Life Inside a Spiritual Hothouse: The Circle of Love in Mystical Circles

On 5th September on the fifth day of my Mystical Circles blog tour, author and blogger Sue Vincent published a guest post from me on her blog Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo.Blog tour ad as at 26 August 2017

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts in which I re-publish the articles in that blog tour.

So here’s the piece Sue first published on her blog on 5th September.

Inside a Spiritual Hothouse

My inspiration for Mystical Circles came from a wide variety of spiritual practices, philosophies and worldviews which I have myself explored over the past decades. I wanted to tell a tale of family relationships, and how they are affected when one member of a family becomes captivated by a new spiritual outlook.  Inevitably as in the case of most fiction authors, I have drawn extensively on my own life and experience.

Also I believe it is true to say that when novelists create characters, although we certainly use real people we have met, most often those characters are a composite of different individuals. But one thing remains true: often there is a little bit of the author in every character. And that is true for Mystical Circles.

In my novel, I introduce my reader to Craig, the leader of the spiritual group Circle of Love. And Craig would be impossible for me to create if there wasn’t a little bit of me in him, in his beliefs, his ideals, his longings, the spiritual outlook he wants to share with others.

Craig’s teachings are based on three main strands:

  • The Toltec Philosophy of the Yaqui Indian Sorcerers, as presented to a Western audience in the writings of Carlos Castaneda (whose book The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge fascinated me). In this outlook, there are several different paths one may take, and one of those paths is the Path of the Warrior. There is a special group of skills which belong to the Warrior alone and one of those is to learn to erase your personal history.  Craig takes up this concept, and aims to use it to teach his followers to move on from the past. For so many of us, the root of emotional and mental instability is that we persist in taking an emotional position about the past.
  • Shamanism – this plays a part in Tibetan Dream Yoga which I explored during my years living in Australia. Shamanism in our own culture derives from Celtic times and incorporates the idea of shapeshifting – which also makes an appearance in my novel.
  • The Human Potential Movement – the idea that we can be anything we want to be, if only we believe in ourselves, if only we master the arts of creative visualisation and positive thinking. I believe, from much experience, that this whole area, though extremely beguiling, must be handled with care… and we see some of its outworkings in my novel.

My own past experiences include exploration of such practices as past life visualisation using crystals (in Australia), attendance of lectures on Reincarnation and many workshops at the Theosophical Society in London; and floating in an isolation tank (again in Australia), along with many other investigations into spiritualism, Buddhism , Transcendental Meditation and Transpersonal Psychology among others.

In Craig, all this is presented in an extremely attractive and appealing Western package. The package incorporates a long-term stay in a gracious Cotswold manor house which many of us, myself included, might consider a highly desirable place to live, if only we had the money: an idyllic Country Homes type lifestyle.  Craig himself dresses like a former cricket star turned TV personality, not like a traditional eastern guru at all. The lifestyle his followers lead is a rather indulgent one with lavish dinner parties and champagne. This hugely seductive package for his followers rests upon, we presume, though it is not stated, the fact that they have made over all their financial resources to Craig.

In fact Craig, though full of idealism, is dependent for his material survival upon his own personal dysfunctional relationship with his wealthy businessman father. He relies on his father’s major weakness: a compulsion to try and buy his son’s love.

In presenting the story of Juliet’s investigations at the Wheel of Love, and how the impetuous Zoe reacts to her older sister’s interference, I take a non-didactic approach. I myself have shared the hopes and dreams (and for some of them, the emotional damage) of the characters in this novel. Dramatic tension is high. One reader wrote that it was “the dangerous group dynamics” which intrigued her most. If Mystical Circles sounds like your taste do try it!

 

 

 

Forging Our Own Paths and Surviving the Internet Sirens

On 1st September at the beginning of my Mystical Circles blog tour, author and blogger Sacha Black hosted a guest post from me on her blog.  Print

In my next few posts I shall be re-blogging my posts and auhor interviews on that blog tour. So today’s post is the article Sacha first published, called “How To Survive the Internet Sirens.”

I’ve just returned from ScotsWrite, a Society of Authors Conference in Scotland. And one of the speakers at the conference was a lady who I might include under the category of internet sirens though I will admit she said some very interesting things and I will be taking up some of her ideas! So there’s always a few exceptions to a general rule…

How To Survive the Internet Sirens

In the writing and publishing world these days we are often told that it is no longer sufficient to be just an author. No, you have to be a promoter as well, and a self-publicist, and a PR specialist. You have to master the art of the press release, learn how to write appealing advertising copy, know how to pitch yourself to someone in a single sentence in a lift, and master numerous pieces of software in order to orchestrate them all skilfully with one end in mind – to sell your product, i.e. your new book.

