ACW

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Monday, 31 August 2015

Giving it all to God by Philip S. Davies



We all know in our heads that everything comes from God. As Christians we accept that God is our Creator, and that He gives us everything we have, including our bodies, minds, hearts, souls, relationships, possessions, and so on. This should be a source of endless gratitude, whereas most of the time we take it for granted.
As writers, we acknowledge also that whatever talent or skill we have comes from God. He gives us imagination, creativity, inspiration and dreams which cause us to write in the first place. He gives us ability with language, to learn words, and to string those collections of letters into sentences, that convey meaning. What an amazing skill that is!
So it follows that whatever we write is not only ours, but also God’s. We like to think that we own the copyright to whatever we write, but the fundamental truth is that He owns us, and everything else too, so our claims to ownership and rights seem somewhat petty.
I find this a freeing thought. When I write novels, they’re not just my own little pet project, my precious baby, but a collaborative effort from start to finish. God is always our co-author, and we’re writing together.
As Christian Writers we hope that all we write will glorify Him. So it’s worth checking with Him the initial idea, the tone and style, and to remove anything that is unworthy of Him. And we aim for our writing to be as good as it can be, not merely for our own sakes, but also to serve and please Him.
There’s one aspect of the whole writing process where I’ve found God’s involvement particularly helpful. You may think I’m about to say “the initial idea”, or “getting a publisher”, and of course you’re right: God’s help with that is invaluable. But the stage of the process I’m thinking of is getting critiqued and edited.
We’re probably familiar with the feelings that arise when someone criticises our work, or suggests changes. We become defensive, possessive, or even aggressive: “How dare they attack my precious work!” I can’t say I’m particularly good at this, but what I try to do is to remember that it’s fundamentally not my piece of work, but God’s.
This allows us to stand back a little from our writing, to create a distance and help us to view it objectively. The criticism isn’t of us, personally, but of the writing. The aim of the editing and critique, we hope, is to make it better, to be more worthy of Him, more glorifying to Him.
So when we’re in a local writers’ group and our work is being discussed, or when we receive the sheaf of comments back from the editor, imagine the Lord God sitting there beside us at the time, saying: “Okay, let’s see what we can do together to improve this piece of writing, shall we?”
To God be all the glory.




Revd Philip S Davies has served as clergy in the Church of England since 1997, and now writes full time. His debut teenage fantasy novel, Destiny’s Rebel, is released by Books to Treasure on 15th September. He is Chair of the Association of Christian Writers, and his website is: www.philipsdavies.com.


Sunday, 30 August 2015

The Lost Art of Letter Writing


Letter being posted  I'll admit it - as much as I love email, FaceTime, Skype and the like, there is nothing as precious to me as sitting down and writing a letter. As old fashioned as it may be, I have a couple of old friends with whom I only converse by letter - not because there is no other way, but because it has always been that way, and we treasure the now somewhat antiquated method of putting pen to paper. We have been writing letters for twenty years now, and these surrogate mums of mine offer as much wisdom now as they did during my tumultuous university years. 

I asked a friend of mine what she thought about letter writing. She said, 'Stick to tweeting. That way if you're totally boring people at least it's over in 140 characters.' Accurate maybe, but slightly sad. Maybe the problem is that we try to be a little bit interested in a lot of people instead of authentically interested in just a few. There is something special about knowing a friend finds me interesting enough to read my letters and take the time to write back. It adds value to a relationship in a way that a tweet never can.

As an example, I found out the other day that one of my wonderful 'mums', who sadly died ten years ago, had kept a letter I'd written to her years ago. Her daughter had found it tucked in the front of a copy of my book (which I had no idea she'd even read), and had forgotten about it until spotting it again recently. I have no idea what it says, but the fact that she kept it gave me a feeling of warmth, that I was remembered even though I'd moved far away.

Val isn't the only one who kept letters. I have a pile of them in a box in my loft, letters from the past that encouraged me to keep going, congratulated me on successes, and listened via envelope and stamp during my stay in a mental health hospital, when life seemed unbearable and there was nothing to do but write. I learnt to recognise the envelopes - the slanted cursive of Jayne's multiple page missives, the chunkier envelopes of Anne's that included funsize sweet bags.

