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Posts tagged ‘fictional characters’

“Inner Child” Faces Down “the Perpetrators” at Constellations Therapy Workshop at Hayes Conference Centre

The most powerful workshop I took part in at the conference “Continuing the Journey: Rummaging for Reality” last week was a constellations therapy group run by a therapist who specialises in working with people who have suffered spiritual, satanic and sexual abuse.continuing-the-journey-home Approximately 12 of us took the part of various ‘voices’ in the client’s brain (identity confidential of course). The client had herself, over a long, and painstakingly slow process with the therapist, identified and written down the words spoken by the voices in her head. She had given permission for the therapist to use this material in her workshop with us – and was hoping to benefit from our experience with it.

We all took different roles – in this case, the names of the roles included Me, Body, Sexuality, Inner Child, Anger, Faith, Church, Priest, Nuns, Uncle (the last 4 named roles were all perpetrators). I took the role of Inner Child. As we read out our scripts, and then started to move around in relation to each other, inside the client’s brain, we decided how to interact with each other, and what we needed in order to progress and make changes.  As the workshop progressed, each one of us entered into our roles so strongly we were no longer using scripts. The whole thing became dynamic, and compelling.  I found myself, as Child, being strengthened and supported by Anger; together we were able to challenge and weaken the lies of the perpetrators.  I don’t think anyone who took part in that workshop is likely to forget it for a very long time! I heard different members of the group describing it to others afterwards as “stunning.” For a while during the rest of the conference, when I looked at each person, I found myself thinking of them as the role they had been playing.

I wondered at one point how this experience might play into my fiction. I then realised that even if I were to create fictional characters based upon these different voices in the client’s brain, I would not be able to replicate what happened in the group. For each voice / character needs to be fully rounded in fiction; even if someone is a ‘perpetrator’ and has done terrible thing to a vulnerable victim, we would have to see why that character has behaved in this way. We would need to look into their own childhood, their own background, and would need to understand them from the inside as well as the outside. That we were not in a position to do, within the circumstances of the constellation therapy group.  All I knew was that the voices of the perpetrators had to be faced down.

How this will impact upon my new novel, I cannot yet say as it will take time to process!

 

Cotswolds Locations to Give Spice and Colour to the World of A Passionate Spirit

Recently I’ve been visiting a number of Cotswolds locations in which key scenes of my novel A Passionate Spirit are set, and locations which are referred to in the story.

The Fleece, Market Place, Cirencester

The Fleece, Market Place, Cirencester

A Passionate Spirit is a paranormal thriller, and some of the events of the story cross the borderline between the real world and the unexplained.

St John the Baptist Church, Market Place, Cirencester

St John the Baptist Church, Market Place, Cirencester

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I enjoy exploring fictional characters in their everyday world and how they respond when they meet the “impossible”.

Graze Bar and Brasserie in Gosditch St, Cirencester

Graze Bar and Brasserie in Gosditch St, Cirencester

Extra spice and colour has been added into my novel because the events take place in real locations.

I hope those residents of Cirencester who read my novel  will perhaps have a different view of some of these locations after they’ve finished the story!

The King's Head Hotel, Market Place, Cirencester

The King’s Head Hotel, Market Place, Cirencester

Mental and Emotional Byways, Complexes and Hang-Ups in Fictional Characters

Having just read an interesting blog post about depression,  I was led to reflect upon how easy it is  to allow your own “principles” to override compassion, empathy and honesty about the reality of human life. This applies to all of us, but there is a special challenge here for those of us who write stories, and need to create convincing characters.

 We won’t get very far as writers if our fictional characters come over as wooden or contrived or artificial. To guard against that,  authors needs a basic understanding of psychology. That can come either through study, or through personal experience, or through observation. As I’ve mentioned before in posts on this blog, I feel that a knowledge of Jungian psychological concepts is useful. Here for example is Carl Jung’s theory of Complexes.

A complex, as developed in the writings of  Jung, may be defined as “a core pattern of emotions, memories, perceptions and wishes in the personal unconscious organised around a common theme such as power or status.” The notion of a “complex” may even be misused in common speech: we may too readily hear of someone described as having an inferiority / guilt / martyr complex. But this can be fruitful for a creative writer; though it has to be handled with care.

