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Tuesday, 19 March 2019

The Journey


Here where I am in the south west, the winds have died down, the rain is intermittent, the sun is warm (when it can break through the clouds) yet the wind is icy. And the story that is dancing in my brain is full of sunshine and cooling breezes, leisurely travel by horse-drawn wagon, and a cat with a mind of its own. Naturally.

The path
I see the end of the story but I don’t yet see the journey. At least, I see one journey. It’s a safe journey with:

·         A perfectly maintained road
·         Pleasant roadside inns with an abundance of food, drink, music, and good company
·         Clear skies and idyllic weather—the rain only comes at night when our friends are safely tucked up in that pleasant roadside inn
·         Wayside stops always supplied with fresh provisions
·         Water available when needed
·         Friends or soon-to-be-friends in every village
·         Travellers well met along the way.

The cat

But … the ending has no punch. There is no reason for cat or companion to be any different at the end of the journey than at the beginning. And the cat in particular finds that unacceptable. Perhaps he is responsible for the alternate journey:

·         Necessity forces them to travel ill-kept minor roads that cause problems for horse or wagon … or both
·         They reach a village but rather than finding friends, they are hounded out without a chance to refill the water cask or buy food for the horse
·         In the town the clean, respectable and, more importantly, safe inn costs more than they can afford; and the inn they can afford doesn’t allow cats.
·         The rain pours down on them as they take their leave
·         Those not-friends from the unfriendly village have betrayed them to their pursuers
·         Their road leads to the edge of the cliff where a wooden bridge is all but disintegrated and they must backtrack and hope to avoid those who seek them or else risk the treacherous bridge
·         If they dare the bridge, the horse and wagon must be left behind

But … well. you’ll have to wait until I’ve written the story to find out what the cat did.

I’ve learned over the years of writing—and even more so in the years of editing—that the journey from A to B can be pleasant but, at the end, somewhat unsatisfying. Throw in a few diversions to C, K, F and M, and then finally reaching B becomes so much more rewarding—for the characters, for the reader and, yes, for the writer too.



Adrianne Fitzpatrick has more than 25 years’ experience in the publishing industry as a writer (for adults and children), editor, teacher (of writing and editing), photographer, book designer and bookseller (both new and secondhand books). She has had numerous short stories and articles published; and her second novel, The Chalet School Annexe, was published by Girls Gone By Publishers in 2018. Adrianne has worked with many authors to see their dreams of publication come true, so it’s not surprising that she has started her own publishing house, Books to Treasure, specialising in books for children.

Monday, 18 March 2019

How Goes the Plan? By Georgie Tennant

I was looking forward to Friday.  It had been a hectic week.  On Monday, I had driven an hour away to meet an old friend for brunch; no violins required here – this one fell squarely into the ‘leisure’ category – but still, the too-rapidly-passing child-free school hours were consumed.  On Tuesday, I attended the church prayer meeting, where I had been asked to share some thoughts on prayer; I enjoyed both preparing and delivering these.  The rest of my waking hours were, this time, consumed by setting up and helping at a pancake party to raise funds for Christians Against Poverty, for whom I volunteer.  With the children safely in bed at 8:30 p.m, when we finally got back home, it wasn’t much longer before I, too, slipped into a sugar-induced coma.  Work filled Wednesday and Thursday in a flurry of lesson planning, covering, after-school revision and marking of Year 11 Mock Exams.  And so Friday beckoned.

I think I enjoyed the pancake race a little bit too much - photo used with permission
Often, on a Friday, I try to meet up with a friend in need for coffee, or I am the friend in need, meeting up with someone else.  On this glorious Friday, however, all I had on my calendar was one, one hour appointment, in the middle of the day.  “Finally,” I told myself, “you can get some writing done – like you said you would, on your plan.”  Relief kicked in, to alleviate some of the “you have failed to write,” guilt that has a tendency to slither up and wrap itself around me in a suffocating grip.  This would be the day.

“How would you feel about making some cakes for the Ladies’ Day?” asked a friend, the night before.  I decided it wasn’t too tricky an ask and replied in the affirmative.  “I can do that first thing,” I told myself, “still go to my appointment, and write later.  All still good.”

