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Thursday, 28 July 2016

Upending a Story by Trevor Thorn

I’m in the middle of a delightful few days. I’m having a quiet week in the magnificent setting of Launde Abbey, the diocesan retreat house for the dioceses of Leicester and Peterborough. Pam, my wife, is on an Icon painting retreat led by Peter Murphy. I have come along to enjoy the quiet and hopefully, to complete a number of fragments of poems that have been started and laid to one side, generally because of a lack of time – so this is a splendid. splendid opportunity to make sure that some part-finished material is not wasted.


One of the pieces I had not completed followed from an earlier prose piece ‘A Temple Trader’s Rant’ and now, in a few short verses expresses the same individual’s satisfaction later in the same week...  

A Temple Trader’s Glee
He lashed me with a rope of knots
And wrecked a whole day’s trade,
But I’ve just seen him flayed alive,
It’s been a great, great day.

For generations we have served
The people of this land
By always having Temple coin
Kept readily to hand.

Exchanging it for Roman dross
Or valued artefacts,
Of course, we have made profits
Even after sky-high tax.

The priestly leaders love us
Our business keeps them clean
From handling ‘filthy lucre’
which to them is quite obscene.

So when this Galilean
Disturbed the Festal flow
When profit margins always peak,
He simply had to go.

The priests were quite ecstatic
We’d drawn the Rabbi’s wrath
And given them a reason, just,
At least to have him flogged.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Stepping Stones or Stumbling Stones? - by Lucy Mills

If you want to get a point across, try not to baffle your readers.

Challenge, by all means. Inspire to think, certainly.

But leaving readers frowning because they don’t know what that phrase means will only hamper them.

Of course, sometimes things are ‘hidden’ in our writing.  We do it all the time in stories and analogies.  Jesus did it with parables.

But we want to give our readers a chance to see it.

There is a secret there to be found, if readers dare to explore, to reflect, to ruminate. But sometimes we veil meaning with jargon, obfuscating the obvious. 

We must also be aware of who is most likely to be reading, and how our words can help them understand. Jargon, technical language and even what might be just termed as ‘long words’ can be problematic (I would not, in all circumstances, use ‘obfuscate’, for example!).

Recently, I was editing an article (written by someone else) where a certain phrase completely stumped me.  It was written by an academic, so I floated it past some other ‘academics’. They were equally bemused.  Sometimes we get so engrossed in the things we understand, we neglect to realise that others may not have come across them before.  Yet we don’t see any need for explanation.

I embrace the philosophy that it’s better to ‘ask a stupid question’ than it is to agonise in ignorance.

But I don’t want to cause my readers agonies of ignorance. I don’t want to place a needless block in front of them.

Yes, there are times my writing goes deep, but in those cases it is my job to present the topic as simply as possible.  Simplicity can lead to deeper understanding, because it doesn’t clutter the way with unnecessary barriers and stumbling stones. If your topic is already challenging and needs effort to grasp, don't add extra hurdles to it!

Are your words stepping stones or stumbling stones?  Are you so impressed with your own grasp of language, or so taken with a new jargon, that what you are saying gets completely lost?

Sometimes it’s not even complexity that’s the problem, but vaguery.  Just as there are obscure phrases that make so sense to us, there are often ‘buzzwords’ floating around, ‘in-phrases’ that crop up everywhere.  But their very trendiness empties them of meaning. Yes, maybe they are ‘on trend’, but what do they actually mean, and – ahem – does anybody know? Or have we used the word so much that it’s become a parody of itself?  Do we need to find a new way of saying it?

Is there a word you always use, fling about, almost as your 'badge'? What does it mean? Does it still mean what you thought it meant? Words are funny things, always collecting extra baggage. Just as they can take on other meanings, they can also lose meaning.

I’m not talking about patronising our readers or making things too basic.  I’m not talking about ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’.  What I am talking about is using language to illuminate, to draw our readers to discover and be excited by their discovery. 

Depth is found in simplicity.  If we make our writing too complicated 'just because we can', it becomes all about itself. The thing that is supposed to point to meaning has become its own end – and is, therefore, meaningless.

