Take a Look at My Author Interview on Rebeccah Giltrow’s Blog

Hi everyone!

Mystical Circles cover image
Mystical Circles cover image

Another kind blogger has just published an Author Interview with me. You may like to take a look at the interview here.

Many thanks to Rebeccah Giltrow for giving me this opportunity!

Men Into Monsters – Spidermen, Octopuses, Lizards and Aliens – Why Do We Love Them in Books, TV Dramas and Movies?

Who’s the most compelling character in a Spiderman movie?

Rhys Ifans as Dr Curt Connors
Rhys Ifans as Dr Curt Connors

For me, it’s Dr Otto Octavius (Doc Ock) and Dr Curt Connors.

As I watched “The Amazing Spiderman” DVD again the other day, it was Rhys Ifans in the role of Dr Curt Connors, that my eyes were on. Rhys Ifans is an actor I love from his numerous movie roles, including that of Hugh Grant’s Welsh flatmate in Notting Hill, and Luna Lovegood’s father in the Harry Potter movies.

This was such a different role – with a pleasant, understated manner, he was just a low-key, decent man… until he was driven to extremes by the pressure of circumstances and by the threatened destruction of his dreams.

Ordinary we may be, but I believe we can relate to that!

We’re engaged by the transformation of ordinary, nice, reasonable human beings, into rapacious killers.

Alfred Molina as Doc Ock in “Spiderman 2” was not only horrific, but moving and poignant. Even more so, because, in his monstrous octopus form, he  still had his own, recognisable face: the same face he wore when he gave up his time to chat kindly to Peter Parker, giving him a sense of belonging. A similar idea was used in the Doctor Who episode about The Lazarus Experiment, when we saw Mark Gatiss’s face recognisable in the alien monster.

Dr Curt Connors in the process of changing into a giant lizard

What is it that makes people change, in this life?

I look at this here, in a blog post about people being elemental.

Books, TV drama and movies, and of course, creative writing,  are all safe places for us to explore our dark side.

I explore this trope in my novel Mystical Circles. Although I’m a romantic suspense author, my own Other Side – exploring strange spiritual and psychological alleys in characters – is always there.

And if, after a lifetime of struggle, our dreams were to be utterly destroyed, I believe that many of us may fantasize about going on a rampage, expressing all our darkest emotions. This may come out through images in our dreams. Of course, the checks and balances present in the psyches of most of us, prevent this happening in reality. And so it stays in the world of mystery and imagination.

Would you dare to believe that, on the spiritual journey, alongside our capacity to evolve and improve and be redeemed, there might run another, dark strain: that our nice and reasonable selves might be changed into monsters?

Do you identify with this in any way?

Please share, if you dare!

People of Inspiration Part 6 – Gareth Malone, The Love of Singing and the Rediscovery of the Power of Sound

What or who would inspire you to start singing?

Gareth Malone, British choirmaster and broadcaster (credit: www.independent.co.uk)
Gareth Malone, British choirmaster and broadcaster (credit: http://www.independent.co.uk)
Gareth Malone, self-described as an “animateur, presenter and populariser of choral singing” (Wikipedia)

Even if you’ve spent years of your life  thinking  you “can’t sing”?

And there are many people with this gift – I’ve met quite a few in my own life of singing – but today I celebrate Gareth Malone.

What a difference Gareth has made to the popular perception of choral singing, here among the British people!

In the UK, according to a recent article in The Independent:

A nationwide choral singing boom is giving fresh meaning to the sound of music, with new choirs popping up at the fastest rate in decades.

Increasing numbers of people are starting their own vocal groups, inspired by the nation’s new choirmaster-in-chief Gareth Malone, ….  because they want to boost their wellbeing, mental or physical.

I’ve sung in choirs since I was very young. I was first introduced to it by my father, a great choral singer himself – he held high-value currency, as a tenor.

I sing in a number of different groups, and I love singing! But, even with all that experience, I would still love to sing under the direction of Gareth Malone! Perhaps one day I’ll achieve that wish!