1. An inferiority complex may lead your character to interpret everything in the light of this set of notions: “I’m not good enough,” “my opinions don’t count”; “I’m afraid to put myself forward”. Take P.G.Wodehouse as an example; see Jeeves and The Inferiority Complex of Old Sippy among numerous other stories. Here we often meet shy young men attempting to battle those who are louder, bigger, better-looking, more powerful and more self-confident, to win the girl they love.

2. Often,whether a fictional character displays a certain complex can be a matter of interpretation by the reader. I suggest a martyr complex may be behind the outlook and actions of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Tess behaves like a heroic martyr sacrificing herself. Many readers may feel Tess casts herself in the role of victim.

3. The guilt complex is used extensively in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Many characters experience intense guilt; but the exception to this is Smerdyakov who murders Fyodor yet does not blame himself; though he’s the only character technically guilty, he feels the least liability for it. Thus the author sheds light on some of his own religious questions and doubts.

So there’s plenty of inspiration here for fiction writers, as we  develop characters who will inspire love, pity, fury or even soul-searching in our readers. Our job is to create characters we know and care about as much as ourselves. As crime writer Martin Edwards says in his article on “Developing Characters and Their Relationships”,  “characters in books don’t exist in a vacuum, just as real people don’t. To create characters that seem to live and breathe, taking care over how they relate to other people in the story isn’t just a sensible idea. It’s absolutely vital.”  And if we try to let “principles” stand in the way of compassion & empathy, we can be sure our own stories will find us out!

How Do You Write About a Character’s Thoughts?

This was the question my teenage daughter posed when I said: “Ask me any question about writing novels. What would you like to know?”  So I replied, “Put it in italics.” But I hasten to add that I don’t think that was the answer she wanted. Nor do I believe it really does provide the solution. So I’ll just try and unpack what I think she meant.

There are of course, at a superficial level, ‘different ways to write people’s thoughts’. The author tells you what the character thinks; or the thoughts are given directly in italics; or the novel is written in first person narration and gives thoughts direct to the reader. Certainly, novels which have directly conveyed the character’s thoughts are most powerful, and they haunt my memory. Among them is John Fowles The Collector.  Indeed, this is a terrifying example. Here we are taken by the hand and led into the world of a first person narrator who is criminally insane. We are inside his head. And of one thing we can be sure: we wouldn’t like to be at his mercy, or meet him down a dark alley. The second part of the book is told through the viewpoint of his victim. This is a stunningly successful device. With novels like this, any kind of value judgement by the reader is cancelled. I read the book in a state of concentrated attention that was devoid of any sort of “background chatter”. I had a similar experience when I read Wladyslaw Szpilman’s memoir of survival in Warsaw 1939-45, The Pianist. There are some stories which are so razor-sharp and the events so stark that descriptions of emotion or on-the-spot evaluation by the first person narrator are redundant. A third example can be seen in Susan Hill’s The Various Haunts of Men when she takes us inside the mind-set of the killer. Again no judgement is placed upon this by the author; it’s unnecessary. His chilling worldview alone makes its impact, alongside our knowledge of the various deceptive roles he plays in society, for the benefit of his victims.

Ultimately the answer to my daughter’s question is: be scrupulous, sparing and self-disciplined in the way you show your viewpoint character’s thoughts. It’s a difficult lesson to learn. Over-indulgence is a sure sign of amateurism. And it’s a lesson all but the most brilliant writers never stop learning.

Family Relationships in Mystical Circles – Conflict Between Sisters

In “Mystical Circles” I explore the conflict between two sisters Juliet and Zoe. Juliet, the older sister, aged around 30, is worried that the impetuous Zoe, age 22 and fresh out of university, has fallen in love with charismatic New Age guru Craig McAllister, and rushed off to join his esoteric spiritual group in the Cotswolds, where she seems determined to stay forever. How can the more sensible, responsible Juliet make Zoe see otherwise, and rescue her from this unsuitable man?

EXTRACT No. 1 from “Mystical Circles”:

“How are things going with Craig?” she asked.

“Fantastic. Couldn’t be better.” Zoe scuffed her trainers against the gravel, then pointed in a northerly direction. “Come on. Let’s go round the house to the front garden. We can sit there and talk.”

“Sure.” Juliet hurried after her sister. How she hoped Zoe would be reasonable, and at least understand her feelings.

