoy!

“Mystical Experiences and Glimpses of Eternity” Mini Series Part 4 – Cottingley Fairy Photographs and Esoteric Teachings

I want to be a very serene loving being in tune with the universe.

Theosophical Society
Theosophical Society

So said a fellow-member of my study group at  The Theosophical Society, at 50 Gloucester Place, London W1.

She spoke those words in answer to a question from my next inspirational figure. He had asked, “Why are you here? What do you hope to find?”

I’ve remembered her words for decades. And they appear in my romantic suspense novel Mystical Circles. Those words speak to my heart. Why? Because they seem to sum up the spiritual hunger many people feel, well outside the gates of  organised religion.

The Theosophical Society was my next port of call after THE CENTRE FOR SPIRITUAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDIES.  Ever-hungry for new spiritual experiences, I  alighted upon the Theosophical Society, and discovered the esoteric teachings of Helena Blavatsky, and started attending talks by another inspiring teacher.

His name was Adam Warcup, and unlike me he has sustained his commitment to Theosophy over the years, and still lectures at the Theosophical Society.

So what is Theosophy?

Theosophy, maintains its adherents, is nothing other than a body of Ancient Teachings. And the motto of the Theosophical Society is: “There is no religion higher than truth.”  But the first person who brought those teachings to the West and who managed to convey them in an understandable and accessible form was Helena Blavatsky ( on 21 June 2012 she was, together with Annie Besant, the subject of a programme presented by Melvyn Bragg on BBC Radio 4).

The idea that The Truth was to be found in this body of Ancient Teachings appealed to me strongly, as a spiritual seeker who had already  discounted what the organised religions had to offer.

And so I entered a world in which I heard, for the first time, of the Cottingley Fairy Photographs; of elemental beings; of the Devachan, (the Abode of Shining Beings), of visions of life after death much more detailed and vivid than those to be found in the Bible (as I saw it then). And fluent communicators who sounded intellectually respectable and who were able to express all these things in a way I found compelling.

I was so won over by what I heard at the Theosophical Society that the BBC producer I worked for in the Religious Schools Radio office in Portland Place asked me to go there and make notes on the lectures  for him, so that he might include an item on these “ancient teachings” in one of his programmes about spiritual seeking in London today.

Whilst I may not now, as a Christian,  subscribe to many of those beliefs, I still look at the world through the eyes of someone who understands what the other person believes. (click to tweet)

I think the reason for this is the level of my emotional engagement with those beliefs. I first heard of the Cottingley fairy photographs through a book I found at the Theosophical Society. I believed in the fairies at the time – as of course did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle several decades earlier, whose name will be forever closely associated with the case. Many years later Elsie Wright, one of the girls, confessed to having faked the photos. And yet there are those who insist on believing. And the story has an enduring fascination, as shown by the movie “Fairy Tale – a True Story”.

Fairy Tale - a True Story (movie)
Fairy Tale – a True Story (movie)

I  will always have empathy with all those who seek as I did, and rest awhile in these beguiling teachings.

I may also end with another quote, this time from Shakespeare, through the words of Hamlet to Horatio in Hamlet Act 1 Scene 5:

There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Whatever you believe, does this ring any bells for you? Do you identify with this journey? Share your thoughts and feelings with me about this journey of the spirit. I’d love to have your comments!

“Mystical Experiences and Glimpses of Eternity” Mini Series Part 1: Stirred By A Scientist to Share a Childhood Religious Experience

What’s the difference between nature or music appreciation… and a mystical experience?

Early Morning Mist, Beddgelert, Wales (deryckdillon.co.uk)
Early Morning Mist, Beddgelert, Wales (deryckdillon.co.uk)

When does “being moved by something beautiful” become a religious experience?

Surely the criterion for a mystical experience is that it changes your life?

In my case, it did.

My early childhood mystical experiences ultimately led me on a spiritual journey of many years – which, along the way, bore fruition in my novel “Mystical Circles”, and is now bearing fruit in my new novel  “A Passionate Spirit.”

And for me this spiritual journey didn’t start by opening a book or listening to a clergyman. It started with a direct personal encounter with Divine Reality.

And the person who encouraged me to take it forward was a Scientist.

The name of the scientist was Sir Alister Hardy, Marine Biologist, who wrote the book “The Biology of God: A Scientist’s Study of Man the Religious Animal.”

Sir Alister Hardy, founder of the Religious Experience Research Centre, and winner of The Templeton Prize 1985
Sir Alister Hardy, founder of the Religious Experience Research Centre, and winner of The Templeton Prize 1985

At the University of Wales, Lampeter, you’ll find the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre. Find out about it here if you want to enquire further, or contribute an experience of your own.

Sir Alister found in a study of 3000 contributed experiences that there were 21 triggers for spontaneous mystical experiences. These included such things as childbirth, the prospect of death, illness and crises in personal relations. But top of the list came  depression/despair, and then prayer and meditation, and then, natural beauty.

A few months before my 17th birthday, I wrote to Sir Alister, having read an article in The Times about him.

