What Happened to Hopes and Dreams on TV Programming This Christmas? – Maria is Unmasked, Arthur Dies, and Tragedy Returns to Downton

“A night made for believers of all ages.”

Annabelle's Wish vhs cover
Annabelle’s Wish vhs cover

So says the heartwarming 1997 Christmas video “Annabelle’s Wish” (which I watched again with my 2 teenagers yesterday).

But the Christmas  programming this year on BBC and ITV seemed to be all about dashing dreams.

King Arthur died; Maria was unmasked; the creator of The Snowman was revealed to be an old curmudgeon; and tragedy hit Downton Abbey again.

First of all, we learned that the real Maria Von Trapp seems to have carried off one of the most successful pieces of spin of the twentieth century.

The lovely Maria who danced and sang in the mountains, and transformed the lives of the Von Trapp children, turns out to be based upon a real Maria who was, it seems, a rather nasty piece of work – according to the investigation by Sue Perkins of the real story behind The Sound of Music. The testimony of Maria’s daughter Rosemarie was quite chilling. In fact the truth appears to be exactly the opposite to its portrayal in the Rodgers & Hammerstein film.

Then there was the end to the much-loved Merlin series.

We had tears on Christmas Day when we caught up with “Merlin” and watched the heartrending scene at the death of Arthur – and then saw a contemporary Emrys making his lonely way along the road, a wandering traveller many centuries later.

But, of course, as regards Arthur’s destiny, we know from Tennyson’s “Morte d’Arthur”, it had to be.

Excalibur had to be returned to the lake so that there might arise a hand, clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful, to receive the wonderful sword.

And then of there was a scene of cruel irony at the end of Downton Abbey – an irony perhaps many of us can relate to.

And finally, we were reminded that the creator of the gentle, poignant and enchanting film The Snowman, Raymond Briggs, was more like Fungus the Bogeyman.

There seemed an unusually high dose of sadness and grief and irony on TV this Christmas.

So where is the positive, hopeful light in this? For that, let us return to Charles Dickens.

His Christmas Carol encompasses all the sadness, cruelty and injustice of life, together with the mistakes we make, and an uplifting message of transformation at the end.

Ultimately, Scrooge “did all that he promised and much more.”

Thank God for that, and for the hope we can draw from the choice one man made after being visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve.

The Christmas List: a Bittersweet Time to Bring Out the Sherry and Candles

Who else finds writing Christmas cards a bittersweet task?

I’m reblogging this post from a version first published last Christmas – because it still seems so relevant!

Candle, Christmas tree and sherry
Candle, Christmas tree and sherry

I put off “doing” my Christmas list until I’m in the mood – and light a candle and have a glass of sherry or wine to help create that mood. Why? Because each year I have to engage with the major change in people’s lives; the gap of a year between communications throws those changes – for good and for bad – into sharp relief.

There are those who must now be addressed The … Family, because a new baby has been born. You remember the mother as a tiny blonde cherub herself.

Then there are the divorces, where you refer back to the previous year’s Christmas newsletter and gaze at the photo of the mother with her two tall sons, and remember when you rejoiced at her marriage, at the news of the arrival of their first baby… and now “he” has disappeared from their lives, and is no longer referred to.

Then there’s the lady whose previous husband beat her up – a fact she communicated to you in a Christmas newsletter 5 years ago – and who sent you the news 3 years ago that she was marrying someone else she only referred to by his first name – and hasn’t been in touch since. You’d like to try and restore the lines of communication, but you only have the surname of the ex-husband. You presume she’s now living with the new man – unless that relationship too has broken up – but you’re not quite sure, and you have to address her  in such a way that takes account of different possible scenarios.

And there are the couples whose children have now grown up and left home and started their own families, so you can now revert to sending cards to the couple alone, without their children’s names… and that feels sad too, despite the fact that this has been in many ways a happy change.

Then there are the people who have died, and whose names have to be crossed off your Christmas list and out of your address book – a task that always feels callous to me, every time I do it. And the people you’re going to send a card to who may well have died, but nobody has told you, so you won’t know, unless your card is returned to you by some helpful relative in the New Year.

