ACW

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Monday, 18 June 2018

The Seven Ages of Writing, by Georgie Tennant


Last month, we went on our church’s annual weekend away.  This involves leaving all home comforts behind and pitching a wide variety of temporary accommodation in the middle of a field, an hour from home, eating bacon sandwiches in your pyjamas with those who wouldn’t usually see you so attired and generally embracing the great (freezing) English outdoors.


Towards the end of the weekend, I was busying myself, packing things away in the caravan, feeling content as I listened to my boys riding their bikes, laughing.  Being someone of nostalgic inclination, it wasn’t long before my mind meandered down memory lane.  A couple of memories sprung to mind: the first was trailer-tent camping, where our then-15-month-old-only-child was zipped into his compartment each bedtime, where we left him to bounce off the soft and padded walls (literally) until he was exhausted enough to lie down and sleep.  Very funny to listen to.  The second was at one of the summer Bible weeks (Grapevine as it used to be called, One Event now).  Still too young to attend a children’s group on his own, my energetic toddler beetled around under our feet as we attempted to load our worldly goods into the car to travel home.  Feeling envious of those who could perform this feat sans offspring, I looked up to see him, plastic bin on his head, careering straight into a swing-ball pole.  He ricocheted off it and laughed.

These things were stressful at the time and hard work – but now I can look back and smile.  I have always detested the posts on social media that tell me to savour every second, because it will soon be gone – usually written by someone for whom the day to day intensity of motherhood had long faded.  Quite frankly, there were some parts of it that I wanted to soon be gone.  But, with primary school-aged children now, growing in independence, I am beginning to understand their sentiment.  Before long, my just-turned-ten-year-old son will be a teen and his seven-year-old brother will be catching him up.  I try to breathe in and store it all in my soul just a little more than I did before.  (That’s not to say I don’t get stressed by “I need to build a model of an active volcano by tomorrow,” announcements or “he whacked me over the head with the space-hopper on the trampoline,” complaints – sentences I could never have predicted I would have to hear or deal with, when I first held my new born babies in my arms).


It got me thinking about life stages in our writing.  Shakespeare breaks life down into seven ‘ages’ in a well-known speech from the play, ‘As You Like It’ – the infant, the school boy, the lover, the soldier, the justice, the ‘lean and slippered pantaloon’ and the second childhood. (You can read it here, if you feel so inclined). Could we categorise our writing in a similar way?  Perhaps your writing is yet the infant (I think mine is somewhere around there!) – you’re beginning to write, the germ of an idea is there, you introduce yourself as ‘not really a writer compared to everyone else,’ at your local group, but the passion is there, the seed germinating.  Perhaps it’s the school boy – growing in confidence, sometimes fearless, sometimes retreating in terror, finding new levels, growing in skill, every day an opportunity to learn.


The lover comes next – you might be him (or her) if your writing is growing and developing – you’re finding your voice, honing your skills, growing in knowledge, preparing for lift off, out in the big wide world. Then the soldier – at this stage, perhaps, your work has left home, making its way to places you never dreamt it would see and you are excited for it, wondering how it’s doing, whether it will spread its wings and fly.  If you have passed all these stages, perhaps your work is the justice, as you enter the twilight years, wise and well-seasoned.  There is less intensity, less drama and what you do, say and write inspires the next generation of infants and schoolboys and soldiers.

I won’t try to drag the analogy as far as the ‘lean and slippered pantaloon’ or the ‘second childhood’ – I’m assuming if you’re reading this blog, you haven’t reached that stage yet, in your life or your writing!  But the fact is, wherever we are now, we’ll all be there eventually.  One day, you’ll look back on the phase you’re in now as a happy memory, viewed down the avenue of years and through the mists of time. So, for now, whatever stage of writing you’re at, savour it, make the most of it, even enjoy it, amid the sweat and tears of the daily grind.  Let’s embrace the stage we’re at and be thankful for every second we get to use the gifts God has given us, knowing that He delights in them too, more than we could ever know. 



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: www.somepoemsbygeorgie.blogspot.co.uk

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Embraced by my Father By Claire Musters


Today is Father’s Day, a time when we pause and reflect on the amazing qualities our own dads have. For some, it is a time to remember a wonderful dad no longer with them. For others, the day sadly brings back painful memories, and they long for the 24 hours to pass quickly.

