Inspiration, Motivation and Keeping To The Path

On 7th September 2017 on the seventh day  of my Mystical Circles blog tour,Blog tour ad as at 26 August 2017 MJ Mallon published an article by me on her blog which has the wonderful title of  Kyrosmagica.

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

So with my thanks to Marje, here’s the article she first published on her blog on 7th September:

Inspiration, Motivation and Keeping to the Path

Being an author in today’s world is a much tougher journey than one might ever believe, when one first conceives the desire to write stories.

I was inspired at the age of seven by the adventure stories of Enid Blyton and wanted to write exciting stories like hers. Essentially my desire was to write about girls my own age doing thrilling and dangerous and intrepid things quite out of my own daily experience. I created two girls called Marilyn and Sylvia and wrote many stories about them. They were good, brave, beautiful, clever and talented, everything I wanted to be. In other words, the desire was for transformation.

And this is why I believe we read fiction. Our longing is to be transported from out of our own lives, our own minds, into the mind and heart of someone else, to enter into a different world, to be inside someone else’s skin, to share his or her joys and sorrow and hopes and dreams.

Listening to conversations and observing people and the interaction of their personalities has long fascinated me and is a large part of my desire to write. I wrote a detailed daily journal throughout my teens and twenties, which ran to many volumes, and in it I would often record conversations I had been a part of or had overheard, and observations about people I knew, including family relationships.

The changes in the publishing scene over the past couple of decades have held out a seductive allure to independent authors, offering power and autonomy. Yet the snares along the path are even greater. We have all these opportunities, but also there are many people pursuing the same dream, and recording their success and offering their advice on social media. This can prove overwhelming for sensitive, introverted creative people – which is the case with many writers.

So it can prove a lifeline when we find inspiring quotes to strengthen and uplift us. Here’s one, from St Paul: But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize. And he also encouraged his readers with these words: Only let us live up to all we have attained.

Knowing that others have struggled for years and eventually, with persistence, won through, is a very helpful reminder for us when we start to doubt the value of our past achievements and allow it to weaken our faith in what we are capable of achieving in the future. My non-fiction book Perilous Path, an inspirational writers’ guide, contains several chapters which help authors to overcome obstacles in their path, and suggest how to use art and music as therapy as well as a source of fresh inspiration.

So, finally, what makes us carry on? We need to draw the water of inspiration and motivation from a reliable well. I found one particular saying of Sir Winston Churchill very powerful. When invited to speak to an audience of school pupils, who were all waiting to hear wise words from the great man, he said, I only have five words to give you. Never, never, never give up.

 

SC Skillman Author photo WEB

SC SKILLMAN AUTHOR
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.

My two thriller suspense novels Mystical Circles and A Passionate Spirit are set in the beautiful Cotswolds hills, not far from my present home. I’ve also written Perilous Path: A Writer’s Journey, a book of encouraging advice, tips and reminders for authors.

I am currently working on the second draft of my new novel, Director’s Cut. I’ve always been fascinated by the interaction of different complex personalities, an inexhaustible source of inspiration for a writer!

And my advice to anyone who wants to be a writer? Read a lot, listen to people’s conversations, be observant about the details of your world, and especially about human behaviour and interaction, and persist in your writing, being single-minded to the point of obsession… never give up, always believe in yourself despite all evidence to the contrary, and hold out for what you first dreamed of.