This all begs the question of how you should manage your time so you can actually fit in writing the next book.

One way of going about it is to be a multi-tasker. Accomplish several different tasks a day by juggling them all and keeping them all in the air. Or if you are a list person, try to achieve a sense of control over your life by surrounding yourself with typed-up To Do Lists.  Or perhaps you might work with a noticeboard covered with Post It Notes.
Lest we forget, what started all this was a desire to create fiction, to bring people to life who never existed, to dream up worlds for them to inhabit, and sometimes to find that ‘they come alive. They are capable of the surprising act or word. They stand outside the plot, unconditioned by it’. And then there are other characters ‘who have to be pushed around…. have the obstinacy of nonexistence…..are inextricably bound to the plot… whose only importance is to… help to furnish the scene in which a living character moves and speaks,” as Graham Greene explained so eloquently in his novel The End of the Affair.One thing’s for sure; you will need to try to Mystical Circles Front Cover Final Version4hold onto your sanity, so you may need your drug of choice – whether that be herbal calming tablets, or numerous infusions of caffeine, or glasses of wine, or, probably the least advisable substance of all, cakes and biscuits, to keep you going. For you will also have to master how to put out Facebook ads, and how to drive people to your mailing list sign-up forms, and monitor the response you get, and adjust your ads accordingly.

In this quote, Graham Greene expresses the strange feeling authors can sometimes get about their characters, when the lines blur between the real world and the fictional world of their own creation. Sometimes we do indeed feel like characters forced here and there by an unseen hand, without any free will. I fear that in today’s climate we as authors can feel like that, when voices ‘out there’ are constantly telling us what to do to make ourselves visible, to get readers to pay attention to us, to direct the searchlight of attention upon us, notice our books, and buy them.

It feels as if we are drifting, boats upon the current, into that region of the ocean where we may hear siren voices luring us onto the rocks. Maybe the only answer is to do as Odysseus did in Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, during his voyage home after the Trojan War, when he tied himself to the mast, and stopped up all the ears of the sailors on the ship, so they might sail safely past and out of the range of the siren voices.

Surely this isn’t the way it should be for creative people?

 

And yet, perhaps I have misunderstood; for when we study the biographies of past authors, we cannot help noticing that they had their own struggles, though maybe slightly different, conditioned by the culture of their time. Were we ever intended to exist in an ivory tower, as we write our books?

I think of a wonderful quote from JK Rowling, who said in a 2003 interview with Jeremy Paxman: I imagined being a famous writer would be like being Jane Austen. Being able to sit at home in the parsonage and your books would be very famous and occasionally you would correspond with the Prince of Wales’ secretary. You know I didn’t think they’d rake through my bins, I didn’t expect to be photographed on the beach through long lenses.’

Every individual creative person has their own struggles, though I grant that JK Rowling’s struggles at that point were probably different from ours right now, as we try to make some kind of impact upon the world with our stories.

Each novel that we write has to some extent emerged from our own lives, our own personal experiences, our own take upon the world, and so it feels as if we are giving from deep within ourselves. That is certainly the case with my novel Mystical Circles (out in a new edition on 5 September).  Much of the novel has arisen from my own personal experience.

But I feel we can take heart from these words of Sir Winston Churchill who although he eventually became such an iconic figure, suffered many setbacks and failures in his life. He was addressing an audience of school pupils who had gathered to hear words of wisdom from the great man. He said, “I only have 5 words to give you. They are Never, never, never give up.

The links for my recently re-released novel Mystical Circles may be found here:

AmazonCOM

AmazonUK

Book 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.

 

 

 

 

…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.

 

 

 

 

Fun and Excitement with Fantasy Authors at the UK Games Expo 2017

The UK Games Expo had not been on my radar until Richard Denning one of the Games Expo directors and a historical and fantasy novelist, kindly offered me space on the Authors Stand in the Birmingham NEC during the weekend Friday 2 – Sunday 4 June 2017.10

So there I was for three days, sharing a stand in a huge venue with some very popular and successful authors, as I displayed and sold copies of my three books, Mystical Circles, A Passionate Spirit and Perilous Path.