I'm not knocking the new way of doing things. Email is a wonderful thing, and has changed the way we communicate in both business and pleasure - including eliminating the requirement to send hundred page manuscripts on paper with a three inch floppy! Facebook keeps us in contact with people we might otherwise have left behind, and gives us a chance to share our writing with more people than ever before. Twitter bleeps to let me know cricket scores that I'd otherwise have to wait til the highlights to know! 

But there is nothing like coming downstairs at the sound of the postbox, finding a familiar looking envelope, and curling up to read a letter with a cup of tea and a Bourbon biscuit. 



Abbie Robson
Abbie has been writing every since she could hold a pencil - her first self-published work was a short story about a magic key, which was displayed on the fridge. After struggling with self harm and eating disorders for a number of years she went on to write a memoir ‘Secret Scars’ published by Authentic in 2007, and later ‘Insight Into Self-Harm’ published by CWR in 2014. In 2007 she launched Adullam Ministries, an information and support website and forum on self-harm and related issues. She blogs at Pink and Blue Mummyland, tweets as @AbbieRobson and @AdullamSelfHarm, and is currently working on a book about mental health and the church. She lives in Rugby with husband John, two demanding children, and two even more demanding cats.



    Cover of book: Secret Scars by Abbie RobsonBook cover: Insight into Self-Harm by Helena Wilkinson and Abbie Robson

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Do Your Best by Susan Sanderson



ACW’s latest magazine cover announced:

“There is only one real sin, and that is to persuade oneself that second-best is anything but the second-best.”  Doris Lessing

I think this quote fits the category of hyperbole.  My definition of sin is any wrong-doing, which separates us from God.  Doing what we want, without thought for other people is sin.  We need to confess it to God and apologise to the person we have offended.  Then with God’s help we might not make the same mistake again.  This is not setting out to be a post about sin, however, rather about aims and aspirations.

As a child setting off for school, there were a few regular words from Mum.

“Have you got your handkerchief/everything?”

“Off you go and do your best!”

What is my best? How do I know I am doing my best?  If I am trying hard, can I try harder?

Perhaps I was naturally competitive; perhaps these words of encouragement led to my competitiveness.

By the time I was in my teens, I had developed the philosophy that if I was doing better than everyone else, I could not be accused of not doing my best.
Our school motto was also about excellence – or at least improvement.  Qui cessat esse melior cessat esse bonus. (He who ceases to improve (literally to be better) ceases to be good.)  It was a girls’ school, but in those days we had no problem accepting that he was often used to include the possibility of she.  How I envy our European neighbours their non-gender-specific pronouns.  Our one seems stilted, but the French have on and the Germans man.

Doris Lessing’s generation used one and oneself.  Word’s grammar checker does not recognise oneself as the object of the verb persuade.  Language varies over space as well as time.  (I am under the impression that Word is American.)

Academic excellence is not the most important aim.  Other abilities and gifts have benefits to individuals, communities and beyond.   Art, music, story-telling, kindness, social skills and many more talents, which cannot be tested in a written examination, are important.  Some are the opposite of sin.  The apostle Paul made lists of good things which result from the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Galations 5:22



So how does this apply to writers? 

First we have to write.  Then we have to read what we have written checking the sense, style and suitability for the intended audience.  An editor may correct spelling and other errors.  (As a blogger I aim to find my own.)  What we have to avoid is beginning with a sense that, what we do will never be good enough.  And, (unlike a photo I shared on Twitter, with the caption, “The second-best photo I took today.”) we have to be brave enough to let others read the best of our work.

Writer bio

Susan always wanted to be a writer. In 2012 she revived her interest in writing with a project to collect the kinds of sayings, which were much used in her childhood.

Blogging was intended as a way of improving writing skills, but has become an interest in its own right. Susan experiments with factual writing, fiction, humour and poetry. She does not yet have a book to her name. Her interests include words, languages, music, knitting and crochet. She has experience of the world of work, being a stay-at-home mum and an empty-nester. She is active in her local community and Church, where she sings alto in the choir. She and her husband live in Cumbria.

