Genre: What is it Exactly?

On  2nd September on the second day of my Mystical Circles blog tour,Blog tour ad as at 26 August 2017 blogger Jenny in Neverland hosted a guest post from me on her blog.

This is part of a series when I shall be re-blogging those articles from that blog tour. So today’s post is the article Jenny first published, called:

Genre: what is it exactly?

As a writer, I believe we should be willing to explore new areas, and to step outside our comfort zone. And that applies very closely to us as readers too. I read a wide variety of books, both non-fiction, and fiction of all genres. I admit I do like psychological insight but I believe all good writers in every genre should incorporate that in their novels anyway.

I find that the way I think about genre is influenced by my own eclectic reading habits. I did have quite a bit of trouble trying to work out what genre I was writing in myself. Writers are given an enormous amount of advice these days, mostly from online sources, and amongst them is this adage: Write the kind of book you most love reading. But if you read a wide variety of books, how does this help?

Another piece of advice we find floating around the internet (perhaps propagated by the commercial publishing fraternity) is that an author should, when writing a pitch to a literary agent, be clear what genre he or she is working in, so the agent reading the letter can immediately think, “Whereabouts in the bookshop will this book will go?” Another piece of advice suggests you should name a few established authors to whom your novel could be compared.

All this is anathema to me – and to many other writers, I suggest. Yet we are forced into this kind of mindset.

So now, for the benefit of the readers of this article, I shall say that Mystical Circles is psychological suspense with a flavour of paranormal.

An example of my willingness to go into new areas is my recent attendance of the UK Games Expo, as one of five writers on the Authors Stand; and for a while, we were alongside a bestselling author and his legion of fans queuing up for signed copies: Ian Livingstone, the successful creator of the fighting Fantasy gamebooks series. So what do fighting fantasy and roleplay games have to do with books such as the ones I write?

I admit I knew nothing of the UK Games Expo until I was invited by the organiser, author Richard Denning, through his father John (a friend of mine) to come and exhibit/sell my books on the Authors Stall all weekend last June at the Birmingham NEC. It was a fabulous opportunity. The gaming world is one that I haven’t paid too much attention to, but the whole weekend was a revelation.

The atmosphere was wonderful, there was so much fun and good humour. I met and made contact with new authors, I had the chance to chat and learn better ways to promote myself as an author, and there was a great sense of camaraderie. The gaming world is one in which a vast number of “tropes” flourish: adventure, quests, danger, violence, fantasy, history, steampunk, sci fi…

I gained some new insights into how my own work is indeed using some of those tropes, for instance, the predicament of the main protagonist as she finds herself in a deadly situation from which she must escape. Hidden chambers and secret passageways and dark rooms all find their place in the gaming world. There was an unexpected connection for me.

Mystical Circles is set in the real world but the world Craig inhabits moves further and further into a world of impossible ideals – and the paranormal, an area in which he has special gifts. Hidden chambers and secret passageways and dark rooms all act as symbols for states of mind – and thus their connection to the world of psychological suspense fiction. And finally, family relationships, which play a strong role in my novel. Problematic relationships between father and son, between two sisters, between twin brothers, between mother and son… I find these provide a fertile ground upon which the action of my novels can be played.

Which leaves me still with a fluid situation as regards genre; though now I write psychological suspense, the paranormal element is getting stronger, and maybe in the future I could move into areas of fantasy and magical realism. All is possible.

BOOK COVER REVEAL: NEW LUMINARIE EDITION OF MYSTICAL CIRCLES, THE PREQUEL TO A PASSIONATE SPIRIT

I’m delighted to announce that I can now show you the Cover Reveal for my new Luminarie edition of Mystical Circles!Luminarie Banner-03.png

It’s been a long and sometimes fraught journey with the cover designers but I’m very excited with the final result!

