Whatever Happened to Small is Beautiful?

In 1993, E.F. Schmacher published a book entitled Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered. Small-Is-Beautiful-CoverIt was well received, and promised a potential revolution in ideas for capitalism and for the consumer society.

Recently I saw a plea from a Christian charity for us to invest in poor (“small” in economic terms) countries and help them develop their economies within their own culture. The benefits of this will radiate out to encompass all of us. The truth behind this is one that philosophers have clearly seen and expressed (in particular John Ruskin) yet it continually seems to bypass the greedy, the corporate, the leviathans of our consumer society.

I found myself relating it to the situation of the “indie” author.  Our society does not yet fully honour the idea that it is good to invest in small indie writers and help them in their businesses (comparable to “cottage industries”) and to develop within the ethos of their own culture. Instead “indie” writers are often made to feel that the only way they can ever progress in a meaningful way in their literary careers and move forward and make a breakthrough is by gaining the support of someone big, i.e. to link up with and/or become subsumed by one of the “Big Five” publishing houses. It’s all about empowerment.

I’d love to know your views on this. If you run a small business or if you are self-employed, either as an author or otherwise, how do you feel?  what is your experience of ‘small is  beautiful’?

Creative Artists: In the Minority, and On the Outside Looking In

Today on Radio 4, whilst stuck in slow-moving traffic due to an accident on the M40,  I listened to the Midweek programme, in which Libby Purves interviewed four guests – Diana Moran, fitness expert; Jack Thorne, playwright; Dashni Morad, singer and presenter; and finally Omid Djalili, comedian and actor. For the purposes of today’s blog post, I was particularly interested in what Omid Djalili had to say.Omid Djalili

Talking about his own development into a highly successful comedian and actor,  he made the point that throughout his life he has always felt, on every level, part of a minority within another minority… and so on. That has informed his comedy.

I loved him in the film The Infidel when he explored questions of identity as well as the boundaries and prejudices between two major world faiths, Islam and Judaism. He was brilliant in his role of a man who had been brought up an East End Muslim then discovered he was adopted, and really a Jew.

The point he was making in the Radio 4 programme related to the topic of one of the chapters in my new book Perilous Path: A Writer’s Journey, in which I explore the feelings of someone else highly successful in the arts; this time, a bestselling author. And I feel there is a close connection between being in the minority in a minority, and feeling as if you’re always on the outside looking in.

The author in question is Howard Jacobson and he made his remarks in another radio interview, just after he’d won the Man Booker Prize.Howard Jacobson

Here’s that chapter, a taster from my new book:

ALWAYS ON THE OUTSIDE LOOKING IN: WHAT DOES A BESTSELLING NOVELIST HAVE TO TEACH ASPIRING WRITERS?

I was listening to a bestselling novelist (Howard Jacobson) speaking on the radio about his success in winning a major book award. Among the many things he said which touched and amused me, I was most impressed by the answer he gave to this question:

 “Now you’ve won this prestigious award, do you feel you’ve arrived? Do you now feel you’re on the inside?”

And he replied,  “No. I have always felt myself to be on the outside of everything, looking in.”

What a wonderful response the interviewer received to this question! And it seemed to me an authentic writer’s response. As observers of human life, this is what creative writers spend their lives doing. Often whilst researching for novels, we are on the outside looking in. We do not necessarily wish to ‘get involved’ or ‘drawn in’, although there are times when we must ‘come alongside’ those we observe, in order to truly understand.

This is especially true of those on spiritual journeys. To be a traveller on this path, you need an open mind and an open heart, and must be prepared to go anywhere and come in on anything. This does mean exploring other spiritual outlooks, other worldviews. This should be no contradiction to a spiritual traveller, whatever religion they belong to. As Rabbi Lionel Blue discovered, ‘my religion is my spiritual home not my spiritual prison’.

The great mystics have transcended religious boundaries in order to experience the presence of God beyond them all. So, how can we always be outsiders looking in? Or is it sometimes necessary to get involved, and come alongside? I believe both can co-exist simultaneously. There is, in fact, never a time when a writer is so fully involved, he or she cannot at some future time stand back and write it. Every experience, no matter how negative or difficult, can prove raw material for a writer because in the act of writing a story you are often drawing upon unconscious material. Novelist Margaret Drabble remarked that fiction writers are good at ‘turning personal humiliations and losses into stories … they recycle and sell their shames, they turn grit into pearls’.

I am particularly fascinated by group dynamics. And in order to learn about those you have to participate. But you can also observe. The truth lies in paradox. Thus the most successful creative people can literally be, in the eyes of the world, on the inside. Of course they have arrived! And yet they can still feel they are always on the outside looking in.

 

 

 

 

The Joy of Honest,Thoughtful Book Reviews

One of the joys of this New Year for me has been reading the reviews of A Passionate Spirit that are starting to come in via Net Galley.

"A Passionate Spirit" by SC Skillman
“A Passionate Spirit” by SC Skillman

It has reaffirmed for me that although a review may not carry a 5 star rating, nevertheless an honest review from a reader who seriously engaged with the novel is of great value.