***

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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Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Identity and privacy, by Eve Lockett


What do Elena Ferrante and Banksy have in common? They both decided to keep their true identity a secret, and yet both have successful international reputations, one as a writer and the other an artist.
The efforts to find out who they are have been extraordinary. Maths, criminology and geographic profiling have been used to ‘out’ Banksy, whose name is now apparently known. Elena Ferrante explains via her publisher:
“If the book is worth something, it should be enough. I will not participate in debates and conferences, if I am invited. I will not go to accept prizes, if I am given any. I will never promote the book, above all on television, in Italy or, should the need arise, abroad. I will only participate through writing, but I will also try to keep this to the bare minimum.”
The question is, if we did know their names, what would it give us that we want so badly? Would it bring us closer to them? Would their genius rub off on us? Would we discover the secret of their success? Or is this the forbidden fruit that we can’t keep our hands off?
Nineteenth-century female novelists sometimes kept their names secret for reasons of discretion, and at a practical level to keep their relatives from interfering. Some gave themselves a male pseudonym, which helped them compete in a male-dominated world by allowing their work to be judged on merit.
How did Jesus maintain a public ministry and yet a sense of private self? In John Chapter 7, his brothers tried to persuade him it would be good for his ministry to showcase his miraculous powers in Jerusalem. ‘No-one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret,’ they said to him. But Jesus went to Jerusalem in his own time and on his own terms. He was following his agenda not theirs. He did not wear a ‘Me…ssiah!’ t-shirt, but carefully guarded his identity because he knew it would be easily misinterpreted. Who he was and why he was there were revealed in his actions and his teaching. Even these he tried at times to keep secret.
This can also be seen in his personal life. He maintained a strong intimate relationship with his heavenly Father in prayer. He had a few close friends with whom he shared more than with the others. He did not always answer questions, and he kept some things to himself. It seems that privacy was an essential part of his identity and for keeping on course in his ministry.
In our age of social media, this becomes a live issue. If publicity is going to work in our favour, of course we have to give something away of ourselves. But where do we draw the line? What bits of our lives should we shout from the rooftops and what bit is the precious pearl we should keep safe from being trampled underfoot? Discuss!

Monday, 25 July 2016

The Turning of the Seasons, by Fiona Lloyd


Those of you who read my post last month may remember I wrote about a poem I had started at Scargill in early June. Well, it’s taken me longer than I thought (largely due to my tweaking addiction) but it’s finally finished...just in time for this month’s blog.

I should point out that the visit referred to in the poem was my first trip to Scargill, almost five years ago. I’d also like to acknowledge Wilfred Owen’s poem, Strange Meeting, which inspired my first line and got me going.

Anyway, here goes:


The Turning of the Seasons

                       

From escalating darkness I escaped,
And took the road that wove through sculpted vales;
Where hamlets carved from honeyed Yorkshire stone
Gave way to lofty crags and soaring fells.

Fragmented rays of amber kissed the fields:
A verdant quilt – criss-crossed with dry-stone walls –
Whose supple folds ran rippling down the slopes
And flanked the bustling Wharfe within its course.

Late summer’s lavish reign was evident
In softly shimmering streams and hedgerows bright
With berries; while above a shaded copse,
A kestrel hovered, etched against the sky.

Yet here and there the stately sycamores
Wore freshly-furnished cloaks of red and gold.
They bowed and swayed before the stiffening breeze,
As autumn waited, watchful, in the wood.

The turning of the seasons cruelly stirred
A closely-guarded anguish in my soul.
The looming threat of winter’s icy grasp
Wrought deepening despair as grief unfurled.

I journeyed on, down tightly twisting lanes,
And found a rank of pine-trees, proud and tall.
Their stern façade concealed a sprawling house
Set close against the contours of the hill.

And so I came at last to Scargill’s door,
And hesitantly followed on behind
The band of cheerful pilgrims on the stairs,
Ascending to the chapel overhead.

We entered to a space infused with light:
It seemed a thousand votives flamed and shone.
Celestial music tumbled all about,
As reverent flutes joined sweeping strings in song.

I heard no voice, yet whisperings of grace
Spoke solace there, amidst the glimmering;
And hope – that had lain crushed in sorrow’s grip –
Afforded me a glimpse of endless spring.
                        



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 www.fjlloyd.wordpress.com. You can find her on Twitter at @FionaJLloyd. Fiona is vice-chair of ACW and is married with three grown-up children.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Writing levels: Global, Structural, and Language

Call me slow-witted if you like, but I’ve only recently realized that when we talk about writing we are really talking about three distinct, though interconnected, things. If you start reading this and quickly see that I am merely restating what greater minds have apprehended long ago, by all means stop!

