Genre: What is it Exactly?

On  2nd September on the second day of my Mystical Circles blog tour,Blog tour ad as at 26 August 2017 blogger Jenny in Neverland hosted a guest post from me on her blog.

This is part of a series when I shall be re-blogging those articles from that blog tour. So today’s post is the article Jenny first published, called:

Genre: what is it exactly?

As a writer, I believe we should be willing to explore new areas, and to step outside our comfort zone. And that applies very closely to us as readers too. I read a wide variety of books, both non-fiction, and fiction of all genres. I admit I do like psychological insight but I believe all good writers in every genre should incorporate that in their novels anyway.

I find that the way I think about genre is influenced by my own eclectic reading habits. I did have quite a bit of trouble trying to work out what genre I was writing in myself. Writers are given an enormous amount of advice these days, mostly from online sources, and amongst them is this adage: Write the kind of book you most love reading. But if you read a wide variety of books, how does this help?

Another piece of advice we find floating around the internet (perhaps propagated by the commercial publishing fraternity) is that an author should, when writing a pitch to a literary agent, be clear what genre he or she is working in, so the agent reading the letter can immediately think, “Whereabouts in the bookshop will this book will go?” Another piece of advice suggests you should name a few established authors to whom your novel could be compared.

All this is anathema to me – and to many other writers, I suggest. Yet we are forced into this kind of mindset.

So now, for the benefit of the readers of this article, I shall say that Mystical Circles is psychological suspense with a flavour of paranormal.

An example of my willingness to go into new areas is my recent attendance of the UK Games Expo, as one of five writers on the Authors Stand; and for a while, we were alongside a bestselling author and his legion of fans queuing up for signed copies: Ian Livingstone, the successful creator of the fighting Fantasy gamebooks series. So what do fighting fantasy and roleplay games have to do with books such as the ones I write?

I admit I knew nothing of the UK Games Expo until I was invited by the organiser, author Richard Denning, through his father John (a friend of mine) to come and exhibit/sell my books on the Authors Stall all weekend last June at the Birmingham NEC. It was a fabulous opportunity. The gaming world is one that I haven’t paid too much attention to, but the whole weekend was a revelation.

The atmosphere was wonderful, there was so much fun and good humour. I met and made contact with new authors, I had the chance to chat and learn better ways to promote myself as an author, and there was a great sense of camaraderie. The gaming world is one in which a vast number of “tropes” flourish: adventure, quests, danger, violence, fantasy, history, steampunk, sci fi…

I gained some new insights into how my own work is indeed using some of those tropes, for instance, the predicament of the main protagonist as she finds herself in a deadly situation from which she must escape. Hidden chambers and secret passageways and dark rooms all find their place in the gaming world. There was an unexpected connection for me.

Mystical Circles is set in the real world but the world Craig inhabits moves further and further into a world of impossible ideals – and the paranormal, an area in which he has special gifts. Hidden chambers and secret passageways and dark rooms all act as symbols for states of mind – and thus their connection to the world of psychological suspense fiction. And finally, family relationships, which play a strong role in my novel. Problematic relationships between father and son, between two sisters, between twin brothers, between mother and son… I find these provide a fertile ground upon which the action of my novels can be played.

Which leaves me still with a fluid situation as regards genre; though now I write psychological suspense, the paranormal element is getting stronger, and maybe in the future I could move into areas of fantasy and magical realism. All is possible.

…And Back to the Writing Again….

For novelists these days there comes a time when, having  devoted our time to promoting the novels we have already written, and having listened to the alluring voices of the internet sirens Print( see here for my post on this subject) we return to our raison d’etre again: writing.

Having  finished the first draft of my WIP in June I’ve now printed it out and this afternoon will read it through ready to make revisions for a second draft.

This is always an exciting and a nerve-wracking time, and it’s a time I love because during the first read-through I usually find all sorts of new thoughts and questions and connections popping up, which I scribble on the manuscript; often things that never occurred to me during the time of writing. I’m reading it as if it was written by a different person.

Right now it feels as if I’m getting back to the purpose for all this; the joy of connecting again with my main protagonist and with all her issues and challenges, and taking her through  her story again, with all the other characters who will test her to the utmost, in their many different ways.

