Book Review: “How To Craft Superbad Villains: 13 Steps to Evil” by Sacha Black

I found this book an excellent resource for writers, especially for those of us who may be at the stage I was in at the time of reading – nearing the end of the first draft of my WIP, Director’s Cut – which I have now finished.How To Craft Superbad Villains by Sacha Black

Sacha Black equips the writer with plenty of tools to sharpen up and deepen their understanding of villainy. She writes with the knowledge and insight of one who is trained and qualified in Psychology. At times I found her handling of the subject almost too dense and over-analytical – especially in areas such as complexes, which has been the subjec tof one of my past blog posts , based on the writings of Carl Jung.

But then I realised that I could only benefit from Sacha Black’s close attention to this subject; what she writes here repays careful study, because it is so important for a fiction author to understand exactly what constitutes villainy. She is particularly good on the subject of mental health in fictional villains; as she rightly points out, it is no good giving one’s villain a mental health issue and then ascribing their villainy to that issue. She helps the reader focus on how complex the human psyche is and reminds us once again that as writers we must be faithful students of human nature. In addition, her own personal style is very lively, which makes the book more accessible, too, to a popular audience. I highly recommend Sacha’s book.

To see my own book on the writing craft, Perilous Path – a selection of articles containing tips, insights and reminders for writers, including a chapter on how to develop villainous characteristics in a fictional characer – click here

To read my own series of blog posts on how the theories of Carl Jung can help novelists, here are a few for you to dip into:

The collective unconscious

Complexes

Universal Archetypes

Synchronicity

My New Book ‘Perilous Path: A Writer’s Journey’ Out Now

I’m delighted to announced that my new book is out now and available to buy on Amazon, both as a paperback and as an ebook.front-cover-only

Perilous Path: A Writer’s Journey is a short informative and encouraging book of 126 pages, giving an insight into the writer’s life. It will appeal to aspiring writers, keen readers fascinated by the subject of literary inspiration and creativity, and anyone interested in how fiction writers get their ideas and go about creating full-length novels.

How do you find courage and motivation when your novel sinks in the middle?

How do you stay focused as a writer through success and disappointment?

How can great artists, musicians and psychologists give you inspiration?

You’ll find the answers to these questions and many others in this book.

Each chapter is a short article based on original material I’ve previously published online in answer to FAQs aspiring writers type into search engines.

And I can certainly say that before I get back to completing my new novel ‘Director’s Cut’, I’ll read through ‘Perilous Path’ myself paying close attention, because I need to take my own advice!

Beta readers have said this about the book:

I found it fascinating to read how one new writer began to write,  and continued to self-motivate in her determination to achieve her goals – and how her faith provides example and inspiration.

Some of the articles contain ideas about writing that I haven’t considered previously; some of them are more like friendly reminders of things I already know, or focus on interests that (like many readers and writers, I imagine) I share with the author.

Reading the book felt like having a “friend in the room” giving advice and sharing her experience of the writing process.

 

‘It’s written in a simple and engaging style. It doesn’t go in depth into theoretical techniques but seems like an encouragement, even if you have writer’s block, and a reminder of things, some of which I already know. Other authors might have gone into a lot of detail, on many of these subjects, going on for 20 pages on one particular theory or technique – and I wouldn’t be interested in reading that. But SC Skillman has written this in such a way as you feel you have a friendly guide on your shoulder.’

The book costs £4.74 for the paperback and £2.42 to download on your Kindle.

And if you do read and enjoy it please remember to leave a review on Amazon!

