Modern-Day Angel Encounters – With or Without Wings. (Angel Encounters Mini Series: Part 1)

What does a modern day angel look like?

Michael Sheen as the angel Aziraphale in 'Good Omens' by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
Michael Sheen as the angel Aziraphale in ‘Good Omens’ by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

Like the fussy angel played by Michael Sheen in the deliciously funny and clever ‘Good Omens’ by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett?

More, perhaps like this angel depicted by Vincent Van Gogh? 

Half-Figure of an Angel, After Rembrandt – by Vincent Van Gogh

or maybe like the powerful and moving Knife Angel that appeared at Coventry Cathedral in 2019?

The Knife Angel at Coventry Cathedral

 

Or perhaps even, the guardian angel Clarence.

guardian-angel-clarence-from-its-a-wonderful-lifeI

We met him in the 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life.

In the TV sitcom Rev, the main character Adam Smallbone (played by Tom Hollander) reaches a point where he has been betrayed, lost his church, his self-respect, and his vocation, and feels he has failed all those who believed in and depended on him.

In a state of despair, he goes up a hill carrying the cross intended for the Easter Sunday service. At the top of the hill he meets a homeless man (played by Liam Neeson) who dances and sings with him, knows and understands what’s going on for him, and offers consolation and hope. He transforms how Adam feels about his situation. Then he disappears.

This kind of encounter takes on the shape of what I would call an angel encounter.

This I would define as:  a situation where you are in personal crisis of some kind, and you are helped in a timely manner by a person who appears unexpectedly, transforms your situation, and then disappears quietly. Throughout the encounter, this stranger seems surrounded by an aura of graciousness, gentleness and kindness.

I’m starting a new series of occasional posts here on my blog, entitled:

Angel Encounters.

I know many people hold on to belief in angels  – whether they be guardians, guides, or  protectors – even in this supposedly secular, materialistic society in which we live here in the UK.

In 2019 I attended an author talk as part of the Warwick Words History Festival, held in the church of St Mary Magdalene in Warwick. Author Peter Stanford spoke about his latest book Angels: A Visible and Invisible History 

In this book Peter Stanford gives a history of humankind’s belief in angels, beginning long before the historical origins of the Christian faith, and continuing right up to the present day, with the interest in angels ever popular through folk religion and other spiritual outlooks.

Peter Stanford uncovers much intriguing material, and also includes an examination of the appearance of angels in great art. Throughout he maintains an objective, academic approach which he combines with his own views.

Today, many of those who believe in angels see them as ‘independent agents’, outside traditional faith structures.

As Stanford says, People have… believed in angels for millennia… the only difference today is that this reliance on angels as dwellers in time and space is happening outside of organised religion… Angels once… largely belonged in religious narratives and institutions… but… have somehow detached themselves from the declining institutions and are now thriving on their own.

At the end of the book Stanford remarks: I have lost count while researching and writing the book of how many times I have been asked if I “believe” in angels. 

Many other authors too have written on the subject of angels, from a wide variety of viewpoints. A popular author on the subject is Theresa Cheung and I blogged about her book Angel On My Shoulder  on 28 February 2017 

The book is full of authentic first-person accounts. Several things fascinated me about these:

1) I could identify with a number of them from my own experience, though I’ve tended to think of them as synchronicity;
2) Each one had a distinct element of the supernatural;
3) Far than being sentimental, they all demonstrate strength and simplicity.

Several describe sudden and shocking bereavement. In each case the narrator of the story has experienced a compelling supernatural intervention which has totally changed their attitude to the tragedy and to death itself, and has provided the sort of comfort and reassurance that others might achieve only through long-term counselling or psychotherapy.

The author’s stance in relating the stories is measured and balanced. She fully accepts those who take a “reductionist” view of these events and prefer a rational explanation, and she invites us to make up our own minds.

I found the whole book very convincing, not least because of the cumulative effect of so many testimonies from different people unknown to each other, who have all had similar experiences. It had the same effect upon me as another book I’ve reviewed called Miracles by Eric Metaxas.

