Family Relationships in Mystical Circles – Conflict Between Sisters

In “Mystical Circles” I explore the conflict between two sisters Juliet and Zoe. Juliet, the older sister, aged around 30, is worried that the impetuous Zoe, age 22 and fresh out of university, has fallen in love with charismatic New Age guru Craig McAllister, and rushed off to join his esoteric spiritual group in the Cotswolds, where she seems determined to stay forever. How can the more sensible, responsible Juliet make Zoe see otherwise, and rescue her from this unsuitable man?

EXTRACT No. 1 from “Mystical Circles”:

“How are things going with Craig?” she asked.

“Fantastic. Couldn’t be better.” Zoe scuffed her trainers against the gravel, then pointed in a northerly direction. “Come on. Let’s go round the house to the front garden. We can sit there and talk.”

“Sure.” Juliet hurried after her sister. How she hoped Zoe would be reasonable, and at least understand her feelings.

Unlatching the gate, Zoe went through, and Juliet followed. Before them appeared the uppermost of a flight of stone steps leading down to a sunken lawn with a water lily pond. Craig had landscaped this garden to the very highest of standards.

“This is stunning,” she said in awe.

“Isn’t it?” Zoe indicated the Scots pines and the blue cedars over to the north of the sunken garden. The two girls went towards these. Scattered beneath were a number of white cane chairs, set amid clumps of purple delphiniums.

As soon as they sat down, Zoe burst into excited speech. “So Juliet, what do you think?” Her eye fell on Juliet’s pocket. “You already have the brochure.”

“I’ve started reading it. Craig makes big promises, doesn’t he? They certainly lead you to expect huge rewards.”

“And you’ll find them,” declared Zoe. “Wait till you meet him. He’s out of this world.”

Juliet’s confidence began to fade. How would Zoe cope with her objections? “I already have met him, Zoe.”

“No! But that’s wonderful. So you’ll already know. He’s perfect.”

Juliet fought to hold onto her patience. “Well, I’m not quite sure about…”

“Whose side are you on?” Zoe’s expression had chilled.   

Juliet leaned forward, and took hold of her by both shoulders. “Hey, I can see why you’ve fallen for him. He’s the best-looking guy I’ve ever met.”

Zoe visibly relaxed.

“If he feels the same about you as you do about him,” continued Juliet, “then that can only be good news.”

A smile of relief spread over her sister’s face. Juliet hated to spoil the mood. But she felt compelled to push home her point. “You’re here for the best of reasons, Zoe. And I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Let’s suppose that Craig is everything you believe he is. But even so – what’s with the Wheel of Love? Sounds a bit dubious to me.”

“We’re not like that Heaven’s Gate sect, you know,” Zoe protested.

Certain key words hammered into Juliet’s brain. Sharpen your subtle knife…cut a window into heaven…freedom you’ve never dared dream of… “This heaven stuff he goes in for… the bit about freedom you’ve never dared dream of, and him reaching into your spirit…  What’s that all about?”

“You’d need to live as one of us to understand,” said Zoe.

So she was going to be evasive. Juliet flared up. “Give me a break, Zoe. I won’t do that.” She saw her sister bite back a swift retort.

Juliet is a freelance radio journalist. And while she’s here at the Wheel of Love she takes the opportunity to do interviews for a radio documentary about the group – with Craig’s permission of course. It’s a useful cover for her true motive of rescuting Zoe. But can Juliet stay objective?

Extract No. 2 from “Mystical Circles”:

It was probably best to concentrate on her lunch. But she couldn’t resist pushing Edgar further on the subject. “I’m not a member of the group, and have no plans to join. I’m here as an impartial observer. And there are various guidelines that I have to observe…”

“The broadcast media has the highest code of conduct…” murmured Edgar. A titter passed between the other three at this.

“What you suggest is impossible. If you’re to achieve anything here, you’ll have to take part, and live as one of us,” said Laura.

Juliet swallowed two or three times to control her sense of panic. Deep down she knew Laura was probably right. And that was exactly what worried her. Could she pretend to go along with their beliefs without compromising herself? Weren’t they all nuts, in one way or another? She shrank from it. And yet she knew she wasn’t the only one here who felt like that. Surely Don did too.