 

 

 

 

Angels and Supernatural Experiences: Book Review

Angel on My Shoulder: Inspiring True Stories from the Other SideAngel on My Shoulder: Inspiring True Stories from the Other Side

by Theresa Cheung

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of those books where you feel the title and cover image give a misleading idea of the contents. An Angel on My Shoulder was passed on to me and I admit from the cover I thought it was going to be rather sentimental. Instead I found it totally rivetting and full of authentic stories. Several things fascinated me about these:

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

Many described sudden and shocking bereavement, which most of us dread. Yet the authors of the accounts had experienced a compelling supernatural intervention which totally changed their attitude to the tragedy, to death itself, and to the meaning of life, and lasted for decades afterwards – providing the sort of comfort and reassurance that some might only achieve, if at all, with years of counselling or psychotherapy.

The author’s stance in relating these stories is very 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 stories told by different people unknown to each other who had all had similar experiences. It had the same effect upon me as another book I’ve reviewed called Miracles.

In her summing up, the author refers to “organised religion no longer providing the structure and certainty that it used to” and I found myself thinking that although the church does indeed offer structure and certainty, more and more people feel unable to identify with it, because it doesn’t seem to meet their needs and appears irrelevant to their lives. But the stories in this book suggest, to one way of thinking, that God is finding other ways to connect with people totally outside the confines of “church”, finding ways to communicate his love to them – through angels.

Highly recommended.

View all my reviews

I Have a New Book Coming Out Soon

I’m pleased to announce I have a new book coming out soon, this time non-fiction.aps-on-bookshelf-at-kenilworth-books-13-feb-2016

It will be a short one, 100 pages, and  will be available in paperback as well as an ebook.

I’ve written it for all those who’d love to know  about the process of writing novels: whether they be aspiring writers, or simply keen readers who are curious about how novelists think up their ideas and go about creating fiction from them.

Here’s a taste of some of the topics I’ll cover in the course of the book:

  1. Universal themes in fiction
  2. Strategies to develop creative and imaginative writing
  3. How to create a novel that your readers won’t want to put down
  4. Three tips for creative works of realistic fiction
  5. How to know which point of view to use in a story
  6. How to develop villainous characteristic traits in your writing
  7. How can Carl Jung’s theory of archetypes help you in your creative writing?
  8. Inspiration for creative writers from artists
  9. Suggestions for writing the end of a novel
  10. Always on the outside looking in – does a bestselling novelist have a lesson to teach aspiring writers?

Each topic has a chapter to itself, and the book contains 33 chapters.

 

Here’s the blurb to whet your appetite:

How do you find courage and motivation when your novel sinks in the middle?

How do you stay focused as a writer despite all the setbacks and disappointments?

How can great artists, musicians and psychologists give you inspiration?

You’ll find the answer to these questions and many others in this book. SC Skillman offers deep insight into the faith and hope that is vital for one who walks the perilous path into the ‘promised land’ of the writing profession.

More soon when I’ll let you know the title and give you the cover reveal!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Find Mystical Circles on Goodkindles!

Mystical Circles is now featured on Goodkindles.

Mystical Circles by SC Skillman
Mystical Circles by SC Skillman

Take a look at it here, and it you haven’t already, hurry on over to the Kindle store and download your copy now!

 

Deep in the heart of the English countryside, in an idyllic farmhouse, Craig, an idealistic young man with a wealthy father, has gathered together a community of complex characters to inhabit his eerie and atmospheric retreat. They’re all dedicated to Craig and his teachings – which involve rejecting the past and living only in the present. But Craig’s retreat for spiritual and mental healing and enlightenment has a darker, hidden side.

Into this ménage comes Juliet, a London journalist, anxious for her younger sister Zoe who’s fallen in love with Craig. Is Juliet over-protective? Or is she right to pursue Zoe from London to the Cotswolds, worried about her taking up with Craig and his band of eccentric guests?

And is Craig’s retreat a dangerous cult or a place of healing?

Juliet struggles to accept Craig’s teachings without quite understanding them or the overt willingness to join in. And along the way she meets a host of quirky and oddball residents who offer her the chance to become one of them and gain ultimate fulfilment and enlightenment… or perhaps something very much worse.

As Juliet investigates, she’s drawn into their sinister world … and the results are sometimes spectacular, sometimes dangerous.