To those who  ask “What’s the book about?” here’s the one-sentence storyline:

It’s a psychological suspense / modern gothic novel set in London, about a young actress who finds herself trapped with  a troubled priest in a house haunted by a family curse.

I’ll have to leave it again on Friday as I’m going to a writers conference for the weekend. But I’ll have the chance to test it out on Saturday during a chat with a London agent and with the  publishing direcor of Picador.

So see you next week when I’ll be able to report back from my weekend at ScotsWrite, a Society of Authors Conference in Scotland.

 

 

 

 

The New Luminarie Editions of Mystical Circles and Perilous Path Are Out Now

I’m pleased to  announce my two new books are on sale now. Mystical Circles Front Cover Final Version4 They can be found online through the links below and also, of course, to order through all good bookshops.

You can download my psychological suspense novel Mystical Circles here, and you can buy the paperback here.

My inspirational writer’s guide Perilous Path can be downloaded here, or ordered as a paperback here.

There are many ways to help an author besides buying the books! Cover design of Perilous Path by SC Skillman, a motivational and inspirational writer's guide pub Luminarie 5 Sep 2017You can get the word out by sharing, recommending and reviewing online. And in the real world you can recommend titles to your own book club for discussion; or order the books through your local library to increase their awareness and encourage them to order copies for their stock.

It all helps. And if you do support me in any one of the above ways,  thank you very much!

 

 

BOOK COVER REVEAL: NEW LUMINARIE EDITION OF MYSTICAL CIRCLES, THE PREQUEL TO A PASSIONATE SPIRIT

I’m delighted to announce that I can now show you the Cover Reveal for my new Luminarie edition of Mystical Circles!Luminarie Banner-03.png

It’s been a long and sometimes fraught journey with the cover designers but I’m very excited with the final result!

Read two reviews here from young adult authors:

Intense Psychological Drama in a Beautiful Setting

First of all, I fell in love with the beautiful house where the story is set, and wanted to go there immediately! Against this backdrop, a tense and intriguing psychological drama is worked out, with new twists and revelations every day. The complex and often damaged characters gathered together react and interact more often than not in ways that surprise and sometimes shock, and you are kept guessing about the outcomes of some of the relationships until the very end. This was an intense and compelling story with many twists and turns in the plot to keep you reading. (Eleanor Watkins, YA author )

Psychological Suspense That Doesn’t Disappoint

The scene is an idyllic Cotswold farmhouse, where a mixed bag of needy people live in a community. Enter journalist Juliet, seeking to save her younger sister from the clutches of what she considers a cult, with its charismatic and enigmatic leader, Craig. Like Juliet, we are drawn into the claustrophobic lives of the characters in this “Wheel of Love” and find ourselves unable to leave. As the emotional and psychological tensions crackle and ignite against each other, it’s like watching a slow-motion train crash of the conflicting personalities, desires, jealousies and hurts. If you like your drama filled with psychological suspense, with a hint of the paranormal, then you won’t be disappointed. I’m pleased to see there’s a sequel, A Passionate Spirit.  (Philip S Davies, YA author)

So without more ado here is the book cover for Mystical Circles.

 

Mystical Circles 9781999707309 Full Cover Final Version4

Blurb:

“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.

The new Luminarie edition of Mystical Circles is available as from 5 September 2017. It will be available online and in all good bookstores.

And I am doing a special promotion for a limited period for UK readers of this blog. Copies of the paperback can be pre-ordered direct from me via the Contact Me section of this blog, at 20% discount from the RRP of £8.99, and free of p& p. There will be 10 copies of the book available through this promotion to the first 10 purchasers, and all I ask is that you post your review on Amazon as soon as you’ve read the book!

 

 

Rummaging For Reality at the Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick

Here I am, a psychological suspense writer,  at a conference for psychotherapists, healers, counsellors and creative people – and together with them  I am rummaging for reality.

This is  very brief post in a spare hour before I go off to a workshop this afternoon. But already I feel I am working my way towards a new clarity and insight both into this life and into my new novel.  One came this morning. It was very simple: only these words: “We are exploring different parts of the same reality at different stages of our lives.”

