Welcome To My Blog – About Me

Author photo SC Skillman
Author photo SC Skillman

Thank you for visiting my blog! I write psychological, paranormal and mystery fiction and non fiction.

I’m a member of the Society of Authors and the Association of Christian Writers.

My new book Paranormal Warwickshire is out now from Amberley Publishing.  It’s available everywhere good books are sold. If you’d like a signed copy sent to any UK address, just pay £12.50 here and include a note of your postal address, and any requests for a special message, and I’ll post you a signed copy at once.

Mystical Circles is psychological suspense, and the sequel A Passionate Spirit a paranormal thriller. You can order signed copies here. Or download them to your kindle as follows:

getBook.at/MysticalCircles

getBook.at/PassionateSpirit

Subscribe to my mailing list and get a free epub Pursuing Your Creative Passion, a taster from my inspirational writer’s guide Perilous Path: A Writer’s Journey – packed with encouraging tips, insights and reminders for writers. 

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Here on my blog, I post weekly. I love to have your comments so please keep them coming!  And if you’d like to know more about my next novel Director’s Cut, which I’m working on right now, do sign up for my mailing list here.

a-passionate-spirit-cover-image-with-taglineI studied English Literature at Lancaster University, and my first permanent job was as a production secretary with the BBC. Later I lived for nearly five years in Australia. I now live in Warwickshire with my husband David and son Jamie, and my daughter Abigail is studying for a Masters at university in Australia.

I completed two full-length adult novels before writing Mystical Circles. I’ve always been fascinated by the interaction of different complex personalities, an inexhaustible source of inspiration for a writer!

And my advice to anyone who wants to be a writer? Read a lot, listen to people’s conversations, be observant about the details of your world, and especially about human behaviour and interaction, and persist in your writing, being single-minded to the point of obsession…never give up, always believe in yourself despite all evidence to the contrary,(Click to Tweet) and hold out for what you first dreamed of.

Thank you for reading this. And if you want to be first to hear about my next novel, which is currently in progress, do sign up on my email list here.

The Pessimistic Optimism of the Long-Distance Creative Writer

After being turned down by numerous publishers, he had decided to write for posterityGeorge Ade

 It is a truth certainly acknowledged by the author of the above quote that many creative writers struggle for years, enduring perhaps decades in the wilderness of submissions and rejections, before their persistence finally pays off. 

Most would-be authors, says Alison Baverstock in The Artists and Writers Yearbook, “are pessimistic optimists.”  And The Old Testament is full of stories of people who waited or fought seemingly in vain or wandered in wilderness for many years before God’s plan for them unfolded, and their gifts were used and they prospered.

Joseph, Moses, and Elijah come to mind.  Moses was 80 years old when he led the Children of Israel out of Egypt, and witnessed the parting of the Red Sea.  Elijah gave way to depression before God re-commissioned him.  Joseph languished forgotten in jail before his gift for interpreting dreams lifted him up again.

Fast forward a few thousand years to my chance meeting with a publisher (later to become one of London’s top literary agents) who took an interest in my writing.  He encouraged me to write my first novel. 

 Not long ago I attended an evening on Discernment, and an image was presented to us: “You can spend years knocking on doors.  Some doors lead to broom cupboards and some to elevator shafts.” 

When I met this publisher, in the early stages of my writing career, I opened a door and it led into a lift.  I stepped in, and went up.  But it was a faith-operated lift.  It required me to have enough faith to press the button for the top floor.  I only had enough faith to press the button for Floor 3.  The doors opened, the demon of self-doubt stepped in, and pressed the button for the basement.  And down I went again, to the very bottom of the shaft.

So, as my writing life continued beyond the outer gates, thick brown envelopes dropped on my doormat, and I opened letters saying things like We read this with much amusement but in the end were not sufficiently drawn to the central idea and We found your style fluent and assured but it is not quite for us  and Although this is witty and well written… our fiction programme is so full that we are buying very few new titles unfortunately…. I wish you success in finding a less over-burdened publisher.