Follow her on Twitter @suesconsideredt

Friday, 28 August 2015

More Than Just a Ball of Fluff by Dawn Wedajo




My rather hectic weekend was drawing to a close, fortunately I had managed to catch up on all the necessary tasks which needed to be done, it was time to get on with some writing. I sat in my favourite chair, determined not to slouch, ready to complete an assignment.

In an instance without fanfare or fuss my curious moggy walked slowly into the room, her steely green eyes glowing like torches in the dim evening light. Her bashful gaze fixed in my direction. She ambled towards me gently brushing her silver grey head against my knees before settling down on the sofa. I reached over to flip the lamp switch on.

The environment was quiet and relaxed, the kids were sleeping. The words began to flow, alas it wasn't long before my thoughts drifted, I began to reflect on the last 48 hours. My focus interrupted, the words dried up. I stared rather glumly at the ceiling and than at the white computer screen before glancing at the family pet who was now neatly curled up into a furry ball, eyes closed, seemingly without a care in the world. Incredulously, it had only been thirteen months since this capricious tabby entered our lives, it was as if she'd been there all along. On occasion however, it did feel like she was still an outsider looking in. She was often aloof and unassuming 'content' to remain in the shadows, not getting too close, always guarded. But yet from a distance there was a definite connection. I'd wondered how this timid feline had acquired this rather reserved disposition, she had come into our lives at around five months old. Maybe there were parallels with she and I at least as far as my writing was concerned.

Like many others I'd dabbled with writing over the years, mainly in the course of raising children, whilst grappling with lives many perplexities. But it's been a relatively short time since I've immersed myself into the world of freelance work. Perhaps up until now the prospect of stepping out into the daylight has been too overwhelming or uncomfortable. I look at more established writers with bursting admiration as if viewing another species. At times feeling somewhat out of my depth especially on those days when the little grey cells seem far less cooperative. But writing is a passion and I choose to move forward with gumption knowing that God is with me.

Back to my story, feeling in need of refreshment I slipped into the kitchen for a cup of mint tea, my cat awakened and followed meekly behind clearly expecting a tasty treat. When I returned to the living room to continue with my work I sat in the same chair as before my moggy abandoned the sofa this time placing herself at the top of my arm chair. I looked up at the cat her nose twitching as she leaned a little closer towards me. I peered at the computer screen my mind refocused. At that moment I wanted my little companion to realise this was home, a place where she could blossom, the place she was meant to be.

About the Author

Dawn is a freelance writer who for many years has worked for a national childrens charity. She has written articles and reviews for magazines. She has also contributed to other blogging websites. She is a mother of two. Her interests include prayer, gospel music, Caribbean Cusine, cats and ladybirds.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

The Power of the Backstory, by Lucy Mills

Why do we do what we do?

This question underpins a lot of my next 'Big Idea' (yes, those tentacles I talked about taming in a previous post). Therefore, today I want to talk about motivation.
Not in the '10 ways to get you going!' or '13 steps to success' kind of way. Not in a cheesy, 'I'm so glam and I've got it down' kind of way.

More of a heart-deep, spirit-centred way.

Motivation is a funny thing. It might seem easy to try and explain what motivates us but often our answers are not the whole truth. We may not be false in intention – but we don't always know what goes on within us, what triggers every impulse, what lies behind every story.

Fiction writers work on creating backstories for their characters – back stories that aren't presented in one big lump in the manuscript (we hope!), but threads of motive, of reason, of 'why do they behave like this?' woven through the whole. We don’t join all the dots for our readers but the hints are there, hints that make the reader wonder, hints that give an authenticity to the way a character behaves.

We don't always know the full extent of the back story. I suggest we don't even know our own back stories as well as we think. We don't realise the impact something has had on us. We can't quite put our fingers on when an idea first crept into our minds.  We don't always realise the associative impact of the people, the things and the places we meet, experience and see.

Sometimes our motives seem obvious. Sometimes they are hidden, even from ourselves.

