Build Something That Will Outlive You in Hamilton the Musical

I recently went to see the musical Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre, London Victoria Palace Theatre, Victoria St, Londonwhere a magnificent cast through phenomenal singing and dancing told the story of a man who lived and died passionately and made big mistakes which swept him through to a memorable death.

Through powerful singing and dynamic, electrifying, whiplash sharp dancing, we were captivated  by the ideas that first gripped the creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, when he began to read the Abigail with Hamilton programme in auditorium of Victoria Palace Theatrebook Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow and felt he identified with the origins of Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States.

A spectacular and compelling musical, certain words in the songs stand out for me: Hamilton sings that he wants to “build something that will outlive me. If you don’t stand for something what will you fall for?”

And at the end, we hear Aaron Barr – a man for whom we feel sympathy in this telling of the story, the man who killed Hamilton in a duel, sing these words to us: “I survived but I paid for it, now I am the villain in your story.”

Jamie in Victoria Palace TheatreI loved the way the dynamics of storytelling held us all in its grip throughout the performance, and especially the way the duels were choreographed. One of the most stunning (literally!) parts of the musical came when the dancers froze the moment in which the bullet was fired which killed Hamilton.  Brilliant choreography and dancing suspended our disbelief as we watched the bullet arrested in mid-flight.

When I originally heard of Hamilton the musical, a year ago when my daughter first bought the tickets,  I thought, What a peculiar subject for a musical.  I thought exactly the same when I first heard about The Book of Mormon – another brilliant London musical which made a big impact on me.

Now I confess I think you can make any subject at all into a musical so long as you have a creator who can inspire total confidence with his passion to believe in and run with a central idea, and as long as you end up with fantastic songs, words, character and story.

 

 

A Diversity of Spiritual Outlooks Through Time at the British Museum in London

The Great Court, British Museum, London
The Great Court, British Museum, London

On Saturday 23rd December 2017  I went to see the exhibition “Living with Gods:  peoples, places and worlds beyond” at the British Museum in London. The exhibition curator Jill Cook had set out to show the development of religious symbols through physical objects which people in widely diverse cultures and historical periods have used to denote their relationships with a spiritual reality beyond nature.

 

The exhibition ranged from a 40,000 year old sculpture of a lion man, through a Buddhist wheel of life held in the claws of the god of death, via a Japanese Shinto household shrine, to a Soviet communist poster of an astronaut with a rather inane grin on his face floating in space and declaring “There is no God.” On the Buddhist wheel of life the artist had depicted instances of human and animal suffering and wickedness of all types, which I must confess reminded me of Dan Brown’s description of Dante’s Inferno…

I was also interested to learn that the image of the many-armed creator/destroyer god Lord Shiva is on display outside CERN in Switzerland, as a symbol of the atom.

However, inevitably much was missing from the exhibition. For instance, I found no reference to the aboriginal image of the Rainbow Serpent said to be one of earliest of religious symbols, in this case symbolising Creation. Neither did I find the spirituality of the North American Indians, nor the mystical system of the ancient Chinese Book of Changes, the I Ching.

The whole tapestry and landscape of humankind’s attempts to build and sustain a relationship with spiritual reality beyond the observed world is so vast and complex, this exhibition inevitably could give just a small representative taste alongside a dispassionate commentary. In reality each religious outlook and philosophical system deserves its own special in-depth study in order to do anything like justice to it – and the curious investigator can find many books to help.

But one of the most moving parts of the exhibition for me was the display about the Japanese persecution of Christianity in the 17th century, during the time of the Portuguese Jesuit mission to Japan, a story told in the brilliant novel Silence by Shusako Endo, upon which was based the 2016 film starring Andrew Garfield.

I remember the impact the book made on me, when those being persecuted were ordered to trample the fumi-e – a bronze plaque showing Christ on the cross. I found myself gazing in awe at an authentic  fumi-e and thought again of the powerful end to the novel Silence.

One of the most interesting things about that novel was the way it showed how Christianity may be introduced into what may seem an alien culture and how those within that culture may take on the Christian faith and understand it within their own cultural terms. I remember a scene in the novel where Japanese Christians were being tortured by being tied to stakes on a beach while the tide rolled in and out around them. They gained the stength to endure by continually singing, We are going to the temple, going to the temple of God.

If there is any lesson at all to be learned from an exhibition of this type, perhaps it is that we have the challenge ahead of us to communicate what we believe to be the truth, whilst also respecting other human beings and where they are in terms of their own worldview.

