Monday, 20 February 2017

A quest for simplicity by Sue Russell

Not long ago I came across a thread on social media, emanating from a writer in America, asking her fellow-writers if they preferred complex or simple sentence constructions. It reminded me of a discussion I had many years ago regarding the works of C.S.Lewis. I am an admirer of his and was trying to persuade my friend to read his books, but he complained, 'His sentences are far too long. By the time I get to the end I have to start again.' It's true there are some very long sentences to be found: I came across one recently that contained 78 words. For me, because it was all consummately logical and perfectly punctuated, it presented no problems, despite the proliferation of subordinate clauses. I then remembered a novel I'd been lent while in hospital, which caused increasing irritation such that the story was completely lost. The sentences were almost all very short - some only three or four words. To my eye and inner ear it read in jerky fits and starts.
So perhaps as a reader I do prefer more complex sentences; but as a writer I am trying to do the opposite. The more I write the more I want my writing to be limpid, almost transparent, allowing what is important - the story, and all that it entails - to be clear. I don't always achieve it, because (like many others reading this blog, I suspect) I have had a lifelong love of words. However, more and more now I am aiming for uncluttered simplicity. Against such a background the well-chosen word, phrase, sentence, or telling description, glows more richly.
But is simplicity also an artifice? As writers we are aware that dialogue and inner monologue which sound natural are anything but: they are a construct, a device, and some writers do it better than others. The very gifted poet and novelist Helen Dunmore comes to mind. From the four or five books of hers that I've read I've gleaned an impression of a particularly straightforward, unfussy style. Nevertheless her characters are memorable, her plots gripping and her settings finely evoked. So I'm asking myself, 'Is this something I can learn to do, or to do better?'
A former member of one of the critique groups to which I belong, someone who certainly didn't lack talent and who wrote mainly fantasy and science fiction, was prone to passages that bordered on the purple. In his attempt to dazzle with descriptions of alien scenes he gave me, for one, a kind of indigestion. He achieved the reverse of what he intended; the inner eye was blinded by his prose, which actually got in the way of the scene he was trying to evoke. This taught me something useful: the over-egged pudding makes you sick, and a gilded lily is no longer a lily at all. It may even be that we have divine endorsement for the cause of simplicity and naturalness. 'Look how the wild flowers grow,' says Jesus in Matthew 6. '...I tell you that not even King Solomon with all his wealth had clothes as beautiful as one of these flowers.'

Sue writes as S.L.Russell and has five novels out there in the usual places. A sixth is possibly in a very long pipeline. She lives in Kent and sometimes in France, has a web site and blogs at

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Body lines, by Veronica Zundel

'Only try to do it yourself and you will learn how arduous is the writer's task. It dims your eyes, makes your back ache, and knits your chest and belly together. It is a terrible ordeal for the whole body.' So wrote Prior Petrus in the early C10th, in the manuscript of Liebana's 'Commentary on the Apocalypse' (no, I don't know who Liebana was either).

Petrus was of course describing (see what I did there?) the life of a scribe, who sat with quill pen and inkwell, bent over a slanting desk, copying the words of others and perhaps creating wonderful illuminations in the margin (as well as grumpy marginal comments about the physical toll of writing). But his words could equally apply to our day of computer screens at the wrong height and dodgy typing chairs liable to collapse at any moment. We often forget, to our cost, that writing involves the body as well as the mind and spirit. Do you get up from your toils every hour or so to stretch your legs and focus on something other than a  screen? I know I don't - when you're in the flow, it's hard to break off, even if you need it.

This last month I've been focusing on the body and its demands and failings in a different way. On Friday 13th January  (how ironic) I was given a diagnosis of cancer in both breasts. This is my second time around with breast cancer; 15 years ago I had what my husband calls 'breast cancer lite'  - the primary tumour was in the armpit rather than the breast, so I only needed surgery to the armpit, radiotherapy and five years of the hormone-blocking drug Tamoxifen.

This time it's more serious, and I'm likely to have at least a single if not a double mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy and more hormonal drugs. Meanwhile life has become a round of ultrasound, biopsies, CT scans, MRI scans, a bone scan, and then a repeat of all of them on different areas. I hope in the circumstances you will forgive me for entirely forgetting to write my blog last month - thank you, Wendy, for stepping in.