Extracts from Mystical Circles – What is Dynamic Meditation, as Practised by Craig’s Esoteric Group The Wheel of Love?

What is “Dynamic Meditation”?  I describe this in my novel, as Craig leads a session for the members of his group The Wheel of Love. I observed this supposed “emotional release therapy” myself in the past, whilst investigating the practices and beliefs of the sannyasins who followed the guru Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh.

EXTRACT FROM “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”

Dynamic Meditation took place that evening in the barn.

Surely, thought Juliet, as she stood at the rear of the spacious meeting room, with her portable recorder and mike, the original builders of this glorious sixteenth-century tithe barn would never have imagined that such use would ever be made of it. She gazed at the roof, a dazzling crisscross of beams and wooden vaulting. Yes, the tenant farmer may well have held barn dances; but surely nothing of the nature of what Craig was leading his followers into right now.

By nine o’clock the lights had been dimmed, and the sound of heavy metal music echoed up to the roof trusses, ricocheted off the hayloft and rebounded all around the stone walls. The hayloft, or upper room, could be accessed by two spiral staircases, one at the west side, and one at the east. Juliet had positioned herself beside the foot of the west one. She was trying to make herself heard as she explained her digital recording equipment to Don. Following Llewellyn’s words, he’d clearly felt sufficiently emboldened to try this session, but meant to stay at the back watching and listening.

He moved closer to Juliet in order to hear her words.

“This machine is a Nagra Ares BB Plus,” she said. “I record on flashcards. Each has only about one gig of memory, not that much, so I’ve brought several for all my interviews.”

“And your mike? Will it cope with the noise levels?”

She laughed. “It’s omnidirectional. I’ll hold it as close as possible to Craig when he’s speaking, if I get the chance. Must admit I’m a bit doubtful whether I’ll pick up any speech.”

“Me too,” he said cryptically.

She smiled.

“However,” he continued, “Craig dropped me a few hints. So I steeled myself.”

“Certainly looks and sounds chaotic.” She gazed at the scene in front of her. She suspected that tonight would yield nothing her listeners could make sense of. But her concern for Zoe was far greater. What would her sister get up to with Craig in an atmosphere like this? And as for Craig himself, she’d be watching him very closely; for she found it impossible to believe he wouldn’t take advantage of his position, especially with the women, in such circumstances.

And as if to confirm Juliet’s worst suspicions, Laura, her hair wilder than ever, was already tearing off her cotton print dress. Juliet feared Zoe would soon follow her example. She and Beth, however, had so far both kept their lycra leotards on. But, to Juliet’s confusion, Zoe was curled up in a foetal position in the corner, sobbing as if her heart would break. Should Juliet go over and comfort her? Or was this all part of the Dynamic Meditation and meant to serve a cathartic purpose?

Her instincts told her it was the latter. The other members of the group were scattered across the available floor space, in a variety of postures and states of undress. Several danced; some had curled themselves into tight balls, and others writhed across the flagstone floor like snakes. Juliet followed Craig with her mike, as he strode around amongst them, looking authoritative and crackling with sexual energy, in a bottlegreen leather jacket and Levis, shouting at each in turn.

She recorded him as best she could, whilst trying to keep an eye on Zoe. But her sister, it seemed, won no more from him than anybody else; and neither did Laura or Beth. To Craig’s credit, and Juliet’s mystification, he seemed to share his attention equally.

His attention consisted largely of a verbal lashing. With each person he varied his remarks, depending, as he explained to Juliet a little later, upon their emotional situation. At Beth, who clearly had a problem with self-esteem, he hurled personal abuse; when Sam confessed fear and timidity, he compelled him to imagine the kind of exposure he most dreaded; finding Oleg full of anger, he provoked him to an even higher level of rage. The Slav then strode over to Beth and accosted her. Juliet watched closely. She’d already picked up emotions simmering between these two. What would happen now, in this overwrought situation?

But before she could satisfy her curiosity, her attention was distracted. Laura, in a desperate attention-seeking measure, had finally peeled off her lacy knickers. But even this failed to win a special response from the group leader. However, the same could not be said of Al. Laura then gave herself over to what looked like a Dionysian frenzy. Edgar rolled around the floor giggling hysterically, creating a surreal effect with his monastic appearance. James, too, added to the madness of the scene by kicking his legs in the air and screaming like a child having a tantrum in a highstreet store, without any regard to the state of his tailored trousers or natty cravat.

