Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Mini Inklings and Synchronicities

A sort of writer’s playtime used to take place in our house. We have a professional writer-cum-journalist friend, John, who used to visit this city from time to time to attend an editorial meeting. He combined this with a spot of research in the university library. And he used to stay a couple of nights with us.

Once he got in of an evening, the three of us would settle down in the sitting room with cups of tea, English breakfast or mint, and some biscuits, lift the lids of our laptops (yes, we kept one eye on our screens as we chat), and launch off into a discussion of our visitor’s latest piece of writing and all kinds of literary and publishing themes related to it. It was like a mini Inklings. Some new line of enquiry that John had begun led to discussion, then Googling, Wikipedia-scanning, dictionary look-up, and further discussion. More tea (for John) and then we began to stumble off to bed.

Not long ago John was working on some papers and chanced on a reference to a minor British philosopher named Douglas Fawcett. He was a mildly interesting figure who started his career by writing a science fiction novel in 1893: the story of London being destroyed from an airship by dastardly anarchists—very much the vogue for science fiction at the time. He also became a Theosophist and helped Madame Blavatsky with one of her books. Later he drifted away from Theosophy and took up serious philosophy, publishing at least one article in the prestigious journal Mind, and several books. His particular take on the truth was called ‘Imaginism’.

He had a younger brother Percy who also got initiated into arcane cultism but stayed with it. In his lifetime—the early twentieth century—he was probably better known than Douglas. He was an explorer of South America, and in 1925 he set off with his son, a friend, and two dogs to search for the lost Atlantean city that he believed was hidden deep in the interior of Brazil. Like in one of Rider Haggard’s thrillers, there was an old Portuguese manuscript describing the city (you can even read it on the web). The three explorers were never seen again. Subsequently about a hundred people went on expeditions to find them, and (as any reader of romances might expect) there were many rumours of sightings and random discoveries of belongings of Fawcett’s.

Neither John nor we had ever heard of any of this before that evening (12 April 2017) when we talked about this. So you can imagine our surprise, as we pursued our quest on Wikipedia, when we discovered that not only had a film just been made about the disappearance of Colonel Fawcett, but this film, The Lost City of Z, was due to be released in the US on 14 April 2017, two days later. Strange coincidence!

Meaningless coincidences—what Jung called ‘synchronicities’—continued to beset me. The day before this conversation, I had come across a quotation from a book called The Reign of Law (1867) by a now forgotten nineteenth century philosopher, the Duke of Argyll. It is surprising to hear of a nobleman writing serious philosophy books, but George John Douglas Campbell, 8th Duke of Argyll, was a Liberal politician, a writer on science, and, among many other things a founder member of the Royal Aeronautical Society. He also wrote Primeval Man: An Examination of some Recent Speculations (1869) and The Unity of Nature (1884). Anyway, during our enthusiastic investigations into the Fawcett brothers I started reading a few extracts from that SF novel by Douglas Fawcett which I mentioned earlier, Hartmann the Anarchist (1893). Blow me down, there was the Duke of Argyll being quoted, on the subject of aeronautics. So then, on the trail of Percy, I was investigating people who believed in Atlantis. This led me back to the seminal work by Ignatius Donnelly, Atlantis: the Antediluvian World (1882). It’s quite amusing reading cultic things like this, as long as you don’t take them too seriously. Anyway, there in chapter 24, ‘Atlantis Reconstructed’, was a long quotation about early civilization—from the Duke of Argyll. Three appearances on two successive days by a philosophical peer of whom I had never before heard seems rather a lot. But quite meaningless. And all in the context of our mini Inklings evening.

Oh, and incidentally, in 1890 the abovementioned Atlantis theorist Ignatius Donnelly also wrote a futuristic novel (Caesar’s Column)—and it’s about the destruction of New York from the air.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Upon sticking your head above the parapet - by Helen Murray

Not for the first time, I've read a blog post by Deborah Jenkins and she has inspired me to write my own post. Not for the first time, this little nudge has come at exactly the right time; and not for the first time, it's been when I've been feeling very much in need of a bit of encouragement.

