Recently I watched the 1997 British comedy drama film “The Full Monty” again. The reason why I love it is that it’s about “little” people deciding not to be controlled by their circumstances. Six men who in their different ways are suffering during the decline of the Sheffield steel industry, decide to do something nobody believes they can deliver on.
If you haven’t seen this wonderful film then I highly recommend it; read about it here. Somehow that message of hope is encapsulated in one of the outstanding elements of the film: the faces of the audience members in the club at the end. They express joy, laughter, fun and delight. Their reaction is a natural response to “local lads” demonstrating that if we choose, we can all have the courage to:
compete with those who seem to be hugely successful “out there”
get up on stage and run the risk of making fools of ourselves
demonstrate that we will not allow ourselves to be controlled by our circumstances.
This is a universal message, relevant in so many different ways in today’s society. This is why “The Full Monty” is an inspiration to its audiences and why, using humour, it delivers a powerful truth, relevant to all our lives.
I love this post by Lucy Mills and it echoes my own thoughts about the process of writing a book. Lucy is writing an inspirational book, not a novel, but she describes an experience common to all those who throw themselves heart and soul into writing a full-length work for publication. Lucy refers to the revision process; but I can testify that even getting that first draft written presents the same challenges. It can be compared to an artist, covering the canvas before they can begin to work on the details. Do read and comment on Lucy’s post.
I’m still writing the book, balancing it with other editing work, which is proving an exercise in drawing lines, even more so than I already do. Deadlines do have a tendency to congregate and with every new demand in my editing job, I have to take a deep breath and not panic.
Panic is the worst thing for creativity, for me, at least.
Undivided Heart is developing its personality and it won’t be taken lightly, taking me into deep questions of identity and meaning. I only hope it manages to balance the ‘depth’ with readability. I continue to plug away at it…
I’m delighted to announced that my new book is out now and available to buy on Amazon, both as a paperback and as an ebook.
Perilous Path: A Writer’s Journey is a short informative and encouraging book of 126 pages, giving an insight into the writer’s life. It will appeal to aspiring writers, keen readers fascinated by the subject of literary inspiration and creativity, and anyone interested in how fiction writers get their ideas and go about creating full-length novels.
How do you find courage and motivation when your novel sinks in the middle?
How do you stay focused as a writer through success and disappointment?
How can great artists, musicians and psychologists give you inspiration?
You’ll find the answers to these questions and many others in this book.
Each chapter is a short article based on original material I’ve previously published online in answer to FAQs aspiring writers type into search engines.
And I can certainly say that before I get back to completing my new novel ‘Director’s Cut’, I’ll read through ‘Perilous Path’ myself paying close attention, because I need to take my own advice!
Beta readers have said this about the book:
‘I found it fascinating to read how one new writer began to write, and continued to self-motivate in her determination to achieve her goals – and how her faith provides example and inspiration.
Some of the articles contain ideas about writing that I haven’t considered previously; some of them are more like friendly reminders of things I already know, or focus on interests that (like many readers and writers, I imagine) I share with the author.
Reading the book felt like having a “friend in the room” giving advice and sharing her experience of the writing process.‘
‘It’s written in a simple and engaging style. It doesn’t go in depth into theoretical techniques but seems like an encouragement, even if you have writer’s block, and a reminder of things, some of which I already know. Other authors might have gone into a lot of detail, on many of these subjects, going on for 20 pages on one particular theory or technique – and I wouldn’t be interested in reading that. But SC Skillman has written this in such a way as you feel you have a friendly guide on your shoulder.’
Miriam Margolyes is an actress I have watched and been captivated by for decades. She is of course the essential Dickensian character and she was perfect as a JK Rowling character too, and has been so in many other roles, both on TV and radio. I have often marvelled at her wonderful fluid and flexible voice on radio, and how incredibly versatile she is.
In her most recent appearance on our TV screens, investigating places round the world to retire to, the sheer roguish power of her personality is compelling. She slightly – and for some, greatly – outrages and offends us, yet I love her. She gives us permission to be who we are, whatever that may be, and she is a perfect example of being just exactly who she is, in total honesty and openness and freedom.
Despite the fact that she subverts the supposed ideal of feminine attractiveness in this very deluded society we live in, I think she is beautiful. She has eyes which shine with character and understanding and life. She is an intelligent and inspirational actress.
What does she have to say to us as creative writers? I read in an interview with Ernest Hemingway that as writers we have, above all, to be true to ourselves; and our most essential piece of equipment should be a “shock-proof shit-detector” (Hemingway’s words). A writing mentor once said to me, “If you’re going to be a writer you have to come clean with yourself.” For some that can be a lifetime’s journey. I do believe that as writers if we are deceiving ourselves in any way at all, it will work its way into our writing. And another quote is also compelling: “be sure that your audience will find you out.” Any writer can attest to that from reading their Amazon reviews.
