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“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.
“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)
I’m off on holiday for a week. While I’m taking a break from my laptop my blog will be quiet. However there’s a post or two in the pipeline for when I get back – but you can expect a delayed response to any comments etc.
Meanwhile, though, consider this thought from an excellent book I’ve just read, Jeff Goins’ “Wrecked”:
“The world is broken and remains that way, in spite of our efforts to help it…. In a world that refuses to be healed, we must face the fact that we are not the heroes of our stories. It teaches us to rely on something bigger than ourselves and teaches the source of true compassion.”
I think this is a very profound statement: an acknowledgement that the world “refuses to be healed”.
I spent the first part of this book relating what Jeff Goins says to my own life experiences; and the next part seeing those experiences in a new light, and perhaps making sense of them. Finally the book challenged me to go beyond my comfort zone and to be willing to behave in ways that are “counterintuitive”. I found this book very moving and penetrating. It is full of wisdom, compassion and humanity.It’s an ideal book for young people to read – and the sort of book I wish I’d read during my university years.
In my romantic suspense novel “Mystical Circles” you will meet a number of people who ostensibly do want to be healed, and have come together – into a very beautiful, idyllic place – for that very purpose.
Not necessarily physical healing – but healing in mind and spirit.
You will also meet somebody who believes he can heal, and that he is the hero of his story.
We enter an esoteric community of people all of whom have come here with a range of different emotional and psychological and spiritual needs.
Freelance journalist Juliet believes she’s only here to rescue her sister from the arms of charismatic Craig, the group leader. And she feels distinctly put out when the group members start targeting her with questions about her own feelings and “needs”.
“Therapy or treatment?” queries one of the group members, Edgar. “What about those, Juliet? Have you ever had any?”
“No. There’s nothing wrong with me.”
“There doesn’t have to be anything wrong with you, dear. But you’ll have needs. We all have those. And they are what have brought us here.”
Craig promises to “heal” the members of the group. This is what his brochure promises:
If you’ve been searching all your life, but have so far not found what you’ve been looking for, you’ve come to the right place. Here at the Wheel of Love, you may sharpen your subtle knife and cut a window into heaven. There are no limits to what you can achieve here: only those you impose upon yourself. You’ve chosen to come so we promise to supply the necessary tools. If you accept these tools and use them well, you’ll enter a freedom you’ve never dared dream of.
Craig will reach deep down into your spirit and touch a part of it you never knew was there.
Read the novel, and judge for yourself whether Craig – and numerous people like him whom you may meet – delivers on his promises.
For those who’ve been following my series on “Mystical Experiences and Glimpses of Eternity” you may recognise this as the perennial question – unspoken – in the mind of anyone on the spiritual journey I describe.
And it’s certainly the question behind much of my exploring.
My heroine Juliet explores this too – in an idyllic farmhouse in the Cotswolds.
“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 Cotswolds 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.
“Mystical Circles” is available now in the new print edition from Booklocker. The new edition has a well-designed interior & is a smaller size than the previous (US Trade) edition. Plus a brand new cover design. If you enjoy romantic suspense why not try it out here? You can try before you buy – and download the first three chapters. Enjoy!
What’s the difference between nature or music appreciation… and a mystical experience?
When does “being moved by something beautiful” become a religious experience?
Surely the criterion for a mystical experience is that it changes your life?
In my case, it did.
My early childhood mystical experiences ultimately led me on a spiritual journey of many years – which, along the way, bore fruition in my novel “Mystical Circles”, and is now bearing fruit in my new novel “A Passionate Spirit.”
And for me this spiritual journey didn’t start by opening a book or listening to a clergyman. It started with a direct personal encounter with Divine Reality.
And the person who encouraged me to take it forward was a Scientist.
The name of the scientist was Sir Alister Hardy, Marine Biologist, who wrote the book “The Biology of God: A Scientist’s Study of Man the Religious Animal.”
At the University of Wales, Lampeter, you’ll find the Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre. Find out about it here if you want to enquire further, or contribute an experience of your own.
Sir Alister found in a study of 3000 contributed experiences that there were 21 triggers for spontaneous mystical experiences. These included such things as childbirth, the prospect of death, illness and crises in personal relations. But top of the list came depression/despair, and then prayer and meditation, and then, natural beauty.
A few months before my 17th birthday, I wrote to Sir Alister, having read an article in The Times about him.
He appealed “to all those who have at any time felt that their lives have been affected by some power beyond themselves, to write an account of their experience and the effect it has had on their lives” and to send it to him.
I wrote the story of my childhood religious experiences, and sent it to Sir Alister. In his reply to me, he wrote that my experiences were “the feeling of an ecstatic joy in relation to the universe brought on by some particular aspect of nature… what Rudolf Otto called the numinous, the sense of the Holy.”
