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.
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. 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!
A couple of years after I left university, whilst on a spiritual search, I went to a lecture at the Royal Overseas League in London, met, chatted to and became captivated by an inspirational speaker: a Physics professor who wrote spiritual books. His name was Dr Raynor Johnson.
Subsequently I read and loved all his books, beginning with his latest: “A Pool of Reflection”. I later wrote him a letter, to which he responded with a very kind and encouraging reply from his home at Santiniketan, Ferny Creek, Melbourne Australia.
Santiniketan later became notorious as the first premises Raynor Johnson made available for the use of the then beautiful and charismatic Anne Hamilton-Byrne, the cult leader, and where she gave her spiritual talks, and started to gather her followers. At the time, of course, I had no knowledge of this.
This cult is particularly relevant to my interests in writing A Passionate Spirit, because of the way in which the cult leader uses beauty and charisma to win devoted followers, whom she then indoctrinates with her teachings; and the cult preys upon the young and the vulnerable. In addition the cult won the support of many intellectuals and people occupying high professional positions. It is a case which is of vital fascination to a writer of psychological thrillers and suspense.
Later I was contacted by journalist Chris Johnston, who has published articles about the cult in The Age, Melbourne and in the Sydney Morning Herald. He wanted to make reference to my experiences, and to quote from my blog post, in a book he was writing about the cult.
M paranormal thriller novel A Passionate Spirit inspired these remarks from a Net Galley reviewer, CE Gray: “as Natasha and James started to take hold of both the centre, and the people within it, the story picked up pace and for me became a page turner. I needed to know, were there supernatural forces at work? Was Zoe imagining it? Were Natasha and James just fraudsters? Was this a story about a cult?
I was pulled in, hook, line and sinker, picking up my kindle at every opportunity to find out what happened next and the end was not disappointing.
I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone interested in cults, the supernatural and thrillers in general.
What I especially loved were the author’s notes at the end, talking about her inspirations for the novel, including the Australian cult, The Family, which sent me scurrying off to the google for an hour after I’d finished the book. A great read.”
What did Shakespeare believe? He lived and created his work during a period of religious turmoil; and scholars are left to guess at his true spiritual worldview, despite his association with Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, and the fact that he was baptized and buried there.
And so it was appropriate that Holy Trinity Church, the location of Shakespeare’s grave, should be the venue for the first performance in England of the play Shakeshafte by Rowan Williams which I went to see a few days ago. During the course of the play, a teenage Shakespeare debates with the Jesuit priest Edmund Campion, and I found this portrayal by the Trinity Players thought-provoking, poignant and inspiring.
The only reason why we think Shakeshafte may be our William Shakespeare is because a young man of that name is referred to as an in-house entertainer in the will of Alexander Hoghton of Hoghton Tower, Lancashire, in 1581. And it is known that Shakespeare’s schoolmaster, John Cottam, an ardent Catholic, recommended his pupil Will Shakeshafte and another boy, Fulk Gillom, to Alexander, for employment as tutors in his house and to provide entertainment. Alexander and his family were strong Catholics in Lancashire, a county renowned for being faithful to the “old religion” in a dangerous time of persecution against Catholics (and a county which was to see the infamous Pendle Witch trials in 1612, just 4 years before Shakespeare’s death).
So former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams works with the theory that this young Shakeshafte was indeed our William Shakespeare, during what scholars call one of the two “lost periods” of Shakespeare’s life. And that he met, talked and maybe even argued with Edmund Campion, the Jesuit priest who returned to England in 1580, spent time undercover at Hoghton Hall, was eventually betrayed, tried, and hanged, drawn and quartered in December 1581.
Scholars cannot tell what Shakespeare truly believed. Some think he was a closet Catholic and others that he was an atheist. The latter can cite quotes like:
Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, Which we ascribe to heaven.
And thus I clothe my naked villany With odd old ends stol’n forth of holy writ, And seem a saint when most I play the devil.
The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
So in this play, the young poet – who is portrayed by actor Louis Osborne as wild, passionate and unruly – and the devout priest, played by Tim Raistrick, come face to face, and swap their views of life. And the poet’s view of life is clearly one that Rowan Williams shares, despite having been Archbishop of Canterbury: he as a poet wants to experience life in all its richness and diversity. He ‘holds a mirror up to nature’, listening to a variety of voices in his head and heart, unable to reduce them all to just one interpretation of the truth. And the play asks the question: Should we understand the truth as one grand central narrative to be imposed on life, or something that emerges in the dialogue between tradition and experience?(programme note by Anthony Woollard).