Charlie G says this:  “I was pulled in, hook, line and sinker, picking up my kindle at every opportunity to find out what happened next and the end was not disappointing.

I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone interested in cults, the supernatural and thrillers in general.

What I especially loved were the author’s notes at the end, talking about her inspirations for the novel, including the Australian cult, The Family, which sent me scurrying off to the google for an hour after I’d finished the book. A great read.”

Maxine (Booklover Catlady) says this on Amazon: “The book tackles the dark side of cults and cult-thinking as well as introducing some spiritual elements, not all that are in the light so to speak either. Who are these people and what is the hold they seem to have on the house? Why are weird paranormal events happening all around? Zoe and her husband and loyal friend Alice are tested, and it’s not easy.

I enjoyed the book very much towards the end as the reveals began and things began to slot into place….  The ending is really good and I liked the fact the pace really picked up and I could feel some thrills at last….. If you like books with some paranormal twists and focus in it you may well enjoy A Passionate Spirit.”

Thank you both to Charlie G and to Maxine.

 

Exciting Plans as Publication Day Draws Closer for “A Passionate Spirit”

Publication date draws ever closer – 28th November!

A Passionate Spirit full Cover
A Passionate Spirit full Cover

My new novel “A Passionate Spirit” has now been sent to print and will be ready in the next couple of weeks.  Meanwhile Matador’s ebook department are converting the manuscript to an ebook.  When the ebook has been uploaded to online retailers, it will also be on Net Galley for 6 weeks. There, keen readers and reviewers can download the new releases free of charge for review.

If you do a lot of fiction reading, and enjoy writing online reviews, and you’re not already a member of Net Galley I’ll be including a Net Galley widget in a blog post closer to publication date, and you can then sign up! Or of course you can head on over to Net Galley now and join straight away.

Remember, word-of-mouth recommendation is critical to an author’s success, and online, that means reviews, and plenty of them!

You’ll be able to post a review on my webpage at Matador as well as on Amazon, Goodreads and my Facebook Page.

Meanwhile I’ve booked a stall at three Christmas fairs in Warwickshire, to sell copies both of my first novel “Mystical Circles” and my newly released book “A Passionate Spirit.” I always enjoy doing local fairs and events; it’s fun to chat to the visitors and to find out what sort of books they like reading, and when they do their reading. I’ve learned some interesting information about different reading habits that way!

In addition, I’ll be doing some book signing events at local bookshops. More about those closer to the time!

A Passionate Spirit About to Go to Print!

Passionate Spirit cover design
Passionate Spirit cover design

My new novel A Passionate Spirit is about to go to print, after several rounds of revision to the typeset proofs.

I’ve recently been contacted by a journalist who sought my permission to quote me in a book he’s writing – and coincidentally I’ve also quoted him in an appendix to my novel! He wanted to quote from a blog post I wrote a couple of years ago, on a subject which is relevant to my story.

It was fortunate that he did contact me because not only was I happy for him to quote me, but was also able to check the appendix over with him and then submit a couple of changes to the typeset proofs.

Publication dates grows ever nearer now (28 November) and the next stage will be for me to check the list of media contacts who’ll receive my Press Release. Then the manuscript will also be converted into an ebook and once approved, will be uploaded to Net Galley.

If you’re a member of Net Galley do seek out A Passionate Spirit there in a few days’ time and download your free copy for review!

Cotswolds Locations to Give Spice and Colour to the World of A Passionate Spirit

Recently I’ve been visiting a number of Cotswolds locations in which key scenes of my novel A Passionate Spirit are set, and locations which are referred to in the story.

The Fleece, Market Place, Cirencester
The Fleece, Market Place, Cirencester

A Passionate Spirit is a paranormal thriller, and some of the events of the story cross the borderline between the real world and the unexplained.

St John the Baptist Church, Market Place, Cirencester
St John the Baptist Church, Market Place, Cirencester

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I enjoy exploring fictional characters in their everyday world and how they respond when they meet the “impossible”.

Graze Bar and Brasserie in Gosditch St, Cirencester
Graze Bar and Brasserie in Gosditch St, Cirencester

Extra spice and colour has been added into my novel because the events take place in real locations.

I hope those residents of Cirencester who read my novel  will perhaps have a different view of some of these locations after they’ve finished the story!

The King's Head Hotel, Market Place, Cirencester
The King’s Head Hotel, Market Place, Cirencester

Fellow Author’s Book Launch in “The Greatest Bookshop in the World”…

Blackwell's Bookshop in Broad Street, Oxford
Blackwell’s Bookshop in Broad Street, Oxford

This weekend I attended the book launch of a fellow author: Philip Davies who has published the first in a series of young adult fantasy books called “Destiny’s Rebel.”

Philip is a member of a writers group I attend, and we were all delighted when he was at last able to announce he’d signed a contract for the publication of his book, after many trials and tribulations with agents and publishers – the kind of thing all writers can relate to. Philip has read aloud to us extracts from his novel during the past few years and we’d all come to know and love his sassy heroine Kat.

Philip held his book launch in Blackwell’s at 48-51 Broad Street in Oxford – and what a wonderful bookshop  it is.