 

 

 

The Therapeutic Journey of the Fictional Hero or Heroine

Recently I came upon an article in The Psychotherapist magazine which highlights the close parallels between the novel and the process of psychotherapy.

In her article Psychotherapy and the Novel, in issue 56 Spring 2014 edition, the author (therapeutic counsellor Rosamond Williams) makes the point that only the novel (of all the narrative art forms) offers a parallel detail to the process of psychotherapy, in the exploration of relationships, thoughts and feelings.

Rosamond Williams cites as examples the following novels: Jane Austen’s Emma, George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, Dickens David Copperfield, George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, as well as Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook.

In all of these we can trace the hero or heroine’s  learning curve through their confusions and unsatisfactory relationship to resolution: a very therapeutic experience for the reader as well as for the main protagonist.

I can bear out everything she says not only in my reading, but in my own novel-writing.

In Jane Austen’s Price and Prejudice for example, I believe there are many other universal truths, equally valid for our own lives in 2014 just as they were in Regency England, that  we can learn, well beyond the ironic and flippant one in the first line: that a single man in possession of a fortune must be in want of a wife.

Here’s just a small selection of the truths, helpful for a therapeutic journey, that I’ve picked out from Pride and Prejudice:

1)  even the most outrageous person, behaving badly, can end up getting what he or she wants;

2)  no matter how mortifying and objectionable, that person can still be playing a vital part in the chain of events leading to a final positive outcome;

3)  when you’re at your saddest and most disappointed, convinced you’ve lost all your hopes and dreams, you don’t know what is going on behind the scenes;

4) when all seems lost, help can sometimes come from the most unexpected quarter;

5) sometimes people do the most disgraceful things and end up triumphing through it, because of the links and connections they’ve unwittingly set up between other people;

and

6) sometimes you can, through your own wrong-headedness and flawed attitude, interfere to try and stop a certain event happening, and end up being the vital factor that facilitates it.

I can identify, too, with the psychotherapeutic  journey in my own fiction-writing. In my upcoming novel A Passionate Spirit, my heroine, Zoe, sees her situation as perfect and ideal; when negative influences start to creep in, she denies them; through her stubbornness she continues her denial until she is goaded by a friend with a totally different outlook on life to recognise the threat for what it is. Only when the antagonism has become too great for her to ignore, she makes a critical choice to take responsibility and act to oppose the menace which is engulfing her life.

To me this closely parallels the journey one may take in psychotherapy.

 

 

 

 

In Search of Authenticity: Our True Selves and Our Essential Need for Community

How can we be true to ourselves?

And how can we live in ways  that are true to what  we believe?

And how can we mix up our inner and outer worlds, so we are not compartmentalised like a waffle, but rather, more like a bowl of spaghetti?

These were just three of the questions posed to us at a weekend conference I’ve just attended, as one of 80 from my church, St Mark’s in Leamington Spa, at the Hayes Conference  Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire.

our group from St Mark's in the main conference hall at Hayes Conference Centre Swanwick 29 June 2013 (photo credit: PaulMileham www.st-marks.net)
our group from St Mark’s in the main conference hall at Hayes Conference Centre Swanwick 29 June 2013 (photo credit: Paul Mileham http://www.st-marks.net)

And in between enjoying the beautiful gardens in the sunshine, drinking in the bar, wandering by the lakes, going kayaking, cycling or walking, we listened to an excellent speaker, Annie Naish from the Lee Abbey Community.

The theme was Authenticity.

Annie invited us to consider how as members of a Christian community we can be “real” with each other,  our authentic selves, sharing our sorrows and troubles, recognizing we are all wounded people, and that we all need each other.

To illustrate our need for community, she played a video clip from the BBC TV documentary narrated by David Tennant, showing the solitary Emperor Penguin in the icy wilderness of Antarctica, who became separated from his community, but struggled on alone until he reached them again – and the life-saving comfort of their body warmth.

