Monday, 16 October 2017

Titles by Lynda Alsford

Recently, while standing in a queue at Valencia airport in Spain, I noticed that the man in front of me held a book in his hand. It was called Does anything eat wasps? I was too far away to read the subtitle or the author’s name, but the title made me want to find out more about the book. I decided as soon as I was back at home again I would google the book to find out more. The title leaped of the page and grabbed me. In fact I was so inspired by the title that as soon as I had boarded the plane I got out my notebook and wrote this post.

What makes a good book title?
I started wondering about titles. As far as I am concerned Does anything eat wasps? is a great title. Some of my other favourite book titles include; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared and To kill mockingbird. These titles make me wonder about the story. They entice me into the book, making me want to know more. So, how do we choose our own titles? When we have finished that article, poem, short story or book how do we choose a title for it? Or do you have the title in your head first and then write around it? Do you find it easy to come up with a title? Or is it something that takes a lot of thought and effort?

Giving my book a name
I have limited experience of this. For my first book, I didn’t know what to call it for quite some time, so at first I just concentrated on writing the book. It was a very cathartic experience getting the words down on paper. I was an evangelist who stopped believing in God and had to evangelise myself back to faith. Writing the book helped me make sense of my story. My book spoke of God’s faithfulness in the face of my faithlessness. One day at church we were singing the Matt Redman song You Never Let Go. The words of the song spoke to me powerfully and I realised God had never let go of me no matter how far I tried to get away from him. ‘He never let go’, I mused to myself. Light bulbs immediately flashed in my head. That was the title of my book - He Never Let Go. There was no work on my part in coming up with a title. It was divine inspiration. My second book, Being Known, took more thought and the title didn’t come as easily.

What about you? How do you come up with titles for your work? Is there a set process you go through? What is your favourite book title? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Oh, and in case you are wondering about Does Anything Eat Wasps it is a book written by the New Scientist magazine and the full title with subtitle is Does Anything Eat Wasps And 101 Other Questions. It is a compilation of the best questions that get submitted to the New Scientist every week. Actually I think it may be quite interesting and will probably buy it one day.

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 called Seeking the Healer, in which she shares the spiritual insights she has gained on her journey. When she finally starts her blog, it will also be called Seeking the Healer and you can find out more about both at

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Finding treasure in unexpected places 14th October 2017 by Susanne Irving

“Why were you coming to the conference if this is not your scene?” my friend Penny asked me as we were driving back from the women’s conference in the Antioch Church in Llanelli. She had got a point.
When I grew up, I greeted my parents with a hand-shake. The few times I went to church (I was nominally a Catholic, but did not believe in God back then), people also shook hands at a certain point in the service – actually, you would only shake hands with those you knew. That was as far as emotional expression in family and church went.
I have come a long way since then: I no longer change the subject when my husband tells me that he loves me. I have graduated to hugs and a kiss on the cheek when I see my parents. I also give hugs to friends at church, and I do raise my hands in worship or bow down when a song calls for it.
However, you won’t find me leaping in the air and dancing in the aisles (although I used to try a few dance moves in the privacy of my living-room when I was a young Christian). I don’t shout, holler or speak in tongues I cannot understand. And no, I do not actively try to enter the throne room of God or connect with the supernatural - to be honest, I avoid anything that makes me feel out of control.
I am now part of a charismatic fellowship, but many worshippers in the Llanelli church make our local church seem cerebral…
I also get easily distracted. There was plenty to distract me in Llanelli, apart from the expressive, emotional worship. In the meeting hall, we could try our hand at helping to weave a tapestry, paint stones that had been collected at the local beach or add our drawing on a huge white piece of paper on the wall. We could also rest in the “tent of meeting” where apparently the presence of God could be felt particularly clearly – when I went in, I felt the ground shake… from the worship band drums!
I tend to get my insights when I am in nature, ideally by myself, and I love silent retreats to connect with God. To be honest, when other people are around, I am often focused on what they are doing and saying (and worse, on whether it is actually OK what they are doing).
So you can see that my friend Penny had a point: What had I been doing at the conference? I have had a week to reflect on this question. Here is what I have realized so far:
1)    It is the content that counts, rather than the packaging. When I am in unknown territory, I tend to pay more attention, so it can be helpful when things are packaged differently than I am used to.
2)    Immersed in an environment that focussed on an emotional response to God, it was easier to take a step, tentative as it may have been, towards dealing with my heart. It was certainly not the first time that I was told that God loves me just as much as women who were able to have children or that I have realized that I need to repent of the belief that I am living a second best life because some of my dreams have not been fulfilled. Yet it is one thing to deal with these issues intellectually and another to engage with them at heart level.
3)    My most natural way of loving God is with my mind, but if I want to grow in wholeness and freedom, I also need to learn to love God with my heart and soul. (Incidentally, when Jesus talks about how to love God, he puts the heart and soul before the mind…)This does not mean that I need to become a carbon copy of the women in Llanelli – after all, we are also called to worship in spirit and in truth, which surely requires authenticity. However, it does mean that I need to find ways of engaging all of me.
4)    Church life is a bit like trying to weave a piece of tapestry together. We may have different tastes and different approaches. I may not like that you put pink after my red thread, and you may not like that my line looks crooked when you have tried so hard to make things look neat and tidy, but we are all called to make our contribution. Ultimately, it is not up to us to tie up all the loose ends – the Master Weaver will decide when the piece is finished and will add the final touches to pull us all together into a united whole.
Penny, I hope I have answered your question!