Display for "Destiny's Rebel" at Philip Davies' book launch
Display for “Destiny’s Rebel” at Philip Davies’ book launch

The launch was held in the Norrington Room downstairs – one of the largest and most famous bookselling rooms in the world. Its a vast treasure cave of fascinating books on all possible subjects, on three levels. I was overwhelmed by the amazing abundance of books – it was like Hogwarts Library. And as Philip said in his speech, have we all considered what the world would be like if all the writers stopped writing? Well, there would be a good few books to keep us going for a while – judging by the contents of the Norrington Room – but what would happen if all the readers in the world stopped reading? For writers, readers are our lifeblood.

As you can see from the pictures, Philip’s book launch was a lovely occasion, with a  much-admired cake which looked exactly like his book – except it was larger, and edible!

Celebration book launch cake - Destiny's Rebel
Celebration book launch cake – Destiny’s Rebel

Do take a look at Philip’s book on his website and on Amazon – I’m looking forward to reading my signed copy very soon!

Philip Davies at his book launch
Philip Davies at his book launch

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.

Action Adventure Tropes and Powerful Archetypes in Stories

I love to see how tropes specific to certain genres of story telling can cross boundaries into different genres.

one author's question about story tropes
one author’s question about story tropes

One example came to my mind recently whilst watching our DVD of Tintin and the Adventure of the Unicorn again.

This story centres around “an old Sea Captain’s estate”; we learn from the villain (an unreliable source) of “a shadow of ruin over the family for generations… we’re talking years of drinking and irrational behaviour.”  A few generations back, the villain declares to the hero Tintin, Sir Frances Haddock was “a failure and a hopeless reprobate. He was doomed to fail and he bequeathed that failure to his sons.” As soon as we know this is the opinion of the villain, an expectation is set up in us that the hero will work to quash this negative scenario.

In this story there are two policemen from Interpol who are on the trail of the same thing as Tintin, but with much less insight and inspiration.. They seem like a pair of fools / clowns, but at a later stage of the story they turn up at just the right moment and save the hero’s life.

The central question of the story is: Can Captain Haddock lay his demons in order to claim his inheritance and redeem the family fortunes and lift the intergenerational curse?

I feel that all these themes, beloved of the action adventure genre, can be translated into other genres too.

Genre is a fascinating subject; I write contemporary fiction but it has something of mystery, something of suspense, something of psychological thriller too. In my new novel there is the element of the paranormal and supernatural as well. How do we determine which genre predominates? Traditionally it’s the preserve of the traditional publisher to decide that, and this then becomes the cornerstone of how the novel is marketed and promoted.

In many ways, genre is all about the psychology of the readers, and their expectations.

Successful fiction touches the spirit of the readers in some way. But we cannot ever write to please others; only to please ourselves. And so, ultimately we must write for the love of it, and leave the response of the reader in the realms of the future unknown.

Review of “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green

I’ve just finished reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

The Fault in Our Stars book cover
The Fault in Our Stars book cover

This story of two young cancer “survivors” is a story that eats into your marrow. And if you haven’t seen the film or read the book, and would like to, don’t read on, for my review contains plot spoilers!

Even though I had already seen the film, and knew what was going to happen, I found the book itself utterly compelling. Two young people facing death every day with no religious belief in a conventional sense, told through the honest, sharp, hard-hitting viewpoint of Hazel Grace, a 16-year-old girl living on borrowed time, is very strong.

To me the most interesting character, however, is Peter Van Houten, the ghastly novelist who’s written a fantastic book and won the admiration of millions, yet is destroying himself with alcohol, throwing away all the value of what he’s achieved.

And the message within that particular subplot: don’t expect an author to be like/worthy of the book he/she writes.

The Fault In Our Stars also makes me realise how profoundly annoying sentimental pious language can be to non-religious people, especially in the crises of life; and that leads me to reflect on the power of language itself, and how words can build bridges or destroy, or create wars – as we constantly see in the history and in the current state of our world.

How powerful it was for Hazel to receive Augustus’s letter at the end – and how critical it was that they were Augustus’s own words, and not Peter Van Houten’s. That at least was one decision Van Houten made that was right – even out of his alcoholic haze.

And the story also poses the question: how true is Hazel Grace’s outlook on the world, from the point of view of a young person living with imminent death every day? Her cynicism is a refuge for her, a way of dealing with the pain and the horror of her situation, when even saying things that are horrible, is comforting.

Another thought arising from the story: in our Western society, we all talk so much rubbish around death, it’s frightening. There seems to be a conspiracy of not saying what you really think and feel – especially at religious funerals for non-religious people.

One of the saddest moments for me in the book and in the film was at Augustus’s funeral when Hazel decides to say all the anodyne things she knows her audience will like to hear, instead of saying what she truly feels and thinks about Augustus and his death.

I really do think religious language used carelessly and thoughtlessly at the most critical times of our lives can be a tyranny – when we use it as a mask and a means of self-deception, instead of a way of communicating the truth.

At the end of the story, what is left is love: the love Hazel and Augustus felt for each other despite knowing they had no future. That must be the single most important message of the book – the one impossible fact of love in the face of death.