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

Book Review: Born Survivors by Wendy Holden

This is the story of how three young women – Anka, Rachel and Priska – hid their pregnancies from Dr Josef Mengele on the ramp at Auschwitz, and went on to suffer in the concentration camps and give birth to their babies just before Liberation in April 1945. All three of those babies then met for the first time at the age of 65 and became very close because of the astonishing similarity of circumstances in which they had been born.

Born Survivors by Wendy Holden
Born Survivors by Wendy Holden

I’ve read several books about and by Holocaust survivors, and yet each time I read the detailed account of an individual’s experiences I feel the horror afresh. This account, brilliantly told by Wendy Holden, spares none of the terrible details; the one thing that keeps you going, as the reader, through the grotesque inhumanity of the Nazis, is the knowledge that “this story is only being told because the three women and their babies survived.”

As survivor Esther Bauer put it: “The first twenty years we couldn’t talk about it. For the next twenty years no-one wanted to hear about it. Only in the next twenty years did people start asking questions.”

When reading these books I have two immediate responses. One is to try to imagine how I would have coped with those kind of circumstances, and how I would have behaved. The second response is always to ask what this tells us about the nature of human beings,  of good and evil, hope and despair.

This time, I had the following thought:

The essential requirement for “hope” seems to be “macro” thinking. For many of us, when life’s “normal” we live our little lives with our small goals. But when Force Majeure intervenes, throwing us into a survival situation – be that earthquake, tsunami, terrorist atrocity, or Nazi Holocaust – our goals shift from “micro” thinking to “macro” thinking, at the point where lives and hopes and dreams are torn apart – a shift takes place. A new goal replaces the old: to survive; or to know that your story might be known in the future. And these three women would have hoped that their as yet unborn babies would be the living embodiment of that.

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.

Book Review: “Miracles” by Eric Metaxas

This book was recently recommended to me: Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life.  I’ve now reading it and found it a fascinating book ideal for discussion in a group.

Miracles by Eric Metaxas
Miracles by Eric Metaxas

Metaxas is renowned as the author of a much-admired book on Dietrich Boenhoffer (published in 2011). In this new book, he turns his attention to a vitally important subject: our worldview and how it affects our perception of reality.

In the first half of the book Metaxas examines the rules by which we may determine that an event is “a miracle”.

One of his most compelling early chapters is about the miracle of life on earth. As a counterpoint to Stephen Hawking’s observation that We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star Metaxas gives us a taster of the vast number of  fine-tuned characteristics which are necessary to support life. As I read this chapter it put me in mind of one of my own favourite quotes, which comes from Joseph Conrad’s novel Lord Jim:

This is Nature – the balance of colossal forces… the mighty Cosmos in perfect equilibrium produces – this.

Beyond this, Metaxas goes on to consider the picture of God breaking through into the natural world with miracles, like a great tree bursting through concrete. He examines the questions of God’s apparent “selectivity” – why do some people’s lives benefit from miraculous intervention, and others not?

In the second half of the book Metaxas gives accounts of miracles which happened to himself and to people he knows personally. These stories of miracles are robust and compelling. Some are disturbing, creepy and challenging. Near the end of the book he relates a 9/11 story which holds you transfixed. And he ends with a challenge both intellectual and spiritual.

I found this book thrilling, uplifting and enormously encouraging. Throughout my life there have been times when I’ve instinctively felt something to be true, without having the necessary resources of intellectual argument to lay it on the table before others. In this book, Metaxas encourages us to fully engage our minds on a subject which is far too easy to talk or think about in a “loose” or “woolly” way.

If you possibly can, find time to read this book and to consider what Metaxas says.

 

Inspirational Tale of African Girl Who Triumphs Through Adversity

I’ve just read and reviewed a powerful and affecting story on Kindle, Eleven Miles by Lance Greenfield.

Eleven Miles by Lance Greenfield
Eleven Miles by Lance Greenfield

I understand the novel was inspired by a village girl, Boikanyo Phenyo, from the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana. The life prospects for girls born into such circumstances are limited: school till the end of primary education, get married, have five or six children, die too early. That is unless you can gain high education. This lady walked eleven miles to secondary school, and eleven miles home, every day for five years just so that she could go on to university.

“Eleven Miles” shows how adversity can, in the right circumstances, sharpen up the resolve to succeed. Through this account of the teenage years of Boi, a gifted young girl from Botswana, Greenfield provides us with a strong contrast to the “entitled” mind-set that comfortable Western culture can sometimes engender.

“Eleven Miles” shows us how one girl builds on her gifts and meets the challenges of adversity to achieve her dreams of academic and sporting excellence, The adversities she must face include having to find enough money for school fees from the earnings of numerous family members; the lack of transport for the 11 mile journey to school, meaning her only option is to go on foot; added to the necessity of having to collect water and firewood on top of this every day when she gets home from school; and all this in the context of not having enough to eat (a hunk of bread for breakfast, and the same again for lunch). In addition to these, Boi must face cruelty, injustice and tragedy, before she wins through to her prize.