Thus began a journey of many years – a fascinating journey of spiritual enquiry and research – and several more mystical experiences along the way.
For me, then, University intervened, but after my graduation and return home, I wrote to the R.E.R.U. at Oxford again.
“What can I get involved in?” I asked. “How can I further my spiritual search?”
Edward Robinson, the new Director, replied, and pointed me to this organisation:
The Centre for Spiritual and Psychological Studies.
(find out about more about my involvement with this organisation here)
And thus, with a weekend symposium in rural Gloucestershire and a group of diverse and sometimes eccentric people of many religious backgrounds (celebrated, in fictional form, in my novel “Mystical Circles”) I began my long spiritual journey.
But don’t forget, as T.S. Eliot says in his poem ‘Little Gidding’, the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time (tweet this).
My first childhood religious experience involved a mountain in the early morning. And my journey took me to another mountain at the other side of the world where I was to recapture that same experience, early in the morning.
In this mini-series I’m going to tell you about some of my “glimpses of eternity” and also introduce you to a few of the fascinating individuals who’ve been way-markers on that spiritual journey.
Join me in my next few posts and find out about my roll-call of spiritual guides (saints as well as sinners).
And do share your own experiences with me, if you wish!
As a mystery romance novelist I have my own ideas!
The setting for my novel Mystical Circles is a gracious farmhouse in the Cotswolds; surrounded by garden, orchard, and its own land rising up the steep side of the valley to a ridge overlooking the panorama of the Severn Vale, it also boasts a fine tithe barn. It’s my idea of a romantic location. Though I will admit that some of the things that go on in it do not quite qualify for that description! For intrigues, liaisons and relationships flare and flourish or fizzle out quickly within this close circle.
Nevertheless, there are genuinely romantic moments in my novel. There is a sunken garden with a water lily pond; an African thatched gazebo reached by a winding path through azaleas and rhododendrons; and up the wooded slope behind the farmhouse, a hermitage, ideal for “one-to-one counselling sessions”. Also the sitting room, with its leaded window panes, through which the morning sun streams, tinting the oak floor timbers gold, and enriching the colours of the silk long- fringed rugs is often the venue for a romantic get-together; or maybe the library, with its mellow oak panelling, the dreamy atmosphere, the softly glowing lamps. These are all suitable locations for romantic moments.
But in real life true romantic moments are few and far between.
To me, the essence of a traditional romantic moment is this: a serendipitous conjunction of beauty, happiness, dreams, and a loving relationship between a man and a woman. Notice my use of the word ‘traditional’!
You need to inhabit a romantic moment fully to claim it.
I can think of moments which had most of the ingredients of being romantic… except that I lacked the confidence to be fully alive to them.
You need to be relaxed, accepting, and totally at one in the moment.
These are some examples of romantic moments garnered from my own memories (the names of the ‘romantic heroes’ concerned are disguised!:
1. lemon souffle in a restaurant in Albemarle Street, London, with Mr X
2. on a London underground escalator when Mr X turned to me and said: “One day we’ll be together forever.”
3. On the shore of a certain Balearic Island, near dusk, watching a sea that looked like caramel silk, when Mr X turned to me and said “When I become Y (naming the promotion he was hoping to get, which we’d discussed), we’ll come back here and stay at the Z Hotel (naming the Hotel Romantic-but-Very-Posh-and-Expensive which we on that trip had been unable to afford to stay in).
Here are my further ideas of what would constitute a romantic moment:
1) A chance meeting with an ex-lover in a supremely beautiful place (and I spent ages trying to make that work in a previous novel but it just didn’t come off).
2) The “bone fida mini-break” beloved of Bridget Jones – in a fine country house hotel such as the one which Daniel Cleaver whisked Bridget off to, filmed at Stoke Park (although it all went sour when they met up in the foyer with Mark Darcy and his attractive companion Natasha).
3) The spontaneous / surprise weekend in Paris in the springtime (referred to in a stage farce I greatly enjoyed, when the main character, a philanderer played by Leslie Phillips, spirited his mistress Janie off on just such a break, having purchased beautiful lingerie to lay out on the bed for her, and was then interrupted by other visitors whom he hadn’t bargained for).
True romantic moments are few and far between in real life. That is, of course, the nature of serendipity. And it’s why romance fiction is the most popular literary genre.
I hope that when those moments come, you are able to fully inhabit them.
What are your romantic moments? Dare you let me know about them in your comments – disguising the name of the romantic hero, of course?
Surely if you put a real person in your novel they might recognise themselves?
Is it all right to use real people to create characters in your novel?
Suppose they recognise themselves?
In my experience this is extremely unlikely.
JK Rowling based the character of Gilderoy Lockhart on someone she knew. In “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”, Gilderoy is the new Defence Against the Dark Arts Teacher and he is a conceited egoist whom Hermione has a crush on. Kenneth Branagh had great fun with the role in the film of the book. JK Rowling is quoted as saying the original of Gilderoy is probably the last person on earth who’d be likely to recognise himself in the character who’s based on him.
