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Tuesday, 16 January 2018

I've started so I'll finish...by Lynda Alsford

I was watching Celebrity Mastermind the other day  and I have a feeling John Humphreys didn't say "I've started so I'll finish" when he hadn't finished reading a question and the 2 minute buzzer sounded. It may be that he did say it and I just didn't notice it. However, it got me thinking about things I have started but not finished. I have some unfinished needle-craft projects but I have not abandoned them totally yet. It's simply that they take me a long time to complete. The thing I feel somewhat unsettled by is when I don't finish reading a book I have started. 

I hate not finishing a book I have started to read. It feels wrong somehow, almost rude of me after the author's hard work in writing it. I used to rarely leave a book unfinished - that is until I joined a book group. Then the choice of what I read was not always up to me. I would find myself with limited time to read a book I found I wasn't enjoying. One of the books I couldn't finish was The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. We all agreed that it sounded really good from the description but in reality few of us finished it. But I felt guilty about it. It went against the grain to leave it unfinished. There were quite a few books after that which I didn't finish while I was a member of that book club. I have learned now not to beat myself up about it. I work full time, have commitments at Church and social commitments. Spending my precious time reading something I am really not enjoying is not worthy of my guilt. 
Photo by Japheth Mast on Unsplash

But it got me to thinking about other things we may have started but not finished. Perhaps it is a book you are writing that you have left unfinished. I am guilty of that. I keep making excuses as to why I am not writing it. And I come up with a different answer each time. Maybe it is the wrong time to write it, or the subject matter is not right. Maybe I will finish it one day. At the moment I don't know. 

I wonder if sometimes it isn't leaving something unfinished that is my problem, but that I started something I shouldn't have. Sometimes it is the starting that is wrong. Perhaps then it takes courage to put something down, and say 'This is not the right thing for me now'.  

One thing I am very glad about is that God will never give up on me. I can be confident that when it comes to me and you, God will always finish what he started. As he says in Philippians 1:6 New Living Translation (NLT), 
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
What about you? Have you started something you haven't finished? Do you always finish books you have started to read? 



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  Amazon.co.uk  and  Amazon.com. 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 www.seekingthehealer.com. You can also find out more about Lynda at  www.lyndaalsford.com




Sunday, 14 January 2018

S is for surrender… 14th January 2018 by Susanne Irving




I don’t know where you stand when it comes to New Year’s resolutions or setting goals, but I confess that I am struggling most years. Some years I have a lot of ideas and start out strong, only for me to get distracted by the next shiny thing come February or March.

This time, the new year seemed to come around even more quickly than usual, and I could not really think of any goals to set. Yet I know from experience that having no aims ultimately makes me feel more adrift.

Then I read a blogpost that suggested finding a focus word for the new year, starting with the first letter of our first name. There are many helpful words that start with S:
Steadfastness -  especially helpful when it comes to sticking with things for longer than I like and seeing a project through to the end when I am bored and/or frustrated by it
Serenity, or even better Shalom – an antidote to my tendency to put myself under even more pressure when I am already anxious or worried
Serendipity – for me this means being aware of Emmaus moments rather than rushing around with my eyes to the ground
Stewardship – I believe that we are called to be great stewards of all our resources, which involves so much more than our possessions and includes time, body, talent, intellect.)

Then I read through some of my journal entries for 2017 and knew where my focus needed to be put to achieve the other things I was longing for: SURRENDER! I knew straight away that this is meant to be my focus because there is a part of me who does not want to do that, regardless of what Jesus has to say on the subject…

I believe that surrender involves so much more than the “big surrender” when we surrender to God and become Christians. Here are some things I have already identified:

I surrender my attitude that I live a second-best life just because some dreams have not worked out as I had hoped.
I surrender my rigid mindset that tries to prescribe what can and cannot be done and how things should be done.
I surrender the expectation that I will be given a sharp stone when I am asking for bread.

I am curious: How are you dealing with God’s call to surrender? If you had to choose one focus word, what would that be?



