I loved what Hilary said about the process of writing. It seems that she does not subscribe to the belief that we must create a structure beforehand, and plan out our work in detail. In regard to her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, the idea she caught was the notion that the truth behind an apparently “evil” character in English history may be far more complex. And then her curiosity and her love of historical research took her on a long and compelling journey. She talks of catching ideas, and of writing scenes and chapters out of order, and I loved it.
In the past I have indeed tried to create a structure beforehand, and I found it not at all helpful. So personal experience has taught me that Hilary Mantel’s way of writing is more to my taste.
When you begin to write a novel, it can often be impossible to say from which source the inspiration has come – and how far back in the past that inspiration had its source.
Now my latest book Paranormal Warwickshire has been published, I am getting back to work on my next novel Standing Ovation.
Thsi is the second in a magical realist series starring Dylan Rafferty, young musically gifted rebel.
The first book, Director’s Cut, sees Dylan tackling a very troubled family in a large house in south London haunted by a family curse.
Dylan seeks to escape the overwhelming influence of his own family and the conventional path they want him to follow through education and his future career. He discovers his favourite actress is filming a TV drama in a nearby Jacobean mansion. He sets off, eager to crash the set and meet her. He succeeds; and she’s delighted by this unusual, intense, talented boy. But Dylan discovers a deeply dysfunctional family who believe themselves afflicted by an inter-generational curse. The house is haunted by ghosts of previous generations. Dylan comes to believe he alone can save these people through the power of his own musical genius As he plunges deeper into the spiritual and psychic deadlock in the house, he encounters a supernatural being, and finds that he must cross the boundary between this world and another dimension.
The story awaits further editing, and I’d also welcome any willing beta readers!
Meanwhile I’m completing the sequel.
In Standing Ovation, Dylan has moved forward from the position he was in at the end of Directors Cut, but he now seeks a quantum leap in his career.
He’s in Stratford-upon-Avon, staying with his friend Xavier, a stage manager at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Then he lands a post as personal assistant to his idol, Konstantin Kosoff, mentally and physically fragile concert pianist, currently controlled by his two highly dubious brothers. Dylan enters another highly dysfunctional and dangerous household and plunges into a position only vacant because the two previous post-holders died in mysterious circumstances.
There are several people who might inspire me for some aspect of my fictional great pianist. I already have in mind the central inspiration; but that may change as I continue the novel, because when writing we may find elements entering the story from the subconscious. I won’t be able to tell how strong a part any of these elements may play until the story decides for itself, and reaches completion.
Do you other writers out there find Hilary Mantel’s approach rings a bell for you? Or do you rely on creating structure beforehand, and planning out the novel in detail? I’d love to know your own creative practice!
Jericho Writers is a resource that has emerged from The Writers Workshop, an online resource masterminded and instigated by Harry Bingham a highly successful crime author, who, along with his own writing career, is dedicated to providing exhaustive resources for writers.
Jericho Writers takes its name from Harry Bingham’s location, which is Jericho, an area of Oxford. I must admit that my first thought when I saw the new name of his online resource was the lyrics of the Negro Spiritual: “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho,Joshua fought the battle of JerichoAnd the walls came a-tumbling down.”
The irony of course, is that for many writers, it’s a very good image of the writing journey: we are indeed fighting a battle, and as for the walls which must come tumbling down, well, I think we may all have our different ideas of what they symbolise for writers.
I first came upon Harry’s online resource The Writers Workshop several years ago, and have used some of its resources, seeking feedback on my manuscripts from two of their editors. In addition, I’ve sought and received advice by email; I’ve studied and used the agents submission kit; and have also watched some of Harry’s videos. In particular I found one on “The inner world of your characters” excellent and very helpful as I self-edited “A Passionate Spirit”. Over the course of time I have come to respect Harry Bingham’s voice as one of the few unfailingly sensible, honest and realistic voices online that offer encouragement and genuine practical help to authors.
Those who’ve heard my author talks will know that during my talk I cover the subject of “The ups and downs of the writing life” and in feedback I’ve discovered that the details I give are often new to my audiences. Many of them had previously had no idea whatsoever of the difficulty of writing a strong, saleable novel, and of getting it published.
