Monday, 18 December 2017

“A Year in the Life of a Beginner Writer,” or “In Praise of the ACW!”

2017 is drawing to a close.  Rather than attempt a Christmas-related message, when there are already so many quality ones out there, I thought I would reflect on my writing year, and my first year as an ACW Member.  Whilst I know my title is not the catchiest, I hope you’ll bear with me (my frazzled brain has reached a stage where, today, I made coffee and threw the spoon in the bin!) and keep reading, to celebrate with me the huge blessing our humble organisation is to so many of us. 

Small Beginnings

In 2013, I just about figured out how to start a blog, so I could share some poems I had written and post, annually, to commemorate my stillborn baby, Grace.  I’ve always felt I should do more with writing but, immersed in family life and a busy teaching job, that’s as far as it went. 

But then, at the beginning of this year, I felt a gentle nudge from God to ‘explore writing further’ – that was the exact phrase.  So, a bit of tentative midnight-googling later, I was suddenly in possession of some life-changing knowledge – Christian Writing didn’t all happen in America, as my stereotypes had me believing.  There was, in fact, an organisation right under my nose, that I had been entirely oblivious to all along.  You guessed it…our own, magnificent Association of Christian Writers!

Group Life

I received my first magazine and read it from cover to cover.  Newly in possession of the knowledge that there was a Christian Writers’ Monthly Group, just half an hour from my doorstep, I wondered: would I be brave enough to send off an enquiring e-mail?  Beyond that, would I be brave enough to actually go?!  The rest was history, as they say, and so it was, on the last day of January, that my Sat Nav led me to a lovely, old house, at the end of a long, winding driveway.  I knocked nervously on the door.  

Fast forward a couple of hours and I came out, buzzing.  The people I had met were inspiring and lovely.  Collectively, they had an impressive number of accolades to their name, from poetry books, through Christian media, to full-blown published novels.  Yet, as I introduced myself as “not really a writer…just writing the odd thing occasionally,” and “sometimes posting on a very basic blog,” they all jumped to defend my self-effacement, encouraging me to embrace the calling.  I was humbled that they all scribbled down the title of my little old blog, frantically resurrecting some old material to put on it, as soon as I got home, on the off-chance that they might look!  

Growing and Developing

To my amazement, look they did, and there followed some incredible encouragement that has jolted my writing into a new season.  In the space of just one year, being in the ACW has given me so much encouragement and opportunity. To pull out just a few highlights, I have:

• Become a very over-enthusiastic regular at my local group, counting it a highlight on my monthly calendar, as we bring and share and gasp and laugh and cry;
• Accepted a kind invitation to take part in a Lent Creative Writing Challenge, enabling me to connect with other writers and discover that it is more possible than I thought to write regularly, even with a family and a day job;
• Attended two ‘Writers’ Days’ and come back fit to burst with encouragement and inspiration, both from the speakers there and the extraordinary people I connected with over my packed lunch and coffee;
• Taken the plunge and accepted a monthly slot on this blog - thanks for having me!  Developing a monthly writing habit has been an exciting and formidable challenge and I can be found floating on Cloud Nine, when comment notifications ping through to my phone! 
• Written a piece for the forthcoming ACW Lent Book – a definite labour of love, teaching me much through the process of a myriad agonised re-writes;
• Written thirteen posts on my own blog –more than I had written in total, since its advent, in 2013.

In addition to these key highlights a few others stand out: I have attempted to take a photo, for my ‘Author Bio’ that doesn't look like the ‘World's Most Wanted’ or a Slimming World ‘before’ shot; and I now know a ‘WiP’ isn’t a creamy pudding, a ‘thunderclap’ isn’t an extreme weather condition and NaNoWriMo is not something someone says when they’ve had too much wine.  Who knew the writing world contained more jargon than the world of education?! 

I am not listing these things to blow my own proverbial brass instrument, but to show just what is possible, when we’re planted in the right environment, with the right people alongside.  We were designed for community and I’m grateful beyond words that I found this one. 

So much to be thankful for

This has been a hard year, personally, but I have so much to be thankful for.  People I have known for such a short time have become friends, prayed for me, texted me, encouraged me, when I have needed it most.  Being encouraged in my writing, as well as reading the inspirational work of other ACW Members has really buoyed me along in the toughest of times.  There is something so lovely about having your bookshelves and Kindle bursting with inspiring writing, written by people you've actually met – though my bank balance doesn’t always thank me for it!