What has any of this to do with writing? A number of things, I think. First of all, we writers tend to live mostly in our heads, and act surprised when our neglected bodies take their revenge. Second, it is actually quite important to be physically well in order to write - a nagging pain or an inability to sit up could have quite an impact on our creativity. Thirdly, it is always good to remember that humans are physical beings and that God chose to come to us in a physical form in Jesus - without his Incarnation we would have no ministry, no teaching, no healing, no Cross and Resurrection, and dare I say no Holy Spirit.

Lastly, I think some form of suffering, mental or physical, while it may impede our writing, also grounds us and reminds us to be real, and to remember that many of our readers will be suffering too. Why was Paul given his 'thorn in the flesh'? Was it to alert him, whose thoughts tended to run away with him, that he didn't know everything and couldn't control everything?


Veronica Zundel is a freelance writer whose latest book is Everything I know about God, I've learned from being a parent (BRF 2013). She also writes a column for Woman Alive magazine, and Bible notes for BRF's New Daylight. Veronica used to belong to what was, before it closed, the only non-conservative, English speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and is currently churchless. She also blogs (rather occasionally!) at

Saturday, 18 February 2017

On Reading, by Wendy H. Jones

Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body Ecclesiastes 12:12

Our usual blogger can't do the slot today, so I'm stepping in. As well as being a member of Association of Christian Writers, to whom this blog belongs, I am also a member of The Scottish Fellowship of Christian Writers. At a recent Fellowship conference we are asked to write for 5 minutes on the verse above. This was my attempt on the day.

"Times are changing."
"Nothing is the same."
"It wasn't like that in my day."

These words have echoed down the centuries in one shape or another. Whilst they can be applied to any situation, I would venture to say that they are particularly true when talking about literature. Not just books, but the written word in every form. As a child, as I remember, books were treasured. A visit to the library, or a book for a birthday or Christmas, was a wondrous occasion. This was a time of excitement, knowing you would hold that one perfect book in your hands. Everyone waited in anticipation for the next book in a series to appear. 

In some ways that time has mainly gone. The dawn of the digital age and the internet means there are hundreds of thousands of books to be bought at the touch of a button. Reading can be done in a myriad of ways - Kindle, Kobo, iBooks, Wattpad, Audible, and of course paperback and hardback. The poor hardback trails behind, a relic of a bygone era. Information comes at a dizzying rate, through blogs, Websites, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and many other social media platforms. Reading on mobile phones is fast becoming the norm. The growth of mobile phone usage in developing countries is driving the thirst for reading digitally.

Where does that leave us as writers? Well that, my friends, is a story for another day and another blog. If you have any thoughts on this please share in the comments below. 

About the author 


Amazon Author Page

Wendy H. Jones is the author of the best selling DI Shona McKenzie Mystery series of crime novels set in Dundee. Killer's Crew, the fifth booking the series was released in November, 2016. Dagger's Curse, the first book in her Fergus and Flora, Young Adult Mystery series was released on 10th September, 2016. She also has one non fiction book, Power Packed Book Marketing: Sell More Books. She is currently working on the first book in the Cass Claymore Mysteries

Friday, 17 February 2017

The waiting process By Claire Musters

I am in the very fortunate position of having just signed a contract to write the book I’ve had on my heart for quite a few years now. It has been a long journey, though, as it was during 2014 that God first whispered to me: ‘Tell your story. Write it down.’

I began to tentatively write, then approached a publisher I had edited for – and had a great response. I then had … a two-and-a-half year wait! I wrote a little about that last January.

Last autumn I started approaching publishers again. There was a lot of encouragement but so often I heard the words ‘not quite right for our list’. Then, not long before Christmas, I received an offer. I was so excited – but wanted to be sure that I was moving in the right direction. Because God had spoken to me clearly again at a conference in November, saying that I no longer had to strive to get my book noticed – that He was going to champion it now.

Soon after the first offer, an unexpected one came from the original publisher, who I hadn’t even considered approaching again. But the staff had changed, and, when a wonderful ACW friend and colleague mentioned my book idea, they asked to read what I had so far. With a positive response I was left amazed, excited – and wondered how to choose between two offers!

Why am I sharing this? Because of what I’ve learned about waiting well – or not so well! It was at this point that the waiting became excruciating. I may have endured two and a half years previously, but there were still five weeks between the initial offers and finally seeing a contract in my hands. God used that time to expose some huge vulnerabilities in me.