I belong to the Warwick & Kenilworth Choral Society. Right now, we’re rehearsing to perform Bach’s Mass in B Minor in Leamington Spa in March.

Personally, I can’t get enough of singing! So now I’ve also joined a local Community Choir in Leamington Spa called “Songlines”.

“Songlines” is one of many community choirs. They’re all linked into the Natural Voice Network.

In a “community choir”,  the singers stand in a circle, without having to follow printed music, and the leader is at the centre, teaching the lines of music by singing them, and the choir members pick up the music from this. The lines of music seem very easy to sing, you master them quickly, then the fun comes when the leader directs you to sing it, perhaps, as a round, accompanied by movement. He may divide the choir into 4-8 groups and get each group to stagger their entries.

The sound of the voices blending is magical. And this – with the right direction – is really very easily achieved.

The Guardian article above refers to “wellbeing, mental or physical”. To that I want to add “spiritual wellbeing”.

Many different spiritual traditions have recognised this, and make full use of it.

Bliss through sound, using the human voice, is part of the Buddhist and the Yoga traditions. Years ago I went to the Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green, East London.  There I joined weekly sessions of Buddhist chanting: an experience of joy and deep peace.

The Yoga tradition, too, has fully understood the healing power of sound, incorporating yogic humming and chanting into their practice.

Taize prayer , in the Christian tradition, also uses beautiful harmony singing, to achieve a similar sense of upliftment, and connection with God. I do this, too, every month,  at St Peter’s Catholic Church Centre in Leamington Spa.

Of course few experiences of body, mind and spirit can equal that of singing with a large choral society in Bach’s B Minor Mass –  and, indeed, any other major choral work. Being part of this grand swell of sound can lift you right out of this world.

So I celebrate Gareth Malone for spreading wide the love of choral singing and the knowledge that we can all sing – whether or not we currently believe so.

What about you? Do you believe you “can’t sing?” Has Gareth Malone encouraged you to believe otherwise – or perhaps to join a singing group yourself? Or maybe you’ve already experienced joy through singing in a group, large or small? Have you been inspired by the work of Gareth Malone? Let me know your experiences – I’d love to hear them!

You may enjoy these other posts by SC Skillman Blog on the subject of singing:

Susan Boyle

Heavenly choirs

M & S; Big Versus Small and the Innate British Sense of Belonging

What is national identity? How do we define it?

A familiar sight on many British high streets
A familiar sight on many British high streets

In our British culture there are a number of different touchstones of our national identity – and here’s one of them.

M & S.

This is not so removed from the subject of my fiction – as I believe that Marks & Spencer has something to say to us about being British, and about the British Class System.

Britain does still have a recognisable class system – more so than many other countries, I would suggest –  although it can be argued this is now breaking down.

M&S have over the years skilfully exploited this aspect of our society, across the socio-economic range. It has maintained its reputation for excellent items at bargain prices right through to the highest quality goods.  Many of the stores’ products of course have universal appeal, for example, food and wine. Additionally, however, with the fashion selections, beauty products, and nightwear, I feel that M & S represent a strong appeal across a socio-economic range , from “low cost good value” right through to “very stylish, above average cost, high quality.” All this is to do with Reputation and plays into the English class system in a very interesting way.

When I was a young child, going into M&S with my mother was the worst experience I could think of, the ultimate in boredom. Now, as I think back, I wonder whether it was the pristine, controlled, organised, spaciousness of it. Perhaps if it had been more chaotic or sumptuous or bohemian I might have coped better!

And yet when I consider M&S now, it’s a very different experience for me!

I think of M&S as quintessentially British, and I was particularly conscious of this when I lived in Australia. On my first return home to England from Australia, a visit to M&S in Marble Arch, London W1, gave me a feeling of reclaiming my English identity. I bought a beautiful black lace skirt which still has pride of place in my wardrobe.