 

 

Christmas Is Coming – “Enchanted Kenilworth” at Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire

On Friday 15 December we went to an Enchanted Kenilworth event at our local English Heritage castle in Kenilworth.

Enchanted Kenilworth - view of the castle on 15 Dec 2017 - photo credit Abigail Robinson
Enchanted Kenilworth – view of the castle on 15 Dec 2017 – photo credit Abigail Robinson

As English Heritage members we’ve visited this castle many times but it was so beautiful to see the trees, castle ruins and grounds illuminated with imaginative light displays. We particularly enjoyed the large projected image of Elizabeth I

image of Elizabeth I projected onto Leicester's Building at Kenilworth Castle 15 Dec 2017 - photo credit Abigail Robinson
image of Elizabeth I projected onto Leicester’s Building at Kenilworth Castle 15 Dec 2017 – photo credit Abigail Robinson

on the side of Leicester’s Building – which was constructed specially to accommodate the royal party and all the guests during Elizabeth’s famous 19-day visit to Kenilworth Castle in July 1575, during which Sir Robert  Dudley, Earl of Leicester, made his last attempt to win her hand in marriage.

Also we loved “the ghostly party” in John of Gaunt’s Great Hall.

images of dancing figures on the wall of John of Gaunt's Great Hall at Kenilworth Castle 15 Dec 2017 - photo credit Abigail Robinson
images of dancing figures on the wall of John of Gaunt’s Great Hall at Kenilworth Castle 15 Dec 2017 – photo credit Abigail Robinson

Dancing figures of light appeared on the walls, and before us a banqueting table was laid out with goblets – just a mere shadow of the lavish parties which John of Gaunt threw here during the 1360’s having turned the fortress castle into a palace.

The Elizabethan Garden looked enchanting with the central statue on the fountain fully illuminated and lights dancing and playing in the garden.

Illuminated fountain statue in the Elizabethan Garden at Kenilwoth Castle 15 Dec 2017 - photo credit Abigail Robinson
Illuminated fountain statue in the Elizabethan Garden at Kenilwoth Castle 15 Dec 2017 – photo credit Abigail Robinson

Sir Robert Dudley missed a trick when he tried to impress Elizabeth I with his creation of the original garden here – if he’d put on a light display like that after dark, I think he might have succeeded in winning her hand after all…

 

 

 

A Snowy Walk to the Saxon Mill, Warwick

When thick snow arrives it transforms our world, for as long as it stays on the ground and on the trees, on the rivers and ponds.Abigail and Jamie in the snow covered field behind Saxon Mill image 1

The fascinating thing about snow – as an occasional visitor to our familiar landscape – is how it acts as a catalyst for the negative and the positive in human nature. However you see life, seems to be encapsulated in how you react to the sudden arrival of snow. As a child I was very romantic about snow. river at Saxon Mill image 5.jpgI never saw the negative side. But as adults we can see inconvenience, closure of schools and colleges, cancellation of social events, cars skidding and sliding, accidents and piles of dirty slush.

Guys Cliffe House in snow image 1

Or we can choose to see it as millions of exquisite, miraculous ice crystals, as an agent for transformation, as a way of seeing the world through new eyes, even if only for a relatively short period of time.

 

Near our home, the Saxon Mill pub, Warwick, is a popular venue. snow laden table overlooking the mill pond and river at the Saxon MillSituated on the river Avon by a bridge over a weir, with the atmospheric ruins of Guys Cliffe house on the horizon, it is a romantic, historical  place to which people are attracted in huge numbers – at certain times of year.  I love visiting it at any time of year but especially in the snow.the weir at the Saxon Mill image 2.jpg

For some of my other posts about eerie, mysterious Guys Cliffe House, and about the romantic appeal of the Saxon Mill, click here and here.

 

 

 

A Deep Spirituality and Wisdom That Touches the Heart, from Some of the World’s Greatest Mystics

Imagine you could step into the Monastery right now – perhaps like the one which we saw in the 2005 TV series, or even the one in this image – and move apart from all the frantic busyness and stress and tension of your life, and receive some deep wisdom from the heart of the mystics.Annaya Monastery

Yesterday I received something very similar at a Quiet Day in St Mark’s Church Leamington Spa where I heard three talks from Bishop John Stroyan, Bishop of Warwick – a man imbued in the literature of some of the world’s greatest mystics. Bishop John is someone who speaks in a lowkey way and yet treasures of spiritual wisdom emerge almost as asides.  There is no stridency, nothing is declaimed; but those listening cannot but be aware that he speaks of the true underlying structure which drives our behaviour, our motivation and our attitudes and the way we react to events and circumstances in our lives.