 But I later discovered that, contrary to the feelings of rejected authors, when you actually meet editors in publishing houses, they’re very pleasant people.  The Mills and Boon editor I met in the Ladies at the Savoy, at the RNA Romantic Novel of the Year Award luncheon, was very nice.  And so was the Rights Director for the top agent I referred to earlier in this article, whom I met later in the dining room. She reminded me of a member of my babysitting circle. (This lady still rejected my novel when I sent it to her though, and subsequently left the agency and published a novel herself).

And so I continued to open letters saying, Due to the very strong market in this kind of literature your novel would not be viable for us to publishThis is too commercial for usI’m afraid this doesn’t quite fit with our current list.   

Then I read Margaret Silf’s book Sacred Spaces, and found these words in her chapter on Crossing Places

At this ‘burial plot’ of my experience, I am standing between two worlds – between the old, the known and understood, and the new beginning which still lies beyond the scope of my wildest imagining. I am standing in sacred space because it is on the very edge of the known that the infinite possibilities of the unknown begin to unfold.

 She went on to say: 

God stretched the rainbow across the heavens, so that we might never forget the promise that holds all creation in being.  This is the promise that life and joy are the permanent reality, like the blue of the sky, and that all the roadblocks we encounter are like the clouds – black and threatening perhaps, but never the final word.  Because the final word is always “Yes!”

The Novels We Love and Carl Jung’s Theory of the Collective Unconscious

Among his many theories, Carl Jung includes “the Collective Unconscious”. This “collects and organises personal experiences in a similar way with each member of the species.”  If we consider a book to which millions have responded in a similar positive way, for instance Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”, we may then see that the story touches upon areas of human experience which are universal. This may be described as an author “touching the Spirit of the Age.”

Recently (and probably through the workings of synchronicity!) an explanation from Quantum Theory fell into my hands, from a scientist who told me he spent a lot of time in the past with a group of fellow-scientists discussing “Life, the Universe and Everything”.  He concluded that we have free will but are limited in what we do; using the analogy of a chess game, each piece has a limited freedom of movement. We are not aware of the existence of the laws which infuence our every action, and each individual in limited in a unique way.  Tolstoy understood this principle perfectly, reminding us in “War and Peace” that when we  learned the earth orbits the sun we had to surmount the sensation of unreal immobility in space. In just the same way he says, we must renounce a freedom that does not exist and recognise a dependence of which we are not conscious.

How can we see this working out  in some well-known stories? Let me suggest a few examples from my own fiction reading. 

1.  A thirst for truth – as exemplified by Winston Smith in George Orwell’s novel 1984. Winston Smith is a clerk in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth; truth is the central issue in this story and the reader instinctively knows it is being subverted. And that is why Winston Smith’s struggle to undermine the Party’s monopology on Truth has struck such a deep chord with so many.

2. A craving for intimacy – the 5-year old boy narrator of Emma Donoghue’s novel Room shares an intimacy with his mother which is ultimately broken after their escape from captivity. To me this paradox is central to the power of this novel.

3. A fear of death or the unknown: It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more, says Albus Dumbledore to Harry Potter. It is worth noting that JK Rowling said she could never have written the Harry Potter books if it wasn’t for the fact that she loved her mother, and her mother died. This was clearly a persistent theme throughout Harry’s story.

I believe authors achieve this kind of power in their stories by working with the limited freedom of movement in their own lives and trusting themselves to the unconscious.

SC Skillman

Spaces, Holes and Boundaries in Creative Imagination

In the Birmingham City Art Gallery I found an artist whose work conjured up for me an imaginary conversation between two people meeting at a party: “So what do you do for a living?” “I tie threads round holes.”  As I imagined the likely response, I gazed at a series of photographs of various holes in fences – barbed wire, timber, whatever – on private or official property – which the artist had woven around, decorated, defined, and given meaning with thread.  The thought sprang into my mind, This could only be done secretly and without permission. Then I read in the artist’s note that was exactly what she did. I loved it.

The exhibition Lost in Lace showed me how holes, spaces and gaps concentrate meaning within themselves.  The artists, inspired by lace, had shown this in various ways. They had built networks and connections, by creating boundaries and structures – like an inverted crystal cathedral hanging from the ceiling, or After the Dream, a room filled with a disturbing and sinister network of black embroidery wool, enclosing four long white dresses. A glittering rose pattern punched on a wall seemed to have been created with sequins, or glass beads, or crystals. But they were only holes. Behind them a large window let in natural light; and the holes defined the pattern.