I think that Rowan Williams himself holds that view of life in tension with ‘the grand narrative’ of evangelical Christian belief. And this to me is a beautiful expression of what Shakespeare himself would have believed; a world view with which I too can empathise. And Shakespeare the poet would have held this view in amongst the dangerous religious turmoil of Elizabethan England, and it would be one that could only be hinted at in his poetry and plays, but never explicitly stated.
Which is probably the reason for the veiled remark to Horatio:
There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
So why is it that the book he created is so revered and has such a hold on our imagination now? – apart from its age and the wonderful fact of its survival?
I believe it’s because of the dedication, the patient concentration and the painstaking artistry that breathes out from the pages, and because of what inspired its creation: love and devotion.
Eadfrith created it “for the glory of God and St Cuthbert”.
St Cuthbert himself inspired so much reverence because he was a holy man, at one time bishop of Lindisfarne, who died as a hermit in 687 on Inner Farne (which I recently visited), and around whose body many miracles occurred.
The astonishing story of his body, which failed to decay for many years, records how he was carried for several decades by faithful monks around Northumberland, to escape Viking attack, before finally it was laid to rest in the spot over which Durham Cathedral was built. You can visit St Cuthbert’s Tomb in Durham Cathedral, a place which has a strong spiritual resonance and atmosphere of holiness.
The glorious book which is the Lindisfarne Gospels is a testament to patience, concentration, love and devotion.
For us now, to gaze at, or to work with, the patterns Eadfrith painted is a pathway to peace and joy – hence the popularity of Celtic colouring-in books for adults, partly because the act of colouring-in forces you to pay close attention and eliminate all distractions. Celtic designs based on the Lindisfarne gospels pop up everywhere – here’s an image of my lovely metal bookmark displaying Eadfrith’s designs – notice particularly his ornamental birds (Lindisfarne has long been a paradise for birds, so Eadfrith had plenty of them to model his designs on).
In creating the ornamental designs, Eadfrith needed to pay minute attention to the geometrical foundations and symmetry of the overall design – very little was left to chance or the “inspiration of the moment.”
The book he created is now revered not just for the beauty and skill within its pages, I believe, but because that beauty is a physical representation on this earth of a spiritual reality – goodness, peace, patience, holiness and love.
Eadfrith had to source, prepare, or make from scratch everything he used – the parchments of vellum; the pen from a thick reed or quill feather; the ink, from animal, vegetable and mineral raw materials, ground to a fine powder and then mixed with egg white. I have personal experience of something of this latter part of the process at least, because I did an icon-painting course a few years ago and we mixed artists’ pigment with egg-white to paint our own icons on pieces of wood we had ourselves prepared – see the photo here of my own icon of the Archangel Gabriel.
After Eadfrith had created the Gospels, he left the scriptorium and as far as we know he never painted or wrote anything else – not that I’m suggesting this is a model for creative writers of today!
I find his story awe-inspiring and uplifting because it gives me an image of a patient, devoted person sitting alone in a quiet place concentrating absolutely on a work of art, to the exclusion of all else. It makes me think of many others who have created great works in similar circumstances – those who have been perhaps in prison, like St Paul, or Cervantes who wrote Don Quixote, two amongst several examples: or those who have deliberately chosen to go apart into an isolated place like Eadfrith in the scriptorium, free of distractions.
To be free of distractions and able to fully concentrate and devote yourself to the task in hand is such a luxury now, such an ideal for writers and artists to aspire to.
In my creative writing class at Lancaster University years ago, our tutor said to us: Once written and completed, your work is A Thing on the Table. The world can make what it likes of it. It doesn’t belong to you any more.”
More recently, novelist Susan Hill, speaking at a local author event, mentioned her first great literary success, The Woman in Black. She said, I have never known a story grow legs and run away from me like that one did.
What a lovely image for the independent life a novel takes on, once completed and out in the world. The ultimate value of a novel lies in the responses of those who read it. JK Rowling said that the whole “fairy tale” of what had happened to her was only because we had read her story and loved it.
