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?

Extracts from Mystical Circles – What is Dream Yoga, as Practised by the Members of Craig’s Esoteric Group The Wheel of Love?

What is dream yoga? Does it really exist? The answer is yes. It is one of the practices of Craig’s group The Wheel of Love, which I describe in my novel. I have investigated dream yoga myself in the past. It originates in Tibet, and through it one aims to achieve wholeness and self-knowledge by mastering the art of “lucid dreaming”.

EXTRACT FROM “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”

When the group gathered around Craig at the back door at six a.m., Juliet was encouraged by the brightness and freshness of the sky. A steady heat, enlivened by a crisp breeze, ensured that most walkers had chosen T-shirts and shorts this morning.

Craig, in bushwalking khakis, swept his arm out over to the north west, where a fence separated the car park from a thick stand of horse chestnuts and field maples. “That’s where we’re going today.”

Juliet spotted a footpath accessed by a stile. Beyond the trees, the side of the valley rose steeply through pasture to a wooded ridge. Her concentration returned to Craig, who was now telling the group that the first part of the walk was to be conducted in silence.

So that meant she wouldn’t get the chance to quiz Zoe further on what she really felt about last night.

Craig led his followers along a track that disappeared among the trees. Zoe walked way ahead of Juliet, who couldn’t see whether or not her sister was sticking close to Craig. Beth, she noticed, seemed to be missing, though Oleg was present. Everything about him suggested depression, even his tired-looking floppy beige hat. So much for the effect of last night’s Dynamic Meditation.

They tramped for several minutes, sometimes through dense undergrowth that contained a lot of bramble, and eventually emerged on the top of the ridge. A glorious panorama of hills and fields spread out before them. But Craig didn’t allow them long to admire it. He instructed them to gather round.

“This is where it gets interesting,” murmured Zoe to Juliet, before Juliet moved forward to put her mike in front of Craig’s mouth.

Now, in a moment I’ll ask you to start walking again,” said Craig. “But this time I want you to walk backwards. Don’t turn round. Just trust me. I’ll tell you when to stop.”

Juliet shot him a look. He seemed serious. And they were all obeying. She had no option other than to join them, sticking close to Craig so she could be ready with the mike for his next utterance.

After about ten minutes of this, Craig’s voice rang out again. “That’s it, everyone. Stop. Who found it difficult to trust me? Who struggled with an urge to look behind, to check they weren’t going to crash into anything, or fall over a sheer drop? Laura? Sam? Zoe? As I expected. And who thought it was extremely silly? Juliet? Good. You’re here to unlearn everything you’ve been taught to believe about the world and how to behave in it, from the moment you were born.”

Juliet caught sight of Oleg. He was in deep gloom.

She stepped aside with her mike. “You don’t look enthralled, Oleg,” she said. But before he could reply, Craig’s voice cut in again and she swung round once more.

“See that beech tree? Look at the very topmost branch. Concentrate on those leaves. Next, imagine a spot in the centre of your forehead. Visualise a silver cord extending from it, reaching out, further and further, and finally connecting you to the leaves at the top of the tree. Keep your eyes on them. Now walk very slowly toward it, never letting your eyes drop.”

Juliet joined them, unable to notice the reactions of the people around her until they’d completed the exercise. Then Craig seated himself on a fallen trunk, and asked how they’d felt when asked to do it, and during the walk; and whether those feelings had changed now they’d stopped. Juliet could detect no sign of dissent among them, apart from Oleg, who continued to look miserable. He seemed to be weighed down by some heavy problem; she resolved to get him to open up about it as soon as she had the chance.

Craig sprang from the fallen log. “I want you to do this every day. As you walk around, think: This is a dream. Whatever you’re doing, say to yourself:  I’m dreaming this. Any questions?”

Juliet looked around, mike at the ready. Silence. Surely, someone other than herself must have doubts? But nobody expressed any. Were she and Don the only people in this community who still saw things from the perspective of the outside world?

“This,” said Craig, “is part of my strategy to teach you all the art of lucid dreaming. Remember, if you master this art – the art of knowing you’re in the middle of a dream, and then taking command of the dream at that point – I tell you, if you master this art, death will be a breeze.”

Not one of his followers spoke, or moved. A dreamlike quality had settled upon them all.

Craig spoke again. “If you follow what I’ve taught you this morning, lucid dreaming will become second nature.”