Saturday, 15 December 2018

Devil in the Details by Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

This may only be my second turn on the More than Writers blog, but I already feel we know each other well enough for me to make a writerly confession: I hate doing research. I know a lot of writers love it, but I find it tiresome. It’s strange really, as I’m a stickler for detail, and will search endlessly for the right word or cadence, but really I’m not that bothered about describing every last thing in the world I’ve created or re-imagined for my characters. I want it to come across as genuine, but I don’t want the interesting facts I’ve discovered to be distracting. If my reader is more intrigued by the authentic pearl buttons on my turn-of-the-century heroine’s delectable boots, instead of feeling her broken heart, I’ve definitely failed as a writer. Yet here and there, I have to admit, it might be the pointed detail used to show my heroine lost in looking at her own shoes that is a way into her broken heart. It’s a fine line to tread.

When I’m researching facts for a non-fiction book, that can be horribly boring, or it can be a great learning experience. Mostly I dread it because I know it’s going to take me off into the subject in more depth (and word count) than I honestly wanted to give it. Even worse, it’s going to be, more often than not, a collision course with my own ignorance.

I suppose my stubborn dislike comes from being so conscious of how little energy I have (I'm chronically ill), and also because I either want to get on with the story, or move on with what I want to say about the subject I have in mind. It could not possibly, of course, be laziness.

I recently completed a novel set during WW1 and made the mistake (we’ll call it an inspired device) of using real people as very minor characters. Because it is set in a specific time frame, there was a lot of research to do. I know I’ve probably made some mistakes, but hopefully nothing that will be an obstacle to the story. I found it was easy to become obsessed with being historically accurate. I even trawled meteorological records to the point where I started to feel that the weather was becoming a character in its own right.

The worst thing, of course, is when you have to change the plot arc because that historical person Colonel Ponsonby is talking to is actually on an entirely different continent at that point in time, and, sadly, long before they might have been communicating by email.

In the end I decided that I would not drive myself mad with historical accuracy, and take a leaf out of my real life heroine Jane Austen’s book, concentrating instead on perfecting the characters and the dialogue, which are, for me, what drives the story. I think that there is a very good reason why so many stories begin with, “Once upon a time,” rather than, “It was a stormy Tuesday night in mid-November of 1973.” The detail needs to serve the story, not the other way around. And if anyone ever points out errors to me, I hope I shall correct those that might waylay a reader, and dismiss those which are of no matter. In the end, you see, the great secret of fiction is that it is all made up; even the real bits.

Keren Dibbens-Wyatt is a disabled writer and artist with a passion for poetry, mysticism, story and colour. Her writing features regularly on spiritual blogs and in literary journals. Her full-length publications include Garden of God’s Heart and Whale Song: Choosing Life with Jonah. She lives in South East England and is mainly housebound by her illness.  Image from Pixabay.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Being vulnerable by Letitia Mason

I held an eight week old baby in my arms yesterday. Tiny, perfect, downy hair, and bright eyes that fixed on mine. Her perfect bow of a mouth moved in a smile and then the lips parted as she tried to communicate with me, eyes alight.
Trying to communicate

It is all there - the personality, the desire to communicate, the spirit to spirit connection through the eyes. And yet she is so vulnerable. Mum and Dad are concerned because she may have an allergy and has lost weight in the last week. I hug her plump little body against me and feel the strength of her being, and the potential unfolding in this small bud of humanity.

At the other end of the spectrum many of my friends are encountering health problems. Couples who once seemed vibrant and capable of anything are finding their lives curtailed by physical limitations and medical appointments.

It seems solid, this world around us, yet a large proportion of it is air and water; molecules held into shape by the space between them. Created and evolving by the Word that speaks them into being.

As I count down the weeks to Christmas on my Advent wreath I am aware of the fragility of my own words. I long for them to reach someone, to strike a chord. I constantly struggle to find communication of eternal impact. The desire is there, but I need to mature a little more, and stay close to the one who created me.

