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

Posts tagged ‘book’

Book Review: “How To Craft Superbad Villains: 13 Steps to Evil” by Sacha Black

I found this book an excellent resource for writers, especially for those of us who may be at the stage I was in at the time of reading – nearing the end of the first draft of my WIP, Director’s Cut – which I have now finished.How To Craft Superbad Villains by Sacha Black

Sacha Black equips the writer with plenty of tools to sharpen up and deepen their understanding of villainy. She writes with the knowledge and insight of one who is trained and qualified in Psychology. At times I found her handling of the subject almost too dense and over-analytical – especially in areas such as complexes, which has been the subjec tof one of my past blog posts , based on the writings of Carl Jung.

But then I realised that I could only benefit from Sacha Black’s close attention to this subject; what she writes here repays careful study, because it is so important for a fiction author to understand exactly what constitutes villainy. She is particularly good on the subject of mental health in fictional villains; as she rightly points out, it is no good giving one’s villain a mental health issue and then ascribing their villainy to that issue. She helps the reader focus on how complex the human psyche is and reminds us once again that as writers we must be faithful students of human nature. In addition, her own personal style is very lively, which makes the book more accessible, too, to a popular audience. I highly recommend Sacha’s book.

To see my own book on the writing craft, Perilous Path – a selection of articles containing tips, insights and reminders for writers, including a chapter on how to develop villainous characteristics in a fictional characer – click here

To read my own series of blog posts on how the theories of Carl Jung can help novelists, here are a few for you to dip into:

The collective unconscious

Complexes

Universal Archetypes

Synchronicity

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.

 

 

 

 

Echoes of “A Passionate Spirit” in Mystical Tales from British Folklore

Book Review:  “Faeries, Elves and Goblins: The Old Stories” by Rosalind Kerven, published by the National Trust

Faeries, Elves and Goblins by Rosalind Kerven

I bought this book recently in a National Trust gift shop, and found it captivating. Rosalind Kerven explores the raw material from which many of our great fantasy novelists have derived their archetypes. She includes “mystical tales of faery royalty, mischievous goblins, helpful house-elves, changelings and enchantments across the British isles”, with spotlight features on “faery folklore, faery morals, the various faery tribes, and spells and dealings between faeries and mortals”. As a paranormal thriller writer I loved this wonderful survey of centuries of folklore and faery mythology in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The book reminded me too of why I was so fascinated by the idea of supernatural malevolence hidden beneath mystical beauty (a common theme in faery lore and in Arthurian legends) which was part of my inspiration for “A Passionate Spirit.”COVER DESIGN A PASSIONATE SPIRIT pub Matador

Rosalind Kerven covers all the major themes in traditional tales of the faery realm, including  what she describes as “typical Faery perversity”, spells that are both mischievous and malevolent, and the toxic nature of any deals struck by a faery with a mortal. Reading these tales reminds us that any mortal who ultimately comes out well from dealing with a faery, is extremely lucky!

Shakespeare had it exactly right with his fairies in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, showing them having fun with and mocking the folly of the human beings, then putting things to rights once they have tired of their sport, wryfully signing off with the words, “If we shadows have offended…” In widespread stories down through the centuries, faeries are shown behaving towards mortals rather like a supernatural gang of brigands running a protection racket. These tales made me reflect upon how much they say of the life experience of their creators; an explanation for the changing fortunes we all encounter in this world.

There is so much here that we can identify with on the level of our own unconscious: “The transformation of a familiar path into an endlessly looping labyrinth” – for which a well-known antidote is to “remove one’s coat, turn it inside out and put it on again”; the experience of being “pixy-led”; the idea of obtaining “faery sight” which reveals a parallel world. I can see from this book how deeply influenced JK Rowling was by British folklore, in the Harry Potter novels: Dobby is set free when his master gives him an item of clothing; Harry is deposited as a baby on the Dursleys’ doorstep, by magical agency; and the idea of veritaserum, to name just three examples among countless others.

Highly recommended for adults interested in a survey of archetypal themes in folklore and mythology, though not suitable as a storybook for young children; they are best introduced to fairy tales and folklore through the many other books aimed specifically at their age-groups.

I’ll be at Kenilworth Books Signing Copies of A Passionate Spirit on Saturday 13th February 2016

Kenilworth Books is one of our lovely local independent bookshops and I’m happy to announce I’ll be there signing copies of my new novel on Saturday 13th February.

If you’re local to the Leamington Spa, Warwick, Coventry and Kenilworth area and you’re around on Saturday 13th, I’d love to see you in the shop. I’ll be there from 11am to 2pm

I launched my previous novel Mystical Circles in Kenilworth Books in 2010. The then owners Frances and Keith were very supportive to me, and I’m delighted that Judy, the new owner, is equally friendly and encouraging.

If you love independent bookshops, and you’d like to visit Talisman Square, Kenilworth on Saturday 13th, and you like the sound of A Passionate Spirit, do drop in and see me between 11am and 2pm.  I’d love to meet you and be able to chat to you there and hopefully sign a copy of A Passionate Spirit for you.

The Great Gatsby – a Capacity for Hopefulness, Sparkling Decadence, and Tragedy That Touches Us All

The Great  Gatsby, written in 1925,  is one of the greatest American novels.

The Great Gatsby book

The Great Gatsby book

Yet its author, F.Scott Fitzgerald, died in 1940 believing himself a failure.

The Great Gatsby has been among my top favourites ever since I first read it, for my Contemporary American Literature course at university.

Two days ago I saw the latest  movie of The Great Gatsby, and was reminded once again of how powerful this story is.

Back in my undergraduate days, such was the effect of this novel on me, that one evening in the bar, when asked what I’d like to drink,  I requested mint julep.

My friend looked at me, and said reflectively, “they never even got round to drinking it, did they?”

And we both knew we were talking about that tragic scene in the Plaza Hotel, New York, in the later pages of Scott Fitzgerald’s novel.

I loved the new movie of the novel. Leonardo di Caprio and Toby Maguire were both excellent in the roles of Jay Gatsby and Nick Carroway.

And I asked myself yet again, Why does this novel touch me – and many others – so deeply?

For the answer to that, I must point you to one of the bloggers  I follow. Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking writes: “A good book should return you to your reality better able and prepared to cope with new challenges“.

When the movie ended an audible sigh arose in the cinema – the kind of sigh people give which means, I recognise this as truth, in my own life.

These were the words that gave rise to the sigh:

They were careless people…they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back to their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together.

One of the most outstanding things about the book for me is the sheer poetic beauty in Scott Fitzgerald’s writing.  Phrases from this book have stayed with me over the years, without any need to return to the book to check the quote:

Daisy and Gatsby looked at me  remotely, possessed by intense life

and

Gatsby bought a mansion where he dispensed starlight to casual moths

and finally, the famous end to the novel:

so we  beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Such is the symbolic power of the story, taking us from the immense wealth of a Long Island millionaire  lifestyle into the industrial dumping ground of the Valley of Ashes,watched over by the huge eyes of a long-forgotten oculist, Dr TJ Eckleberg, that I believe The Great Gatsby is the kind of book we should be  reading for our times, not pure  escapism.

As my fellow blogger, Vivienne Tufnell, notes, there is a tendency for people to respond to life’s toughness by “turning more to entertainment that is pure escapism.”

I believe the exact opposite can be said of The Great Gatsby, and that is why this powerful story endures.

Read The Great Gatsby for a tragic contrast between careless hedonism and accumulation of vast wealth, versus harsh reality. But don’t read it for escapist romance.

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