I entered a room A Thin Line Between Space and Matter which plunged the viewer into darkness and only threads of light could be seen, curving around, above and through space,  given meaning by the hole of darkness at the centre.  Recognising this put me in mind of another kind of space – the alleyway.

When I was a young child, an alleyway opposite my house was the way through to colour, adventure, romance, magic. This was because it led to the road along which the local Mayday Carnival processed. The amount of excited anticipation that I concentrated on that alleyway lent it a significance that would haunt my dreams of years. The reality of the alleyway may be weeds, delapidated concrete, a weathered gate, broken paving stones. But in my imagination that alleyway is a portal to another world.

So it is in creative writing. Gaps are essential to great story: the gap that opens up between the expectation of the reader, and what actually happens. And from that gap pours a flood of insight.

SC Skillman

Learning From David Hockney

On a recent visit to David Hockney’s exhibition “A Bigger Picture” at the Royal Academy, not only was I uplifted and enthralled by his art, but also I took away with me several insights for creative writers. Here are five highlights that apply to novelists as well as artists:

1) Working From Memory Frees the Imagination

Hockney does a charcoal sketch in situ, then paints in studio; or he observes landscape, then paints it from memory; or he paints wholly from his imagination. Working from memory sets the imagination free. I can see close parallels here to the work of a novelist; over-reliance on research may produce an interesting novel, but not one which touches the spirit of the age or haunts the imagination for years.

2) Notice the Changes in One Subject Over Time

Hockney went back again and again to exactly the same fixed position in Woldgate Wood, East Yorkshire. He painted the wood in May, July, October and November – each time capturing a different spirit. The same place – transformed over time. This is an essential task of the creative writer; to show the changes in one protagonist made by varying pressures of time and plot and circumstance.

3) Be Alert to Seize the Opportunity That Will Quickly Vanish

Hawthorn blossom appears overnight and can disappear in one downpour of rain. Hockney was alert to the  moment the blossom would appear. He called it Action Week. He would instantly be out to paint with urgency. So must we as story-writers capture the opportunity that the creative imagination presents – whether that be a thought that comes during the night or on a long train journey, or in any other solitary moment. It must be captured with urgency or it will vanish.

4)  Focus Intense Concentration on One Well-Defined Area

Hockney filmed the landscape through 9 cameras mounted on a grid on the front of his jeep as it moved slowly along. Each frame makes the viewer see the whole differently, by focusing intensely on the details within that frame – helping us to see as an artist sees. This is what a great novelist does in exploring the psyche of one character who touches the spirit of the age.

5)  Harness the Power of Rediscovery

Hockney came back to the environment of his childhood, having spent many years away from it, living in California.  Separation from a loved landscape only serves to feed the mind as it imagines and reflects. During the four year period spent living in Australia (notwithstanding the inspiration I found in the Australian landscape, the Red Centre, mountains, coast, islands and rainforest), I often dreamed of the English landscape, particularly my childhood county of Kent, or of the familiar streets and locales of my childhood. This is so in creative writing too. If you spend much time apart from something you can now only apprehend through memories, dreams, reflections, your expression of this in any art form will have much greater depth and intensity.

SC Skillman

How Can Carl Jung’s Theory of Complexes Help You in Your Creative Writing?

Among the writings of Carl Jung, we find the psychological concept of  “complexes”. A complex may be defined as “a core pattern of emotions, memories, perceptions and wishes in the personal unconscious organised around a common theme such as power  or status.”  Many of us have probably heard someone described as having an inferiority /  guilt / martyr complex.  And this can be fruitful for a creative writer; though it has to be handled with care.  

1.  An inferiority complex may lead your character to interpret everything in the light of this set of notions: “I’m not good enough,” “my opinions don’t count”; “I’m afraid to put myself forward”.  The comic writer P.G.Wodehouse makes good use of this complex in his stories, for example  Jeeves and The Inferiority Complex of Old Sippy. Those of us who love Wodehouse’s stories are well-used to the shy young men attempting to battle those who are louder, bigger, better-looking, more powerful and more self-confident, to win the girl they love.

