The Power of a Picture: the Burton Dasset Hills Country Park, Warwickshire

It’s said that an image is much more powerful than words; which is rather a shame for authors who write books that don’t have any pictures!view from beacon on Burton Dasset Hills.jpg And so an author’s alternative is to paint a picture with words. Because, as author Isamu Noguchi says, We are a landscape of all we have seen.

In my new non-fiction book Spirit of Warwickshire I have chosen several places in Shakespeare’s county which I believe have spiritual presence; and each chapter is accompanied by a full colour photo of the highest quality, showing some of the spirit of each place. Many of the places are associated with Shakespeare, and each chapter is headed with a quote from the Bard of Stratford-upon-Avon, which I feel corresponds either in spirit or in specifics to what I feel about the place I describe.

And what a fascinating exercise it is to search for and find a Shakespeare quote to correspond with a piece you have written, inspired by your own independent thoughts and feelings:

Here’s one:

 Modest doubt is called the beacon of the wise.

And so might I meditate on the meaning of that at my first sight of the Burton Dasset beacon, which appears on the hill as you drive along the B4100 from Warwick to Banbury.Beacon on Burton Dasset Hills

A new visitor driving towards the Burton Dasset Hills Country Park from either Warwick or Banbury might have little idea of the view which will greet them from around the next bend in the road. panoramic view Burton Dasset Hills.jpgWithout warning, an extensive radiant visa rises into view, seen beyond the green hills of this former quarry, now a place which many sheep call home and to which a large number of visitors are attracted each year wiith their dogs and families, to walk, to picnic, and to admire the views from the highest point, crowned by a beacon.

Just such a beacon appeared to William Shakespeare as he wondered how he would encapsulate a beacon to the wise.

Inspiration from Brittany

By the time you read this I’ll be in the tiny fishing village of Port Manec’h in the south of Finistère, near France’s equivalent of Lands’ End, Pointe du Raz.Port Manec'h, Brittany

We are here at the invitation of my French friend Dominique who with her husband Philippe owns a lovely holiday cottage in Port Manec’h.

What a wonderful opportunity this is! – not only to try and resurrect my rusty French, but also to enjoy the glorious coastal and riverside scenery and the other treasures of Brittany with its turbulent history.

I’m hoping, too, that this time spent in the region of Névez will be a great inspiration to me as a writer. The novelist Jean-Luc Banalec sets his Inspector Dupin murder mystery novels in Névez, and says, I am constantly inspired  when I’m here…. I write my books here and they are a declaration of love to Brittany.

And it certainly seems Brittany itself is a major character in his scenarios:

Steeped in the enchanting atmosphere of Brittany and peppered with wry humor, Murder on Brittany Shores: A Mystery is a superbly plotted mystery that marks the return of Jean-Luc Bannalec’s international bestselling series starring the cantankerous, coffee-swigging Commissaire Dupin.

Ten miles off the coast of Brittany lie the fabled Glénan Islands. Boasting sparkling white sands and crystal-clear waters, they seem perfectly idyllic, until one day in May, three bodies wash up on shore. At first glance the deaths appear accidental, but as the identities of the victims come to light, Commissaire Dupin is pulled back into action for a case of what seems to be cold-blooded murder.

Ever viewed as an outsider in a region full of myths and traditions, Dupin finds himself drawn deep into the history of the land. To get to the bottom of the case, he must tangle with treasure hunters, militant marine biologists, and dangerous divers. The investigation leads him further into the perilous, beautiful world of Glénan, as he discovers that there’s more to the picturesque islands than meets the eye.

I hope that when I walk on those white sands in the Glénan archipelago, I’ll be as inspired as Jean-Luc Bannalec, perhaps, for the setting of one of my future novels!