Unlatching the gate, Zoe went through, and Juliet followed. Before them appeared the uppermost of a flight of stone steps leading down to a sunken lawn with a water lily pond. Craig had landscaped this garden to the very highest of standards.

“This is stunning,” she said in awe.

“Isn’t it?” Zoe indicated the Scots pines and the blue cedars over to the north of the sunken garden. The two girls went towards these. Scattered beneath were a number of white cane chairs, set amid clumps of purple delphiniums.

As soon as they sat down, Zoe burst into excited speech. “So Juliet, what do you think?” Her eye fell on Juliet’s pocket. “You already have the brochure.”

“I’ve started reading it. Craig makes big promises, doesn’t he? They certainly lead you to expect huge rewards.”

“And you’ll find them,” declared Zoe. “Wait till you meet him. He’s out of this world.”

Juliet’s confidence began to fade. How would Zoe cope with her objections? “I already have met him, Zoe.”

“No! But that’s wonderful. So you’ll already know. He’s perfect.”

Juliet fought to hold onto her patience. “Well, I’m not quite sure about…”

“Whose side are you on?” Zoe’s expression had chilled.   

Juliet leaned forward, and took hold of her by both shoulders. “Hey, I can see why you’ve fallen for him. He’s the best-looking guy I’ve ever met.”

Zoe visibly relaxed.

“If he feels the same about you as you do about him,” continued Juliet, “then that can only be good news.”

A smile of relief spread over her sister’s face. Juliet hated to spoil the mood. But she felt compelled to push home her point. “You’re here for the best of reasons, Zoe. And I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Let’s suppose that Craig is everything you believe he is. But even so – what’s with the Wheel of Love? Sounds a bit dubious to me.”

“We’re not like that Heaven’s Gate sect, you know,” Zoe protested.

Certain key words hammered into Juliet’s brain. Sharpen your subtle knife…cut a window into heaven…freedom you’ve never dared dream of… “This heaven stuff he goes in for… the bit about freedom you’ve never dared dream of, and him reaching into your spirit…  What’s that all about?”

“You’d need to live as one of us to understand,” said Zoe.

So she was going to be evasive. Juliet flared up. “Give me a break, Zoe. I won’t do that.” She saw her sister bite back a swift retort.

Juliet is a freelance radio journalist. And while she’s here at the Wheel of Love she takes the opportunity to do interviews for a radio documentary about the group – with Craig’s permission of course. It’s a useful cover for her true motive of rescuting Zoe. But can Juliet stay objective?

Extract No. 2 from “Mystical Circles”:

It was probably best to concentrate on her lunch. But she couldn’t resist pushing Edgar further on the subject. “I’m not a member of the group, and have no plans to join. I’m here as an impartial observer. And there are various guidelines that I have to observe…”

“The broadcast media has the highest code of conduct…” murmured Edgar. A titter passed between the other three at this.

“What you suggest is impossible. If you’re to achieve anything here, you’ll have to take part, and live as one of us,” said Laura.

Juliet swallowed two or three times to control her sense of panic. Deep down she knew Laura was probably right. And that was exactly what worried her. Could she pretend to go along with their beliefs without compromising herself? Weren’t they all nuts, in one way or another? She shrank from it. And yet she knew she wasn’t the only one here who felt like that. Surely Don did too.

Extracts from Mystical Circles – What is Dynamic Meditation, as Practised by Craig’s Esoteric Group The Wheel of Love?

What is “Dynamic Meditation”?  I describe this in my novel, as Craig leads a session for the members of his group The Wheel of Love. I observed this supposed “emotional release therapy” myself in the past, whilst investigating the practices and beliefs of the sannyasins who followed the guru Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh.

EXTRACT FROM “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”

Dynamic Meditation took place that evening in the barn.

Surely, thought Juliet, as she stood at the rear of the spacious meeting room, with her portable recorder and mike, the original builders of this glorious sixteenth-century tithe barn would never have imagined that such use would ever be made of it. She gazed at the roof, a dazzling crisscross of beams and wooden vaulting. Yes, the tenant farmer may well have held barn dances; but surely nothing of the nature of what Craig was leading his followers into right now.

By nine o’clock the lights had been dimmed, and the sound of heavy metal music echoed up to the roof trusses, ricocheted off the hayloft and rebounded all around the stone walls. The hayloft, or upper room, could be accessed by two spiral staircases, one at the west side, and one at the east. Juliet had positioned herself beside the foot of the west one. She was trying to make herself heard as she explained her digital recording equipment to Don. Following Llewellyn’s words, he’d clearly felt sufficiently emboldened to try this session, but meant to stay at the back watching and listening.