I make heavy weather of things, I know. Life in this 'season' for me is definitely more like a slog than a gambol and writing, while very precious to me indeed, is regularly elbowed out by the mundane and the immediate. When time and head-space are both acutely limited I have to make sure that I read the Bible daily and spend some time writing in my journal because I have found these to be life and sanity savers. For long periods it's the only writing that I do, but I've kind of made peace with that. Anything over and above is a bonus.

I got something written a few months ago. I was pleased with it. When it was all finished I knew that it wasn't perfect, but so much work had gone into it that it was as good as it could be. I was satisfied. I was happy to say that it was mine. Every writer knows how difficult it is to let the world in and risk what they might say or think. It's very hard to be so vulnerable.

I showed it to a trusted friend. 

She didn't think much to it, and said so.

I don't know how to categorise her words. Thoughtless, maybe. Harsh? Unkind? I don't know. Maybe just 'honest'? Either way, I was crushed. 

I still am, I think, though I know what I need to do and I'm trying to get on with doing it. I am moving on, sticking with my assessment of the project and not hers. I have given it all to God (more than once) and I am working on both forgiving and asking forgiveness myself for the hurt and resentful things that I have thought and said about the situation. 

I am still writing, though I don't feel much like showing people things at the moment. 

It occurs to me that I have received criticism before, but it has never cut as deeply as this. I have never been so wounded, so discouraged, so mired in confusion and rejection. It all seems over the top. Then I process that I have never tried anything so ambitious before. This really mattered to me.

I write about Jesus, about God, about life as a Christian; my purpose in writing is to point my readers to the One who can heal. To say to them, 'Come here, listen to my story. Check Him out. He's changed my life".

So I add the two together and I realise that in my tiny way, what I write has an eternal significance. Whenever I send out into the world a little piece of my heart, the Holy Spirit goes too and where He goes amazing things can happen. He can make something beautiful out of the raw and broken. Maybe one person somewhere reads my ramblings and thinks, 'Me too,' and He is right there, doing the healing and the restoring. 

So this is perhaps why it hurt so much - because my writing in general and this project in particular are very personal to me, and I was absolutely not expecting to be shot down so comprehensively, or indeed by this person. My defences were down and I had not thought to prepare or protect myself. It came from out of the blue and it was a direct hit. I'm still feeling the repercussions weeks, months later. I hope things will return to normal but they haven't yet.

Some good things have come out of this whole nasty experience, however. One is that I've realised once again the connection between stepping out in faith and getting knocked flat. If you do one, you'd better expect the other. Remember that bit in Ephesians about putting on the armour of God? I am a slow learner but I have realised afresh that I'd better do as it says. Then maybe when the missiles come, I can slice them away instead of sustaining injuries.

Another good thing is that when I offloaded my hurt to other Christian writers they closed ranks around me with a level of empathy, gentleness and reassurance that took my breath away and made me cry. I felt uplifted and loved, even as I licked my wounds and wondered how to rebuild some confidence. Thank you, every one of you. 

I know that each of you will have your own story to tell about criticism that hurt, fair and unfair. About recovering from setbacks, remaining single-minded and focused and being true to your calling and determined to steward gifts well. 

I know that a thick skin and resilient self belief are essential to make it as a writer, and this is demonstrably no different if you are the author of mainstream fiction, journalism or devotional material. If we say we belong to Him, the other guy simply doesn't like us much.

So to conclude, a few thoughts. 
  • As Chumbawamba so eloquently said, 'I get knocked down, but I get up again. 'Ain't never gonna keep me down'. * Yeah.
  • Words are powerful and nothing is more powerful than the word of God; even the hard or unfair words that we find ourselves on the receiving end. I need to use His Word in my defence more often. I need to make sure that I'm in the safest place: close to Him. With my armour on. We're at war, aren't we?
  • So to come back to Deborah Jenkins' lovely piece on encouragement: I need to remember how it felt to be supported by people who understood and were gracious enough to offer their own experiences of hurt and rejection in order to reassure and encourage me. 