About the author: Sue 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.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Writing Historical Fiction

Sharpen your pencils.  Buy a new biro.  Wipe down your computer keyboard.  Our next Association of Christian Writers competition - our first ever historical fiction - is being launched… NOW.  Our judge will be Claire Dunn (C F Dunn), author of The Secret of the Journal series, and an active ACW member.  To check out what Claire will be looking for, members should look out for the launch article in the next Christian Writer, which should be coming through your doorstep soon.  Information on the historical competition is also available on  The deadline is 31 December 2017.

Unlike Claire, I’m not a published historical novelist, but I do write historical short stories, some of which have been published online, and I am currently writing a novel set in a period which is just too recent to be historical.  I'd hesitate to offer advice, but I’d like to share what I’ve learned about historical fiction writing as I went along.
  • Write a story, not a history book.  The characters should lead, as in any other fiction.
  • Although you’ll carry out a lot of research into your historical setting, resist the temptation to include it all in your text; in fact, use very little of it.  Georgette Heyer, author supreme of Regency romances, rarely mentions any solid history (the Battle of Waterloo, once or twice, perhaps).  Your research may inform what your characters don’t do.  For instance, in my novel, at various times, nobody could use a telephone, because the government had cut the lines.
  • Every historical fact must be accurate, especially dates.  Build yourself a historical timeline and write the events of your story beside it. is a useful source for finding out the days of the week for specific dates in recent history.  Use Wikipedia for general schedules of world events in particular years.
  • Do a site visit, remembering that cities and places change.
  • As well as political history, research what people wore, what they ate, how they travelled, what they thought.  If possible, read contemporary books, and look at photos.  If you can find any cartoons, or any jokes, study them intensely.  Listen to popular music, including folk songs, paying particular attention to the lyrics.  Look up any words or phrases you don’t understand; these may lead you to the hidden soul of the people you’re writing about.
  • Don’t bend historical happenings to suit your plot.  Use real history to generate confrontation in your story.
  • Consider what your characters are in a position to know, and, more importantly, what they don’t know.  The general British public didn’t know about gas chambers in concentration camps until some time after World War Two had ended.  And how they learned it; the characters in my WIP learned all that was important, listening to Radio Free Europe whilst leaning against a toilet seat.
  • In stories set in recent history (after about 1900), real historical persons should feature hardly at all.  Before 1900, use them if you wish, accurately, and without lapsing into biography.
  • Editors of historical fiction ezines and mags tell me that stories set in The Second World War and the Victorian era are in glut – avoid these settings.  Regency period, also, but certain markets can’t get enough of them.
  • Whereas people of every age have the same personalities, those living in byegone eras have their own worldviews and ways of treating servants, other races, animals, women, children.  They were definitely not politically correct.  No girl knights, please, or Roman families without slaves.  However, European and North American characters living in previous centuries are more likely to be committed Christians – a bonus.

