Two Great Author Events in Scotland and the Midlands: from Brechin, Angus to Kenilworth, Warwickshire

November 2021 for me has been an amazing month. In the last two weeks of November 2021 I’ve met so many exciting fellow authors at two fabulous book events. There has been a great sense of cameraderie, we have all deepened relationships or made new ones, discovered each other’s books, and we have sold our books to keen readers too!

SC Skillman author

Thank you to two multi-genre authors: Wendy H Jones for inviting me to the Brechin Angus Bookfest in Scotland, 19th to 21st November; and Shelley Wilson for inviting me to the Meet the Author event run by the Socially Shared Business Support Network at the Priory Theatre Kenilworth on 24th November 2021.

I was delighted to be invited to take part in these two events. I came away having signed up for mailing lists, bought new books, sold some of mine, listened to several fascinating talks, enjoyed creative conversations and experienced kindness, generosity and friendship. There were lots of warm, smiling authors, readers and book-buyers.

As a postscript, at the Priory Theatre, Kenilworth, I also added a few ghost stories to my collection, including ones about theatrical ghosts which I wish I had known about while I was writing Paranormal Warwickshire! (They may come in useful for a future book). Here are a few photos which give a flavour of these two events.

The authors of the Socially Shared Business Support Network at the Meet the Author event, Priory Theatre Kenilworth 24 November 2021
Authors SC Skillman, SR Summers and Shelley Wilson at the Priory Theatre, Kenilworth 24 November 2021
Author SC Skillman at the Meet the Authors event at the Priory Theatre Kenilworth 24th November 2021
The authors who exhibited their books at the Brechin Angus Bookfest, Northern Hotel, Brechin, Angus, on 20th and 21st November 2021 – photo credit Wallace Ferrier
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Book Review: ‘Write Well’ compiled by Amy Scott Robinson published by Instant Apostle

I have just finished this excellent anthology Write Well which I found an inspiring resource.

Write Well, published by Instant Apostle

A varied selection of writers have contributed pieces to this book, which are arranged under three main headings: Section One: Digging the Well; Section 2: Priming the Pump and Section 3: Filling the Bucket.

I found the different chapters very inspiring and encouraging, with diverse viewpoints and experiences about the writing and publishing journey. One very powerful insight emerged for me: so many of the authors had travelled a path between multiple obstacles, of disappointment, discouragement, new hope, fresh inspiration, unexpected help and guidance, unlooked for success, fresh turnings… This book is a valuable resource for all writers on their journey across rocky and uneven ground.

Amy Scott Robinson has compiled this anthology. Amy is herself a prolific writer, storyteller and ventriloquist, as well as being a lovely, bubbly personality whom I have met and chatted to at a few writing conferences. She has published a series of delightful children’s books for children age 7-9 as well as Images of the Invisible, a book of daily bible readings for Advent.

Do follow the links and check out these books if you are looking for ideal book gifts for Christmas.

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The stories of people who believe they have had strange experiences

Recently I visited one of the locations in my current work-in-progress, Illustrated Tales of Warwickshire to be published by Amberley Publishing in 2022.

The subject matter of the book varies widely but is largely about curious events in the physical world, based in known fact; however, the first chapter is devoted to strange and spooky tales.

The West Gate of Warwick

The venue was local to my home in Warwick, and I had already received a full account of strange experiences from a very reliable informant, lasting over a period of decades. Now I was seeking a story which might corroborate his description, but describe much more recent experiences. Sadly, the people I questioned on two separate visits had not experienced anything at all. I was inclined to put it down to the Covid-19 lockdown: presumably, I thought, the ghosts had gone into lockdown too. I respected the fact that they had no story to tell, and acknowledged this in my book, believing that a lack of stories is also important to record. For the mystery of paranormal experiences is that whilst many may visit a particular location, some feel and see nothing: others sense a rich atmosphere: and still others do indeed see, hear, and feel things that have no scientific explanation.

This reminded me of a series of questions that collectors of paranormal stories are to ask.

  1. Can you tell me how you first became aware this was more than a mundane incident?
  2. Did any other explanations come to mind?
  3. What conclusion did you reach as you thought through these possibilities?
  4. Did you take any action based on this?
  5. How did it affect you from then on?
  6. Do you have any background, cultural or historical, that sheds light on this?

These are the questions I kept in mind as I researched various stories for my book Paranormal Warwickshire.

Paranormal Warwickshire fireside read published Amberley 15 November 2020
Paranormal Warwickshire fireside read published Amberley 15th November 2020

Paranormal Warwickshire emerged from my experience in several places, which I describe as spiritual resonance.  These great buildings, maybe in a ruinous state, are not simply piles of stone, but animated by that “indefinable spark.”

