Book Review: “Paul: a Biography” by Tom Wright

This is a thorough, vivid and enlightening book about Paul the Apostle, otherwise known as St Paul.Paul a Biography by Tom Wright Tom Wright opens up for us the amazing personality of Paul: formidable, intellectual, resilient, passionate, determined, lyrical, energetic and utterly committed – a former Pharisee and a zealous Jew.

At the age of 23, Paul had his revelation on the road to Damascus. And what we often fail to realise is that after his period of blindness, he went off to Arabia for a couple of years to reflect. Then he spent about 2 weeks with Jesus’ disciple Peter. And after that he returned to his hometown Tarsus for ten years during which we know nothing of him.

It was only then that he began his extraordinary mission of travelling throughout the Mediterranean world, teaching and arguing and persuading first Jews, then Gentiles, that Israel’s God had fulfilled the Jews’ greatest hope, and come to the world as a crucified Messiah – a message many Jews found utterly abhorrent.

Reading this book made me reflect once again how much Christendom owes to Paul. I remember from my schooldays how my imagination was caught by the story of Paul and the riot of the silversmiths – when Paul showed up in town and started to draw people away from their belief in the cult of Diana, goddess of the Ephesians – thus causing uproar among the silversmiths whose livelihood depended on the cult.

As we read this biography we see before us a man powerful in intellect and vision, often vulnerable, who suffers from depression and comes very close to being broken in spirit, yet remains inspired in his actions and in his writing. In those letters, he encompasses his over-arching vision of Christ’s supremacy whilst fully acknowledging the reality of our individual lives and experience in this world.

Many of the passages Tom Wright quotes from Paul are his very greatest; and the strength and power of Paul’s words captivate you – words which have given comfort and strength and courage and renewal of faith to millions over the centuries since they were first dictated to the long-suffering scribe in that prison. The psychological astuteness of Paul’s great paradoxes shine out: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness and When I am weak, then I am strong. And Wright makes the point that throughout Paul’s journeys and his incredibly demanding series of lectures and talks, his imprisonments and his floggings, the one thing that cannot be eclipsed is his deep inner coherence.

Throughout his narrative, Tom Wright insists on the fact that the story of the Christian faith is not and never can be a story cut loose from the story of Israel. Towards the end of the book, when we reach Paul’s arrival in Rome, Wright refers to “the end of the world” which, to the Jews of the time, meant the destruction of the Temple (which was carried out by Rome in AD70).

Paul knew, better perhaps than any of his contemporaries, what reactions such a terrible event would produce. Gentile Jesus-followers would say that God had finally cut off those Jews, leaving ‘the church’ as a non-Jewish body. Christianity would become ‘a religion’ to be contrasted to something called ‘Judaism’. Jewish Jesus-followers would accuse their Gentile colleagues of having precipitated this disaster by imagining that one could worship the true God without getting circumcised and following the whole Torah. And Jews who had rejected the message of Jesus would be in no doubt at all. All this had happened because of the false prophet Jesus and his wicked followers, especially Paul who had led Israel astray.

I feel this is a very cogent summary of what, sadly, did indeed happen. But then Tom Wright goes on to examine the reasons for Paul’s ultimate success – firstly from a theological point of view, then humanly speaking, and then from the impact of his letters. Humanly speaking, Paul’s success may be partially accounted for by his phenomenal energy, his blunt, upfront way of telling it as he sees it, no matter who is confronting him. Also, there is his vulnerability: he loved people and they loved him.

Finally – there are his letters: small, bright, challenging documents. Within them, he draws upon all the philosophies and worldviews around him, sharply aware of and encompassing not simply religion or theology but also politics, ancient history, economics and/or philosophy. And his letters cover so many moods and situations. They take our arm and whisper a word of encouragement when we face a new task, they warn us of snakes in the grass, they unveil again and again the faithful, powerful love of the creator God. And all this with 70 or 80 pages of text to his name in the Bible. He succeeded, says Wright, far beyond the other great letter-writers of antiquity such as Cicero and Seneca.

Wright points out that many of the acknowledged great moments in church history – Augustine, Luther, Barth – have come about through fresh engagement with Paul’s work. His legacy has continually generated fresh dividends.

The Stoics, the Epicureans and the Middle Platonists had serious, articulate and in many ways attractive spokespeople… but Paul’s Jesus-focused vision of the one God, creator of all, was able to take on all these philosophies and beat them at their own game.