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.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Book marketing: going the extra mile by Andrew J Chamberlain

The most important lesson I learnt about marketing from my book launch

Last month I launched my book, The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt Handbook, a self-help book for writers that is based on the podcast of that name. The book presents the best advice I’ve received from professional authors and editors over the last three years, and is the result of months of effort. When it was released I felt a mixture of pride and exhaustion, as well as a sense that, though I’m emotionally attached to this work, I now wanted to have a break from it.
I don’t think I am unusual in feeling this mix of emotions. One of my friends has just published a trilogy of fantasy novels. For him this represents the fulfillment of a project that has taken years to complete. He now feels exhausted by the process. I was speaking to another Christian writer recently, and she told me that once her book was released she just wanted people to find it themselves and buy it if they wanted it.

These comments, together with my own experiences have brought me to two conclusions.

 - Authors, especially self-published authors, have similar experiences and emotions once they complete a book.

 - These experiences and emotions are understandable, but are not conducive to the energy required to properly market a book
That second point presents a challenge to all of us. We all know that our books don’t “sell themselves” and most of us don’t have a marketing team on stand-by waiting to take our work to the world. It could be that our aim is to simply write a book and have the satisfaction of seeing it in print, and if that’s the case then we can sit back and relax after publication. However, if we want to sell our work, we need to prepare to do some marketing, even as we feel the inevitable exhaustion of a job
completed. How can do this? Here are three steps I take:

1. Start early - this is really important. I know that I need to plan well in advance for the marketing activity I want to engage in. That means researching the options well in advance, and then deciding what time and budget to commit to.

2. I need to maintain the standard of what I do. My marketing efforts need to be of the highest quality I can manage, like my books. 

3. Finally , I need to stop when I’ve completed these tasks, and focus on the next book

In so many ways, marketing is counter intuitive for writers, but I’ve learnt that, whatever I plan to do with my work after it’s published, I can’t expect some untapped well of energy and enthusiasm within me to see me through, or a grateful public to rush out to buy my work, whether I market it or not. The best summary of it I think is this: we need to go that extra mile and give our marketing efforts the same degree of planning, preparation, and attention that we would give to the book itself. 

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

We are His Stories, by Deborah Jenkins

I arrived at the recent excellent ACW London writers' day an hour early. This was because one of the committee members, the lovely Fiona, was staying with me and needed to get there around 9. I could have stayed in bed and met her there later, but decided to go with her and loiter in a coffee shop. It would be nicer getting the train together. And after all, it was Saturday - the perfect day for loitering.

Having established where Bloomsbury Baptist Church was (I have missed the beginning of several writers days wandering, in concentric circles, around central London), I back-tracked to a cosy Costa and queued up to order my most luxurious treat - a regular full fat latte with a shot of caramel. While it was being assembled, a process which always, baffingly, takes a lot longer than I think, I noticed a sign in front of the till. Here is a photo of it: -

I watched my 'barista' carefully to see if there was any hint of greatness. I have to admit I am rather suspicious of the term as I don't actually know what it means or when it infiltrated daily usage so decisively - a coffee maker? Person who serves coffee? Person in a brown uniform with a brown beard serving brown coffee? My current barista had his back to me, was leaning tiredly towards the gurgling machine and seemed only to regain consciousness when, with a small explosion, it spat out a final mouthful and hissed wickedly. Well, it was early, on a Saturday morning and I am a Christian so I should always be generous. I smiled at him as he thumped the plastic cup down in front of me and thanked him pleasantly, resisting the temptation to ask if he thought he was a great barista, and just for the record, what was a barista anyway. Did he know if it was an Italian word?