People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
(1 Samuel 16:7 NIVUK)

Nothing is hidden from God, but it is frequently hidden from us. We often make judgements about what other people are thinking – but how can we know? (I'm amused sometimes in nature documentaries when the commentator goes into great depth about what the animal is thinking. How do you know?! I want to ask.)

Sometimes I barely know my own thoughts. Sometimes I think I do but actually they're just covering up my true state of mind.

Motivation is a complex thing. It’s worth pondering it, sometimes, in a non-judgemental way. Why am I doing this? Does it matter why? What do I want to be my primary motivation…and is it?

Why do we do what we do? Why do we write? Why do we write what we do?

It’s not always easy to give a pat answer, but perhaps it shouldn't be – not for writing, not for living. Our journey is one of discovery – of what it means to be human, what it means to be 'me' not 'you' but how together we are 'us', of what it means to be known – and loved – by God.

As writers, we are expressing this journey in a myriad of ways.

***
 

Lucy Mills

Lucy's first book, Forgetful Heart: remembering God in a distracted world, was published in 2014 by Darton, Longman and Todd (DLT). She's written articles, poetry and prayers for various publications and is an editor at Magnet magazine. www.lucy-mills.com

Lucy on Twitter: @lucymills
Lucy's Facebook page




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Wednesday, 26 August 2015

To launch or not to launch


I am currently planning the launch of my book The Jazz Files. Most publishers these days will not pay for launches, so if a launch is desired by the author, then it’s up to you to organise it.
       This will be my eighth book launch, but the first for a ‘non-self-published’ book.  For my self-published books it was an opportunity to gather people together who might want to buy them. As my books were primarily sold through bookshops – who required a 40% retail discount, or Amazon (who took considerably more!) – it was a chance to sell a substantial number at full price. This was essential to give me a chance to break even on the title.
       It’s significant that the one and only launch I held in a bookshop for a self-published book is the only book that is (or was) running at a loss, despite it selling more volume than any other. That’s because books were bought from the shop directly and I only received 60% back. I learned from that, and future book launches for my self-published titles were not held in bookshops (although subsequent ‘readings’ were).

Fiona Veitch Smith and illustrator Amy Barnes Warmington at the launch
of their first children's book, David and the Hairy Beast in 2011
The Jazz Files is not self-published and I do not have to recoup printing costs myself. So I am holding the launch in Newcastle Waterstones and profits will be split between the publisher and the bookshop. I will have to wait for my share – if there’s any – to come to me in royalties in 12 months time.
      So why am I doing it? Well firstly, it’s to celebrate the fruition of a long-held dream. This is a big deal for me, and I want to share my excitement about the book with other people.
     Secondly, it’s for marketing purposes. Although I will not earn money directly from it, the publicity that the launch generates in the build up will be very useful for promotional purposes. It gives me something to tweet, Facebook and blog about. This is what’s known as a publicity ‘hook’. Just telling people about your book can seem a little forced, but telling people about an event makes it ‘news’.
       And speaking of news, the launch is giving me an opportunity to send off press releases to the media. Even if no one from the press comes, it’s a chance for me to tell them about my book.

Here are some top tips for book launches:
  • If you want to maximise sales revenue, don’t hold in a bookshop. If it’s important to associate your book with a ‘proper’ bookshop, and you’re prepared to earn less on the night, then do.
  • Don’t over-cater. A free glass of wine and nibbles will be fine. You can always go out to a pub / restaurant afterwards if people want to continue socialising.
  • Recruit someone to take photographs. Use the photographs as post-launch publicity and ‘tag’ people on FB and Twitter who are in the pics. They may then re-post or re-tweet.
  • Invite everyone and anyone – and ask them to tell their friends.

Fiona Veitch Smith is a writer and writing lecturer, based in Newcastle upon Tyne. She writes across all media, for children and adults. Her formerly self-published children’s books The Young David Series, are now available from SPCK. Her mystery novel The Jazz Files, the first in the Poppy Denby Investigates Series (Lion Fiction), is due out on 17 September 2015. http://fiona.veitchsmith.com 
Twitter: @FionaVeitchSmit Facebook: Fiona Veitch Smith

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

What's stopping you? by Fiona Lloyd


            I’ve always had a soft spot for Moses. He spends the first 40 years of his life in pampered luxury, followed by another 40 tending sheep in the desert.
Then, one amazing day, he encounters God in a burning bush. 