One of the points I make is about the support and advice available to authors. I specifically refer to “advice given online to authors.” I have learned that in the writer’s journey there are many voices online, who all want to give advice to you as an author. And one of the most common themes is this. “How I became enormously successful, and sold x thousands of books, and how you can do the same if you follow my advice.”
There’s one fatal flaw to all this barrage of advice: human beings are unique, and every person’s individual journey is different. And what works for one person will not necessarily work for another.
I have come to think of these people as “Siren Voices.” In Homer’s The Odyssey, the hero Odysseus was sailing home across the Mediterranean from the Trojan War.
He came to a region of the ocean where the sirens could be heard. The sirens’ hauntingly beautiful voices would lure sailors to their doom on the rocks. So what did Odysseus do? He stopped up all the ears of his sailors, and he lashed himself to the mast. Thus he sailed past the sirens, beyond the range of their voices, saving his own life and the lives of all of his sailors.
And this is what I have learned to do, with the siren voices of the internet.
However, I can recommend Harry Bingham to you as one voice on the internet which is genuine, down-to-earth, full of integrity, and belongs to someone who has a passionate commitment to helping fellow-authors navigate the treacherous seas of the writing journey, and achieve their goals.
For those of us who are innately suspicious of yet more emails full of advice and handy hints and tips and resources that they claim are going to help us and transform our lives, let me add this: Harry is also very funny. And as far as I’m concerned, that is the one saving grace that probably first made me give him my time and my attention, and has continued to do so. I can be shaking with laughter as I read his observations on the publishing world (in particular, most recently, his remarks about vanity presses and one in particular which he called Austin Macawful). Because his observations are funny, they’re also true; and that works in reverse too, especially in the world of writing and publishing. And the things he talks about, I recognise. It’s happened to me.
So here’s a review of Harry’s new incarnation of The Writers Workshop: Jericho Writers.
This is a most amazingly comprehensive resource; as I looked through it I realised that it truly does cover everything an author might need at any stage of his or her journey, including the equivalent of a Creative Writing MA.
Jericho Writers itself is a club which you pay an annual fee to join; and then you have the run of of four main services: Editing; Courses; Events; and a Library of Articles. The full range of what’s on offer can be overwhelming; and you may find yourself thinking, where shall I start? What would be most helpful for me, at my stage? In that case you are welcome to send them an email and explain your situation and they will advise you on what might be the best place to start. For myself, on joining Jericho Writers and looking through their resources, I found myself thinking there was so much I wanted to do, how would I handle the time-management aspect of it?
Well, it’s all a matter of your priorities and the perceived value to you of what’s on offer. And that’s something you have to ask yourself and carefully consider as you read through the website.
Under the category of EDITING, you’ll find several levels of manuscript assessment: the entire manuscript; or an agent submission pack review of your synopsis, query letter and first 5,000 words; or an assessment of your first 8,000 words; or an assessment of children’s picture books, and screenplays and scripts. They also offer copy-editing, essential for self-publishers.Each service attracts an appropriate fee and you can look through them all to decide what would be best for you.
Under COURSES I was most impressed to discover Daren King’s Complete Novel course – this is one-to-one, online, and with no fixed duration, and works as a personal mentorship with Daren King, bestselling adults’ and children’s author. You will get prose tutorials, constant feedback and advice, will work through Drafts 1-3 with Daren, and when the book is strong enough you will also get help to reach an agent with it. Of course, this is at a significant cost. Yet some have said it’s “like an MA in Creative Writing, only better”. I can well understand that for writers in a certain position, who are genuinely considering a Creative Writing MA, this might be a better, more appropriate and more effective choice.
Under COURSES, the website also includes video courses of different types, to meet varied requirements; whether that be “Snapshot” advice, filmed masterclasses, or training in Self-publishing.
There is also an AGENTMATCH database to make the task of finding an agent easier, and in addition a forum called The Jericho Townhouse.