My new novel, A Passionate Spirit, had many different sources of inspiration. But one of them was my conversation with a retired clergyman, John, who told me a story which I then used in my novel.
He described an incident which took place during his ministry as parish priest. A spiritual healer had risen to prominence in his parish. She’d healed many in the local community and had attracted national media attention. Soon John’s church could no longer ignore this, as several in his congregation, including the churchwarden, claimed to have been healed by her, and believed in her miraculous powers. John recounted to me the tale of one dramatic afternoon, when he met and questioned this healer, along with his churchwarden, and another local clergyman. Later, I went back to the work-in-progress, and my character Natasha emerged, together with a key scene in the novel, based on John’s story.
A Passionate Spirit has some Christian characters (young priest Theo and his wife Zoe); and, to my mind, a strong Christian message. But there’s no guarantee my readers will choose to see that.
In my novel, eventually Zoe meets a huge spiritual challenge head-on, with her fledgling Christian faith; and I show her praying, using the Lord’s Prayer and the words of Psalm 23. She also cites the character of Jesus in her headlong confrontation with evil. Vital help for Zoe comes from her friend Alice, who isn’t Christian, and who was the first person to discern the menace represented by Natasha.
I don’t believe we can expect every Christian to have spiritual discernment. Having experienced a number of spiritual healers myself in the past I’ve become more alert to ‘false prophets’ and the ‘trees that do not bear good fruit’; and that has influenced my story.
A Passionate Spirit is now truly A Thing Upon the Table. I trust and respect that the readers will make what they like of it. And of course I only have the chance to find out if I get feedback from reviews…
As my daughter Abigail and her friend Gaby have just flown out to Australia to stay with my sister in Brisbane for the next few weeks, I’m thinking of Australia – and of the times I’ve visited that continent, and of the four and a half years I spent living and working there.
I’ve written before about the Gold Coast Hinterland, Queensland in my Places of Inspiration. series, along with several other locations around the world. What all these places have in common is spirit of place.
On the border of Queensland and New South Wales, behind the Gold Coast, you may find a beautiful mountain range. This is known as the Gold Coast hinterland. The road winds up via many mountain passes from Southport, just north of Surfers Paradise. You travel via the town of Canungra where you may choose between two roads, going to two mountain resorts: Binna Burra and O’Reilly’s. I have spent time at both these resorts but here I’m concentrating on Binna Burra.
Binna Burra is special to me. Why is this so?
Binna Burra holds many memories; and it is a very important stage on my spiritual journey. I’ve been up there on my own, and in company with others, and have always found it a very powerful place, full of spiritual resonance. I remember standing there listening to the birdsong echoing across the mountain range, their peaks and valleys hazy with eucalyptus vapour; of waking up early in the morning, stepping outside my cabin, and tasting the mountain air as if it was fine wine.
I remember going on the Coomera Circuit, the longest of the many rainforest walks visitor may take from the lodge, which passes the beautiful Coomera Falls. there was the time we went out on a night time walk to see the luminous fungi, and another time we went to see the glow-worms.
I remember when I went on my own to Binna Burra, and found a table of other single visitors, who were so welcoming and fun and friendly. Then there was the occasion when I visited Australia with my friend Alison and my daughter Abigail and we met up with friends who lived on the Gold Coast, Paul and Mark, and we all went up to Binna Burra and had lunch in the clifftop dining room with its panoramic views of the mountain scenery.
And then of course there’s the wildlife; the possums and rainbow lorikeets and the red-eyed tree-frogs. And of course the snakes that may be lying across your path; and are a good reason to take a torch with you when you walk by night.
Do you have a special place that means a lot to you, a place of inspiration, that you believe you will constantly revisit, or at least remember for the rest of your life? Please share in the comments below!
Magical in childhood, often much more of a challenge in adulthood – which of us are “Ding Dong Merrily On High”, and which of us are “Bah Humbug”?
I love many things about Christmas:
The anticipation through Advent – Advent candles
Christmas carols – many of them have the most beautiful words which I find deeply moving;
Lights – I love fairy lights, candles, Christmas grottoes outside houses
The Christmas tree with its lights and stars and shining baubles and tinsel is like a warm, friendly presence in the room. For many Christmas starts when the lights on the tree are switched on.