In my book, the curious anecdotes told of these buildings acknowledge the life that fills the spaces between the stones. I include stories of everyday places as well: shops, railway stations, houses, pubs and churchyards, not just castles, abbeys and manor houses.

When I hear stories, I listen respectfully, even if I feel some may be conjured up by the imagination. I also ask why several different people, independently of each other and unknown to each other, should have the same experience in the same place over a long period of time. There have been many recorded cases of which this is true. Then, if you think it was “all their imagination”, you have to ask “what is it about this particular place that makes so many different people imagine the same thing there?”

The most compelling ghost stories are not about famous historical characters. A lot of them turn out, after research, to have emerged from the lives and deaths of people who never made their mark on history: people about whom we would have known nothing if the paranormal event had not alerted our attention and prompted research.

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Blog Tour for ‘The Trials of Isabella M Smugge’: new fiction by Ruth Leigh

I am delighted to be part of the blog tour for this, the second of Ruth Leigh’s contemporary novels about Isabella M Smugge, lifestyle blogger and instagram influencer. The Trials of Isabella M Smugge is published by Instant Apostle.

Ruth Leigh, author of The Diary of Isabella M Smugge & The Trials of Isabella M Smugge, both published by Instant Apostle in 2021. Ruth is a novelist, blogger and freelance writer based in beautiful East Suffolk.

I found the previous Isabella book a surprise, expecting a high farcical content: instead, it was a poignant and touching story of about contemporary family life and relationships. Fans of the first book will find this follow-up exceeds all their expectations.

I was intrigued by how Ruth chooses to handle the character of Isabella: lifestyle blogger and Instagram influencer, a style guru with enormous expertise in fashion, interior decor, and haute cuisine. Ruth is acutely observant about our consumer society, obsessed with brands, trends and image. She is brimming with phrases like ”carefully curated personal appearances”; “doyenne of the lifestyle blogging world”, “so not me”; “I was the first to spot that seagrass was over”; “my trademark eye for a good finish”; “conceptual layered pieces”; “a delightfully on-trend and vibey air”. I did love this, and it often made me laugh out loud.

Behind it all, we feel great sympathy for Isabella herself, in her increasingly chaotic personal life: betrayed by her husband, coping with an unexpected baby on the way, targeted by a vicious gossip columnist, and trying to rebuild her life as a single mother. Alongside all this, her drive to keep up her perfect online image becomes increasingly ridiculous.

Johnnie, her faithless, charming, hedge-fund-manager husband, masquerades as protective but in fact is emotionally manipulative and controlling. Around Isabella and her family, the author develops a cast of characters who either support or goad or torment her, some leading her along the path to true authenticity, others urging her to negative behaviour and values.

Ironically, Isabella appears to be “a woman in control”, on top of things, telling other people how to attain high society‘s false idea of perfection; yet in reality we can see she is not in control at all. She is not liberated in the true sense of the word, she is enslaved by what her husband thinks of her, and is rarely true to herself. We just want her to break through the web of artificiality she weaves around herself, to become real and honest about who and what she truly is.

As the story builds, the author includes sharp and waspish descriptions, especially of church services and Christians praying. Yet it is Christian friends who become a lifeline to Isabella. Following childbirth she suffers what many would recognise as postnatal depression: nothing she has to say about her baby is loving: the only things she notices are very negative and even cynical. Then we feel a great sense of relief when Isabella’s friend Nicki speaks the truth to Isabella at last, about herself, and Johnnie.

This is very much a book about family life and friendship as well as growing self-knowledge. I do like the end, very much: it is clever and perceptive, and the signs of transformation in Isabella may give rise to sparks of amusement and recognition in the reader.

A highly recommended book. You may find it online among contemporary women’s fiction.

Ruth may be found on Facebook as Ruth Leigh Writes and as @ruthleighwrites on Twitter and Instagram. You can visit her website at ruthleighwrites.co.uk if you would like to order a signed copy of the book.

Published by Instant Apostle, Ruth’s books are widely available in bookshops and all online book retail stores as well as from her website.

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A Visit to Stourhead National Trust: a Perfect Vision of an Idyllic Landscape and Lake; an Infamous ‘Romantic’ Encounter in the Temple of Apollo

Before visiting the gardens at Stourhead, Wiltshire the other day I looked forward to seeing for myself this ‘living work of art’, for I had created a brightly coloured, stylised copy of a photo of that iconic view just last year, during the first UK lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic.