He moved closer to Juliet in order to hear her words.

“This machine is a Nagra Ares BB Plus,” she said. “I record on flashcards. Each has only about one gig of memory, not that much, so I’ve brought several for all my interviews.”

“And your mike? Will it cope with the noise levels?”

She laughed. “It’s omnidirectional. I’ll hold it as close as possible to Craig when he’s speaking, if I get the chance. Must admit I’m a bit doubtful whether I’ll pick up any speech.”

“Me too,” he said cryptically.

She smiled.

“However,” he continued, “Craig dropped me a few hints. So I steeled myself.”

“Certainly looks and sounds chaotic.” She gazed at the scene in front of her. She suspected that tonight would yield nothing her listeners could make sense of. But her concern for Zoe was far greater. What would her sister get up to with Craig in an atmosphere like this? And as for Craig himself, she’d be watching him very closely; for she found it impossible to believe he wouldn’t take advantage of his position, especially with the women, in such circumstances.

And as if to confirm Juliet’s worst suspicions, Laura, her hair wilder than ever, was already tearing off her cotton print dress. Juliet feared Zoe would soon follow her example. She and Beth, however, had so far both kept their lycra leotards on. But, to Juliet’s confusion, Zoe was curled up in a foetal position in the corner, sobbing as if her heart would break. Should Juliet go over and comfort her? Or was this all part of the Dynamic Meditation and meant to serve a cathartic purpose?

Her instincts told her it was the latter. The other members of the group were scattered across the available floor space, in a variety of postures and states of undress. Several danced; some had curled themselves into tight balls, and others writhed across the flagstone floor like snakes. Juliet followed Craig with her mike, as he strode around amongst them, looking authoritative and crackling with sexual energy, in a bottlegreen leather jacket and Levis, shouting at each in turn.

She recorded him as best she could, whilst trying to keep an eye on Zoe. But her sister, it seemed, won no more from him than anybody else; and neither did Laura or Beth. To Craig’s credit, and Juliet’s mystification, he seemed to share his attention equally.

His attention consisted largely of a verbal lashing. With each person he varied his remarks, depending, as he explained to Juliet a little later, upon their emotional situation. At Beth, who clearly had a problem with self-esteem, he hurled personal abuse; when Sam confessed fear and timidity, he compelled him to imagine the kind of exposure he most dreaded; finding Oleg full of anger, he provoked him to an even higher level of rage. The Slav then strode over to Beth and accosted her. Juliet watched closely. She’d already picked up emotions simmering between these two. What would happen now, in this overwrought situation?

But before she could satisfy her curiosity, her attention was distracted. Laura, in a desperate attention-seeking measure, had finally peeled off her lacy knickers. But even this failed to win a special response from the group leader. However, the same could not be said of Al. Laura then gave herself over to what looked like a Dionysian frenzy. Edgar rolled around the floor giggling hysterically, creating a surreal effect with his monastic appearance. James, too, added to the madness of the scene by kicking his legs in the air and screaming like a child having a tantrum in a highstreet store, without any regard to the state of his tailored trousers or natty cravat.

The only question in Juliet’s mind was at which point one of the men would snap, leap onto Laura, and sexually assault her. Or settle for Craig instead, as some, in her view, might well do. She’d already begun forming opinions about their sexuality. It was when she began to focus on Craig’s, that she felt ambivalent. He was supposed to love her sister. But…  Her mind went foggy beyond this. All she knew was it was a big but.

Meanwhile, miraculously, here in the feverish atmosphere of the barn, no assault, sexual or otherwise, ever happened.

Oleg now seemed to be performing t’ai chi; James was grinning inanely and blowing bubbles, and Al, who’d begun the evening in a benign frame of mind, was beating his head against the wall.

At this point Craig turned the music off, and Juliet hurried across to him with the mike. Before she could speak he plunged himself into a lotus posture, and apparently into a state of deep meditation. Meanwhile, the participants lay around weeping or working out their distress in whichever way seemed best, or emerging slowly from hysteria. So Juliet moved among the group members instead with her mike, though there seemed no need to ask any of them to describe their feelings to her. Eventually all sounds faded into silence. Juliet set her Nagra on automatic voice-activated recording. Craig allowed stillness to reign for several minutes. Then he opened his eyes, stood up, and, looking around among his followers, began to speak.