The story of Christ’s birth surely the most powerful among the world’s stories; full of spiritual resonance, reaching to the heart of the human condition, always relevant to our lives, especially right now, chillingly parallelled by world events today as refugee families flee tyranny and terror
The words of the prophet Isaiah, who I hold as one of the world’s greatest writers, as did Handel when he chose to set those words to music in “The Messiah“: The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death and For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace and He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.
Meaningful rituals and happy remembrance: mince pies, mulled wine, Christmas concerts in country churches; Christmas wreaths on doors; Ghost stories by candlelight; Decorating the Christmas tree; Inviting neighbours in for drinks
Christmas music of all types – the popular Christmas songs and the Christmas songs written for choirs by John Rutter; O Holy Night, Hope Finds a Way by Jonathan Roberts, Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, O Magnum Mysterium by Marten Lauridsen, Charpentiere’s Messe de Minuit… Many composers have been inspired by the mystery of the Incarnation, to write their most sublime music.
Trips to Santa grottoes with your children, and the Special Christmas Treat – whether that be to a Winter Wonderland, or to see a special show, or a wonderful pantomime
Magical memories of when as a child I awoke on Christmas morning and was filled with wonder and awe because, magically, a favourite doll had been dressed as a fairy in a sparkling dress
Every year, building special memories for your children – the particular times when you always exchange gifts, what you always do on Christmas Eve, the moment when, for you, Christmas really begins; the photo you always take of the children with their lighted Christingles in front of the Christmas tree; the sherry, and mince pie left out for Santa on Christmas Eve together with the carrot for Rudolph
Charles Dickens’ story A Christmas Carol. Of all his stories I believe this is the most powerful. This story of reflection, repentance and redemption never loses its impact. We have several DVDs of different dramatic version of A Christmas Carol, both live action and animated, and we watch them again and again each year.
Things I mourn for about Christmas:
the focus on excessive eating and the obsession of weight loss classes with how you will “manage” Christmas and the “damage limitation” you are going to do either before or afterwards
the burden of work and giving which falls on certain individuals – or which they choose to take upon themselves – while others seem blessed by the role of always being able to relax and receive
broken and dysfunctional relationships which are thrown into sharp relief by the false expectations thrown up by the advertising industry’s manipulation of society’s attitude to Christmas
the grief caused to people when they perceive themselves as having failed to meet others’ “expectations”
the consumer society seizing the opportunity to make as much money as possible
the pressure that is put on people in a mania to achieve “the perfect Christmas”
the way charities “use” Christmas as a time to ask for more money
The bittersweet remembrance of Christmasses past, spent with the people who have scattered – through death, divorce, marriage, moving on to create new lives of their own, moving far away.
My upcoming novel A Passionate Spirit tells the story of a young woman who defies a sinister spiritual healer.
The novel is about a conflict between good and evil, and I am fascinated by the idea of great beauty used to mask malevolent spiritual power. But the story also deals with the subject of healing, and what part psychic and spiritual power can play in this.
Among many who inspired me during the course of research for this novel I may number the Rev Russ Parker, whom one may describe as “an unconventional priest” (along with one of the principal characters in my novel). He writes non-fiction books and poetry, he works in such areas as international listening and reconciliation, healing wounded histories, both of individuals and communities, and he explores the ways in which dreams and Celtic spirituality and a much freer attitude to spiritual matters may all open up our being and contribute to our healing.
I first heard Russ Parker speak at a local retreat centre several years ago, and he made a strong impact on me then. Since then I’ve heard him speak a number of times and have also attended a weekend retreat led by him about the Road to Emmaus. In addition I’ve read several of his books. Foremost among those which most impressed me are: Healing Dreams, Requiem Healing, Healing Death’s Wounds, and Wild Spirit of the Living God. So impressed was I by Russ, that I suggested a particular poem of his be read aloud at my father’s funeral, with a few personal biographical twists. This poem is called “The View From Here”. Afterwards some who were at the funeral service said, “That was the most uplifting funeral I have ever been to.” I believe this was in no small part due to the power of Russ’s poem.
