At the National Portrait Gallery recently, as I wandered through the Victorian and Twentieth Century and Contemporary Galleries, I realised that I was surrounded by all the most amazing people who have moved or inspired me or touched my heart, during my lifetime.
It is truly a moving experience to gaze upon the faces of each of these people, and to reflect upon the impact each one of them has had on my life. Some of them look very unexceptional; others have been portrayed in a way which truly conveys their individuality. But what all have in common is this: they are like a cloud of witnesses, a gallery of masters who have found their way into my heart and mind over the generations and seasons of my life, through something they’ve written, or painted, or thought, or expressed.
To gaze upon their faces, even imperfectly rendered – for how can I tell the accuracy or the insight of the artist, having never encountered the sitter in person – is to be deeply touched.
I’ve just spent a week in London, near the Tower, and my mind is full of London stories… stories of many different aspects of life in the city. First of all, I think of the tales we were told on the walk from Whitechapel tube station, the Hidden East End walk, led by one of London Walks’ brilliant raconteurs.
Stories that encompassed Ronnie and Reggie Kray, the Salvation Army, the Tower Hamlets Mission, the almshouses, the White Hart pub and Richard II, Henry de Montfort and his daughter, and his alias as the Blind Beggar, stories of the Elephant Man and Whitechapel Hospital, of the French Huguenots’ houses near Brick Lane, Spitalfields, and the building that has housed four major faiths…
I have in my mind stories of the vulnerable and oppressed: enslaved Africans, whose story is told at the Museum of London, Docklands; foundlings abandoned on the streets during the height of the gin craze, whose story is told at the Foundling Museum, Bloomsbury;
I have in mind the magnificent and privileged, those in Anglo Saxon times who were important and wealthy enough to leave precious time capsules for the British Library to display centuries later in their Anglo Saxon Kingdoms exhibition: the magnificent, the scholarly and the gifted: kings, monks and abbots.
So, throughout my week in London and all the places I visited, I have in mind the peasants, the gangsters, the deformed, the desperately poor, along with the brickmakers, the law-makers, the ministers, the politicians, and civil servants and officials of Westminster whose alter-egos were created in the Ministry of Magic by JK Rowling… for we learned, too, about the locations in Westminster where the film-makers brought her imagined scenes to life, in Harry Potter on Location in London town
In my next few blog posts I’ll have more to say about these and other individual strands of London life, but for now let it remain a brief survey of a rich and complex tapestry.
Thank you to all of you who read and enjoy my blog posts. I greatly appreciate those who support me by following, reading, liking and commenting. I hope to continue providing you with short inspirational blog posts about any subject that catches my eye!
It’s been a busy few days as I have been listening to successful woman writers speaking at two exciting events – a visit to Ingram Spark (book printers and distributors) and a tour round their digital printing facility in Milton Keynes; and the following day I was in London at the George IV pub in Chiswick, on the day of Harry and Meghan’s wedding, to attend a fabulous networking event “The Bloggers Bash”; and finally I attended a fair in Nuneaton to sell signed copies of my books.
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Did you know my very first published work under the name of SC Skillman was a cry from the heart, in the form of a poem which appeared in print courtesy of The Beatles?
Here it is, a cry from the heart of a frustrated fan, as it first appeared in Beatles Monthly edition no. 64, testifying to my obsession with Paul McCartney and my shameless dedication to turning up at Paul’s House in St John’s Wood, London, in the hope of catching a glimpse of him. The poem is addressed to Johnny Dean, who was the editor of the Beatles Book.
Here is the transcript of the poem:
This poem sums up what I feel at the moment!
HOW NOT TO MEET PAUL (BY, HOWEVER, AN OPTIMIST)
If I go to Paul’s house
He’ll either come back from Greece two hours after I’ve gone,
Or he’ll have just gone off to India.
Whenever Paul goes
To Regents Park or Hyde Park
He makes sure I’m not there.
Whenever Paul takes
Martha for a walk,
Before he does so, he
Makes sure Sheila Skillman isn’t outside.
And doesn’t get a chance of seeing him.