So much change for good or bad. Then it occurs to me that at least my own family unit is “the same as last year” and perhaps that fact alone is a cause for at least one small flare of gladness and relief in the hearts of those who receive our greetings.

But should it be? For those on our Christmas list often only communicate the stark facts that will affect the way we address our envelopes to them next year. Behind it all lies the complex reality of their lives.

As a novelist I know what is in my characters’ hearts; but not in the hearts of everyone on my Christmas list –  the new parents, the newly-bereaved, the freshly-betrayed, the lonely, the divorced, even those who superficially appear to have everything in order, even those who claim success and triumph all round for every member of the family… their lives are far more complex than can ever be conveyed in the artificial confines of the Christmas card or newsletter.

Perhaps the candle flame is there  to remind me of that.

The Next Big Thing: A Passionate Spirit

I was invited to take part in “The Next Big Thing” – a blog hop for authors –  by Fay Sampson who has written many wonderful books for children and adults arising from Celtic history, and also includes mystery, suspense and crime fiction in her output.

In her capacity as a manuscript editor for The Writer’s Workshop, Fay also read my novel “Mystical Circles” in draft form, appraised it and gave me guidelines for revision.  I reworked it according to her suggestions, and she then read the novel again. It was Fay’s encouragement that led me forward to publication, and she kindly allowed me to print her testimonial on the cover. So thank you Fay!

And now for ten questions on my Next Big Thing:
 
1.  What is the working title of your book?

A PASSIONATE SPIRIT

2.  Where did the idea come from for the book?

As this novel is set in an English retreat centre I’ve drawn upon my knowledge of these centres (several of which I’ve visited and stayed in over the years), & also any environment in which disparate people are drawn together for a period of time in an enclosed setting. I’ve drawn too upon my  insights into human motivation and behaviour; chief among which is that “nothing should be taken at face value: people are often not what they seem”.

3.  What genre does your book fall under?

Romantic Suspense

4.  Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Zoe Blake, main protagonist, age 23:   Amanda Seyfried

Theo, Zoe’s husband of 15 months, and Warden of the Centre:   Bradley James

James Willoughby, unexpected guest:   *Hugh Grant

Natasha, his sinister girlfriend:   Talulah Riley

Llewellyn, Poet-in-Residence:   Matt Baynton

Bernie, the House Manager:   Mark Williams

Alice, Retreat Centre Secretary:   Georgia Moffett

Jessica Leroy, Chair of Trustees:   Sarah Lancashire

* As a postscript to this particular casting, may I say I’d love to see Hugh Grant play my character James Willoughby, because this is a role that would require Hugh to be sexy, villainous, very handsome, manipulative, double-dealing, charming and treacherous. Also, I ‘d love to see Working Title Productions do this film.

A Passionate Spirit has the potential to be a great British movie.
5.  What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Inexperienced young woman finds herself running an English retreat centre in the teeth of intense opposition from two malevolent guests.

6.  Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’ll be seeking representation from a literary agent to win a contract of publication with a traditional publishing house.

7.  How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

One month – I wrote it during November 2011’s National Novel Writing Month.

8.  What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

My story has elements you may find in books by Susan Howatch, Barbara Erskine and Phil Rickman.
9.  Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Various people I’ve met over the years have inspired me for the characters of Zoe, Theo and James. I’ve also been inspired by characters and themes in my favourite films and TV dramas. Additionally, I interviewed a retired Anglican parish priest who told me several stories from his own experience around the subject of the deliverance ministry; one of his stories in particular not only forms the basis of a scene in my novel, but also inspired my character Natasha.

 10.  What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

The exploration of the psyche of a dysfunctional person holds a fascination for today’s novel reader, and therefore a strong place in the fiction market. Alongside this runs a deep interest in mental health issues and in spirituality, the supernatural and paranormal. These are in high demand, and extremely popular subcategories within today’s market. A Passionate Spirit contains elements of all these.

This is my vision:

to offer readers everywhere stories that delight and entertain, capturing their imaginations and touching their hearts with powerful universal themes that affect us all.