“This Centre has been going for exactly fourteen months tonight. Fourteen months from the day James and I moved in. In the time that’s elapsed since then, the Wheel of Love has become a tribute to the dynamic power of change.”

“Who has changed?” asked Juliet. “And in what way?”

“Guilt has gone,” announced Craig. “Feeling bad about yourself because of the negative messages you once received, is in the past. Your former life can no longer hold you. All that matters is now.”

His glance swept once more around the meeting space. “By coming here and joining us, you’ve shown you correctly identify your longing. You recognise your birthright. And you want to regain your inheritance. You seek spiritual experience in your own bodies. We all do. I’ll guide you to a place where you can say, not I believe but I know.”

Absolute concentration gripped the members of the group.

Then he said, “Remember, we create our own reality. That’s what I taught you. And what I stand by.”

The expression in his eyes intensified, as for a moment they settled on Juliet. Then they moved to the middle distance again. “What you give out, you receive back. Simple as that, once you’ve learned to understand and harness the universal system. Your new life starts here.”

With that he dismissed them all.

Characters in Mystical Circles – Beth, a Member of Craig’s Esoteric Group The Wheel of Love who Feels Unloved – will she Find Healing in Craig’s Community?

Beth doesn’t really know why she’s here; she’s edgy, tense, anxious. Is she searching for the healing that Craig promises? And is she prepared to do the mysterious “work” on herself that Craig requires? She doesn’t want to tell Juliet about her past. She hero-worships Craig, but he’s inaccessible. There is one in the group who would love her in the way she longs for… but is she able to respond to him? She is in a spiritual community where all members are supposed to “share love equally” yet Beth feels unloved and unloveable. 

EXTRACT FROM “MYSTICAL CIRCLES”

Juliet exchanged a wave of acknowledgement with Laura, seated opposite the American, before turning her attention to the next diner, beside Laura.

This was a sharp-faced young woman with dark hair pulled tightly back in a French plait, which emphasised the severity of her expression. She gave Juliet a frosty stare. “I’m Beth. Beth Owen,” she snapped. “I prefer not to say anything else about myself.”

Well, thought Juliet, Beth wasn’t very friendly. How had Juliet managed to earn her hostility so soon? Beth continued to look tense and suspicious. Perhaps she misunderstood what Juliet was trying to do. But if she didn’t say anything, Juliet couldn’t put her mind at rest.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Juliet shifted position so she could also observe Beth, who’d so far remained silent. She wanted to see if Beth was reacting to Oleg in any way. But no, her eyes were on Craig. Beth was in love with Craig, Juliet had no doubt about that. Poor girl. What prospects did she have, with Zoe so ahead of the game? Her sister was chatting animatedly to Craig. Sparkling and pretty, Zoe had everything going for her to win first place in Craig’s affections.

Suddenly Beth leaned back as Don became caught up in a conversation with Rory. She faced Juliet in a conspiratorial manner. Her eyes hardened, and she spoke in a low, tight voice. “When you interview us, Juliet, do hold off from asking us about our past won’t you?”

“Why?” asked Juliet.

“Because none of us here are supposed to remember it. Craig teaches us to cut ourselves off from that.”

“But your background’s one of the first things my listeners will want to know about.”

The colour of Beth’s face deepened. Juliet guessed that to be the effect of the wine. She decided to try the direct approach. “How do you feel about Craig, Beth?”

Cold hostility glimmered in the girl’s eye. “What’s that to you?”

“I’ve been invited here to ask questions,” said Juliet gently.

Beth drained her glass of wine and refused to look at her again. Instead she switched her glance to Oleg, who’d left his seat at the end of the table, and come up to speak to her. She gave him full attention for the first time during the meal. He leaned down towards her, and laid his hand on hers. She jumped as if someone had laid hot metal on her bare flesh.

He spoke in a low, urgent voice. “Why so nervous when I touch you, Beth? Relax.”

Instead of having the desired effect, this seemed to destabilise her further. She pushed her chair back and sprang to her feet. “Goodbye, everyone.” With that, she headed round behind Juliet’s chair, whirled past The Lady and the Unicorn, and vanished through the doorway into the sitting room.

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