The only character who is deliberately based on a real person is Gilderoy Lockhart. … the living model was worse. [Laughter]. He was a shocker! … I can say this quite freely because he will never in a million years dream that he is Gilderoy Lockhart.
Can Authors Always Get Away with Using Real People in Their Novels?
The answer to this is probably yes!
That’s because self-knowledge is a rare commodity, and most people are unable to recognise their own characteristics in a fictional character.
Authors are, in theory, supposed to protect themselves with the formula “All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental”.
But what is coincidence, in the creative imagination?
In the process of creative writing, the character will gain fictional attributes anyway. And other people you’ve known may well insinuate themselves in.
I’ve used several real people as models for characters in my novel “Mystical Circles“.
I hazard a guess not one of them would ever recognise themselves.
And not one of them is a pure, clear representation of a living person. Other bits and pieces have attached themselves to my fictional creation.
In any case, how can you fully inhabit the character, mind, body and spirit of another real person? Impossible. Imaginative sympathy is the key.
I believe authors fictionalise characters by letting go of the need to “copy”, “represent real life” or “get the facts right”.
Instead we trust to our unconscious (as Carl Jung knows very well!) to process observation, imagination and knowledge.
What do you think? Do you believe you’d recognise yourself if someone put you into a novel? And if you’re an author, what’s your take on this? Let me know what you think about this!
“If I didn’t make films I don’t know what else I would do, apart from playing jazz and making a nuisance of myself.” (Woody Allen)
Woody Allen’s words above show the nature of passion for art. For many creative people cannot imagine giving up, retiring, or falling into silence, before they die.
The master of comic fiction, P.G. Wodehouse, continued writing until the very end of his life. At the age of ninety three on his deathbed he was working on his final novel “Sunset at Blandings”. He’d reached chapter 16 of a planned 22 chapters. It was as full of spirit and youthful fun as all his many novels.
Ask a group of writers why they write and you will receive many answers. But common to many is the simple assertion “I feel compelled to write.” Compelled, that is, in the same way as Woody Allen feels compelled to make films. And this is often the case, until new circumstances intervene.
And for creative people, these circumstances may be of their choosing – or tragically otherwise.
I think of three novelists who fell into silence, for different reasons. The first is one of my favourites, Susan Howatch. Find out more about Susan Howatch’s “retirement” from writing on this thread on Vivienne Tufnell’s blog.
I followed and contributed to this thread because I share the feelings expressed by many about Susan Howatch – together with the disappointment that there will be no more from this much-loved author of the Starbridge series, and St Benet’s Trilogy. No more Nicholas Darrow. No more psychospiritual drama from that direction. No more sinuous and fluid psyches reaching out… we, her legions of fans, will just have to go back and read those masterworks again from the beginning!
Jim Crace made a similar decision, but gave advance notice of it. He announced his next book would be his last. He created a strong impact with his novel “Quarantine” set in the Judaean wilderness, which examined those “on the edge” who wandered there 2,000 years ago, together with Jesus. Crace, writing as an avowed atheist, nevertheless developed the character of Jesus in a unique and compelling way. He has written many other successful novels too. But now he’s happy to “quit while he’s ahead”.
I used to feel the same about Iris Murdoch as I do now about Susan Howatch. I marvelled at “A Severed Head”, “The Bell”, “The Message To The Planet”, “The Book and the Brotherhood”.
Iris Murdoch’s silence was enforced through Alzheimer’s. Ironically, when the first signs of it arose she thought it was writer’s block. I could hardly bear to see the film “Iris” about the devoted support she received from her husband, because I found it so upsetting that she fell victim to such a horrific condition. Although I know full well the much-loved Terry Pratchett is on that same journey. Nevertheless I find it chilling to contemplate that this could happen to people with such truly brilliant minds.
But in the case of these writers, having been so prolific, at least one can say they’ve given of their best. And are greatly loved for it.
Have any of your favourite authors fallen silent? Do you lament that no more stories will fall from their pens? Or, perhaps, eagerly fall upon the publishers’ promises that here is another author who will fill that silence?
What might walking backwards through the Australian rainforest have to do with a mystery romance novel set in the Cotswolds? It was all part of my “unconscious research”. And it was a long research journey too, I admit. If you’re intrigued, go to Martin Willoughby’s blog to read my guest post on how “Dream Yoga” played a role in the creation of the story of “Mystical Circles”.