The themes that most engage me are these: love, loyalty and bravery; intrigue, longing and desire; redemption, reconciliation and forgiveness.


I am tagging Meg Harper

Lindsay Rumbold

Wendy Jones

Their posts about their new projects will be live on or around 19 December.

Darkness into Light: Celtic Spirituality

Heart of Darkness, Sharing the Darkness, embracing the darkness – the archetypal theme of darkness versus light is ever-present in our lives, through books, movies, media, faith, life experience.

The church at Morton Bagot (photo credit: Julia Gardner)

Last week – on the night of the full moon – I was at a Celtic Christian service in the 13th century church at Morton Bagot, Warwickshire.

And the theme: “Sun, Moon and Stars: Finding a Way in the Darkness.”

The Celtic-inspired service was led by Annie Heppenstall, and comes from her book The Healer’s Tree.

Ten of us gathered together in the chancel, where Annie had hung from a central chandelier a large hoop, to which she had tied the feathers of local birds, which she had found in her garden. The hoop represented the circle of the year. During the service we tied ribbons to the hoop to represent ourselves.

This lovely ancient church (which has no electricity) was lit only by candles.

I am one of those who is sensitive to atmospheres, and the feeling I receive from this church is one of deep peace, goodness and harmony.

Angel in the church at Morton Bagot (photo credit: Julia Gardner)
Angel in the church at Morton Bagot (photo credit: Julia Gardner)

My sister Julia, on a recent visit to the Uk with her husband, visited this church with me,  and both were conscious of this very special atmosphere. Julia took the photographs that illustrate this post.

During Annie’s Celtic Christian service, we each took two dark pebbles, and considered how these represented different aspects of the darkness for us, then we carried the pebbles to the lighted candle and placed them there.

Annie loves to focus on animal symbolism, rich in Celtic spirituality and in the Bible. The two animals she chose for this service were the bear and the cat, to represent different aspects of the darkness.

Interior of church at Morton Bagot (photo credit: Julia Gardner)
Interior of church at Morton Bagot (photo credit: Julia Gardner)

I find the incorporation of pre Christian Celtic spirituality into contemporary Christian practice very moving.

Religions and all thought systems assimilate elements of what went before, and then we move on.

To me, the ability of the Christian faith to assimilate aspects of the pagan world – nowhere more evident than in our Western celebration of Christmas – is part of its strength and enduring power.

In all things, we take with us something of what went before, and we move on.

About the Writer

SC Skillman is a British romantic suspense author Her debut novel “Mystical Circles” is available to order at your local bookstores or online. A signed copy may be purchased direct from the author’s website, and the ebook may be downloaded on Amazon Kindle.

Currents, Backwaters and Muddy Tributaries in Fiction: and the Fascination of the One Star Review

Reading a novel is like going on a voyage down a river.

Whitewater rapids (credit: rafting.co.uk)
Whitewater rapids (credit: rafting.co.uk)

Sometimes the water’s smooth and calm, sometimes rough; occasionally you may find yourself in whitewater rapids; and ultimately it flows into the sea.

If your boat gets ambushed by a rogue current and becomes snarled up among tree roots and rushes in a muddy backwater, that spoils your journey.

But does it make you give up on the book?

That happened to me recently with JK Rowling’s novel The Casual Vacancy.

She’d gripped me, early on, with a vivid description of a social worker visiting the dysfunctional family of an abused child. But then, as I saw the way her narrative was tending, I decided I wasn’t in the mood to read an unrelenting account of numerous people behaving in a particularly unpleasant way.

But as I loved all the Harry Potter books, and admire JK Rowling herself, I decided to put the book aside and return to it at another time, when I may feel differently about her choice of subject.

I believe that the way we respond to novels is a complex mixture of mood, temperament, expectation, and our own experience of  the world.

And when our expectations have been defeated, we might love it – or we might immediately get onto Amazon and bestow a one-star review.

Various factors determine whether we do  the latter – or wait, and perhaps come back to it another time, as I plan to with The Casual Vacancy.

I enjoy reading different responses to my own novel Mystical Circles. Of course, like all authors, I feel happy if I see that the majority have given it 5-star reviews (especially on Goodreads, Amazon & Barnes & Noble).

