Thursday, 30 April 2015

Eight Podcasts for Writers

Today on the blog I welcome back writer and podcaster, Andrew Chamberlain as a guest blogger. Andrew is a successful podcaster and today he gives us an overview of eight top podcasts for writers. I already download two of these and I will certainly be looking for the others. 

Eight Podcasts for Writers

Podcasts are a great (and free) resource for writers who want to learn more about the craft, listen to some good writing, and pick up tips on how to present and market their own work. These podcasts all deliver on at least one of these objectives, and all of them can be accessed at the websites below, or from iTunes.

I should declare an interest at this point; number three on the list, The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt is the podcast that I present on a fortnightly basis. My aim with the podcast is to provide practical, accessible advice that writers can apply straight away to their own writing.

So my eight recommendations are:

1. Writing excuses

Four experienced writers come together to give tips and advice on the craft. The contributors tend to write genre fiction: fantasy, romance, and science fiction, but their advice applies across all genres. They are a pretty eclectic bunch, including someone who works in the medium of comics and a puppeteer. The real selling point for me is that these are all people with a lot of experience in the craft and what they say is both interesting and relevant. The show tends to be around 15 minutes long because, to quote the contributors: “you’re in a hurry, and we’re not that smart” – which goes to show that a little well placed humility is a good thing!

2. The Creative Penn

This podcast is presented by the self-published author and entrepreneur Joanna Penn. Jo is a consummate professional, both as an author and as an entrepreneur. Each episode starts with a few minutes of news and comment on the world of publishing, and especially self-publishing. After that she usually interviews a guest on the show. This podcast is especially useful for finding out more about the process of publishing and marketing your own work.

3. The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt

As mentioned above, this is my own podcast. The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt is a bi-weekly show, created with the express intention of providing practical advice on creative writing to as wide an audience as possible. Most episodes last about 20 minutes and explore an aspect of the craft with practical applications. Occasionally I’ll have a guest that I interview: a professional editor, author or, very occasionally, a creative person from another art form.

4. Helping writers become authors

Presented by the Christian author and mentor K M Weiland, this podcast focuses on the craft of writing, exploring the techniques and tips to improve structure, characterisation, and a range of other issues related to becoming a great writer.

5. Grammar Girl.

As you might expect from the title, this long established podcast gives regular doses of advice on grammar, punctuation, and English usage. Presented by Mignon Fogarty, the podcast describes itself as “Your friendly guide to the world of grammar, punctuation, usage, and fun developments in the English language.” Grammar Girl has been running for a number of years and the back catalogue is a useful reference source.

My final three recommendations are an acknowledgement to the fact that one of the most important things a writer can do is read (or in this case listen) to good writing.

6. The Guardian books podcast

A weekly look into the world of literature, with author interviews, readings and discussions. The podcast taps into the world of publishing as well as current literary trends and ranges far and wide across genre and literary fiction.

7. New Yorker: Fiction Podcasts

The New Yorker Fiction Podcast is one of a number of podcasts from The New Yorker. Each month the magazine invites someone who has had a short story published there to pick their favourite story from the archives. The guest then reads that story and discusses it with the fiction editor. It’s a pleasure to listen to these stories, and a very good source of insight for techniques in literary short fiction.

8. A good read

A Good Read has been running for nearly 40 years on BBC Radio 4. In the show the main presenter is joined by two guests and all three of them choose a book, which they all then read and review on the programme. I find listening to the podcast of this show provides a double benefit, the show itself is entertaining, but also it provides a view of the critical process that readers engage in.

I hope you have found these helpful, please feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments section.



Andrew J Chamberlain is a writer, speaker, and creative writing tutor. He is the presenter of The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt, a podcast that offers practical direct advice on the craft. Andrew has self-published a number of science fiction short stories, and his novel, Urban Angel was published by Authentic Media. He has also worked on a number of ghost-writing collaborations, including the bestselling: Once an Addict with Barry Woodward.

In November Andrew will be a guest speaker at the annual Lakes School of Writing conference. You can reach him at:

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Are all our hungers satisfied … are we reaching hungry readers? by Clare Weiner

Time flies: I'm sitting here re-writing my blog post, since all references to Lent are now definitely old news. Alleluia!

A jumping-off point for a blog piece is always useful, and I'd used as a starting point a phrase from the Lent Book I read this year, which followed the Lord's Prayer, a different sentence each week. The phrase is from the section 'Give us this day our daily bread', in which we considered God's provision for human needs. The greatest human need, bought for us on Good Friday, is the gift of eternal life … and the writer, leading up to this, says that 'All our hungers are satisfied in Jesus…'

This is a theological statement, and a wide-ranging one. I had a think about it, and came up with Mary's song, where she states 'he has satisfied the poor, and the rich he has sent hungry away …' (Luke 1 vv. 46-55) and that other song, in the Old Testament, Hannah's song after the birth of her son, Samuel (1 Sam. 2 vv.1-3). In Hannah's case, her hunger to be accepted as a 'real woman', only to be satisfied if she gave birth to a baby and hopefully a male one, was indeed satisfied after much prayer by God's gift. In Mary's case, the hunger was not for a child … it appears from the song that possibly Mary already had a concern or hunger for the poor and the marginalised, we might even make a guess that this was in part why she was given the amazing task and honour of becoming the mother of the Messiah. A messiah who would not be a rich and powerful king, alienated from his people, but one who ruled 'justly, loved mercy, and walked humbly with God' (Micah 6 v. 8).

As writers, what do we hunger for? As our Chair, Philip Davies, mentioned in his letter (Spring Magazine), writers are often almost overly concerned to 'get published'. So is publication an end in itself? Do we need recognition, to complete ourselves?

Isn't creation possibly an end in itself? Can writing be the 'therapy' which assembles and makes sense of thoughts? And not necessarily something which needs to be sent out into the world to find readers? Aren't our hungers already satisfied by the knowledge that we have eternal life through Jesus? Is that not what we have been celebrating over the Easter season?

And have you ever felt that a passive verb which is made up of 'getting' plus a participle is hungry for a neater, more active, less needy way to express itself?

Publication - to spread the news … to make it public. A great feeling, to see our books as real objects, even greater to be unable to count readers, there are so many … Creativity itself is a hunger or desire: the desire to make patterns from disparate objects or thoughts. Creativity is also a quality or aspect of our God. All we do is like mere imitation of what he has done, using his bright materials to create meaningful patterns. And there are hungers out there, people hungry to make a meaningful pattern from a chaotic world. Possibly never more so.

Published we may be, but reaching readers? There's another question: are we 'getting the word out'? Is our writing a gift used to God's purpose? Does it satisfy our hunger - or the reader's?

About the Author

Clare Weiner, (as Mari Howard), writes contemporary, family-based fiction exploring change, diversity, and reconciliation, using her background in social sciences and religion. Think Joanna Trollope or JoJo Moyes, though influences include Kamila Shamsie and Khalid Hosseini, and like them she observes and critiques her own cultural traditions, the clashes and the outcomes. Clare believes in writing 'crossover' which gives a balanced view of today's Christians living closely alongside convinced secularists and diversities of beliefs.

She has 3 grown children, no grandkids, 3 cats and a long-suffering husband, was born a Londoner, studied in Newcastle, and now lives in Oxford. To escape the compulsion of writing, she is also a painter, likes gardening, spending time with friends (& retail therapy), and helps organise her church walking and Exploring Spirituality groups.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

When Dreams Become Reality

Once upon a time a talented American musician called Byron, was spending some time with God, seeking to understand where the music industry was going. He saw a picture in his mind of a CD with a big bite taken out of it. He knew the music industry was headed into a new world, and he got the idea that there should be a company built for Christian artists where their music could be downloaded from the internet (this all happened in 1997, pre Napster, iTunes, etc). The vision of the CD with the bite out of it led to the name Eat-A-CD – but who would take this idea and run with it?

Fast forward a few years: Byron was chatting with his Scottish friend Gregor. Gregor was expressing his frustration at trying to find new Christian music, this was all the opening Byron needed to share his vision for Eat-A-CD and see if Gregor was interested in going for it. Gregor shared the idea with his brother and sister-in-law, Innes and Caroline, and the dream got that bit closer to reality.

Fast forward another few years and is now up and running: we dropped the hyphens from the name; we extended the idea from being only for music to also including eBooks, poetry, teaching, resources, photography; we now have over 80 artists on the site.

So what is Well that’s always a bit difficult to explain:

· is a sales channel – selling digital downloads from the website, and physical products at events

· also has a radio programme - a weekly show aired on Revival FM, showcasing the products available for download from (mainly music, but also includes readings from eBooks, poetry, teaching)

· We have get togethers with artists, often leading to collaborations between the artists.

· We work with charities and local organisations in promoting independent artists.

We’re passionate about helping and supporting independent artists in any way we can. There are lots of amazingly talented people out there. People who have been given a gift to sing, to write, play instruments. People who are often looking for a launch pad to spring out from in taking their creative offerings from dream to reality.

At we’re always looking for new artists to join our catalogue, so if you’re interested in having your book on, get in touch with Caroline -

And somewhere in amongst all this company dreaming and planning Caroline wrote her debut novel, ‘What If?’. Because once you’ve started pursuing one dream you realise you have other dreams waiting to be brought to life too.

‘What If?’ is about a fourteen year old girl called Rachel and the things that happen to her at school as she steps out into the brave new world of taking part in the school play and imagining her school days with Jesus walking beside her. It’s not an auto biography, but Caroline definitely used her memories and experiences of high school to write it.

About the Author

Caroline lives in Paisley with her husband, Innes, and three children. She is marketing director at, author of What If?, on the committee of the Scottish Fellowship of Christian Writers, as well as some other bits and pieces that keep life interesting and varied!

Author website



Monday, 27 April 2015

Why a Bit of Polish Matters, by Lucy Mills

It doesn't matter how good the story. It doesn't matter how amazing the theme. Regardless of the strength of the plot or the depth of your characters, I may still stop reading.

Because if your book is badly edited and showing a need for a good proofread, I will struggle to get through it. When punctuation is missing or in the wrong place, it's like a hiccup inside my head. I'm no longer immersed in the story; I'm pulled back into the nuts and bolts of poor syntax, bad grammar and dysfunctional punctuation.

Polish matters. I'm talking about the basic stuff.  It's so easy, when you're proofreading something you've written and know so well, not to see the obvious. But when you're a reader, reading for the story's sake, a mistake will rise up and slap you in the face.

I'm a fast reader. The words tumble into my brain and a mistake will jar on me. The flow is interrupted. If that happens too many times, I just won't bother. It's awkward if I know the author. I can't review it, because I can barely get through it, but I don't like to say so.

Polish matters.

You might call me picky. You may not even recognise the problem. But it will lose you readers if you don't pay attention, if you neglect to re-read, re-read and oh, yes - read again.

It's not just in published works - if your blog posts are full of typos or your tweets have errant apostrophes, it says something about you as a writer, whether you like it or not.

It's so easy to click post, or update, or send these days. We've all published something online - a blog post, for example - and then realised the day after that it says 'you' where it should say 'your', or that there is a word missing, or a name misspelt. In our eagerness to say what we wish to say, in order to get it out there, to join the debate, we don't scan what we type. We just send.

There will be those who roll their eyes at me. Fair enough. You don't have to agree. Maybe it doesn't jar you; maybe it doesn't interrupt your flow; maybe you can rise above it. But there are plenty who are like me, and if you want to reach as wide an audience as possible, you have to allow for us.

Because we believe that polish matters. And when I write, I want to do the best I can. Not just in what I say but in the detail of how I say it. My idea will be easier to ingest if I present it well. For me, if I'm going to do what I do 'for the Lord', I want to give it my best. The last thing it should be is missing the mark because hey, people won't mind. 

A bit of polish is the mark of a professional. It also shows that someone cares enough to give their best.

If you know you type fast and don't check back - perhaps you need to tell yourself to take a breath and read through slowly before you click that button. It may be a bit frustrating, when you want to get it done, but people will respond to something well written. They'll be more willing to read the other things you write, or plan to write in the future.

Now I know there will be those who struggle with this, as I struggle with other things. Maybe it's an issue with dyslexia. Maybe you have difficulty typing, for whatever reason. I'm not having a go at you. But if you know it's an issue, you can put a process in place where your words are sieved by someone else - to see those things that need correcting. Find the people in your life who will give your writing the polish it needs.

I used to be the ACW Competitions' Manager. Some entries were let down by typos and punctuation errors, things that could so easily have been corrected. If they had been, the writing would have had more chance to shine.

It may take a little more time. You may think I'm being picky.

But I still say a bit of polish matters.

Image: volkspiderCreative Commons License

Lucy Mills considers herself a non-fiction writer but does write the odd novel in November. Her first book, Forgetful Heart: remembering God in a distracted world, was published in 2014 by Darton, Longman and Todd (DLT). She's written articles for various Christian magazines and is an editor at Magnet magazine. She also writes poetry and prayers.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

An Audience of One by Fiona Lloyd

I’m starting to feel old. Our eldest got married last year. Married! It feels like only five minutes since we brought him home from the hospital, wondering if we were up to job of caring for this tiny scrap of humanity with the lung capacity of a budding opera star.

I’m surprised our postman didn’t go off sick with a bad back. For the next couple of weeks we were inundated with cards and presents: cute little outfits (mostly in varying shades of blue), teddy bears twice the size of our son, rattles designed more with the fist of a sturdy two-year-old in mind.

Along with the piles of welcome goodies came reams of advice, some of it not so welcome. Make sure you put him down on his back / front. Establish a four-hourly feeding routine / let him feed on demand. Put him on the potty from day one (really?) or let him do things at his own pace.

There’s lots of advice on offer when it comes to my writing, too. One of the things I’ve appreciated about being part of the Association of Christian Writers is the number of people who are willing to support and encourage me – as well as give constructive criticism – as I seek to hone my skills. So I’d like to thank…oh no, that’s my Oscars speech.

What I’ve noticed, however, is that not all writers take the same approach. Some have an idea in their head and simply run with it. Others – more methodical – seek to identify a gap in the market and then tailor their work accordingly. A recent article I came across suggested that writers tend to be planners or pantsers (and that sometimes it’s helpful to switch from our normal way of doing things).

Reflecting on this has caused me to take a step back and consider. Do I prefer a planned or spontaneous approach? Who am I really writing for…and how can I ensure it reaches them? How can I make sure my manuscript is the best it possibly can be? Have I checked it for speeling misstakes and grammatical, errors?

All of these are important questions, and how I respond will influence the progression and impact of my writing. But for me, there’s something more fundamental: Am I writing to glorify God? This is not about building a readership, targeting a particular publisher, or even writing a piece for the church magazine. It’s about me and God. It’s about seeking to honour him in the way I live. And so every word that I commit to paper (or screen) should first of all be written for an audience of One.

Fiona Lloyd works part-time as a music teacher, and serves on the worship leading team at her local church. She enjoys writing short stories, and is working on her first novel. Fiona self-published a violin tutor book in 2013, and blogs at She is married with three children. Fiona is ACW's membership secretary.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Where the characters lead

I am a writer.

Stop laughing! Yes, I know you know I’m a writer, but sometimes I need to remind myself.

Sometimes life gets in the way and I forget that I’m a writer. Or I don’t believe it.

When the words won’t come—or they come in the wrong order. When ideas tumble about in my mind and refuse to separate out into their individual stories. I suppose I could write about pint-sized pirates travelling about in old-fashioned caravans, but it wouldn’t have quite the same impact as pirates sailing to adventure on the high seas in one story and bards travelling in a painted caravan to solve a mystery in another. (See what just happened? They separated out! Excuse me while I make a note ...)

I am a writer.

Even when I don’t know what to say. When I think no one will be interested in my words.

I am a writer.

Because words won’t let go of me. Characters whisper in my ear—or shout at me, or pull my hair—until I listen and put the words down on paper (or more accurately, on screen). I see their lives, hear their conversations, and I do my best to transcribe with sensitivity and accuracy. Even when I disagree with them.

‘You can’t say that!’ I protest, when one of them says something hurtful.

She just looks at me and points at the screen. ‘Write it exactly as I said it.’

‘Don’t go down that path!’ I know they’re headed for danger if they follow that route.

 But they go their own way. And they learn along the way. And surprisingly, so do I.

Their stories are sometimes frustrating, annoying, and even embarrassing. But they’re rarely boring.

Except when I mess up.

Hey! I see the writer gave you blue eyes today. I prefer your brown ones.
That’s nothing. She said your father died at the beginning of this book. She forgot she killed him off in the last one!
Do you think she’ll remember that we’re actually enemies?
Probably, so we’d better make the most of this brief time as friends.
Shall we walk off into the sunset?
We could, but that would be a bit of a cliché. The kind the writer would write.
Too true. I fancy a robust duel. What do you say?
Swords or pistols?

Just as well they aren’t pointing those things at me.

Oops! Gotta run!

Adrianne Fitzpatrick has around 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 first novel, Champion of the Chalet School, was published by Girls Gone By Publishers in 2014. 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.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

A whisper from the enemy - by Helen Murray

I am working on my first novel.

Well, it would be more accurate to say that actually, I am not working on my first novel. My first novel, or what there is of it, is saved in a less than organised fashion as an assortment of documents on my hard drive (and several other places as well - best to be on the safe side) and also on my desk in a stack of notebooks and document wallets and on scraps of paper and post-it notes. 

I was going great guns until a few weeks ago, when an old enemy came to his senses and decided to get up, dust himself off and throw a few punches. I had knocked him over late last year and he's been a bit woozy lately, but I knew he'd be back at some point, and I was right. 

He only had to whisper a few words, but they were well-chosen ones, because he knows me. 

This is what he said:
'You really think you can write a novel?' 
It wasn't just the words, it was the tone of his voice - sneering, amused, disbelieving, patronising. I crumbled. 

I have always wanted to write a novel. Novels, I should say. Plural. I have this idea for a story, and also two others, and more, I think, if I really concentrated and got hold of some of the things that play at the corners of my imagination. Ever since I was a child I have known this is what I wanted to do and it has taken me until middle age actually to do it. Or to get this far, anyway. 

Suddenly my confidence has gone. I find myself regretting that I ever mentioned to a single soul that I intended to write a book. Why did I think it a good idea to share this ridiculous flight of fancy with anyone? Now they'll ask me how it's going and I'll say... what will I say? 

I think my characters are not three-dimensional enough, my story isn't interesting enough, I don't have the skill to make a reader care about what happens. Indeed, if I am making excuses not to write the thing, then why on earth do I imagine that it might be compelling enough for someone to read?

Am I just afraid of hard work?

All that stuff. 

Now, I've read widely about writing (because reading about it is one hundred per cent easier than doing it) and so I know that this kind of thing happens to many writers. 

What's needed is determination and perseverance and a good right-hook when the enemy opens his mouth with those insidious whispers. That's all there is to it, and I should just push on and keep laying down the words. That's the thing. Novels are written a sentence at a time, after all. It's hard, this writing-a-book thing. This is why not just anybody writes novels, isn't it? If if was easy, everyone would do it. 

The reason that this isn't comforting is I don't yet know if I'm one of those people who can do it - does do it - or one of the also rans, who decided it was too hard and gave up and suddenly got their life back. 

I imagine it's easier if you have written a book already. There! You know you can do it! When book number two, or three, or nineteen stalls a little in the making, you can tell the enemy with great authority, 'Go away. I am a novelist. I know I can do this.' 


Or is it? Perhaps with success comes a new pressure: the pressure to be as good as you were last time. The pressure to produce another book with a tight deadline, to get good reviews... no, perhaps it doesn't get easier. I suspect I'll always find a way to make something hard even harder. 

I'd like to find out what the whole book-writing thing looks like from that angle, though. Get this under my belt. Have publishing companies fighting with each other for the opportunity to publish my novel.... but there lies another of the enemy's hand grenades: 
'You're going to invest all that time and energy into writing that book - what makes you think anyone will want to publish it?' 
Stop saying that! The odds are against it, I know. I am an unknown writer with no platform and only half a novel. And yet... sometimes, occasionally, once in a blue moon, an unknown author gets a break. Someone sees something special in their story and whoosh! a career takes off.  Maybe?  Is it possible? 

(That sound - that's the enemy. He's laughing.) 

Why does anyone do this?  I do wonder, sometimes. The angst and the anguish and the over-consumption of coffee and custard creams and the backache because my chair isn't quite right for the desk and the long hours slogging away at something I believe in without knowing if anyone else ever will. 

And yet... he hasn't put my light out yet. Not quite. 

I've only found one way to shut up the enemy, so far. To buy me a bit of time. 
'You really think you can write a novel?' 
'I don't know, but there's only one way to find out.'

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

Having spent time as a Researcher, Pastoral Worker and Hand Therapist, Helen is now a full time mum and writer, currently working on her first novel. 

As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims and collects ceramic penguins.

She has two blogs: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith, and Badger on the Roof where readers are treated to a blow by blow account of her novel-writing progress, or lack of. 

You can also find her on:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray
Twitter: @helenmurray01

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

A Sower went out to sow

This picture was taken in Dobrimirka Bulgaria in Jume 2014 - Daniella is in the yellow top
I’ve just got back from High Leigh Conference Centre, a place I first visited when I was about nineteen.  High Leigh ... the very name conjures up so many memories. Those mellow red brick walls and peaceful grounds seem soaked in prayer and encounters with God. And this time was no exception.

The Forum was scheduled  for the week after Easter 2015, to enable delegates to go on to the London Book Fair if they wished  And some of them did. For others, everything was new – theirs were fledgling projects, made more difficult by the political situation in which they worked with little training and less money. But these young men and women, from all over Europe and beyond, overcame language and political barriers, and grasped the opportunity to share the joys and challenges of publishing for their own cultures with excellence.

 I had no speaking or leading responsibilities, and was very much a ‘proud mama’ watching  my three friends from Bulgaria, Svetlana, Daniella and Borislava  pick up the baton and  teach others some of the things that they had learned over the 15 + years that Leah magazine had been in existence

The first issues of Leah had consisted of translated articles since they knew of no Bulgarian Christian writers who could write for a women’s magazine. Then they attended a Media Associates   [ ]    event at High Leigh in 1996. No writers? No problem! On the Bookstall they discovered the Christian Writers Club,a book by missionary publisher Joyce Chaplin.  Ten sessions of basic instruction, but written in English. Undaunted they bought a copy, translated it into Bulgarian, called a dozen would be writers together and the Bulgarian Christian Writers Club was formed. It met every month for 9 months of each year, and they now have a stable of about 30 competent writers for the magazine.

In the early days of the magazine’s existence, people were wary of taking out subscriptions since this wasn’t customary in the Communist system. With very few bookshops the only way to make the magazine known was to visit churches. Over the years they have devised products to go with the magazine which they can take to the publicity events, among them a shopping bag, mouse mat, tea towel and a lovely pendant necklace of a cage from which a dove flies free. Leah has sparked off a vision for the women of Bulgaria to become a potent force for change. The first book in the Leah Library, ‘Hello diary’ is due for publication in September. They dream of an e-magazine and an online shop. What else? Watch this space.

In the first session of the Forum we were each given a broad bean and encouraged to plant and nurture it. In a few months we should have a harvest of many beans from that one plant. That little bean I encouraged the Leah ladies to plant 20 years ago, now rather resembles the Beanstalk in the story of Jack. Who knows what more treasures are hidden at the top? Remember the sower that went out to sow?  I’m going to plant my bean this afternoon and ask God to plant a new thing in my life. What about you? By Marion Stroud

Marion Stroud has written 26 books and many magazine articles and Bible reading notes. She is a former Trustee for Media Associates International and still one of their cross cultural trainers. Her most recent titles are 'Dear God It's Me and It's Urgent' and 'It's Just You and Me Lord' published by Monarch and in the USA by Discovery House. she i s represented by Mary Keeley at Books and Such Literary Management.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Ruth Johnson writes

Isaiah 30:21  Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way walk in it.”

It’s now eleven days since my husband retired.  And sixteen days to a General Election both I believe will bring changes to our lives.  What is the Lord saying about my future, or our nation’s future?  If we need to seek wisdom, He tells us to ask.  Will voting for the right or left take us on God’s path?

The Lord drew my attention to Jeremiah 6:16 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.  But you said, ‘We will not walk in it’.   In reading that in  the context of Chapter 6, it could be describing the age in which we live.  That caused me to ask, “Why wouldn’t everyone want to walk in His paths, and find rest for their souls?” 

The Amplified Bible reads, “…ask for the eternal paths, where the good, old way is…” Isaiah 46:9 says “Remember the former things, those of long ago.  I am God, and there is no other, I am God and there is none like me. v.10. “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.  I say, My purpose will stand and I will do all that I please.”

It’s a comfort to know the Lord’s love and truth endures forever when the television and newspapers report wars and rumours of wars, famines, earthquakes, etc. predicted in Matt.24. Eighteen days ago Passover and Easter came together, a rare occurrence, but another anomaly was the third of four blood moons in two years.  Joel 2:31; Acts 2:20; Rev.6:12 talks of the moon turning to blood before the day of the Lord. History reveals a blood moon often coincides with major uprisings in Jewish history. Four so close, are surely a warning? Between the first and second moon, Israel came under attack through tunnels dug under their borders. Between second and third, the US has been negotiating a nuclear deal, despite Iran’s rhetoric to destroy Israel and Western nations.

The Bible urges us to watch, pray and consider those ancient/eternal paths.  Jesus, a descendent of Abraham, became the ultimate sacrificial lamb dying on a cross and opening up a new path from death to life. It was the ancient path Jesus, born a Jew, walked on with God.  And God’s way that the Holy Spirit was first released to Jewish believers.  History shows God’s ancient path, His love of His chosen people, and the land  He has provided for them.  And the truth is, if we walk with Father, Son and Holy Spirit in His way we too will find rest for our souls and peace that passes understanding.  So we can be prepared, galvanized and excited about the future whatever it may hold?

Monday, 20 April 2015

In the wilderness

I've long felt an affinity with Elijah: not that I could ever approach his single-minded devotion to God's cause, or his self-denial. or even his energy. It's in his humanity I feel empathy with this great man of God, and especially when he seem to despair. We are told that despair is sinful and unChristian, because it is the antithesis of faith and trust in God, but I'm sure I'm not alone in having felt at times almost that level of abject discouragement.
My acquaintance with Elijah comes not only from the story in Kings but also from having on several occasions sung in Mendelssohn's oratorio - more of an opera, I sometimes think, such is its high drama! There's that moment when Elijah, having done great works for God, is getting death threats from Jezebel. To solemn chords from the orchestra and a lone cello, he trudges wearily into a desert that is spiritual as well as geographical.  'Now take away my life,' he pleads. '...let me die, for my days are but vanity!' He has called down God's fire on the sacrifice, put Baal's prophets to the sword, and restored rain to Israel's fields; but the fickle Israelites have turned against both Elijah and the God he serves. 'O Lord, I have laboured in vain,' he laments. 'Yea, I have spent my strength for nought.' 
The story is well enough known for me not to rehearse it here, and Elijah's reward seems, in the end, fitting for this valiant warrior of God, even avoiding death itself. But I wonder if anyone reading these posts has felt that they too have 'laboured in vain'? It's hard for us humans with our limited insight to see what the results of our efforts might be; we just have to 'cast our bread upon the waters,' trusting that ' all things God works for good with those who love him, those whom he has called according to his purpose.' If we believe that God has called us to write for his glory, then we have to battle on regardless of the desert that seems at times to stretch out on every side. I know this to be true, but I can't claim always to have an untroubled faith that skims serenely over life's setbacks and lack of tangible achievement, and so I'm encouraged that even Elijah had his moments of deep doubt and certainty of failure.
In Mendelssohn's work he does at last gather himself up, assured that there were still 'seven thousand in Israel, knees which have not bowed to Baal', and sings, 'I go on my way in the strength of the Lord; for thou art my Lord, and I will suffer for thy sake.' And here I see that I have truly parted company with Elijah. He goes on in God's strength, not his own; and he is prepared for whatever God has in store for him, even suffering. Hundreds of years later, in Gethsemane, Jesus said, 'Not my will, however, but your will be done.' And we all know what happened next.
I wonder if I will ever truly learn this lesson.
Meanwhile, there are things we can do to help one another along on this sometimes lonely road: simple enough things like reading each other's work, posting reviews, commenting on blog posts, offering encouragement. It goes a long way. 