In her summing up, Teresa Cheung refers to organised religion no longer providing the structure and certainty that it used to (maybe because so many feel it doesn’t meet their needs, and appears irrelevant to their lives). The stories in this book suggest, to one way of thinking, that many may be connecting with “the divine” totally outside the confines of “church” – through angels.

This, interestingly, is the same conclusion that Peter Stanford comes to.

In this occasional series on my blog, I’ll consider modern-day angel encounters.

Next week I’ll start this off with my own story describing an experience which took place several years ago.

What do you think? Do you believe you have a guardian angel?  Have you a story of an “angel encounter”? Do share in the comments below.

Guardian Angel Clarence (played by Henry Travers) with George Bailey (played by James Stewart), in the 1946 movie It’s a Wonderful Life

 

A Walk in the Park Leads to Reflections on the Covid-19 Crisis, Shakespeare and The Plague…

I went for a walk with my son Jamie to St Nicholas Park in Warwick on a beautiful warm sunny day.

view of castle from St Nicholas Park Warwick
view of castle from St Nicholas Park Warwick

We found very few people, all observing the 2 metre rule.

The atmosphere was like a dreamy quiet Sunday afternoon in a sleepy village in the 1950s.

I thought, If this was a dystopian scenario, what would be the reason why this highly favoured park is so devoid of people?

Alien invasion by hostile life forms? A deadly contagion in the air?

As soon as the words “deadly contagion in the air” came into my mind, I remembered Shakespeare’s words through the voice of Hamlet (in Act 3 Scene 2):

“‘Tis now the very witching time of night,

When churchyards yawn, and hell itself breathes out

Contagion to this world.”

During the time of the Black Death, many held that it was caused by a miasma, a noxious form of bad air.

But that words contagion reminded me that Shakespeare may well have been speaking of the graves of plague victims. If their dead bodies had been exposed, contagion would indeed have breathed out into the air.

Throughout this crisis I admit I have again and again thought of the Plague and the Black Death.

map of the worldwide spread of the Black Death
map of the worldwide spread of the Black Death

How difficult it is for us to imagine what it would have been like for them, with no understanding of what caused the contagion, no real idea of how to stop it or protect themselves, no centralised source of reliable information, no medical science to help them. Just people dying everywhere, parents losing children, babies left orphaned and alone, families being sealed up alive inside houses because their loved ones had the plague.

And yet I’ve also thought, we’re really no better than those medieval plague sufferers. We too swiftly snatch at rumours. All sorts of wild ideas have arisen of how you can protect yourself from the virus, along with ideas of where the virus has come from and whether we can blame anybody for it. With all the resources of the modern world, we still easily revert to our ancestors’ way of thinking.

On the news it was reported that a man had been observed walking through a public park wearing the garb of a medieval Plague Doctor, and some had complained that he would frighten their children.

medieval plague doctor
Medieval Plague doctor

I thought to myself, ‘Good for him. He’s teaching people a history lesson, whilst at the same time probably wearing the ideal PPE.’ The police said they were going to “have a word” with this gentleman.

No, what we are suffering cannot be compared to the horrors of the Bubonic Plague. Nevertheless I still believe it’s good for us to occasionally imagine ourselves back there, and even in the midst of our distressing times, remember with compassion those in the past, whose situation was far worse.

Cover Reveal: ‘Paranormal Warwickshire’ by SC Skillman

I’m delighted to be able to bring you the cover reveal for my new book, Paranormal Warwickshire, which is due to be released by Amberley Publishing on 15th November 2020.

PARANORMAL WARWICKSHIRE by SC Skillman
Paranormal Warwickshire by SC Skillman

I’ve been looking forward to this for several months, as I wondered which of the photos (taken either by myself, by my son Jamie or my daughter Abigail) would be chosen for the front cover! Would it be the very atmospheric night shot of St Mary’s Warwick against an inky blue sky, the path into the graveyard to the left, and light spilling out from the windows? Would it be that iconic view of Warwick Castle that everyone sees as they cross the bridge into Warwick? Would it be one of our moody images of mysterious Guy’s Cliffe?