We never know what sort of day people are having. Sometimes when something bad happens a flamboyant writer might explode onto the internet saying, 'I'm never going to write another word!' but others might just unobtrusively place their precious manuscript in a drawer or softly close the lid on their laptop and that's it; all the gifts and potential abandoned to gather dust. We can never tell if a word from us might one day encourage them to fetch it out and smooth out the pages, and the next CS Lewis might emerge to bless the waiting world. 

Timing belongs to God. A word of encouragement when all is going well and it wasn't particularly needed is just a nice thing. When things are going wrong, in His hands, it might be a defining moment. Let's just be generous with our appreciation and encouragement and let Him decide.

* 'Tubthumping' by Chumbawamba, 1987, EMI Records

Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire, England, 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

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Not A Drop To Drink by Emily Owen

“Why didn’t she say sorry?”
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ to one child or another, but last week was the first time I have ever been asked why Goldilocks didn’t apologise to baby bear for eating his porridge. 
“Why didn’t she say sorry to him for leaving his bowl empty?”

In Numbers 20, the Israelites are moaning. Verse 5:
 “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

And there is no water to drink.

Water is almost an afterthought here, and yet water is the essential for life.
When I’m lying in hospital, I may dream of milkshakes and cups of tea, but it’s water that is always left available for me.
I can live without cups of tea (possibly).
But water is essential for life.

Jesus, our Living Water, is essential and yet, like the Israelites in Numbers, perhaps we make him an afterthought when we look at things we don’t have?

I don’t have inspiration.  I don’t have a publishing contract.  I don’t have any comments on my blog.  I don’t have many followers on Facebook. No one liked my tweet. I don’t have time to stop being busy.  I don’t have time to write. I don’t have time not to write. I am useless at writing anyway.  Why do I bother. I don’t think I can do this.  Oh, and I’ve not been drinking from the Living Water.

According to Google, one of the symptoms of severe dehydration is ‘confusion’.
We have the essential for life – all of life – readily available and yet, the more we forget to bring Jesus in, the more we forget He’s there, the more dehydrated we become.
The more confused we are, the more we lose perspective, focusing first and foremost on the wrong things.
And the Living Water is tagged on to our list of disillusionment.
By the time we’ve got through to the bottom of the list, our bowl is empty.

Where?  Where’s Jesus in this?
My bowl is empty.
I’m not drinking from the water of life.
I’m not bringing Jesus in.
Why am I leaving my bowl empty?
Water is the essential for life yet
I don’t drink it.
It’s an afterthought.
Sometimes an after afterthought.

In no way am I entering the plastic bottles debate, but I came across a slogan for Highland Springs, who do sell bottled water.
‘When you’re fully hydrated, you let nothing get in the way of your day.’

Things do get in the way of my day.
Maybe that’s because I’m not fully hydrated.

Why didn’t she say sorry to him for leaving his bowl empty?

Good question.
Maybe I should apologise to myself for times I leave my bowl empty.
Times I’m not hydrated by the Living Water.

Emily, I’m sorry for leaving your bowl empty.
I’m sorry for getting so distracted,
that I forget to drink the Living Water.
I’m sorry for the times I don’t stop when I should.
When I let the water drain away.
And then, empty of Water, I wonder why you dry up.
I’m sorry.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

A time to be planted out

"But his delight is in the law of the Lord 
and on his law he meditates day and night 
He is like a tree 
planted by streams of water 
and whose leaf does not wither 
Whatever he does prospers."