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.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Is writing a selfish activity? By Andrew J Chamberlain

One of my old pastors used to be fond of pointing out how many areas of creative tension there are in the Christian life: the tension between the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’, between the community and the individual, between the work and rest, retreat and advance. He believed that finding our way through this tension was a central aspect of the Christian life.
Recently I realised that there is another example of this creative tension that applies particularly to Christian writers, and it’s to do with the inherent self-interest that writing demands of us.
Our writing requires us to shut off the demands of others and to expend our resources: time, money, attention and energy, on our writing, our project, our own interests. This requires a conscious choice to reject engagement with others.
This approach to writing doesn’t seem to sit very well with the biblical injunctions that we love our neighbour as ourselves. Who is our neighbour? If it’s our family and others we spend most of our time with, or depend on us, then are we living up to this injunction if we lock ourselves away to pursue our own writing interests? (I’m portraying the act of writing here in a deliberately provocative way, but I hope you will see what I’m saying.)
Against this we have that inspiring, frustrating calling – that itch to write. We don’t want to give up on it, however hard the process, and furthermore we may feel that our writing is also an injunction from God, a calling to which we must respond.
How do we deal with this dilemma? I don’t think there’s a simple solution to this challenge, but there are some reflections that I’ve found helpful.
First, we are told that there is a time for everything on the earth, and so the question of how much time and energy I put into anything, including writing, is a question of balance, of everything having its moment. I accept that I can’t simply go to one end of a spectrum to find the solution, the best I can do is to hover around the perfect answer, following it as it changes with time and circumstances.

Secondly, I can reflect on my calling to try to focus it. God might have called me to write, but to write what? Refining and defining a calling is hard work, but if I can be clear on what that calling means to me right now, I am more able to work out what part it should play in my life. Connected to this, I think any writer of fiction needs to work out what they think the value of writing fiction is, and even what the value of entertainment is, to God. As a writer of fiction, if I can’t work this out honestly in my mind, I will never believe I am spending my time wisely because I will view the work of a storyteller as trivial or insignificant.
Finally, all of this helps me respond to my original question. Is writing a selfish activity? My answer is: not necessarily - even if I am writing only for myself, after all a spiritual journal can be a private and valuable thing. However, if I declare that I am writing for others, this imposes a helpful discipline on me to write something that others will find genuinely valuable.
If I can do all of this, I am very close to solving my dilemma, because I am able to both fulfil my calling, and loving my neighbour by blessing them through my writing.

Andrew Chamberlain is a writer and creative writing tutor. 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.


Thursday, 11 January 2018

Stealing light-bulbs, by Deborah Jenkins


I walked into Sainsbury's the other day, wandered into the Home section and stole a light-bulb. I unzipped my bag and edged it carefully in, so as not to break it. Then I walked out. At the door a stocky security guard with acne and dodgy eyes, put on his deepest voice.

"Excuse me Madam," He gave an inquiring nod to someone behind me, then cleared his throat, "Do you have anything in your bag?"

I froze. With one half of my brain I was thinking what a strange question it was, and that I could answer with any number of things -
That is none of your business
No, unless you mean the light bulb I just shoplifted
Yes, of course I have - my car-keys, my purse, my glasses. Shall I go on? 

What was even stranger is that I felt an obscure sense of panic and guilt, even though I had no reason to. The above is a description of what they thought had happened. But they were wrong. Or were they? My mind raked back quickly over the past few moments. I had been looking at light bulbs, lifting them off the shelf and comparing them to the spent one removed from our kitchen pendant. shaking my head and putting them back again. They were all the wrong shape, it was so annoying. After lifting and comparing a number of bulbs, I finally decided they didn't have one, at which point I unzipped my bag, put the old one back in and walked out.

So I calmly unzipped my bag and pulled it out.
Yes, my light-bulb to see if...
The security guard interrupted, disappointed.
Oh, it's yours! Okay. At which point he walked off.