The only question in Juliet’s mind was at which point one of the men would snap, leap onto Laura, and sexually assault her. Or settle for Craig instead, as some, in her view, might well do. She’d already begun forming opinions about their sexuality. It was when she began to focus on Craig’s, that she felt ambivalent. He was supposed to love her sister. But…  Her mind went foggy beyond this. All she knew was it was a big but.

Meanwhile, miraculously, here in the feverish atmosphere of the barn, no assault, sexual or otherwise, ever happened.

Oleg now seemed to be performing t’ai chi; James was grinning inanely and blowing bubbles, and Al, who’d begun the evening in a benign frame of mind, was beating his head against the wall.

At this point Craig turned the music off, and Juliet hurried across to him with the mike. Before she could speak he plunged himself into a lotus posture, and apparently into a state of deep meditation. Meanwhile, the participants lay around weeping or working out their distress in whichever way seemed best, or emerging slowly from hysteria. So Juliet moved among the group members instead with her mike, though there seemed no need to ask any of them to describe their feelings to her. Eventually all sounds faded into silence. Juliet set her Nagra on automatic voice-activated recording. Craig allowed stillness to reign for several minutes. Then he opened his eyes, stood up, and, looking around among his followers, began to speak.

“This Centre has been going for exactly fourteen months tonight. Fourteen months from the day James and I moved in. In the time that’s elapsed since then, the Wheel of Love has become a tribute to the dynamic power of change.”

“Who has changed?” asked Juliet. “And in what way?”

“Guilt has gone,” announced Craig. “Feeling bad about yourself because of the negative messages you once received, is in the past. Your former life can no longer hold you. All that matters is now.”

His glance swept once more around the meeting space. “By coming here and joining us, you’ve shown you correctly identify your longing. You recognise your birthright. And you want to regain your inheritance. You seek spiritual experience in your own bodies. We all do. I’ll guide you to a place where you can say, not I believe but I know.”

Absolute concentration gripped the members of the group.

Then he said, “Remember, we create our own reality. That’s what I taught you. And what I stand by.”

The expression in his eyes intensified, as for a moment they settled on Juliet. Then they moved to the middle distance again. “What you give out, you receive back. Simple as that, once you’ve learned to understand and harness the universal system. Your new life starts here.”

With that he dismissed them all.

Characters in Mystical Circles – Beth, a Member of Craig’s Esoteric Group The Wheel of Love who Feels Unloved – will she Find Healing in Craig’s Community?

Beth doesn’t really know why she’s here; she’s edgy, tense, anxious. Is she searching for the healing that Craig promises? And is she prepared to do the mysterious “work” on herself that Craig requires? She doesn’t want to tell Juliet about her past. She hero-worships Craig, but he’s inaccessible. There is one in the group who would love her in the way she longs for… but is she able to respond to him? She is in a spiritual community where all members are supposed to “share love equally” yet Beth feels unloved and unloveable. 

EXTRACT FROM “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”

Juliet exchanged a wave of acknowledgement with Laura, seated opposite the American, before turning her attention to the next diner, beside Laura.

This was a sharp-faced young woman with dark hair pulled tightly back in a French plait, which emphasised the severity of her expression. She gave Juliet a frosty stare. “I’m Beth. Beth Owen,” she snapped. “I prefer not to say anything else about myself.”

Well, thought Juliet, Beth wasn’t very friendly. How had Juliet managed to earn her hostility so soon? Beth continued to look tense and suspicious. Perhaps she misunderstood what Juliet was trying to do. But if she didn’t say anything, Juliet couldn’t put her mind at rest.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Juliet shifted position so she could also observe Beth, who’d so far remained silent. She wanted to see if Beth was reacting to Oleg in any way. But no, her eyes were on Craig. Beth was in love with Craig, Juliet had no doubt about that. Poor girl. What prospects did she have, with Zoe so ahead of the game? Her sister was chatting animatedly to Craig. Sparkling and pretty, Zoe had everything going for her to win first place in Craig’s affections.