 

 

Psychology, Spirituality and Family Relationships – a Volatile Mix

On 4th September, on the fourth day of my Mystical Circles blog tour, blogger Susan Hampson hosted a guest post from me on her blog Books From Dusk till Dawn.Springboard

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

Psychology, Spirituality and Family Relationships – a Volatile Mix

In books on the craft of writing fiction, one of the key areas to which a writer must pay attention is high emotional charge. And if the new writer is in doubt about whose point of view to take – in other words, whose story is this? –  the main question to ask is, Who has the highest emotional stakes in the outcome of the plot?
I’ve also read that when the author is building conflict into the plot, and setting up a protagonist and an antagonist / villain, a sure way to increase depth and high emotional stakes is to make the antagonist / villain a close family member.
When we write fiction we all draw upon our own life experiences. And for many of us, our greatest challenge in life, after the challenge of self-knowledge, is how we handle our closest relationships.
In my psychological suspense novel Mystical Circles I drew upon my observations and personal experiences of many people and relationships throughout my life. But family relationships do rank highly; father and son; two sisters; two twin brothers; mother and son.  I have of course transposed real relationships into fictional situations. When we use real people to create fictional characters the wisest strategy is to employ a composite of different individuals within one person. So we can never say, this character is based on X or Y whom I know personally. But the fact remains that some fictional characters do contain a greater proportion of certain individuals.
I have drawn upon those for whom I have a strong affection and also those whom I’ve found challenging. But beyond all this I think it’s true to say that there’s probably a little bit of me in all the characters.
One of the greatest joys of reading fiction is to enter into the heart and mind of someone else to share their joys and sorrows, and to understand how they think. How can this be so unless the writer incorporates part of their own psyche into those characters? I know this is certainly true for Mystical Circles.
I also believe this principle applies to the creation of a villain, who in order to be compelling, must be a complex mixture of influences, memories, desires, wounds, compulsions, longings and choices.
In life often the ultimate villain is hidden, shadowy, the manipulator behind the scenes.
And so it is in Mystical Circles. I’ll leave my readers to work out who that might be, but hope that this particular plot-spoiler will never appear in the reviews!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guest Post and Review: Vivienne Tuffnell, Author of ‘Little Gidding Girl’

I’m delighted to host author Vivienne Tuffnell today on my blog. Front cover of novel "Little Gidding Girl" by Vivienne TuffnellI’ve followed Vivienne’s blog Zen and the Art of Tightrope Walking now for several years, and reblogged one of her posts here; I’ve also read four of her previous books: Depression and the Art of Tightrope Walking, Square Peg, Away With the Fairies and Hallowed Hollow. Today she is here to talk about her inspiration for her new novel Little Gidding Girl.

Here is the blurb for the story:

At seventeen, Verity lost the future she’d craved when Nick, her enigmatic and troubled poet boyfriend, drowned at sea. At thirty-five, in a safe, humdrum and uninspired life, she finds that snatches of the life she didn’t have begin to force their way into her real life. This other life, more vivid and demanding than her actual life, begins to gather a terrible momentum as she starts to understand that her un-lived life was not the poetic dream she had imagined it might be. Doubting her own sanity as her other life comes crashing down around her in a series of disasters, Verity is forced to re-examine her past, realign her present and somehow reclaim a future where both her own early creative promise and her family can exist and flourish together. Exploring the nature of time itself, the possibilities of parallel universes and the poetic expressions of both, Verity searches to understand why and how Nick really died and what her own lives, lived and un-lived, might truly mean. ‘From the unknown spaces between what is, was, and will be, messages and sendings break through into Verity’s life: are they nightmares of a parallel reality or projections from a love that has flown? Vivienne Tuffnell keeps us guessing with utmost artistry as we trace the interweaving way-marks in pursuit of the truth. Little Gidding Girl kept me enthralled until the very end.’ – Caitlín Matthews, author of Singing the Soul Back Home, and Diary of a Soul Doctor

Now it’s time for Vivienne to tell us how the ideas for this novel first came to her. You’ll find my 5 star review of the novel at the end of this post.

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AUTHOR VIVIENNE TUFFNELL:

“We’re all mad here,”- the inspirations behind Little Gidding Girl.

 

One of the questions most writers get asked from time to time is “Where do you get your ideas?” and it’s also the most difficult to answer because it varies enormously for each writer and for every book. But being asked, “What was the inspiration behind your book?” is often simpler because it’s more precise.  So when Sheila asked me about the inspiration behind Little Gidding Girl, the real difficulty was casting my mind back about fourteen years ago to a period when I was almost bursting with creativity and ideas and winnow out what really inspired that particular book.