And I was left, heart thrumming, embarrassed and annoyed. He didn't even apologise!

As I drove home, smoothing my hair in the driving mirror, I remembered a man appearing next to me in the light-bulb aisle. As I'd zipped up my bag and turned to go, he'd picked a bulb off the shelf and spoken into his mobile. Something like, "Mum, are you sure it's the light bulb not the flex?" and looked straight at me. I remember thinking what lovely blue eyes. Perhaps the message was for Security. Code for "Older woman heading out with light-bulb. Messy hair" I felt a rush of annoyance, that I'd admired his eyes. I wished I'd thought them devious.

I carried on musing as I drove home, narrowly missing a bollard. Why could I not stop thinking about this ? The man was only doing his job. He had made a mistake. I was innocent. Move on, Deborah. Move on...

I know, I thought, I'll put it in my book. Maybe the woman puts the new light bulb in her bag by accident, and puts the old one back on the shelf. Maybe she is deep in thought, about her marriage or her dog or her gall bladder. She's doing that thing where her body moves without her mind being engaged at all until she finds herself standing, dazed, at the door next to the security guard.

Life has such rich pickings: -
A frustrated woman walks out of her job, and into a new life
An old lady counts out coins with a trembling hand
A vicar's wife dreams of buying their holiday home
A teenager runs away and squats in an empty house
A business woman loses her London company and moves to the country
A Romanian chef makes a new start running a cattery

I have used all these in my writing. Some of them happened to me, some of them to others but they all touched me in some way and I could not stop thinking about them. Until I wrote them down in a diary or a story or an article. How powerful is the written word, able to take both the diamonds and the dust from this crazy world and put them to rest in a song. It might make us sad or it might make us happy, but somehow it will soothe away the endless scrutiny and give us peace. If we are watchers and listeners, we will prevail as long as we keep collecting and writing - snapshots of other lives through which we gradually begin to see a bigger story. Like stolen light-bulbs...

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.  

























Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Magi and Mountains, by Ben Jeapes

There is so much that ought to be wrong about the story of the Magi. (Not the Three Kings. We don’t know there were just three of them; there’s nothing to say they were kings; and they might not even have been wee. They could have been of perfectly average stature, boom boom.)

We do know they came from foreign parts, which makes it unlikely (though not impossible) that they were Jews; we know for sure that they studied the stars; and we know they saw something there that led them to find Jesus.

Studying the stars is not necessarily astrology, though the first astronomers were very probably astrologers first. But it is something very few Jews of the time would have been doing. There’s enough in the Old Testament to make it clear that stargazing is not recommended. (Deuteronomy 4:19; Isaiah 47.13.) Not illegal – but verging on dodgy, and Jews liked to play safe. It was all sufficiently close to magic and fortune telling that the Jews, God’s people, did not go in for it.

But these guys weren’t God’s people. Not yet. Yet Matthew presents them positively! They are not occult practitioners or charlatans or benighted pagans. They are the good guys in the story. They come out of it considerably better than Herod (no surprises there) and Herod’s advisers (who should have been on tenterhooks for the coming of the Messiah, but to whom it seems to have been a dry, academic problem.)

There is an attractive, but sadly flawed, analogy you may have heard about God and mountaintops and paths. Imagine a mountain with God at the top of it; imagine any number of paths all starting at different points and taking different routes up the mountain and converging at the top. So, one God, many ways to find him.

Except that for a Christian it doesn’t work, because it directly contradicts Jesus who says he is the only way to the Father. What this analogy is saying is that “There are many ways to the God who specifically says there is only one way to him.”

But, with a little tweaking, the image does actually work. Put Jesus at the top of the mountain; put a ladder next to him; put God at the top of the ladder. Still, the only way to God is through Jesus. But the only way to Jesus …? Now we’re talking.

Somehow, with the full mandate of Biblical authority, the magi found a way to Jesus that had evaded everyone else.

