I’m delighted to reveal the cover design of my new book which is due out soon:The cover was created by graphic designer Annabelle Bradford.
Perilous Path: a writer’s journey is a short non-fiction book (106 pages) which will be available both as a paperback and also as a Kindle ebook.
It’s in the Self-Help / Creativity category and it’s for aspiring writers, keen fiction 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.
Here’s the blurb:
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.
Every chapter is an article previously published on the author’s blog Inside the mind of a writer, in answer to FAQs aspiring writers type into search engines.
For a sneak preview of the book, you can read one of the chapters in full here.
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?..
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.
I shall be out and about in Warwickshire signing 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
Leamington Spa CV32 5RD
11am-2pm Saturday 26th November
nr Rugby CV23 9PX
2-4.20pm Sunday 27th November
King Edward VI School Hall
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.
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?
Join me on Saturday 13 February at Kenilworth Books, Talisman Square, Kenilworth, Warwickshire, where I shall be signing copies of “A Passionate Spirit” from 11am to 2pm. I’d love to see you there if you live within striking distance of Kenilworth, and you enjoy reading thrillers.
Come and chat to me, browse through my novel and many others, and support a lovely local independent bookshop, which, in common with many other independent bookshops, offers a personal service, a friendly welcome and a strong encouragement to local and independent authors along with those published by the major commercial publishing houses.
1. I was born and brought up in Orpington, Kent; my father’s family owned A.D. Skillman & Sons, the Ironmongers Shop opposite the Woolwich Ferry on the River Thames. This shop was started by my grandfather in December 1900 and the last owner was my brother Chris who sadly had to close for business in June 2002. During my early life, I regularly visited the shop and helped out there, and encountered colourful characters who made a strong impression on me.
2. My inspiration as a writer came from an early love of reading: at first, the stories of Enid Blyton. I began writing at the age of seven. All successful stories stem from this; the main protagonist leaves their ordinary life and enters a new world.
3. The first stories I ever wrote were adventure stories starring children of my own age doing exciting things. I was also influenced by Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking, Dodie Smith’s The Hundred and One Dalmations, and Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth.
4. My previous workplaces have included BBC Schools Radio, the Royal College of Surgeons of England, the Universities of London, Queensland and Warwick, and the European School of Osteopathy. They have all furnished me with raw material for my two published novels Mystical Circlesand
5. At the age of fifteen I had a summer job on the assembly line making pop-up toasters at Morphy Richards factory in St Mary Cray, Kent.
6. The best job I ever had was at the BBC when I worked with many creative people and had great fun recording programmes both in studio and on location.
7. The worst job I ever had was as a temp at a company called Imported Meat Trades Ltd (I’m a vegetarian). After the first day I was asked not to come back again (and it was nothing to do with my food preferences either…)
8. I got my ideas for my new novelA Passionate Spirit from many sources; the ghostly encounters in my book are all based on real stories, one of which is from my sister Julia who, several years ago, experienced paranormal activity while babysitting. I’ve also been inspired by esoteric and new age philosophies. Other ideas about my character Natasha (a mysterious spiritual healer) were sparked off by the sorceress Morgana in the BBC TV drama series Merlin.
9. I have myself experienced several groups like the ones in Mystical Circles and A Passionate Spirit; among the most quirky was a dream yoga group led by a shaman in the Australian rainforest.
10. If asked to give advice to anyone who wants to write I’d say, “Read a lot, listen to conversations, closely observe human behaviour and interaction in groups, and be persistent, single-minded to the point of obsession; never give up, always believe in yourself, despite all evidence to the contrary, and hold out for what you first dreamed of.”
I went to see Jeffrey Archer speak at Warwick School on Friday night. His subject was: How To Write a Bestseller.
I last heard Jeffrey address an audience probably about 23 years ago, this time at Sevenoaks School; and he said several of the same things (one of which was “I’m not a writer. I’m a storyteller.”
My thoughts at the time were dominated by the fact that he reminded me of Toad of Toad Hall. And this time, back again in the same role, posturing about the stage, Jeffrey did not disappoint. Jeffrey’s talks are entertaining. What you cannot claim is that they deconstruct “how to write a bestseller”.
However, Jeffrey’s talk was enjoyable, and I’m glad to have been in the audience for an evening which he was able to fit in during a weekend in Stratford-upon-Avon, to see Love’s Labour’s Lost and Love’s Labour’s Won at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.
I believe, too, that difficult as it may be to pin down, his storytelling secret lies in a grasp of structure. He demonstrated this when he set us a challenge to write a story in 100 words, which he himself had done for The Reader’s Digest. And this provides a helpful guide to his skill; a natural flair for a beginning, a middle and an end; and a gift for defeating his audience’s expectations.
Among his many theories, Carl Jung includes “the Collective Unconscious”. This “collects and organises personal experiences in a similar way with each member of the species.” If we consider a book to which millions have responded in a similar positive way, for instance Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”, we may then see that the story touches upon areas of human experience which are universal. This may be described as an author “touching the Spirit of the Age.”
Recently (and probably through the workings of synchronicity!) an explanation from Quantum Theory fell into my hands, from a scientist who told me he spent a lot of time in the past with a group of fellow-scientists discussing “Life, the Universe and Everything”. He concluded that we have free will but are limited in what we do; using the analogy of a chess game, each piece has a limited freedom of movement. We are not aware of the existence of the laws which infuence our every action, and each individual in limited in a unique way. Tolstoy understood this principle perfectly, reminding us in “War and Peace” that when we learned the earth orbits the sun we had to surmount the sensation of unreal immobility in space. In just the same way he says, we must renounce a freedom that does not exist and recognise a dependence of which we are not conscious.
How can we see this working out in some well-known stories? Let me suggest a few examples from my own fiction reading.
1. A thirst for truth – as exemplified by Winston Smith in George Orwell’s novel 1984. Winston Smith is a clerk in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth; truth is the central issue in this story and the reader instinctively knows it is being subverted. And that is why Winston Smith’s struggle to undermine the Party’s monopology on Truth has struck such a deep chord with so many.
2. A craving for intimacy – the 5-year old boy narrator of Emma Donoghue’s novel Room shares an intimacy with his mother which is ultimately broken after their escape from captivity. To me this paradox is central to the power of this novel.
3. A fear of death or the unknown: It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more, says Albus Dumbledore to Harry Potter. It is worth noting that JK Rowling said she could never have written the Harry Potter books if it wasn’t for the fact that she loved her mother, and her mother died. This was clearly a persistent theme throughout Harry’s story.
I believe authors achieve this kind of power in their stories by working with the limited freedom of movement in their own lives and trusting themselves to the unconscious.