Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Write What You Feel.

As writers we have a requirement to express emotions through our characters. But, what do you do when you don't know how something feels?

As a depressive I can write about that aspect of life relatively easily, albeit painfully. But that's from a man's perspective. Is it the same for a woman? Judging by Sally Brompton's book, Shoot the Damn Dog, yes.

Is it true of all things? What about being an immigrant? Can any of us truly understand that experience?

Research will only cover so much, listening to others will uncover much more, but nothing will replace actual experience.

One example is from a friend of mine who wrote a fantasy book, sadly no longer available, in which there was a fair bit of swordfighting. Her descriptions of it were scintillating, mostly due to the fact that she had taken part in medieval sword fights while training as a knight. I kid you not. There are schools in Britain that will teach you jousting, sword fighting and a number of other medieval fighting arts.

Lucy had a lot of experience to draw on, so when writing those scenes they came alive in a way few other writers could match.

I can write about I.T., homelessness, despression, raising special needs children and a number of other things, all from personal experience.

How to cover the areas you don't know about? Research and imagination. If you want to know how it feels to be alone, cut yourself off from others for a while, then imagine that's your whole life, day in and day out. What would you turn to in order to alleviate the pain of loneliness? Would you consider suicide?

Life on another planet? What environment would you be living in? Put yourself there.

Living as a man or woman? Try to imagine the small things, like living with different body parts.

Unless you are living, or have lived, as the character you're writing about you will never know for sure what goes on in their head. With some decent research and an imagination, you can get closer than most people and deeper than you think.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Simple Visual Aids - Allison Symes

Image Credit:  Pixabay
Though Easter is behind us now, there was still one aspect I wanted to write about.

This will sound strange but my church doesn’t hold a Good Friday service.  We have Good Friday and Easter Sunday in one service on Sunday.   Funnily enough, it works well and is the only time where we have communion which isn't on the first Sunday of the month.  Years ago, one of our members ensured there were plenty of Easter eggs to go around too.  He is much missed by us but not just for that!

I suspect because my church is in a village with farms nearby, there may have been a practical reason for no Good Friday service, though this is an intelligent guess on my part.  Everyone would have gone to church on Sunday so it would’ve made sense to celebrate the whole of Easter in one special service.  Friday would be a working day in the fields etc.

I like to go to church on Good Friday so I pay an annual visit to a local Church of England church for their reflective family service. (I also think it a good idea to visit other churches sometimes anyway).

The church here has a simple visual aid for Good Friday.  They drape a huge black cover over the wooden cross (which I assume they just take down for Easter Sunday).  There is something in the way in which the material falls that makes it easy to visualise someone dying/dead beneath it.  It is very effective.  I find my eyes drawn to the cross on entering the church. Seeing the cloth, imagining Jesus behind it, I am reminded forgiveness comes at a heavy price.

Being familiar with stories is comforting but also dangerous given it is easy to become complacent.  Finding the balance between loving the familiar stories yet at the same time not taking them for granted isn’t always easy.

One other thing I like when I visit this church is the use of the piano, as opposed to the organ.  I think the piano has a mournful quality, which is so appropriate for There is A Green Hill, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross etc. 

I sometimes wonder if there is a temptation to focus on Easter Sunday with all its joys and not on Good Friday so much because who would want by choice to focus on pain, suffering, and death? 

The challenge I think is to recall there can be no joy had Jesus not gone through the pain first.  Given this, should we be surprised at life’s dark moments?  Shocked, yes.  (The capacity for evil should always shock).  Surprised, no. We do need redeeming.

But where there is rain, there is the sunshine again.  The comfort is knowing our Lord knows all about pain, stress, and distress.  He has been through it. In times of trouble that is a very comforting thought.  He cried out to God.  So should we.  Always.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Blogging can lead into interesting places! by Trevor Thorn

This will be a shorter post than those I have recently contributed to the ACW site because the attached video clip illustrates what I want to say very well. Several of my recent posts have encouraged the idea of finding a ’niche’ in the blogosphere. Mine is ‘Faith and Science’’ and demonstrates how effective this can be.
This 2 - 3 minute clip from ‘That’s Cambridge TV’ arises almost directly from my regular blogging on this topic. It was taken at a celebratory day in Ely Cathedral last week when nine church primary schools, who had been encouraged to write songs on this very relevant topic presented them to be added to the collection I have built up over time.
It was a delightful day, and if you watch the clip, you will catch something of the sheer exuberance that the children (320 of them) brought to the day.
If you know any church leaders, RE/ Singing teachers or local church members going into help with school assemblies this might be of interest to them - and I’d be very grateful for the word to get around of what is afoot in Ely as widely as possible.
Other songs in the collection can be found in the Assembly Friendly collection of my blog at

Friday, 26 May 2017

Apples of Gold, by Eve Lockett

I have been looking back through my notebooks where from time to time I write down extracts and quotations that particularly speak to me. It’s very satisfying to copy someone else’s words, and I find it’s a rich resource for giving talks, creative ideas and wisdom. If you haven’t got such a collection on the go, can I recommend it? It’s also a great excuse to buy a gorgeous new notebook.