I have been encouraged and, I hope, been an encouragement too – after all, that is a key aim of the ACW – to encourage and equip.  Let’s make sure it goes both ways, “encouraging one another daily,” (or, at least, monthly – Hebrews 3 v 13) as much as we possibly can.  We’re an eclectic bunch, from all backgrounds and denominations, with a multitude of perspectives, collectively, on writing and life.  Let’s use what we have, whoever we are, to connect and encourage even more through 2018.

Finally, from me, a sincere and heartfelt thank you to everyone who has friended, followed, commented, encouraged, had coffee with me and made me feel like I belong; I cannot wait to see where another year will take me. 

Georgina Tennant is a secondary school English teacher in a Norfolk Comprehensive.  She is married, with two sons, aged 9 and 6, 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! Her musings about life can be found on her blog:

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Never lose the wonder By Claire Musters

It was my son’s birthday this week. We captured the very moment that he opened the present he’d been wanting all year – almost since his last birthday – on camera. It was a look of absolute wonder and delight.

That look made me reflect afterwards about the run up to Christmas. We often talk, during Advent, about the wonder of the real meaning of Christmas – and then we get overrun by all the preparations and it can be diminished somewhat.

When we are feeling fraught, overtired and rather overwhelmed by all that’s left to do in such a short space of time, it’s too easy to let our wonder slip away isn’t it? I’ve tried, in some of my writing recently, to cling on to it, but I find it can be all too elusive.

Perhaps it is because Christmas time is somewhat idolised in the media – we see adverts with perfect families all sitting round an amazing roast then having such fun together afterwards and feel an added pressure, particularly if we are hosting family and friends over the holidays. It can be hard not to take that on board and let it take the edge off of our celebrations of the coming of our Saviour…

I was deeply impacted and impressed by an older preacher who came to visit us at the start of December. He talked about it being the first of many Christmas messages he would be bringing during the month. Then he unpacked the Christmas story and its wider impact.

Both myself and my daughter, who I was next to, sat enthralled as he shared. Speaking about it afterwards we discussed the fact that, even though this man is getting on in years, he still has an almost youthful sense of wonder and awe about the gift of salvation that God has given us. It certainly challenged me, as I’m not sure I exude such excitement. I hope it motivated my daughter too, to think about the impact of Jesus’ coming as a baby has on her own life…

Claire is a freelance writer, speaker and editor, mum to two gorgeous young children, pastor’s wife, worship leader and school governor. She is currently Premier Christianity magazine’s freelance news and features journalist. 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, Insight Into Self-acceptance, Cover to Cover: David A man after God’s own heart, Insight Into Burnout and BRF Foundations21 study guides on Prayer and Jesus. She also writes Bible study notes. Her latest books came out this November: Taking off the mask: daring to be the person God created you to be, with Authentic Media, and Cover to Cover: 1–3 John Walking in the truth, with CWR. To find out more about her, please visit and @CMusters on Twitter.

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Christmas, Vulnerability and Jesus by Lynda Alsford

As I prepare for this Christmas, I have been struck anew by the vulnerability of Jesus. He came to earth to be born as a baby to a young woman who was unmarried. Newborn babies are so totally dependant on others for all they need. It amazes me that the God of the universe allowed himself to be born as a human being, completely dependant on a young woman. Every need he had was dependant on human beings. 

I am sure we can all identify with feeling vulnerable at times. I know I can. I love that we have a God who gets that. We have a God who understand vulnerability from personal experience. That gives me hope and reassurance. I wonder how vulnerable Jesus felt in the garden of Gethsemane? He was sweating blood in his distress. He surrendered himself and his vulnerability to his Father God. He did it for us. From his vulnerability came great power through the cross. 

When I am weak, then I am strong
Paul talks about his vulnerability with his thorn in the flesh, in 2 Cor 12:7b-10

So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.   

Vulnerability is hard
One time when I have been vulnerable was writing about my crisis of faith for others to read. Although writing my story was cathartic, it also left me feeling very vulnerable. But good things have come from it. People have found encouragement in their own walk with God and I give thanks to Him for that. However, there is a downside to being vulnerable. 

I remember being in contact with someone from a Christian dating site. This man, who I had never met (just a couple of emails), in our first phone conversation got somewhat cross that I wouldn't answer his very personal questions about my private life. He thought he was entitled to know whatever he wanted because I had written a book opening up about other personal things. I felt uncomfortable about it for a while until I realised it was his problem and let it go. 