Friday dawned and I awoke with one of those revelations that can only be from God to save you serious stress and embarrassment later on – I was on the rota to deliver the teenagers section of the church children’s work on Sunday.  How had I not remembered this before?  I am not, in any way, a ‘Last Minute Lottie’.  I am a ‘Week Before Wanda’ – in fact, a ‘Fortnight Before Florence,’ given the chance.  I messaged my friend, with whom I was on the rota; she had forgotten too.  We joked about the slightly-too-close possibility that we could have reached Sunday with no plans or resources and I assured her that I would get it sorted.  The morning sped past, building a teenager-friendly session on ‘The Armour of God,’ complete with a bag of props and a dodgy song.  Baking would have to wait until later.  So would writing.

At this point, my brother-in-law messaged with great excitement to tell me he had a new, fancy coffee machine – did I want to pop in to sample it?  You can work out for yourself what I should have said and what I actually did.  At about 3 p.m, I was knee deep in buttery, floury dishes, willing the shortbread to cook before I had to collect the children from school and get them to a church children’s event at a local soft play (joy of joys on a Friday night), within the hour.  Later that night, I lamented my lack of writing, vowing not to make the same mistakes on my next ‘free’ day.
I think we can all empathise with this Mr Man!
I’m sure you recognise the scenario; so many of us have children and day jobs and elderly parents, family responsibilities and huge church commitments.  We have such great intentions for our writing but never quite seem to pull them off.  What can we do about this?  How can this change?

At the beginning of the new year, there were a flurry of helpful and inspiring posts about planning our writing (Lucy Rycroft) and sticking with it with resilience (Jane Clamp).  Now here we are in March, already a quarter of a way through the year.  Perhaps it’s time to check in with ourselves and ask – how am I doing?  How is my plan going? God, what do you think about it all?

Taking up Lucy Rycroft’s helpful thoughts, back in January, about making a writing plan, I stole some time in a hospital waiting room, one day, and sketched out a calendar for the month ahead, blocking out and colour-coding events that would take up my time (much to the amusement of the old man opposite, who watched with fascination and called me ‘unusual’ and ‘unique’ for my handwritten methods).  The aim, upon completion of such a calendar, was to then block out some writing time, to make sure it happened. 

Help, where is the writing time?!
My excitement and drive quickly turned to dismay.  Looking at all the things that would take up my days, alongside the multitude of other things that would take up my evenings, it was tempting to conclude that I should shelve my writing for at least a decade, by which time the children might just about both be living away, at University or in their first jobs.  Anyone who shares my drive to write, however, will know this is not an option – I wouldn’t be able to shelve it for that long without internally combusting!  So I set out to fill in some gaps (often amounting to no more than a couple of hours, in reality), with the tentatively scrawled word “writing?”  The question mark made me feel better, as if there was a chance it might let me off the hook if it wasn’t looking like an option when the designated days rolled around.

I have found this very small amount of planning (if you can even call it that – “tentative possibility assessment” might be closer to the truth) to have revolutionised my thinking about my writing.  Instead of feeling gloomy that weeks might pass, without any real opportunity to write, I’m seizing any small offering of time that looks like it might work.  If I see “writing?” in my week ahead, it motivates me to turn off Twitter, hold the hoovering (because, let’s face it, it only looks hoovered for ten minutes anyway!) and turn the “writing-question mark” into “writing – full stop” (OK, I admit, it’s more like “writing-exclamation mark”, as I get a bit over-excited and self-congratulatory).  If I succeed in turning the question mark into a full stop, I draw a big box around it and note down next to it what exactly it was that I wrote, as a way of setting up way-markers on the path for myself, so that I can look back and remind myself that I’m doing better than I think I am, whenever I am tempted to metaphorically beat myself up.

I’ve also found that it helps me to plan ahead better.  If I have “writing?” on my calendar, I am more likely to think about what I want to write on that day.  This is helping me with my wider resolutions for writing, which I sat and pondered and wrote down at the start of the year.  Keeping these resolutions (big picture thinking) alongside my smaller-detail, practical thinking, is spurring me on in my writing like never before.  I’m still nowhere near where I want to be, or anywhere near up there with those further on in their writing adventure – but I know, with certainty, that these small actions are laying the foundations for many other bricks to be added on top of them, much further down the line.

I end with a guilty confession – I love watching the TV series ‘The Flash,’ made all the more endearing by its bad acting and terrible plot-lines.  Leonard Snart, one of the cold-hearted baddies from an early series had a motto that I’m inclined to agree with - "Make the plan. Execute the plan. Expect the plan to go off the rails. Throw away the plan.”  In our busy lives, it might be next to impossible to stick with any sort of writing plan – but at least if we have one, in the first place, it will get us moving in the right direction, even if that direction changes later on.  After all, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19 v 21.  How are your 2019 writing plans going so far?  Don’t give up on them.  Dig them out and get back to them with renewed fervour.  You just don’t know where they might lead.