When Paul records at the EMI studios
He makes sure I’m not hanging around;
When I phone up the EMI studios,
It’s one of the secretary’s uncooperative days,
Or she doesn’t know, or
She’s got no idea, luv.
When Paul’s at the Apple offices,
he makes sure I’m not going to be in the vicinity,
And then decides it’s safe to turn up.
When the Beatles, ages ago went to Sevenoaks,
They made sure that
When they were driving up Court Road through Orpington,
S. Skillman wasn’t taking her dog for a walk
At the same time
(Because she lives just off there.)
In short, S. Skillman Has Ways Of Not Meeting Paul.
But don’t worry, she’ll do it one day.
Hope you like it
There were, of course, usually many fans congregating outside Paul’s house, and I will admit I have had some fascinating conversations with people there. It’s also known that in the early days of his ownership of the house, Paul might often pop outside the front gate and get the fans to take his dog Martha for a walk, or do other tasks for him.
Nothing like that happened, alas, when I was there. But the poem I wrote about it, within the Beatles Monthly magazine no. 64, remains a part of Beatles folklore, and it forms part of my extensive collection of Beatles memorabilia, along with several other editions of the Beatles Monthly magazine.
I will always remember how I felt when I saw my poem had been printed. I first heard about it from Leslie, a friend of my parents, whose daughter Sarah was also a Beatles fan. Leslie said to me slyly one day, “I see you’ve flown into print, my dear.” I was surprised and didn’t know what he was talking about. He mentioned Sarah, and Beatles Monthly. Shortly afterwards I shot down the road to the newsagent, procured my copy, and began walking up the road. flipping through the magazine. I opened it to the letters page and saw my poem. The feeling I had then may be compared to that of a first time novelist who gains their first contract of publication with a commercial publishing house. An over-the-top reaction perhaps… but that’s how I felt. I walked up the road to my home in a golden haze.
After this poem was published I received an extensive response from other Beatles fans/ readers of Beatles Monthly, based in the UK and the USA, of which these letters form a small part:
These responses were the equivalent to comments on a tweet or a blog post now.
I also began long pen pal correspondences with two of the writers from the USA and one of them sent me a ticket from the Beatles’ famous concert at Shea Stadium on 15 August 1965, as well as original prints of photos she’d taken of the Beatles; she later visited London and I had the pleasure of meeting up with her. Being American she was much more upfront than me and had met the Beatles and pushed herself forward on occasions when I would have hung back shyly in the background! Chrissy O’Brien, if you read this blog, it would be lovely to hear from you again!
The comments I received in some of these letters are given below:
I saw the letter you wrote… and I said to myself, Hey! There goes a girl with the kind of luck I have! Sort of a kindred spirit you might say (Delana from Detroit, Michigan)
In case you’re wondering how I got your name it was from Beatles Book 64 (how else?). Well at least Paul knows you exist, a privilege shared by few. (Graham, from Swanley, Kent)
I read your letter in Beatles Monthly and I entirely agree with you. When I go to see Paul he is never in. (Sue from Cricklewood, London NW2)
You seem to be enquiring how to meet Paul.. maybe I can help, if you care to write, as I have a telegram from Paul when I met him at London Airport in July 1965. (Brian from Orpington, Kent)
I know this is idiotic but… I just read your poem in Beatles Monthly. It was about Paul Boy. If only I could write one to George like that!!! Enclosed is a photostat copy of a letter I received from Paul thanking me for my letter…. As you can see it isn’t much but it is Paul. And of course I wish it was George’s instead. Foul of me, I know. (Sherry from Eugene, Oregon, USA)
I saw your name in Beatles Monthly so I thought I’d write to you… (Anna from California).
I became a member of the Official Beatles Fan Club a couple of years after it started, and included in my memorabilia collection you may find most of the Beatles’ original Christmas records for Fan Club members, all four Beatles’ autographs, an interesting collection of news cuttings covering the major events of the Beatles’ career from the time my interest began, up until George Harrison’s death; and several newsletters and personal letters from Freda Kelly, former secretary to Brian Epstein, and the first Beatles Fan Club Secretary, who did so much to help Beatles fans during her time as the fan club secretary
Open this link to read all about the 2013 film about Freda Kelly Good Ol’ Freda.