Annie Naish (photo credit Paul Mileham www.st-mark.net)
Annie Naish (photo credit Paul Mileham http://www.st-mark.net)

And just so, said Annie, should we live this out, through our relationships with each other in our community: by showing sincere and practical love; looking for the good in people; putting others first; being willing to be vulnerable; listening; and showing humility and practising forgiveness.

Anybody who ever seeks to understand this life and our place in it, will have to engage with this search for our true authentic selves.

This is the work of a lifetime, and it runs through many religions and faiths, through psychology and philosophy, through psychotherapy, psychoanalysis and counselling.

Annie herself lives as part of the Lee Abbey Community, and every member has to work through their relationship with each other within the community. Churches, said Annie, should be full of wounded people, places where people can weep, and share the tough times they’re going through. The authentic Christian life is  “systematically unsafe”. It’s a risky business, and sometimes it’s like a bungee jump over white water rapids. And she showed us a breathtaking video clip to demonstrate this.

Annie suggested we should be intentional. An authentic Christian faith is a long obedience in the same direction.

And if we are to be authentic in relationships, we have to bring what is hidden into the light. It’s costly, because  we’re vulnerable.

The young people having fun at Swanwick (photo credit: Jamie Robinson)
The young people having fun at Swanwick (photo credit: Jamie Robinson)

Annie gave us practical guidance. We have to listen and reflect before leaping to self-defence. This applies in many situations in life.

Annie called for us to think of everything we do as a task done through relationship.

And the goal for each of us, as Elrond said to Aragorn in “The Lord of the Rings” , is to “Become all that you were born to be.”

the lake at Hayes Conference Centre 29 June 2013 (photo credit: Paul Mileham www.st-marks.net)
the lake at Hayes Conference Centre 29 June 2013 (photo credit: Paul Mileham http://www.st-marks.net)

Men Into Monsters – Spidermen, Octopuses, Lizards and Aliens – Why Do We Love Them in Books, TV Dramas and Movies?

Who’s the most compelling character in a Spiderman movie?

Rhys Ifans as Dr Curt Connors
Rhys Ifans as Dr Curt Connors

For me, it’s Dr Otto Octavius (Doc Ock) and Dr Curt Connors.

As I watched “The Amazing Spiderman” DVD again the other day, it was Rhys Ifans in the role of Dr Curt Connors, that my eyes were on. Rhys Ifans is an actor I love from his numerous movie roles, including that of Hugh Grant’s Welsh flatmate in Notting Hill, and Luna Lovegood’s father in the Harry Potter movies.

This was such a different role – with a pleasant, understated manner, he was just a low-key, decent man… until he was driven to extremes by the pressure of circumstances and by the threatened destruction of his dreams.

Ordinary we may be, but I believe we can relate to that!

We’re engaged by the transformation of ordinary, nice, reasonable human beings, into rapacious killers.

Alfred Molina as Doc Ock in “Spiderman 2” was not only horrific, but moving and poignant. Even more so, because, in his monstrous octopus form, he  still had his own, recognisable face: the same face he wore when he gave up his time to chat kindly to Peter Parker, giving him a sense of belonging. A similar idea was used in the Doctor Who episode about The Lazarus Experiment, when we saw Mark Gatiss’s face recognisable in the alien monster.

Dr Curt Connors in the process of changing into a giant lizard

What is it that makes people change, in this life?

I look at this here, in a blog post about people being elemental.

Books, TV drama and movies, and of course, creative writing,  are all safe places for us to explore our dark side.

I explore this trope in my novel Mystical Circles. Although I’m a romantic suspense author, my own Other Side – exploring strange spiritual and psychological alleys in characters – is always there.

And if, after a lifetime of struggle, our dreams were to be utterly destroyed, I believe that many of us may fantasize about going on a rampage, expressing all our darkest emotions. This may come out through images in our dreams. Of course, the checks and balances present in the psyches of most of us, prevent this happening in reality. And so it stays in the world of mystery and imagination.