Read two reviews here from young adult authors:

Intense Psychological Drama in a Beautiful Setting

First of all, I fell in love with the beautiful house where the story is set, and wanted to go there immediately! Against this backdrop, a tense and intriguing psychological drama is worked out, with new twists and revelations every day. The complex and often damaged characters gathered together react and interact more often than not in ways that surprise and sometimes shock, and you are kept guessing about the outcomes of some of the relationships until the very end. This was an intense and compelling story with many twists and turns in the plot to keep you reading. (Eleanor Watkins, YA author )

Psychological Suspense That Doesn’t Disappoint

The scene is an idyllic Cotswold farmhouse, where a mixed bag of needy people live in a community. Enter journalist Juliet, seeking to save her younger sister from the clutches of what she considers a cult, with its charismatic and enigmatic leader, Craig. Like Juliet, we are drawn into the claustrophobic lives of the characters in this “Wheel of Love” and find ourselves unable to leave. As the emotional and psychological tensions crackle and ignite against each other, it’s like watching a slow-motion train crash of the conflicting personalities, desires, jealousies and hurts. If you like your drama filled with psychological suspense, with a hint of the paranormal, then you won’t be disappointed. I’m pleased to see there’s a sequel, A Passionate Spirit.  (Philip S Davies, YA author)

So without more ado here is the book cover for Mystical Circles.

 

Mystical Circles 9781999707309 Full Cover Final Version4

Blurb:

“Hi, you in crowded, stressed old London from me in the peaceful, perfect Cotswolds. Massive change of plan. I’m in love. Craig’s gorgeous, sexy, intelligent. Paradise here. Staying forever.”

Juliet, concerned that her younger sister has fallen in love with the charismatic Craig, leader of the Wheel of Love, sets off for the Cotswolds to investigate, fearful that Zoe has become entangled with a religious cult.

She arrives at Craig’s community hoping to rescue Zoe. But  intrigues, liaisons and relationships flare and flourish or fizzle out quickly within this close circle, and despite her reservations, Juliet is drawn into the Wheel of Love… with completely unforeseen consequences.

The new Luminarie edition of Mystical Circles is available as from 5 September 2017. It will be available online and in all good bookstores.

And I am doing a special promotion for a limited period for UK readers of this blog. Copies of the paperback can be pre-ordered direct from me via the Contact Me section of this blog, at 20% discount from the RRP of £8.99, and free of p& p. There will be 10 copies of the book available through this promotion to the first 10 purchasers, and all I ask is that you post your review on Amazon as soon as you’ve read the book!

 

 

Find Me on the Authors Stand at the UK Games Expo 2017 in Birmingham

From 2nd to 4th June 2017 logo for UK Games Expothere will be a big event for games players and lovers of fantasy, thrillers and roleplay at the NEC Birmingham.

There’ll be four authors at the Expo, of whom I am one. Click here to find out more about the authors Jonathan Green, Richard Denning, Gareth Baker and myself.

You’ll find us on Stand F11.

We’d love to see you at this exciting event! Click here to find out more about the show and how to book tickets.

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’?

How Many Books Do You Read in a Year?

Recently I thought it would be fun and interesting to ask this question of fellow-writers on our own dedicated Facebook group, having just learned from Goodreads that I’d reviewed or  rated 28 books this year. a-reader

I made a fascinating discovery.  Annual reading achievement varied enormously. I thought I was doing quite well at approximately 30 – and I learned via an online search that a “voracious” reader may get through 30-50 books a year but across the general population it is a very different picture: “According to a YouGov survey, the mean number of books read for pleasure by adults in the UK is around 10 each year, and the median is around 4.”

The answers I received from fellow-writers  took me by surprise: and not least, because I was humbled and impressed by how the majority of these individuals managed to fit in so much reading alongside writing their own books!

“78 – less than two books a week, which doesn’t seem very much at all to me.”

“No more than 5”.

“In 2016 I read 69 – years ago I might read up to 100 a year. One month I notched up 19 books.”

“About 36.”

“About 12.”

“49 and some other started but not finished.”

“Over 100.”

“120 last year – as at 8 January this year I’ve already read 7.”

“55 from the library alone so probably nearer 70 or 80.”

“Going back through my Kindle orders, 54 not including ones I gave up on or old books I re-read.”

“32 according to Goodreads.”

“Between 15 and 30.”

“Probably about 12-15.”

“175 last year and above 150 for each year since 2011 when I started tracking on Goodreads.”

“55.”

I love to read a book which is a totally absorbing page-turner, a book which you can’t wait to get back to. It’s one of life’s greatest joys. I’ve just finished reading The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry and I found it a real struggle to read, it’s so slow-paced and (I think) self-consciously literary. I bought it in Waterstones, attracted by the beautiful cover and the interesting blurb. I was determined to persist with it to the end because I’d spent good money on it but felt cheated of that wonderful “must get back to it as soon as possible” feeling with a good book.
When I mentioned this on Facebook, I liked this response:
Books like that become loo books, read a page or two at a time. A friend sent me a non-
fiction title I’d expressed interest in and I can only stomach it a few pages at a time. I’m only persisting because it was a gift and because there is some useful info amid the dross but it’ll get a scant two stars and the fact that I’m only reviewing as a warning to others taken in by the blurb.”
What do you think? Do you know how many books you read in a year? And what’s your view of “fast” and “slow” readers? Does it matter? and does it impact upon the quality of your response to the story, or your reviews, if you do review books (or discuss them at a book club). I’d love to have your comments!