            “Take off your shoes,” says God. “This is a holy place.”

He goes on to spell out to Moses the plans that he has for the Israelites, and how Moses will be the one to lead them out of slavery and into the Promised Land.

            “Fantastic!” says Moses. “I feel honoured that you’ve asked me to do this, and I have absolute faith that you’ll be with me every step of the way. I’ll go and speak to Pharaoh immediately.”

            Except we know that’s not quite what happened. Moses concocted a vast array of excuses. Suppose Pharaoh doesn’t listen? Come to that, suppose the Israelites don’t listen? Oh, and by the way, I’m not really much of a public speaker. God – being God – dealt patiently with each objection, and after a while, Moses ran out of ideas. But he still had one thing left to say:

            “Please God, send somebody else.”

            He must have sounded like the most truculent of teenagers. However, we know how the story ends. Despite an unpromising start, Moses went on to lead the people of Israel for 40 years, and experience first-hand the miracle of God’s provision. He’s mentioned in Hebrews 11 (along with many others) as an example of someone who lived out their faith.

            The story of Moses gives me confidence when I’m feeling I’ve messed it all up again. It’s good to remember that God chooses to work through flawed individuals. But I think there are valuable lessons here for my writing, too. Sometimes, when I feel I’m not making much progress, it’s tempting to start making excuses. No one’s ever going to read this. I don’t know how to fix this. I’m sure it’s about time I cleaned the bathroom. 

            But the God who called Moses is the same God who speaks to us today. If he’s called me to write, then my response should be to get on with it. He doesn’t promise that my words will be read by thousands (or even hundreds), but I can rest assured that my calling is part of his plan.


Fiona Lloyd works part-time as a music teacher, and serves on the worship-leading team at her local church. She enjoys writing short stories, and is working on her first novel. Fiona self-published a violin tutor book in 2013, and blogs at www.fjlloyd.wordpress.com. She is married with three children. Fiona is ACW's membership secretary.

Monday, 24 August 2015

‘The honour is almost greater than the pleasure’


My first published book was commissioned. Lucky me? Hah, but I was in the employ of the publisher and I was instructed to write the book as part of my job. I had an enjoyable few months away from routine work. The volume was part of an overall publishing campaign, and the publisher promoted it vigorously. It had several reviews, one from Kingsley Amis even.  It was put into half a dozen different formats and repackagings. You could get it cheap off the back of the Sunday newspaper. It was translated into Russian. There was a second edition. The book sold unknown thousands of copies. It must have earned a lot of money—but none for me. I’d already been paid.

Book 2: 39,702 sales

They asked for a follow-up, so I suggested book number two: I thought the subject would be interesting and fun to write about. I had a co-author, so the royalties were split. I can’t remember much promotion or many reviews. It did modestly well. It’s now been rewritten by a third author and reissued. A few royalties are still dribbling in.

Book 3: 11,414 sales

The next book was an abridgement. I didn’t much want to do it. My publishers begged and pleaded and cajoled, and because the original author (deceased) had been eminent in the field, they persuaded me. I buckled down to a year of evening and weekend toil, rearranging, reformatting, re-indexing. Followed by—minimal publicity (why?). No reviews. No response from the profession. Modest remuneration. It has now vanished, replaced in the list by a freshly planned work on the same subject.

Book 4: 8,105 sales

The fourth book was a dream. When my publisher (still my employer) asked if their idea for the book would be viable, I thought briefly and said no. I was urged to think again. Three of us got together on it, and it was a joy to write. The subject, we thought, had a vast potential fan audience. Even though the royalties would be split three ways, we were surely going to hit the big time. When the cover design arrived, we were appalled and had to throw a wobbly to get what we thought would catch the readership’s eye. The book was duly published, with the redesigned cover. The reviews, many of them on fan websites, were positive. But sales were disappointing, I don’t really know why. Maybe lack of promotion, maybe the cover wasn’t right after all.