Well, now I know, and I’m thrilled with the cover. I hope you too find that it intrigues you, and stirs your imagination.

Warwickshire is a county steeped in the supernatural, as befits the county of Shakespeare and the many ghosts and spirits that he conjured up in his works.

The towns and villages of Warwickshire, its castles, houses, churches, theatres, inns and many other places both grand and everyday have rich and complex stories to tell of paranormal presences.

In this book I investigate the rich supernatural heritage of this county at the heart of England in places such as Guy’s Cliffe House, the Saxon Mill, Kenilworth Castle, Warwick Castle, St Mary’s Church in Warwick, Nash’s House in Stratford-upon- Avon, the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Stoneleigh Abbey, as well as in the towns of Rugby, Nuneaton and Leamington Spa.

I explore the spiritual resonance of each location, recounting the tales of paranormal activity associated with it and examining the reasons for this within the history of the place.

Paranormal Warwickshire takes the reader into the world of ghosts and spirits in the county, following their footsteps into the unknown. These tales of haunted places, supernatural happenings and shadowy presences will delight the ghost hunters, and fascinate and intrigue everybody who knows Warwickshire.

I hope that whets your appetite for the book; and don’t forget to get your pre-order in! You can choose Amazon UK or Amazon US or Waterstones or Amberley’s own website. But as an alternative, as a tribute to Warwickshire, may I encourage you to order from our lovely indie bookshops, Warwick Books or Kenilworth Books.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 28: Queensland, Australia: from University Campus to Botanic Gardens and Iconic Lookout: Brisbane Highlights

This is the twenty-eighth and final post in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about our final visit in New Zealand: Auckland Botanic Gardens. Whilst there we enjoyed the outstanding Sculptures in the Gardens exhibition which continues to showcase and celebrate New Zealand sculptors and artists, through to March 2020..

After flying from Auckland to Brisbane, we were to catch up on some of Brisbane’s highlights in the closing days of our visit.

Promotional websites for Brisbane will point up a number of places to visitors as the “jewels in the city’s crown” but I think the University of Queensland campus certainly deserves to be one of them. I worked there in the School of External Studies, during the time I lived in Brisbane during the 1980s. Much has changed since then but I still enjoyed walking once more through the cloisters of the Great Court, and admiring the wonderful landscaping and of course the magnificent poincianna tree with profuse blossoms, and fragrant frangipani trees which you may see here. Among many other outstanding features, the campus also has a stunning art gallery.

Out last two visits in Brisbane were to the Look-Out and the Botanic Gardens at Mount Coot-tha.

The Lookout is one of Brisbane’s most popular tourist destinations, offering almost 360 degree views. I’ve been there many times in the past, and often a glorious blue sky and clear atmosphere makes this a joyful experience for visitors. However, on this occasion, at the summit the heat was fierce, and the smoke from bushfires was very much in evidence, filling the Brisbane skies.

For me this was a nostalgic, poignant visit, though it has always given me pleasure just to be there and do some tourist-watching! The views from this lookout must be the most popular place in Brisbane as a backdrop for photo opportunities, and at the height of the holiday season, myriads of holiday-makers from all around the world enjoy posing in happy and often artfully-arranged groups.

Our final visit was to Mount Coot-tha Botanic Gardens. These gardens, too, I have loved and often wandered around in the past; today, sadly, the temperatures and humidity were so high, we were unable to tour the gardens as there is much uphill walking, and again a lovely lookout at the highest point of the gardens.

Instead we did the Rainforest Trail: always a blessed relief and an excellent option in times of fierce heat and humidity!

I was also a pleasure afterwards to enter the air-conditioned atmosphere of the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium. The day of our visit the Planetarium was offering as its midday show, “Cosmic Collisions” narrated by Robert Redford. I’ve been to the planetarium show too in the past and greatly enjoyed it.

It was a pleasure to return once more to Brisbane and to the many familiar haunts that I remembered from the four and a half years I spent living there in the 1980s. Inevitably there have been tremendous changes, and yet these simply serve to highlight and set in sharp relief those elements which endure, and arouse a sense of recognition, bringing again a sense of deep connection.