Lovely Atmosphere at King Edward VI School Christmas Fair Book Signing

at I enjoyed selling and promoting signed copies of my two thriller suspense novels Mystical Circles and A Passionate Spirit and meeting readers at King Edward VI School Christmas Fair, Stratford-upon-Avon last Saturday.author-sc-skillman-at-booksigning-at-king-edward-vi-school-christmas-fair-sua-3-dec-2016

A pianist and choir entertained us with carols, the prefects carried our bags from the car and brought us tea and coffee during the fair, and there was also a fabulous raffle with wonderful prizes like an overnight stay and dinner and wine for two at the Lygon Arms, Broadway… very appropriate for the fact that the final scene of A Passionate Spirit is set in in the Lygon Arms, Broadway. Sadly though I didn’t win the prize!

I chatted with readers and one of them said “This looks just the sort of thing for me for January reading…” also I found once again that men seem to be the first to take initiative in browsing and then buying my books, even persuading their wives to buy them! What is this saying about my target audience?..MC & APS on display at King Edward VI School SUA 3 Dec 2016.jpg

We’ve heard it said before but it always stays true – books make an ideal Christmas present… if, of course, you know the reading taste of your gift recipient!

Happy reading over Christmas and into the New Year.

A Passionate Spirit and The Cult That Stole Children

A couple of years after I left university, whilst on a spiritual search, I went to a lecture at the Royal Overseas League in London, met, chatted to and  became captivated by an inspirational speaker: a Physics professor who wrote spiritual books. His name was Dr Raynor Johnson.

a-pool-of-reflections-by-dr-raynor-johnsonSubsequently I read and loved all his books, beginning with his latest: “A Pool of Reflection”. I later wrote him a letter, to which he responded with a very kind and encouraging reply from his home at Santiniketan, Ferny Creek, Melbourne Australia.

Santiniketan later became notorious as the first premises Raynor Johnson made available for the use of the then beautiful and charismatic  Anne Hamilton-Byrne, the cult leader, and where she gave her spiritual talks, and started to gather her followers.  At the time, of course, I had no knowledge of this.

I wrote about him and about the cult with which his name has now become ineradicably linked in this blog post: The Curious Case of the Kindly Professor and the Cunning Cult Leader. I also used the story of the cult in my novel  A Passionate Spirit (pub. Matador 2015).

This cult is particularly relevant to my interests in writing A Passionate Spirit, because of the way in which the cult leader uses beauty and charisma to win devoted followers, whom she then indoctrinates with her teachings; and the cult preys upon the young and the vulnerable.  In addition the cult won the support of many intellectuals and people occupying high professional positions. It is a case which is of vital fascination to a writer of psychological thrillers and suspense.

Later I was contacted by journalist Chris Johnston, who has published articles about the cult in  The Age, Melbourne and in the Sydney Morning Herald. He wanted to make reference to my experiences, and to quote from my blog post, in a book he was writing about the cult.

You can watch the story of this cult on BBC TV tonight Tuesday 29 November 2016 in a documentary called:  “Storyville: The Cult That Stole Children.” It is being broadcast at 9pm.

M paranormal thriller novel A Passionate Spirit inspired these remarks from a Net Galley reviewer, CE Gray:  “as Natasha and James started to take hold of both the centre, and the people within it, the story picked up pace and for me became a page turner. I needed to know, were there supernatural forces at work? Was Zoe imagining it? Were Natasha and James just fraudsters? Was this a story about a cult?

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.

A Passionate Spirit is available to buy online and in bookshops.

Book Signings in Warwickshire this Christmas

I shall be out and about in Warwickshire 20160910_094309-1signing copies of my two thriller suspense novels Mystical Circles and A Passionate Spirit at three Christmas Fairs in the next few weeks:

Kingsley School Hall

Beauchamp Ave

Leamington Spa CV32 5RD

11am-2pm Saturday 26th November

 

Princethorpe College

Princethorpe

nr Rugby CV23 9PX

2-4.20pm  Sunday 27th November

and

King Edward VI School Hall

Church St

Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 6HB

12 noon – 3pm Saturday 3rd December

 

There will be lots of beautiful craft items and quirky Christmas gifts for you to browse, plus plenty of delicious refreshments. I’ll be selling my books at a special discount:  £8 for one book, £14 if you buy both together. And for people who like books signed by the author, you’ll have that benefit as well!  And remember, books make an ideal Christmas gift.