Would you dare to believe that, on the spiritual journey, alongside our capacity to evolve and improve and be redeemed, there might run another, dark strain: that our nice and reasonable selves might be changed into monsters?

Do you identify with this in any way?

Please share, if you dare!

The Next Big Thing: A Passionate Spirit

I was invited to take part in “The Next Big Thing” – a blog hop for authors –  by Fay Sampson who has written many wonderful books for children and adults arising from Celtic history, and also includes mystery, suspense and crime fiction in her output.

In her capacity as a manuscript editor for The Writer’s Workshop, Fay also read my novel “Mystical Circles” in draft form, appraised it and gave me guidelines for revision.  I reworked it according to her suggestions, and she then read the novel again. It was Fay’s encouragement that led me forward to publication, and she kindly allowed me to print her testimonial on the cover. So thank you Fay!

And now for ten questions on my Next Big Thing:
 
1.  What is the working title of your book?

A PASSIONATE SPIRIT

2.  Where did the idea come from for the book?

As this novel is set in an English retreat centre I’ve drawn upon my knowledge of these centres (several of which I’ve visited and stayed in over the years), & also any environment in which disparate people are drawn together for a period of time in an enclosed setting. I’ve drawn too upon my  insights into human motivation and behaviour; chief among which is that “nothing should be taken at face value: people are often not what they seem”.

3.  What genre does your book fall under?

Romantic Suspense

4.  Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Zoe Blake, main protagonist, age 23:   Amanda Seyfried

Theo, Zoe’s husband of 15 months, and Warden of the Centre:   Bradley James

James Willoughby, unexpected guest:   *Hugh Grant

Natasha, his sinister girlfriend:   Talulah Riley

Llewellyn, Poet-in-Residence:   Matt Baynton

Bernie, the House Manager:   Mark Williams

Alice, Retreat Centre Secretary:   Georgia Moffett

Jessica Leroy, Chair of Trustees:   Sarah Lancashire

* As a postscript to this particular casting, may I say I’d love to see Hugh Grant play my character James Willoughby, because this is a role that would require Hugh to be sexy, villainous, very handsome, manipulative, double-dealing, charming and treacherous. Also, I ‘d love to see Working Title Productions do this film.

A Passionate Spirit has the potential to be a great British movie.
5.  What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Inexperienced young woman finds herself running an English retreat centre in the teeth of intense opposition from two malevolent guests.

6.  Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’ll be seeking representation from a literary agent to win a contract of publication with a traditional publishing house.

7.  How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

One month – I wrote it during November 2011’s National Novel Writing Month.

8.  What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

My story has elements you may find in books by Susan Howatch, Barbara Erskine and Phil Rickman.
9.  Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Various people I’ve met over the years have inspired me for the characters of Zoe, Theo and James. I’ve also been inspired by characters and themes in my favourite films and TV dramas. Additionally, I interviewed a retired Anglican parish priest who told me several stories from his own experience around the subject of the deliverance ministry; one of his stories in particular not only forms the basis of a scene in my novel, but also inspired my character Natasha.

 10.  What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The exploration of the psyche of a dysfunctional person holds a fascination for today’s novel reader, and therefore a strong place in the fiction market. Alongside this runs a deep interest in mental health issues and in spirituality, the supernatural and paranormal. These are in high demand, and extremely popular subcategories within today’s market. A Passionate Spirit contains elements of all these.

This is my vision:

to offer readers everywhere stories that delight and entertain, capturing their imaginations and touching their hearts with powerful universal themes that affect us all.

The themes that most engage me are these: love, loyalty and bravery; intrigue, longing and desire; redemption, reconciliation and forgiveness.


I am tagging Meg Harper

Lindsay Rumbold

Wendy Jones

Their posts about their new projects will be live on or around 19 December.

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)