Georgie Tennant is a secondary school English teacher in a Norfolk Comprehensive.  She is married, with two sons, aged 10 and 8, who keep her exceptionally busy. She writes for the ACW ‘Christian Writer’ magazine occasionally, and is a contributor to the ACW-Published ‘New Life: Reflections for Lent,’ and ‘Merry Christmas, Everyone: A festive feast of stories, poems and reflections.’ She writes the ‘Thought for the Week’ for the local newspaper from time to time and also muses about life and loss on her blog: www.somepoemsbygeorgie.blogspot.co.uk 

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Writing prompts by Claire Musters


Everywhere I turn there seem to be writing prompts popping up – for example, the wonderful Adrianne Fitzpatrick has been posting them regularly into our Facebook group, Five Minute Friday provide them and the Flourish Writers’ Conference covered the importance of them too.

This all got me thinking: as a non-fiction writer and regular journaller, what prompts me to write? Here are my thoughts: I hope that something prompts you to write today ;)

A Bible verse or devotional note – sometimes a new thought on an old truth has me reaching for my pen/keyboard.

A life-changing event – it is often a big event that can trigger ideas for writing for me. Perhaps life has altered forever due to a new relationship, career change or a fresh revelation from God. Or perhaps a difficult, sad event has caused pain – this links into the below point, but I currently have a file open on my computer in which I pour out all my responses to the death of a dear young mum in our church, and how it has been leading the church through grief. I also write in there regularly about my response to my mum’s slow slide towards death.

My disappointments and struggles – I find I am really able to wrestle with my emotions through my writing, finding clarification and, often, hope. But there is also space to sit in the confusion too and being able to do that in my writing is such a helpful gift.

Things that unsettle or agitate me – I got this idea from Sensible Shoes, in which the spiritual director suggested the characters stayed with the things that gave them uneasy or irritated feelings. Often I find those emotions end up being prompts from God about an area in my life he wants to work on. I now take time to explore these further in my journal when appropriate.

Things to be thankful for – sadly, my writing is often much more note-like when I’m writing about things I’m grateful for – it is the disappointments that I seem to be able to pour endless words over. However, I find it can be a helpful discipline, and changes my perspective and my mood, when I take the time to jot down what I’m thankful for each day.

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

Saturday, 16 March 2019

For All The Lost Words - by Liz Carter



A couple of weeks ago I was on a little break in Hay-on-Wye, the capital of all things Book. I loved the winding bookshops with their maze of stacked corridors and shelves, stretching out into infinity and back again. Every genre under the sun, from battered Mills & Boon through to ancient niche theological tomes, all sitting there in dusky basements and sun-filled attics, longing to be found once again.

I thought about how many words were in these thousands upon thousands of books. How many forgotten words, left behind in another life, scorned and ignored in place of all that is new? How many authors slogged away at desks laden with typewriters and stacks of paper, dreaming of a time when their words might be found by others? How much work and sweat and tears went into each one of these books, lost among the myriad others closing in around them?

Maybe we sometimes feel like our work will never be found, either, and will sit somewhere in a dusky computer file, basking in obscurity. Maybe some of us have written books full of lost words, words we once upon a time sat and wrote with hope hovering on the horizon. Maybe some of us have had our work published, and yet now it sits on leaden shelves in Hay-on-Wye.

But all is never lost. All the words we have written, the dreams we had, the ideas that flowed from our pens and keyboards – they have all been part of something. They’ve been a part of what has brought us to where we are, each word weaved in with who we are and what we hope for, written with passion and love and courage and humour. 

These words, so much part of us, are never lost, because God knows the words which make us up. God knows all we have given and all we have strived for; each rejection email, every cross-fingered submission, every time we hit the ‘publish’ button on Amazon. God knows our hearts so full of words, because he put them there in us, placed them deep in the depths of who we are. God made us writers to be keepers of words and releasers of words, and every one counts.

God knows the number of hairs on our heads, so how much more does he know the lost words in our lives, in all the lives? As I reflected on this in Hay, I looked at the mazes of books differently; I saw so much creativity and passion reflected there instead of a load of dusty old tomes in a cellar. I had a sense of the Creator of the Universe sparking creativity in his creation, and instead of ashes there was beauty. Instead of dust there was glory.

Your words are never wasted. Your words count – all the words, even the hastily scribbled, even the words which don’t seem to matter. For me, that’s both a delight and a challenge. I love that God keeps all my words, but also know that I am accountable for all my words, too. I want to use them for the good, to spark hope in others, to bring joy. I want to speak life through my words.