Finally, as we reach the end of this book, with Paul under house-arrest in Rome, ready to confront Caesar, knowing that he will before too long face death at the hands of the tyrant, Wright makes a chilling observation:

we have seen the electronic revolution produce a global situation just as dramatically new, in its way, as the one the first-century world had experienced with the rise of Rome.

I think we would do well to reflect upon this, and also consider how long the power and  might of the Roman Empire lasted – until it fell.

 

SC Skillman

psychological, paranormal, mystery fiction and inspirational non-fiction

Author of Mystical Circles, A Passionate Spirit and Perilous Path

Book Review: “The Making of Us” by Sheridan Voysey

Here’s a book which should appeal to those of you who feel as if you’ve reached  a point in your lives where all that you hoped for has not been achieved; maybe it seems you have to let go of your dreams; and perhaps you simply don’t know where to go from here.

The Making of Us by Sheridan Voysey

 The Making of Us by Sheridan Voysey is the story of a pilgrimage on foot from the island of Lindisfarne (Holy Island) to the Shrine of St Cuthbert at Durham Cathedral. It’s  also a Christian-inspired self-help book enabling readers to reflect upon their own life journeys. Following the rhythm of the two pilgrims, (the author Sheridan Voysey and his friend DJ), we can visualise the landscape they travel, and feel the spiritual highs and the physical and emotional lows of the journey.

I met Sheridan at an author’s conference a couple of years ago. He told us his story, and spoke about his books and his broadcasting work, and then, having shared his own writing journey, he offered inspiration and guidance to the writers in the audience.

During the day he also offered his expertise as an experienced broadcaster, and asked for volunteers among us, to come up so he could interview us about ourselves and our books. I was one of those who volunteered, and it was a very helpful and enlightening exercise in the art of introducing yourself to a radio audience within a limited time-frame, in the most succinct and engaging way!

Sheridan is originally from Brisbane in Australia, though he now lives in Oxford in the UK.  I find his observations about Brisbane and Sydney particularly poignant as I lived in Brisbane myself for four and a half years before returning to live in the UK.

I have another personal connection with the subject of Sheridan’s book: I visited Lindisfarne (Holy Island) myself three years ago. This island is a very special place, and I felt a strong spiritual presence there; a retreat on the island offers several ways to reflect upon your life and your place in the world and in the universe.  During his promotional videos for the release of this book, Sheridan has included videos of Holy Island and of him walking across to the island from the mainland during low tide.

Through the medium of this physical journey between Lindisfarne and the Shrine of St Cuthbert, Sheridan teaches us much deeper values which may apply to our own lives, especially those of us who may define ourselves by any of the following:

  • who we know
  • our possessions
  • our status
  • our dreams and ambitions
  • our job titles.

Do you, perhaps, suffer from imposter syndrome This is an affliction that often applies to writers – even those whom the world might consider “successful”. Or, do you find that when people ask what you “do”, you respond with what you used to do?

These two pilgrims’ journey through the woods and fields and paths and roads of Northumberland then starts to parallel our own life journeys. During Sheridan’s description of the walk, he reflects upon periods in his own past life story. Places he and DJ visit give rise to memories of people he has known whom he now sees in a new light.

In all this, Sheridan’s purpose seems to be to shift our value systems, our vision of what really matters about our lives here on this earth. He interweaves biographical information about the Celtic saints Aidan and Cuthbert into his pilgrimage, giving us the opportunity to relate aspects of their journeys to our own.

One of the most striking sentences in the book is:

Maybe when identity is lost we can discover who we really are.”

And the most challenging question:

Could you be content having your contribution to the world left unknown or forgotten, yet known by God and pleasing to him?

At the end of the book, Sheridan gives a series of questions to reflect on for each chapter, and several blank journalling pages if you wish to use the book as the basis for a much more in-depth project of self-knowledge. The book could be used as a group resource as well as an individual one; but if you were to study and work with the book as part of a group, that group would need to be one in which you felt safe and secure.

He also offers his own contemporary Creed which you may download from his website sheridanvoysey.com.

I give this book the highest possible rating, 5 stars, and I recommend it to all those of you who resonate with what I’ve written in this review.

I received a complimentary copy of this title in exchange for a fair and honest review.