This was a fabulous opportunity. The gaming world is one that I haven’t paid too much attention to in the past, but the whole weekend was a revelation. The atmosphere was vibrant; colourful characters and a dazzling variety of games and gaming accessories abounded, all contributing to the fun and good humour which was evident among the exhibitors and visitors.

I met and learned from other authors on the stand:

Jonathan Green 4who writes sci fi, fantasy and adventure gamebooks;and Gareth Baker, children’s writer. 3

I also met Ian Livingstone, fantasy author and entrepreneur, and co-founder of the Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks.6

He came to do a signing and long queues formed as his fans flocked to the stand to have their books signed and to chat to him.8

 

 

 

I had the chance to exchange ideas and learn better ways to promote myself as an author, and there was a great sense of camaraderie among all those exhibiting their books on the stand.

Meanwhile, many cosplay enthusiasts strolled past in wonderful costumes.20

Transformation was the name of the game as so many took on the personnas of multifarious game characters and archetypes.31.jpg

We also had a photo opportunity with a Dalek, who passed by the Authors stand and demanded, “What is A Passionate Spirit?” IMG_7839.JPG

The gaming world is one in which a vast number of “tropes”  flourish: adventure, quests, danger, violence, fantasy, history, steampunk, sci fi…

30

I gained some new insights into how my own WIP is indeed using some of the gaming 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 my novel, and these elements are very popular in the gaming world.  17

Also the Gothic genre – which I now work within – has a close relationship with the gaming world. So there was an unexpected connection for me, together with the fact that I’m using paranormal and supernatural elements more and more in my fiction, and also would like to move more into fantasy in the future.

Perhaps I have inspired you to try the UK Games Expo yourself next year!33

My Dream Cast for “Mystical Circles”

Novelists, have you “dreamcast the film adaptation of your book? Many do! Film Adaptations of books If you do it early enough in the process of writing your novel, it can be very helpful. Though I understand that the reality of having your book turned into a film can sometimes not be a very pleasant experience. I was amused by this quote from the blog My Book, the Movie:

They would ask me what actors I saw in the roles. I would tell them, and they’d say, ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’ And that would be the end of it.   (Elmore Leonard, in 2000, on the extent of his input for Hollywood’s adaptation of his novels).

Here’s my dream cast for Mystical Circles:

Juliet, my main protagonist, who  hurries to the Cotswolds to rescue her sister from a charismatic cult leader:   Jennifer Lawrence

Zoe, Juliet’s younger sister:      Saoirse Ronan

Theo, a troubled priest:    Bradley James

Rory, a strange young man with a mysterious “thorn in the flesh”:    Johnny Depp

Edgar, obsessed with getting new recruits to fill out questionnaires:     Matt Smith

Al, an American visitor:     John Goodman

Llewellyn, a Welsh poet:     Rhys Ifans

Don, the cult leader’s disenchanted father:     Bill Nighy

Oleg, a Russian visitor:     David Tennant

Sam, a nervous youth, here on his GP’s recommendation to recover from an unhealthy mutually interdependent relationship with his twin brother:     Matt Baynton

Laura, flighty girl-woman of indeterminate age:     Sarah Hadland

Craig, the cult leader:     Tom Hiddleston

James, urbane and elegant, Craig’s former mentor from Edinburgh University who inspired him to set up the cult in the first place:     Benedict Cumberbatch

Patrick, an Irish handyman and gardener:     James Nesbitt

Beth, an insecure and tense young woman:      Zooey Deschanel

And having chosen the cast, here is my dream production company:  Working Title Films.

And the producers:  Duncan Kenworthy, Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan.

And finally, the Director: Debbie Isitt.

Look out for the third edition of Mystical Circles  with a new cover design. It will be published by Luminarie on 30 August 2017.

New Cover Design Coming for Edition 3 of Mystical Circles To Be Published by Luminarie on 31 August 2017

Mystical Circles will be published by Luminarie in a new third edition on 31 August.

Instead of the present cover, it will have a new cover created by the designer behind the cover of A Passionate Spirit.author SC Skillman at booksigning at King Edward VI School Christmas Fair SUA 3 Dec 2016

The cover design will be darker and more mysterious than that for edition 2, in keeping with the tone of the story, and will harmonise with A Passionate Spirit.