He appealed “to all those who have at any time felt that their lives have been affected by some power beyond themselves, to write an account of their experience and the effect it has had on their lives” and to send it to him.

I wrote the story of my childhood religious experiences, and sent it to Sir Alister. In his reply to me, he wrote that my experiences were “the feeling of an ecstatic joy in relation to the universe brought on by some particular aspect of nature… what Rudolf Otto called the numinous, the sense of the Holy.”

Thus began a journey of many years – a fascinating journey of spiritual enquiry and research – and several more mystical experiences along the way.

For me, then, University intervened, but after my graduation and return home, I wrote to the R.E.R.U. at Oxford again.

“What can I get involved in?” I asked. “How can I further my spiritual search?”

Edward Robinson, the new Director, replied, and pointed me to this organisation:

The Centre for Spiritual and Psychological Studies.

(find out about more about my involvement with this organisation here)

And thus, with a weekend symposium in rural Gloucestershire and a group of diverse and sometimes eccentric people of many religious backgrounds (celebrated, in fictional form, in my novel “Mystical Circles”) I began my long spiritual journey.

But don’t forget, as T.S. Eliot says in his poem ‘Little Gidding’, the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time (tweet this).

My first childhood religious experience involved a mountain in the early morning. And my journey took me to another mountain at the other side of the world where I was to recapture that same experience, early in the morning.

In this mini-series I’m going to tell you about some of my “glimpses of eternity” and also introduce you to a few of the fascinating individuals who’ve been way-markers on that spiritual journey.

Join me in my next few posts and find out about my roll-call of spiritual guides (saints as well as sinners).

And do share your own experiences with me, if you wish!

Romantic Moments

What are the most romantic moments of your life?

Cotswold house in a romantic setting
Cotswold house in a romantic setting

 As a mystery romance novelist I have my own ideas!

The setting for my novel Mystical Circles is a gracious farmhouse in the Cotswolds; surrounded by garden, orchard, and its own land rising up the steep side of the valley to a ridge overlooking  the panorama of the Severn Vale, it also boasts a fine tithe barn. It’s my idea of a romantic location. Though I will admit that some of the things that go on in it do not quite qualify for that description! For intrigues, liaisons and relationships flare and flourish or fizzle out quickly within this close circle.

Nevertheless, there are genuinely romantic moments in my novel. There is a sunken garden with a water lily pond; an African thatched gazebo reached by a winding path through azaleas and rhododendrons; and up the wooded slope behind the farmhouse, a hermitage, ideal for “one-to-one counselling sessions”. Also the sitting room, with its leaded window panes, through which the morning sun streams, tinting the oak floor timbers gold, and enriching the colours of the silk long- fringed rugs is often the venue for a romantic get-together; or maybe the library, with its mellow oak panelling, the dreamy atmosphere, the softly glowing lamps.  These are all suitable locations for romantic moments.

But in real life true romantic moments are few and far between.

To me, the essence of a traditional romantic moment is this: a serendipitous conjunction of beauty, happiness, dreams, and a loving relationship between a man and a woman. Notice my use of the word ‘traditional’!

You need to inhabit a romantic moment fully to claim it.

I can think of moments which had most of the ingredients of being romantic… except that I lacked the confidence to be fully alive to them.

You need to be relaxed, accepting, and totally at one in the moment.

These are some examples of romantic moments garnered from my own memories (the names of the ‘romantic heroes’ concerned are disguised!:

1.  lemon souffle in a restaurant in Albemarle Street, London, with Mr X

2.  on a London underground escalator when Mr X turned to me and said: “One day we’ll be together forever.”

3. On the shore of a certain Balearic Island, near dusk, watching a sea that looked like caramel silk, when Mr X turned to me and said “When I become Y (naming the promotion he was hoping to get, which we’d discussed), we’ll come back here and stay at the Z Hotel (naming the Hotel Romantic-but-Very-Posh-and-Expensive which we on that trip had been unable to afford to stay in).

Here are my further ideas of what would constitute a romantic moment:

1) A chance meeting with an ex-lover in a supremely beautiful place (and I spent ages trying to  make that work in a previous novel but it just didn’t come off).

2) The “bone fida mini-break” beloved of Bridget Jones –  in a fine country house hotel such as the one which Daniel Cleaver whisked Bridget off to, filmed at Stoke Park  (although it all went sour when they met up in the foyer with Mark Darcy and his attractive companion Natasha).

3) The spontaneous / surprise weekend in Paris in the springtime (referred to in a stage farce I greatly enjoyed, when the main character, a philanderer played by Leslie Phillips, spirited his mistress Janie off on just such a break, having purchased  beautiful lingerie to lay out on the bed for her, and was then interrupted by other visitors whom he hadn’t bargained for).

True romantic moments are few and far between in real life. That is, of course, the nature of serendipity. And it’s why romance fiction is the most popular literary genre.

I hope that when those moments come, you are able to fully inhabit them.

What are your romantic moments? Dare you let me know about them in your comments – disguising the name of the romantic hero, of course?