Click here to read another of my posts on Paul McCartney, the first in my blog series People of Inspiration.
I’d love to hear your Beatles thoughts and memories. Please do share in the comments!
On Saturday 23rd December 2017 I went to see the exhibition “Living with Gods: peoples, places and worlds beyond” at the British Museum in London. The exhibition curator Jill Cook had set out to show the development of religious symbols through physical objects which people in widely diverse cultures and historical periods have used to denote their relationships with a spiritual reality beyond nature.
The exhibition ranged from a 40,000 year old sculpture of a lion man, through a Buddhist wheel of life held in the claws of the god of death, via a Japanese Shinto household shrine, to a Soviet communist poster of an astronaut with a rather inane grin on his face floating in space and declaring “There is no God.” On the Buddhist wheel of life the artist had depicted instances of human and animal suffering and wickedness of all types, which I must confess reminded me of Dan Brown’s description of Dante’s Inferno…
I was also interested to learn that the image of the many-armed creator/destroyer god Lord Shiva is on display outside CERN in Switzerland, as a symbol of the atom.
However, inevitably much was missing from the exhibition. For instance, I found no reference to the aboriginal image of the Rainbow Serpent said to be one of earliest of religious symbols, in this case symbolising Creation. Neither did I find the spirituality of the North American Indians, nor the mystical system of the ancient Chinese Book of Changes, the I Ching.
The whole tapestry and landscape of humankind’s attempts to build and sustain a relationship with spiritual reality beyond the observed world is so vast and complex, this exhibition inevitably could give just a small representative taste alongside a dispassionate commentary. In reality each religious outlook and philosophical system deserves its own special in-depth study in order to do anything like justice to it – and the curious investigator can find many books to help.
But one of the most moving parts of the exhibition for me was the display about the Japanese persecution of Christianity in the 17th century, during the time of the Portuguese Jesuit mission to Japan, a story told in the brilliant novel Silence by Shusako Endo, upon which was based the 2016 film starring Andrew Garfield.
I remember the impact the book made on me, when those being persecuted were ordered to trample the fumi-e – a bronze plaque showing Christ on the cross. I found myself gazing in awe at an authentic fumi-e and thought again of the powerful end to the novel Silence.
One of the most interesting things about that novel was the way it showed how Christianity may be introduced into what may seem an alien culture and how those within that culture may take on the Christian faith and understand it within their own cultural terms. I remember a scene in the novel where Japanese Christians were being tortured by being tied to stakes on a beach while the tide rolled in and out around them. They gained the stength to endure by continually singing, We are going to the temple, going to the temple of God.
If there is any lesson at all to be learned from an exhibition of this type, perhaps it is that we have the challenge ahead of us to communicate what we believe to be the truth, whilst also respecting other human beings and where they are in terms of their own worldview.
For novelists these days there comes a time when, having devoted our time to promoting the novels we have already written, and having listened to the alluring voices of the internet sirens ( see here for my post on this subject) we return to our raison d’etre again: writing.
Having finished the first draft of my WIP in June I’ve now printed it out and this afternoon will read it through ready to make revisions for a second draft.
This is always an exciting and a nerve-wracking time, and it’s a time I love because during the first read-through I usually find all sorts of new thoughts and questions and connections popping up, which I scribble on the manuscript; often things that never occurred to me during the time of writing. I’m reading it as if it was written by a different person.
Right now it feels as if I’m getting back to the purpose for all this; the joy of connecting again with my main protagonist and with all her issues and challenges, and taking her through her story again, with all the other characters who will test her to the utmost, in their many different ways.
To those who ask “What’s the book about?” here’s the one-sentence storyline:
It’s a psychological suspense / modern gothic novel set in London, about a young actress who finds herself trapped with a troubled priest in a house haunted by a family curse.
I’ll have to leave it again on Friday as I’m going to a writers conference for the weekend. But I’ll have the chance to test it out on Saturday during a chat with a London agent and with the publishing direcor of Picador.
So see you next week when I’ll be able to report back from my weekend at ScotsWrite, a Society of Authors Conference in Scotland.