When we visited the garden, originally created in the eighteenth century by the Hoare family, we learned that Henry “the Magnificent” (‘gentleman gardener’) had relied on elements of concealment and surprise in his grand vision of this classical landscape. So we took the route that Henry had set out specially for his guests to take, from the house to the lake, and experienced the concealment and surprise and revelation for ourselves.

The first lookout point, Stourhead gardens, from which you can see the Temple of Apollo
Further along the path from the first lookout point, Stourhead gardens
The second lookout point, Stourhead gardens – here you can see the Pantheon
The third lookout point, Stourhead gardens – a clearer view of the Pantheon

Finally, having received glimpses of both the Temple of Apollo and the Pantheon through the carefully selected, planted, cultivated and shaped trees, we came upon the iconic view itself, where you can see the Pantheon across the lake beyond the bridge:

The iconic view of bridge, lake and pantheon at Stourhead gardens

I was enchanted as this was the view I had copied in acrylic paints from a photo back in the lockdown. I felt as if I was walking into my own painting, albeit with more subtle colouring than my own fluorescent production!

Stylised acrylic copy of photo of the iconic view of lake and pantheon in the gardens at Stourhead

Later, after visiting the house, we walked around the lake and climbed up to the Temple of Apollo.

The steps at the Temple of Apollo at Stourhead gardens – this was where Keira Knightley stood, in the role of Lizzie Bennett, in the film of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ when Darcy came striding towards her to propose marriage in the pouring rain – she turned him down.
The Pantheon which you can see across the lake, beyond the bridge, in the iconic view of Stourhead gardens
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A Visit to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard: HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and the Mary Rose, a perfect time capsule that transports us into another world

On a recent trip to Portsmouth, we were absorbed into the lives of the great ships there, and their rich histories. The Mary Rose Museum shone out for us with its immersive experience and its astonishing recovery of details of the sailors’ lives back in 1545.

View of Portsmouth Gunwharf Quays Marine from the HMS Warrior

But HMS Warrior and HMS Victory also enthralled us as we explored both ships, full of wonder at the insights flooding in on us (in the metaphorical sense only!).

HMS Victory

The audio tour of the HMS Victory helped us to relive the dramatic and heartrending moments of Admiral Horatio Nelson’s fatal injury, his journey to the surgeon’s quarters and his final hours, with his loyal second-in-command Captain Hardy.

HMS Victory

The audio narration and dramatic re-enactment engaged us on every level, enabling us to imagine the feelings, sights, sounds and smells of that experience, along with all the emotions of horror and disgust and tragedy and to guess at how the news of victory may have provided some compensation to Nelson for the imminent loss of his life.

Underneath HMS Victory in the dry dock
Underneath the bow of HMS Victory

HMS Warrior, a magnificent Victorian armoured ship in immaculate condition ‘never fired a gun in anger’. Built in 1860 it ran on half sail half steam.

On board HMS Warrior

Now, with Living History actors on board playing the part of the original sailors we felt a real sense of how it must have been to spend time on board as a member of the crew.

HMS Warrior

Beyond these two wonderful ships, the Mary Rose Museum filled us with awe. Sunk in the Solent in 1545, and raised over four centuries later, the Mary Rose and her story exerts a curious power over us: her many artefacts recovered along with the mortal remains of 129 crew, this exhibition was a truly amazing experience for us. The number of people originally on board at the time of the tragedy is not known for sure and it varies between 500 and 700. It is thought the shop was overloaded, and this may have been one of the factors causing it to sink. The number of survivors is also thought to have been between 35 and 40. They would have chanced to be in the right place on the ship at the right time to escape and be rescued by small boats sent out to save them. Many others were trapped by the “anti-boarding nets” stretched over the decks to prevent the enemy swarming on board. The ship sunk very quickly, and half of it ended up deep in silt so it was preserved.

Now, the recovered part of the timber hull is held in a state of perfect equilibrium, so the timbers no longer need to be sprayed with water or viewed through portholes. Instead, thanks to a fine balance of atmosphere and temperature and a series of air-lock doors, we may gaze at the recovered hull in its entirety, at every deck level.

Most poignant of all are the many objects and possessions of the sailors and the remarkable amount of details about several individuals on board: the Master Gunner, the Master Carpenter, the Pursar, the Archer, the Surgeon – their lives, medical histories and personal items.

I am in awe of the skill, ingenuity and expertise of the archaeologists, the divers, the forensic anthropologists and other scientists and all those who made this exhibition possible, for us to see and imagine and empathise with those many hundreds of people who lost their lives that day in 1545.