Joyful Atmosphere at the Leamington Spa Peace Festival June 2018

Each year in June the Peace Festival is held in the Royal Pump Room Gardens in Leamington Spa. Leamington Spa Peace Festival viewA colourful and eclectic mix of stallholders, different religious and activist and local community groups, musicians, street food vendors, and sellers of vibrant gypsy, bohemian and ethnic clothes, hats, bag and jewellery all converge on the gardens.

Kate's Story Tree at Leamington Spa Peace Festival

The result is a vibrant, joyful festival lasting two days, spreading goodwill and the message of peaceful co-existence, mutual understanding and acceptance of our fellow human beings in all our diversity.

Einstein quote at Leamington Spa Peace Festival

The local community choir Songlines conducted by our enthusiastic maestro Bruce Knight sang a cross-cultural set of songs which included fantastic gospel songs Egalile, I’m on My Way to Canaan Land, and Done Made My Vow to the Lord, along with community choir arrangements of I’m Still Standing by Elton John, Like a Hurricane by Neil Young, and the uplifting and moving song Hey Brother by Avicii.

The Leamington Spa Peace Festival is run, amazingly, by volunteers, and they do a brilliant job of organising this event. Long may the Peace Festival return to Leamington Spa each year.

Save the Pixies at Leamington Spa Peace Festival

 

GDPR Compliance on SC Skillman Blog

Thank you to all of you who read and enjoy my blog posts. I greatly appreciate those who support me by following, reading, liking and commenting. I hope to continue providing you with short inspirational blog posts about any subject that  catches my eye!
SC Skillman author at Fair in Nuneaton 20 May 2018
SC Skillman author at Fair in Nuneaton 20 May 2018
It’s been a busy few days as I have been listening to successful woman writers speaking at two exciting events – a visit to Ingram Spark (book printers and distributors) and a tour round their digital printing facility in Milton Keynes; and the following day I was in London at the George IV pub in Chiswick, on the day of Harry and Meghan’s wedding, to attend a fabulous networking event “The Bloggers Bash”; and finally I attended a fair in Nuneaton to sell signed copies of my books.

Here below I give my statement about this blog, as required by the GDPR which comes into effect on 25th May 2018.

This is a short post re: GDPR which comes into effect on May 25, 2018.
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Inspiring Archbishop Justin Welby in Brilliant Celebrations at Coventry Cathedral for #Cov100

Between 3rd and 5th May 2018 Coventry Diocese celebrated their 100th anniversary – and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby played a key role at the centre of the celebrations.

Archbishop Justin Welby at Coventry Cathedral 5 May 2018
Archbishop Justin Welby at Coventry Cathedral 5 May 2018

Over the course of the three days I attended three events – the first in a Warwickshire farm, the second in the Nuneaton church where Justin was curate 1992-1995, and finally the Centenary Festival at Coventry Cathedral on Saturday 3rd May.

During all these events I was enormously impressed by Archbishop Justin. He engaged his audience with warmth and self-deprecating humour, telling several funny anecdotes; he answered questions with compassion, humility and wisdom; he told some astonishing stories about dangerous situations he has entered into around the world, during his reconciliation work.

Bishop of Coventry and Archbishop of Canterbury at Coventry Cathedral 5 May 2018
Bishop of Coventry and Archbishop of Canterbury at Coventry Cathedral 5 May 2018

He has visited some of the most dangerous places in the world and put his own life at risk (incuding an occasion when he was kidnapped). Above all, throughout these three days, he has been inspiring, encouraging and uplifting.

During the event on Friday 4th May Justin answered questions from people in their 20s and 30s and the first event of the day at the Cathedral was a Q and A session with teenagers.

It is so difficult to pick out any one thing among all the things I’ve heard him say during those three days, but one answer struck me in particular on Saturday morning. He had been describing his travels in countries torn by brutal conflict, who are in desperate need of the reconciliation work for which Coventry’s Cross of Nails ministry is famous. He was asked, “What is the greatest spiritual threat you’ve ever faced?”