These can arise at unexpected moments, sometimes the subtropical forest of a mountain lookout, or a kookaburra sitting on a branch in front of the panorama of the Samford Valley; at other times the glimpse of a gracious colonial Queenslander with its iron lace balustrades; or the feeling of walking through spacious galleries and gazing at the water features of the State Library of Queensland or the Gallery of Modern Art, or the lovely landscaping of the South Bank Parklands.

Perhaps I may best end by highlighting an excellent presentation of the history of the city, in the Museum of Brisbane to be found in the City Hall in King George Square.

There, aboriginal people speak on video. They represent the ancestral owners of all the land upon which Brisbane is built.

“We believe the land respects us if we respect the land.”

Another said, very gently, of the great city that has risen up on this land: “We wish it wasn’t here. But times change.”

I thought of the corroboree spaces, the campsites, the burial grounds and other places of aboriginal life along the Brisbane river in the past. These were all vividly depicted on a timeline map of the Brisbane river, to be found on display in the museum.

“We believe the land respects us if we respect the land”.

Their words, and the feeling behind them made me feel sad. And yet, I reflected, if the feelings of the aboriginal people had been respected, and their land not taken from them and occupied…. I would never be here myself.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 23: North Island, New Zealand: Rotorua and Geothermal Wonderland

This is the twenty-third in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today is the seventh of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about our visit to the art deco city of Napier, destroyed by an earthquake in 1931 but subsequently reborn as an artistic vision with Art Deco architecture and design throughout the city.

After we left Napier, we travelled north once more and this time we were headed for Rotorua, situated on the shores of Lake Rotorua and famous for its thermal areas full of natural wonders such as boiling mudpools and geysers.

Rotorua itself is a very pleasant town of two story buildings which include a cultural and arts centre; and the buildings are well spread out to provide much green space, wide boulevards and attractive shops. The Lonely Planet guide will tell you the town often has a smell of rotten eggs with the sulphurous fumes of volcanic activity, but I didn’t find this to be so. In fact the first hint of a sulphurous smell was when we went to the local supermarket to buy provisions. I don’t know what we may conclude from this fact…

Our first excursion from Rotorua was a visit to the Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland, a very popular tourist attraction. There we saw the Lady Knox Geyser which very conveniently shoots boiling water into the air to a height of 20 metres at approximately 10.15am every day – with a small amount of human intervention. A large crowd of tourists (replete with hats and cameras held high above their heads) surrounded the geyser and so it was quite a feat to obtain a photograph of the Geyser in action!

The Lady Knox Geyser at Wai-o-Tapu Thermal Wonderland (photo credit Jamie Robinson)

A walk around the geothermal park, however, was awesome, for this landscape is like no other I have ever seen in my life. In some ways it was quite frightening to witness and experience the effects of the dynamic power beneath the earth’s crust, and the park was suffused with a smell rather akin to boiled eggs. I wouldn’t go so far as to liken it to “rotten eggs” but it certainly put off one member of our party who after we reached a choice of paths, made a quick return to the main building and to the blessed respite of the café!

The Wai-o-Tapu Scenic Reserve is part of the Maroa Caldera which was formed 160,000 years ago. It has the largest area of surface thermal activity of any system in the Taupo Volcanic zone. I was fascinated to learn that the Maoris of this region would use the geothermal features of this area for cooking, healing, drinking and bathing: surely a magnificent example of using natural resources for their daily needs.

The temperature on the day of our visit was extremely high, and only two of our party chose to take the extra walk deeper into the thermal park. What we saw and experienced was, to me, otherworldly and dramatic.

We saw bubbling mud pools containing crude oil and graphite; in the past sludge would be skimmed off these pools to burn in kerosene lamps. Other amazing sights included a ‘champagne pool’, full of bubbles caused by carbon dioxide in the water; billows of steam rising up from craters and chasms with boiling water and mud at the bottom. The pool of bright green water, we learned, had gained its colour through a deposit of minerals suspended in the water and refracting the sunlight.