I had moments when I railed at God and found it difficult to accept that He was teaching me something through the waiting. It had been so long already – I just wanted to be able to celebrate and crack on with the writing! But God began revealing things to me, such as how difficult I found it to trust in what I knew He had clearly said to me when the circumstances weren’t matching up.

On one occasion, when I wanted to chase again, everything I read seemed to be telling me not to. On that day, the verse in my devotional was Exodus 14:14, ‘The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.’ The next day, an online devotional included: ‘Initiate nothing. Watch what I can do.’

I also felt God stir me to do some study on resting and being still in Him, but all the while I felt churned up inside. I began to question my ability, the publishers’ interest, whether I had heard God right… I certainly felt the truth of the verse: ‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick’ (Proverbs 13:12). I pressed on with the writing, but found it so hard to concentrate.

I took to pouring out my feelings in my journal – and found writing my own psalms really helped. I would tell God how frustrated I was, but then declare my trust in Him and turn to worship. I would ask Him to teach me how to rest in His peace, to learn that His acceptance is the most important.

I was shocked at how bad I was at waiting, having done it for so long! With the end goal in sight I seemed to want to run quicker than God wanted to take me, and it was painful. I’m in no doubt that facing up to my own frustrations and inadequacies, as well as doubts, was part of the process. I do appreciate God was making me more self-aware – although I wish I had made the discovery quicker! ;)

Claire is a freelance writer, speaker and editor, mum to two gorgeous young children, pastor’s wife, worship leader and school governor. Claire’s desire is to help others draw closer to God through her writing, which focuses on authenticity, marriage, parenting, worship, discipleship, issues facing women today etc. Her books include Taking your Spiritual Pulse, CWR’s Insight Into Managing Conflict and Insight Into Self-acceptance, Cover to Cover: David A man after God’s own heart and BRF Foundations21 study guides on Prayer and Jesus. She also writes Bible study notes, and her next co-written book, Insight Into Burnout, is available for pre-order now. Her next book, Taking off the mask: learning to live authentically, is due for publication in November 2017 by Authentic Media. To find out more about her, please visit and @CMusters on Twitter.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Gratitude for the Bible

On Sunday a couple of weeks ago my vicar preached a sermon that really spoke to me. He was preaching from John 21 when the disciples have returned to fishing after the exciting events of the crucifixion and resurrection. The disciples are in the boat and see Jesus on the shore.

 'Then he said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!” So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it.'  John 21:6 NLT     

My vicar was challenging us to try something different. Apparently fishermen would not have fished from the right side of the boat, so the right side was the wrong side. I really felt God was speaking to me personally through this verse about change - a need to do something a new way. I am praying into this verse now and await more input from the Holy Spirit. Isn't it exciting when you know that the Creator of the Universe is speaking you. 

This has made me so grateful that I have the privilege of having the Bible in my own language and also people to expound it to me. I have the Word of God so easily available to me in many different translations. What a gift that is! As we know the Bible is a collection of writings from a lot of different writers, inspired by God. Today I give thanks for those writers who made sure I had the Word of God written down.  

Following on from that I think of those spent their lives making sure we have the Bible in our own language. People like John Wycliffe, John Hus (who was burned at the stake for his troubles) and William Tyndale to name but a few.

I am grateful for those who developed the printing  industry, starting with Johann Gutenberg, enabling the Bible to be more easily produced. The first copies of the English version of the Bible were hand written. Amazing!

We work in this industry today, hundreds of years later. Today I want to pause and give thanks for all those who came before us and gave us such an immense gift. The gift of the Word of God in our own language. Will you join me in praising God for the gift of writers and publishers of days gone by?

Praise God for writers, printers and publishers who have worked so hard over hundreds of years to give us this gift. 

Lynda Alsford is a sea loving, cat loving GP administrator and writes in her spare time. She has written two books, He Never Let Go describes her journey through a major crisis of faith whilst working as an evangelist at a lively Church in Chiswick, West London. Being Known describes how God set her free from food addiction. Both books are available in paperback and on kindle on and She writes a newsletter, Seeking the Healer, in which she shares the spiritual insights she has gained on her journey. Sign up for this at her website

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Psst: Coming Soon from ACW, by Wendy H. Jones

Hot Releases from ACW Members
Last month on the ACW blog we brought you the ACW reading challenge.

This month I am even more excited to bring you news of upcoming releases from ACW members. 