Motionhouse dancers at Coventy Cathedral 5 May 2018
Motionhouse dancers at Coventy Cathedral 5 May 2018

He replied, “Sometimes I have met bad people – deeply evil people. And I have found that often these people can also be deeply charming, delightful and interesting. The danger then is that you might find yourself sucked into a collusive relationship. That’s why you need to be in a team, to guard against that – to ensure compromise doesn’t go too far.”

He said risk is essential to reconciliation. And certainly he has often taken extreme risks in his own reconciliation work. He also said that sometimes he is overwhelmed by the sorrow of the situations he encounters. His wisest word on the subject of reconciliation work?   “You must start by reconciling yourself to God.”

Drama at Coventry Cathedral 5 May 2018
Drama at Coventry Cathedral 5 May 2018

 

Oxfordshire Place of Inspiration: Castle Inn, Edgehill

A place of inspiration is any place which arouses strong emotions, or perhaps memories, dreams, or reflections. The Castle Inn at Edgehill Oxfordshire is one such place.Castle Inn Edge Hill image 1

A tavern was first built in this high location in 1742 – one hundred years after the date of the Battle of Edgehill which took place in the valley below. There, on  23rd October 1642 the forces of the Parliamentarians and the Royalists faced each other in the open field between Kineton and Radway. The English Civil War was just beginning. The King’s forces had been on their way to London via Birmingham and Kenilworth. The Parliamentarian forces had been heading for Worcester. And they accidentally came together in this bloody battle. The Civil War should have ended there. But it didn’t. The battle ended indecisively, but if the royalist forces had marched straight to London they would have gained the advantage, and the war would have been over.

Instead, they made one of those fateful wrong decisions upon which English history so often turns. The Parliamentarian forces got to London first, and a cruel war ensured. King Charles I had lost his best chance to win. His own personal story ended when he paid the highest price for his errors and bad choices, by being beheaded.

Castle Inn Edge Hill image 2.jpgOne of England’s most evocative and compelling ghost stories lingers around this place too. Since the time of the battle, haunting sounds and apparitions have been reported by many, at night, and particularly around the anniversary of the battle.

Above all this, the Castle Inn sits with its folly in the form of a castellated tower (in which you may book an overnight stay), a picturesque and intriguing attraction at Edgehill, offering refreshment, delicious meals and excellent service in its delightful beer garden, refurbished dining room and historic bar.

It’s one of my favourite pubs to visit, here in the heart of England. Though its attendant history is very sad – see the exhibition now on display at St Peter’s Church Radway – being a story full of tragedy and cruelty and fate, of the kind we love to reflect upon from our safe distance of centuries: until we start to compare it with several current situations of conflict in the world today.

 

 

Such, to me, qualifies it to be a place of spiritual resonance, because it affords us an opportunity to reflect upon our own lives, and upon the human story and its twists and turns of fate, from our perspective of centuries after the original historical events. When a place evokes strong feelings of pity, poignancy, compassion, to my mind, that makes it a special place.
The Castle Inn EdgehillAnd by the way the interior is delightful, the views are magnificent, the service excellent and the menu thoroughly enjoyable!

Gold For Pershore College at the Ascot Spring Garden Show 2018

I’m delighted to announce that the Pershore College team – of which my son Jamie was a member – was one of the 3 college teams who were awarded a Gold Medal in the Young Gardeners of the Year 2018 Competition at the Ascot Spring Show 2018.

Gold-winning garden by Pershore College students
Gold-winning garden by Pershore College students

We went to the show on Saturday 14 April 2018 at the Ascot Racecourse and were inspired by our day there – many imaginative and enchanting ideas for gardens, the seven student Young Gardeners of the Year gardens to admire inside, and also the professional show gardens outside.

 

Saturday was a day of bright Spring sunshine, perfect for the garden show. The event was also just the right size, so it doesn’t overwhelm the visitor, as can be the case with a major, hugely popular event like the Chelsea Flower Show.