Letitia Mason fell in love with East and Central Africa while teaching at a harambee school in Kenya. She has published Lost Children of Cush, a novel of South Sudan. Tish works for Flame International and lives in Surrey with her husband and a crazy dog.   @TishMason1

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Spare a Prayer for the Cherubs

by Rosemary Johnson

Most of us love Christmas carols.  Some readers will be planning to attend a service of lessons and carols at their local cathedral and I expect a large number of us will listen on the radio to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College Cambridge on Christmas Eve.  Wherever we go, our hearts will melt at the sight of young choirboys/girls, robed in red, blue or black, processing in the half-light of flickering candles and singing in tones which are sparkle with resonance and sweetness.  Spare a thought for those cherubs.

For choirboys and choirgirls, Christmas Day will not be about stockings, presents and silly hats from crackers.  It will be a normal musical day, revolving around song school and services at their cathedral/abbey.  The thirty-five per cent of choir children who are boarders won’t be at home with their families, until after Boxing Day.  Those who are day-boarders will be haring up and down local roads in their parents’ cars, with the director of music (and probably matron) tapping their watches if they are a few minutes late for song school.  Most of them love it (although a few of them don’t).

My son, Alan (now thirty-two), was a chorister at Westminster Abbey in the 1990s.  Amongst other events, he sang at Princess Diana’s funeral.  From the moment, he was successful at the voice trial, at the age of nearly nine, his life and our life were taken over.  We used to drive from Essex to central London on Saturday and Sunday every weekend, with our daughter pre-teen daughter, for four hours after Evensong, sitting around in cafes, mostly Pizza Hut in Piccadilly Circus.  We made lots of great friends amongst the other choir school parents, but invitations from friends at home (including my daughter’s friends) had to be turned down.  Another mother and father travelled to the Abbey twice in a weekend from Cheltenham to visit their boy.  “If he can do it, so can we,” the mother said. 

Please pray for the choirboys and choirgirls who will sing for us this Christmas.  Remember their families sitting around the Christmas dinner table without them.  Please think of the choirboys/girls who don’t get to sing at Christmas (because they are the deputies (reserves) and those who have sore throats (like my son one Christmas).  Please ask for God’s support to those few choir children who don’t enjoy what they’re doing and don’t fit into choir school life.  Lift up the brothers and sisters of choirboys/girls who’d rather be at their friends’ parties, rather than sitting in their parents’ cars traipsing up and down this country’s roads.  Pray for those brothers and sisters, when they are overlooked by relatives in favour of the wonderful one. 

And – a bit of inside information – when you see the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King’s College, Cambridge, bear it in mind that the televised version was performed the previous midsummer. 

Rosemary Johnson has had many short stories published, in print and online, amongst other places, The Copperfield Review, Circa and Every Day Fiction, but not recently because she has been writing The Novel which she has now completed.  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, 11 December 2018

For those not Feeling It Yet, by Deborah Jenkins

Hands up if you are feeling a tiny bit overwhelmed. You know, by Christmas, and church stuff and job stuff and writing stuff and, well you know, LIFE?
If you haven't put your hand up (and there are years when I haven't. Well maybe one year a few decades ago when I was fourteen and had just been asked out by Andrew Weaver. Wonder what he's doing now...), then I am genuinely happy for you. Enjoy it while it lasts. It is God's gift to you. You don't need this post. Otherwise, read on...

I have been seeing a lot of posts recently about Advent light - the tiny flame of promise burning deep within the heart of the universe, bringing light into our darkness, joy into messy. And yes, of course, I know it's true. I believe it passionately with all my heart, and I know that light-promise will arise, like a shooting star, in places where I least expect it. It/He always does. But I want to be totally honest with you - I'm not feeling it right now. That starry eyed promise, that has filled me with joy and peace in past years has been partially eclipsed this year for a number of reasons. None of them life threatening, at least not imminently, but if I am not careful, they can combine to form an opaque sheet of gloom beyond which I cannot see. Even at Christmas.

So, to those of you who aren't feeling it either (the Advent joy thing) but know He is there and will rise like a star when you least expect it, this is for you. There will be glimpses in unexpected places. And in time the glimpses might melt together like one of those power-point effects where things wing around the screen a bit before settling into a clearer picture. I pray it's so, for us, dear writers and for all those we love this Christmas xx

Also, this poem by my old friend, Paul Harris, touches me every year and is somehow a light bringer, because of the honesty, the vulnerability, the sense of 'Come on Guys, at the end of the day, we're all in it together'...