Russ manages to be wise, vulnerable, poignant, down-to-earth, moving and funny during the sessions he leads. I don’t believe it’s possible to come out without having been entertained, inspired, uplifted, intellectually challenged or emotionally stirred – unless you’re in a coma at the time.
I listened to Russ speaking about Visions five years ago at a church in Derby. He spoke about how a vision takes an increasing grip on your life. Visions, he said, are something God brings that disturbs us. Sometimes they have their timetables. This is the way vision work, he said: it may be that God spoke to you two years ago, but has put you on pause. Maybe today – or at a time of His choosing in the future – he will press the unpause button.
We should learn to “hold our vision and wait with it until God fires the release gun.” I’ve held my vision for a long time, and I too am looking forward to the firing of that release gun!
Since last week’s post I’m starting to see the light flooding through into my cave. I’m moving around on my crutches (and sometimes without them.) I went to the Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter morning services at my church (St Mark’s Leamington Spa) and then later on Easter Sunday I was out at a local beauty spot, Burton Dasset Hills, near Banbury, enjoying the lovely views and watching a white Scottie dog barking excitedly at two very indifferent and unimpressed sheep!
My novel, A Passionate Spirit, has been sent to a publisher and so this is a very opportune time for me to be taking a break.
I promised you the fruits of any creative thinking I manage to do. One thing I’ve learned is this: when you spend a significant amount of time in a cave, you stand to discover who your angels and demons are: because they’re all in there with you. I’ve identified 4 demons, the details of which I won’t reveal here, save for one: that is ‘the demon of compulsion to compare myself, unfavourably, with others’ – and in particular, other authors and their perceived success. It’s good that I’ve identified and named these demons for that is the first stage to banishing them.
Of the angels, I can say that I’ve received one fruit of creative thinking; I’ve recognised where my point of interest now lies, as an author: it’s actually the point of breakthrough. I’m interested in spiritual / paranormal / supernatural / otherworldly things breaking through into the real, solid, contemporary world. I’m interested in the crack – the clash of worlds and worldviews and different understandings of life / the universe and the way it operates – and most critically of all, how the people in this ordinary world react to and handle it.
A creative person , I realised, gets an idea and runs with it – and then, somewhere along the way, discovers something striking, surprising, unusual, a new angle – which gives the project an outstanding quality.
More insights from the cave next week – although I may then be walking out of it!
In the last few years we’ve seen an astonishing and exciting thing here in our country: a relatively small, minority interest group dismissed by some as a gathering of eccentrics, has been triumphantly vindicated in the most extraordinary way. And the Ricardians‘ journey has drawn with them a city, a nation, the sweep of English history, and something powerful that has touched our spiritual roots.
The group is of course the Richard III Society – whose existence I first heard of 15 years ago whilst viewing an exhibition during my walk along the York City Walls – and the triumphant vindication is the discovery of the remains of Richard III, their authentication through a thrilling blend of science and history, and the captivation of millions by Richard’s story, and by the solemn and beautiful ceremonial with which his remains were received into Leicester Cathedral.
IN my former blog post about Richard III, I wrote this:|
“I cannot read of a historical figure like Richard III without seeing the parallels between his story and fate, and our own experience in this life.
For the basic principles of life do not change.
Nothing and no-one can guarantee any particular outcome for us. Not vice, not virtue. Not piety, not betrayal.
But of one thing I now feel assured by Ashdown-Hill’s book: where there is integrity and focused persistent research, and rigorous dedication, as in the painstaking work of the best historians and genealogists, truth, ultimately, will out.”
How many people must have watched Channel 4’s coverage of the events surrounding and including the reception of the body of Richard III into Leicester Cathedral, with a mix of emotions? Among us there would have been those who were amused, astonished, partly disbelieving, fascinated, excited, uplifted, moved. It was poignant, dramatic, dignified, graceful and solemn.
Certainly we are seeing “a fusion of everybody’s beliefs bound up in a very English moment which allows us to transcend the present moment and is big enough to accommodate all of us.”
Richard III represents and illustrates once again the “what ifs” with which British history is so liberally scattered.
As I watched the coverage of Richard’s remains travelling through the streets of Leicester, packed with onlookers, I saw many people throwing white roses onto the carriage. And I thought that with every white rose thrown, each person was somehow connecting with, claiming their place, inhabiting a story which expresses all the unaccountable mutations of life.