Heaven on Earth: The Joy of A Capella Harmony Singing with The B Naturals

What is the greatest musical instrument of all?

I believe it is the human voice.

Nothing compares to the joy of a capella harmony singing – in perfect pitch, of course, and under the tuition of an inspirational musical director… or how about four musical directors, one for each voice part?

Recently I  took part in an Abba singing workshop led by the B Naturals, a fantastic A Cappella quartet.

The B Naturals - Abba Workshop in Leamington Spa 3 Nov 2018
The B Naturals – Abba Workshop in Leamington Spa 3 Nov 2018

We all gathered in a church hall in Leamington Spa and the group members, each taking on the task of training a different part – soprano, alto, tenor and bass – taught us four gorgeous Abba songs: Does Your Mother Know, Eagle, Name of the Game and SOS. When you sing Abba songs you realise how complex they are, and also how discerning and often very moving the lyrics are, relating to so many different life experiences.

The four workshop leaders – Nick Petts, Guy Wilson, Dave King and Jon Conway –  worked together, interweaving with each other as they taught the parts. What a joy it was, along with a great sense of accomplishment,  as we mastered the rich harmonies, and sang the songs all the way through.

As a singer who belongs to two very different local choirs – a traditional choir and a community choir – I have often marvelled at the precious gift of music in our lives. The experience of singing in harmony with others is pure joy and one of the nearest things to heaven I can possibly imagine.

This high spiritual quality of music was recognised by JRR Tolkien in his book The Silmarillion. This book sets out Tolkien’s created world, which grew with him throughout his life: the ancient drama to which characters in The Lord of the Rings look back. And it opens with The Music of the Ainur. He begins: There was Eru, the One, who in Arda is called Iluvatar: and he made first the Ainur, the Holy Ones, that were the offspring of his thought… propounding to them themes of music: and they sang before him, and he was glad….

Quite apart from the immense resources of classical choral music sung by traditional choirs, there is a vast repertoire of music suitable for arrangement for A Cappella Quartets and community choirs, and so many gifted composers and musicians who have created glorious music for us – the music of the Beach Boys, of Abba, of the Beatles among many, along with a wealth of songs of different types and genres from around the planet.

In the midst of a world where there is so much disharmony, tragedy and grief, let us uphold and celebrate one of the greatest and most spiritual gifts of all – joyous and uplifting music.

Taste the Spirit of Warwickshire – A Shakespeare-Inspired Spiritual Travel Guide

My proposed new non-fiction book, Spirit of Warwickshire, is currently in the early stages of its journey into the world.

St Peter's Church Wootton Wawen: The Saxon Sanctuary photo credit Abigail Robinson
St Peter’s Church Wootton Wawen: The Saxon Sanctuary photo credit Abigail Robinson

Richly illustated with full colour photos by photographer Abigail Robinson, the book contains twenty short pieces about places  in Warwickshire that I love, visit often, and believe to have spiritual presence.

I define a place of spiritual presence in these terms:  “it affords us an opportunity to reflect upon the lives of those long dead, the interweaving of fate and destiny, and explore dynamic equivalents within our own lives.” As this suggests, many of the places I describe have strong historical character.

Enchanted Kenilworth Castle photo credit Abigail Robinson
Enchanted Kenilworth Castle photo credit Abigail Robinson

Because I love Shakespeare, and Warwickshire is Shakespeare’s county, I have headed each chapter with an appropriate quotation from the Bard that I feel corresponds either in spirit or in specifics to what I have independently written about each place.

Here’s a taste of what you may find in the book, visually: a sneak peek at some of the beautiful and high quality illustrations to be included.

Milverton Hill, Warwick, in June - photo credit Abigail Robinson
Milverton Hill, Warwick, in June – photo credit Abigail Robinson

 

 

 

 

Oxfordshire Place of Inspiration: Castle Inn, Edgehill

A place of inspiration is any place which arouses strong emotions, or perhaps memories, dreams, or reflections. The Castle Inn at Edgehill Oxfordshire is one such place.Castle Inn Edge Hill image 1

A tavern was first built in this high location in 1742 – one hundred years after the date of the Battle of Edgehill which took place in the valley below. There, on  23rd October 1642 the forces of the Parliamentarians and the Royalists faced each other in the open field between Kineton and Radway. The English Civil War was just beginning. The King’s forces had been on their way to London via Birmingham and Kenilworth. The Parliamentarian forces had been heading for Worcester. And they accidentally came together in this bloody battle. The Civil War should have ended there. But it didn’t. The battle ended indecisively, but if the royalist forces had marched straight to London they would have gained the advantage, and the war would have been over.

Instead, they made one of those fateful wrong decisions upon which English history so often turns. The Parliamentarian forces got to London first, and a cruel war ensured. King Charles I had lost his best chance to win. His own personal story ended when he paid the highest price for his errors and bad choices, by being beheaded.

Castle Inn Edge Hill image 2.jpgOne of England’s most evocative and compelling ghost stories lingers around this place too. Since the time of the battle, haunting sounds and apparitions have been reported by many, at night, and particularly around the anniversary of the battle.