For myself, I could describe to you how wonderful my stepdad has been to me; the changes that have occurred in him over the years to enable him to become the incredibly patient and loving full-time carer of my mum. I could also affirm how great a dad my own husband is to our kids; how he brings fun and laughter as well as great wisdom and grace to our family.

That is all true, but I actually want to pause and reflect on how God has revealed His fatherhood to me in ways so precious over the years. Writing it down and sharing it is a great way to remember – and to honour His faithfulness.

I experienced the break up of my parents’ marriage when I was extremely little, so do not have much memory of it. I was fortunate to have a wonderful stepdad come into my life very soon after, and he has been amazing to each of us over the years (and continues to be). Not a Christian, there have been moments of pain as he has railed against the faith that the rest of us embraced in my tween years, but overall he has been an incredible gift to us all.

But as I reached my teenagehood, and we moved back to an area near my biological dad, I began to get really confused and hurt about father figures in my life. I was seeing my ‘real’ dad more regularly, but he didn’t feel like my dad – my stepdad did. But this was also the time when things regarding us attending church were really annoying my stepdad, so life at home wasn’t always peaceful. I tried desperately to not upset either of them, but found myself overwhelmed by the pressure and unsure how to be myself around them (particularly my biological father). 

That’s when God stepped in. 

It was like He gave me a big, fat hug, and I felt Him whisper that I could look to Him for a picture of what fatherhood is; what it is meant to be. Neither of my dads could fulfil the needs I have, and I couldn’t be to them all the things I was pressurising myself to be. He reminded me that only He is the perfect Father. Now, I know for some, interacting with God as Father is difficult, due to experiences with earthly dads. I am not trying to bring up past hurts for you at all; this is me honouring the way that God worked in my young, confused heart to reassure me of His love and care.

I haven’t always accepted that love though. After a particularly painful time in my life, when I had seemingly destroyed everything good in it and was battling for life as I knew it, God again showed me the depth of His love for me. Instead of condemning me, pointing out my sin and telling me what I needed to do now, He simply started speaking to my soul about who I am and how much He loves me. It was the very first time that the truth about who I am in Him actually reached my heart, and it began to blossom there. It gave me the courage, much as Hagar felt in Genesis 16, when He asked me to go back into the difficult situation in order for Him to redeem it.

He doesn’t orchestrate things to make our lives easy, but God definitely does have a beautiful Father heart full of grace, mercy, acceptance and love for each of us. 

Whether you are celebrating today, or feeling sorrowful, my prayer is that you know your heavenly Father’s tender touch. xx

Claire is a freelance writer, speaker and editor, mum to two gorgeous children, pastor’s wife, worship leader and school governor. Her books include Taking off the mask: daring to be the person God created you to be, Cover to Cover: Ezekiel A prophet for all times, Cover to Cover: 1–3 John Walking in the truth, Cover to Cover: David: A man after God's own heart, Insight Into Managing Conflict, Insight Into Self-acceptance and Insight Into Burnout. She also writes Bible study notes. To find out more about her, please visit www.clairemusters.com and @CMusters on Twitter. 

Saturday, 16 June 2018

This Topsy-Turvy God, by Liz Carter




I’ve been thinking a lot about kingdom values lately, and how they apply to my writing. Subversive values which turn the thinking of our culture on its head – values which mean the weak are strong and the poor are rich, the failures are successes and the dregs are the honoured. God’s incredible order of grace means that all those negative labels we apply to ourselves, all the rejection words we speak over ourselves, are turned upside down and our ashes transformed to beauty.

Never so pertinent as in our writing trials and tribulations.

I’ve been through a rollercoaster of a journey for the last few years with my writing. I’d known for years I wanted to write books; I’d made attempts when much younger but life took over and as my health worsened I told myself it was just another thing I’d failed at, another ambition I hadn’t reached and never would. 

But it niggled at me, and then shoved me full in the face. I couldn’t let it go, it was part of me, it was in me. Writing books wasn’t just an ambition, it was a need so desperate it wouldn’t let go. It was a calling. So I started. I wrote a novel and I began to learn about the craft of writing, soaking up books about the art and about style and showing and telling and all those other crucial things. I loved the process and the book poured from me, getting itself onto paper in a great rush of enthralling creativity. I was there! This was what I was made to do!

Then came the rejections. The agents’ one line emails. Not for us. Wouldn’t fit our list. Not something I’m interested in. The occasional bite which sent me flying high. Please send your full MS. Really like your concept. Lovely writing. But all coming to nothing.