During his talk he referred to the Martin Luther Memorial Church in Berlin –  which he described as “the most shocking church” he had been into. Figures of Nazi soldiers and members of the Hitler Youth are interspersed with figures from the Nativity, and an Aryan family of the type Hitler wanted in his Master Race also adorn the church. In addition, a strong, muscular, Aryan Christ is seen on the cross. It’s one of  the hundred churches Hitler built, the only one that has survived, intentionally as a chilling reminder of how evil systems can recruit the Christian faith to their cause. Apparently, the Bishop said, both the Nazis and the apartheid regime used Christian clothing for their causes – making God in their images, recruiting Him to serve their agendas.

This is a very strong warning to us, as the Bishop said: “Beware of what we think we know.”

Some of the wisdom the Bishop shared with us included  the observation that “you’ve faced the darkness and come through it, and God will use that as a gift to help others who struggle.”

How often do we see that those who have suffered the most are in the best position to support and comfort those who now suffer in the same way?

He said that pearls are tears shed around grit that irritates the oyster. Some people, as we know, become hard and embittered and resentful around that grit in their lives.

But the Bishop spoke about the weaving of God’s good purposes through events in our lives that we would never choose to happen. “Crises can be the bearers of grace.”

Julian of Norwich said, “In falling and rising again we are always held close in one love.”

An image the Bishop likes to use in his talks is one taken from his life as a dog-lover. He may be taking his two dogs for a walk and when they get the smell of an exciting rabbit, they rush off away from him after the rabbit. He calls loudly for them to come back. They know his voice. And yet they practice what we all do:  “selective deafness”.

Another image comes from the bird world. The mother eagle puts sharp pointed uncomfortable things in the nest to make the eaglets fly..  Otherwise they would stay cosy in the nest. This is the only thing that makes them leave the nest, take wing and soar on the thermals.

An Interview on Linda’s Book Bag About My Newly Released Edition of Mystical Circles

On 9th September 2017 on the last day of my Mystical Circles blog tour, fellow blogger Linda Hill published an interview with me on her blog Linda’s Book BagBlog tour ad as at 26 August 2017 This is the final one in a series of  nine blog posts, in which I re-publish the stops on my blog tour.

So with my thanks to Linda, here’s the interview she first published on her blog on Saturday 9th September 2017:

An Interview with SC Skillman, Author of Mystical Circles

Mystical Circles cover

I know we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but Mystical Circles by SC Skillman really appeals to me and so I’m delighted to be featuring it on Linda’s Book Bag today as part of the launch celebrations. I have an interview with SC Skillman that sheds light on Mystical Circles in a very enlightening way!

Published by Luminarie, Mystical Circles is available for purchase here.

Mystical Circles

Mystical Circles cover

“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.

An Interview with SC Skillman

Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag. Firstly, could you tell me a little about yourself?

I was born and brought up in Orpington, near south London. As a child I was inspired by Enid Blyton. I started writing adventure stories at the age of seven; the love of writing that her stories first instilled into me has strengthened over the years. I studied English Literature at Lancaster University, and my first permanent job was as a production secretary with the BBC.

Later I lived for nearly five years in Australia before returning to live in the UK.

I now live in Warwickshire with my 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.

Without giving away the plot, please could you tell us a bit about Mystical Circles?

Mystical Circles is set in the beautiful Cotswolds hills, not far from my present home. It’s a psychological suspense with a hint of paranormal. When freelance journalist Juliet learns that her sister Zoe has fallen for the charismatic leader of a mystical cult in the Cotswolds, she sets off to investigate, and to rescue Zoe. But she is unprepared for what her investigations will uncover. 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.

(This sounds really intriguing!)

Your writing considers the themes of spirituality and human psychology. Why do you choose to write about these themes?

I’ve always been fascinated by the interaction of different complex personalities, an inexhaustible source of inspiration for a writer. The general inspiration for Mystical Circles arises largely from the advice I give an aspiring writer: read a lot, listen to people’s conversations, be observant about the details of your world, and especially about human behaviour and interaction.

More specifically, for the story, themes and characters of this novel, I drew upon my own past experience of “hunting in ‘Guru Land’”. My journey has led me from the insights of the late Laurens Van Der Post and the inspirational writings of the late Dr Raynor Johnson via a mystical mountain in the Himalayas (Mount Neelkanth near Badrinath) to a dream yoga course in Brisbane Forest Park.

