I’ll be at the UK Games Expo at the NEC Birmingham tomorrow Fri 2 June and all weekend signing copies of Mystical Circles, A Passionate Spirit and Perilous Path on the Authors Stand (F11) alongside Gareth Baker, (thrillers & fantasy); Darren W Pearce (fantasy & sci fi); Richard Denning (horror, fantasy & historical fiction); Jonathan Green (Fighting Fantasy gamebooks & Doctor who novels) & Ian Livingstone (creator of Fighting Fantasy interactive gamebooks).
I’m delighted to announced that my new book is out now and available to buy on Amazon, both as a paperback and as an ebook.
Perilous Path: A Writer’s Journey is a short informative and encouraging book of 126 pages, giving an insight into the writer’s life. It will appeal to aspiring writers, keen readers fascinated by the subject of literary inspiration and creativity, and anyone interested in how fiction writers get their ideas and go about creating full-length novels.
How do you find courage and motivation when your novel sinks in the middle?
How do you stay focused as a writer through success and disappointment?
How can great artists, musicians and psychologists give you inspiration?
You’ll find the answers to these questions and many others in this book.
Each chapter is a short article based on original material I’ve previously published online in answer to FAQs aspiring writers type into search engines.
And I can certainly say that before I get back to completing my new novel ‘Director’s Cut’, I’ll read through ‘Perilous Path’ myself paying close attention, because I need to take my own advice!
Beta readers have said this about the book:
‘I found it fascinating to read how one new writer began to write, and continued to self-motivate in her determination to achieve her goals – and how her faith provides example and inspiration.
Some of the articles contain ideas about writing that I haven’t considered previously; some of them are more like friendly reminders of things I already know, or focus on interests that (like many readers and writers, I imagine) I share with the author.
Reading the book felt like having a “friend in the room” giving advice and sharing her experience of the writing process.‘
‘It’s written in a simple and engaging style. It doesn’t go in depth into theoretical techniques but seems like an encouragement, even if you have writer’s block, and a reminder of things, some of which I already know. Other authors might have gone into a lot of detail, on many of these subjects, going on for 20 pages on one particular theory or technique – and I wouldn’t be interested in reading that. But SC Skillman has written this in such a way as you feel you have a friendly guide on your shoulder.’
I’m pleased to announce I have a new book coming out soon, this time non-fiction.
It will be a short one, 100 pages, and will be available in paperback as well as an ebook.
I’ve written it for all those who’d love to know about the process of writing novels: whether they be aspiring writers, or simply keen readers who are curious about how novelists think up their ideas and go about creating fiction from them.
Here’s a taste of some of the topics I’ll cover in the course of the book:
Universal themes in fiction
Strategies to develop creative and imaginative writing
How to create a novel that your readers won’t want to put down
Three tips for creative works of realistic fiction
How to know which point of view to use in a story
How to develop villainous characteristic traits in your writing
How can Carl Jung’s theory of archetypes help you in your creative writing?
Inspiration for creative writers from artists
Suggestions for writing the end of a novel
Always on the outside looking in – does a bestselling novelist have a lesson to teach aspiring writers?
Each topic has a chapter to itself, and the book contains 33 chapters.
Here’s the blurb to whet your appetite:
How do you find courage and motivation when your novel sinks in the middle?
How do you stay focused as a writer despite all the setbacks and disappointments?
How can great artists, musicians and psychologists give you inspiration?
You’ll find the answer to these questions and many others in this book. SC Skillman offers deep insight into the faith and hope that is vital for one who walks the perilous path into the ‘promised land’ of the writing profession.
More soon when I’ll let you know the title and give you the cover reveal!
NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) begins today for 2016 and I will be once again taking this challenge – completing the first draft of my new novel “Director’s Cut”. Here is an article I wrote when I was 3 weeks into the 2011 challenge, in order to write the first draft of my second novel “A Passionate Spirit”. Everything I said then still applies now; and my extra challenge is to take my own advice! I hope some of you who are setting out on this challenge today will find it a source of inspiration.