Then I wrote another book. I wrote a book I felt God had been cultivating in my mind for a long time, and I submitted a proposal to IVP and it was commissioned. I was ecstatic. I thought that I would never feel weak or a failure again; I’d done it. I was going to get published.

But it wasn’t quite like that. The bumpy road of my editor’s frank and sometimes painful comments sent me into some dark places, places where I could only fall at God’s feet and ask for his help. I couldn’t do this thing on my own. God spoke so lovingly and faithfully about his kingdom grace, and I came to understand Jesus’ weakness in a much fuller way through these years of excitement then rejection on repeat. Jesus was fully human and suffered in a way none of us can even comprehend, far from a figure of power and strength, and yet brought about the greatest triumph in history. 

I love the writings of Paul, because one of his underpinning narratives is that of this subversion of power and riches. Whenever I feel that I am too weak, I read some of Paul’s verses about God’s power being made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9) and how God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27). I love this crazy wild grace, this outpouring of lavish, scandalous love which knows no boundaries and doesn’t count our achievements or our ambitions or our finances or our looks or our position in society. Only our hearts.

I love this topsy-turvy God and love that he’s called me to write about him. I love that he speaks to me in my rejection and in my sickness as much – if not even more than – in my successes and high points.

I pray that today, if you are feeling weak in any way, whether in body, mind or spirit, that you will know the outrageous grace of God crashing through your sorrow and lighting your way.

Turning rejection into glory.


Liz Carter lives in Shropshire with her vicar husband and two teens. Her first book, Catching Contentment, will be published by IVP later this year. 
www.greatadventure.carterclan.me.uk/ 










Photo by Mathilda Khoo on Unsplash


Friday, 15 June 2018

The Daunting Detail of an Author’s Approval Addiction




As authors, we’re told that nothing is more important, these days, than having a platform. Indeed, I read recently that, no matter how well written your book may be, publishers are unlikely to offer you a contract unless you have a foot in the door of marketing. Which reminds me of two – nearly three - conversations I had yesterday.

UNHEARD?

When it comes to speaking out, or seeking attention, there can be little more debilitating circumstances than sitting in the dentist’s chair, with your mouth wide open to accommodate the drill or other instruments.

‘Ouch’ was my response, when the hygienist leant her magnifying mirror too heavily against my gum. But no sound came out.

UNSEEN?

Conversation in the waiting room, when my husband went for his treatment, was considerably less muted. We were three women: the receptionist, myself and a middle-aged woman who had brought her step-mother for treatment. The subject under discussion was the matter of old age.

‘My step-mother and mother-in-law tell me they hate getting old,’ said the long-haired blonde, fluttering her false eyelashes and fiddling with the frayed splits in her jeans. ‘They say no one ever listens to them. I tell them I’ll look after them, but they say they feel as if no one notices them.’

‘Invisible?’ I interjected.

‘That’s the word!’ both receptionist and client exclaimed.

APPROVAL ADDICTION?

Returning home, I rang my daughter who has newly moved to Surrey. Rector of a large church, she told me she loved her new job but, as an introvert, was finding it exhausting having to get to know so many new people all at once.

‘Like it or not, I’m going to carve out some ‘Me’ time,’ she said. ‘I’m long since done with approval addiction.’

STRUTTING LIKE A PEACOCK? BEGGING LIKE A DOG?

Approval addiction! Isn’t that exactly what we, as authors, have to adhere to? We can’t afford to be unheard or unseen. First there’s the approval we need to seek from an agent or publisher. And how do we do it? Why, by putting forth a proposal conveying the idea that Iknow what the market requires and that mybook meets those requirements. Or that Iam an authority on what I’ve written.

Then comes the editorial stage when, seeking approval, we may feel unable to say ‘No’ to the changes suggested; or we feel we have to agree with something with which we actually disagree. Once published, or perhaps even before, we then have to coax complimentary reviews from readers. And how do we do that? Sometimes, it has to be said, by posting provocative bad news on social media to create an audience. Perhaps, even, by paying insincere compliments to our followers? Or by behaving in a non-conformist manner, perhaps by emulating someone we admire? All of which is cited as the behaviour of Approval Addicts.

DON’T DOUBT: COUNTER THE CACTUS

So what’s the answer if seeking the necessary approval makes us feel uncomfortable? Do we simply flinch and remain silent as I had to at the dentist? Do we accept that we’re invisible and give up altogether? Not at all!