 2. Often,whether a fictional character displays a certain complex can be a matter of interpretation by the reader. I suggest the martyr complex may be illustrated in Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Tess behaves like a heroic martyr sacrificing herself. Many might feel, in reading this book, that Tess casts herself in the role of victim.

3. The guilt complex is used extensively in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Many characters experience intense guilt; but the exception to this widespread guilt complex is Smerdyakov who murders Fyodor yet does not blame himself; despite the fact that he’s the only character technically guilty, he feels the least liability for it. Thus Dostoyevsky sheds light on some of his own religious questions and doubts.

4) The power complex may operate in any area of life where someone is at the top of a hierarchical structure.Take, for example, pitiless schoolmaster Thomas Gradgrind in Dickens’ Hard Times, who uses his power over young minds to fill them with facts and to stamp out all colour,adventure and magic from their lives; or even Aunt Reed in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, as she exercises what little power she finds in her life, over her vulnerable young niece.  

So there’s plenty of inspiration here for fiction writers, as we create characters who inspire love, pity, fury, fascinated horror, or even self-searching in our readers.   But be warned. Not too many characters with complexes, please (unless you are of the calibre of Dostoyevsky).  These characters must be balanced with at least one person who is calm and centred – in the interests of giving your novel authenticity!

SC Skillman

How Can Carl Jung’s Theory of Synchronicity Help You in Your Creative Writing?

Among his many theories, Carl Jung includes “synchronicity”. This may be defined as “the meaningful patterning of two or more psycho-physical events not otherwise causally connected”. I’ve known of this theory for several years, and have seen it operating not only in my life but in the lives of others. Now I realise how it can help creative writers too.Let me give you a few examples of synchronicity in my own experience. 

Dangerous Interpersonal Tensions at The Wheel of Love, Esoteric Spiritual Group

As a novelist I enjoy writing about relationships. I’ve spent years observing people’s behaviour in all sorts of situations – within romantic relationships, family relationships, within groups both informal and structured, at dinner parties or self-help therapy groups or in other group situations such as writing workshops.  In my mystery romance novel “Mystical Circles”, I create a hothouse atmosphere within a closed community, where relationships and liaisons flare and flourish or fizzle out quickly. Much depends on  the undercurrents of motive behind the behaviour and interactions of the characters.

Here is an extract showing the interpersonal tensions that may be found in the hothouse atmosphere of  “The Wheel of Love”.

“Life is but a dream,” Rory said.

“You really believe that?”

“Of course. Who’d have harsh reality when they can live here?” he replied.

Oleg moved within range. “Life’s no different from what it was outside. Still goes badly for me most of the time.”

She glanced at him, bemused. “I noticed you last night in the barn with Beth, Oleg. Didn’t you two sort things out at all?”

He glared at her. “What d’you mean by that? Sort things out? How? And why were you watching us?”

She took a deep breath. “I can’t help noticing how much you care for her.”

“She doesn’t care for me,” he snapped.

Silence fell. She sought words. “Perhaps you’ve misunderstood her true feelings, Oleg. Perhaps you think too little of yourself. Be encouraged by Craig. He says you’re in tune with your higher self.”

“That depends upon what he actually chose to tell Craig.” Rory spoke in a snide tone of voice.

“Rory’s jealous,” said Oleg.

Rory moved as if he was about to strike him.

Juliet, alarmed, quickly stepped between them. “What’s up between you two?” she asked.

Rory looked surprised. “Nothing,” he replied, and sauntered on.

Then she turned back to Oleg. “What have you done to upset Rory?”

“Other way round.” His voice filled with self-pity. “It’s him who upset me.”

“Oh?” She ducked under a low branch. “What did he do?”

He looked dejected. “He asked me if I could possibly love him.”

Juliet took the risk of flippancy. “Didn’t you say ‘yes, as a friend? But I love Beth more’? This is, after all, a wheel of love.”

“No, I’d never tell him that,” he retorted, in a fierce undertone. “It doesn’t work that way. Not with Rory. He gets violent.”

“Oh?” She started. Her heart missed a beat. “Violent? D’you mean he beats you up?”

But Oleg was clearly unwilling to say more.

Juliet now felt a frisson of fear when she looked at Rory. She knew she shouldn’t judge anyone here simply on the basis of what someone else said about them. Even so…  She would treat Rory with just a little extra caution until she knew him better.