Then, as I walked away, I inquired where the Ladies was.
"Upstairs," he replied angrily.
"Thank you so much!" 

A few  delicious mouthfuls later, I was upstairs waiting outside the Ladies. Five minutes, then ten limped by while my precious latte cooled below. I tried the door again. Still locked. I peered into the gloom and noticed one of those key pad things high up in the top corner of the door. That was odd. I jabbed various keys randomly - clearly a fruitless exercise - then returned below.

"Excuse me, is there a code for the toilets?" 
"Yes!" A receipt was banged down in front of me while a finger tapped an unreadable set of tiny numbers at the top. What? Was I supposed to actually read these and then key them into a key pad that I could hardly reach yet alone see, in order to get into the toilet? And, well you know, thanks for telling me earlier! Call me a grumpy old woman, but it all seemed rather ridiculous. All I can say is, Costa clearly isn't part of the community toilet scheme. I tried not to glare at the barista, and his sign. 
"HUMPH! NOT!" I said loudly (in my head), and then went upstairs to key in my toileting plans.

I didn't think about it much more, until later. The writers' day, as already described, was wonderful. The speakers, Glenn and Emma Scrivener, were inspiring, the organisers brilliant, the book stall tempting, the attendees eager. I bumped into old friends and made new ones. I bought a copy of Sue Russell's latest book which I started on the train home and am already well into (A Vision of Locusts - you'd love it!) I had never been to Bloomsbury Baptist Church before though my husband has, and I was intrigued by the intensity of activity there on a Saturday. There seemed to be a kind of all-day choir practice going on above us and when I left, at 4.15, there looked as though there was a full-scale sermon going on in the packed main hall. 

On the train home, I gazed out at a burst of sunshine silvering suburbia, trying to crystallise what I was taking away from the day. These are the things: -
  • The plot will tell you where it needs to go
  • We are not the heroes of our stories. Jesus is
  • We, as Christian writers, have the opportunity to counter the lies told by the 'world's stories'
  • Make people want the Christian story to be true, then show them that it is
  • Real power lies in vulnerability and openness, not strength
  • Our days are full of 'life' and 'death' moments
  • What do your stories seem to say, again and again? That is your passion, your 'spine', what God has set in you to say to His world
The best stories, argued Glenn, are echoes of the oldest story of all - a world; it goes wrong; there is a fight; good wins. I have often felt a bit of a wimp when telling people that I don't want to read their recommended book if there's a sad ending. But it's actually OK to feel like that! Because that's the truth. At the end of the day, for the believer, however painful and broken and damaged we/the world becomes, there are no sad endings...

It's the latte thing but different. Behind every great story, there's a great story-teller. And it's not us, although He will use us to weave some of His magic in a love-starved world, through our words and our deeds and maybe even through our writing. Sometimes we'll muck it up, get it wrong, be grumpy to the customers (or the barista). But He'll use us anyway - a comforting latte on an autumn day - if we'll let Him.

He is the story-teller and we are His stories. 

Better get writing...

Please 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. 

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

The Swings and Roundabouts of Grace, by Ben Jeapes

Picture from
Today is the last day of my home town Abingdon’s annual Michaelmas Fair. Europe’s longest street fair, for those who note such things. The entire half-mile length of Ock Street – the main route into the town centre – is sealed off and packed with rides and stalls for two days. The inhabitants of Ock Street have to take it on the chin, but it’s very good about shutting down prompt at 11pm, and then they get a much quieter night's sleep than usual, as no traffic can use what is normally a main thoroughfare.

The fair is always kicked off by a Christian service in the Market Place. It might seem odd for all the worldly excess and bedlam and far too much money spent for far too little gain to be linked with Christianity, but in fact it’s only right to do so. The fair is such a large item on Abingdon’s annual calendar, so much a part of our town’s life and attended by several thousand people, that it would be irresponsible not to commit such an event to God.