Huge benefits of vulnerability
Despite vulnerability having a negative side I think the huge benefits outweigh this for ourselves and especially for others. I've had people tell me my book helped them in their own faith difficulties. That means more than I can say  and makes being vulnerable worth while. And I for one am eternally grateful that the Son of God made himself so vulnerable that we might reap the benefits of God being our Emmanuel, being with us here on earth and giving us eternal life. 

As we approach Christmas this year, is there an area where we can perhaps emulate the vulnerability of Jesus, whether through our writing or in another way? It really does produce great fruit. 

Lynda Alsford is a sea loving, cat loving GP administrator and writes in her spare time. She has written two books, He Never Let Go describes her journey through a major crisis of faith whilst working as an evangelist at a lively Church in Chiswick, West London. Being Known describes how God set her free from food addiction. Both books are available in paperback and on kindle on  and She writes a newsletter  and a blog both called Seeking the Healer, in which she shares the spiritual insights she has gained on her journey. Find about about these from You can also find out more about Lynda at

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Advent reflections 14th December 2017

Apparently, in medieval times people believed that Mary had a completely painless birth and that Joseph was able to sleep through the whole affair. We still tend to paint a rosy picture of what the incarnation was like. We (I…) want a “Merry Christmas”.  
This desire is reflected in nativity scenes. On Sunday I went to a nativity festival in one of our local churches. Many different nativity sets were on display, from traditional sets made out of wood or ceramics to home-made sets knitted in wool, made out of brushes or paper mache. They came from different parts of the globe, but wherever and however the sets had been created, they had one thing in common: The scene they depicted was peaceful and serene; every figurine was smiling or quietly contemplating.
However, when I went to a Taizé service afterwards, I was reminded that there are many people for whom Christmas is not a season of glad tidings and joy at the moment.
The topic of the service was the plight of the Rohingya refugees. The service sheet showed a young woman with shorn hair. Her face and hands had burn marks. The expression in her eyes was empty and forlorn. Her three sons had just been killed, and she said that the soldiers had killed her future too. Later a newspaper article was read about a 20 year old woman who saw her only son thrown into the fire.
I was reminded of the story of Herold killing the baby boys and toddlers in Bethlehem in an attempt to exterminate Jesus. God came into the world, and it was (and is) not all sweetness and light and merry.
And yet: Because of Jesus, we can have hope. After all, Jesus did not stay a helpless babe in the cradle. He became a man who voluntarily went to the cross for us to deal with the past, present and future darkness in our world. He did not stay on the cross, but was resurrected, so what looked like the end, was only the beginning…
In Him was life [and the power to bestow life],
and the life was the Light of men.
The Light shines on in the darkness…
the true Light [the genuine, perfect, steadfast Light] … enlightens everyone.
(Gospel of John, chapter 1, verses 4, 5 (extract), 9 in the Amplified Bible)

So whatever you are facing at this moment, I wish you a hope-filled Christmas.

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 bezwingt: Was der Kilimanjaro uns gelehrt hat was published in June 2017.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Making Jessica’s Stocking by Rosemary Johnson

Rosemary Johnson is ACW Competitions Manager.  Do you have a story set before 1970?  If so, our current historical fiction competition is for you.  Our deadline is 31 December, so best get it submitted to us before Christmas.  Our judge is Claire Dunn (of the Secret of the Journal series).    For more information, visit the ACW website competitions page.

In September, my daughter Rachel said to me, “Jessica doesn’t have a stocking.”

Stockings Author Made in 1990s.When Rachel and her brother, Alan, were small, I made Christmas stockings for them both, with their names appliqued on to Christmassy fabric, using the zig-zag stitch on my sewing machine. Did I really?  I couldn’t do that now.  A few years ago, Rachel made one for her son, Max..  (Cop out, that - only three letters.)

Last Christmas, Rachel’s daughter, Jessica, was only six weeks old, but, this year, she’s walking around, saying ‘Hello’ and determined to do everything like her big brother.  Rachel is back at work.  She’s a writer too, editor of a highly-technical energy publication.  At half term she appeared with a bag, containing materials to make a Christmas stocking (also a half-made wigwam for Max, but we won’t go into that.)  Would you make Jessica’s stocking, please, Mum?

November came and went and then December.  I know you’re busy, Mum. 

Oh, yes, sorry.  I'll around to it… Come on, we’ll start now.