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A Poignant Story from Charlestown, St Austell Cornwall

We recently visited Charlestown, a beautiful little Cornish seaport, which opened up several stories for me. Not only did we explore the moving and compelling tales of numerous historical shipwrecks and recovered artefacts  in the Shipwreck Treasure Museum: but also I learned the poignant story of the man who created, designed and built Charlestown: Charles Rashleigh.

Along with the history of Charles Rashleigh’s rise and fall, we have numerous heartrending accounts of shipwrecks in the museum. As we wander through the museum gazing at the recovered treasures and reading of the sea tragedies  we may reflect once again on the high risks humans take, for the chance of adventure and the dream of making their fortune. Some succeed; others perish. In no other sphere of human aspiration can we best reflect upon fate than in the realm of sea voyages. The sea remains powerful, mysterious, cruel and merciless: yet a source of unending wonder and attraction.

Charlestown Harbour  St Austell Cornwall

Charles started building the seaport in 1790. It was completed by 1804 and  has changed little since: now it is popular among film location scouts and has appeared as a film location on several occasions.

Views of Charlestown Harbour

The poignancy of Charles’s story lies in the fact that he created Charlestown out of his own personal wealth and was a hugely gifted man, for the port was highly successful: yet in later life he formed an attachment to 2 young men, Joseph Dingle and Joseph Daniel, who betrayed him and brought him to bankruptcy.  The whole story is told in the book ‘Charlestown: a guide to Charlestown and the Shipwreck Treasure Museum’ by Richard and Bridget Larn.

Blog Tour for ‘Creativity Matters’, a new inspirational anthology compiled by Wendy H Jones

I’m pleased to be hosting a stop on the blog tour today for an exciting new anthology for writers, Creativity Matters, the third of a series published by Scott and Lawson, and compiled by Wendy H Jones.

Wendy H Jones is a fellow author who has been a great encouragement to me and many other authors, and for this book she has invited a number of writers to contribute chapters. So you will find a wide variety of different types of writing represented here, together with varied outlooks and themes. This makes for a stimulating collection of encouraging pieces which seems set to be very popular among aspiring writers.

Wendy H Jones, author and compiler, Creativity Matters

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY 

Wendy H Jones is the Amazon #1 international best-selling author of the award winning DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries. Her Young Adult Mystery, The Dagger’s Curse was a finalist in the Woman Alive Readers’ Choice Award. She is also The President of the Scottish Association of Writers, an international public speaker, and runs conferences and workshops on writing, motivation and marketing. Wendy is the founder of Crime at the Castle, Scotland’s newest Crime Festival. She is the editor of a Lent Book, published by the Association of Christian Writers and also the editor of the Christmas Anthology from the same publisher. Her first children’s book, Bertie the Buffalo, was released in December 2018. Motivation Matters: Revolutionise Your Writing One Creative Step at a Time, was released in May 2019. The Power of Why: Why 23 Women Took the Leap to Start Their Own Business was released on 29th June, 2020. Marketing Matters: Sell More Books was released on 31st July 2020. Bertie Goes to the Worldwide Games will be released on 5th May, 2022,  and the third book in the Fergus and Flora Mysteries will be published in 2021. Her new author membership Authorpreneur Accelerator Academy launched in January 2021. Creativity Matters: Find Your Passion for Writing, the third book in her Writing Matters Series, is published in September 2021.

BLURB

Have you always thought about writing a book but don’t know where to start? Are you an experienced author and want to spread your wings? Are you looking for inspiration for every step in your writing journey? This is a book for everyone who wants to write, whether history or contemporary, science fiction or humour, local fiction or set in a made-up world, fiction, non-fiction, memoir, there’s something here for you. Join thirteen authors as they share their passion for why you should write in their genre and find your own passion as you read.

It’s time for you to spread your wings, follow your dreams and find your passion for writing.

MY REVIEW OF CREATIVITY MATTERS

This book brings us the work of several different authors, who have each contributed a chapter about the particular genre in which they write, and why they love it. The editor and compiler, Wendy H Jones, herself provides three chapters: on writing Humour, Crime and Non-fiction. In her introduction, she promises “ideas will be popping up and exploding all around you.” She  encourages the readers to have confidence in their ability to try new genres.

I enjoyed the array of authors who share their passion in this anthology. Sheena McLeod opens up the subject of historical non-fiction; she was first motivated by a desire to convey little known stories about Scotland’s history.

Next, Janet Wilson sets out her thoughts and feelings about children’s books; what she writes is powerful and inspiring, and it rings with truth.

Allison Symes writes flash fiction, and I will certainly be following her recommendation to polish up my writing exercises, turn them into flash fiction and submit to writing competitions.