The task is: write a novel of at least 50,000 words in a month; and by the word “novel” we must mean, of course, “the first draft of a novel.” For I have not yet ever created a novel in a month; but in nine days time I will have done that very thing; and therefore I consider myself qualified to write the article.
Here are three tips to have that completed first draft of a novel in a month:
1) Do your preparation work before the month begins. Ideas will have been hatching in your mind for the last couple of years, perhaps; and now you have a ground plan. You have created a one-sentence storyline, and expanded it to a blurb and a synopsis and perhaps you have drawn up a list of scenes for your novel. Not everybody needs to have done this before they begin writing the novel. Some like to plunge into the writing with two or three characters and a conflict in mind, and let the story emerge. But I had already been thinking about my characters for a year or so before beginning my novel. And I know from experience what it’s like to allow your characters to take over. Characters will do that anyway, even if you have a plan. But I now believe having a plan is a very good way to start, even if the plan is radically changed by the time you’ve finished your first draft.
2) Begin writing, and don’t go back to edit. Control your desire to look over previous chapters and assess or improve them. This needs great discipline. Just keep writing even if you suspect what you are writing is rubbish, because you are going to go back over your manuscript anyway after the month is up and use it as the basis for your second draft.
3) Don’t fall into the trap of slacking or subsiding or falling away because your novel feels as if it’s sinking in the middle. Introduce something crazy or bizarre that occurs to you; just follow that instinct, introduce it into your plot, set your characters the task of dealing with it and keep on writing.
Those who find their minds go blank at the prospect of producing a full-length work of the imagination should remember this one thing: creating a first draft of fiction requires only motivation and courage. It requires you to forget everything negative you ever believed of yourself, and to believe in whatever ideas come to you, believe in them enough to incorporate them in your first draft. When you read your manuscript through in a month’s time, you may be amazed at what you came up with apparently “out of nowhere.”
n.b. this article, first published online in 2011, forms part of my upcoming non-fiction book, Perilous Path: a writer’s journey
On the Graham Norton Show which was broadcast on BBC One on Friday 16th April 2016, actor Hugh Grant said he took on the role of St Clair Bayfield in the newly-released film Florence Foster Jenkins against his previous intentions, because a) the script was so good and b) because he was attracted by the three dimensional character he was being invited to play – which implies he thinks all his previous characters were one dimensional.
Hugh said that the character he plays, St Clair Bayfield, is “a failed actor” who has chosen to protect Florence (played by the wonderful Meryl Streep) from true self-knowledge because he loves her. In the film, this character goes to extraordinary lengths to collude with Florence’s self-deception, by covering up her lack of ability as a singer and paying off bad reviewers and hiding her from the truth. In other words he does what seems to be cowardly, morally weak, wrong and even cruel, for complex reasons that are not straightforwardly immoral, and because he is emotionally invested in supporting her and upholding her in the dream she believes in.
I haven’t seen the film yet and so cannot offer a review, but I was fascinated by the point Hugh Grant was making. Many love the characters Hugh has played so far during his film career, but his comments brought me back again to the vital importance of three dimensional characters, not only in persuading major actors to take on film roles, but also in winning success for a novel.
Three dimensional characters in fiction are those whose actions, words, relationships, behaviour and inner life all work together to win our empathy. Just as the hallmark of a great leader is the ability to win people’s confidence, the sign of a great character in fiction is that we care for them deeply, whether their actions are “good” or “bad” or far less easily defined. Whilst reading a recent novel I was starting to intensely dislike a certain character, when his actions and behaviour were depicted from the viewpoint of someone else. But then the author took me into his viewpoint – and my attitude to him was transformed.
I believe we only need to see and understand someone’s inner life, to feel that empathy for them.
Do share in the comments. Which are your favourite three dimensional characters in fiction, and why?
The love of story telling which I learned as a young child, through reading adventure stories, grew into a passion to write stories myself.
Writing and reading stories is all about our ability to enter other hearts and minds and worlds, and to exercise and develop our powers of empathy. I hope that is what my story of A Passionate Spirit will do. How vital it is that we tell stories – not only fiction, but the stories of our own experience. We’ve seen that clearly over the last few days of remembrance.
