Characters in Mystical Circles – Meet Rory, a Member of Craig’s Esoteric Group The Wheel of Love who Believes he has “A Thorn in the Flesh”

When Juliet first meets Rory Anstruther-Jones, she is intrigued, but doesn’t trust him. He speaks of having a “thorn in the flesh” – but what does this mean exactly?

EXTRACT FROM “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”

Then Juliet’s glance was drawn on to the next diner. He for his part gave her a watery smile. His pink shirt was teamed with a blueandwhite polkadot bow tie. Even though seated, he was head and shoulders above his neighbours. How, she wondered, did he manage with all the low ceilings in this farmhouse? She tried to recall the date she’d seen engraved above the front door. Ah yes – 1532. Certainly they must have been shorter in those days.

“Rory. Anstruther-Jones,” he said.

Ah-ha. The one she had to handle with caution. “Good to meet you, Rory,” she replied.

Tall as he was, Rory presumably managed somehow. She observed too that he’d blow-dried his blond hair. He leaned forward, across Don, extending long, slender fingers to clasp her hand. She registered the slippery quality of his touch. She was also struck by the curious unreality of his porcelain complexion.

He drew back into his seat. “I suffer from a thorn in the flesh. Won’t tell you what it is right now. You can guess as you get to know me a bit better. Do I suffer from migraines? Am I epileptic? Or gay, perhaps? I don’t have one leg shorter than the other. You can see I’m not a dwarf. So, each time we meet, you might get a little closer to guessing my problem.”

“Well, Rory, what can I say to that?” murmured Juliet. She was unsure how she felt about his remarks; certainly, she didn’t trust him. But there again, neither did she trust anyone else.

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Rory lowered his voice to a confidential whisper and again leaned across Don. “You’d be surprised what fits in with Craig’s teachings.”

She raised her eyebrows, careful not to commit herself.

“Since I arrived here,” Rory went on, ignoring her caution, “many strange things have happened to me. Now, I think that has to do with the effect of being in Gloucestershire, which is renowned for occult activity.”

“Planning to bite her, are you?” said James from across the table.

Craig silenced him with a look. “What kind of occult activity, Rory?” he prompted.

“Such as,” persisted Rory, “the fact that things started going wrong for me as soon as I arrived. You remember?”

“I do. Very well,” said Craig cryptically.

“Last June it was. You told me you had no room.”

“Not true. I simply asked you to commit to a short fixed-term stay.”

Juliet looked from one to the other, alerted. Why had Craig not been keen for him to stay longer? Clearly Rory had ignored this and stayed on anyway.  If Craig wasn’t happy about it, why hadn’t he chucked Rory out? She didn’t doubt the strength of his personality. She found it difficult to believe he wouldn’t deal firmly with wastrels and hangers-on, if such Rory was. But for now, the matter must remain a mystery.

She turned back to Rory, who continued unperturbed. “I remember opening my mouth to give Craig a piece of my mind, and my words came out all wrong. I was jabbering incoherently.”

“Yes,” said Craig.

A sharp silence fell. James applied butter to his bread roll in short, terse strokes of the knife.

“Can you account for that experience of Rory’s, Craig?” asked Juliet.

Characters in Mystical Circles – Meet Craig, Charismatic New Age Guru who Leads the Esoteric Group The Wheel of Love

Craig McAllister leads the New Age spiritual group “The Wheel of Love”. Here, he promises, “you may take your subtle knife and cut a window into heaven.” (with apologies to Philip Pullman). Personally, when I was investigating New Age philosophies, groups and lifestyles, I would have found it hard to resist that promise. I heard many alluring promises during my years of spiritual research. And I discovered that inspirational speakers, gurus & esoteric teachers are, first of all, skilled in the use of words. 

EXTRACT FROM “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”

The buzz of conversation from the other side of the inner door increased. Juliet knew the group were already taking their seats at the dining table, ready to start the meal. She glanced through the doorway, entranced by the many candle flames. How sensuous the room looked in this light; the gleaming timbers held even greater depth and richness. And the fragrance of the roses and apple logs in the fireplace seemed more intense.

At that moment, Craig appeared before her, hand outstretched, a smile of greeting on his face. She stopped short, disconcerted by a tingling sensation in her stomach. If not for the evidence of her eyes, she could have sworn she’d just brushed against a lightly charged electric fence.

“Welcome to your first evening meal with us, Juliet.”