Both novels  share themes of psychological tensions, spiritual threat, religious cults, paranormal, and shape-shifters; and both are set in the same Cotswolds manor house. Although each story can be read and enjoyed as a stand-alone, the second does follow on from the first, and draws through a couple of the characters who appeared before. So to demonstrate more clearly the connection between the two, a thematic relationship will be seen in the two cover designs.

More later when I’ll be able to give the cover reveal!

In addition my book of encouraging  tips, insights and reminders for writers, Perilous Path: A Writer’s Journey, will be published in a second edition with Luminarie, on the same date – 31 August 2017.

The new edition of each of the above books will be available as a paperback and as an ebook. Mystical Circles paperback will be priced at £8.99 to bring it into line with A Passionate Spirit, and Perilous Path will be available for £4.99.

Meanwhile I’ve reached 70,581 words in my third novel, Director’s Cut. This will continue the themes of my first two novels, with a strong emphasis on modern Gothic. I know the way the story is to end – but my main antagonist is more frightening, subtle and cunning than those in my first two novels, and the power struggle with the chief protagonist is nearing that ‘black moment’ when it seems all is lost. I still don’t know how she is to survive or to prosper, through the things she will learn from this encounter.Expectations (2)  Perhaps that’s the best way for it to be, when creating a first draft; to maintain a dynamic relationship with the characters and their inner worlds, there must be a strong element of uncertainty. If the author is to defeat the reader’s expectations, she must first defeat her own!

 

 

Find Me on the Authors Stand at the UK Games Expo 2017 in Birmingham

From 2nd to 4th June 2017 logo for UK Games Expothere will be a big event for games players and lovers of fantasy, thrillers and roleplay at the NEC Birmingham.

There’ll be four authors at the Expo, of whom I am one. Click here to find out more about the authors Jonathan Green, Richard Denning, Gareth Baker and myself.

You’ll find us on Stand F11.

We’d love to see you at this exciting event! Click here to find out more about the show and how to book tickets.

Joan of Arc: Mystical Experiences and Empowerment

The other day I saw an encore screening of George Bernard Shaw’s play “St Joan” from National Theatre Live.St Joan National Theatre Live I studied this play at university. Then, as in my recent viewing, I was entranced by the character of Joan herself, and by the words Shaw puts into her mouth.

Joan has  special resonance for me because when I was young, as a member of a children’s choir, I sang in a performance of Honneger’s “Joan of Arc at the Stake” – an oratorio with words by Paul Claudel, a Catholic poet. The performance was at the Royal Albert Hall; Mia Farrow played Joan, and Andre Previn conducted the London Symphony Orchestra. We sang the part of the children of Lorraine.

The character of Joan had a strong impact upon me. I remember several words from “Joan of Arc at the Stake” and they are largely from Joan herself, in which she described her visions and her mystical inspiration, in terms that totally encompassed their reality.

To me the central thing about Joan of Arc was “empowerment”.

Joan was an illiterate peasant girl who claimed she heard a trio of saints speaking to her; and on the basis of this she believed God wanted her to lead the French army to fight and defeat the English, and place Charles II on the throne of France. In 1431, when she was nineteen years old, the English led by the Earl of Warwick tried her on numerous charges, one of which was blasphemy, and sentenced her to be burnt at the stake. The part of the saints were sung by soloists in the music drama; and I felt that Paul Claudel  handled the whole work from the viewpoint that Joan’s experiences were real.  The work has been accused by critics of being several things, including weird, bizarre, sentimental and heavily Roman Catholic, but I loved it, just as I love Elgar’s “The Dream of Gerontius”, another musical work which has in the past had the same accusations levelled against it.

When I reflect upon Joan and the fascination she holds for me, I see her as someone who was marginalised, who had religious experiences which empowered her, and who refused to be controlled by her circumstances:

  1. Whether or not a postmodern assessment concludes that her ‘voices’ may be accounted for by mental illness – perhaps schizophrenia, or psychosis –  she definitely had profound religious experiences.
  2. She acted upon these experiences.
  3. She derived from them courage, strength and vision to prevail again huge male-dominated interests in Church, State and Army. Both Shaw and Claudel show her as clear sighted, strong and single minded against her powerful interrogators.

I think of similar cases of young girls and women who have had profound religious experiences which then impact the future course of their lives and the lives of many others:  Bernadette of Lourdes, St Therese of Lisieux and Julian of Norwich.