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 treasure, 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,
there will be stoic laughter and fun,
and rueful acceptance they are getting old.
PCH Bournemouth December 2016
With permission

Click on the link to see the novella on amazon
Deborah Jenkins is a freelance writer and school teacher, 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 East Sussex with her husband, a Baptist minister, and a cat called Oliver.

Monday, 10 December 2018

The Stalingrad Madonna, by Ben Jeapes

Winter 1942, and the Stalingrad siege was coming to its inevitable end. The German Sixth Army was cut off, encircled by the Russians. Hitler had long ago decided that he would sacrifice rather than rescue them. No help was coming. They were down to their final drops of fuel, their last scraps of food. Men were dying of starvation in the freezing cold.

And then came Christmas.
“From quite early in the month, men started to put aside tiny amounts of food, not in preparation for a breakout across the snow, but for a Christmas feast or gifts. A unit in 297th Infantry Division slaughtered a packhorse early so as to make horse sausage as Christmas presents. Advent crowns were fashioned from tawny steppe grass instead of evergreen, and little Christmas trees were carved out of wood in desperate attempts to make it ‘just like home’.”
“There can be little doubt about the genuine and spontaneous generosity of that Christmas. A lieutenant gave out the last of his cigarettes, writing paper and bread as presents for his men. ‘I myself had nothing,’ he wrote home, ‘and yet it was one of my most beautiful Christmases and I will never forget it.’ As well as giving their cigarette ration, men even gave their bread, which they sorely needed. Others laboriously carved equipment racks for each other.”
Husky strains of ‘Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht’ drifted out of the bunkers into the freezing air.

A doctor in the 16th Panzer Division, Kurt Reuber, was also a talented amateur artist. On the back of a large Russian map - the only paper available - he drew a Madonna and Child in charcoal. “... an embracing, protective, almost womb-like mother and child, joined with the words of St John the Evangelist: ‘Light, Life, Love’.” He pinned it up on the wall of his bunker.
“Everyone who entered, halted and stared. Many began to cry. To Reuber’s slight embarrassment - no artist could have been more modest about his own gifts - his bunker became something of a shrine.”
Reuber died two years later in a Soviet POW camp. His sketch, the Stalingrad Madonna, was sent home with a patient airlifted on the last flight out from Stalingrad. It now hangs in the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Berlin, with copies in the cathedrals of Berlin, Coventry and Volgograd (Stalingrad as was).

The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it.

  • Quotations from Stalingrad, Antony Beevor, pp 311-312

Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of 7 novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Ignatian Meditation

 Man of Sorrows by Albrecht D├╝rer

A long time ago when I was young and quite newly married, a series of events brought me completely to the end of my own resources and gave me a real thirst for knowing God.  I started to read the Bible at every spare moment, and, because writing seems to be my first language, I often communicated with God in writing while I was reading Bible passages.

After a while, I found myself writing the Bible passages imaginatively, from the viewpoint of some of the characters in the stories, and as I did so, really entering into the stories as never before.  By doing so, I learned more about the character of God, especially as seen in Jesus, and also more about myself and my relationship with Him, than I had ever done before.  I have whole files of the handwritten pieces, beginning from more than thirty years ago.

It wasn't until many, many years later that I learned this was a well-established method of Bible reading, described by St Ignatius in his spiritual exercises, and that people had been entering into the experience of the word of God by this method for centuries.  If you've never tried it, I really recommend it.  It seems to be one of the ways in which the Holy Spirit slips under the radar of our human intellect and engages directly with our spirit.

I recently went on a retreat in which my pastor encouraged us to use our imaginations to engage with passages of Scripture which he had chosen for us.  The passage he had selected for me was Matthew 26. 1-14, a passage I have meditated on in this way several times before.  I have approached it from the viewpoints of the disciples, of Simon the Leper, of the bystanders and of the woman who anointed Jesus with her jar of pure nard.  But this time I saw it in a new light, from the viewpoint of Jesus Himself.  Here's what I wrote (it will probably help if you read the Bible passage before reading this):