I lived in Bayswater in London for eight years and during my time there I attended courses and lectures at the Theosophical Society in Gloucester Place, and investigated spiritualism at the Spiritualist Association in Belgrave Square and at the White Eagle Lodge, Kensington. I also became a member of the Centre for Spiritual & Psychological Studies which met at the Royal Overseas League, St James’s Street and spent a weekend with the group at Hawkwood College near Stroud in Gloucestershire. I additionally studied the teachings of Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh at his Body Centre in Belsize Park and at his Hertfordshire branch Medina Rajneesh. In both places I experienced Dynamic Meditation and his own brand of group therapy.

My most quirky New Age experience was in Australia, walking backwards through the rainforest as part of a residential Dream Yoga weekend held at Cosmos Lodge, Mount Nebo, Brisbane Forest Park.  It was on this occasion that the course leader, a dream interpretation guru called Greg, spoke the memorable words: ‘If you master the art of lucid dreaming, death will be a breeze.’  Something from all these experiences has played into Mystical Circles.

Many reviewers refer to the wonderful quality of your characterisation. Which is more important to you as a writer, character or plot and why?

I believe that character and their motivations and relationships drives plot, and plot often arises as you get to know your characters really well and watch them responding to and reacting against each other. An essential task when one plans a novel is to create a ‘bible’ for each character. I love observing people and listening to conversations and also I love writing dialogue. It’s one of my favourite things about writing fiction. From the point of view of a reader, I believe the greatest joy in reading novels is to be inside the heads of fictional characters. When we feel we are living inside the mind and heart of someone else, when we feel we share their joys and sorrows, and understand how they think, this is the greatest transformation of which a novelist is capable.

(Oh yes. You’ve summed that up beautifully. That’s exactly the experience I want as a reader.)

You’ve lived in Australia which has a strong aboriginal tradition of Dreamtime and now live in an area of the UK steeped in history. How far do you think living location impacts on a writer?

It has a strong impact. I have known of several novelists for whom “the spirit of place” is of paramount importance. Everywhere I have lived I have sought out these things: water (in rivers and lakes), trees and forests, beautiful gardens, castles and historical sites, high viewpoints with panoramic vistas.  All these things have a powerful emotional effect upon me.  Nevertheless I am aware, that wherever you go in the world ‘you’ are still there. You can never escape from yourself.

I set out to develop this idea in Mystical Circles, as I brought together several troubled individuals, many with problematic family relationships, in an idyllic location. All the members of the Wheel of Love (the cult group) have escaped from their normal lives, to come apart and find something special, a spiritual haven. Yet the one thing they cannot escape is themselves: their own hearts and minds and, most importantly, the emotional position they take about their past. I believe our greatest challenge in life is to understand ourselves, and understand the human heart. Being in a beautiful geographical location can impact us strongly, but not in the way we might hope, if we are trying to escape ourselves. In aboriginal spirituality, human lives and every aspect of the land have been so intimately linked over many centuries, that it was only the incursion of an alien culture which introduced negative influences. I have been deeply moved by aboriginal spirituality, through some of the places I’ve visited in Australia, and hope to incorporate this in a future novel.

When you’re not writing, what do you choose to read?

I read a wide variety of books both fiction and non-fiction, of different genres, and I always review them on Amazon and Goodreads. I have just finished reading How To Think Like Churchill by Daniel Smith and am halfway through a novel called The Life of Elves by Muriel Barber, and have several physical books and kindle books on my TBR piles. I will read Young Adult, thrillers, fantasy, comedy, historical, suspense, psychological, crime, paranormal, romance…  I love the novels of Phil Rickman, Susan Howatch, Dan Brown, CS Lewis, JRR Tolkien, JK Rowling and many others. In my teens I read through Thomas Hardy, Emile Zola, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Dickens. And I also love Jane Austen and the Brontes.

If you could choose to be a character from Mystical Circles, who would you be and why?

I’d choose to be Theo. He is something fresh coming in from the outside into the hothouse environment of the group, and he is all about people on spiritual journeys and he believes in coming alongside them, without judging. He listens to people and helps them to see themselves differently and how they might move forward in their journeys of self-knowledge. But also he is someone whose background hides a mystery and that creates an extra sense of intrigue about him.

If Mystical Circles became a film, who would you like to play Zoe and why would you choose them?