First there is the Global level. When we say that Tolstoy wrote War and Peace or Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice, we refer to the whole process, from the first glimmer of an idea to the last page of corrected proofs. But in particular we mean the creative act whereby Tolstoy and Austen invented imaginary people, places, institutions, and events. It doesn’t matter that there was a real Napoleonic War: the one in the book is Tolstoy’s Napoleonic War, whether or not he has faithfully modelled it on history. Writing, at this highest level, is thinking up a whole world of events, even if they are minute domestic occurrences, in such a way that they come together to make a story.

It’s an interesting fact that while a skeleton summary of the story reflects what the writer is essentially up to, the author simultaneously has in mind a vast catalogue of imaginary things that relate to it. ‘A boy and girl belonging to different families that are conducting a violent feud in their city fall in love, try to get together in another city, but are caught by their own stratagems and both die.’ An inadequate summary of Romeo and Juliet, but this is something like the essential idea in Shakespeare’s mind. At the same time, putting her invented world together, the author dreams up all kinds of facts about it and its inhabitants which may or may not form an important part of the finished work. She might have been able to tell you what school Mr Darcy went to or which Shakespeare play he liked best, but have decided that her story doesn’t need to mention these things. The creative process summons up a whole landscape, a potential history book.

Second comes the Structural level. Even if you are writing a true history you have to leave out the majority of events that you know about. You do not say what Winston Churchill had for breakfast every day; only on the one day when he choked on a fishbone in his kedgeree and missed a crucial meeting of the War Cabinet (I made this up). To give existence to the narrative you have invented you pick out the crucial episodes. You select people and their appearances, decide who is the protagonist, and so on. You angle your presentation of events. Are we going to see Agamemnon murdered or will a messenger come in and report it? Or will Clytemnestra enter covered in blood? Imagine Pride and Prejudice without the unexpected return of Darcy to Pemberley while Elizabeth is seeing over it! All this is obvious, I know. But my point is that this is writing—the central activity, the art of storytelling—and yet, no physical writing need happen (even if in practice it usually does).

Lastly we come to the level of Language. Obviously, you have to communicate the scenes and episodes to your audience. The story could be acted on the spot or even mimed, but we are writers, so we express it in language. And the boundary between Structure and Language is extremely fuzzy. The selection of actions naturally determines the words: I’m likely to use the word ‘messenger’ or ‘servant’ if I have the murder reported. But equally the choice of words has a backwash effect on the structure and atmosphere of the story. It’ll be different if the messenger comes in and says ‘O woe, howl, for the sanctuary is defiled’ or if he comes in and says ‘Hells bells, the old bastard’s bleeding all over the bloody atrium.’

But because the Language level is the level of physical writing, i.e. putting down one word and not another, this is the level that we often take as the ‘writing’, and we say ‘this book is beautifully written’. But do we only mean that the choice and arrangement of words is beautiful? I can think of books in which the Language is first-class but the narrative Structure is tedious. For me, Virginia Woolf’s novels fall into this category. On the other hand, there are thousands of books with a story line that keeps you on the edge of your seat, but written in dreary, turgid, clichéd, or slipshod prose. Messrs Archer and Brown spring to mind, but it’s unfair to single them out.


These three levels—or perhaps they are actually concentric circles—are, I think, useful tools for thinking about the activity of writing; in particular, when we are concerned with the morality and spirituality of what we write. The kinds of thing that we find controversial crop up at different levels, or take different forms at different levels. So-called Swearwords exist at the Language level. But to have people use Bad Language is a Structural decision, and to tell a story about people who use such language is a Global decision.  To take another topic, one Christian might devise a narrative that enshrines their beliefs, by having the story culminate in act of repentance and faith by the major villain. Another Christian might simply include, as part of the Structure, Christian characters who behave both well and badly as Christians do.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

How to be a small, inadequate, mighty warrior - by Helen Murray

Gideon had a word with me the other day.
I'm sure you've met Gideon. His story can be found in the Book of Judges in the Bible. 

I am drawn to Gideon. He felt small and inadequate, and I know that feeling.

Judges 6:12.  God sent an angel to chat with Gideon and the first thing the angel said was, 'The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.'