Under EVENTS, Jericho Writers runs two different one-day events at Regents College, London: one on Getting Published and one on How To Write. They also run an annual Festival of Writing which brings together authors, publishers and agents over a weekend. This includes one-to-one meetings between authors and agents, and it is claimed that often a writer will come away having attracted the interest of an agent, and subsequently landing a publishing deal and a successful literary career.
Finally, the LIBRARY on the site contains articles with good practical advice, on such subjects as How to Write a Book; How To Get Ideas; How Many Words in a Novel; How To Plot, etc.
So do find Jericho Writers here, have a look through the website, and see if it might be what you as a writer need at this stage of your writing journey.
This is the eighth in a series of blog posts in which I re-publish the articles on that blog tour.
So with my thanks to Kerry, here’s the article she first published on her blog on 8th September:
INTENSE RELATIONSHIPS IN CLOSED COMMUNITIES, AND THE STRESS AND TENSIONS OF LIFE
I was inspired to write Mystical Circles by, among other things, the challenge and the dual effect of family relationships; family relationships which seek to protect and encourage and advise, and which sometimes turn in a negative direction, when they may stultify and suffocate and control.
I had an idea in my mind of an older sister shocked and horrified by a decision her impetuous young sister had made – a decision which could impact on the rest of her life, and which might lead her down a path the older sister thought destructive.
So I began my tale of Juliet, a freelance journalist who has begun to establish herself well in life, horrified by unexpected news from younger sister Zoe, fresh out of university, no plans in mind for a career, who has been captivated by a new spiritual outlook – and a very seductive cult leader – or so it appears to Juliet.
Of course, when a novelist sets out to create a story, real people influence fictional characters. And then those characters take off, and develop a mind of their own, and soon they are controlling the plot and driving the novelist along certain paths. I have long been fascinated by human personality and the ways in which different individuals interact with each other, either leaching energy from or building up those who they come into contract with. Likewise, the whole area of group dynamics is a source of inspiration for me. I have been in many different groups of people throughout my life – whether that be within a family gathering, an office environment, a structured workshop or psychological therapy group, or a new age spiritual group like the one portrayed in Mystical Circles – or, indeed, a writing workshop or conference.
Another of my inspirations for Mystical Circles was an Arvon Foundation writing course I attended at Totleigh Barton farmhouse in Devon. I’ve been to many other other writing weekends and courses too, which have fed into the events of my own novels. Look no further than a group of writers, if you want to plumb the depths of emotional anguish, and numerous psychological tensions such as jealousy, euphoria, new hope, the depths of despair. I like the idea of exploring the intense relationships that develop in closed communities and certainly a week closeted together with other writers in a remote farmhouse gives plenty of fuel for such a scenario as the one I develop in Mystical Circles.
The Wheel of Love, the new age spiritual group which Zoe has joined, is a claustrophobic hothouse environment. Here in this close circle, as the blurb says, intrigues, liaisons and relationships flare and flourish or fizzle out quickly. This acts as a strong challenge to Juliet who is a freelance journalist and who starts out intending to remain objective…
Mystical Circles is out in a new edition with a new cover design on 5 September 2017.
Publisher:Luminarie; edition 3 (5th September 2017)
“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.
SC Skillman lives in Warwickshire, and her two thriller suspense novels Mystical Circles and A Passionate Spirit are set in the beautiful Cotswolds hills, not far from her present home. She has also written Perilous Path: A Writer’s Journey, a book of encouraging advice, tips and reminders for authors. Sheila was born and brought up in Orpington, Kent, and has loved writing stories most of her life; inspired by the adventure stories of Enid Blyton, she started writing adventure stories at the age of seven.
Sheila studied English Literature at Lancaster University, and her first permanent job was as a production secretary with the BBC. Later she lived for nearly five years in Australia before returning to the UK. She has now settled in Warwick with her husband David, son Jamie and daughter Abigail. Nearby are three of England’s most famous destinations: the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at Stratford-upon Avon and the two great castles at Kenilworth and Warwick.
She completed two full-length adult novels before turning to psychological suspense with Mystical Circles. Her paranormal thriller, A Passionate Spirit, inspired by Susan Howatch and Barbara Erskine, was published by Matador on 28 November 2015.
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.