A few days before coming on this conference I was doing some of my own rummaging, through a file of newspaper clips which I’ve kept for about 3 decades now – just to see what jumped out at me in my current situation, a new work-in-progress before me.

 

And it was an article from the Sunday Times 10/5/92 written by the novelist Wendy Perriam called ‘Heaven Can Wait’. It was subtitled Do bad Catholics make good writers? And considered the fact that many great writers – e.g. Greene, Joyce, Spark, Waugh, O’Brien and Lodge – either lapsed, or struggling with their faith, poured out words as once they poured out prayers.

In this article Wendy Perriam says many things which touch me profoundly, despite the fact that I am not a Catholic, present or lapsed. I’ll quote just one point here, which I resonate with, and which shone out at me from my ‘rummaging’:

 

‘A sense of religion does give a depth and resonance to fiction, and if our characters have immortal souls, they’re surely more important, more valuable to their creator, than if they’re regarded as mere accumulations of vibrating molecules.’

Hopefully I may have some more insights from my rummaging to share with you in next week’s post!

 

The Psychology of Mother and Son in the Psycho Prequel “Bates Motel”

My daughter Abigail, Creative Media Production student, has recently completed a project on Alfred Hitchcock’s editing technique in Psycho.

Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 masterpiece Psycho
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece Psycho

So I’ve watched Psycho again several times recently. And my fascination with the subject led me to pick up the books Abigail had gathered for her project, and read them myself. Editing techniques in film can of course be applied to fiction writing too; what you choose to show, and the way you cut it together, can play a vital role in creating an emotional response in the audience. Hitchcock was the master of this, and profoundly influenced the history of film with his genius.

Over the last week we’ve been watching the DVDs of the US TV series Bates Motel, which is a prequel to the events of Psycho, set in the contemporary world, and showing how Norman developed to become the figure Anthony Perkins so famously portrayed in Hitchcock’s 1960 film.

We’ve now watched 6 episodes of Bates Motel in which the young Norman is played brilliantly by Freddie Highmore, (who looks like a young Anthony Perkins); his mother Norma is played by Vera Farmiga; and an additional character Norman’s older brother Dylan, is played by Max Thierot.

This is the most discerning portrayal of dysfunctional family dynamics. As a writer of psychological suspense fiction myself I cannot help but be mesmerised by the skill with which Norman’s early life is portrayed, and by the clarity and focus with which it accounts for Norman’s behaviour in Psycho. The series is highly focussed in what it says about unhealthy mutually-interdependent relationships, in this case, between a mother and son.

IN particular Vera Farmiga as Norma is outstanding, as she portrays the toxic mix of Norma’s psychological make-up. We watch mesmerised as the pace of events, and the choices she makes, precipitate her into rapid changes between being over-affectionate, unreasonable, controlling, proud and hard, aggressive and emotionally manipulative. Finely blended into this mix, we find flashes of callous indifference, mental cruelty and martyr complex, as she puts guilt on Norman.

Dylan, the older brother is an inspired addition to the gallery of characters, one whom we didn’t see in Psycho. In Bates Motel he represents normality. As he says about Norma: “She’s always got a drama, and she always will. She’s like an addict. And when you have an addict in your life the best thing you can do for them is walk away from them…” “You’ve just got to get away from mum,” he says to younger brother Norman. “She’s just going to bring you down with her.” How prophetic of the events in Psycho.

And as you follow the twists and turns of the plot, you see how Norma has a talent for creating alternative scenarios when things go wrong, which serves only to complicate things further and make them far worse.

Dylan tries to persuade her to “stop making up stories”. As you watch the drama, you just long for Norman to accept Dylan’s offer to leave his mother and go to live with Dylan instead. You start to persuade yourself that this could be the vital moment of choice, when, if Norman had taken this step, he might have been saved from the tragedy and horror of the future as presented in Psycho.

And yet you still can’t help thinking: would that help? How would Dylan deal with Norman’s mental health problem? Would Norman end up killing Dylan instead?

If you’re at all interested in the psychological suspense/thriller genre, do get hold of the DVDs of “Bates Motel” and see for yourself!