Suddenly Beth leaned back as Don became caught up in a conversation with Rory. She faced Juliet in a conspiratorial manner. Her eyes hardened, and she spoke in a low, tight voice. “When you interview us, Juliet, do hold off from asking us about our past won’t you?”

“Why?” asked Juliet.

“Because none of us here are supposed to remember it. Craig teaches us to cut ourselves off from that.”

“But your background’s one of the first things my listeners will want to know about.”

The colour of Beth’s face deepened. Juliet guessed that to be the effect of the wine. She decided to try the direct approach. “How do you feel about Craig, Beth?”

Cold hostility glimmered in the girl’s eye. “What’s that to you?”

“I’ve been invited here to ask questions,” said Juliet gently.

Beth drained her glass of wine and refused to look at her again. Instead she switched her glance to Oleg, who’d left his seat at the end of the table, and come up to speak to her. She gave him full attention for the first time during the meal. He leaned down towards her, and laid his hand on hers. She jumped as if someone had laid hot metal on her bare flesh.

He spoke in a low, urgent voice. “Why so nervous when I touch you, Beth? Relax.”

Instead of having the desired effect, this seemed to destabilise her further. She pushed her chair back and sprang to her feet. “Goodbye, everyone.” With that, she headed round behind Juliet’s chair, whirled past The Lady and the Unicorn, and vanished through the doorway into the sitting room.

Characters in Mystical Circles – will the Advent of the Rev.Theo Save or Shatter Craig’s esoteric Wheel of Love Community?

Juliet has already heard quite a bit about Theo from various Wheel of Love group members before he first appears on the scene. And what she learns about him raises her curiosity.  What exactly is this “wilderness experience” he has only recently emerged from? Why is James surprised he managed to get ordained? What can he possibly have in common with the members of Craig’s group? And what is he doing here anyway?

EXTRACT FROM “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”

“Before we begin,” said Craig, “I’d like to make an announcement: one I feel sure will delight you all. On Monday evening, we’ll have Theo Lucas with us again. He’s agreed to come and be our guest speaker for the week.”

A buzz ran round the table.

James snapped his fingers. “Excellent. The Reverend Theo Lucas,” he said. “Splendid man. Though I still can’t believe how he managed to get himself ordained.”

There was a good deal of table-thumping and laughter at this, until Craig’s voice dropped into the swell of sound. At once, hush descended. Juliet allowed her eye to skim the diners. Craig’s presence and personal style exerted a powerful effect upon them.

“The Wheel of Love is a tribute to the dynamic power of change,” observed Craig. “And Theo fits in with that perfectly. We all bear witness to it ourselves. Which one of you can say you’re now exactly where you were on your life’s journey when you first arrived?”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

The group burst once more into animated chatter, alongside much clattering of cutlery and glasses. But Juliet felt faintly oppressed by her vulnerability. She had no idea what to expect over the coming days. How would she balance her commitment to do interviews with the need to keep track of Zoe?

One thing was for sure. She certainly wouldn’t be seduced by Craig’s brand of healing and wholeness, if that was what it was.

She turned to Don. “Have you met Theo?” she asked in a low voice.

“No. But this lot seem to give him high marks. Doesn’t inspire much confidence, does it?”

Leaning forward, Rory supplied some new information. “I met Theo at a talk Craig gave in Tetbury last November. Chatted to him for twenty minutes. Wondered what he was doing there. Then I discovered he’d had a wilderness experience. Lasted eighteen months. Crisis of faith. And I understood.”

“You did?”

“Yes. Felt I’d met a soul mate.”

This startled Juliet. “He doesn’t sound like a regular sort of clergyman.”

“He isn’t,” said Rory. “Though of course my knowledge is limited.” His lip curled. “Haven’t darkened a church door for years.”

“Theo sounds more than a little unorthodox,” she remarked, “if he’s willing to come here.” She heard Don chuckle.

“Oh?” Rory queried.

“Well, for instance,” she said, “it’s clear from the brochure that Craig believes we’re in charge of our own destiny.”

“Quite right, he does,” agreed Rory. “But Craig welcomes anyone who’s in retreat from the outside world.”

This intrigued her. “What of you, then, Rory? Are you here to renounce the world?”

“Sort of.”

“You do it in style.”