At this point I imagine Gideon looked behind him, because clearly there must be a mighty warrior nearby that he hadn't noticed. He wasn't feeling very mighty, or warrior-like; he was feeling defeated and weak and insignificant. What's more, he didn't feel particularly that God was on his side, but he rallies and very politely comes over all cynical:
'If the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders...?'
Gideon was quietly doing his thing, minding his own business, and God came and told him to stop doing his thing, and go do a great thing.
'Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?'  
What about that? The clue is in 'Am I not sending you?' If Mighty God was telling Gideon that he was equal to the task of fighting the Midianites, then he probably was. Of course, this is easy for me to say. I'm not the one hiding from these same people and wondering what on earth is going on.

Gideon argues:
"'But Lord,' Gideon asked, 'How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.'"
You've got the wrong guy.

But God is patient and reassuring.
'Pull yourself together, Gideon. Blimey, how many times do I have to tell you? I am GOD. If I tell you you're going to be Superman, then you're going to be Superman. For Pete's sake, man up.'
Or not quite like that. God tells him that he would be with him.

Time and time again Gideon asked for proof that it was God, proof that God definitely was talking to him, proof that he'd heard God correctly. Did God get impatient? No, God humours him. Did God get a bit annoyed that he kept asking for a sign? Nope. God gave him signs.

God is endlessly patient. But that isn't the whole story. Of course, there's the bit about Gideon's defeat of the Midianites, the ongoing chronicles of the people of God and the glory of the Almighty shining through humble servants, there's that. But the thing that struck me is how God stoops down to choose ordinary people to do the extraordinary. When those ordinary people have hangups ('But I'm weak! How can I do this thing for you?') or insecurities ('I am the least in my family!') He reassures and equips.

God says: I will be with you. I'm going to hold your hand.

Go in the strength you have.

God didn't make Gideon feel strong. He didn't double the size of his muscles, or give him a couple of tanks and a huge army - He simply said, 'Go in the strength you have. Am I not sending you?'

If God is sending us, we'll be alright. He wanted Gideon to trust that he would be equipped when he needed equipping. Not right up front, able to see how things would play out, no surprises; to step out, just as he was, knowing that the Lord was fighting with him.

God wasn't talking to the person behind him who had bigger biceps and a bit more charisma.  I don't think it's any different today.  God says to me and you, 'I am with you.'

Doesn't He say to us, 'Go in the strength you have?' and, 'My power is made perfect in weakness.' (2 Cor 12:9) Doesn't He ask us to step out in faith, no knowing all the answers, with the knowledge that He is beside us and will give us what we need when we need it?

Forget the woman on the other side of church who is more beautiful than I am, more confident. Forget the other folks who are publishing their books and getting great reviews. Forget the guy who writes the blog that has so many more hits than mine. God has something else up His sleeve for them that's none of my business.

There is a plan just for me. God knows what He's doing when He asks someone to do something.

Sounds straightforward, doesn't it?

Funny how the Bible has been around so long and yet nothing changes. I compare myself with others just as Gideon did and I find myself wanting, just as he did. I wonder why I should try anything when that mean little snipy voice tells me that it's been done better by someone else already. I wonder why I should even entertain the possibility that God has a calling for me, little me, pathetic little me... just as Gideon did.

I'm not saying that I am a spiritual giant of the stature of the Old Testament heroes. But what I heard as I read the story of Gideon this morning is that the Biblical Big Guns had cold feet too. Even they doubted themselves and felt small and insignificant sometimes.

I so often feel ill-equipped for the task of living as God would have me live just on a day to day basis. If God has something for me to do, or say, or write, or tell people about, then I'm quite sure I'll worry about that too. Why me? How, me? And yet the answers are right here.
'Am I not sending you?'
If the Lord God Almighty is asking, then I'm dancing. If He's sending, then I'm going. Because He also says, 'I'll be with you.'

There's no safer place than where God is. Even on a battlefield (and my life sometimes feels just like a battlefield). But look what Gideon did. He defeated the Midianites, just as God said he would, even if he was from the weakest tribe, even if he was the least in his family.

God was right. How 'bout that?

So when I feel defeated by circumstances and inadequate and afraid, I should remember that God's power is perfect in weakness. Well, that's something I can do: if weakness is required, I can provide it!  In buckets. When I am weak, He are strong. If God is by my side, and I am hearing His voice, then I have sufficient strength for the next step. He will provide all I need.