Page-Turning Psychological Suspense Free on Kindle

Mystical Circles cover image
Mystical Circles cover image

Mystical Circles

by SC Skillman

 

PAGE-TURNING ROMANTIC SUSPENSE   

FREE ON KINDLE

Download for free any time between 8pm on 24 November and 8am on 27 November

“Hi, you in crowded, stressed old London from me in the peaceful, perfect Cotswolds. Massive change of plan. I’m in love. Craig is gorgeous, sexy, intelligent. Paradise here. Staying forever.”

Juliet, concerned that her younger sister has fallen for the charismatic Craig, leader of the Wheel of Love, sets off for the Cotswold hills to investigate.

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.

PRAISE FOR MYSTICAL CIRCLES

“Skillman weaves romance and attraction with spiritual searching and emotional needs, powerful universal themes”
Marie Calvert (Arts Psychotherapist and Retreat Leader)

“Mystical Circles will captivate you from the first paragraph… From page one my antennas were up… like any good mystery the more I read the more questions I had.. if a great mystery would not keep you reading there was a touch of romance as well… Mystical Circles is definitely a page turner. I recommend this book.”
Marsha Randolph (US Book Reviewer)

“I highly recommend this book for anyone!”
Kristina Franken (Goodreads Book Reviewer)

“AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
Paddy O’Callaghan (Goodreads Book Reviewer)

Mystical Circles – Is Everything Really As Perfect As It Seems?

For those who’ve been following my series on “Mystical Experiences and Glimpses of Eternity” you may recognise this as the perennial question – unspoken – in the mind of anyone on the spiritual journey I describe.

And it’s certainly the question behind much of my exploring."Mystical Circles" new print edition published August 2012

My heroine Juliet explores this too – in an idyllic farmhouse in the Cotswolds.

Hi, you in crowded, stressed old London from me in the peaceful, perfect Cotswolds. Massive change of plan. I’m in love. Craig is gorgeous, sexy, intelligent. Paradise here. Staying forever.

Juliet, concerned that her younger sister has fallen for the charismatic Craig, leader of the Wheel of Love, sets off for the Cotswolds to investigate.

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.

“Mystical Circles” is available now in the new print edition from Booklocker. The new edition has a well-designed interior & is a smaller size than the previous (US Trade) edition. Plus a brand new cover design. If you enjoy romantic suspense why not try it out here? You can try before you buy – and download the first three chapters. Enjoy!

Currents, Backwaters and Muddy Tributaries in Fiction: and the Fascination of the One Star Review

Reading a novel is like going on a voyage down a river.

Whitewater rapids (credit: rafting.co.uk)
Whitewater rapids (credit: rafting.co.uk)

Sometimes the water’s smooth and calm, sometimes rough; occasionally you may find yourself in whitewater rapids; and ultimately it flows into the sea.

If your boat gets ambushed by a rogue current and becomes snarled up among tree roots and rushes in a muddy backwater, that spoils your journey.

But does it make you give up on the book?

That happened to me recently with JK Rowling’s novel The Casual Vacancy.

She’d gripped me, early on, with a vivid description of a social worker visiting the dysfunctional family of an abused child. But then, as I saw the way her narrative was tending, I decided I wasn’t in the mood to read an unrelenting account of numerous people behaving in a particularly unpleasant way.

But as I loved all the Harry Potter books, and admire JK Rowling herself, I decided to put the book aside and return to it at another time, when I may feel differently about her choice of subject.

I believe that the way we respond to novels is a complex mixture of mood, temperament, expectation, and our own experience of  the world.

And when our expectations have been defeated, we might love it – or we might immediately get onto Amazon and bestow a one-star review.

Various factors determine whether we do  the latter – or wait, and perhaps come back to it another time, as I plan to with The Casual Vacancy.

I enjoy reading different responses to my own novel Mystical Circles. Of course, like all authors, I feel happy if I see that the majority have given it 5-star reviews (especially on Goodreads, Amazon & Barnes & Noble).

But the reviews that intrigue me – for any novel – are the one-star reviews. I quite often go to them first, specially to find out what is the worst that can be said of this novel.

But does that put me off the novel? No way! It can even enhance my interest in the novel, by giving it an extra dimension.

I believe the most interesting lessons are to be found in extreme divergence of opinion.

What do you think?