                                  Psalm 1:2-3

I felt these pots had significance and the Lord highlighted this scripture. It's time for God's people to no longer feel pot bound, but be planted out.  I read recently, “This is the most exciting time to be alive since the dawn of creation.  It is time to live in boldness, faith and confidence. Daniel 11:32 says,  ‘…those who know their God shall do mighty exploits’. To truly know God, to spend time in His presence is to be changed and empowered, so we can be those “who have turned the world upside down.”

I’d like to turn the world upside down by my novels their aim to romance the soul soul and spirit. of those who don’t know how much God loves them. I feel I’ve been planted out, I can straighten and stretch my roots, I sense they're growing and I am prospering in a place of peace and preparation. I’m working in rest, and delight in the simplest of things.

We are entering the greatest time in history, the evidence is daily before us. Biblical prophecy is becoming reality.  Matt 24 tells us to watch for the signs.  When God dropped His seed of salvation into our hearts it was because we have a part to play.  He's carefully potted and plotted our lives.  I started in a safe environment with boundaries so I could be nurtured and grow.  But He didn't want us to stay potted, watered and fed by others, but planted out so we could grow in His Word and Spirit to be  the person we were called and created to be.

Young or old, our lives have mindsets, behaviours and attitudes that come from man, not God.  Whatever our age, we need the Holy Spirit to nourish and renew our minds so we have the ability to view life from His positive perspective enabling us to think, speak, write and declare His love to all peoples.

Retirement today is not a pot in which to shrivel and die, but a release from earning a living and know refirement with fresh goals and visions that will prosper us in old age.  The Lord can, and will use us beyond our expectations and imaginations for He desires us to be oak trees of righteousness, a planting of the Lord, for the display of his splendour’. (Isa.61).

I live in Bristol which recently was named as the drug capital of our land. I asked the Lord how could that happen?  For forty years His people here have been calling upon Him for our city and our land’s revival.  I wrestled with that until I was able to speak with His revelation.  Darkness calls to darkness, light calls to light.  Darkness appears to be succeeding, but light will instantly counteract darkness.  Many Christians in our city have grown over years into ‘power’ plants, unseen and unknown.  The day is coming when they will be released as transformers, bringing light to others so powerful it will wipe out the darkness in much the same way as Paul experienced on the Damascus Road. Why?  Because who could be better empowered and change the face of our nation than those who have come out of great darkness into His marvellous light?

Wherever God has planted us, let’s prepare to talk, write and sing of His amazing love to change atmospheres and release the light of His love, peace, hope and the joy which is our strength. 

