Inside the mind of a writer www.scskillman.co.uk

Posts tagged ‘actors’

A Passionate Spirit – My New Thriller / Suspense Novel

I’m excited to present the cover design for my new novel A Passionate Spirit, due to be published by Matador on  28 November 2015. Do let me know in your comments what you think of the design!

Here is the Advance Information provided by Matador:

A Passionate Spirit by SC Skillman cover design

A Passionate Spirit by SC Skillman cover design

Zoe ran through the wood in gathering dusk, her heart racing. She clutched the child’s hand, which kept slipping out of hers. Sweat drenched her blouse, sticking it to her jacket, despite the dank chill in the air. They pounded along a narrow bramble-choked path. Zoe winced and the child sobbed, as spiky stems tore at their clothes and flesh, drawing blood.

It’s a dream come true for 25 year old Zoe when she and her new husband, unconventional priest Theo, move to the Cotswold hills. But fearsome dreams about a young girl running for her life disturb Zoe and she can’t shake off the idea that a child’s life is in danger… and so is hers.

When two unexpected guests arrive, James and Natasha, Zoe’s friend Alice immediately senses something amiss with James – and particularly Natasha; but no-one except Zoe agrees with her. Natasha embarks on a series of mysterious healings which astonish other guests and convince them that Natasha is a miracle worker. But Zoe can’t abandon her feelings of unease around Natasha. Then a series of disturbing events hits the centre; Zoe fears that Theo has been unfaithful to her with Natasha, and Theo falls into severe depression for which Zoe believes Natasha to be responsible.

When Zoe confronts Natasha she is completely unprepared for the terror she is about to face. Zoe will need more than the loyalty and strength of Alice to survive the frightening paranormal forces that are unleashed against her…

A Passionate Spirit is a fast-paced and thrilling novel that will keep readers in suspense throughout. Inspired by Susan Howatch and Barbara Erskine, this book will appeal to readers who enjoy paranormal thrillers.

Book Review (English Social History): “Through the Keyhole” by Susan C Law

It seems part of the psychological make-up of the English people to bestow power upon the wealthy and privileged; whilst at the same time depriving them of the right to privacy.

And as we’ve all recently seen in the General Election, you have to be tough to play for high stakes; winner takes all, and  unsuccessful opponents lose everything.

Through the Keyhole by Susan C Law

Through the Keyhole by Susan C Law

Today’s obsession with the private lives of celebrities and those “in high places” finds its parallel in Georgian and Regency England, where the public was hungry for moral lapses among the aristocracy. This fascinating and scrupulously researched book shines a spotlight onto a universal aspect of human behaviour – but the scholarly focus is upon how eighteenth century society reacted to it, thus enriching our knowledge of the social history of the time.

Aristocratic rakes are the stuff of novels set in Regency England. One of the most striking things about the book is how intensely the opinion-makers of the time wanted to hold on to the idea of “rank co-existing with honour”, despite all evidence to the contrary. Another outstanding aspect of Susan Law’s account is the hypocrisy of the society as the popular press indulged itself in moralising and judgementalism, along with minimal respect for confidentiality, slander and libel, thus feeding a voracious appetite by the public. But I was also surprised by the disregard that the adulterous aristocrats themselves paid to covering up their tracks, and their failure to have due regard to the ominipresence of their servants. Tumbled bedclothes, two dents in the bed, and hair powder on the pillowcases seem obvious tracks to cover up!

Susan Law examines the craze of the 1790’s for printed court reports of adultery trials, which continued through to the late 1830’s with the popularity of the “Crim Con Gazette”. She examines the changes that took place up until the 1832 Great Reform Act which altered the way the nation saw itself in terms of social hierarchies – opening up “previously unthinkable possibilities for the middle class”. Certainly in the early part of the period it is very noticeable that often “cuckolded” husbands (themselves equally guilty of adultery) might be awarded huge damages and then go on to an honourable career in high office, while adulterous women were far more likely to be “sent away” in shame and have their lives ruined.

Chief among the adulterers later on of course was the Prince Regent, and I was amused to read the opinion of Theresa, sister of the Earl of Morley, who wrote in a letter “’tis dreadful to think of the open profligacy of that Monster…. we must all go to the dogs should he ever unfortunately come to the throne.”

To the non-academic reader, the most interesting parts of this book are when the author gives accounts of specific cases, such as that of Lord Ellenborough and his young wife Jane. There are among these stories accounts that will draw a variety of different responses from the reader; for as the blurb points out, the different stories are passionate, scandalous, poignant and tragic.

A fascinating insight into eighteenth century social history, with plenty of material which will give us cause to reflect upon the preoccupations of today’s Britain as well.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Quirky, Anarchic, and Fizzing with Life

During the last week we’ve been at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival – an overwhelming variety of acts and shows and comedians and performers, all jostling for your attention. Those who are trying to make a name for themselves are free: the already established are in big venues and do paid-for shows.

On the Royal Mile, Edinburgh - The Fringe (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

On the Royal Mile, Edinburgh – The Fringe (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

I’ve never been handed so many flyers by so many people in such a short space of time as on the Royal Mile – it felt like every member of the crowd heading in my direction was handing out leaflets for his or her show. I recalled online tips for young actors trying to breakthrough at the Edinburgh Festival: “Be prepared to spend most of your time walking the streets and handing out flyers.”

You can be trying to decide where to go and then a troupe of actors dressed in white from head to toe with eerie white masks approaches you and leaflets you; and you decide you’ll go to their show instead.

Or you pass one of the free fringe venues, see something’s on in 5 minutes and just drop in because you happen to be passing by.