A truly wonder-filled experience, even despite the sulphurous smell which accompanied our journey round the park!

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 19: North Island, New Zealand: Enchantment and Delight for ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Fans: Matamata and Hobbiton

This is the nineteenth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today is the third of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about Paihia and the Bay of Islands.

We set off from Paihia early in the morning and drove south through a landscape of velvety green hills uninterrupted by hedges or fences, dotted with a wide variety of trees, and occasionally by pretty white bargeboard houses in gardens. It felt as if we were surrounded by JRR Tolkien‘s hobbit country all the time: The Shire, that pastoral idyll which the hobbits called home. No wonder the makers of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films settled upon this landscape as the ideal location for Hobbiton.

Further along in our journey we entered a region of verdant forest packed with trees so diverse and so attractively interspersed with giant tree ferns that they seemed planted by design.

arriving in Matamata close to the Hobbiton film set

When we arrived in Matamata we immediately saw the welcoming sign and those of us who have loved the world of Middle Earth for so long at once felt a sense of high excitement.

excitement at arriving in Matamata

Even the local visitor information centre has been turned into a nostalgic homestead reminiscent of the hobbits’ innocent world.

The visitor information centre in Matamata

And yet, as we were to discover again and again throughout our stay in Matamata and our visit to Hobbiton, you don’t even need to have read the books or have seen the films to be thrilled by what has been done here to recreate this romantic vision of pre-industrial rural England.

This of course was what inspired JRR Tolkien. The irony is that he was influenced by the countryside between Birmingham and Warwick, in the UK, and by Sarehole Mill – and his vision of Mordor came from the industrial wastes he found. So Tolkien’s inspiration is very close to where I live. But I went halfway across the world to find it recreated here in New Zealand!

Upon entering the visitor information centre we found a sculpture of Tolkien’s most insightful creation: the tragic and chilling figure of Gollum, who had, long before, been known as Smeagol, one of the river folk, until he came into possession of the One Ring, and had been enslaved and possessed by his lust for ‘the Precious’. The One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

The sculpture of Gollum in the visitor information centre at Matamata

I can imagine Matamata itself was an unassuming little ‘one-horse settlement’ before Peter Jackson found his ideal location for the Hobbiton film set nearby. It is astonishing to reflect upon the power of an iconic fantasy epic to catch the imagination of millions and transform the fortunes of one small town.

We had dinner at a restaurant called The Redoubt which had, along with the town of Matamata, ‘fully embraced its Middle Earth credentials’! (a phrase borrowed from the Matamata section in the Lonely Planet Guide for New Zealand).

The Redoubt bar and eatery in Matamata

The menu and decor were based around characters from The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

“Sneaky little hobbitses” – Gollum’s well-known catchphrase, up on the wall of The Redoubt bar and eatery in Matamata (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

We had a delightful meal in The Redoubt and it built up our excitement at the prospect of visiting Hobbiton the next day. It was also an opportunity to sample a range of New Zealand red wines!

Inside the Redoubt Bar and Eatery in Hobbiton

Early the next morning we arrived at The Shires Rest, a short distance outside Matamata, to join our tour of Hobbiton, led by a young man called James, who was, appropriately enough, English.

The tour bus took us through the rolling hills of the Alexander Farm, a vision of the undulating landscape of young children’s picture books, a perfect setting for the small, round, cheerful hobbits.

On the way James showed video clips of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films, and also gave us plenty of fascinating facts about the making of the films, how this area came to be chosen as the site for the Hobbiton film-set, and why indeed there now exists here a perfect, robust and well-built rendition of hobbit country, for the delight of many thousands of visitors each year.

AS for Hobbiton itself, we all found it beyond our expectations, so perfectly realised, with exquisite attention to every detail: Bilbo’s sign on the gate announcing ‘No admittance except on party business’; the oak tree above Bag End, the line of washing, the wheelbarrows full of freshly harvested vegetables, the mill and bridge, the party field, Bilbo’s eleventy first birthday cake, the Green Dragon Inn and the tankards of beer.