The preacher had no difficulty in making the connection. For far too many, he said, Christianity seems to be about po-faced rules and regulations, but in fact Jesus’s life and ministry were characterised by joy. God loves to throw a party, and faith is more about fun than fear. Where would Jesus be if he was in Abingdon now? Without a doubt, at the fair – simultaneously having fun with that thrumming mass of humanity and giving them what they needed.

There’s more. The fair began, in days gone by, as the great apprentice-hiring event of the year, where young men left home for the first time and took their first steps as adults in the world. Leaving home is something everyone has to do – it’s a vital stage in our growing into the people that God intended us to be. The original Michaelmas Fair must have been key in God’s plans for the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people. Leave home, learn a trade, earn a living, start your own family, repeat.

And this time next week there will be a much smaller fair, held just in the town centre. This started as the Runaway Fair. Many apprentices who didn’t take to their new masters could run away and have a second chance at finding employment. There was an unspoken amnesty, an agreed period of grace among the masters for that week. They could have stood on their rights and thrashed their ungrateful wards or taken them to the cleaners for breach of contract – but instead, they gave this second chance, no questions asked.

Many of them might have been in the same situation, once.

Is that not grace?

On my way back home afterwards I passed some early revellers laughingly – and quite soberly – trying to limbo dance under the traffic barriers at the end of Ock Street. Could I imagine Jesus doing that, too? Rather to my surprise, yes, I could ...

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 5 novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Choosing our words by Ros Bayes

Last month Google notified me that it was the 308th anniversary of the birth of Dr Samuel Johnson. Immediately my mischievous mind flew to Blackadder, and I couldn’t resist posting this clip on my Facebook timeline.

So I thought this month it might be rather fun, at the risk of becoming something of a blatherskite, to look at some of the more obscure words in our language which have largely fallen into disuse (if, indeed, they were ever common parlance). I hope this post doesn’t send any of you into a state of conniption. At the least perhaps you may acquire some vocabulary that might turn you into a consummate deipnosophist.

I did, in the course of researching this piece, encounter some interesting conundrums (or should that be conundra?) For example, if eating insects is correctly termed entomophagy, would etymophagy be the correct term for making someone eat their words? Most of these terms will only be found in incunabula, and I hope none of them gives rise to a lobomachy.

The problem with such obscure words, though they may provide hours of fun for an etymologist, is that they obnubilate rather than illuminate. They certainly do nothing to enhance a piece of writing intended to communicate. This piece will have had one of three effects – you will have given up and gone away by now; or you will be scratching your head and muttering, “Huh?”; or you will be reaching for a dictionary to try to puzzle it out.

Which brings me to a more serious point. The average unchurched person, picking up a Bible, may find some parts of it just as meaningless at first glance as some of the words above. Our task is to take words which, if we have been long steeped in the Bible, are familiar and self-evident to us, and make their concepts plain to our readers. Some words have modern equivalent meanings which shed light on the original use in our earliest English translations of the Bible. Redemption, for example, is a concept familiar in terms of cashing in a benefit.  Ransom is known from the context of buying the freedom of a hostage. Salvation, in the sense of being snatched from disaster, is something most people can probably understand. 

But some words seem peculiarly applicable to obscure religious contexts and need more explanation. Take propitiation, for example. It does have application in secular contexts, but they are generally almost as unintelligible to the lay person as some of the examples above. The best and most clear explanation I ever heard of propitiation was this: When the NASA scientists first created the Shuttle spacecraft, a vehicle that could be sent into space repeatedly, they had to find some way of preventing it burning up as it re-entered earth’s atmosphere. So they created an effective heat shield which was known as a propitiatory shield. In becoming our propitiation, Jesus shields us effectively from all the consequences of our sin and rebellion – some people would understand that in terms of the wrath of God, others in terms of His holiness, and others in terms of the harm that accrues to us from our own foolish actions. 

However you see it, I think this heat shield is a great picture for explaining the obscure biblical term, propitiation. What obscure or unusual Biblical words do you think need making clear in order to proclaim the Gospel to our generation?

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.