Above all this, the Castle Inn sits with its folly in the form of a castellated tower (in which you may book an overnight stay), a picturesque and intriguing attraction at Edgehill, offering refreshment, delicious meals and excellent service in its delightful beer garden, refurbished dining room and historic bar.

It’s one of my favourite pubs to visit, here in the heart of England. Though its attendant history is very sad – see the exhibition now on display at St Peter’s Church Radway – being a story full of tragedy and cruelty and fate, of the kind we love to reflect upon from our safe distance of centuries: until we start to compare it with several current situations of conflict in the world today.

 

 

Such, to me, qualifies it to be a place of spiritual resonance, because it affords us an opportunity to reflect upon our own lives, and upon the human story and its twists and turns of fate, from our perspective of centuries after the original historical events. When a place evokes strong feelings of pity, poignancy, compassion, to my mind, that makes it a special place.
The Castle Inn EdgehillAnd by the way the interior is delightful, the views are magnificent, the service excellent and the menu thoroughly enjoyable!

Spiritual and Unifying: the Dramatic and Emotional Appeal of Brahms’ Requiem for All Who Love Choral Singing

King Henry VIII School, Coventry (well known as representing Gordon Shakespeare’s school in the 2009 Christmas film Nativity!) was the scene on Saturday where a large number of local singers and musicians gathered together for a “Scratch” rehearsal and performance of Brahms’ RequiemCHOIR SINGING

As with all scratch performances of course the majority of participants had sung/ played this music before.

From my place in the choir (Spires Philharmonic Chorus augmented by many other singers) I saw several other singers had crisp clean hired copies – but not me! That’s because I’d brought my tattered, much-used score: inside the front page, every previous date on which I’d sung it before, using this score: June 1978 with the London Choral Society; August 1989 with the Brisbane Chorale, Australia; April 1997 and November 2009 with the Warwick & Kenilworth Choral Society.

Despite having last sung it nine years ago, it’s amazing how easily the music came back to me, along with the (sometimes exasperated!) directions given by previous conductors.

Our Chorus Director Jack Lovell is great fun and has a natural and humorous approach.  He’s always full of imaginative images to describe how he’d like us to sing. In one part he said, “Here, I want you to think smoky Viennese ballroom. You need to sound like the viola coming in.” Elsewhere we were to sing like a posh velvet cushian, the type you can push right in and then it comes out again very smoothly and slowly, not like one of those cheap foam cushians. Later he stopped us, saying that sounds like an Ikea cushian.

Brahms’ Requiem has special associations for me.  My father was a choral singer, and this requiem was one of his great favourites. I first heard it performed when I was 12; my father sang in a local choir the Orpington Chorale, and my attendance on that occasion was, I daresay, not voluntary! I remember sitting in the audience listening to it and not being very impressed!

Over the years my father shared his love of music with us, particularly choral music, and that included several of the most celebrated Requiems. A family friend with a great sense of humour, teased him about the choir: Why is everything you sing so miserable? You should be called The Undertaker Singers!  “Book us now for your funeral.”

The emotional and dramatic appeal of these major works is very strong, irrespective of any religious convictions on the part of either performers or audience. As a choir member observed in the comments on this very interesting blog , “this music is a celebration of our inner spirit whether you are religious or not.”

Brahms’ Requiem, as with all great works of art, encompasses a very wide emotional range. His music is set around words from the bible which express touching and powerful yearnings of the human spirit.

From the mysterious and sombre opening in Movement 1, onto the sumptuous, swishing, spine-chilling chords of “all flesh is as grass”, with Movement 2 Brahms sweeps through brighter and more hopeful moods, via passages of triumph, to the most glorious moments of serenity, floating and ecstatic.  All of human life is here; pleading, urgent and driving; desperation, the restoration of confidence. Movement 4, “How lovely art thy dwellings fair”, is blissful and luminous, ending on a rapturous idyll. It’s thought that Brahms wrote it during  time spent among the glaciers and blue lakes of Zurich which inspired him. The requiem returns to a mournful, reflective mood in Movement 6 , and its transitions take us through intense, vigorous and energetic passages, defiance, triumph and rejoicing; and finally in Movement 7 we regain bliss, comfort, peace and reassurance.

As another choral singer has said, “I see it all as metaphor, I sing it lustily and I celebrate and share the uplifting aspirations that inspired the music in the first place. If we can share the ideals, connect through the values expressed in the words, and join in singing them together, what could be more spiritual and unifying?”

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.

 

 

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!

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

A Passionate Spirit and The Cult That Stole Children

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.

a-pool-of-reflections-by-dr-raynor-johnsonSubsequently 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.

I wrote about him and about the cult with which his name has now become ineradicably linked in this blog post: The Curious Case of the Kindly Professor and the Cunning Cult Leader. I also used the story of the cult in my novel  A Passionate Spirit (pub. Matador 2015).

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.

You can watch the story of this cult on BBC TV tonight Tuesday 29 November 2016 in a documentary called:  “Storyville: The Cult That Stole Children.” It is being broadcast at 9pm.

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.

A Passionate Spirit is available to buy online and in bookshops.