What do you long for, with your words? Wherever you are and whatever you write, know that God loves your heart of words. He loves the way you weave them together to make something beautiful. He loves that you are living in your calling, that you bring joy and light, love and laughter, freedom and challenge, fun and adventure to people’s lives. And know that your words will never be lost, even if they end up in a higgledy pile in an old bookshop.

They’re in good company.

Liz Carter is an author and blogger who likes to write about life in all its messy, painful, joyous reality. She’s never known life without pain and sickness. She likes Cadbury’s and turquoise, in equal measure, and lives in Shropshire, UK with her husband, a church leader, and two crazy teens.
Liz is the author of Catching Contentment: How to be Holy Satisfied, which was published by IVP in November. This book digs into the lived experience of a life in pain, and what contentment could possibly mean in difficult circumstances.
 







Friday, 15 March 2019

Writer's Flow



Other writers talk a lot about writer’s block. There are hundreds of blogs, even books on how to clear out the dam and get going again. I tend to have the opposite problem. Despite having perilously low amounts of energy and strength due to my chronic illness, I am full of ideas begging to be written down.

Book titles pop into my head all the time, demanding action. I dutifully write them down in my journals, or make a note in Word. Characters grab me by the collar whilst I’m eating, and start fleshing themselves out without my permission. Theological musings hijack my rest times. Scenarios leap-out at me, Cato-like, from the back of the fridge, when all I wanted was a Tunnocks bar.

Poems, well, poems are the worst, since they invariably assail me in the middle of the night, without any consideration that I might need to sleep.  I sit up bleary-eyed and write down the lines, knowing the following day I will be squinting at my spidery writing in an (often vain) attempt to decipher my own “genius.”

Please tell me I’m not alone. And please understand I am not complaining. A deluge of creativity is perhaps a balancing out for all the physical things I can’t do. Except… except that most of my writing begins in prayer. And it feels like grace (as though it is coming through and not from me). And I can’t help thinking and feeling that this outpouring is akin to the loving grace of God. There is always so much of it, that we don’t quite know what to do with it, how to frame it. It rushes into our lives unstoppably and beautifully. We want to share the bounty and don’t always know how best to do that.
 
Helpfully, God has given me the image of weaving. I sort and gather my threads, my trains of thought, the gems in my prayer journals, and then weave it all into something. Some of the wonderful things about weaving are that there are so many different colours, so many shades of light and dark, and probably little imperfections here and there that hopefully don’t show too badly. To feel my writing is woven helps me make sense of the many strands and themes, and I don’t worry too much about the bits that don’t seem to quite fit just yet.

Weaving also takes a long time. And it’s slow and steady work, which perhaps strangely helps me feel a little easier about how much material there is. Maybe that image will help you too, or maybe you are more of a knitting machine writer, zooming row upon row of wonderful neatness. We all work differently and no one way is better, and the world will be glad I hope, one day, for everything we craft. May it bless others abundantly, however much or little there is of it, and however long it takes.

Artwork my own.

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.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

A Writing Inheritance by Liz Manning


Today would have been my grandmother’s birthday.
Looking back I have very mixed memories of her. We clashed a lot, with my poor mum caught in the middle of our explosive arguments. A young feminist, I fought against my grandmother’s old fashioned expectations of boys compared to girls, her apparent favouritism of my brother, and my constant failure to earn her full love. Now, I wish I had realised how similar we were while she was still alive, that many of our clashes were in fact due to our matching characters.
It’s made me think about all those traits we inherit from our families – not the physical but the less measurable: our talents and temperaments. And I wonder:
Can writing, or a gift for writing, be inherited?
Looking back in my own family, I can certainly see patterns. 