Sunday before last, before our breakfast but after my granddaughter’s, Rachel cut out the letters in ‘Jessica’ in red felt and I cut out the stocking and lining.  Immediately we finished, we put it all in a bag which we placed on top of the piano (out of reach of little fingers).  On Monday and Tuesday, I teach.  On Wednesday, I received an email informing me that I had a learning observation (which I will have had endured by the time you read this).  After panicking and raging and swearing, I spent all day preparing for it, and nearly forgot to write my monthly post for the Insecure Writers Support Group.  (I did it eventually, at eleven pm, but it wasn’t my best effort.)

Letters Stitched on to the Stocking.
On Thursday afternoon, my mind still churning about how best to teach this lesson to suit an observer with Ofsted breathing down her neck, I spotted the bag on the piano.  I picked it up.  I pinned the letters to the stocking.  I tacked them in place.  Less courageous (and less skilled) than before, I began hand-stitching them on to the stocking fabric.  It took two hours.  What peace came with the rhythmic movements of my fingers.  For the first time for many days, I was able to think and to pray, slowly and with my whole heart.  Praying done, my mind moved on to the novel chapter I was writing, to go through dialogue in my mind, to properly involve myself in characters and scenes.  Then I remembered Elijah finding God, not in the earthquake nor the fire but in the gentle blowing wind.

I recalled how, at the ACW Writers Weekend at Scargill House last June, half-knitted blanket squares, on knitting pins, were left around the lounge area, for us to add a few rows, if we wanted to.  I realise that these were put there as much for our quietness as the neo-natal unit for which they were destined. 

Stitching the Stocking Lining on the Sewing Machine
Next day, I tackled the seams of the stocking and lining, also the bias binding at the top.  With the sewing machine clattering away - and un-threading itself just to annoy me - it wasn’t the same.  I need quiet and still time.  Not completely still, though; I’ve never been able to pray in front of an altar or statue.  I need to do something with my hands so I can write and pray and pray and write.

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.

Jessica's Stocking.  The Finished Article.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Lies, truth and fake news

In a recent podcast episode I talked about the subject of fake news and false information. Fake news is a type of news story that consists of deliberate misinformation, presented in broadcast media and/or through social media; it is often presented by those who have a particular agenda and wish to influence others to a certain way of thinking.

We have seen a lot in the media recently about fake news, and all the controversy it generates, the subject came to the fore after the US elections last year.

It seems to me that fake news is a particularly toxic manifestation, especially for Christians and especially for writers, and so doubly for Christian writers! So I’m using my slot on the blog to talk about the problem, and how we can avoid being taken in by it.

Five reasons why fake news is toxic

1.    It’s a deliberate lie, and as Christians we are rightly repelled by untruths and deception, the bible makes it pretty clear where all that comes from!

2.    Linked to this, in the world as well as the church, fake news normalizes the idea that the truth and lies have the same value. We need to see these distortions and falsehoods not just as inconvenient, or part of the entertainment, but morally damaging and wrong.

3.    Fake news tends to push people away from the wise middle and towards the unwise edge. Our world is polarised enough as it is, and fake news only aggravates the problem by provoking outrage, shock and emotional rather than considered reaction. We have far too much instant outrage in the private and public space, what we need is considered truth not provocative lies.

4.    Connected to this, fake news tends to confirm our biases. So as a simple example, if I like President Trump I am more likely to believe and endorse a piece of fake news that presents him in a good light, if I don’t like President Trump I am more likely to endorse and pass on a piece of fake news that casts him in a bad light, none of this is in any way connected to the truth.

5.    Fake news is particularly toxic for writers because it undermines the authenticity of our work. This can happen because we have accepted fake news or false information as truth and weaved it into our work, especially in setting and character development. The resultant error will probably be seen by at least one reader who may be turned off from our books, and may also start to tell others, loud and clear, about our mistakes.

Avoiding the fakery

Whilst researching my podcast episode on fake news, I discovered this wonderful infographic from the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (a superb title for an organisation!) this infographic gives us the best strategies for avoiding fake news. I think it needs no further comments beyond presenting it to you.

Here’s to the Truth, may it set us all free! And a happy and blessed Christmas to you all J

Andrew Chamberlain is a writer and creative writing tutor. He is the presenter of The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt , a podcast and author of The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt Handbook containing the best advice and insight from 100 episodes of the podcast, and which will be published in October 2017. 