Throughout Hobbiton we found exquisite English flower varieties, all in top condition. In fact, being here was indeed like being transported into JRR Tolkien’s original vision. It has been said that he wouldn’t have liked the idea of his books being turned into films, as he believed that the power of the imagination must determine how people see the world he created. Nevertheless I feel that he would have been awed by what has been achieved here. Hobbiton lacked only one thing: real life hobbits!

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 18: North Island, New Zealand: Paihia and the Bay of Islands; and Kawakawa and its Famous Hundertwasser Landmark

This is the eighteenth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, as experienced during my November 2019 visit. Today is the second of my posts on New Zealand’s North Island.

map of New Zealand
map of New Zealand
Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about West Auckland and the spectacular beaches of Karekare and Piha . Today we head north from Auckland and our destination is Paihia and the Bay of Islands.

We drove north through a landscape of green hills and trees and bright flowers; the North Island of New Zealand in November reminded me of rural England at its best in spring and summer. No wonder the makers of The Lord of the Rings films settled upon this landscape as the ideal location for its idyllic, bucolic Hobbiton.

Stopping on the way at a delightful Honey Centre (New Zealand is famed for its Manuka honey), we arrived at the Top 10 Holiday Park in Paihia.

The holiday park was situated on the bay with tranquil views.

view of the bay from the Top 10 Holiday Park, Paihia
bayside view, Top 10 Holiday Park, Paihia

The following day we planned to cruise around the Bay of Islands. But before that we followed the Waitangi Loop with magnificent views of the Bay. This area is famed for the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840. The two parties to the treaty were the Maori Chiefs and representatives of the British Crown.

We then visited the small town of Kawakawa, a town which celebrates its significance as the “Cultural Junction of the North“. It demonstrates this by ensuring that evidence of artistic inspiration is seen everywhere.

The town is famed for its unusual choice of venue to celebrate artistic genius: the public toilets designed by the Austrian designer, Friedensreich Hundertwasser. These toilets are on the tourist route and a visit there is mandatory!

After our visit to Kawakawa, we returned to Paihia, to stroll around the town. This very tourist-conscious community and its architecture reminded me of a film-set: hotels, motels and architect-designed houses nestled among restaurants, bistros and boutiques. We were struck by the church which is to be found here, looking incongruous amongst all the contemporary residences: St Paul’s Anglican Church, which was constructed of Kawakawa stone in 1925, on the site of the original mission church.

Properties in Paihia
view of Paihia village

I was interested to find a gravestone in the graveyard behind the church, inscribed to Ngaurupa Te Ngawa Korokoro with an epitaph in the Maori language. As we left the graveyard, we found that a large bottle of water was provided with a request for visitors to wash their hands on leaving the Rupa (graveyard) as a mark of respect to a sacred place.

Maori gravestone in graveyard of St Paul’s Anglican Church, built in 1925 on the site of the original mission church in Paihia

Inside the church I found a prayer-poem for those afflicted by earthquakes. I hope you can read it here.

Later we set off to board a cruise launch for a cruise around the Bay of Islands. But before we embarked, we looked around a fascinating exhibition in the visitor centre which told us that Russell, the small town across the bay from Paihia on Tapeka Point, was once known as ‘the Hell Hole of the Pacific’ because the sailors who docked there rampaged in it, until the missionaries came to sort them out!

Distant view of the Bay of Islands.

As we cruised round the Bay of Islands the weather was breezy and cool, and the captain told us he would only go out to the Hole in the Rock (Motukokako) if the weather conditions made it safe.

In fact we did go there, but were unable to sail right through the hole in the rock out to the waters of the South Pacific beyond as they were too turbulent.

The boat stopped as those on board took the oportunity to photograph this natural wonder, with the waves of the South Pacific crashing against it.

During the cruise we saw dolphins playing in the water around us. Truly a enchanting way to experience the Bay of Islands in this understandably very popular tourist destination.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Book Review: ‘Waireka’ by Sheila Donald, set in nineteenth century New Zealand – a story which makes you see your own life in a new perspective

Before I start my series on New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019, I am delighted to review a book set in the very place I visited – New Zealand’s North Island.