 

SC Skillman

psychological, paranormal, mystery fiction and inspirational non-fiction

Author of Mystical Circles, A Passionate Spirit, Perilous Path

Book Review: “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman

A very thought-provoking novel told from the point of view of a woman who is “different” from others in her daily life and therefore arouses uncomfortable feelings in others, leading to alienation and loneliness.Eleanor Oliphant cover image

Yet as we progress through the novel, learning more about Eleanor and her life, there are times when we cannot help agreeing with, and being amused by, her observations about those around her, as she misses social cues, communicates with people in a strange, over-formal manner, and shows a lack of knowledge of her own culture.

I found myself totally captivated by the story and by the development of her relationship with the wonderfully patient and kind Raymond, which does give plenty of opportunities for humour, especially as she reports his responses to her. At times their relationship and their conversations reminded me of those between Don and Rosie in the brilliant comic novel “The Rosie Project.”

While Eleanor makes progress in her life, suspense builds as we long to find out the truth of the traumatic events in her childhood which had such a devastating effect upon her. The novel has many moments of wisdom and discernment. I thoroughly recommend this novel for its psychological insight and its wry humour.

“Dream” Book Buyers at Festival of Crafts, Coombe Abbey

Thank you to the “dream buyers” who bought my books on Saturday at the Coombe Abbey Festival of Crafts. 20160910_094309-1 They needed no promotional chat of any kind from me, (which I’ve discovered is counter-productive), studied my banner, reviews and blurbs closely, and recognised that the stories were just their type of thing.20160910_094239-1

Abigail, Jamie and I enjoyed our time at the local author stall in the Craft Marquee at the festival despite the rain and damp – though I feared my books might be starting to curl!

 

Thank you too to another stallholder, Holly Webster, who came over to me to look at my books and to chat about her own urban dark fantasy novels. I’ve looked her up on Amazon and  though the horror element in her novel Blood Borne is much  darker than my usual taste, curiosity may lead me to download on my Kindle!

Thank you also to the lady who came over and bought a copy of “Mystical Circles” and said, “I shall read this today and review it tomorrow.”

Now all I need is for buyers like this to be increased a hundredfold!20160910_09395420160910_094001-120160910_094112-1-120160910_094239-1

Writing, Reading and Reviewing Books For Love

Compassion, respect and kindness are human qualities common to all regardless of any faith position. In this post, I’m making a plea for these three things in the online world of books.

APS on bookshelf at Kenilworth Books 13 Feb 2016 cropped image
Even when readers buy physical books in bricks-and-mortar bookstores they often like to post a review online.

 

Recently I learned from my fellow authors of  something very sad which is happening on Goodreads – which I had previously been totally unaware of. See this article by Anne Rice here.

I have been aware that the dark side of human nature does indeed find outlets for expression on the internet but I had up to now been unconscious of the fact that this affects the world of reviewing books.

In today’s publishing scene, Amazon reviews are of great importance to a writer – though I sometimes wish they weren’t.  The fact remains a new review can lift an author’s spirits, and a lack of reviews can (however mistakenly) feel like rejection.  But it came as a great surprise to me to learn that some people are using their membership of book review sites as an opportunity to express spite, envy and malevolence to others.

I love writing books, reading books and reviewing books.

Every book review  I post online is authentic. It has never occurred to me  to ever post a spurious review or a one star rating simply to hurt someone else.

My own personal rules of book reviewing are as follows:

  1.  I never post one star reviews. If a book genuinely warrants such a rating, I would be most unlikely to even read it all the way through, and I would simply choose not to post a review at all.
  2. I generally give 4 or 5 star reviews and sometimes 3 star. Perhaps I’m over-generous with my star-ratings. Or perhaps it’s down to the fact that I have an instinct to choose books I know I’ll enjoy reading.
  3. I write reviews because I enjoy it; never to criticise, condemn or discourage.

As authors, we write for love –

  1. for love of expressing oneself through the written word, because we have something to say and because we feel compelled to write – regardless of worldly success
  2. for love of creating characters, allowing our imaginations free rein with our created world writing dialogues, entering new worlds.

So I hope that book reviewers would also write for love.

“Love”, by the way, means respect for others, authenticity and honesty: and it includes constructive criticism. It also means reading a book all the way through before writing your opinion of it on a permanent online platform like Goodreads or Amazon.

If you’re an author to whom online reviews are important, I’d love to have your comments on this subject.

Successful Signing at Kenilworth Books

Thank you very much to Judy, the owner of Kenilworth Books, for the success of my author event on Saturday 13 February 2016 in her bookshop in Talisman Square, Kenilworth.