Here is a selection:

Whenever you are fed up with life, start writing: ink is the great cure for all human ills, as I have found out long ago.
C.S. Lewis, in a letter to Arthur Greeves

I read somewhere of a shepherd who, when asked why he made, from within fairy rings, ritual observances to the moon to protect his flocks, replied: ‘I’d be a damn’ fool if I didn’t!’ These poems, with all their crudities, doubts, and confusions, are written for the love of Man and in praise of God, and I’d be a damn’ fool if they weren’t.
Dylan Thomas, Note in his Collected Poems 1934-1952

If one turns aside from Christ to go towards truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.
Simone Weil, Waiting on God

When you have become God’s in the measure He wants, He Himself will know how to bestow you to others, unless for thy greater advantage, He prefer to keep thee all to Himself.
The words of St Basil

Throughout the world sounds one long cry from the heart of the artist: ‘Give me the chance to do my very best!’
Papin, in the film Babette’s Feast (1987)

Whatever the attitude of the novel, however your world is viewed, it must be your own. Not your own as a public person, not your own as a Christian or an atheist or a communist or a Conservative, but as a private person.
Writing a novel, John Braine

Through the Moomins, she’s writing absolutely from the heart. She connected so easily with me from across all those demographics, those oceans, those gaps of time, because she put so much of herself into those stories. They’re so honest, they’re so vulnerable, there’s nothing calculated about them; and that’s always universal. If you’re really, really personal, if you’re really, really particular to what’s hurting you or what’s making you happy, then you become universal.
Frank Cottrell Boyce, interviewed for BBC Scotland, Moominland Tales: The Life of Tove Jansson

‘That’s what you humans do: bring order out of chaos.’
Dr Who in the Tardis, talking to his female companion as they watch rocks hurtling through space to form the Solar System.

…science has discovered that places where true novelty can emerge have to be located at what we can call ‘the edge of chaos’. New possibilities can only come into existence in regions where both order and disorder interlace each other.
John Polkinghorne, in a sermon on Radio 4

I think you can define humanity as people who pray.
Sister Wendy, Arena: Sister Wendy and the Art of the Gospel

A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. 
Proverbs 25.11

Thursday, 25 May 2017

What's that smell? by Fiona Lloyd

To fully appreciate this post, you’ll need your “scratch-and-sniff” technology enabled.


Right, then: what do you think of this?

For those of you who don’t recognise it, this is allium ursinum – or wild garlic – and its dainty white flowers and not-so-dainty aroma permeate British woodlands at this time of year.

To my mind, however, it’s not quite so pungent as its more widely recognised cousin, allium sativum, which is the usual garlic you find in the supermarket. Personally, I rather like the smell of both varieties, and use enough of the regular stuff in my cooking to send any level-headed vampire running for cover.

I’m pretty sure, though, that while a large number of you are now licking your lips and nodding in agreement, others will be grimacing and making a mental note not to sit too close to me in future. Garlic – like that well-known yeast-extract product – is one of those things that divides opinion.

But wouldn’t life be boring if we were all the same? Some people like garlic; others loathe it. There are those who think a perfect Saturday afternoon involves watching 22 grown men chase a ball up and down a muddy field…but I’m not one of them. My tastes in music tend to lag about 200 years behind those of the general populace, but that doesn’t make my preferences any less valid.

One of the mantras beloved of writing courses everywhere is to think about your target audience.  It’s not realistic to expect that our writing will appeal to everyone, and yet so often we start off with only a vague idea of who it is we’re writing for. If we worry too much about people not liking our work, there’s a danger we’ll never share it with anyone. Either that, or our words become so insipid that they lose their ability to hold the reader’s attention. We need to continually remind ourselves that it’s okay to divide the critics: if our intended readership enjoys and / or benefits from our writing, it doesn’t really matter if others are less enamoured.

And after all, who wants to be bland?