But before you ever get to Amazon reviews you must deal with comments and feedback on your ms from beta readers and professional editors. Every criticism on your writing must be taken as reflecting on the work itself, and not on you as a person – something else that is very difficult for notoriously thin-skinned, sensitive writers.
What do you think? Do you relate to this at all? I’d welcome comments from fellow writers.
I’m pleased to announce I have a new book coming out soon, this time non-fiction.
It will be a short one, 100 pages, and will be available in paperback as well as an ebook.
I’ve written it for all those who’d love to know about the process of writing novels: whether they be aspiring writers, or simply keen readers who are curious about how novelists think up their ideas and go about creating fiction from them.
Here’s a taste of some of the topics I’ll cover in the course of the book:
Universal themes in fiction
Strategies to develop creative and imaginative writing
How to create a novel that your readers won’t want to put down
Three tips for creative works of realistic fiction
How to know which point of view to use in a story
How to develop villainous characteristic traits in your writing
How can Carl Jung’s theory of archetypes help you in your creative writing?
Inspiration for creative writers from artists
Suggestions for writing the end of a novel
Always on the outside looking in – does a bestselling novelist have a lesson to teach aspiring writers?
Each topic has a chapter to itself, and the book contains 33 chapters.
Here’s the blurb to whet your appetite:
How do you find courage and motivation when your novel sinks in the middle?
How do you stay focused as a writer despite all the setbacks and disappointments?
How can great artists, musicians and psychologists give you inspiration?
You’ll find the answer to these questions and many others in this book. SC Skillman offers deep insight into the faith and hope that is vital for one who walks the perilous path into the ‘promised land’ of the writing profession.
More soon when I’ll let you know the title and give you the cover reveal!
I had always loved these wreaths and jumped at the chance to find out how to make one myself.
16 of us turned up in the Castle shop ready for action and a very jolly English heritage shop assistant in festive mood plied us with spicy Christmas mead samples.
Then we headed off for the Stables, which were very cold, and met our teacher, a professional florist called Zoe.
Fortified by English Heritage ginger wine we watched Zoe demonstrate and listened to her instructions, then we were off, with buckets of damp sphagnum moss, sharp and potentially lethal lengths of wires, secateurs, spruce branches and reels of wire.
What I hadn’t previously realised was how much skill, patience and dexterity is involved in making these wreaths, and that rubber gloves and protective clothing are to be recommended.
Some of us seemed to have a natural flair, others were more challenged. For me, time was fast running out as I battled in a welter of wires, spruce branches, damp moss, and blood from the cuts I had acquired trying to locate the end of the sharp wires that I had pushed through the moss in order to twist them round back into the moss and attach my “accessories” – dried orange slices, fir cones, sprigs of red berries, bunches of cinnamon sticks and seed-heads.
As I finally staggered out of Kenilworth Castle with my heavy wreath I reflected upon what joy this would give me and a sense of achievement as my family enjoyed a truly hand-made traditional Christmas wreath!
And today at 8.20am I heard an item about the party for former RADA students that the Queen will be holding in Buckingham Palace this evening (Monday 17 February 2014)
I’m very interested in the life of an actor, partly because the acting world does come into my new novel A Passionate Spirit (in its final revision stages).
But also the life of an actor has strong comparisons with that of a writer.
And one interviewee on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme put it perfectly. She said she entered RADA on her first day and saw actress Joanna Page, “so attractive and so talented”, and she thought of how great that actress was, and then she started making comparisons…
“I thought that 2 weeks later I’d be asked to pack my bags and get back up north,” she said.
This sums up what we writers may think a thousand times… when we go into Waterstones and see the huge volume of novels on the shelves, with brilliant, stunning covers, and hugely successful names. And this is how we feel when we see another famous novelist win the Man Booker, or see them interviewed on the TV show we can only dream of being on.
What are we doing? Comparing ourselves with “the great and the good.”
If we do that, we will always fall short.
We will always be tempted to pack our bags and go back north.
This particular actress fought that negative temptation, and stuck it out at RADA. She said she had to be thick-skinned, and “take it on the chin”; it was pretty tough, but by the time her course ended, and she came out, she could handle rejection. “Rejection: that was nothing. After 3 years of RADA I was ready for it.”
She had experienced it so many times, it held no fears for her. Nothing could hold her back.
We love listing “The 50 Top … Films, Books, Magic Tricks, Comedians”, etc. etc.
And a list of the top films will always change from year to year. But to my mind, The Shawshank Redemption makes the top of the list. And I saw it again very recently on TV.