As the webmaster for ACW, I consider it a privilege meet so many outstanding authors who are also Christians. They may write Christian books or secular books with a Christian worldview, but what they all have in common is their love for good literature and their love for God. 

So without further ado, I bring you the ACW Hot New Releases Blog

Trying to Fly by Annie Try (Angela Hobday), date of release 16th February 2017, Publisher: Instant Apostle - Haunting memories arouse a dormant Mystery. Jenny Drake has never forgotten what she saw on that Devon beach. Just a small girl at the time, those frightening events have overshadowed her life ever since. Preorder on Amazon

Out of Silence Annie Try (Angela Hobday) date of release September 2017 Publisher: Instant Apostle - Voiceless words echo an unspoken loss. Jaded Clinical Psychologist Dr Mike Lewis is on the edge. Separated from his wife, Ella, and deeply wounded by the death of their child, the future is bleak. But when he is assigned the case of a mute asylum seeker ‘Johnny Two’, things begin to change.

How to conquer a mountain: Kilimanjaro lessons by Suzanne Irving - will come out in German this summer - an enjoyable way for readers to improve their German whilst helping Christian charity In Ministry to Children"(UK charity number 1064690).

The Listening Book by James Webb, and its sequel are collections of parables and short stories, written in the hope that they create space for the reader to hear what God might want to say. The books are available to buy from Amazon, and more details can be found at the website

Looking for Love by Joanne Gilchrist, date of release 31st March, 2017, Publisher: Malcolm Down - Looking for Love is for those who have a deep desire to love and be loved but who have believed at some point that this desire cannot be filled by God. book offers a fresh perspective to help you focus on how God sees you, how God sees marriage and help you find the way to fulfilling the deepest desires of your heart. Preorder from Amazon

Shearwater Cove by Sheila Spencer-Smith takes place on the beautiful Isles of Scilly and is a romantic novella published in large print by F.A.Thorpe in 2017. Order from Amazon

Blessed of God by Manuel Evans is a combination of family history and part of the story of British colonisation and missionary efforts in Nigeria in the first half of the last century. From ACW member Dr Emmanuel Udezue, (writing as Manuel Evans)

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Communicate with love 14th February 2017 by Susanne Irving

Our writers’ group has recently experimented with holding the writers’ group online. It saves on travelling time, which is especially helpful in winter, when weather conditions can be unpredictable. It also allows people to attend who would otherwise not be able to come. One of our writers sometimes joins us from Spain!

However, I am also aware of the many challenges involved when communicating via the internet. There are a lot of technical issues that can get in the way of clear communication. There is the internet connection at either end, which can be slow or drop, leading to distorted voices and frozen webcam images.

In an age where most people have internet-ready equipment, the problem may be that I or the other party are not using our equipment correctly. (I have on occasion forgotten to switch my speaker on, stopping the other party from hearing what I am saying…) Other technical issues that can prevent effective communication are issues with the access circuit, power supply or platform.

Sometimes I have no choice but to abandon my efforts to communicate online and have to pick up the phone or visit the other person.

I have also had to make allowances for differences when speaking to someone online. It may appear that people don’t hold eye-contact with me because they are looking at me through their camera. I am also aware that I cannot see the whole person, and I have got used to describing to the person on the other end what I am doing (“I am just going to write this down”) because I know they won’t see my hands.

Then there is the disinhibition effect – people often share more freely and quickly online. This can be a blessing or a curse, depending on what and how people are sharing. I am always trying to bear in mind that our words have power for good or ill and that we are called to tell the truth in love – often it is best not to send an e-mail or message in the heat of the moment, but take time to reflect and pray about it before pressing the “send” button.

It strikes me that I am much more aware of the pitfalls in communication when I am online and that it would be good practice to apply what I have learned in the virtual world to the “real” world:

  • Check whether there is anything that might be blocking communication – I may need to change the way I am communicating to overcome the obstacle. 

  • Make allowances for differences. I cannot assume that the other person will know what I mean or that they think and feel like me.

  • True communication is a dialogue and not a monologue. People are more likely to listen if they feel loved and respected – and not just on Valentine’s day.

About the author:
Sue Irving is the co-ordinator for the Creative Communicators in Petersfield. She has co-written a book with her husband John about their experiences when climbing Kilimanjaro. It is aimed at both trekkers and those who are going through a dark time in their lives. How to conquer a mountain: Kilimanjaro lessons is available as a paperback and an e-book on Amazon, with all proceeds going to charity.