Map of New Zealand

But the times are very different in ‘Waireka’ by Sheila Donald. The genre is historical fiction. We are in the nineteenth century, and the main protagonist Eliza finds herself among the pioneers, and having a very different experience of that beautiful, green and richly-forested country.

New Zealand – a richly forested, green and beautiful country

The landscape of New Zealand’s South Island

For Eliza, there is no chance of flying from the UK to New Zealand in twenty six hours, as we can do today. No, Eliza must travel by sea, in cramped conditions, on a voyage which is dangerous and will last at least three months. And the lifestyle which awaits her is that of a pioneer, in a male-dominated society to which women often fall victim.

A very different prospect for nineteenth century pioneers

Having recently returned from my 16 day holiday in New Zealand I was keen to read this story set in New Zealand’s north island in the 19th century. The story tells how Eliza chooses to travel from Scotland to New Zealand in search of a better life, impelled by mostly economic motives but also by the desire for an opportunity to travel away from her own enclosed world with its limited prospects for women.

Eliza sets sail for New Zealand, accompanying a clergyman and his family in the position of governess to the children. After Eliza has arrived in Wellington, the author unfolds a story in which we learn about all the challenges her protagonist must face in making a life for herself in this new country.

An insight into the challenges faced by women in a less enlightened society

In the course of her narrative author Sheila Donald succeeds in showing us how difficult life was for women of the time, and many women readers will surely see their own lives in a new perspective upon reading this book. As we read, we also cannot help feeling angry on occasions, and the issue of female empowerment is one that rises to the forefront of the reader’s mind.

‘The Conversation’ an image of nineteenth century New Zealand
Waireka - a historical novel set in New Zealand, by Sheila Donald
Waireka, a historical novel set in nineteenth century New Zealand, by Sheila Donald

I was particularly struck by how dangerous and risky the sea-voyage to New Zealand could be, taking at least three months; and how vulnerable a young woman was, when faced with a situation of gross injustice, unable to seek any redress for violations of her own human rights by an unenlightened male dominated society.

An emotionally stirring story with a strong twist at the end

Later part of the story are genuinely moving, as Eliza faces tragedy, and an impossible situation where her own integrity and courage are tested. Finally, I loved the twist at the end which was very emotionally stirring.

I later learned that the author based the story partly on her own family history, and I found that particularly fascinating.

SC Skillman, psychological, paranormal, mystery fiction & non-fiction. My next book ‘Paranormal Warwickshire’ will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available for pre-order now.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 16: Queensland Maritime Museum, Brisbane

This is the sixteenth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens which may be found inside a big loop of the Brisbane River, opposite the Kangaroo Point cliffs on the south bank.

Having walked through the City Botanic Gardens, you will reach the Brisbane riverstage. There you will find the Goodwill Bridge, a footbridge which spans the Brisbane River, and takes you directly to the Queensland Maritime Museum on the south bank.

view of the dry dock where the Diamantina is displayed at the Queensland Maritime Museum, Brisbane

This is a fascinating museum run mostly by volunteers, where you may find not only a gallery full of intriguing maritime history and objects, but also a World War 2 ship, The Diamantina, outside in the dry dock, together with Brisbane’s favourite tug, the Forceful.

The Diamantina is a Royal Australian Navy frigate built in Queensland and commissioned in 1945 and one of the last remaining World War II river class frigates in the world.

The Diamantina at the Queensland Maritime Museum, Brisbane

I love exploring historical ships like this and it was fascinating to go round all the rooms below decks and to imagine what life was like for the crew when the ship saw service during the 2nd World War.

The quarterdeck of the Diamantina, Queensland Maritime Museum Brisbane

Also on display is The Forceful, Brisbane’s favourite tug.