This speaks to us as writers, or should. There is only one Lord that we are witnessing to, but many ways to witness. Words of truth might be spoken in a novel by the most unlikely of characters; I would even say that the more unlikely, the more memorable they become. Some outsiders, like the magi, are of the cultural, geographical, or ethnic variety. Other outsiders are spiritually remote. I’m a public school-educated Christian science fiction fan from a military background; that’s four key areas of my identity where even people who get one right will almost certainly not have a clue about the other three. So I often think of myself as at least three quarters an outsider.

Who are your outsiders? What unexpected direction can you make the truth come from?

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. www.benjeapes.com

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

The Overflow of the Heart by Ros Bayes

Recently I took part in a discussion in the Woman Alive book club on the subject of the books of JoJo Moyes, particularly the sequels to Me Before You. I haven’t read her books, but I watched the film of Me Before You and hated it, for reasons I explain here. These reasons are mainly to do with the way a film like this reinforces the idea that disabled lives are of less value than other people’s.

That these ideas have permeated our culture more deeply than we realise was illustrated to me over Christmas. I went to a church other than my own, where people did not know me, and two of my three daughters were with me. My middle daughter has complex multiple disabilities and is a wheelchair user. She enjoyed the service and was interested in what was going on.

As soon as the service was over, while coffee and mince pies were being served, an elderly gentleman came over, shook my hand and stated, “I do think it’s marvellous that you bring her to things like this. It must take a considerable effort.” My daughter may be a wheelchair user, but she hasn’t had her brain disconnected, nor her hearing. She was fully aware of what was being said about her, in front of her, without reference to her. I didn’t want to offend an elderly gentleman who had grown up in a less enlightened era. And anyway I was in church so I couldn’t say what immediately came to mind! So I smiled, said nothing, and made my escape as soon as possible.

Here’s a simple rule of thumb: if you ever see me out with my three daughters, all of whom are in their twenties and thirties, if you wouldn’t say something to or about one of the two who are on their hind legs, please don’t say it to or about the one in the wheelchair. It will certainly be inappropriate, discriminatory and offensive. Most importantly she is made in God’s image to exactly the same extent as you or I.  Or ask yourself, would this be offensive if I said it about someone from some other minority group, such as a different ethnic or cultural heritage?  If so, don't say it about a disabled person.

I would have left the church upset, even outraged, but for what happened next. I retreated to a quiet corner with my daughter and sat down while we had our refreshments. An older lady spotted us and made a beeline for us. She drew up a chair and sat down, so that she was at the same height as my daughter. Ignoring me in the first instance, she greeted my daughter, welcomed her to the church, and asked her if she had enjoyed the service. She shared her own name and asked my daughter hers.  My daughter, as is her wont, responded by asking what brand of hand dryer the church had (hand dryers are her big interest in life). Completely unfazed by this unexpected turn in the conversation, the lady continued to chat to her about the merits of different hand dryers, and then drew me into the conversation.

As she had with my daughter, she welcomed me to the church and hoped I had enjoyed the service. Then she explained that she had been a care home manager in a residential home for disabled young people before being diagnosed with a brain tumour which turned her into a service user, so she had seen social care from both sides. She carried on chatting equally to me and my daughter, before wishing us a happy Christmas, and going on her way. She totally redeemed for me what would have been a very upsetting experience.

So here is my wish for all of us as writers. We all know there is some language which is so offensive we instinctively avoid it. Belittling ways of describing people’s heritage, gender or sexual orientation are off-limits for every responsible writer. I want to see belittling language about disability avoided just as assiduously. Here are some of my bĂȘtes noires: Please don’t describe someone as “confined to a wheelchair” or “wheelchair bound”. I’m not confined or bound to my pesky old shoes – they liberate me to leave my house and move about freely outdoors; as does my daughter’s wheelchair. Please don’t write about someone “suffering from a disability”. While some conditions do involve a degree of pain or restriction, most disabled people have learned ways of overcoming these and are just going about their lives contentedly. Most would refute that they’re suffering – they might even be happier than you! Please, in the 21st century, avoid the word “handicapped” – it dates back to a time when the most disabled people could hope for was that you would put your hand in their cap with a donation for them. It certainly doesn’t describe the life lived by disabled people in our society today.