I have been lucky. I’ve been commissioned and haven’t had to persuade anyone to accept my book proposals. I’ve had enjoyable books to write. All of them have been high-quality pieces of work.

Lessons? Well, the book that succeeded best was the one that paid me nine month’s salary in advance, the one which the publisher was commercially motivated to promote. But just because a publisher gets you to write a book, it doesn’t guarantee sales. Nor does excellence in what you write. In fact, I don’t think ‘proper’ publishers have any better idea of what book will sell than the rest of us.


Perhaps I’ll publish independently next time—if there is a next time!

Sunday, 23 August 2015

On the hard shoulder - by Helen Murray

There are times in my writing life where the words come in such abundance that they’re falling over themselves to get to the paper. I’ve had seasons in the last few years where I'm flying! I can’t decide which idea to explore first; my blog has multiple posts waiting in draft, my desk is festooned with post-it notes and my notebooks are all open at different pages. Those are exhilarating times. They’re like harvest times where the fruit is right there, ripe and beautiful, ready to be picked.

Then there are other times where I know that I’m doing the hard work of planting and tending and it’s all a bit of a trudge, but necessary. I know what I should be doing, and although it’s undramatic and laborious, it’s progress – still forward motion.

And then there are times when the ground seems hard and cold and I can’t seem to get the tools to work, and I haven’t the energy… I’m making no progress. There aren’t any post-it notes. The scribbled ideas seem irrelevant or incoherent, and the job just seems too big. Too difficult.

To try a different metaphor, it’s a bit like a motorway. A fast lane, a slow lane, and a hard shoulder, where I sit, motionless, with the hazard lights flashing.


There are lots of reasons why I’ve ground to a halt. Life has thrown up a volley of challenges and perhaps I’ve been swamped. I am not good at compartmentalising my life; it’s more like a sandwich. If one layer has gone bad then the whole thing isn’t right. All the different bits suffer, and so when problems come up that knock me off balance, my creative life suffers too. 

This has happened in recent months, and so my WIP is gathering dust and even my much-loved blog lies neglected for the first time in its history. I’m not writing very much.

However, throughout all the struggles, one thing remains. Even when a person is unconscious, the very fundamental functions necessary for life persist – the brain regulates temperature, tells the heart to go on beating - and on this very basic of levels my writing continues.

You see, I’ve found that I can pray more easily when I write down my prayers.

Writing in my journal is a way of slowing down my thoughts, crystallising what I think. Physically, it’s much slower as I use a notebook and a pen rather than my keyboard. It’s a therapy to form each word, each letter. There’s no pressure to get it right or make it elegant - I don’t have to concentrate on language or grammar or style or even finish sentences if I don’t want to. Sometimes thoughts just evaporate because my mind drifted elsewhere. Other times I just scribble down my joy or my grief or my hope or despair, and since God knows the confusion in my head, I know that He understands no matter how vague or poorly expressed. The process is for me, not for Him. He already knows.

Over and over again I begin in one frame of mind and finish in another. Sometimes I don’t know what I think until I try to express it on paper.  I talk to God this way, and He sometimes talks to me too, when He can get a word in edgeways.  When I am still enough, quiet enough, I do hear His voice, and I write His words down too. These are precious times indeed.

So even when the words are impossible to find on this ambitious WIP of mine, and the tumbleweed blows through my poor neglected blogs, the urge to write never completely abandons me. In a small way, I am keeping my hand in. I think God made me that way, and I trust Him that when the time is right, the higher functions might return and I’ll wake up and get back in the game. The hard shoulder is where you wait until help comes to get you moving again.

Until then, these handwritten words of mine might never be read by another human being (indeed, I’m banking on it!) but between me and my heavenly Father, they are special indeed. I find Him there, and He is enough.



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

Having spent time as a Researcher, Pastoral Worker and Hand Therapist, Helen is now a full time mum and writer, currently working on her first novel. 

As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims and has more Aloe Vera plants than you can shake a stick at. 

Helen has two blogs: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith, and Badger on the Roof where readers are treated to a blow by blow account of her novel-writing progress, or lack thereof. 

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray

Twitter: @helenmurray01