I need faith, Lord. Always more faith. Sometimes believing is hard.

I need to hear the voice that told Gideon, 'Go in the strength you have. Am I not sending you?

Amen, Father.





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

Having spent time as a researcher, church worker and Hand Therapist, Helen is now a full time mum and writer, currently supposed to be working on her first novel. 

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

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. It's been a while since there was anything to report, but she hasn't given up.

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray
Twitter: @helenmurray01




Friday, 22 July 2016

Comparison is the Thief of Joy


This is a well known quote attributed to Theodore Roosevelt which I imagine you will have heard before. My most recent endeavour, in both life and work, is to stop the comparison merry-go-round, for the following reasons.

Comparison hinders progress

I have a friend who has a section of her bookishelf housing nearly twenty books with her name on, and every time I see them I think, ‘what has she got that I haven’t got? How did she get opportunities while I’m sat slogging away and getting nowhere?’ I get so caught up in what other people are achieving that I end up grinding to a halt in my own writing because I’m so preoccupied with the progress and achievement of others.

Comparison hinders learning

If I’m too busy comparing myself with someone, I lose sight of the things I could be learning from them. If I envy the way other writers work, I’m far less likely to ask them how they do it, and therefore lose a chance to learn. When considering my twenty book friend, I have two options: I can either grumble and grouse that she’s so successful, or I can talk to her and ask her how she’s done it. But I can’t do both - the choice is compare or learn.

Comparison is inaccurate

I love social media for all sorts of things, but it makes unhelpful comparison very easy. But here’s the thing with other people’s finished work - I’ll never see the spelling mistakes in their first draft, or their fruitless first pitches to the agents and publishers who rejected them. I somehow end up kidding myself into thinking that a Facebook feed is an accurate portrayal of someone’s success, but the truth is that I’m taking what someone has spent months, if not years, perfecting, and comparing it with the dross I see on my screen each and every day.


Comparison makes me boring

I’m quite a stickler for grammar. I can spot a misplaced apostrophe at twenty paces, which, I admit, makes me feel a bit better when comparing myself to other writers. But you know what? Other than making me a not particularly nice person, picking out little errors like that makes me exceedingly dull. I mean really, who wants to talk about semi-colons when what we really want to know is what hair-brained scheme Bridget Jones is going to get herself into next?

Comparison stops me listening

When I’m too busy thinking about what other people are doing, I stop listening to what God is telling me to write. I get so concerned with writing like other people that I stop writing like myself, with the gift God has given to me. God is so generous, all his gifts are good, and if I’m always concerned with other people using their gifts rather than using my own, I’ll always be missing out on what he has for me.

Please do use the comments to let me know what happens when you get caught in a cycle of comparison. I’d be interested to hear any positive comparison outcomes too.



Post Script - if anyone else now has an Italian baritone voice singing “Go Compare” stuck in their head, I apologise. If you didn’t, I apologise that it probably now is…..


Abbie has been writing ever since she could hold a pencil. She wrote a memoir, Secret Scars, (Authentic, 2007), and later, Insight Into Self-Harm (CWR, 2014). She founded and directs Adullam Ministries, an information and resource website and forum about self-harm and related issues. She blogs at Pink and Blue Mummyland and tweet as @AbbieRobson and @AdullamSelfHarm. She lives in Rugby with husband John and two children.



Thursday, 21 July 2016

Taking the plunge........................ Ruth Johnson



“The Lord delights in the way of the man whose steps he has made firm, though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.  Ps.37:23-24


 

At the beginning of June we left for Spain with a sense that a new day was dawning for our nation.  My belief, and from every prophetic word I read God’s call was, and is, for us to leave the EU.  How the result of that has shaken-up our government and nation.

On holiday, my friend was lent Hannah Hurnard’s book “Hind’s feet in High Places”.  Its forty years since I read it, I’d forgotten how good it was.  And that led me to call my friend, ‘Much Afraid’ when she was skeptical about using the water slide.  Bravely I declared, “I’ll go down first”. Oh ha ha! I shot down it so fast I plunged into the water and holding on to my sun hat came up spluttering! Laughter ensued, and she determining to overcome fear lowered herself into position. Once in the running water she was immediately swept downward, and with no control over her speed when the slide ended our last sighting was of her foot as she briefly skimmed the water before disappearing under the water. 