                                                                        Ruth Johnson

Friday, 20 April 2018

Swan song by Sue Russell

Legend has it that the swan, once it utters its one and only song, which may or may not be pleasant to hear, goes off and dies. I hope that won't be my fate, but this, dear ACW friends, will be my last post (another pun, oh dear) on this blog. With one exception, when the 20th of the month was imminent and my fount of inspiration completely dry, I have been here since the blog's inception, and I thought it was probably time to step down in favour of younger (perhaps) and fresher (definitely) voices.
This is not to mention the extreme difficulty I have faced from the start of finding anything worthy to say. Maybe this surprises you because normally, in other circumstances, I have plenty to say. But what to write, within the parameters of Christian content or writing interest, and preferably both, that hasn't been said before, has posed a monthly problem that made my brain ache. However, I am hoping not to die any time soon, and you will no doubt hear my words of (ahem) wisdom elsewhere, eg facebook.
Pictures are attractive and sometimes I have included photos of flowers which were totally irrelevant, lacking anything more apt. However, this post's photos do have a point, because they were taken at our place in France, which at the moment of writing is looking delightfully verdant and full of colour. Tomorrow we have to return to our UK home, and that's always a wrench, made bearable by the thought of coming back in a few weeks (no doubt to undo the chaos wrought by nature in the interim.) When we bought our house here we said it was a ten-year project. We've been here for sixteen, and don't want to go yet, because now, as well as bees loudly devouring radiant rhododendrons in the sunshine (always a plus for Normandy) and even louder birdsong, and the tranquillity, we have a second life here - friends, a second church family, closer connections all the time. One day, though, we will have to sell up. A huge rough garden and an ancient house will need younger and less creaky owners, and the French inheritance laws would make it a tiresome burden for our descendants. It has been a great blessing not only to us but also to many visitors, and we are thankful.
The fact is, not wishing to sound too dreary a note, one day we will have to give up all the pleasures, delights and beauties of this world and this life too: in my own case one of many joys and discoveries as well as griefs and difficulties, and I find it almost impossible to envision how to leave it all behind (kicking and screaming, maybe.) What a good job that particular moment is beyond my control. How relieved I am that God is in charge.
Meanwhile I (and no doubt you too) have tasks still to do  for his service, and I'd just like to share with you a personal thought or two about writing. I've been trying very hard in my novels to write with simplicity and clarity. That's not because I don't love words, far from it: the weirder, longer and more Latinish the better, but when I am reading, especially fiction, I feel it's a bit of a failure on the author's part if I have to keep diving into my dictionary, as well as the suspicion that he or she is doing a bit of unattractive showing off. If, as I believe, the story is paramount, nothing should get in its way. Recently a 90 year old friend told me she liked my book and found it easy to read. I took it as a compliment. If our prose is unassuming and lucid, allowing the story pride of place, then the occasional sumptuous descriptive passage or flash of poetry is all the more vivid and engaging. It's often the small hints that spark off the reader's imagination, and we need to remember that there's another brain involved in our work - that of the person reading it.
Internet word games, often with formidable opponents, deal with my ongoing love of obscure words both short and long, and so save my readers from this peculiar obsession, as well as keeping me out of mischief (mostly.)
Au revoir!

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Facts aren't everything, by Veronica Zundel

Last night I went to the Reading Group at my local library, clutching the book I'd read over the previous month, the name and author of which I shan't reveal, because almost everyone at the group hated it. I personally enjoyed it, not because it was great literature, which it wasn't, but because it was a cracking romp, with believable settings even though the characters were somewhat less fully explored. At the end was an author's note explaining how she had discovered many of the incidents in the novel, which were based on true stories, and how she had researched the field and period. Which brings me to my topic for today: research.

It may just be me, but it seems to me that every author these days is expected to do detailed research for her work, not just if it is historical fiction or non-fiction, but for almost anything she writes. A historical error will have readers rising from their armchairs in rebellion, and slating what may in other ways be a good book.

I really don't get this research thing. Jane Austen never did research: she wrote about what she knew, which used to be the advice given to all writers. George Eliot did research, into Jewish culture and history, but it resulted in her weakest novel, Daniel Deronda. And knowing that the author of my book club book had carefully researched her setting and based many of the episodes on history, did not enhance my enjoyment of the book at all - it just made me think less of the author, who had clearly not had enough imagination to make up stories of her own.

Do you, fellow Christian writer, do research for your work? I can understand the need if you are writing historical fiction - Hilary Mantel clearly did a lot of research into the Tudor period to write Wolf Hall and its sequel. But strangely enough, their most compelling aspect is not any careful evocation of the Tudor domestic or political scene, but the workings of Thomas Cromwell's mind, which are clearly invented and could not be found in any archives.

As I suggested last month, a good novel is a great deal more than its plot and setting - and beware above of all of trying to write a novel with a message, even if it's cunningly concealed in a different time and place. You may say that C S Lewis' Narnia series have a 'message' about salvation, but he never lets it dominate the story; I read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as an agnostic child, and had no clue there were any Christian themes in it!

I hope you will forgive me, as a non-fiction writer (but a great reader of fiction) for giving advice to those who practice the noble art of storytelling, I just think 'research' is highly overrated as a part of the writer's process. And if your heart sinks at the idea of digging into 15th century or even 1950s history, there is always a solution: write fantasy or sci-fi. In other words, make it up!