Above all please avoid terms like “mentally retarded”, “mentally handicapped” or “has a mental age of…”. Learning disabilities don’t come as a linear scale. They are more like a scatter graph. My daughter has never grasped something as simple as personal pronouns, and is quite likely to refer to herself as you or even he. She was in full time education until she was twenty-two, by which time she had acquired a reading age of eight and could do very simple arithmetic. And yet she can describe with great accuracy the internal workings of a hand dryer, name the composer or artist of almost any piece of music you care to play to her, and, when our worship leader at church is trying to play an unfamiliar song, she will tell her what key it’s in and then helpfully call out the chords for her. So to describe her as mentally impaired isn’t really accurate, it’s much clearer simply to say that she has a learning disability.

It’s the unguarded things we say or write instinctively that show our true attitude. Jesus said it’s out of the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks. So let’s, as Christian writers, seek to write our disabled characters with as much dignity, variety and humanity as any of our other protagonists.

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 (www.throughtheroof.org) as their Training Resources Developer, and loves getting paid to write about disability all day. You can find her blog at http://rosbunneywriting.wordpress.com and her author page at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ros-Bayes/e/B00JLRTNVA/. Follow her on Twitter: @rosbwriting.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Writers, Beware! By Annie Try

Another ACW member wrote a recent post on this blog about the difficulty of the first sentence of a piece of work.  But I’m surprised she didn’t mention titles.  I have just sat for twenty minutes trying to think of a title  before writing a single word of this post.  I seem to be nurturing a strange idea that having a title might help me know what to write.

But, in fact, I know it makes sense to have an idea about what I am writing before finding a title.  This is not how my random mind works.  I often start something then gradually it unfolds in front of me.  When I’m writing novels, I enjoy writing a few key scenes before filling in the rest of the novel. Am I really unusual in this?

I understand the need for chronological order.  Indeed, nature illustrates this for us all the time.  If something is unusual we notice.  Like, for example, the forsythia twigs I picked on Christmas Eve having blossomed already, giving me a very spring like bird tree, too soon after Christmas.
Or we exclaim over a late rose, its blossom frozen in December. I was presented with one by my other half in mid-December.  It was beautiful in its frozen state but even more majestic as it opened in the warmth, holding its petals out for a mere day before they dropped, spreading yellowness across the windowsill.

Time ‘goes too fast,’ we say.  Of course, it doesn’t - it just ticks along the same as usual.  And I may have written the end of a novel before the middle but unless it is something really clever, like ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife’ it needs to be rearranged chronologically, or at least logically, to have any meaning for the reader. I have tricked the forsythia by bringing it indoors, away from the freezing edges of a Norfolk field, which gives me a logical reason for its early blossoming.

Yet isn’t every story a distortion of time?  In the time it takes to read a few pages, the reader may have covered a month, a year, maybe a century or two.  And this incredible vehicle, the book, may have transported him or her across miles of unknown territory and unreal worlds.  It’s not just fiction either; a good essay can take someone into another person’s thinking, a write up of an experiment can carry a person to a whole new way of understanding a subject, the Bible can transform a life.

So writers, beware!  You have the power to create more powerful alchemy than any magician, to traverse time, to travel further than any world explorer and to create worlds no-one has ever found.

And I think I’ve found my title!


'Annie Try' is the pen-name of Angela Hobday, Chair of the Association of Christian Writers.  Annie has had published three novels, the last two being Dr Mike Lewis stories.  Mike Lewis is a clinical psychologist with very interesting clients, with stories to tell.  Both books are published by Instant Apostle entitled Trying to Fly and Out of Silence. Annie is now working on the next novel in the series as well as having two YA novels on the go.