Fiona Lloyd works part-time as a music teacher, and serves on the worship leading team at her local church. Fiona self-published a violin tutor book in 2013 and blogs at and at You can find her on Twitter at @FionaJLloyd. Fiona is vice-chair of ACW and is married with three grown-up children.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

The Dark is Rising

In Susan Cooper’s 1977 children’s novel Silver on the Tree, the hero, Will Stanton, encounters some boys from his school bullying a younger boy, Manny Singh, on the bank of a stream. They are taunting him for his ethnicity and his musical studies; the biggest bully, Richie Moore, snatches his music case and drops it in the water. Will’s grown-up brother Stephen comes on the scene, and, having tried to reason with Richie, finally drops him into the water to retrieve the music case.

Later, the bully’s father calls round at Will’s house. A discussion follows between Mr Moore on the one side and Stephen and Will’s father on the other. After Stephen has explained that he acted in response to Richie’s bullying Manny Singh, Mr Moore, addressing Will’s father, says: ‘Made a lot of fuss about nothing, that kid, I dare say. You know how they are, always on about something.’ Thinking he means children, Mr Stanton agrees. ‘Mine usually are,’ he says.

Mr Moore replies: ‘Oh no, no...I’m sure your bunch are very nice. I meant coloureds, not kids.’ And after some further, slightly sharper interchanges, he says ‘I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think they should be here, them or the West Indians. Got no right, have they? Taking jobs that should go to Englishmen, with the country in the state that it is…’

An argument develops between him and Stephen. Mr Moore, still sitting in his car, becomes heated:

The man’s face had darkened. He leaned belligerently out of the window; his breath came more quickly. ‘Let them solve their own problems, not come whining over here!...They don’t belong here, none of ’em; they should all be thrown out. And if you think they’re so bloody marvellous you’d better go and live in their lousy countries with them!’

Mr Stanton makes a very measured response, ending with an offer of ‘reparation’ for any harm done to Richie. But:

‘Reparation hell!’ The man started his engine with a deliberate roar. He leaned over the seat, shouting above the noise. ‘You just see what happens to anyone laying a finger on my boy again, for the sake of some snivelling little wog.’

And here is Will’s reaction:

From the moment when he had heard the man in the car begin to shout, and seen the look in his eyes, he had been no Stanton at all but wholly an Old One, dreadfully and suddenly aware of danger. The mindless ferocity of this man, and all those like him, their real loathing born of nothing more solid than insecurity and was a channel. Will knew that he had been gazing into the channel down which the powers of the Dark, if they gained their freedom, could ride in an instant to complete control of the earth. He was filled with a terrible anxiety, a sense of urgency for the Light, and knew that it would remain with him, silently shouting at him, far more vividly than the fading memory of a single bigot like Mr Moore.

Now, in Susan Cooper’s fantasy sequence, The Dark is Rising, the Old Ones are a select group of people from all times and places whose mission is to combat the rising Darkness and prevent it from taking possession of the world. But when I was reading this passage it jumped out at me how applicable it is to ourselves and our own times. Christians are the true Old Ones, the people selected to champion the Light and stand against Darkness. In Cooper’s mythology the weapons that Will and his comrades use are various symbolic objects which have to be recovered in a race against time. For us, as no one reading this needs to be reminded, the weapons are prayer, righteousness, and faithful lifelong witness. Cooper’s portrayal of hatred—‘real loathing born of nothing more solid than insecurity and fear’—seems to me still to ring true, 40 years later. And Will’s insight that this hatred could be ‘the channel down which the powers of the Dark, if they gained their freedom, could ride in an instant to complete control’ sounds a warning note to me as a Christian.

In my April blog post I suggested that there are moments in history when, inexplicably, normal restraint is removed, society begins stepping towards chaos, and fearsome mockery and cruelty are unleashed. When unbelieving society sleepwalks into the jaws of the rising Darkness, Christians are called to make a stand.

Perhaps I am reading the signs of the times wrong, but I fear that now may be one of those times. This is my last blog post before the General Election. I am praying for all leaders, friend and foe alike, and for all voters, especially those beguiled into apathy. And let us pray especially for our fellow writers, the journalists and editors of our national newspapers, that they may tell the truth. Will you join me?

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Switch to technicolour - by Helen Murray

In a couple of days I will have been a Christian for thirty years. Technically, I have been a Christian for thirty years.

I'm not sure that I was much use to God for many of those years, but by the same token I know that He can work through us when we look least likely to be any use to anyone, so I won't rule it out.