 

We particularly enjoyed TV gardener David Domoney‘s talk on Unusual Gardening Techniques, and we will certainly never look at eggshells, tea bags, plastic bottles, Deep Heat spray, rusty brillo pads and old socks in the same way again!

David Domoney about to announce #YGOTY awards
David Domoney about to announce #YGOTY awards

We also heard a brilliant talk by  Harvey Stephens, the Deputy Keeper of the Savill and Valley Gardens, the Crown Estate. He showed several slides of the beautiful flowers, shrubs and trees to be found in those gardens, and passed round some glorious blossoms: a pink Atlas Magnolia and a white Columbus Magnolia for us to all to hold and admire. He filled us with a strong desire to visit The Valley Gardens as soon as possible, at the height of their spring magnificence!

It was so exciting to look at all the gardens the horticultural students had designed and built, and to see the young people there, ready to talk about their gardens. These are the garden designers and heritage gardeners and landscape architects of the future, and I loved reading about their intentions behind the gardens as well.20180414_155004

The gardens were all intended for a small urban space, and all had to incorporate  features of sustainability. For me, my response to a garden arises from what the garden makes me feel when I first see and enter it.

The Pershore College garden gives a feeling of calm and tranquility. It is a minimalist garden, with an emphasis on white and with a mediterranean atmosphere. I imagined it as a “meditation garden”.

I hope you enjoy these images which give just a taste of what an exciting, fun and inspiring day we had at the Ascot Spring Show.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Visit to the Prinknash Bird and Deer Park, Gloucestershire

What a lovely place the Prinknash Bird and Deer Park is.

I was very impressed with it when we visited on Easter Saturday. The park is beautifully landscaped with some enchanting gypsy caravans and playhouses for young children, and the birds and animals are very tame indeed.  A word of warning – do buy the bird-feed before you go in as all the birds and animals come hurrying towards you at every bend of the path, full of expectancy and anticipation (rather like authors at a writers conference converging on the agents and editors present with their first three chapters and a synopsis….)

I can thoroughly recommend this attraction as a day out for a family. And it’s set in the most beautiful part of the Cotswolds, with deep valleys and steep hills, close to Prinknash Abbey with its delightful cafe and shop.

Spiritual and Unifying: the Dramatic and Emotional Appeal of Brahms’ Requiem for All Who Love Choral Singing

King Henry VIII School, Coventry (well known as representing Gordon Shakespeare’s school in the 2009 Christmas film Nativity!) was the scene on Saturday where a large number of local singers and musicians gathered together for a “Scratch” rehearsal and performance of Brahms’ RequiemCHOIR SINGING

As with all scratch performances of course the majority of participants had sung/ played this music before.

From my place in the choir (Spires Philharmonic Chorus augmented by many other singers) I saw several other singers had crisp clean hired copies – but not me! That’s because I’d brought my tattered, much-used score: inside the front page, every previous date on which I’d sung it before, using this score: June 1978 with the London Choral Society; August 1989 with the Brisbane Chorale, Australia; April 1997 and November 2009 with the Warwick & Kenilworth Choral Society.

Despite having last sung it nine years ago, it’s amazing how easily the music came back to me, along with the (sometimes exasperated!) directions given by previous conductors.

Our Chorus Director Jack Lovell is great fun and has a natural and humorous approach.  He’s always full of imaginative images to describe how he’d like us to sing. In one part he said, “Here, I want you to think smoky Viennese ballroom. You need to sound like the viola coming in.” Elsewhere we were to sing like a posh velvet cushian, the type you can push right in and then it comes out again very smoothly and slowly, not like one of those cheap foam cushians. Later he stopped us, saying that sounds like an Ikea cushian.

Brahms’ Requiem has special associations for me.  My father was a choral singer, and this requiem was one of his great favourites. I first heard it performed when I was 12; my father sang in a local choir the Orpington Chorale, and my attendance on that occasion was, I daresay, not voluntary! I remember sitting in the audience listening to it and not being very impressed!

