I had the pleasure of meeting my next guest at the Annual Bloggers Bash Awards earlier this year. We bumped into one another on a leafy London street and stopped to pose for the obligatory blogger selfie! I love meeting online connections in the flesh and seeing that flicker of recognition as we both do the ‘Ooh, it’s you!’ finger point and excited jig. I was, therefore, delighted when Sheila asked me to be a part of the blog tour for her latest book, Mystical Circles. Over to Sheila…
The Fun Stuff:
What part of the world do you come from?
I was born and brought up in Orpington, Kent, a commuter town in the London Borough of Bromley. Charing Cross is only half an hour’s train journey from Orpington so from a young age I spent a lot of time in London, so I do think of myself as a south Londoner.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I remember a school teacher asking us this when I was in primary school. I said I wanted to be “an author, an artist, and a singer.” I think he was a bit surprised to get three answers to his question. I do like art and also enjoy singing, but of course, my dearest wish was always to be a writer – and a successful, popular one.
List three words to describe yourself
Fluid, persistent, unstoppable. These three words sprang into my head when I was first asked this question, and I don’t even know why. They just arose from my intuition.
Who would play you in a film about your life?
I rather like the idea of Emma Thompson. Emma is someone who seems to be able to convey how a woman feels, in the most subtle, exquisitely discerning way. I shall never forget the scene in “Love Actually” when she played a woman trying to hide her tears and her sense of betrayal and disappointment from her family, so as not to spoil her children’s enjoyment of Christmas. She was also fabulous as the writer PL Travers in “Saving Mr. Banks” though I certainly hope I would not behave like that to anyone wanting to make a film of my novels!
What’s your favourite snack food when writing?
A dangerous subject! Ideally, the answer would be “nothing,” but Slimming World hi-fi bars feature quite often!
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
I’d like to be a Shapeshifter. I am fascinated by shapeshifting, and it comes into each one of my novels. It would encompass the benefits of two other superpowers: Invisibility and Flying. The act of changing shape would have many of the same advantages as choosing to become invisible, and it would also include the ability to change into a bird. Perhaps it relates in some way to the magical power of being an animagus, in the wizarding world of Harry Potter.
The Sensible Side:
Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started writing? What do you do when you’re not writing?
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. I love history, and visiting National Trust and English Heritage properties is one of my favourite leisure-time activities, along with films, theatre, reading and reviewing books, visiting art galleries and museums, music, concerts and choral singing. Kenilworth Castle is my favourite place to escape 🙂
I also have a part-time job-share working as an administrator on the staff team at my church, St Mark’s, in Leamington Spa. I must say that some of the people I meet in this role and the situations I encounter may well provide fuel for a future novel…
Where did the inspiration for Mystical Circles come from?
It came to me during the four years I spent living in Australia. I had a vision of a young woman (me) looking to reinvent her life, who finds this wonderful man who seems to her to be some kind of spiritual authority – as well as everything else one would hope for from a man. She falls in love with him and becomes entranced by his teachings and resolves to connect her destiny with his. Her older sister who is sensible and has her life well under control, objects, and tries to interfere. For the cult leader Craig in my novel I was directly inspired by a particular inspirational speaker I knew in Australia, whom I cannot name here!
For the setting and context of this story of the two sisters Juliet and Zoe, I drew upon my own extensive store of personal experience with many different spiritual outlooks, philosophies, and practices. In addition, I’ve long been fascinated by the interaction of different complex personalities, an inexhaustible source of inspiration for a writer.
My fascination with human psychology and how it interacts with spirituality has also fed into this novel, where often the dangerous group dynamics determine the flow of the plot. I love writing about intense relationships in a closed environment.
Although I originally planned to set this novel in Australia, and still have all the early drafts with that setting, I finally decided that Mystical Circles should be set in the beautiful Cotswolds hills, not far from my present home.
What do you like most about writing psychological thrillers?
Being able to explore the mind and heart of a character who is very different from how he or she appears to others. In real life, we only ever see each other from the outside. But the special gift of fiction is that the author can become godlike inside his or her own created world and characters. I love exploring anomalies between the inner and outer world. Some of my favourite books are psychological thrillers, for instance, Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs.
What is more important to you as a writer, the plot or the characters and why?
The characters drive the plot, so they are most important. 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. My greatest joy in reading novels is to feel I’m living inside the mind and heart of someone else and to understand how and why they see the world as they do. In Mystical Circles, I bring 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.
Can you give us a brief excerpt from Mystical Circles?
A smile of relief spread over her sister’s face.
“You’re here for the best of reasons, Zoe. And I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Let’s suppose Craig is everything you believe he is. But even so – what’s with the Wheel of Love? Sounds a bit dubious to me.”
“We’re not like that Heaven’s Gate sect, you know.”
Certain key words hammered into Juliet’s brain. Sharpen your subtle knife…cut a window into heaven…freedom you’ve never dared dream of… “This heaven stuff he goes in for… the bit about freedom you’ve never dared dream of, and him reaching deep down into your spirit… What’s that all about?”
“You’d need to live as one of us to understand.”
“Give me a break, Zoe. I won’t do that.”
“If you want answers to your questions, read the rest of it.”
“OK.” Juliet took the brochure from her pocket, and opened it out.
She skim-read: express all your emotions, good and bad…interpretation of dreams…dynamic meditation…guided fantasies and group therapy…self-evident truths… destiny lies in our own hands…no such thing as chance or accident so far as human beings are concerned…any further questions, ask Craig…here to guide you. Use him. He wants to be used.
“Doesn’t that fill you with hope?” cried Zoe, “and inspire you with a vision of new life?”
“Can’t be sure. Craig says we must express all emotions, good and bad. Bad? I don’t want to express mine. He seems to think our destiny lies in our own hands. I don’t accept that. I’m here because I’m worried about you. How can he say there’s no such thing as chance or accident? Though, of course, I look forward to interviewing him about it, and finding out.”
“Don’t be so negative.”
“I don’t mean to be. Sorry it seems like that to you. Look, why not spend this week here, then return to London with me? If Craig cares for you, he’ll stay in touch.”
“No. I don’t want to go back to London. I want to stay here.”
“But you have so much ahead of you. And your job applications… don’t give up on them, will you? You have a good degree.”
“I know, I know. But…”
“You don’t want to waste it.”
“Whoever said I was going to?”
“Why are you so stubborn?”
“Because you don’t understand how I feel about Craig. Your mind’s closed.”
“No it isn’t. I’m here to learn the truth, just as you are.”
“A different truth.”
They glared at each other.
“Craig’s hypnotised you, hasn’t he?” said Juliet.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I will continue to write novels with a powerful spiritual and psychological element but with a much stronger paranormal content. I am also drawn to themes that are darker and more Gothic in flavour.
How can we contact you or find out more about your books?
You can find me in the following places:
My blog: http://www.scskillman.com
My website (in the process of being rebuilt): http://www.scskillman.co.uk
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