But the reviews that intrigue me – for any novel – are the one-star reviews. I quite often go to them first, specially to find out what is the worst that can be said of this novel.

But does that put me off the novel? No way! It can even enhance my interest in the novel, by giving it an extra dimension.

I believe the most interesting lessons are to be found in extreme divergence of opinion.

What do you think?

Seeking Personal Growth; and Sitting at the Feet of a Charismatic Guru

We find ourselves in a culture where many seek answers to the deep issues of life in spirituality, beyond the boundaries of organized religion.

dreams and mystical visions
dreams and mystical visions

Different needs within people draw them to seek spiritual relief – and for some, esoteric New Age spiritual groups hold a strong appeal.

You’ll meet some of those who are attracted to such groups, in the pages of my romantic suspense novel Mystical Circles.

"Mystical Circles" new print edition published August 2012
“Mystical Circles” new print edition published August 2012

Another example of such a group – which was pointed out to me by one of my early readers – is the Fellowship of Friends. Also known as the School Group it was founded in 1970 in California by Robert Burton aka The Teacher. There are certain fundamental aspects of this Fellowship which find their counterpart in many other esoteric groups:

  • The group is led by “a conscious teacher”. His only true credentials are his own presence and his effect upon his students.
  • The group’s location is a place for students to “work on themselves” in an atmosphere of beauty, effort and friendship.
  • The group is trained in “self-remembering” which involves “being present” within a moment – this is the universal message of esoteric schools.
  • The members of the group gather daily to “work on themselves” at meetings, study groups and dinners.

I have in the past been impressed by the teachings of George Gurdjieff (upon which Robert Burton based the Fellowship of Friends) and have participated in a number of such groups myself. Gurdjieff, a mystic and spiritual teacher, called his discipline “The Work”. At one point he described his teachings as “esoteric Christianity”.

In theory, the “work on oneself” which Gurdjieff recommends should indeed bear fruit in greater self-knowledge. But does it in practice?

My own experience has shown me how powerful a charismatic figure can be and how the most intelligent of people might fall prey to such a person, and therefore create situations in which many people become victims of “mind control” or “brainwashing”. I must also say this applies to a wide range of situations in life, not just esoteric groups.

Christians may like to reflect upon how easily a charismatic leader can draw people into a place where the main focus of attention is his or her own magnetic personality. This can be as much of a danger for Christians with a public speaking ministry as it can be for inspirational leaders and gurus in the world of the esoteric.

St Paul spoke of the danger of “false apostles” attributing miracles to themselves rather than God. He expressed his fear lest those he taught had their minds “corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:3) And as Jesus himself said, “Beware of false prophets – by their fruits will you know them.”

I’ve certainly tasted a few of those fruits myself in the past, and have learned from personal experience whether their juicy flavour lasts, or, indeed, whether you bite through the fruit to find a maggot at the centre!

What about you? Have you ever tasted any of these fruits? I’d love to hear from you! Perhaps you, like me, have sat at the feet of various gurus? Please share your own experiences by leaving a comment!

Places of Inspiration Part 7: Memories, Dreams, Reflections Among the Kookaburras on an Australian Mountain Lookout

Margaret Silf wrote a book called Sacred Spaces in which she explored the various stages of our life-journey in terms of geographical locations. Everything has a symbolic meaning – bridge, crossing place, lake, wood, ford, spring, river, well  – in the ancient Celtic view of the world. And I believe many of us find that the value of a special place lies not only in itself but in the extent to which our memories, dreams and reflections are threaded through it.

So it is for me with Jolly’s Lookout – number 7 in my mini-series Places of Inspiration. Halfway up a mountain near Brisbane in Queensland, Australia, it’s a place where I’ve meditated, socialised, and reached turning points in my life. Jolly’s Lookout is equally loved by picnickers and kookaburras.   It holds memories and has inhabited my dreams. For me, past and future coalesced here. The view has it all, in terms of “soul space” – a valley, a city, a bay, distant mountains. All these hold a symbolic power, a special symbolism for the life-journey.