My mother wrote the long, newsy letters to me at university each week, another particularly treasured one just before I got married. She passed down recipes with fabulous, chatty advice added at the end.
After he died, I discovered a folder of the sermons my dad preached, all written out in longhand, full of wisdom and poetry. We used his own description of how he envisaged heaven as a poignant and hope-filled highlight in his funeral.
My brother too writes sermons, as well as articles for his local paper. My younger son writes songs.
And then there’s me, feeling my way slowly forward in the online writing world.
I can’t tell if a talent or desire for written expression was bequeathed through genetic code, or whether that love of words and rhythm, communication and meaning, was deliberately nurtured through experience from one generation to the next. I don’t know if our brains are correspondingly shaped and connected or if we have simply noticed and followed each other’s habits. Maybe there are examples of writing aptitude further back in our ancestry, stifled only by lack of education and opportunity. Or perhaps all those family trips to the local library followed by afternoons, together yet separately engrossed in our chosen books, instilled irremovable aspirations in each of us.
Of course, this is just anecdotal speculation. But I’d certainly be intrigued to know if any of you come from a family of writers?
One thing I do believe though is, however the urge to write came to be implanted in me, that it was seeded by God. There is a reason why it is there and I can’t ignore it. There is a purpose for it that I am still working out. And I am grateful to be part of a family tree with both roots and branches using our writing gift in some way, large or small, for His glory.
Communication is one of His attributes, who used words to create, who was and is ‘the Word made flesh’.  So, whatever our human family background, let’s remember that any writing talent we have is ultimately an inheritance from Him and perhaps, just like I came recognise with my grandmother, we’re more like God than we realise.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

At What Point Do We Become Proper Writers?

By Rosemary Johnson

At what point can we regard ourselves as proper writers?  At what stage can we regard ourselves as published writers?  Or... deep breath... authors?  

We all ask ourselves this question repeatedly, especially those of us who have wanted to write books since childhood (like me).  I wanted to write books like Enid Blyton, because she hadn't written enough for me to read.  What is the opposite of a proper writer?  Hobby writer is a term I’ve heard banded about recently.  Some writers are very happy to stay at the hobby stage, writing for themselves, their church and families, and I’m sure that any form of writing exercises the leeetle grey cells in ways that other things we do to relax don't.  Watching television and Facebook, for instance.  Most of us do want to be published, though, don’t we?  Bestseller lists, film rights, etc etc.  And, not at all for the money.  If we wanted money, there are many more profitable occupations.

The ACW Writers’ Day in Bath, last Saturday, was geared towards new and unpublished writers. Our speakers, Sarah Grace, of Sarah Grace Publishing, and Nicki Copeland (writer, speaker, copy-editor, proofreader) were tackling the topic of approaching a publisher.  I was there, serving tea and coffee as usual, a job which I always enjoy because I get to meet (almost) everyone.   In the morning, Sarah and Nicki delivered two interesting talks and, in the afternoon, writing workshops.  Some points stood out for me:

  • Christian publishers are more likely than others to consider direct approaches from authors (not through agents)



  • Employing an editor, before submitting work to said publisher, is not always necessary, as all publishers have their house style, and, in any case, they don’t necessarily expect a slick, ready-to-publish product at the submission stage.  However, publishers’ editors will not expend time and energy on typescripts which are sloppy in spelling, grammar, punctuation or in content.  
  • When submitting a book to a publisher, writers should be able to sum up their book in a couple of sentences, and also be able to answer these questions in their covering email:
    • Who will enjoy the book and why?
    • What problem is it solving?
    • On what journey are you taking the reader?

We also talked about vanity publishing.  How can you tell vanity publishers apart from the others?  A vanity publisher will accept anything, but a legit publisher will assess whether your book is suitable for his/her list.  He/she will invest time and money in it, although the author may be expected to pay for some aspects of publishing, and/or buy an agreed number of copies (probably at a reduced author rate).  Someone mentioned the site Predators and Editors which attempts to sort out who is who.

The editing exercise after lunch was also fun.  Split infinitives is not wrong!  Me, being old fashioned, I’m shocked.

One of the best things about ACW writers days is the opportunity to network with other writers, and, as we served tea, coffee and biscuits, my friend and I thought about the proper writer question.  Alongside us were three trestle tables groaning with ACW members’ books for sale and a lively trade was being carried out.  When I look at the bookstall, I always feel inadequate, that I should have a book on there too.  I have written a book.  So has she.  Hers is available in electronic form only, and mine is at the beta-reading stage.  This week I have had two short stories accepted, for publication in ezines, one in The Copperfield Review (although it's not on there yet) and one in 101 Words (again not yet).  Publishing a novel (although I’d love to) is not the be all and end all.

Another way for the unpublished to cross that hallowed published threshold is to enter competitions.  Cue, the ACW Short Story Competition, open for another three weeks - deadline Sunday 31 March.  Send your 1000 word entries to me, the Competitions Manager, please.  Free to ACW members (for non-members, 3 for first entry and 2 for second entry).  More information on https://christianwriters.org.uk/competitions/.


Rosemary Johnson has had many short stories published, in print and online, amongst other places, Cafe Lit, The Copperfield Review and 101 Words.  She has also contributed to Together magazine.  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.