The success of a great novel does not lie entirely in the hands of its hero. Many of my favourite novels come with a surprise gift – the character who is most interesting of all, who is not the main protagonist. This is the character you wonder about later, the character that seems to step outside the story and comment on it, or the one whose dilemma is never really solved by the outcome of the plot. Here are three examples:
1) Mr Bennett in Pride and Prejudice
Lizzie’s father Mr Bennett is the character around whom the story problem – the Entailment – is centred. He could have seen the crisis coming, and had the power to avert it – Lydia’s elopement with Wickham, which threatened to ruin all of them. Instead, he allows himself the luxury of standing outside the story and commenting flippantly on it, as if the fate of his family had never hung on the decisions he made. In the end, the family is saved, by good fortune operating through the characters of Lizzie and Darcy – and not by Mr Bennett fulfiling his duty. And yet he says, And so Darcy did everything… I shall offer to pay him tomorrow; he will rant and storm, about his love for you, and there will be an end to the matter. And near the end we have Mr Bennett’s delicious irony in this remark to Lizzie: I admire all my three sons-in-law highly. Wickham, perhaps is my favourite; but I think I shall like your husband quite as well as Jane’s.
2) Gollum in The Lord of the Rings
Gollum is for me the most haunting character in Tolkien’s great novel. Starting out as one of the River Folk, who evolved from the loveable hobbits, he became consumed by his lust for the Ring. And yet he is offered redemption, by Frodo. Frodo uses his original name, Smeagol, to try and recall him to a sense of who he once was. He demonstrates trust in Gollum. This indicates Gollum can be redeemed if he chooses. And there are moments when he comes close, moments when we long for him to be redeemed. Yet Gollum’s final choice, to grasp the Ring, brings about his own destruction, and that of the Ring itself.
3) Mr Tumnus in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Mr Tumnus the Fawn is the character who first comes into my mind whenever I think of The Lion,the Witch and the Wardrobe. Childlike, pure, guileless, representing the natural world, the first inhabitant of Narnia whom Lucy meets, who offers her hospitality and friendship – yet he’s prevailed upon to spy for the White Witch, and first alerts her to the presence in Narnia of a Daughter of Eve. And he suffers for it. But ultimately he is redeemed.
Do you have any examples of minor, or secondary characters in your favourite novels? Perhaps they may be for you the most interesting character of all. Let me know. I’d love to hear from you!
One of the greatest challenges I have found in writing a novel can come through a surplus of ideas. Which ones do you choose, and which have to be set aside to be used in another novel? The result of trying to pack in too many ideas is often a collapsed middle. So the best way to deal with this dilemma is to look at overall structure first.
And then, when it comes to writing the novel, I suggest doing the first draft in a relatively short concentrated space of time: say, six weeks. If you take too long to complete that first draft you may become vulnerable to “writer’s block”. Even if there are many interruptions, and it’s difficult to keep up the momentum of the writing, I believe that if you care about writing your novel, you will find the time. You will prioritise and remove distractions from your life.
In addition, writer’s block may also happen when you lose passion and excitement with your characters. Suddenly they no longer inspire you. Graham Greene illustrates this situation through the main protagonist in his novel “The End of the Affair”: “When I begin to write, there is one character who obstinately will not come alive… He lies heavily on my mind whenever I start to work like an ill-digested meal on the stomach robbing me of the pleasure of creation in any scene where he is present… he never surprises me, he never takes charge. Every other character helps, he only hinders.”
Here are three possible ways of overcoming this situation:
1) Plan the novel beforehand. As I mentioned above, structure is vital. I can recommend designing your novel using Snowflake Pro, novel design software created by Randy Ingermanson, who has (with Peter Economy) also written an excellent book on Fiction Writing. If you start by establishing structure, and move out to the details, then you are working from a stable position, and will avoid what Ingermanson calls “the flabby middle”.
2) Have a regular writing schedule – don’t allow long spaces of time to elapse between writing sessions. The habit of discipline should train both mind and body; the mental powers of imagination, observation, research, and concentration, allied to the body that sits at the table or desk, the hand that holds the pen and writes, or taps the keys of the laptop.
3) Trust the unconscious if your character is failing to live up to his promise. This is the situation Graham Greene describes. But be encouraged by this: he goes on to say “So much of a novelist’s writing… takes place in the unconscious… the superficiality of one’s days. One may be preoccupied with shoppping and income tax returns and chance conversations, but the stream of the unconscious continues to flow undisturbed… one sits down sterile and dispirited at the desk, and suddenly the words come as though from air: the situation that seemed blocked in a hopeless impasse moves forward: the work has been done while one slept or shopped or talked with friends.”
So then you can be bold and strike out and ask What if? and then go with whatever crazy idea first strikes you. Allow somebody new and unexpected to enter. Perhaps move your character to another setting, present the character with an unforeseen challenge.. Of course overproliferation of characters and locations is another danger. But this is your first draft. You can fix it later, can’t you? And it’s better than giving in to writer’s block. The important thing is to play your part, and show up for work – so you are there, on the spot, ready for when the words come as though from air.