 

Tourist Map of Australia
Tourist Map of Australia

You can see where Brisbane is here on this map of Australia.

Jolly’s Lookout  – so named after William Jolly, the first Lord Mayor of Greater Brisbane – is a place of happy times  – lunchtime picnics, night-time barbeques, gatherings of local groups who come to eat together then play games afterwards.  In 2007 I was able to take my 12-year-old daughter there and she has shared my love of this inspiring mountain viewpoint ever since.

My daughter Abigail at Jolly's Lookout
My daughter Abigail at Jolly’s Lookout

This lookout is in open eucalypt forest. If you continue up the road from here to Mount Glorious, you may hear bellbirds, and enjoy walks through subtropical rainforest.

a possum in a tree at night
a possum in a tree at night

At night it is the haunt of possums, their bright eyes shining in the torchlight as  visitors come to hang their storm lanterns from the overhanging branches and prepare their barbecues.

A close up of a goana
A close up of a goana

And often if you come at dusk you will find a visiting goana, also keen to share your picnic.

kookaburra
kookaburra

It is likewise home to numerous kookaburras, who love their opportunity to swoop and snatch from a hapless visitor’s fork perhaps a nice chicken breast or piece of steak, foolishly lifted into the air, and held there for a split second before the mouth of the picnicker can close around it.

The view from Jolly’s Lookout is breathtaking. It takes in the Samford Valley, the city of Brisbane, Moreton Bay, and beyond that, further north, up towards the Sunshine Coast, the bizarre and fascinating shapes of the Glasshouse Mountains, so named by Captain Cook purely from the impression they made on him as he sailed past in 1770. During the time I lived in Australia – four and a half years between 1986 and 1990 – I visited Jolly’s Lookout many times.

picnic table at Jolly's Lookout May 2012
picnic table at Jolly’s Lookout May 2012

Is there a special place where you have happy memories, perhaps of wandering alone, or a place where you were part of a social gathering or party that comes vividly to mind whenever you think of the place? Are your memories, dreams and reflections threaded through it? Please share your thoughts about your special place, in the comments below.

Welcome To My Blog – About Me

Author photo SC Skillman
Author photo SC Skillman

Thank you for visiting my blog! I write psychological, paranormal and mystery fiction and non fiction.

I’m a member of the Society of Authors and the Association of Christian Writers.

My new book Paranormal Warwickshire is out now from Amberley Publishing.  It’s available everywhere good books are sold. If you’d like a signed copy sent to any UK address, just pay £12.50 here and include a note of your postal address, and any requests for a special message, and I’ll post you a signed copy at once.

Mystical Circles is psychological suspense, and the sequel A Passionate Spirit a paranormal thriller. You can order signed copies here. Or download them to your kindle as follows:

getBook.at/MysticalCircles

getBook.at/PassionateSpirit

Subscribe to my mailing list and get a free epub Pursuing Your Creative Passion, a taster from my inspirational writer’s guide Perilous Path: A Writer’s Journey – packed with encouraging tips, insights and reminders for writers. 

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Here on my blog, I post weekly. I love to have your comments so please keep them coming!  And if you’d like to know more about my next novel Director’s Cut, which I’m working on right now, do sign up for my mailing list here.

a-passionate-spirit-cover-image-with-taglineI studied English Literature at Lancaster University, and my first permanent job was as a production secretary with the BBC. Later I lived for nearly five years in Australia. I now live in Warwickshire with my husband David and son Jamie, and my daughter Abigail is studying for a Masters at university in Australia.

I completed two full-length adult novels before writing Mystical Circles. I’ve always been fascinated by the interaction of different complex personalities, an inexhaustible source of inspiration for a writer!

And my advice to anyone who wants to be a writer? Read a lot, listen to people’s conversations, be observant about the details of your world, and especially about human behaviour and interaction, and persist in your writing, being single-minded to the point of obsession…never give up, always believe in yourself despite all evidence to the contrary,(Click to Tweet) and hold out for what you first dreamed of.

Thank you for reading this. And if you want to be first to hear about my next novel, which is currently in progress, do sign up on my email list here.