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 playing at being a high Anglican. She also blogs (rather occasionally!) at

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Riding the Waves

I confess that I am a card-carrying member of Control-Freaks Anonymous.  Planning and organising is in my blood.  If there is a holiday imminent, I have lists that cover every conceivable possibility.  I teach part time and, when I leave school on the last day the week, I like to have everything in place for the first day of the week that follows.  On long journeys, I leave at least an hour extra to cover all possibilities relating to breakdown and deviation from my route (I have an innate distrust of Satellite Navigation, which, in my limited experience, has an irritating tendency to announce – albeit in dulcet, Irish tones - that I have reached my destination, whilst I find myself abandoned in the middle of an industrial estate in no way representing my destination at all).  Fortunately, opposites attract, and my non-planning spontaneous-action husband keeps me on the right side of the organised-neurotic line – most of the time anyway.

I have the same approach to life.  I try to look relaxed, feigning indifference if I am not in possession of all the re-assuring information I need for the next step on my life’s journey.  But inside, my mind is framing possibilities and dangers, decisions and consequences, wishing I knew more clearly what my life might look like next month, next year, ten years from now.  I am at my best when I have a plan and a contingency plan and a ‘back-up if the contingency plan doesn’t work’ plan. I confess to wishing that Jesus had cut short his high-altitude sermon in favour of storm-taming or something else urgent, before he uttered the words “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” (Matt 6 v 34).  I don’t think I’m the only one who finds this a hard command to follow.  Spontaneously stepping out of boats, Peter-style, either real or metaphorical just isn’t my style.

I’ve learnt enough from my not-quite-four-decades, however, to know that, sometimes, stepping out of boats is exactly what’s required.  I have done this recently, handing in my resignation at work, after a month or so of procrastination and prayer, whilst still not being entirely clear about what comes next.  Not being a natural ‘water-walker’ I am heartened by the gospel writer’s account of the Jesus-and-Peter aquatic incident. Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.  Matthew 14 v 28-32 (NIV).
I like the text addition in the New King James Version – “O you of little faith.”  I like to imagine Jesus uttering this, not in a cross and disappointed tone, but gently, with a knowing smile playing across his lips.  Or that he deliberately chose the literary technique of apostrophe, conventionally used to address the absent or inanimate, thereby not expecting a reply. By implication, then, Jesus was not berating Peter or asking him for an explanation for his ‘failure’ – just watching and knowing and kindly lifting him from the precarious waters his step of faith had found him in.  Is it a stretch to infer from this that, even if it all goes horribly wrong and the ‘what next’ doesn’t go as I hope it will, there is still a rescuing and a lifting and the possibility of a gentle smile that communicates a Fatherly joy that I tried at all?

What does this mean for our writing?  It’s good to have a plan and a back up plan, vision and long-term goals, even if, like me at present, they simply consist of ‘make sure you write the monthly blog post,’ ‘find more time for writing,’ and ‘don’t chicken out of getting on the train to the Scargill Weekend.’  For others, the goals will be bigger and scarier and involve article pitches, publishers, marketing initiatives.  Wherever you are on your journey, don’t lose sight, amongst the lists and plans, of the God who called you to step out of the boat in the first place.  Remember, as you ride the waves of smudged ink and blank pages, to ignore the doubt and fear that crowds in and, instead, follow the voice of the One who smiles and watches, stretching out His hand, ready to catch and rescue, the moment they threaten to overwhelm.

Georgina Tennant is a secondary school English teacher in a Norfolk Comprehensive.  She is married, with two sons, aged 9 and 7 who keep her exceptionally busy. She feels intimidated by having to provide an author-biography, when her writing only extends, currently, to attempting to blog, writing the ‘Thought for the Week’ for the local paper occasionally, and having a poem published in a book from a National Poetry Competition. She feels a bit more like a real author now the ACW Lent Book is out and she has a piece in it! Her musings about life can be found on her blog: