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Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Letter to the weary - by Helen Murray

Hey.

You there. Feeling overwhelmed; weighed down. This is for you. 

I know that you're so, so tired. 

I know that you've got static in your head right now; thoughts going round and round and I know that it's all jumbled up and confused and you've given up trying to make sense of things. I know that you feel that everything is going wrong and that you're further than ever from where you want to be. I know that you're exhausted trying to keep up with your racing thoughts as you struggle to work out what to do next; what to say, where to go, what to think, what your next move should be. 

I have a message for you. 

You're not on your own. I know what you're going through and I am right there with you, even in the dark. I never lose my way, and I will not allow you to be lost either, because you are my beloved child. 
'...even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.'
Psalm 139:12
You know when they tell you that the darkest hour is just before dawn, and that at the moment that you think you simply can't keep going any longer - that's when daylight might break over the horizon?  

I love the image and the compassion behind what they tell you, but it's not as simple as that. It's not a matter of holding your breath until you can see again. Only I know how long the darkness will last. It might be that at any moment glorious light will flood your life and everything will fall into place, or it could be that you can't see the way forward for quite some time. Don't be afraid of the darkness. I am in the darkness as well. Is there anywhere I can't go?

I want you to learn to breathe, even when it's dark. I want to show you how to be so calm, so still, that you can see the pinpricks of light in the night sky. I want to give you eyes to see: I want to show you the stars. 

I'm teaching you about trust.

When you are still enough, close enough, you can learn to find beauty even when your eyes cannot make out anything else. There is beauty in the dark too, because I am there.

I see you agitated because you can't see, because you don't know. I see you struggle to make sense of life, trying with all your mind to understand things that are out of your control. 

Stop. Be still. I will fight for you.
'The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.   Exodus 14:14
There are times for dynamic action. When you can see the path ahead and you know what you need to do, these are full-speed-ahead times. There are other times when I want you to do nothing. Times to hide in the shadow of my wing; close to me. Safe. Lean against me and do nothing but listen for my heartbeat. You're always asking me what to do - Lord, what should I do? - but doing is not always what is necessary.

Sometimes I want you to stop, just sit with me for a while.

When it's dark and confusing your instinct to rush off can cause you to trip over things, to dash off in the wrong direction and I would save you that.
'Be still and know that I am God.'
Psalm 46:10 
Stop thinking that it all depends on you. You are not responsible for other people. You're not responsible for their happiness, or their success, or their opinion of you. You answer to me and me only, and I say - stop. Just for a while. I am here.

Stop striving. None of your dreams depends on you. I have the keys to all the doors that you wish would swing open in front of you and my timing is perfect. I know which ones to open and which to leave closed. Trust me, child of mine. I see the end from the beginning - I know the damage that would be done if I gave you all that you ask for when you ask for it. I know you. 

Maybe the dawn is just approaching, or maybe the night will go on for a while yet; that's up to me. You can trust me; I will work it all out for good. I have promised. If the darkness persists, then that too is under my control and I want you to come close to me and hold on tightly. 
'But those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not be weary; they will walk and not be faint.'
Isaiah 40:31
I want you to come close and rest; feel the warmth of my arms around you, draw strength from my strength. If you are still enough, if you put aside the hopes and fears and worries and lean into me, you'll hear my voice whispering to you in the dark. Listen to me. I speak words of truth. I guide you. I prepare you. I inspire you. I sing over you, because I love you.

I will give you the strength to carry on. 

I will never leave you alone in the dark. 

With my love

Jesus



Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire, England, with her husband, two daughters and her mum.

As well as being a reader and a writer, she is a student of theology, a master of procrastination, a drinker of far too much coffee and a full-time swim mum. If you get a whiff of chlorine while reading the blog, it's probably because it was written on a poolside somewhere. 

Helen has a blog: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith.

You can also find her here:


Pinterest: @HelenMMurray
Twitter: @helenmurray01

Monday, 22 October 2018

Lost in Translation? by Emily Owen


Image result for proverbs 12 18         








Last week, I was in Albania. I have friends who are missionaries there and, during my time with them, they asked me to speak to a group about faith and disability and writing. I have experience in all three. What I don’t have experience in is speaking Albanian. Many who came to hear me would not understand English. We needed an interpreter…
The day before I was due to give these sessions, the lady who would be interpreting for me met with me, at her request. We spent time together, discussing how we could work together the following day. I needed her help and guidance; I’ve never spoken via an interpreter in this way before. 
The interpreter had one main thing for me to remember: stop speaking after a couple of sentences, so she could translate. Then I was to say another couple of sentences and pause again. Etc etc.
In the event, I found stopping after saying so little quite difficult – at first. I soon got the hang of it. I have a reputation for being a talker at times, but, when I was in the mindset of pausing, it wasn’t as hard as I’d anticipated.
As Christian writers, we have the privilege of taking things God puts on our hearts, and translating them into words. Perhaps a little like an interpreter.
Do we remember to pause?
The reason my interpreter wanted me to pause, was so she could be sure she didn’t miss anything.  She spent time listening to what I was saying right then. Focussing on it, digesting it, translating it, getting the point across.  Only when she’d finished did I speak the next bit.  Only when she was ready to move on. Had I simply spoken for an hour, then expected her to translate, I’m pretty sure bits would have been missed. They’d have been lost in translation.
Do we, like my interpreter, take time to pause?
To pause before God? 
To digest what he is saying to us, so that, when we come to write, nothing is lost in translation?
A few times, as I spoke, the interpreter stopped me and asked for clarification. She hadn’t quite understood what I’d said, and wanted to be sure she did before attempting to translate it.  She wasn’t embarrassed to stop me.  She wasn’t embarrassed to say, ‘I don’t understand’. 
I didn’t mind her interrupting me; I was glad she did. And she listened as I clarified my meaning. Her one aim was to be sure she translated to the best of her ability. So that nothing got lost.
As writers – and non-writers – sometimes things God puts on our hearts can seem confusing.  
We don’t understand them.  
And we might forget that we can always pause, turn to God and say, ‘I don’t understand’.  
He doesn’t mind, I’m sure of it! 
Then, as we pray in our pausing, asking for clarification and understanding, we are in a place to translate to the best of our ability. 
So that nothing gets lost.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

The beauty of Canada - a travel blog

A typical scene in the Rockies
21." And God said, 'Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds....

29.  'I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the earth and every tree that has fruit seed in it... 

31.  God saw all that he had made, and it was very good... the sixth day."              Genesis 1     



We spent most of last month in Canada, a country that had been on my bucket list for years and finally we decided to 'push the boat out'.   Not literally, but we did board the Star Princess from Whittier in Alaska for a 7 night cruise.

After a day at sea we spent several hours at the Hubbard Glacier which, although retreating, is still five miles wide.

One of my favourite authors, Lesley Pearce in her book 'Gypsy' describes the heroine's hazard journey across Alaska in search of gold.  The story came alive as we ventured the way of the pioneers whose stories and characters were included in the plot. Our adventure used the railway built later and warm and comfortable.
Skagway, the gateway to the goldfields maintains its original atmosphere, it's buildings mostly wooden. The Red Onion Saloon remains a beer parlour, and although women no longer ply their trade upstairs you can see the cribs they lived and worked in. We ate a BBQ under canvas, were similarly entertained sitting on benches and quite cold, but nothing like they had to endure.

Our next stop was Juneau where the ship moored alongisde the main streets with shops selling familiar brands, and dozens of jewellers where,  having not seen the northern lights, Brian bought me a necklace and ear-rings the stones reflecting their colours.

This photo is of the preserved old part of Ketchikan built on stilts over the river.  A broadwalk passes the houses, now shops, and in one we held a lump of gold which was surprisingly heavy and worth about £19,000!  They have 250+ days of rain, but so far we'd bright, warm sunshine.

Two days later in Vancouver we were dogged with rain, not good for photos but bus,sky train and ferry helped us keep dry as we visited the tourist places.  The third day we took this photo from Stanley Park, the sun came out, we ate outside at Lonsdale Key, visited the Sky Tower both afternoon and evening and really liked Gas Town and its famous steam clock.  Next morning we were up at 5.30 am packed and ready for our transport for our two days on the Rocky Mountaineer.

The sky was blue, the sun shone, the views from the train were awesome as we headed for Kamloops and next day Banff. There we used the cable car, and wondered at the top, how without road access, they'd built such a beautiful three-storey building.  After a late lunch we collected our hire car and began our drive up the Iceland Parkway where rain turned to snow!
We stayed overnight in a log cabin where a smattering of snow covered everything, but at the Icefield Centre three inches had fallen.  Vehicles with huge tyres took us to walk on the ten-storey thick glacier, but the Skywalk was colder and we could barely see the mountains encased in cloud.  The roads were quiet, and no ice or snow had been left on them.
After a brief stop in Jasper where there was no snow, we headed to Hinton to stay overnight.  Our 'Gypsy App' had just told us about   the Caribou in mating season being surrounded by females there were twelve in this photo opportunity.  Unfortunately the wolverine in the road, dashed away before I could snap him.
The next morning after removing three inches of snow on the car  it was time to head back.  Again, due to low cloud we missed seeing lakes, valleys and mountains, but we did see caribou, moose and two elks in the road.  And finally on our last day the sun came out for five minutes at Lake Louise enabling us to see the way the colour changed into the vivid colour you see in pictures.  


I've gone passed the usual 500 words, but hope you have enjoyed this taste of Canada.

Ruth Johnson






 







   


Saturday, 20 October 2018

NaNoWriMo Prep

I'm sure most of you have heard of NaNoWriMo and know that it stands for National Novel Writing Month. Their website tells us that in San Fransisco in 1999, twenty one people took part in the very first challenge. The challenge being, to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That's 1667 a day, or 2000 a day if you want a day off each week.

In 2017 there were over 400,000 participants in the November challenge, in six continents. The interactive site and forums are financed by fundraising amongst the participants and sponsorship by a number of writing and publishing based companies. There's merchandise available to buy, and a host of online support groups; as well as 'municipal leaders' who support individuals across the participating regions. There's a whole separate website devoted to younger participants. To 'win' NaNoWriMo, all you have to do is reach the 50,000 word target within the 30 days. There are also two other challenges during the year - CampNaNo runs in April and July, with a word count target of 20,000.

This is my fifth time to participate. I've done one CampNaNo - working on my short story collection. I've also done the November challenge three times. I've worked on two non-fiction projects, making me what's called a 'NaNo Rebel.' This is allowed and encouraged, so that non-novelists can get involved. I have written one novel, and this year my project is a also novel.

I've always been a 'pantser' as opposed to a planner, but this year I'm too busy to risk sitting down with a blank sheet of paper, as I usually do. I feel I need to be ready to write, and have lots of the thinking done, so that the short amount of time I have each day, will be productive and free of panicked staring at my computer screen. So, this year I've taken an active part in the October prep, which in NaNoLand is called 'Preptober.' There are lots of prompts and ideas to help the writer get ready. None of the actual writing should be done, or should be counted if done, but it is a time for working on storyline, setting, characters, scenes, POV etc. In the NaNoWriMo Facebook group, many MANY questions are discussed between participants. Here's a small selection...
  • What should I call my protagonist's horse?
  • What is your main character's favourite colour?
  • Fill in the blank; I was flying on the back of a dragon until ____
  • What would your male MC in his late 30s order at a bar?
  • Anyone willing to share experience with adoption?
  • Does anyone know about herbs?
  • I’m on the hunt for lesser known mythological beings...
  • Is anyone incorporating a deaf character into their story?
Most of the questions are not ones I would ask or can answer, but every so often there is one I can contribute to, and I've enjoyed most of my interactions on the page. 


One of the other things encouraged during Preptober is to think about the book cover. It may not look anything like the eventual actual cover, it's more to encourage contemplations regarding how a story can be summed up in an image. I've never done that before, and found it hugely helpful. I had been struggling with the tone of the story, and the journey the characters would take. The working title, 'Gorse Lodge', came to me straight away, after that I didn't have much. Putting some thought into the cover and (sort of) subtitle, has really helped me formulate my plan.

If you've never thought of taking part in NaNoWriMo, it might feel like it's too late for you now. Maybe in the future, it could be for you. It is a great opportunity to get a lot of words down in a short period of time. Fiction, or non fiction - both can be worked on. And even for poets.. there's NaPoWriMo - 30 poems in 30 days.

I can't wait to get started. l'll be knee-deep in NaNo when my next post comes around.
We'll see if I'm still as chipper about the subject then :D

Annmarie Miles is from Dublin, Ireland. 
She lives with her husband Richard who is a pastor in the Eastern Valley of Gwent, in South Wales. She writes short stories, magazine articles, devotional pieces for Christian radio, and blogs about her faith at www.auntyamo.com Her first collection of short stories published in 2013, is called 'The Long & The Short of it' She is working on a second collection due for publication in 2018, and a non-fiction book about being an overweight Christian called, 'Have mercy on me O Lord, a slimmer.'






Thursday, 18 October 2018

Rediscovering the Joy, by Georgie Tennant


Writing can be a serious business.  If you are dogged by deadlines and your inbox contains an influx of demanding emails from editors, publishers, marketing managers, it can be hard to keep the pure joy of writing alive.  I am not yet in a position to have experienced any of the above – but, as last summer approached, I was struck by a realisation: everything I had written recently was serious and hard-hitting. This was understandable – I have walked paths of pain and loss and writing can be cathartic.  Seeing others connect with it, too, is somehow redemptive.  But sometimes, you need to put all that aside and rediscover the joy.

For the first time, last year, I booked myself onto the ACW annual writing weekend at the beautiful Scargill House in North Yorkshire.  As I left work for the weekend, a colleague spoke some wise words: “I know your writing helps you work things through,” she said, “but try to enjoy yourself – write something just for fun, just for you.”  Her words stayed with me and I did just that.

After a morning of inspiring talks and a bit of private writing time, we had a choice of how we might spend the afternoon.  The workshops on offer, if I recall, were ‘Art,’ ‘African Drumming,’ and some kind of ‘Expressive Dance.’  I was stumped. My stick people don’t even look like stick people, I have about as much rhythm as a toddler at Rhyme Time and – well I’m not even going to try to describe my dancing abilities.  I felt like hopping on the back of the nearest sheep and directing it to the local train station to get me out of there. 

Fortunately, my rescue was imminent.  Martin Horton, inspired by an activity he had done himself, added a last minute workshop to the list.  This one had my name on it.  It is one of my best memories of the whole weekend.  He had come across a poet called Brian Bilston, on Twitter, who had written a poem called ‘Index of First Lines,’ (you can read it here) and had challenged the general public to borrow his first lines as inspiration for their own poems.  Reading his poem was amusement enough, but what followed was just inspired. 
Each of us in attendance, scribbled away, unable to stifle snorts and giggles, as we wrote for the pure and sheer joy of it.  I don’t think anything we produced would gain us first place in any poetry contests, but the level of silliness and enjoyment in that room for that hour were a delight to experience.  Someone wrote about making strudel with her grandmother.  Someone else wrote about the impossible search for missing household items.  My offerings are below.  I don’t promise that they are great literary creations – but I hope they’ll make you chuckle and maybe even inspire you, too, to go off and write something for no other reason than pure, sheer enjoyment.

I am a bowl, chipped at the rim
I am a bowl, chipped at the rim,
I am a lightbulb, low wattage and dim.
I am a spade that’s missing the handle,
I am a flip-flop, not an elegant sandal.
I am a tyre, deflated and flat,
A racquet with snapped strings, no longer a bat.
I am an air bed with a definite leak
A librarian’s door with a very loud squeak.
I am a bowl, chipped at the rim -
Not whole or complete, but still chosen by Him.


Please don’t do that, it’s disgusting 
(based on real - life with my boys!)

Please don’t do that, it’s disgusting.
Why did you think
it was a good idea
to lift the toilet seat
With your tongue?

No, not that either -
Don’t you understand
how many people
have peed in
the jacuzzi water
you’ve just drunk?

Please refrain from that too – 
no – head out
from under his bottom -
You don’t know where it’s been!

I know you didn’t mean to,
but please try
not to fall 
in the dentist’s rubbish bin next time -
it really is quite
awful to think what
might have been in there,
when your head
ended up in there too.


Georgina Tennant is a secondary school English teacher in a Norfolk Comprehensive.  She is married, with two sons, aged 10 and 7 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

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

The words that bring life By Claire Musters



I recently went on a weekend retreat with the women from the book study group that I run. During our time together I was really struck by the simple yet profound ways that words provided encouragement and challenge to us all.

Each woman arrived to find a framed picture featuring the one word the person who created them felt God would use to describe her (as well as an accompanying scripture). Alongside other helpful treasures, like chocolate, notebooks and tissues (the essentials ;)), there was also a card for each woman. Contained within it were the verses and other words that the team organising the weekend had felt were specifically for her.

As we went through our time together, we focused on drawing close to Jesus as individuals but also as a group. One of the activities we did was prayerfully write down a short phrase or word for one another on paper that had been cut into petal shapes. Each one of us was then able to create a flower picture out of these petals, which contained powerful words of truth.

In the weeks that have followed the retreat, we have all been in touch much more regularly and have discovered that many of us are facing real difficulties day by day. But whether we are struggling or not, isn’t it true that each one of us is bombarded by negativity and pressure via the press and social media? 