Sue Russell writes as S.L.Russell and has four novels in print: Leviathan with a Fish-hook, The Monster Behemoth, and The Land of Nimrod ( a trilogy) and recently a stand-alone, A Shed in a Cucumber Field. A fifth novel in a similar genre (contemporary British Christian fiction) is being edited and hopes to make its appearance later this year.
Sue blogs at and is frequently to be found haunting the corridors of facebook. She lives in Kent with her husband, two grown-up daughters and Rosie the dog. When not reading, writing, gardening or visiting her place in France, she is an  amateur singer and church organist.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Love, hope and other four-letter words by Veronica Zundel

I love four-letter, Anglo-Saxon words. No, not that kind (although Jesus never said anything about what the Americans quaintly call ‘cussing’ - his prohibition was against swearing oaths to guarantee we are telling truth, which Christians, as truth-tellers at all times,  should not need). I’m talking about the good old simple words that came in with the Angles, Jutes and Saxons after the Romans left, and which persisted in everyday life after William the Conqueror arrived. Words like cow, sheep, swine (yes, I know they’re not four-letter) which those who reared them used, while the high-up Normans just ate the products and used Frenchified words like mutton, beef, pork.

Now I am the mother of a son who at about 10, when he was feeling ill and wondering whether he should go to school, announced ‘I’m experiencing a slight deterioration in my condition’ (any other child would have said ‘I’m feeling a bit worse’). But  in my writing, I refuse to follow his example. I learned recently that the sentence ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself’ consists entirely of words from Anglo-Saxon. How much less memorable it would be if it ran ‘The sole item on which it is necessary to possess anxiety is the very concept of anxiety’. Yet we writers are so often tempted to impress by long and abstract terminology (as I am doing in this sentence). Floccinaucinihilipilification, anybody?

Instead, in both prose and poetry, I seek to follow what I call the Emily Principle. That’s Emily Dickinson, who is my main inspiration in this, though Emily Brontë might do equally well. If you study the poetry of the sublime ‘White Lady of Amherst’ you will find that, as well as sticking almost entirely to the four-line ‘ballad’ form, she mainly uses short, Anglo-Saxon words, with the occasional Latinate word thrown in, which gains effect from its rarity. This is my favourite example:

Because I could not stop for Death -
He kindly stopped for me -
The carriage held but just ourselves -
And Immortality.

See how that last word stands out from the rest, and what impact it’s given by its isolation. (And see what I’ve inadvertently done with that last sentence?). Anglo-Saxon words are bold, frank, curt  - why else would we turn to them when we hit our thumb (‘hit’ and ‘thumb’, there are two more) with a hammer? (and that’s one too).

So I both urge and recommend (and which word has most thrust there?) that you remember the Emily principle, and never use an elaborate Latinate word where a simple English one will do. Having grown up speaking both English and German, I can spot quickly which is which - the Anglo-Saxon ones are those the two languages have in common (house/Haus, book/Buch..) Writing guides constantly tell us the value of short sentences, but we should never forget the value of short words. Here I rest my case.

Veronica Zundel is a freelance writer whose latest book is Everything I know about God, I've learned from being a parent (BRF 2013). She also writes a column for Woman Alive magazine, and Bible notes for New Daylight. Veronica belongs to the only non-conservative, English speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and also blogs at

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Seeing life whole by Joy Lenton

As we carefully select colours, adding nuances with deliberate shades and hues, we aim to sew a fine seam with our words. 

No loose ends. Neat and complete. Nice and tidy. Job done.

But it's those frayed fronds, snagged ends and tangled threads we long to snip away at which can make our word-weaving richer.

They add texture and character to our stories and authenticity to our testimonies.

Tangles, knots and snarls serve to make us stop a while for some necessary unpicking, yet they also provide a pausing place to see the picture differently.