We’d moved to a new area and that is something that is always unsettling and unnerving, and within a few months of arriving I began writing again. I’d turned my back on writing for all sorts of reasons. Roadblocks where agents and publishers would take up a book with interest and then reject it or ask me to rewrite and then reject it again, created such tension in me that I became ill, almost fatally so, and to save my health and my sanity, I stopped writing altogether. Eight years had passed where I’d written nothing longer than a letter, when a whole novel sprang to my mind and poured out almost uncontrollably in an unprecedented flood. More novels followed, Little Gidding Girl  being among them, but its origins lie (as almost always for me) within the unconscious mind.

I’d begun dreaming again. Powerful, vivid, compelling and often lucid dreams that left me exhausted and haunted. One afternoon, I had a snooze and thought I’d woken up, and was getting dressed in brand new jeans that required a coat-hanger to ease the zip up, when my son burst into the room demanding something or other. He hadn’t knocked and I was upset and cross with him, and humiliated because the jeans were so tight, I had visible muffin-tops of fat spilling over the waistband.

The thing is, I don’t have a son.

I’ve never had a son, only a daughter, who at that stage was in her early teens. I woke again, properly this time, rather shocked and shaken by this experience. I made a note of the dream and let it go. More odd dreams followed. In one I was in a school science lab, attempting to teach something I didn’t understand, when the lab bench started to fade in and out and be replaced by a flower bed. In another, I went to the bottom of my garden to discover a massive trench (like in Time Team) and a row of shelves with finds laid out on them. But the finds were all modern rubbish and not archaeology.

A whole series of extraordinary dreams occurred, leaving me spell-bound and baffled, because they all seemed to connect to a life I’d never had but might have done. Like many women, I’ve experienced the loss of pregnancy in miscarriages. I’ve never grieved much, for those potential babies, but I have always felt a tiny bit sad that life circumstances and the revelation that I’m not much good with babies and children led me to decide that one child was all I should have. In another universe I might have been one of those earth-mother types, perhaps, but not in this one.

Around the same time, I’d begun to be a bit obsessed with Four Quartets. I’d never studied it at university, and a quote somewhere set me to seek out a copy and read it. It seemed to hold so much, so much that science and religion in their blunter, less mystical forms, simply did not express in ways I could relate to. I began to think about the paths I never took, the doors I never opened, the rose gardens I never stepped into, and it felt like the dreams were showing me glimpses of those other realities that never happened. Any belief that other paths might have been nicer, sweeter or more successful than the one I did take soon began to crumble. In the Narnia books, Aslan says that no one is ever told what would have happened, and yet, sometimes I believe we are shown a tiny vision of the other lives we might have lived. Sometimes it’s to comfort us, sometimes it’s to inspire us but always it is to root us in the reality of what is  rather than what might have been.

In Little Gidding Girl, the might-have-beens become the growing focus of Verity’s attention, forcing their way through in powerful ways that leave her unsettled and unstable. My agent asked me if she was insane and I still don’t know how to answer that. It makes me think of Alice in Wonderland:

 “But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

Perhaps now, like the Alice speaking to the Mad Hatter, I’d say: “I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”

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Thank you Vivienne – this gives a fascinating insight into the background to your novel. I too have long been interested in paying attention to and recording dreams, and to learn that you were inspired to write Little Gidding Girl by your dreams particularly intrigues me.