There have been moments when I have felt prompted to hide myself away and read through all the little phrases and words I received over the retreat weekend. As I’ve done so, I’ve felt God whisper to my heart: ‘This is the truth. This is what I think of you. This is who you are.’

It is so important that we take time to slow down in order to read and listen to words that uplift us and bring us life (obviously there is no better place to start than in the Word of God). 

But as Christian writers we also have the absolute privilege of being able to put down on paper words that can bring life to others. While that is a huge responsibility, having seen firsthand again what a difference just a few small words can make to someone’s heart, I want to celebrate that there are so many of us writing truth. May we stand firm in our calling even when it is tough – and take the time to soak in the truth for ourselves daily too.

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. To find out more about her, please visit www.clairemusters.com and @CMusters on Twitter. 

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Do you craft your draft? - by Liz Carter



As it’s the crazy run up to the release of my first book, and I’ve been writing plenty of articles about #CatchingContentment, I thought I’d write about something different. I’ll let you into a secret: I know my book is non-fiction, but way before I wrote this one I was working on some fiction stuff. Specifically, YA fiction. It’s still an out-there dream of mine to get some fiction published, and maybe I’ll have some time to work on it soon.

I was thinking a little about how we write, whether fiction or non-fiction, and how we’re all different. And I wondered how you craft your draft?

Me - I write fast.

Some would say too fast, but it’s how I work. I get in a flow and I can’t get out of it; it grips me in its vice until it’s ready to let me go, shaken and shattered. And it’s incredible. I love the process, the passion, the adrenaline high.

One crazy day I wrote 20,000 words. I had a free day, no children around, nothing to disturb me. I don’t think I ate. It was like a wave I just had to ride, and the feeling was like no other. I think it was 2am when the wave crashed on shore and I collapsed on the sand (and headed for the ice-cream van.) Most days, I think 2,000 is a fairly realistic goal for me, although it varies. On days busy with work, I may get 400 down last thing. I try to do something each day, though, to keep that muscle primed. 

What about you – do you have a word count target for each day?

And then comes… the editing.

Some say that you should take utmost care in your first drafts so that editing isn’t so strenuous. You should give your words time and take things slowly. Make each word count. Others say the opposite. Get the words down, then you can craft them.

I’m with them. If I stop every second sentence, doing the whole is-this-telling-not-showing thing we all do, then I’d lose that lovely itchy flow and it’d all be gone and I’d be banging my keyboard in fury. Instead, I use an adjective or even a dreaded adverb. As a placeholder. It makes sense to me – it doesn’t mean my finished work will be full of adverbs and adjectives and other unmentionables. It means I can stop at each sentence in the edit stage and say ‘Aaah. ‘“Yes,” she said, grumpily.’ Now how can I show that? How can I bring this to life?’

If I tried to beautifully craft each word, each phrase, every piece of dialogue in my novel as I drafted it for the first time, then I would be there a very, very long time. But I don’t need to be. We don’t need to hold ourselves to a perfect standard of showing-not-telling writing in order to produce something wonderful, for the wonder will come with the work. The inspiration will come with that initial free flow of ideas where you sit there and your fingers fly over the keyboard, barely pausing to take breath. Then you go back and make it all great.

As for show-not-tell, I prefer show-and-tell, because I think you need a balance of both. Too much description can be a bad thing, just as too little can sink a story. I like the words show-and-tell anyway, because they remind me of my young self, sitting with my 30 five-year-olds in a circle, eager to share their item of the week with their classmates. Their Barbie dolls, Transformers, matchbox cars and, on one memorable occasion, their dad’s solid silver whisky flask. (‘Does your Daddy know you brought that to show us today?’ ‘No. I just borrowed it.’ ‘Oh. Shall I keep it safe for you?’)
Show-and-tell is good.

What are your thoughts on the initial crafting of your books? Do you rush ahead like me, desperate to get it all down, riding on that euphoric writing wave, or do you find it more intuitive to write as you mean to go on – to check that thesaurus every few words, to chase those adverbs away? We’re all different, and different ways work better for different folk.

We all reflect the creativity God has imbued in us in different ways. And thank goodness for that!


Photo by Lonely Planet on Unsplash
 
 
Liz Carter is a writer and blogger who writes about the painful and messy times of life. Her first book, Catching Contentment, is published by IVP on 15th November and can be pre-ordered here.