I watched it for the first time several months ago when I borrowed it from LoveFilm. Having visited Aberystwyth University Film Studies Department with my daughter during an Open Day in 2012, I heard the Film Studies lecturer list those films which are considered “the best ever made” or absolute must-see films for those who are serious about film.
So I dutifully added those films to my LoveFilm list.
And that’s how I came upon The Shawshank Redemption.
And this is why I consider it justly deserving of the title ‘best movie ever made.’
Its themes are of profound relevance to our lives:
The importance of:
keeping faith; having patience; strategic long term planning; a long term plan of action; perseverance; loyalty; hope; persistence; calm forbearance under ill treatment and suffering.
I believe we can find in The Shawshank Redemption a metaphor for all that’s truly important in this life.
I suggest, too, that it’s no accident that I, as a writer, should relate closely to these themes in my own life. For the film is based upon Stephen King’s novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption; and Stephen King, besides all his other books, is the author of the best book for writers I have ever read: On Writing. I’ve heard many other writers give this the highest praise too. I imagine that something of his own understanding of life as a writer may have been uppermost in Stephen King’s mind when he created the story upon which The Shawshank Redemption is based.
Sometimes, struggling through many years without recognition or success, can be like serving 10,20,30 years in Shawshank State Prison. Although the act of creating fiction is in a sense its own reward, and always will be, the fact remains that rewriting drafts and revising a novel line by line over the course of years without any immediate material reward in view, is like chipping away, digging that hole in the wall, the hole which opens the tunnel to freedom, hidden behind a deceptive cover, over years, of slow, patient work.
Keeping faith is the phrase that returns to me again and again, along with patience, perseverance, forbearance, strategic long term planning, and a long term course of action.
And I’m sure you, in whatever circumstances life has thrown at you, can also find parallels here to some aspect of your own experience.
The epiphany at the end of the film has a luminous, spiritual quality to it. To me it is more truly ‘religious’ than anything the Warden Samuel Nortons of this world might delude themselves with.
Watch the film if you haven’t seen it. But if you have – share your feelings about the message of this film.
My dream, wrote the designer William Morris, is a dreamof what has never been… and therefore, since, the world is alive, and moving yet, my hope is the greater that it one day will be… dreams have before now come about of things so good… we scarcely think of them more than the daylight, though once people had to live without them, without even the hope of them.
Among all things most romantic to me is a high place.
I go to high places for calmness and peace.
There are a number of high places I love to visit, from where I live in Warwickshire.
And just such a place, 35 minutes drive from my home, is Broadway Tower in the heart of the Cotswolds, which I have visited many times, most recently the day before writing this post.
From the top of the tower one may see, on a fine day, thirteen counties.
No wonder idealists and romantics went there in the nineteenth century after their friend took a lease on the Tower, following the death of the Tower’s creator and original owner, the Earl of Coventry. For the Tower, a picturesque folly on the summit of Broadway Hill, emerged from the romantic movement. So, too, flambuoyant, theatrical and sensual, did Painswick Rococo Garden emerge from this tradition, as I wrote in a recent review on Trip Adviser.
William Morris was just one of the many idealists and romantics who came here. His rich, complex and exquisite designs now adorn soft furnishings, and a selection of them may be seen on the second floor of the Tower.
He is a beacon of romantic idealism, combining a love of medieval craftsmanship and Gothic design elements.
And his association with Broadway Tower – together with that of his contemporaries of like mind – is appropriate.
It’s certainly true that I, too, feel an affinity with the Romantics, the Pre-Raphaelites, the members of the Arts & Craft movement, and their dreams and visions.
For where would we be in this life if none among us aspired to, or dreamed of impossible ideals?
Read the full text of The Dream of William Morris here.
Greenwich and its neighbouring Woolwich in south London are part of my family background, and so this area has been familiar to me from childhood.
This made my return to view the Cutty Sark even more inspiring.
I found the whole visit very uplifting – appropriately so, as the Cutty Sark herself has been uplifted in the most amazing way!
The exhibition area beneath the ship is excellent, with its collection of ships’ figureheads.
And we were later delighted to find ourselves sitting at cafe tables with the ship apparently hovering just above us.
Everything about this attraction is first class, and it is a credit to London and to our British heritage.
The high standard is maintained in the shop, too, which is full of stylish souvenirs for sale. How could I, as a writer, resist buying myself an attractive cream and gold spiralbound notebook with the motto on the front: Where there’s a will, is a way.
This motto, carved into the ship’s elaborate decoration, is a play on the surname of Jock Willis who commissioned the Cutty Sark (launched in 1869).
For the twenty-first century transformation of the Cutty Sark can certainly be seen as a perfect illustration of this motto in action.