In Sherlock we discovered that Death had an appointment – with Mary Watson in the London Aquarium. Maybe London is Sherlock’s city and he knows the turf. But he was still unable to keep Mary safe, as he had promised. In the Agatha Christie drama, we were drawn in to the personal tragedy of a detective who was finally outwitted by the criminal; in Jonathan Creek we saw our lovable main character largely responsible for the horrific death of a villain; and in To Walk Invisible we were shown a tough and bristly Emily, a Branwell totally lacking in inner resources when things go wrong, a bossy and controlling Charlotte and a rather ineffectual Anne: and all of them powerless against tidal waves of blind misfortune.
I read in an interview with Toby Jones (star of the Agatha Christie episode, and also due to appear as the next villain in Sherlock) that Ten or twenty years ago, Poirot and Miss Marple were cutting edge. But the viewer’s brain processes genre faster now.
I feel this sums up well the challenge facing today’s TV drama writers, screenwriters and novelists. We can no longer get away with anything that approaches transparency or simplicity in plotting or tone or characterisation; especially if we write crime, suspense or thrillers, we have to be at least two or three steps ahead of the viewer / reader. For us, “the game” of which Sherlock speaks has to be the game we play with the reader’s expectations, which are now razor-sharp. In our books we can only get away with characters like Mrs Hudson saying things like “I’ll just go and make a nice cup of tea shall I?” if there is some kind of double or even triple irony bound up in the package of words and character and context.
Against all this perhaps, the Outnumbered Christmas Special was refreshingly light, unless you count the darkness of 1) being led astray by a mischievous old man, now deceased, to travel a long distance to scatter his ashes in a random beauty spot 2) the abrupt discovery that your son plans to disappear off to New Zealand long term, and 3) walking away defeated from a car accident having trashed your car, totally unaware your daughter has obtained evidence that the other party was completely at fault….
All of these dramas, though, are essentially English, and all are about life, and we love them, together with their characters and situations. The darkness in some way is cathartic for us; we identify, we exercise our powers of empathy as we are drawn into the tragedy and horror and irony of the characters’ experiences… and this is why drama, and fiction, is a gateway to truth, and so profoundly important in our lives.
Last Saturday I was in Southwark, London SE1, researching locations for my new novel.
To me, the setting for a novel must have a strong emotional connection. My first two novels were set in the Cotswolds, near where I now live. My next novels will be set in London, near where I was born and brought up.
But what I’m interested in isn’t just the tourist sites; it’s the atmosphere, the pubs, the unexpected small parks and gardens, the odd corners and street names. Here’s a selection from the many photos I took. And I’ll be back again, absorbing the feel of the place, and imagining my characters into it.
Writing a weekly blog post is an excellent writing discipline, and a wonderful creative outlet, as I write about anything which has inspired or intrigued me during the week. I began the blog shortly after my debut novel Mystical Circles was published, with the idea of appealing to those who might enjoy reading my fiction. I especially like writing on spiritual subjects, as well as history, the arts, films, books, people and places of inspiration. I hope that my blog readers will be keen to buy my next novel (provisional title: A Passionate Spirit) when it comes out (hopefully this year). Meanwhile I love writing my blog for its own sake, and have also found several other engaging and talented blog writers on the internet.
I hope you enjoy exploring my blog and that you will give me plenty of feedback.
I am very happy to accept this award. Thank you Lance!
Finally, to fulfill the conditions of my award, and these are the conditions that all recipients must follow, so please do so if you have been nominated by me, I must state the rules of the award and list seven things about myself that you may not know.
The Seven things about myself that you may not know
1. I did a parachute jump over Bickmarsh Airfield near Stratford-upon-Avon in 1976, with the BBC Parachute Club.
2. I flew over the Outback of Australia in a hot air balloon in 1990.
3. I was in Rhodes on holiday with my sister and her friend when war broke out over Cyprus, between Greece and Turkey. We were unable to leave the island for a while, and discovered that all the male staff of the pension we were staying in had gone off to join the war, so we had to make our own meals.