And that’s how we found ourselves in the audience at a free fringe event, facing up to whatever the comedians threw at us – including, in my case, a fountain from a shaken-up bottle of Irn Bru, because I happened to be sitting in the second row…

Troupe of actors advertising their show at Edinburgh Fringe - photo credit Abigail Robinson

Troupe of actors advertising their show at Edinburgh Fringe – photo credit Abigail Robinson

We enjoyed Jonny Freeman’s Funtime Family Friendly Impro show, and a one-woman comedy show by Claire Ford called ConsciousMess. Claire showed brilliant clowning skills and I thought she’d be a good children’s TV presenter – with the exclusion of some of her material.

Street entertainment on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Fringe Festival - photo credit Abigail Robinson

Street entertainment on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Fringe Festival – photo credit Abigail Robinson

We also found ourselves in a marquee at The Ibis Hotel where we saw “The Grown Up Show” when London’s “best emerging comedians battle it out for the title of Worst Adult in the World”. I can assure you this was not family friendly, and one of the comedians – host Alexis Wieroniey –  even queried our 2 teens from the stage about how old they were, having been about to deduct “adult points” from us for bringing children in, whereupon she realised it should be herself she deducted “adult points” from for designing the fun cartoon on the flyer! Upon being assured of their true age, the comedians then went on to present their material, packed with lewd humour about sex and bodily functions.

Seeing these “emerging” young comedians made me reflect again upon what I believe makes a great comedian: the ability to connect with the audience, win our confidence, show strong observation of life, say things we know are true and can identify with, and do it all with perfect comic timing.
And in the end, for a performer at The Fringe, what really counts is the way audiences take to you and whether you get noticed and given a chance by a casting director, agent or impresario.

Group of actors advertising fringe performance Chatroom on the Royal Mile - photo credit Abigail Robinson

Group of actors advertising fringe performance Chatroom on the Royal Mile – photo credit Abigail Robinson

Of the paid-for shows in The Festival we saw “The Lift” a new comedy by Fergus Deery at the Bedlam Theatre and “Potted Sherlock“, a fantastic whizz-through of all 60 Sherlock Holmes stories in 70 minutes by 3 excellent comic actors whose previous shows included Potted Potter, Potted Pirates and Potted Panto.

Street entertainer on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Fringe (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

Street entertainer Simeon Baker on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Fringe (photo credit Abigail Robinson)

For many creative actors and comedians, and for those who flock to Edinburgh in August, including ourselves, this Festival is all about fun, zanyness, and the principle of having been here and been involved with a show at the Fringe – however unpredictable.

 

 

 

 

 

The RADA Student Who Felt Like Packing Her Bags and Going Back North

The BBC Radio 4 Today programme is often a source of inspiration to me.

Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London

Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, London

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 know her as Maxine Peake, now a celebrated actor.

If you are a struggling author, take heart from this.

People of Inspiration Part 7: The Horrible Histories Cast

The Horrible Histories phenomenon will soon celebrate its 20th anniversary.Horrible Histories

Scholastic will commemorate 20 years since Terry Deary published the first Horrible Histories books, Awesome Egyptians and Terrible Tudors.

Horrible Histories has continued through the British children’s television series, first screened on CBBC in 2009, and now in its 5th series.

In our house we have followed each series with ever-increasing hilarity and delight.

I love Rattus Rattus, “your host, the talking rat”; and I love every single member of the cast.

I think the pleasure lies in seeing a vast gallery of different historical characters from all social levels and periods and cultures, represented by the same small cast of recognizable, engaging actors.

Often when a team of people is involved in a creative project like  this, fans will select a favourite.

And yet I cannot pick out any single one of this team as my favourite. Each of them is equally funny as a brutish thug, a tyrannical leader, a downtrodden peasant or an effete moony type circle dancing round a tree.

Jim Howick

Jim Howick

There’s Jim Howick, who has on different occasions taken the parts of Napoleon, Blackbeard, Richard III, George  IV, Pope Alexander VI, and Prince Albert.

Matt Baynton

Matt Baynton

There’s Matt Baynton who is perfect as Mozart, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Charles II, Shakespeare and Dick Turpin.

Simon Farnaby

Simon Farnaby

There’s Simon Farnaby, hilarious as The GrimReaper in “Stupid Deaths”, and entertaining as Caligula, St Augustine the first Archbishop of Canterbury, George III and numerous crazy or slightly dopey characters.

Laurence Rickard

Laurence Rickard

There’s Laurence Rickard who does a perfect high-speed round-up of the religious scene in Tudor times, via HH TV News.

Ben Willbond

Ben Willbond

There’s Ben Willbond whose Henry VIII is beguiling, and who also numbers among his roles such characters as George I, Alexander the Great, Adolf Hitler, Sir Francis Drake and Pythagorus.

Martha Howe-Douglas

Martha Howe-Douglas

And there’s Martha Howe-Douglas who’s utterly convincing as Elizabeth I, Cleopatra, Queen Victoria, Joan of Arc, or any one of a number of women in history, whether they be aristocrats or underdogs. 

So few actors and so many historical characters… they do  the highest and the lowest in the land with equal skill. Posh and rough; they inhabit every character perfectly. And the songs are pure inspiration, written and composed by Richie Webb, a genius in the background.

Of course there are many others too who ensure this TV programme is such a success – and that so many of us love Horrible Histories.

Other posts you might like to check out in my “People of Inspiration” series:

Part 1 – Paul McCartney

Part 2 – Rabbi Lionel Blue

Part 3 – Susan Boyle

Part 4 – Rob Parsons

Part 5 – Frankie Howerd

Part 6 – Gareth Malone

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