Despite the inspirational quality of the story, I never really felt I understood where or how Boi had gained her phenomenal determination and focus. She clearly has a gift which can never be explained but I wished I could have had a much deeper insight into the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of her character; this would helped me feel her eventual triumph more intensely.

Despite this, the strength of the story itself shines through, and I find myself haunted by it, and the message of the book stays with me.

Do download the novel now; it’s a simple, very readable tale which I recommend to you! Half of the profits from the sale of this novel go to Boikanyo Phenyo’s  project to buy a school bus for the villages of her home area.

Book Review: The Beatles Lyrics by Hunter Davies

Having received this book as a Christmas gift, substantial 375-page tome that it is, I devoured it in a few days.

The Beatles Lyrics The Unseen Story Behind Their Music by Hunter Davies
The Beatles Lyrics The Unseen Story Behind Their Music by Hunter Davies

I found the book utterly compelling. Hunter Davies starts by describing his search among collectors, companies and auction houses for what must surely rank among the most valuable “scruffy scraps of paper” in the world: those the Beatles first wrote their original lyrics down on. A good proportion of these got thrown away by the Beatles then disposed of by the cleaners at Abbey Road Studios but several of those which didn’t ended up in the possession of certain key individuals who wish to keep the huge value of their possessions secret.

Hunter Davies himself offered his own personal collection of handwritten lyrics to the British Library on permanent loan and they now reside in the Manuscript Room alongside the Magna Carta, Shakespeare and Wordsworth.

Alongside photos of the handwritten lyrics, some on the backs of letters and birthday cards and envelopes, Davies gives an account of how the words were chosen, and what they mean, with some intriguing memories from his own personal contacts with the Beatles and with Brian Epstein. In so doing, he tells the story of the Beatles’ lives as musicians and songwriters entirely in and through the lyrics, the way they were composed, and the way in which their writers developed personally between 1957 and 1969.

During his observations on the songs he draws out not only the intended sense of them (if there was any – and sometimes John Lennon would deliberately write nonsense to defy the intellectual analysts) but also the unconscious meanings in the words, what they reveal of their composers’ inner lives. On one occasion, referring to some of George Harrison’s lyrics, Davies observes: “Perhaps George fooled himself, harbouring a subconscious fear that he was not admitting at the time or even aware of.”

Davies also examines the way the words emerged from the Beatles’ own life experience. I found his insights into Paul McCartney and John Lennon all the more moving because a lot of those biographical details held high emotional charge for me at the time. I became a Beatles fan at an early, and very impressionable, age – too young to be allowed to go to any of their concerts. Nevertheless I was devoted to them; every detail of their lives reported in the media, I followed avidly.

But there were several things I misunderstood.For instance, by the time “Beatles For Sale” came out, the acquisition of a new Beatles LP was so precious to me, so desirable, that I would never have guessed this title emerged from the Beatles’ own feelings of almost unbearable pressure at the commercial expectations being laid upon them.

One of the most engrossing aspects of the book is Davies’ reflection on the nature of success, and upon the creative process, often erratic and uneven. For instance, he recounts journalist Kenneth Allsop encouraging John to show his feelings more in his pop lyrics, closing the gap between his literary outpourings and his pop lyrics. And writing song lyrics is comparable in one sense to writing a novel, something Davies is quite explicit about, showing the way writers may unwittingly betray attitudes never consciously intended. “Novelists in particular,” writes Davies, “often create situations on paper, out of their imagination, which then come true.”

Davies gives a sensitive and penetrating analysis of John and his angst in particular, for, as he notes, “the discovery that success is all rather hollow, that you are still alone with yourself, can of course lead to self-destruction through excess be it drink or drugs.”

On page 234 Davies notes: “This was their philosophy: you could do these things, if you really wanted. There was no need to follow the rules or be bossed around.” How I identify with that ideal. Yet the truth is that this can only really apply to creatives when they have established themselves and become successful. As Hunter Davies says, “it helped that by this time they were multi-millionaires who had already made their mark in the music business.” And they’d made their mark through following Brian Epstein’s rules and letting him boss them around.

To conclude, I found studying this book to be a very intense experience. As we see the lyrics developing from boy-girl love songs fixated with promises to “be true” into richer, profounder and often more disturbing lyrics, as we study how the Beatles’ lives became more complex and their experience of the world deepened, it’s almost like seeing a reflection of our own lives, moving on from naivety, simplicity and idealism, through all the mistakes, folly, betrayal, loss and disillusion, along with the flashes of wonder, fun, hope, and joy.