4. I wrote a play about my time there, and all the characters I met, called Fortnight of the Cockroach which I sent to the BBC. It was turned down. Since then I’ve lost the original ms. I’m hoping it’s somewhere around the house and that I might uncover it again one day!
5. I lived and worked in Brisbane, Australia, for four and a half years.
6. During my childhood and early teenage years I sang with a girls choir in Orpington, Kent. We were ‘the chorus of younger angels’ in a performance of Mahler’s 8th Symphony at the Royal Albert Hall, conducted by Leonard Bernstein. I’ve also sung under the baton of Andre Previn and Simon Rattle.
7. My most outstanding holiday experience was in a town in the Himalayas called Badrinath, (close to India’s border with Tibet) where I saw Neel Kanth, ‘mountain of light’.
The Award Rules
Thank the person who gave you this award.
Include a link to their blog.
Next, select several blogs/bloggers that you follow.
Nominate those bloggers for the Versatile Blogger Award.
Finally, tell 7 things about yourself.
Full details of the award can be found on the VBA website through this link.
Recently my sister in Australia sent me a set of DVDs – ironically made in England, containing a documentary series on Great British Ghosts narrated by Michaela Strachan for the BBC. The set also included a third documentary, narrated by Paul McGann in a balanced, neutral tone, called Ghosts of the London Underground, and this was by far the most compelling of the three.
Traditionally in England, sightings of ghosts such as grey ladies in sixteenth century properties can be attributed by sceptics to over sensitive or highly-imaginative people tuned in to the atmosphere whilst staying overnight in Tudor coaching inns.
But the ghosts of the London Underground have a different character. Each story in this documentary is told by a worker whom you would describe as ‘a totally down to earth, practical no-nonsense bloke’ whom many might consider diametrically opposite to the popular image of the type of person who claims to have ghostly encounters. Some of those who told their stories said “I don’t believe in ghosts… but I’ve had an experience I will remember for the rest of my life as something which happened to me which has no explanation.”
Beneath the ticket halls, walkways, escalators and tunnels through which so many people stream, carrying out their daily lives, there is another story: the lingering residue of the souls of people who died terrible and tragic deaths, and somehow imprinted a psychic recording into those tunnels; and not just the ones which have been abandoned.
One day I believe we will fully understand why and how these things happen, but right now, to my knowledge, we have no satisfactory over-arching philosophy to account for these experiences. I shrink from believing that the soul of a human being can possibly be condemned to wander for years close to the place where they had the worst experience of their life on earth. And I cannot fathom why the essence of a person should continue to walk in the place where their life ended, apparently unaware of the fact that they’re dead. Yet living people have had and continue to have experiences which would indicate this as an immediate explanation.
My new upcoming novel A Passionate Spirit contains several ghost stories and an element of the unexplained, and I admit to being fascinated by these phenomena. I used to love Tales of Mystery and Imagination on TV in the past, and not long ago read and reviewed Classic Tales of the Macabre by masters of the ghost story genre: a dazzling display of atmospheric writing from masters of the craft, that demonstrate the art of suspense, with the build-up of horror. The stories in this book are must-reads for anyone seeking to write in the genre nowadays; they range from supernatural to psychological subjects, and all of them are beautifully-written..
However there is another aspect of these experiences. If they are psychic recordings of energy, the fact that they draw the living to engage emotionally with certain tragic life events that happened to individuals in the past, is on one level a good thing.
Of all the millions of beings who’ve been through this world, ghosts are few and far between. And many pass through leaving no mark at all. Nevertheless, there are a few who do indeed leave a mark. And people who’d otherwise be ignorant of their existence are drawn not only to them and to their story but in such a way that they engage emotionally with it.
What we do with this idea depends on a number of factors, not least our worldview.
From a Christian point of view, the fact that every diocese of the Church of England has a “deliverance ministry” (no longer using the term “exorcism”) this presupposes that Christians do actually accept the idea of “earthbound spirits” who need to be released.
Christian theology asserts that each individual soul who has ever lived is loved by God.
In Revelation 21: 3-4 we read these words “One day I will wipe away every tear from your eyes and I’ll take away all the pain you have suffered on this earth.”
This is a promise to hold onto, for those of us who are drawn to investigating these ghostly encounters.