Undeterred, we enjoyed the slide many times that week.  Being shorter than her my hat was constantly wet, but she mastered the art of jumping off at the end to keep her hair dry!  The Lord showed her that when He initially calls us we can be fearful, but we need to let His perfect love cast out our fear.  In positioning ourselves and saying ‘yes’ to Him there maybe times when things seem out of our control, but it’s then we learn to put our trust in God’s promises and His Word.  And even if we feel we are drowning He will help us rise above our circumstances.  Our endeavours may result in a ‘flop’ but if we continue to trust Him we will gain confidence and overcome. .  

Uncertainty and fear is rife across our country, yet this is a wonderful analogy of how trusting in the Lord changes our perspectives. I am convinced God loves this nation and is very much in control of our destiny.  The Lord’s aim is to rebuild His values and bless us. 

I said ‘yes’ to the Lord in 2010 when I stepped out of my comfort zone to stand for Parliament.  I now write regularly to my MP about issues I barely understand.  This prompted an invitation to tour Parliament on Monday.  Afterwards with the beautiful weather we lunched with him on the terrace before witnessingTeresa May give her first PM motion on the nuclear deterrent as David Cameron looked on. The benches were full, there were constant interruptions to debate and question and kept in order by the speaker and his wit especially during Jeremy Corbyn's speech. 

Our government needs God’s wisdom, but I believe the Lord’s hand is already uplifting us.   

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

From there to here, part 4 by Sue Russell

This month I bring to a conclusion my mini-series on my journey as a writer, so far. I hope it has not been too personal, and that it has been of some use, interest or encouragement to some of you, wherever you are in your own sojournings.

A germ of an idea, a picture in my mind of a disabled woman murdered in her wheelchair, led after months of churning thoughts, scribbled notes and intense conferences to novel. no. 5, 'An Iron Yoke.' This was a departure for me because, as it involved a crime, it also had to include a police investigation, about which I know little. However, I was uncomfortably aware that I had to get it right. Although the police activity was important, it wasn't central, and I don't see 'Yoke' as primarily a crime novel at all; nevertheless, there are many eagle-eyed crime addicts out there who would pounce on an error with the speed of a striking snake, so I had to get my facts straight - where I could not simply leave them out. Fortunately I had the unstinting help of a friend who is a retired police officer, and I hope for his sake as much as anything that I haven't committed too many blunders. So far nobody has pointed any out to me - but perhaps they are being polite!

'An Iron Yoke' was published early this year, 2016, at a most enjoyable party, and seems to be meeting with approval in certain quarters. I am trying to expand what some might call a platform, via a new web site, social media contacts, talks and reviews, and very recently I have had the privilege of being interviewed by US author Julie Saffrin on her blog, which I hope may increase interest in America.I find she is one of many American citizens who like all things British - our accents, humour, ancient monuments, and so on - and I have no quarrel with that! As I write this I am also awaiting a discussion with my publisher on marketing, and I hope new avenues may result.

To my surprise, ideas for novel no. 6 have come to me quite quickly. Without the germ of a plot and characters taking shape, no novel can start coming to life, and for me that part of it - a story and people I can commit to - is an essential prerequisite. Oddly, though, after five novels, this last and latest was the hardest to begin. I found myself worrying about such things as structure and viewpoint, even though I was awash with ideas for characters, theme, even scenes. Happily I am blessed with a writing buddy who knew how to clarify my perplexity -thanks, Claire!- and so now (distractions notwithstanding) no. 6 is under way.

And then - what next? For my part, not knowing (thankfully) what is to come, I hope to keep on writing as long as I am physically and mentally able and as long as ideas for stories arrive. But life may present me with something that must have higher priority, or God may one day say, 'Enough.Time to do something else.' So I shall concentrate on getting the first draft of no. 6 done. Then I will have as many published books as Jane Austen (though there, in terms of content, skill, quality, fame, and many other things, the resemblance ends!)



Sue Russell writes as S.L.Russell and has five novels available in the usual places as paperbacks and e books: Leviathan with a Fish-hook, The Monster Behemoth and The Land of Nimrod,  a trilogy, and two stand-alones, A Shed in a Cucumber Field and An Iron Yoke, all published by New Generation. If we must be pinned down to a genre, I call it realistic contemporary British Christian fiction for adults.