Fay Rowland offers a witty and funny piece about scriptwriting.  Joy Margetts expresses her own passion for historical fact-based fiction; her dedication to research is evident.  Kirsten Bett writes Cat Tales, and again her passion for this genre shines through.  Jennifer Ngulube’s piece on writing memoir is challenging and stirring.

Maressa Mortimer provides two chapters:  in the first, on writing faith-based fiction, I found her arguments moving, convincing and thought-provoking.  The second, on writing novels set in a different world, sparkles with infectious enthusiasm, and fills the reader with a “can-do” attitude.

Nanette Fairley moves and excites us with her thoughts on writing in the ‘Third Age’. Andrew Chamberlain’s chapter on Science Fiction and Fantasy, I found fascinating, and it may well be the chapter that most inspires me.

Wendy H Jones writes in a stimulating and enjoyable way about crime and mystery; she gives good practical tips on the topic of writing Humour; and makes some intriguing points on the subject of writing Romance.

I love the quote at the end of the book, under the title “What Now?”

Fortune favours the brave and the future belongs to those who are not afraid to step out.

This is certainly a book which will awaken fresh enthusiasm and new ideas in its readers and encourage writers to try out new genres.

AMAZON LINK TO BUY 

Please include the hashtag #CREATIVITYMATTERS  and the following social media handles when you are sharing your posts about the book. Wendy’s website may be found here.

FACEBOOK

https://www.facebook.com/wendyhjonesauthor

TWITTER

@WendyHJones

AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE

INSTAGRAM

https://www.instagram.com/wendyhjones/

Fiction Genre: What is it Exactly?

As a writer, I believe we should be willing to explore new areas, and to step outside our comfort zone. And that applies very closely to our lives as readers too.

I read a wide variety of books, both non-fiction, and fiction of all genres. I admit I do like psychological insight but I believe all good writers in every genre should incorporate that in their novels anyway.
I find that the way I think about genre is influenced by my own eclectic reading habits. Now, as I work on a new novel I still have trouble trying to work out what genre I’m writing in.

I have just received reports from five beta readers and am considering their thoughts, and working on polishing and sharpening my final draft. One of the big questions has been: what genre do they consider this novel to be?

Writers are given an enormous amount of advice these days, mostly from online sources, and amongst them is this adage: Write the kind of book you most love reading. But if you read a wide variety of books, how does this help?
Another piece of advice we find floating around the publishing scene is that an author should, when pitching to a literary agent, be clear what genre he or she is working in, so the agent reading the letter can immediately think, “Whereabouts in the bookshop will this book will go?”

Another piece of advice suggests you should name a few established authors to whom your novel could be compared.
All this is anathema to me – and to many other writers, I suggest. Yet we are forced into this kind of mindset.
So now, for the benefit of the readers of this blog, I shall say that my WIP is most likely to be gothic mystery.
An example of my willingness to go into new areas is my recent attendance of the UK Games Expo at the Birmingham NEC, as one of three writers on the Authors Stand.

So what do fighting fantasy and interactive and roleplay games have to do with books such as the ones I write?
The atmosphere at the Games Expo is always wonderful, there’s a great sense of fun, excitement and good humour. The gaming world is one in which a vast number of “tropes” flourish: adventure, quests, danger, violence, fantasy, history, steampunk, sci fi…

My own fiction is indeed using some of those tropes, for instance, the predicament of the main protagonist as he finds himself in a deadly situation from which he must escape. Hidden chambers and secret passageways and dark rooms all find their place in the gaming world. There is an unexpected connection for me.
Hidden chambers and secret passageways and dark rooms all act as symbols for states of mind – and thus their connection to my fiction genre. Family relationships also play a strong role in my novels… I find these provide a fertile stage upon which the action can be played.
Which leaves me still with a fluid situation as regards genre; sometimes magical realism, paranormal, ghost story, gothic mystery, psychological suspense … all is possible.

Fun on the Author Stand at the UK Games Expo 2021

This year we were delighted that the UK Games Expo went ahead ‘in real life’ at the Birmingham NEC.

Three authors displayed their books on the Author Stand; Philip S Davies, Richard Denning and myself. Covid passes were required for all who attended, and everything was much more spaced out than usual.

The atmosphere was warm and friendly, and visitors seemed delighted to be able to come and immerse themselves in a vast array of games, have fun and dress up in quirky clothes and cosplay once more.

I also enjoyed going to the Viking encampment outside and chatting to one of the Vikings who was keen to clear up a few historical errors about his life and times!

Here are a few photos to give a flavour of the weekend.

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