Monday, 11 December 2017

Even Christmas, by Deborah Jenkins

The annual clamber into Christmas has begun. Last night, Santa came collecting for the Rotary, there's snow up north and today I saw an elf in Aldi. Strangely, despite being quite behind with cards and shopping and having a houseful on Christmas Day, I am remarkably unruffled by it all this year. I suppose it's because after Christmas, we're moving, which seems so massive in itself that everything else pales by comparison. Even Christmas.

I have always loved this time of year, always enjoyed simple things to make a winter's day seem brighter - a bowl of holly, some tangerines, a pyramid of candles.

"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year..." Charles Dickens

I don't aim for the perfect house or the faultless meal. But I do love an excuse to create a welcoming atmosphere, get together with family and friends, and give each other that elusive and much underrated gift - time. But, much to my annoyance, I still get drawn into all the fuss and hassle. I find myself standing in shops, frozen with indecision - chestnut stuffing or cranberry? Ready rolled icing or not? Crackers? I find myself theologically opposed to crackers - all that waste and really, no one ever keeps the tat inside, whatever I pay for them, so is there any point? It's basically money for paper hats. But I can already hear the roars of disapproval - What, Mum? No crackers?!? What were you thinking?? Of course I could try and make them again, but the results were so appalling - disintegrating toilet rolls and for some reason nobody wanting to shout BANG!  - that I can't face that either. So, feeling sadly Scrooge-like, I slide one of Sainsbury's middle-of-the-range-reduced packs of six into my trolley. Typically,we have 7 on Christmas Day but I can do without.

I decided a while ago to give up spiritual guilt at Christmas. By that I mean, I stopped making over-idealistic plans to rise at dawn and read an advent meditation before drifting around all day at home and work pondering the meaning of the incarnation with a beatific smile on my face and a prayer on my lips. Over the years, as a primary teacher, clergy wife and mum, I realised it just wasn't going to happen so I might as well give up trying. I see God in Christmas in other ways, in family and memory and tradition - the stuff of years. I find him in music and candlelight and battered Christmas stockings that I still lay out on the hearth, though we don't fill them any more. He's with me in the eyes of children as they sing carols or tell me excited stories of longed for gifts. I sense him in the shaking hand of that old lady in the supermarket as she carefully counts out coins to pay for a poinsettia. If I dwell on the meaning of His Coming, I tend to do it later, in that dear dead time between Christmas and New Year, when there are walks and reading and space for reflection.
Christmas is such an emotional time, filled with echoes, whether you want to hear them or not. This poem, written by my old friend and former youth leader, Paul Harris, summed it up well for me: -

Two adults and a dog put up Christmas Decorations
A step ladder dominates the room, legs splayed like a dancer,
a Singing Elf scares the dog
who growls at a hideous robin glued to a glittery log.
Chris is driving home for Christmas, Bing is dreaming, Aled flying.
Everything is here, treasure trove, rescued from the loft,
stowed, while it snowed in March and sweltered through June,
parental mementoes, artefacts, ghosts of Christmas past.
Il Divo harmonize, Old Blue Eyes croons.
Childish gifts from sons and their kids a generation later;
garish cards, misshapen reindeer covered in crepe paper,
cotton wool on Santa’s face, all in their allotted place.
So this is Christmas, peace on earth, joy and mirth.
Everything is here, echoes of children flown the nest.
The dog watches quizzically as they hold each other tight,
tears flow, the annual bitter-sweet advent ritual,
It’ll be lonely this Christmas without you to hold.
They laugh at themselves, wipe their eyes, don silly hats,
cue stoic laughter and fun,
and rueful acceptance they are getting old.
PCH Bournemouth December 2016 (used with permission)

That's exactly it: bitter-sweet. The bitterness of loss, the sweetness of memory, the sadness of flown children, the joy of their return, the pain of separation and the curious unsettling peace sometimes met in its embrace.
Feeling bold, I put another box of crackers in the trolley. Then I take them both out and replace them with a more expensive kind. And, out of the corner of my eye, I glimpse God, who comes to us in a thousand ways today and every day, as she glances over her shoulder at me. And smiles...

Extravagant love makes the bitterness sweeter. Nothing should separate me from receiving and reflecting that love. Even Christmas. 

Click on the link to see the novella on amazon

Deborah Jenkins is a primary school teacher and freelance writer who has written articles, text books, devotional notes and short stories. She also writes regularly for the TES. She has completed a novella, The Evenness of Things, available as an Amazon e-book and is currently working on a full length novel. Deborah loves hats, trees and small children. After years overseas with her family, who are now grown up, she lives in south-west London with her husband, a Baptist minister, and a cat called Oliver.