‘Being negative only makes a difficult journey more difficult. You may be given a cactus, but you don’t have to sit on it,’ writes Joyce Meyer in her book Approval Addiction.

The cactus, here, is the sense of self-reproach which the Enemy encourages in us if we feel we’re becoming too pushy. But the fact is that Jesus never defended himself, no matter what accusations were used against him. If we’re to emulate anyone it should be him in those times of doubt. If we know that writing is our God-given gift, then we have no need to defer to the guilt that so often attaches itself to the amount of time we spend sitting in front of a computer. ‘I should be doing . . . I need to see . . . I ought to be going . . .’ are the lies the Enemy loves to feed to us.

What does God say to counter that? ‘Get yourself ready! Stand up and say to them whatever I command you.’ Jeremiah 1:17 And in Acts 18:10 ‘Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you.’

Don’t give up! ‘The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it,’ says Dylan Thomas.

The same is true of what you have to say! Remember: ‘A real book is not one that’s read, but one that reads us.’ W.H. Auden


A multi-published author since 1983, with commissions from Hodder & Stoughton plus a Sunday TimesNo. 4 Bestseller, Mel Menzies has written under several noms-de-plume.  An inspirational speaker with a lifetime of rich and painful experiences to draw on, she lives in Devon.  Through her website and blog, An Author’s Look at Life www.melmenzies.co.uk, she offers resources to inform, inspire and encourage in all walks of life.
Merrilyn Williams writing as Mel Menzies
Author & Speaker

NOW ONLY £4.99: Time to Shine  – first novel in the Evie Adams’ series followed by Chosen?
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COMING SOON:  Feeling Useless or Unheard? Don't! You're . . .PICKED FOR A PURPOSE

Thursday, 14 June 2018

The creative power of the clean chop 14th June 2018 by Susanne Irving




The end before the beginning
Deep down you knew you were merely dabbling,
ripping off a few blighted leaves here and there,
snapping off dried twigs,
feeling heroic when you finally pruned that branch.
You willed your hollow tree to spring back to life,
but the last leaves fell.


Everywhere around you winter's barrenness
made way for green revival,
promising the bliss of summer blossoming.
Yet your tree has missed the changing of the seasons.
There is no harvest to look forward to.
Cut the tree at the base”, the master gardener counsels.


Deep down you know that you have to stop dabbling.
Only a decisive severing of dead wood
will make room for growth.
You swing the axe - the trunk is gone.
No more pretense of life
where there is none.


Yet your roots go deep
and need to grow deeper still.
A manifold harvest is promised to those
who drink the living water
and expose themselves fully to the light.
One day you will flourish again.
This end is not the end,
but a new beginning.

It is an ongoing challenge for me to say “No, thanks” when I am asked to take on a new responsibility and even harder to let go of a project once I have taken in on, even if I am no longer convinced of its value.
Learning about coppicing has helped me to say no to some projects and to let go of a committee role I had for several years. 
During a visit at Mottisfont we were told that coppicing (cutting a tree at the base) encourages multiple stems to grow up from the stump. As light can now reach the forrest floor, seeds which may have been dormant for many years begin to sprout.
So cutting back doesn't mean loss, even though it may feel like it at the time. Interestingly, the poem above almost wrote itself as soon as I made space in my life - I had not written poetry for many years and considered this stream of creative expression dried up...









About the author: Susanne Irving is the co-ordinator for the Creative Communicators in Petersfield. She has co-written a book with her husband John about their experiences when climbing Kilimanjaro. It is aimed at both trekkers and those who are going through a dark time in their lives. How to conquer a mountain: Kilimanjaro lessons is available as a paperback and an e-book on Amazon, with all proceeds going to charity. The German translation Wie man einen Berg bezwingtWas der Kilimanjaro uns gelehrt hat was published in June 2017.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

The Impoverished Writer in the Garret... or By The Sea

By Rosemary Johnson

I’ve never managed to pluck up the courage to become the impoverished-writer-living-in-the-garret, starving for his/her art. Having a husband and children concentrates the mind.

Ronald Blythe, however, did exactly this, in the nineteen fifties, holing himself up in a so-called winter cottage in Thorpeness, Suffolk, and I’ve just read his chronicle of that period in this life in his book, The Time by the Sea. By morning, he wrote his novel (which never saw the light of day) and, in the afternoons, he took bracing walks along the shingle, battling against blustery North Sea winds. On the Suffolk Coast, he encountered Ben(jamin Britten), Imo(gen Holst), Morgan (E M Forster) and Mervyn Peake, plus many other writers, painters and musicians unknown to me. His appetite for the arts was all-consuming. Blythe’s idea of heaven was to sit beside the grave of Edward Fitzgerald who edited and translated the Rubaiyat of Umar Khayyam, and read it.