This is easy because, as a keen film buff and TV drama fan, I have plenty of ideas for my dream cast! Currently, to play the part of Zoe, I feel I would like Sophie Turner (who plays Sansa in Game of Thrones). Firstly she looks right – she has long auburn hair and is physically my idea of Zoe.  She is a diverse actress, who used to be in Playbox Warwick near where I live – a wonderful youth theatre which my children attended – and can play a young naive, excitable character, which is how Zoe is when she precipitates the action of this novel.

If you had 15 words to persuade a reader that Mystical Circles should be their next read, what would you say?

Like troubled family relationships infused with spiritual and psychological tension? This book is for you.

Thanks so much for telling us a bit more about Mystical Circles and your interesting life!

About SC Skillman

SC Skillman Author photo WEB

SC Skillman studied English Literature at Lancaster University. She has previously worked within a BBC radio production office and later spent four years in Australia. She now lives in Warwickshire with her husband David, their son Jamie and daughter Abigail.

You can find SC Skillman on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. You can also visit her blog.

There’s more with these other bloggers too:

Blog tour ad as at 26 August 2017

 

 

Intense Relationships in Closed Communities, and the Stresses and Tensions of Life

On 8th September 2017 on the eighth day  of my Mystical Circles blog tour,Blog tour ad as at 26 August 2017 fellow-blogger Kerry Parsons published an article by me on  her blog Chat About Books.

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.

Mystical Circles Front Cover Final Version4

Publisher: Luminarie; edition 3 (5th September 2017)

Description…..

“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.

Buy your copy here

About the author…..

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.

S C Skillman Amazon Author Page

 

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!

 

 

 

On the Art and Inexact Science of a Good Ending to a Novel

On 3rd September on the third day of my Mystical Circles blog tour, blogger Rosie Amber hosted a guest post from me on her blog.On a journey (2)

This is part of a series in which I reblog the articles from that blog tour. So today’s post is the article Rosie Amber first published online, called:

On the Art and Inexact Science of a Good Ending to a Novel

Recently a fellow blogger piqued my interest with a piece about online book reviews. Amongst the observations she made, she referred to the attitude authors take to their reviews. She noted that many people have different interpretations of the star-ratings. Specifically she mentioned that she had experienced some asking her to take down three star reviews which they interpreted as negative.

As an author and reviewer myself, I review every book I read on Amazon and Goodreads. I will give a book 5 stars only if it hooked me, kept me enthralled, made me want to read on, answered the questions the author posed, AND delivered a strong, satisfying end. If all those things above are present, but the end does not satisfy, I will downgrade a star rating. I think you can in some way define an author’s theme, worldview, mindset (at the time of writing, anyway) from the way they choose to end a novel.

But having said this, I will admit to a challenge when I came to write the end of my novel Mystical Circles (out in a new edition with a new cover on 5 September). Ideally I would have liked to give two alternative endings, as John Fowles did in his novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

I don’t like an ending which ties up all the loose strands, and which is unequivocally happy or sad. My ideal ending is bittersweet. As in life, I believe that when all our dreams are fulfilled there will always be other aspects of the situation which have the potential to cause disruption in the future. One of my favourite endings is that to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudicebecause although the central story question is answered positively, it is also bristling with ironic little hints that life is not necessarily going to run smoothly for the main protagonist hereafter.

How I chose to end Mystical Circles was full of challenges because the raison d’etre of the story – a hothouse community called Wheel of Love who have gathered around a charismatic leader to learn how to achieve an ideal existence – derives all its emotional charge and dangerous dynamics from the psychological instability of the group members – and its leader.  The situation I outline in the novel – the attempt by a young woman journalist to rescue her younger sister from a mystical cult – could have a number of outcomes.

I think the key to a successful ending is that it must satisfy, whether it is happy, sad, tragic or bittersweet. I am conscious, too, that an unsatisfying end can undo much of the good work of an author.  As novelists the best we can do is to remain true to ourselves, to what we are trying to say within our stories. Though I admit we often don’t even know what we’re trying to say, until we’ve said it!

And back to reviews again; I love reviews of any star-rating where the reader has clearly read the book thoughtfully, and has genuine opinions to offer about plot, characterisation, theme. On Amazon the healthiest star-rating profile is a triangle with its broad side at the top. I am afraid I feel suspicious of books that have only five stars. Also I am often attracted to the one star reviews. I want to know, “What is the worst that can be said about this novel?” And, quixotically, some of the things said by the one star reviewers make me want to read the book. Human opinions are incredibly diverse, especially about books, and we must all respect that.

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.