The fire was lit in 1987 when I first encountered Jesus in one of those, 'I'm talking to you. Yes, you,' moments.  I burned brightly for a few years, and then my light sort of dimmed to a faint glow for a long, long time. It nearly went out a few times. He kindled it afresh in the years following the loss of my Dad, when motherhood and near-despair knocked me over at the same time and I found myself unable to get up. This time, God breathed on the embers and there was a flame again.

Something happened. I woke up? I changed gear?  I grew up?  I don't know, but about in the last decade things have changed. It's the hardest thing to describe; things shift subtly and incrementally and then one day I look over my shoulder and I am amazed to see how far I've come.

'Isn't it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, 
everything is different?' *

It's as if my life changed from pastel shades and muted greys to full, glorious technicolour. It's vivid and vibrant and exciting. It still has ups and downs - indeed the ups are higher and the downs are lower than they used to be. Until this last decade I didn't really understand what it felt like to be so miserable that it's hard to breathe, or so filled with wonder and awe and joy that I find myself in laughing even as I cry.

It's hard, living a full-colour life.

For many years I was in a constant state of waiting: when this happens, when that happens... for the next hurdle to be over. Then things would 'get back to normal'.

Then one day the penny dropped. This is normal. 

It's relentless, ongoing, never-stopping, day-in-day-out exhausting normality of life on His team. Not normal at all.

Better than normal. Harder than normal. More worthwhile than normal.

I could get the old normal back, I think; I could choose it, back off and get comfy on the sofa again instead of putting one foot in front of the other over and over each time the going gets tough, but why would I?  I feel as if I'm living.

Time is rushing past so quickly. It's nearly the middle of another year, one that only feels as if it only started last week. It isn't five minutes since I was grumpily packing away the Christmas decorations for another year and waiting for the first shoots to appear, and here I am with the longest day only a month away and wondering when someone will tell me how many shopping days there are until Christmas.

Jesus said, '... I came to give life - life in all its fullness.'
John 10:10

Full colour.
This is life, then. Is this what Jesus meant when He said 'life in all it's fullness'?

Full as in busy, constantly on the go?  Probably not.
Full as in rich, complex, endlessly challenging, surprising, amazing? Yes, definitely.

Life with Him. It's hard, but I wouldn't change it for anything in the world. He never said it would be easy; He said it would be worthwhile.

These last few years have been more meaningful than most of the others put together.  I have learned more about God, about hearing His voice, about staying close to Him, living under His wing, being sent out on His business and doing things I never thought I could do.

I have learned a little about how He sees the people around me; His hopes, His dreams, His heart, His plans.

I have learned life-changing things about myself.

I am loved. Right now, as I am, imperfect, middle-aged, overweight, tired, confused. Sheep-like. Special. Unique. Loved by the true and living God.

Full colour.
The colours are breathtaking. A kaleidoscope. Never the same. Each day different.

I blurted this idea out to someone the other day, the idea that life can change from black and white into colour, and they knew what I meant. It's not just me! I was met with nods of agreement and recognition of my description, especially when I said that it wasn't a fluffy sort of change; things got harder, not easier. Things weren't 'normal' any more.

So perhaps this is a self-indulgent anniversary reflection. Thirty years since I first gave my life to Father God. I've taken it back and handed it over many, many times since then. Thirty years since I first heard His voice; since His Spirit first moved me to tears of awe and gratitude for what He did for me.

Thirty years.

And then, a few years ago, He fitted me with a warp-drive and I've learned more in those years than in the previous twenty. It turns out that you're never too old; it's never too late.

Thankyou, Lord.

Thankyou for the colours, thankyou for the ride, and for holding me close when the curves and inclines and steep drops make my tummy go funny. Thank you for the breathtaking scenery, the places that I could never go if you were not with me and for the exhilaration of the journey. For the sunshine and the rain. For the sound of your voice and the treasures that you show me. For the music of heaven and the wonder of your company and the promise of more to come. For the gifts you are giving me; the things I never imagined that I could experience and most of all for the hope that nobody can take away.

I feel as if I'm really living.

* This quotation is often attributed to CS Lewis, speaking as Prince Caspian, in the Narnia book of the same name. I thought that was where it was from until I tried to check it, and it turns out that it was not actually said by Lewis. I don't know who said it, originally, but it has a lot of truth in it. 

Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire with her husband, two daughters and her mum.

As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims, breeds Aloe Vera plants and collects ceramic penguins.

Helen has a blog: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith.

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray
Twitter: @helenmurray01