Would our friends and families permit us to live as impoverished-writers-in-garrets now? Would we allow our sons and daughters to do it? The pressure to get a proper job nowadays is overarching. Yet, Ronald Blythe got by, with occasional articles and stories being published, and working alongside the administrator for the Aldborough Festival - a general Festival dogsbody. Snape Maltings has been destroyed by fire, so we need an alternative concert venue, in three weeks’ time. Blytheborough Church would do, but maybe the vicar wouldn’t like it. Send Ronnie in to talk to him. (Ronnie did and ended up joining Blytheborough PCC. On another occasion, he got roped into becoming a churchwarden, when begging favours for the Festival.) Millet paintings acquired on loan for the Festival, on the proviso that someone was in the room with them constantly? Ronnie will do it. Ronnie slept in a campbed in the Moot Hall at Aldborough for several weeks.) Much later, Blythe would get a proper job, when he became ordained as a priest in the Church of England.

The Aldeborough Festival set were Labour, alternative, absorbed in nature and the East Anglian countryside, many of them gay, and ardent Rationalists (for that, read devout atheists). That Blythe was a Christian, understatedly Anglican, bewildered them. Later, he would write Akenfield, a description of a fictional Suffolk village, a synthesis of his experience of all Suffolk villages. Akenfield would be adapted for television, by Peter Hall, in 1974. Although he has published fifty-two other books, Akenfield remains Blythe’s only commercial success, although he was writing The Word from Wormingford, part-devotional, part nature and history, for The Church Times until quite recently. (This has now been purchased by The Canterbury Press. It has no reviews on Google Books website.)

I became interested in Ronald Blythe when he led Evensong, based on George Herbert’s hymns and poetry, in one of the churches in our team, and because he lives in Wormingford (two villages from us). He’s on the electoral roll of the polling station where I’m poll clerk, but, although he’s seen around and about, he’s never been in to vote. He is in his mid-nineties now. A writer’s life well lived? Or a waste of a man?

Rosemary Johnson has had many short stories published, in print and online, amongst other places, The Copperfield Review, Circa and Every Day Fiction. In real life, she is a part-time IT tutor, living in Suffolk with her husband and cat. Her cat supports her writing by sitting on her keyboard and deleting large portions of text.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Don't give up Andrew J Chamberlain

This is the message I have been getting from Jesus regarding my writing activities recently, and maybe you will benefit from hearing it too. Your circumstances could be very different to mine, the challenges and problems you face in your writing will be different, and so your interpretation of Jesus’ encouragement will be your own. But Jesus does say “don’t give up”, and each of us has the task of interpreting that message for ourselves.
We need that encouragement because we will all have moments when we feel that our writing and marketing our writing feels like a long weary battle. What to write? Who cares enough to read it? Is it good enough? So the questions come. Writing is a hard, exposing business, but Jesus says “don’t give up”.

Sometimes we need to step back and rest, look after ourselves, and let God look after us. As a friend of mine said of the Christian life “you can retreat but you can’t quit”. Sometimes the problem is that we don’t know how to retreat, and so we carry on to exhaustion and burn out. Better that we learn from the likes of Elijah; sometimes we need to have a rest, eat our warm cake and drink our water.
If the struggle is with God himself, this puts us in a good place. Struggling with God over something puts us where we should be. We can learn from Jacob’s example and refuse to let go of God even as we contend with him over our writing. As Jesus says “don’t give up”.
Sometimes, within our writing as within our lives, something dies. Sometimes something is taken from us something precious is released, and it has cost us to lose it. We can learn from the example of Job who, at the end of all things, submitted to God, repented and found peace. He received a new blessing from God. Sometimes in our writing, it’s not the writing we need to give up but the pet project, the human ambition, the search for approval. Who knows what God might give us if we submit to him?
The writing life, like the whole of life, can be very, very hard on us. But God is for us in that calling. It will take effort and obedience to find His way for us, but that way is there! And Jesus say’s to us, “don’t give up”.

Andrew Chamberlain is a writer and creative writing mentor. He is the presenter of The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt , a podcast offering practical, accessible advice to creative writers, and author of The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt Handbook containing the best advice and insight from 100 episodes of the podcast.