Information sign on the quarterdeck of the Diamantina at the Queensland Maritime Museum, Brisbane
View of The Forceful and the Brisbane river, taken from the Queensland Maritime Museum
Information sign about The Forceful, at the Queensland Maritime Museum, Brisbane

The Forceful’s propeller, on display at the Queensland Maritime Museum, Brisbane
view of the Brisbane river from the Stokehouse bar and restaurant

Afterwards we strolled a short way along the south bank to one of Brisbane’s newest restaurant and bars, The Stokehouse, where we enjoyed an apple cider, seated on bar stools overlooking the river.

Here you may explore fascinating exhibitions on such themes as “Antarctica: Endurance and Survival” and “The Land of Dreams… Over the Seas to Queensland.”

Allow at least two or more hours to do justice to all the exhibits and to enable you to explore the ships.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.

Australia and New Zealand Mini Series Part 15: Brisbane City Botanic Gardens

This is the fifteenth in my series of short reflections on different places in Australia and New Zealand, which I visited in November 2019.

Map of Australia and New Zealand

In my last post I wrote about the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre in New South Wales with panoramic views over the pristine rainforest, a glimpse into Gondwana, the remnant of the vast continent which existed before Australia broke off from Antarctica and began to drift north.

City Lookout, Brisbane City Botanic Gardens

After our tour of the New South Wales coastal region, we returned once again to Queensland, and its capital city of Brisbane. Even here, in the midst of a major metropolis, we may find many ways to respect and honour, co-operate and harmonise with the natural world.

Banyan Fig Tree in Brisbane City Botanic Gardens

Today I share some images of the wonderful Brisbane City Botanic Gardens. You may find these gardens inside a big loop of the Brisbane River, opposite the Kangaroo Point cliffs on the south bank.

As the ancient rainforests are our magnificent heritage on this planet, I have been particularly struck by the imagination, expertise, dedication and hard work of landscape architects who within the city environment have recreated lush rainforest areas.

In the gardens you will find the Gardens Club Cafe, which is within the restored Curators Cottage. I can recommend this lovely cafe, situated close to the Rainforest Area, and a perfect place for lunch as you take a break from your stroll around the botanic gardens.

Lunch in the Gardens Club Cafe, Brisbane City Botanic Gardens

You may also walk along the riverside path and enjoy the views of the Brisbane river and the many boats, beyond which rises the city skyline of the south bank.

riverside view from the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens

I also love walking through mangrove swamps.

a walk beside the mangroves at the edge of the river, Brisbane City Botanic Gardens

I was fascinated, too, to learn from an interpretative sign along the walk how vital mangroves are to our ecology: and in particular, their potential to offset some of the negative effects of climate change.

Interpretative sign about ecological significance of mangroves, mangrove river walk, Brisbane City Botanic Gardens

In particular, mangroves are an important wetland type, and perform many functions such as:

protecting – acting as a buffer zone between land and tidal waters, storm surges and wind;

providing – habitat and nursery areas for fish, crabs, prawns and birds;

purification of water – a settling area for nutrients and sediments;

Mangroves are now better recognised for their economic value and potential for climate change mitigation through coastal protection and carbon sequestration and offsetting.

storing – mangrove ecosystems are among the most efficient carbon sinks on earth, storing carbon at a rate six times more than that of an undisturbed Amazon forest.

walking beside the mangroves along the riverside path in Brisbane City Botanic Gardens

I find these facts amazing, moving and inspiring. I love walking among mangrove swamps because of their lush, cool, shady, mysterious atmosphere; but now I know of their immense value for the survival of our planet, I am even more in awe of them.

So when we visit places of renewal and restoration in the natural world, we find that our own relationship with “the green and the blue” encapsulates so much more than simply “a good feeling.”

This heals and uplifts us on an emotional and psychological level; and then we find that the discoveries of science accord with our own inner experience.

Our planet, our mental health, our survival as a species depends upon so many delicate, interconnecting threads: and among these, the precious resources of the natural world: mangroves and rainforests and so much more.

SC Skillman, psychological, suspense, paranormal fiction & non-fiction. My next book, Paranormal Warwickshire, will be published by Amberley Publishing on 15th June 2020 and is available to pre-order now either online, or from the publisher’s website, or from your local bookshop.