Part of the fascination of these individuals to me is that between them they usually demonstrate one of a number of recurring features, which tend to marginalise: these elements include being young, female, poor / of peasant background or illiterate; and suffering from serious illness, whether bodily or mental. Another element that often appears is the gift of healing. There are many other examples, of whom a good proportion have had visions or extraordinary powers of insight, on the basis of which they have gained enormous influence, and have captured the imagination of future generations.

What do you think? Can you offer other examples of young female visionaries who have had a big impact on the world and may have captured your imagination?

 

What do the Secrets of the Australian Swagman Have to Say to Creative Writers?

“Ashes are much hotter than flames”.Picture of an Australian swagman by George Washington Lambert - Sheoak Sam, 1898This is an observation I heard online a few months ago, and you’d think, OK, what does that have to do with creative writers?  Well, let me take you to the Australian Outback to explain.

The ‘swagman’ of Waltzing Matilda fame traditionally goes walkabout through the Outback of Australia with only 3 basic foodstuffs in his tucker bag: onions, flour and golden syrup.  That’s so he can bake the essential carbs portion of his diet, damper, in the ashes of his fire, (to eat later with syrup) and also the onion, an indispensable companion to the ‘jumbuck’ that he’s poached from whichever sheep-station he happens to be passing through.

Here is the process of making damper, demonstrated by a honorary ‘bushman’ / exponent of bush-craft (alias a friend of my sister’s then living in a caravan in Stanthorpe, Queensland), a process which my daughter Abigail photographed while we were in Australia in 2007:

So what does this have to say to creative writers?

Simply this: writing a novel can be like making damper from scratch in the Australian bush. You gather together your basic requirements; wood for a fire, pot to make your damper in, flour and water, and off you go.  Your fire must be just right; no more flames, but nice hot ashes, ready for the cooking. The pan is placed on the ashes and heated up ready to take the mixture, and for the lid to go on. Then the pan is covered with hot ashes and left to cook. the hot ashes are later swept away with a sprig of greenery. Every stage of the process requires careful attendance and skill. And finally you have your delicious result, ready to be devoured. But first you make it more palatable by putting golden syrup on it.IMGP0807 eat and enjoy!

Just so do you gather your raw material for a novel in your mind, your life experiences and observations, your characters, their life-histories, your plot, your skill with words, and then you go about mixing them all together, through several drafts, each stage  carefully attended to, so that your end result is just golden brown, and not burnt nor soggy. And then even when it’s perfect, it may be it needs that extra touch, with the syrup on top ie. the final polish.

 

 

 

My New Book ‘Perilous Path: A Writer’s Journey’ Out Now

I’m delighted to announced that my new book is out now and available to buy on Amazon, both as a paperback and as an ebook.front-cover-only

Perilous Path: A Writer’s Journey is a short informative and encouraging book of 126 pages, giving an insight into the writer’s life. It will appeal to aspiring writers, keen 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.

How do you find courage and motivation when your novel sinks in the middle?

How do you stay focused as a writer through success and disappointment?

How can great artists, musicians and psychologists give you inspiration?

You’ll find the answers to these questions and many others in this book.

Each chapter is a short article based on original material I’ve previously published online in answer to FAQs aspiring writers type into search engines.

And I can certainly say that before I get back to completing my new novel ‘Director’s Cut’, I’ll read through ‘Perilous Path’ myself paying close attention, because I need to take my own advice!

Beta readers have said this about the book:

I found it fascinating to read how one new writer began to write,  and continued to self-motivate in her determination to achieve her goals – and how her faith provides example and inspiration.

Some of the articles contain ideas about writing that I haven’t considered previously; some of them are more like friendly reminders of things I already know, or focus on interests that (like many readers and writers, I imagine) I share with the author.

Reading the book felt like having a “friend in the room” giving advice and sharing her experience of the writing process.

 

‘It’s written in a simple and engaging style. It doesn’t go in depth into theoretical techniques but seems like an encouragement, even if you have writer’s block, and a reminder of things, some of which I already know. Other authors might have gone into a lot of detail, on many of these subjects, going on for 20 pages on one particular theory or technique – and I wouldn’t be interested in reading that. But SC Skillman has written this in such a way as you feel you have a friendly guide on your shoulder.’

The book costs £4.74 for the paperback and £2.42 to download on your Kindle.

And if you do read and enjoy it please remember to leave a review on Amazon!