“Thank you.”

“Come in, come in,” he said robustly. He took her arm. “Do sit here, close to me.”

Juliet was still recovering from her initial reaction to his appearance. She wondered whether her being invited to sit near Craig would upset Zoe. But not at all. Instead, her sister touched her shoulder. “I’ll slip in, opposite you.”

“Sure,” said Juliet. She looked for Don. Perhaps pinpointing his location would ease her mind and her nerves. Then she saw the Yorkshireman, near the top of the table. Zoe was already seating herself.

Juliet followed Craig past The Lady and the Unicorn. Craig moved with a fluid grace. For her part, she hoped her manner gave no clue to the insecurity she felt. This would be her first official introduction to the group. As she glanced around those sitting at the table, it suddenly occurred to her that the only non-speaker was the large, hand-carved wooden Buddha which sat in the chair opposite where she stood. How bizarre, she thought.

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She struggled to settle her inner turmoil. But, instead, whilst groping towards some kind of exit from the fog gathering around her, she slipped further in. Now she felt a curious instability, as if she was on a jetliner that had flown into an air pocket. In the next moment she received the impression that Craig’s features had melted and realigned themselves.

Instead of looking at him, she believed she faced someone infinitely old and wizened, and Peruvian in appearance. The image of an ancient carved face on a rock in an Inca city, presented itself to her. It shifted again, and a new face emerged, that of a shabby, travel-stained New Age traveller.

With a desperate effort of the will, she regained her awareness of Don beside her. But he was set into a freezeframe. His hand had risen, perhaps to admonish Craig, but had then been arrested in mid-air. He wore a glazed expression.

Craig smiled, and as he did so the spell, or whatever it was, lifted. All returned to normal. Don’s hand dropped to his side.

Juliet realised she’d held her breath for several moments. She gasped the air back into her lungs. Her heart was pounding. Craig had done it again. Changed appearance. What was it with him? How did he do it? It frightened her. Her eyes were fixed upon his face. She hardly cared if he thought her rude to stare at him.

Then Don spoke. “Well, Craig? What’s your answer?” It was as if nothing had happened. Hadn’t Don noticed? She was astounded.

Craig interlocked his fingers, and laid them lightly upon his knee. “I believe we must learn to live at a high level of uncertainty,” he said.

Do Creative Writers Ever Feel they’re On the Inside? Or are they Always On the Outside of Everything Looking In?

This morning I was listening to Howard Jacobson, comic novelist and Booker Prize winner, on Desert Island Discs, and among the many things he said which touched and amused me, the most striking was this, “I have always felt myself to be on the outside of everything, looking in.” He gave this reply to the interviewer’s question, “Now you’ve won the Booker, do you feel you’ve arrived? Do you now feel you’re on the inside?”

What a wonderful response she received to this question! And this seemed to me a true writer’s response. I identified with it absolutely. This is what I have spent my life doing. When I was researching for my newly-published novel Mystical Circles, I was an observer. I was on the outside looking in. I investigated many New Age spiritual groups and lifestyles and philosophies, and I always saw myself as being on the outside looking in – just as Juliet does in my novel. How anxious Juliet is not to get involved, not to be drawn in, to keep her objectivity as a journalist. It almost seems a personal threat to her to get involved. Yet as more than one character says to her,  “You have to come alongside us to truly understand.”

My character the Rev. Theo sees this clearly. “I’m all about people on spiritual journeys,” he says. “I’ll go anywhere, come in on anything.” It is no contradiction to him, a young clergyman, to enter a New Age spiritual group and to come alongside the members of the community and to live as one of them.

So you, my readers, will probably have spotted the apparent contradiction here. Do I believe in being an outsider looking in? Or do I believe in getting involved, coming alongside? The truth lies in paradox. And this is the paradox Howard Jacobson embodies. Of course he is on the inside! Of course he has arrived! And yet – he has the soul of a writer. And so he feels always on the outside looking in.

Do you identify with Howard Jacobson at all when he describes himself feeling like this, despite being successful in the eyes of the world?

My BBC Radio interview with Liz Kershaw

This was my live interview with Liz Kershaw of BBC Radio Coventry & Warwickshire on Sunday 7 November 2010. Liz clearly understood the struggles of a writer and asked some very good perceptive questions. I greatly appreciated the opportunity she gave me to talk about my writing journey on live radio.

scskillmanlizkershaw-interview