Not only did Judy do a tremendous amount to publicise the event on social media but she created a wonderful eye-catching display in the shop, and placed my book prominently on the bookshelves.  I was pleased to see many familiar faces in the shop that day, as well as several new faces, and I hope the healthy sales will result in some happy readers… and maybe even some more  Amazon reviews!

 

 

From the Launch of A Passionate Spirit to the Writing of the Next Novel

Only four days now until publication day for “A Passionate Spirit“.

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

Instead of a bookshop party I shall be “launching” this novel with visits to  three local Christmas fairs in Warwickshire this year, and then starting in February, I plan to do a series of signings, one in Kenilworth Books, one in Waterstone’s Leamington Spa, and a possible “ghostly” book event with other local authors organised by  Warwick Books in the atmospheric Great Hall in Lord Leycester Hospital in Warwick.

My first event will be the Christmas Fair at Princethorpe College, Rugby, on the day after publication day – Sunday 29th November 2015, from 2.00-4.30pm.  If any of you are local to that area, and have some free time then, do drop in to the fair where I’m sure there will be many wonderful Christmas gift ideas. I’ll have signed copies of the new novel for sale, alongside copies of my debut novel “Mystical Circles. I’d be delighted to see you there!

Meanwhile in the next few days Matador will send me their mailing list for me to check, listing all those who’ll receive my Press Release, and I hope that there will soon be some exciting media coverage to report here, on my website and on my Matador page.

The ebook will also be available for purchase from all online stores from 28th November, and for six weeks it will be possible to download a copy free from Net Galley for review.

And then… back to the next novel. Several chapters have already been written, and in the last few days I’ve been noting down some fresh inspiration!

 

 

 

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!

Progress on Marketing of A Passionate Spirit

I’ve just heard from Matador that my front cover for my new novel A Passionate Spirit is now approved, and I’ve just seen the final drafts of my marketing material for the novel.

A Passionate Spirit, the new paranormal thriller from SC Skillman, due to be published by Matador on 28 November 2015
A Passionate Spirit, the new paranormal thriller from SC Skillman, due to be published by Matador on 28 November 2015
My “Advance Information” sheet will shortly be mailed out to retailers, library suppliers and local bookshops.   My Press Release marketing will begin once copies of the printed book are available, when the marketing controller at Matador will contact me with the PR list that they’ll draw up for my book. All very exciting!
In addition I’ve just received back a report on my copy-edited ms from one of my 4 beta readers, with some useful insights and observations which will help me tweak the novel and sharpen it up, even now, at the last moment before it goes for typesetting!
I’ll soon have some promotional A Passionate Spirit Bookmarks ready too which I’m looking forward to being able to hand out to any of my target readers – those who love reading paranormal thrillers!

Witty Insight into the London Art World

For all those who’ve wondered how one starts to get noticed as an artist in London, and is in the mood for a light-hearted approach to the subject I can recommend a book which might have escaped my notice if I hadn’t recently met the author at a conference.

witty look at the London art world by Emily Benet
witty look at the London art world by Emily Benet

Emily Benet first posted her book chapter by chapter on Wattpad and had such a good response from readers that she came to the attention of Harper Impulse, who published the book as “The Temp”.

I bought the book after listening to Emily talking about social media for authors at the recent conference at the University of Leicester. Emily certainly incorporates her knowledge of social media into this novel.

I learned from her that the book was originally called “Spray Painted Bananas”, and I believe that was a much more original title. Purely from the cover design and title that Harper Impulse have given this novel I would have identified it as generic chick-lit and probably not have picked it out in a book shop.

And yet, reading the novel, I find it much more than chick-lit. It gives a delightful and witty insight into the London art world, and I found myself thinking of the main protagonist, Amber, as a budding Tracy Emin.

It’s so easy to look at installations in the Tate Modern and think, Oh I could do that. But the reality of getting yourself known as an artist is far more complex and challenging. Emily Benet has great fun, not only with the motivations and behaviour of those who visit art galleries for private views, but also with the ways in which an artist may start to become known, particularly in London.

I loved this story, found the characters engaging and entertaining, especially Amber’s flatmate Egg, and enjoyed the rom com element as well. Highly recommended for a fun read.

For some of my previous posts on the contemporary art world, see https://scskillman.com/2013/10/09/what-do-we-do-about-art-theres-always-a-little-shop-at-the-end/ and http://ezinearticles.com/?Inspiration-for-Creative-Writers-From-Artists&id=6783241