Before he could reply, Don distracted her, holding out the dish of risotto Beth had passed him.

“Like some, Juliet?” he asked.

“Oh, yes please. That smells and looks very good,” she said.

Rory, she noticed, had handed the serving dish on without helping himself, and his plate remained empty. She wondered whether he knew something about it the rest of them didn’t. He put his water glass down, and continued. “After Theo was ordained he served for a couple of years, then vanished from the face of the earth for several months. When I met him, I understood he’d not long returned.”

James interjected. “He visited us here in February. Rory missed him that time. You remember that was the week you fell ill, Rory?”

“Oh yes. Dreadful week.”

Laura spoke. “We’ll all be delighted to see him again. Such a dear man. Not a spark of hellfire in him. He knows all about me. He’s very forgiving.”

Rory fiddled with his linen napkin. “I expect you’ll find him interesting, Juliet,” he said. “And you too, Don.”

“Last person to judge.” Don shrugged. “Count me out.”

Before Juliet could say more, Don added, “Put it this way. When Theo shows up, he may need protecting. From my influence.”

She started at this. Rory took upon himself the task of satisfying her curiosity. “Why?” he said. “You’re not tattooed with the number 666, are you?”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

When they were ready to set off, Juliet looked straight at the clergyman.

Theo wore an open expression on his face. “What your sister wants,” he said, “is to experience the spiritual reality here on this earth, in her own body.” He opened the door and stepped out.

She followed. “And has Craig delivered on it yet?” she asked.

There was a pause, as she wondered how Theo would take this question, together with all its implications.

Theo smiled. “I don’t think so. If he had, I imagine she would have told you, Juliet.”

He began to stride across the car park. Juliet had no time to consider her riposte to this evasive answer. She hurried to keep up with him, holding the omnidirectional mike. She checked the sound levels as he walked briskly past the north side of the house, and across into the orchard. It looked as if he’d settled on the same route that she, Al and Laura had taken last night on their trip to the top of the valley to look at the stars.

“Zoe’s told me nothing, Theo. So I’m relying on you. How do your beliefs and certainties stand up against Craig’s?”

“Certainties?” Theo’s tone continued amicable. “I’m human. And God’s God. He doesn’t need me. He chooses me. So sometimes I say: What’s going on? and Why am I doing this? or Why is it so hard?

“And yet,” she said, surprised, “you seem to have it all together. Mostly.”

He smiled, and headed on through the orchard, toward the gate at the other side. “I’m glad it looks like that to you,” he said.

“If this isn’t the whole picture,” she said, matching his pace, “how come you’re in the position you are?”

“A long story,” he said, “and one my bishop’s probably running through right at this moment.”

“I don’t imagine your bishop’s very pleased that you’re here at the Wheel of Love.”

Theo gave a chuckle in response to this. “I’m a renegade,” he said. “I’m all about working with people on spiritual journeys. I’ll go anywhere, come in on anything.”

“How do you find Craig’s teachings?” she asked.

“Some have wisdom in them,” he replied crisply. “And you?”

“I admire Craig’s idealism. I don’t accept all his theories. Nor do I believe in God.” They reached the gate.

“What sort of God don’t you believe in?” asked Theo.

“The Judaeo-Christian one, of course,” she replied, feeling slightly ruffled by this question. “The fire and brimstone one. The one who punishes the children for the sin of the fathers, even to the third and fourth generation. The one who is supposed to be so loving, not even a sparrow can fall without Him knowing about it, but He still lets the good suffer and the evil go unpunished.” She stopped. “You know the one I mean.”

“I certainly do,” he said. “And I’ve known what it’s like to feel very angry with Him.” Theo unlatched and opened the gate. “Are you angry too, 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.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

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.

Characters in Mystical Circles – Meet James, a Shady Academic with a Dual Personality

This is the first in a series of character studies from my mystery romance novel Mystical Circles.