Sue lives in Kent (but sometimes in France) with her husband, currently one daughter, and Rosie the dog. She is an amateur singer and church organist, and blogs at www.suerussellsblog.blogspot.com. (In case you were wondering, with me in the photo is a granddaughter, now quite a lot bigger.)




Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Speak, Lord, by Veronica Zundel

A fellow Mennonite and I have a little game in which the title of a book plus its author make up a sentence, for instance The Courage To Be Paul Tillich, or Jesus Asked Conrad Gempf (or indeed, David Watson You Are My God!). I've found a new one recently, in a reissued classic: God has Spoken by J I Packer. Can't wait to tell her (apologies for all these titles being by men - can't think of any by women at the mo, please supply my deficiency in the comments...).

That last one has given me pause. Has God spoken by J I Packer? I'm inclined to answer Yes, though I haven't read the book. Not in the sense, perhaps, that God spoke by Isaiah, Jeremiah, Simeon or Anna, or even the five daughters of Philip. But certainly, there will be
many people who have read the book and heard God speaking through it. Jim Packer (or any Christian writer) might not think of himself as a conduit for God's utterances, but then I have a theory that St Paul, writing letters of encouragement or challenge to the churches he had founded, probably did not think he was writing Scripture. Nevertheless, church leaders  collected his writings and those of others as especially holy and authoritative, because of the unique relation they had to the life of Jesus on earth.

Now I don't want to suggest that Jim Packer, or any of us, are writing new Scriptures. There's a dire warning at the back of the Bible for those who think they can add to it. Nevertheless, Jesus promised  his Spirit would lead us into all truth. So while we may not be writing with the same authority as the early church writers, we can write under the inspiration of the same power that inspired them.

Sisters and brothers, I find this scary. When I write daily Bible notes, I do not want my readers to take what I write as Gospel. It is merely my reflective response to a Bible passage, in its context and hopefully informed by two thousand years of prior interpretation . My aim is not to give a final or binding reading, but to inspire my readers to apply their own thought to the passage; I want them to approach my words critically, and indeed to approach the Bible passage critically, not in the sense of finding fault with it, but in the sense of reflecting imaginatively on its many meanings for different people and times.

If the Holy Spirit ever speaks to someone through my faltering words, I am honoured and humbled (or, as I heard a sportsman say on TV the other day, 'humbled and proud' - how does that work?). That neither makes me verbally infallible, nor a 'mere channel', like a tin can telephone: God speaks using our God-made talents, experience and insights. That means I should write carefully and prayerfully, but not 'scarefully'; my readers, in turn, have the duty to 'test the spirits', and not take what I write without questioning it boldly. That way, we may reach a common understanding; for the gifts of the Spirit are given for the body, the community of Christ, not for individuals to show off their talents.

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 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 at reversedstandard.com


Monday, 18 July 2016

To share, or not to share? by Joy Lenton

It's happening again. My fingers hesitate over the keys and icy shivers slide down my spine. I wait for words to come and when they do I feel afraid to share them.

They feel too raw, too real, too exposing somehow. And I feel too vulnerable, my former courage melting into puddles at my feet. To publish or not to publish? That is the question.

Maybe you've been there, too, when writing an article, blog post, social media update or part of a work in progress? Suddenly we freeze, yield to feelings of unworthiness, people-approval issues and wondering if we've even heard aright

Discernment is a tricky thing. I've walked transparency's path many times in trying to stay faithful to what I believe God wants me to write, and it doesn't get any easier. All those what ifs? spring to mind, inhibiting the flow.

Certain topics are considered to be off limits in polite society. For instance, it's not good dinner party etiquette to talk about money, politics, religion or sex.

Social media seems to have no such constraints. It's become a no-holds-barred area where any and everything goes. Although as Christian believers/writers we may want to pause, pray and exercise some restraint in what we say publicly and how we say it. 

Because our words matter tremendously - they have potential of bringing life and hope to others and witness to the Word of Life Himself.

It's a high calling and a challenging one. We negotiate a fine balancing act between sharing and over-sharing. I tend to explore touchy topics at times, in seeking to be candid about a painful past and the daily struggles of living with chronic illness.

So it's with some trepidation that I'm offering an imperfectly penned poem that touches on 3 out of the 4 'taboo' topics above. May it encourage you to open up similarly, if need be.