I knew.
Of course I knew.
I had known, not quite all along;
it had been a dawning realisation.
But by the time I took up the mantle of ministry
that my Father had prepared for me,
I knew how it was going to end.
I had learned to trust it to my Father
and not let it play on my mind.
But now here we were, the end almost upon us.
I tried to share with them the burden of my heart.
Two days – only two days more.
By the time we reach Passover
I will have been handed over for crucifixion.
No reaction.
Two days, guys!  Only two more days!
Their eyes glazed over,
blind to my anguish, so that in time to come
they could truthfully say
they didn’t know what was coming.
And so I hugged my secret to myself,
the loneliest man since the dawn of creation,
and I walked those streets all by myself,
surrounded by the twelve of them
and yet utterly alone.
And when we entered Simon’s house
to sit down at his banqueting table,
I scarcely noticed the insult,
the failure to wash my feet as for an honoured guest.
I felt rather than observed it,
another pound or two added to the weight
of desolation that pressed down on my shoulders.
But then, like a ray of light from God’s throne,
She crept shyly in, hugging the shadows,
shuffling round the walls to where I sat.
She broke open her soul in the form of an alabaster jar
and poured liquid worship over me.
And in that moment I remembered,
I was not alone; I had a Father who would never leave me.
I was not alone.
The sovereign Ruler of the Universe had seen
the shattered fragments of my spirit
and, through this lowliest of women,
had bathed me in His love.
The others were mumbling, something about the poor.
I wasn’t listening.
I was like a man rescued from the wreck
Of a fishing vessel in the nick of time,
Just before the waters closed over his head.
I reached out, took her hand in mine,
smiled a smile of relief and gratitude,
and told them, “Wherever the Gospel is preached,
this woman will be remembered
for the beautiful gift she has given me.”
And looking round, I could see they still didn’t get it.
But it didn’t matter any more.

As a postscript to this, my pastor reminded me of something when he read what I had written.  What I had seen in this passage was the fact that when Jesus' closest friends were missing the moment and failing to read Jesus' feelings, God wasn't.  And he pointed out to me that what the Holy Spirit does when we read Scripture in this way is speaks into our own lives - that when I see what God is doing with Jesus in this passage, He wants me to see God doing the same for me.  He is anointing me, lifting me, dealing with my sense of being unnoticed or not understood, or my feelings of emptiness, for the same reason He does with Jesus - His love and care for me.

 If you haven't tried reading the Bible in this way, I really recommend it, you will be amazed how God will speak to you and minister to your spirit through it.  And if it is something you're in the habit of doing - keep it up!

Ros Bayes has 10 published and 4 self-published books, as well as some 3 dozen magazine articles. She is the mother of 3 daughters, one of whom has multiple complex disabilities, and she currently works for Through the Roof ( as their Training Resources Developer, and loves getting paid to write about disability all day. You can find her blog at and her author page at Follow her on Twitter: @rosbwriting.  

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Tis the Season!

Like me, do you often berate yourself for not writing enough? And when you do write, do you end up feeling guilty for falling short of your day to day responsibilities like collecting children from school, cooking their meals and walking the poor, forgotten hound?

I put so much pressure on myself. Did you know, we moved to Lincolnshire from Surrey a little over a year ago? Yep, moved the family lock, stock, and barrel from one end of England to another. New schools (including special school); new church; new house; new paediatrician, new dog food supplier; new hairdresser; new tag rugby club; new SEN after-school club; the list goes on. My husband is finally working in a job he loves, I have found work as a part-time teacher, the kids are happily installed with new friends following lots of tea-dates etc. And I wonder why I haven’t finished the novel?

Guilt is such a waste of time and I seem to do a lot of it so here it is: my new year’s resolution, no, scrap that, it can’t wait - my December the 8th resolution. From now on, I resolve to forget the guilt and recognise the season I am in!

Are you aware King Solomon (yes, the one who penned the Ecclesiastes among other works of wisdom) wrote about there being a season for everything? There’s a time to be born and a time to die, a time to weep and laugh, a time to build, a time to speak, a time to be silent, a time, in fact, for everything. Time is a gift from God as is our writing ability. If God gives us these things, then I need to trust Him that he will give me the time to use my gift.

I’m not saying that there is ever a season in a writer’s life where there is absolutely no writing. I mean, is it even possible for a writer not to write at least something? It’s in our blood! But every day as I wonder at the possibility of picking up the novel again, sometimes I have to be happy with a blog post, a poem or even a short diary entry. And that, fellow writers, is often an enormous achievement in itself!