Meet James Willoughby, a shady academic with a dual personality, signalled by unexpected appearances as a tramp. In James’ “socially acceptable” personna he has high social status; a don at Edinburgh University, and Craig’s former PhD supervisor, he is an imaculate dresser, urbane, charming and turned out in Saville Row tailoring. But when will James swap this personna for the reek of the gutter? When will he descend into the ranks of the squalid, the hopeless, the marginalised? Meet someone for whom Jung’s theory of “The Shadow” is a reality:

EXTRACT no. 1 FROM NOVEL “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”

“Come in,” called Edgar. The door banged back, and a dishevelled figure lurched through the doorway, dumping a well-stuffed plastic carrier bag down onto the quarry tiles.

“James!” cried Laura. “Why must you do this at meal-times? Every time you do, I swear you get filthier and filthier. It’s a good thing Craig never saw you in this state up in Edinburgh. Otherwise, I’m sure none of us would be here now.”

3 

Being Drawn In

James wore a filthy, tattered gabardine coat, and his hair hung in oily dreadlocks. He seemed to have smeared his face with greasepaint. His teeth were a sickening mixture of black and yellow. The eyes he turned upon Juliet were filled with undisguised curiosity.

It was those eyes which gave him away. Despite being bloodshot, they fizzed at her, keen and intelligent – totally out of keeping with the rest of his image.

“So you’re Juliet Blake, our radio interviewer?” His tone was unmistakeably cultured.

“Yes,” she said, astonished.

“James Willoughby. We’re all on first-name terms here, so call me James. I used to teach Craig at Edinburgh.”

Teach him? She was appalled. But, controlling her feelings, she remained cool. “How do you do, James?”

“Excellently, thank you.”

She tried not to flinch as they shook hands – especially as his needed washing.  “Would you mind telling me why you’re dressed like that?”

“Ah,” he said. “You haven’t had the chance to meet me in my socially acceptable persona yet have you?”

She shook her head. Did he have a socially acceptable persona? It seemed barely believable.

“Well, let me tell you,” James said, “I dress very smartly when I’m in that guise.” He dragged back the seat next to her, and slouched into it. Juliet tried to avoid recoiling.

“I “I first started dressing up like this,” he continued, “shortly after I was appointed to my position at Edinburgh.”

“Why was that?”

“I saw that everyone around me hunted honour and prestige. So it seemed a good idea to try shame and squalor instead. My plan was to do it every few days.” He paused. “And then, well, I must admit I got hooked.”

“That sounds fascinating, James, but I still don’t see how…”

The Shadow,” interrupted Edgar. “That’s what you call it, don’t you, James?”

“Exactly.” James seized upon the prompt Edgar offered. “The Shadow is Jung’s term for the dark side of ourselves. And in my case, it’s had one or two extra advantages. I’ve picked up a few cameo roles from film production companies – and not least when the BBC’s been filming up my way.”

“Isn’t that cheating?” Juliet asked. “Earning money from it?”

“Not if you’ve got an Equity card it isn’t.” He leered at Juliet, displaying his ghastly dentures once more. She could only speculate that he must have a very well-stocked stage makeup kit.

He grabbed the cheeseboard, smearing it with grimy marks.

“No, James,” cried Laura. “Wash your hands first.”

“If you say so, lady.” He scraped his chair back, lurched to his feet, and sloped across to the sink, where he began to run the hot water.

“So,” Juliet said, when he returned with cleaner hands. “You were Craig’s mentor, were you?” She struggled to suppress the laughter bubbling up in her.   

“Oh yes,” James said, becoming serious. “I met a need in him, one of the many unmet by his father, I might add.”

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

EXTRACT no. 2 FROM NOVEL “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”

A current of approval rippled up and down the table. Over the other side of the Beaujolais, next to Zoe, a smartly-turned-out man in his forties banged on the table with his spoon. “Well said, Craig.”

“Thank you, James. Why don’t you start the introductions?”

James! Juliet could barely believe it. He was so different from the vagrant at the lunch table, she would never have identified him as one and the same.

From his neatly-combed hair, distinguished features and elegant bearing, to the shiny brass buttons of his navy blazer, he looked like the sort of person who might command respect anywhere.

She quickly recovered from this slightly troubling reflection. “I met your alterego at lunch, didn’t I, James?”

“Indeed you did, Juliet.”

She glanced at the dark smear from his collar up to his cheekbone. He evidently hadn’t washed all traces of his disguise off.

She wondered when he got his Equity card. Presumably he’d fitted his drama training in prior to acting as Craig’s PhD supervisor.