On politics, sex and religion



I don't tend to air my views on politics.
Not because of indifference, missing
strong opinions, or lacking courage
to share my personal convictions.
Instead, I baulk at braying voices,
joining in with lengthy debate,
discussion and heated argument.
I want to come alongside another,
look for points of connection instead
of focusing on what divides us
from each other. My heart yearns

for peace - and little can be found
when discussing British politics.
It's hard to find a reasoned
middle ground, a place of calm
intelligence and commonsense, 
a clear way forward, no less.
I speak out readily about my faith
and how it daily shapes my life and thoughts.

Religion, however, is a word apt to separate
and segregate, so I tend to avoid naming my
beliefs in terms of dogma, doctrine, creeds.
Because the Man on the cross didn't come
to start a new religion, but to offer new life,
heart-to-heart relationship to us.
He initiated the Gospel of grace
freely given to all the human race.

I'm not afraid to mention sex, especially
in the context of those who struggle 
with M.E and chronic illness, those whose
past is shadowed by abuse and whose present
days are clouded, haunted by shame and guilt.
I speak of how God created sex to be one of
the greatest gifts to humanity, with potential
for joy in an incredibly bonding union which
inexplicably mirrors His own with us.

Back to politics - it impolitely refuses
to go away - and looks different in each
person's eyes, depending on who holds sway.
So I may keep schtum and I may seem
numb to waves of political tides 
washing around my feet like a vast,
turbulent sea. And sometimes staying
silent is a sign of insouciance, or it may
be a way of wisdom, diplomacy and peace.
©JoyLenton2016

Each one of us needs to stay true to the calling placed on our lives and to the way God wants us to write. Much depends on our unique voice, gifting, genre, experience and intended audience.

Have you been challenged by the thought of sharing something deeply personal?

How do you see your role as a Christian writer being salt and light in a dark world?


Joy Lenton is a grateful grace dweller, contemplative Christian writer, poet and blogger, author of 'Seeking Solace: Discovering grace in life's hard places'

She enjoys encouraging others on their journey of life and faith at her blogs wordsofjoy.me and poetryjoy.com as she seeks to discover the poetic in the prosaic and the eternal in the temporal. You can connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Writing to myself by Claire Musters

I had the fascinating experience of being asked to write a letter to myself recently. I was coming to the end of a two year course on biblical knowledge and leadership development. The delegates were asked to consider what things we felt God was challenging us to implement in the next few months as a result of what we’ve learned. We were each then given an envelope and piece of paper and were encouraged to write a letter to ourselves, in which we challenged ourselves to see whether we’d actually started doing them. The letters and addressed envelopes were then collected up and will be sent to us in six months’ time.

I found it interesting to write to myself – I seemed to adopt a persona to begin with (possibly as a way to distance myself or find a way to relate to my other, slightly older self!), and then found I was asking myself a lot of questions. I think the letter will be a great way to maintain some personal accountability (although I have to admit I also wrote a list of what I’d included in my notepad as my memory is so bad I thought I’d have forgotten everything way before the six months was up!).

The experience got me thinking as to when else I have written to myself. I think my journal is the place where I do it most regularly. What I write can often be directed to God, or simply be a splurge of my thoughts, struggles and reflections, but sometimes I do write directly to myself. I may be giving myself a pep talk, like David does in the psalms when he asks his soul why it is so downcast, or reminding myself of scripture if I’m struggling to hold on to God’s promises in a situation.

I have also found myself writing down questions to myself about the type of relationships I want with my children as they are beginning to get older (my daughter is now a tween). I find writing those things down really help clarify issues in my mind.

So, while writing is usually something I do for others, in the form of Bible study notes, articles or books, I have recently discovered afresh that I can actually glean a lot of encouragement, wisdom and insight from writing to myself.

How about you? Have you ever written to yourself before? How did you find the experience? What other examples of writing to yourselves do you have?

Claire is a freelance writer 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 Cover to Cover: David A man after God’s own heart and BRF Foundations21 study guides on Prayer and Jesus. She also writes a regular column for Christian Today as well as Bible study notes, and her next book, Insight Into Self-acceptance, is due out in October. She is currently working on another co-written book, Insight Into Burnout, as well as her own book Taking off the mask: learning to live authentically. To find out more about her, please visit www.clairemusters.com and @CMusters on Twitter.