But what she really wanted to know right now was: how did Craig mean to deal with all these conflicting desires? Was he really equipped to handle them? Or was this, for him, a dream he never intended to wake up from?

How To Answer The Question at a Writers Workshop “Does Anyone Here Want To Become Rich and Famous?”

At a recent Writers Workshop which I attended in London, one of the delegates asked this question of all of us who sat at my table: “Is there anybody here who wants to become rich and famous?”

A silence followed, of about three seconds in duration, when it seemed that no writer present dared to admit to this hubris.

Then I spoke up, “Well, from the age of seven, I have wanted to become a successful published author and live by my writing.”

Nine pairs of eyes swivelled in my direction. Surely, by now, life had taught me otherwise? For what does it actually mean to “live by” your writing? It means a significant amount of reliable money, which flows persistently into the writer’s bank account over the course of many years.

And there is of course a universe of difference between living for your writing, and living by your writing.  It is a popularly-held belief that that the word ‘novelist’ is synonymous with ‘huge advance and three-book deal’, and ‘bestselling author living in a mansion on an island with panoramic views of the ocean from his or her writing room in the tower.”

Nevertheless, you do need money to live. And if companies are prepared to pay a liveable amount of money, year in year out, to, say junior clerks and secretaries and post-boys, why should not the world also accord that privilege to creative writers? And of course it does, to a happy few.

What are your thoughts on this? Do you buy books secondhand, are you delighted when you pick up a book for a bargain? How do you believe the world should reward those who write books?

A Portal to Another World – What Makes Any Place a Dream Home?

A couple of days ago the words ‘dream home’ sprang into my mind. I don’t know why. Perhaps it was a bit like J.K. Rowling on that train journey when she  was gazing out of the window day-dreaming and she thought ‘Boy wizard – doesn’t know he’s a wizard – gets invited to wizard school.’ Anyway, these words ‘dream home’ came into my mind as I was driving along in my car. And then I thought, Whoever first came up with the idea that any of us might, or indeed should, aspire to one day living in a ‘dream home’?  And what gives some of us the right and the privilege to live in a ‘dream home’, whereas thousands of others are constrained by money, location, convenience and so on, and end up in a home which is OK for them to live in but in no way constitutes a dream home and never will?

Of course there are those in this world for whom ‘home’ is an improvised shack in a slum or on a rubbish dump. But who says such people don’t also have ‘dream homes?’  Or is the very concept ‘dream home’ one that our consumer society has invented so they can attach dream lifestyles to it and then attempt to sell us the products that will somehow propel us into those dream lifestyles?

In my mystery romance novel “Mystical Circles” you will find a house that qualifies to be my own personal dream home. Ever since I was a young child, my dream home has involved flagstone floors, whitewashed walls, secret staircases within the thickness of a wall, exposed beams, inglenook fireplaces and diamond-paned windows. Perhaps I was first influenced by a lovely English country pub which somehow got associated in my mind with warmth, happiness, belonging…

So why on earth do I think that a fifteenth century English timbered cottage (beautifully restored and renovated of course) or farmhouse or indeed an Elizabethan hall-house qualify to be my dream home? Because they remind me of things from childhood, because such houses contain idiosyncratic corners and minstrels’ galleries and sloping ceilings and uneven walls, and probably because these things are the stuff of children’s stories, (or the sort I read anyway).  Houses that may provide entrances to other worlds… perhaps this in itself provides the definition of my dream home.

C.S.Lewis was first inspired for “The Lion,the Witch and the Wardrobe” by the house he and his brother explored when they were young children. An unused room with a mysterious wardrobe… This was a concept that turned out to be powerful and fertile, as did that of the boy wizard dreamed up on the train journey.  There is a rich tradition in children’s literature of houses that somehow become portals to another dimension – consider the world Lewis Carroll projects Alice into through the looking glass in her house, wait for the clock to strike thirteen and see what follows in “Tom’s Midnight Garden” by Philippa Pearce,  or step with Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline” into the  chilling parallel world of the Other Mother and the Other Father.

Having written this, I have now convinced myself that the only qualification dream homes need is portals to other worlds. What do you think? What is your idea of a dream home? Have you too been inspired and influenced by the stories you read as a child?