On the day before Remembrance Sunday I sang with the Spires Philharmonic Choir in a concert called Sing Us Your Dreams at Earlsdon Methodist Church, Coventry. The Earlsdon Research Group had gathered together many personal stories from people who remember their grandfathers, their fathers and their uncles who fought in World War I and returned. We’ll repeat the concert with more World War I-related memories, on Saturday 14th November at Lancaster Priory.
During the concert we sang some very moving pieces: newly-written poetry by Avril Newey set to lovely and poignant music by one of our own choir members, Michael Torbe, including The Unknown Warrior and Reveille Rise Now, and These Thankful Fields, plus some famous wartime songs. In between our musical pieces, a narrator recounted to a packed church some of the stories that had been gathered from local people in Coventry, as part of the Sing Us Your Dreams project. These were the stories of those who had returned – “the lucky ones”. Many were very powerful and moving. And those with stories to tell can still contribute at the Sing Us Your Dreams website.
We heard of returned soldiers haunted by images of having to shoot sick horses and throw them overboard off transport vessels; men so traumatised they never spoke of what they’d experienced – one whose granddaughter remembers being mystified and slightly frightened of him as he sat silent in the corner at Christmas parties.
We heard of a serviceman who was shot in the hand, refused to have his arm amputated, and came home with a black hand, which he showed to a woman who was about to give him a white feather on a bus. We learned of a mother whose 15 year old son joined up in the raw excitement of recruitment posters proclaiming Your Country Needs You. He was killed and every Remembrance Day for the rest of her long life (she lived to 95) she laid a wreath on his grave and wept for the loss of her young son. We heard of a boy who memorised the sight chart so he could convince recruiting sergeants he had good eye sight. We heard of a woman for whom, though her husband returned to her, it was never possible to recover their former life together, because, as she later reported, “in his heart he never really left the army.”
I thought of my own teenage son. If we had been there, in 1915, I as a mother may have seen him, perhaps, as young as 14, so excited by the propaganda that he was prepared to falsify his birth certificate to join up and go to the front line.
We heard of those who were “lucky” – yet the devastation of war not only kills people, it destroys countless other lives for decades through the damaged minds and bodies and spirits of those who return.
All personal stories which transported me back to the reality of life, at that time, then opened it up with vivid freshness.
I feel I can understand those who were silenced by their terrible experiences. And yet thank God for those who have been able to tell their stories, so they might be passed down, for our compassion and empathy, which may strengthen in us another passionate spirit… a powerful resolve to do what it takes to change the future.
Publication date draws ever closer – 28th November!
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!
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.
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!
I love to see how tropes specific to certain genres of story telling can cross boundaries into different genres.
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.
He’s Rory Barker, who started as Junior Researcher in James May’s Man Lab.
We love them!
They’re in fiction too.
PG Wodehouse traded on them in his comic novels. Step forward Gussie Fink-Nottle. He’s Bertie Wooster’s friend, with a face like a fish. Gussie who’s ‘not quite with it’, he’s ‘caught up in his own world’ (which, in Gussie’s case, is an obsession with newts).
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle understood the archetypal power of this character too – in Dr John Watson, who seems dumb next to his brilliant colleage, Sherlock Holmes.
Among TV drama series we find Merlin. He plays this role for the benefit of Arthur, who doesn’t understand who Merlin truly is.
This character is ‘a bit of dill’, ‘a bit simple’.
And YouTube high-flyers like Charlie McDonnell also understand the appeal of this character. He’s under-stated, he’s self-deprecating.
Among young adult novels, The Declaration Trilogy by Gemma Malley has a character called Jude, who entered in the second novel of the trilogy, and who very quickly became my favourite character.
And in films we find Q in Skyfall – ‘a kid with spots’, as OO7 points out when he first meets him in an art gallery.
‘My complexion is hardly relevant,’ he says to Bond.
These characters are anti-heroes who endear themselves to us. Another name for this character-type is “the ingenue”.
Long live the anti-heroes.
Our love for them tells us something very heartening about human nature.