Over the years my father shared his love of music with us, particularly choral music, and that included several of the most celebrated Requiems. A family friend with a great sense of humour, teased him about the choir: Why is everything you sing so miserable? You should be called The Undertaker Singers!  “Book us now for your funeral.”

The emotional and dramatic appeal of these major works is very strong, irrespective of any religious convictions on the part of either performers or audience. As a choir member observed in the comments on this very interesting blog , “this music is a celebration of our inner spirit whether you are religious or not.”

Brahms’ Requiem, as with all great works of art, encompasses a very wide emotional range. His music is set around words from the bible which express touching and powerful yearnings of the human spirit.

From the mysterious and sombre opening in Movement 1, onto the sumptuous, swishing, spine-chilling chords of “all flesh is as grass”, with Movement 2 Brahms sweeps through brighter and more hopeful moods, via passages of triumph, to the most glorious moments of serenity, floating and ecstatic.  All of human life is here; pleading, urgent and driving; desperation, the restoration of confidence. Movement 4, “How lovely art thy dwellings fair”, is blissful and luminous, ending on a rapturous idyll. It’s thought that Brahms wrote it during  time spent among the glaciers and blue lakes of Zurich which inspired him. The requiem returns to a mournful, reflective mood in Movement 6 , and its transitions take us through intense, vigorous and energetic passages, defiance, triumph and rejoicing; and finally in Movement 7 we regain bliss, comfort, peace and reassurance.

As another choral singer has said, “I see it all as metaphor, I sing it lustily and I celebrate and share the uplifting aspirations that inspired the music in the first place. If we can share the ideals, connect through the values expressed in the words, and join in singing them together, what could be more spiritual and unifying?”

Reflection Upon The Nativity film 2010

Tatiana Masleny as Mary and Andrew Buchan as Joseph in The Nativity film 2010
Tatiana Masleny as Mary and Andrew Buchan as Joseph in The Nativity film 2010

I recently watched again “The Nativity”, the TV mini series first broadcast by the BBC at Christmas 2010 but this time I watched the entire film on DVD.

I remember the series had a strong impression on me when I first viewed it and we could hardly wait for each new episode. Seeing it as a continuous story was a different experience from viewing it in episodes;  I found it much more challenging and harrowing, especially the scenes in which Mary is judged and reviled both by her fellow villagers in Nazareth, and by householders and innkeepers in Bethlehem.

Tatiana Masleny and Andrew Buchan both gave brilliant performances as Mary and Joseph  and I must confess John Lynch came over as a very handsome and rugged Gabriel.

Here’s a Youtube link to a beautiful and moving song by Kate Bush with clips from The Nativity film.

Seeing this very realistic re-imagining of the Nativity story again, I realised afresh how divisive the story is, for all those who engage with it, whatever they believe.  To see Mary portrayed like this when she has been so revered by Catholics over the millennia with titles like Queen of Heaven and Mother of God, is certainly very challenging. And it makes me wonder again about the assertions of Christian theology, most notably the question of how God could have chosen to bring his Son into the world by causing Mary so much suffering … huge issues arise from this, and provide much material for argument and discussion. Once again this brings up the question that many have struggled with, of why Jesus could not be the son of God and also born naturally by Joseph.

I thought this portrayal of the story has the power either to strengthen and enhance the faith of the viewer or make them lose it. It all depends on the stance the viewer takes before they come to the story.

Certainly I remember the leader of our group at an Alpha course a few years ago beginning the discussion by saying he did not believe in the virgin birth.

But in this film version, we see Joseph as key. His ability to wholeheartedly believe what Mary was telling him, saved her from the judgementalism and hatred and rejection of all those around her – which, without the protection of Joseph, may even have resulted in her death before Jesus was even born.

This gives us much to reflect upon.