It would be lovely to see some of you there!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“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

What does Eadfrith, artist-scribe of the Lindisfarne Gospels, have to teach creative writers and artists today?

Nothing much, you may think – because Eadfrith was a seventh century monk in a monastery on an island, and we live in the fast, materialistic, time-pressured world of 2016.

20160822_205715
sunset on Lindisfarne

I’ve just spent three days on Lindisfarne (otherwise known as Holy Island), just off the Northumberland coast, where Eadfrith sat in the monastery scriptorium and scribed and decorated the Lindisfarne Gospels every day for two years between  696 and 698 AD, in order to commemorate the elevation of St Cuthbert’s relics. 

So why is it that the book he created is so revered and has such a hold on our imagination now? – apart  from its age and the wonderful fact of its survival?

20160822_140835
Display in the Lindisfarne Heritage Centre, Holy Island

I believe it’s because of the dedication, the patient concentration and the painstaking artistry that breathes out from the pages, and because of what inspired its creation: love and devotion.

Eadfrith created it “for the glory of God and St Cuthbert”.

St Cuthbert himself inspired so much reverence because he was a holy man, at one time bishop of Lindisfarne, who died as a hermit in 687 on Inner Farne (which I recently visited), and around whose body many miracles occurred.

20160821_120524
Sculpture in St Mary’s Church Holy Island, showing the monks who carried Cuthbert’s body to escape from Viking raiders

The astonishing story of his body, which failed to decay for many years, records how he was carried for several decades by faithful monks around Northumberland, to escape Viking attack, before finally it was laid to rest in the spot over which Durham Cathedral was built. You can visit St Cuthbert’s Tomb in Durham Cathedral, a place which has a strong spiritual resonance and atmosphere of holiness.

The glorious book which is the Lindisfarne Gospels is a testament to patience, concentration, love and devotion. preface to St Mark's Gospel, Lindisfarne Gospels

For us now, to gaze at, or to work with, the patterns Eadfrith painted is a pathway to peace and joy – hence the popularity of Celtic colouring-in books for adults, partly because the act of colouring-in forces you to pay close attention and eliminate all distractions. Celtic designs based on the Lindisfarne gospels pop up everywhere20160829_112732 – here’s an image of my lovely metal bookmark displaying Eadfrith’s designs – notice particularly his ornamental birds (Lindisfarne has long been a paradise for birds, so Eadfrith had plenty of them to model his designs on).

20160821_120410
Detail from the Lindisfarne Gospels, in St Mary’s Church Holy Island

In creating the ornamental designs, Eadfrith needed to pay minute attention to the geometrical foundations and symmetry of the overall design – very little was left to chance or the “inspiration of the moment.”

The book he created is now revered not just for the beauty and skill within its pages, I believe, but because that beauty is a physical representation on this earth of a spiritual reality – goodness, peace, patience, holiness and love.

Eadfrith had to source, prepare, or make from scratch everything he used – the parchments of vellum; the pen from a thick reed or quill feather; the ink, from animal, vegetable and mineral raw materials, ground to a fine powder and then mixed with egg white. I have personal experience of something of this latter part of the process at least, because I did an icon-painting course a few years ago and we mixed artists’ pigment with egg-white to paint our own icons on pieces of wood we had ourselves prepared – see the photo here of my own icon of the Archangel Gabriel.20160829_123557

After Eadfrith had created the Gospels, he left the scriptorium and as far as we know he never painted or wrote anything else – not that I’m suggesting this is a model for creative writers of today!

I find his story awe-inspiring and uplifting because it gives me an image of a patient, devoted person sitting alone in a quiet place concentrating absolutely on a work of art, to the exclusion of all else. It makes me think of many others who have created great works in similar circumstances – those who have been perhaps in prison, like St Paul, or Cervantes who wrote Don Quixote, two amongst several examples: or those who have deliberately chosen to go apart into an isolated place like Eadfrith in the scriptorium, free of distractions.

To be free of distractions and able to fully concentrate and devote yourself to the task in hand is such a luxury now, such an ideal for writers and artists to aspire to.