The view from the back of a tapestry is a mess and muddle of line and shade criss-crossing one another. But to others? It's a beautifully wrought piece of work when seen from their perspective. 

Sometimes we imagine our lives should run smooth and fine, outwardly light and bright. And if we spend much of our time in testing and fiery trials, in deep dark places of the soul, hidden and unseen, we think our lives look like it too.

Maybe they do. God can set us apart for a purpose, for a season in which our souls learn to lean on Him more than they rely on the approval of others.

Valley living and wilderness life feel unsettling, uncomfortable and unceasing while we are going through them.

We can feel invisible while we're being refined.

But I believe it's the grey shadows they cast which add depth to the overall image of our lives. They balance and build, blend and define, shape our outlook and firm our minds.

For without them the Light within couldn't shine out in such stark relief. 

Broken holey people, wholly devoted to holy God, are great receptacles for glimmers of grace to show through.

In the shady places of valley living, faith grows. Seeds of trust are sown. A harvest will be reaped in due time.

We learn to pray in ways that stretch our belief, and develop deeper confidence in God's ability to walk us through the mire.

And we see our need of being mended, being restored and refashioned by God's loving hands as a necessity more than a nuisance.

We won't always be in challenging circumstances but we will always have need of a Saviour.

Our challenge is to discern between a godly tension or one we've created for ourselves.

One brings forth life and grace. The other reveals our great need of it.

And to remember there is power in the unloosing and unleashing of His work in us because it enables us to see our lives more clearly and to see them whole.

God knit us carefully and thoughtfully together in the womb and He is continually making us all He desires us to be.

'An unloosing'

It doesn't serve us well
to be stitched up on the inside
Seamed with regret, resentment
Nor to have no more than tangled
threads, knots and snags tied up
as worries in our heads
Unloose us to love
Undo our hearts
Unravel us to compassion
Let our hearts reveal
our soul's deepest need
to shine Your light
glowing prism-bright
Each reflection remains a reminder
of why You came and suffered
to illuminate and renew us

Joy is a grace-dweller who weaves words out of the fabric of her days, penning poetry and prose in her PJs. As an M.E and chronic illness sufferer (who is also recovering from a painful past), she writes with a heart for the hurting and to support and encourage others who are struggling with life and faith issues. You can connect with her at her blogs, Words of Joy’ or ‘Poetry Joy’, and on Twitter or Facebook.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Learning to enjoy the journey by Claire Musters

I am the type of person that wants to know what’s coming. I want to be able to plan everything ahead of time. I have been learning that this is often a characteristic of the way I deal with fresh revelation from God: He teaches me something but I immediately want to know everything to do with that and how it will pan out in my life over the coming months and years.

But often God deals with me gently by reminding me that this life is a journey – I may have just realised something new but that doesn’t mean I have it all wrapped up. He longs for me to explore, to delve deeper and just enjoy the whole experience of learning rather than having to be an instant expert.

I often have a similar experience with my writing. I have a sense of trepidation when I start tackling the planning stages of a new book or Bible study notes. I can procrastinate for a little while but then, when an idea starts to form, I can feel frustration that I don’t know how the whole concept will look like once finished.

I may get a bit of inspiration about particular chapters or days’ readings, but feel lost and impatient that there seems to be a gap in part of the overall writing scheme. I feel like I must be in control of it all, must have a plan, otherwise it won’t work.

Do you ever feel that way?

And yet…

Perhaps God wants us to go on a journey with our writing processes too. We take the reader on a journey through our writing; surely it makes sense that we need to embark on one ourselves first too?

Yes it can be difficult to slow down and allow ourselves the space to do this. We may be writing to a deadline, fitting writing around other work or be very conscious of the fact that we are only paid for each piece of writing we finish and submit.

And yet…

Perhaps there is something more to all of this. Perhaps being a writer is supposed to open me up to much more than meeting deadlines and producing words. Perhaps I am supposed to open up and grow throughout the process.

So I am just starting to learn to enjoy the moments of inspiration, and not focus on the frustrating times when I don’t feel like I know where things are headed.

I am learning to ask questions too, both for my own life and my writing, such as: God what is the one specific thing you are wanting to say to me right now? What is it that you want me to share with others?

Claire is a freelance writer and editor, mum to two gorgeous young children, pastor’s wife, worship leader and school governor. Claire’s desire is to help others draw closer to God through her writing, which focuses on marriage, parenting, worship, discipleship, issues facing women today etc. Her books include Taking your Spiritual Pulse, CWR’s Insight Guide: Managing Conflict and BRF Foundations21 study guides on Prayer and Jesus. She also writes a regular column for Christian Today. To find out more about her, please visit and @CMusters on Twitter.