MY REVIEW OF LITTLE GIDDING GIRL

A very sensitive book which represents an unusual exploration of grief and blends it with the philosophy expressed by TS Eliot in his poem ‘Little Gidding’ from ‘The Four Quartets’. The main protagonist Verity is living with unresolved emotions from the accidental death of her boyfriend nineteen years earlier. Though her present-day marriage is ostensibly happy and her life relatively comfortable, she has never stopped engaging on an unconscous level with the life she imagines she would have lived, had that boyfriend not died. Vivienne Tuffnell handles the female relationships in Verity’s life with sharp perception and wit, and I loved her descriptions of the New Age shop that Verity works in, whilst being exploited by the rather unpleasant owner of the shop, manipulative therapist Juliet. Verity’s “visions” of that alternative life are also handled in such a way that the reader strongly feels their weirdness and they carry a considerable shock factor in the narrative. Earlier on in the story I found Verity’s present-day husband a little too gentle and calm and sympathetic, but later on we come to share some of his own turbulent feelings at the strange inner journey his wife is taking. I loved this quote near the end of the story: That’s what grief is. A little bit of us dies when our loved ones do. We go down into death with them while the grief endures. When the grief pales we return with what gifts our loved ones gave us in life. A very thoughtful and haunting novel.

5 stars

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About Vivienne Tuffnell

Vivienne is a writer, poet, explorer and mystic.

You can follow Vivienne on Twitter

or visit her blog

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

Words From A Cave – Part 1

merlin-cave
Merlin’s Cave, Tintagel

I had a hip operation last Tuesday, and am now recovering at home. It’s difficult living with reduced functionality, relying on crutches and a cocktail of drugs. The best metaphor I can think of to describe my emotional well-being is that of living in a cave. I’ve always been in good health and this is something new for me. I’m learning how to re-think all the most ordinary things that we take for granted during our daily lives. And I’m learning to ask other people for help instead of maintaining my hold on independence, thus bringing out new caring skills in those closest to me. I hope the next few weeks will be a time of creative thinking. I will post the fruits of this over the next few weeks. Thank you for your loyalty!

Two Excellent BBC Drama Offerings: Wolf Hall and A Casual Vacancy

Michael Gambon & Julia McKenzie in the BBC's The Casual Vacancy
Michael Gambon & Julia McKenzie in the BBC’s The Casual Vacancy

We’ve recently seen two very good dramatizations on BBC TV: Wolf Hall, and The Casual Vacancy.

Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell in the BBC's Wolf Hall
Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell in the BBC’s Wolf Hall

The casting was brilliant, particularly Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall, and Michael Gambon as Howard in The Casual Vacancy.

You may think think the two novels on which these dramatisations were based, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel and A Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling, could hardly be more different; one story set in the sixteenth century Tudor Court, and the other in our contemporary society. And yet I found striking points of similarity.

In the world in which the two novels are set, we see how central tribalism is to human nature. The historians I have read on the subject of the Tudor Court have emphasised how everything revolved around factions. In Thomas Cromwell’s world he had to navigate the changing fortune of the factions: when the Boleyn faction was in the ascendancy, he advanced the cause of Anne Boleyn; but when the Seymour faction  began to gain the upper hand, it was politic for Thomas to bring about Anne’s downfall to make way for Jane Seymour. After all, in that “dog eats dog” world his own life was always at stake.

In The Casual Vacancy we see how the wealthy and privileged, in our most favoured and idyllic villages, gather together and dominate the local council and influence decisions about the local community in their own favour, so that the poor and marginalised are separated from them even further. JK Rowling is showing us something of how this same principle of tribalism, is replicated in English society today:how members of one group gather together to increase their power over the other: those who consider themselves socially ‘superior’ cluster together and fend off those who are perceived as failures, the socially dysfunctional.

Humans are tribal and we see this in every sphere of our lives.

In today’s western societies we might not turn to genocide and massacres of the kind we have seen in other countries of the world in the past few decades, because our ‘veneer of civilisation’ is still strong enough to prevail; but we are certainly capable of expressing the same dark undercurrents in our hearts and minds, by using other, more subtle methods, to achieve similar ends. The same tribalism is there, deeply rooted in our psyches.

Click here and here to find my own reviews of both books.