Offering us “shopping experiences” is big business in today’s consumer society; it’s not just the products you buy, but the whole experience. Many do love going to large stores or giant malls; others might prefer the small shop  – and there are very special cases where the small shop with its personal service is something we long for – but somehow, M&S have skilfully responded to this by downplaying their large-scale commercial nature in order to provide a comfortable and familiar feeling, evoking a strong sense of English “belonging”.

Of course, none of these things would I have appreciated as a child. And I must admit that even now, when I’m scanning the reasonably-priced-but-still-good-quality T shirts, when I see the children hanging around waiting for their mothers to make a choice, I feel empathy with them!

People of Inspiration Part 5 – Frankie Howerd, My All-Time Favourite Comedian

A recent TV programme on Channel 4 inspired me: “Frankie Howerd: The Lost Tapes.”

Frankie Howerd, my all-time favourite comedian (source: Channel4.com)
Frankie Howerd my all-time favourite comedian (source: Channel4.com)

Frankie Howerd is my all-time favourite comedian.

In my recent “Next Big Thing” blog I noted that, as an author, I owe part of my inspiration to characters I’ve loved on TV and movies.

Frankie Howerd is up there with the greatest.

I think of him now with love and admiration. He shines out in the world of popular entertainment.

To me, his comic personna represented the archetypal underdog, which the British love. His success during his time as one of our most-loved entertainers was probably due in large part to the English Class System.

Frankie Howerd, I felt, was “the common man” speaking to you one-to-one about what you and he truly feel about  all those who have far grreater pretensions to sophistication, intellect,wealth or status.

The Channel 4 programme noted that his most outstanding quality was connection with the audience. People loved him through his shambolic delivery,  through “the hotch potch that he was”.

During my childhood & young teenage years he was for me a source of great delight.  Before I saw the recent Channel 4 programme, I hadn’t previously realised he was closely involved with the Beatles during their early days and even filmed a scene with them for the film Help, which ended up on the cutting room floor.

I longed to see that scene again but it seems it was destroyed.

I remember him coming on in the Royal Variety Performance at the London Palladium and his first words were “Thank you for waiting for me.”

And that was exactly what we had been doing. Waiting for Frankie Howerd to come on.

There was no feeling of egotism about it. It had the quality of Frankie meeting up with you at a time which you and he had arranged. As if you were friends, just keeping an appointment to meet up.

Frankie’s most famous sayings: “Titter ye not” and “No. It’s wrong to mock the afflicted” and “Please yourselves” stand out in my memory: the hilarity was all in the delivery and the context and the personna Frankie offered. “I only do this for the money” and “What d’you expect, with they money they give us?”

Frankie was the comedian of whom we would say, “We must see it! Frankie Howerd is in it!”

Unforgettable, too, was his use of his own full name, “Francis”, to denote some kind of appeal to a more serious, higher status self, one with more gravitas.

He was the actor Aristophanes, the ancient Greek comedy writer, would have loved for his plays.

My family adored Frankie’s ice cream commercial on TV when he’d claim he was only doing it for the money, try the ice cream and then says, “Oooohh! It’s not bad after all!”

The Channel 4 programme revealed the anxieties behind his performance, and how much he depended on his devoted partner, Dennis. I believe, too, that Frankie’s style of lewd, effete, lecherous humour as exemplified in the TV sitcom series “Up Pompeii” in which he shone out as the slave who never got to the end of his Prologue, is something only gay men truly excel at.

Frankie Howerd died on 19 April 1992 and just before he died, in his last public appearance, he spoke to an audience of students in the Oxford Union saying, “I’m not what you would call an intellectual… brainy… a clever clogs,” delighting the Oxford students.

And as I write about him now, I remember that immortal line he spoke to the Roman Centurion near the end of  the “Up Pompeii” movie: “Oh, and by the way, you owe me a cucumber.”

Do you have a favourite comic entertainer of all time? I’d love to hear your own choice!

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.

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!

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.