Sunday, 31 May 2015

Reading and Commenting on Blogs by Susan Sanderson

Oh, hello! Thanks for dropping by.

Are you a reader, a writer, a blogger, all three, or two out of three?

Blog is an ugly word, isn’t it? It started out as weblog, being a log of a life uploaded regularly to the World Wide Web.

The name was shortened, but the scope was widened. Nowadays a blog may be used in the original manner, but there is far more variety in blogs.

A blog may be about any single topic or a mixture. It may be written by one person, a team or (like this one) many individuals taking turns. What distinguishes a blog from writing in a diary or notebook is that the latest entry (or post) appears first. This is a common feature of social media. Facebook, Twitter, message boards, Soundcloud (and no doubt all the other platforms I have managed to keep away from) all work the same way.

At first I hid behind a username and a photograph. I still use these to comment on most blogs. Is this confusing?

I had no intention of blogging about my faith. What changed is another story.

Blogging invites social interaction between strangers. Many bloggers are disappointed when no-one comments. Sometimes this is because commenting can be very time-consuming and doesn’t always work.

On the day I began to draft this post, I failed to post a comment on a blog. I know I opened a disqus account, however I failed to login (is that really a single word?) to it. For bloggers it is relatively easy to comment on blogs using the same platform (blogspot or WordPress, for example).

A comment on Facebook, “I couldn’t find where to comment,” inspired me to write this post. It is often much easier to comment on Facebook or Twitter, but the discussion is disconnected from the blog.

Blogs may be displayed in different ways. If a link has been followed to the blog’s home, more than one post may be shown. Scrolling down reveals a number of posts, but the comment fields are not shown. In this case it is necessary to click on a comment link for one of the posts. Just to confuse the reader, the link may be at the top or near the bottom of the post. One of my blogs just has a heart as the link. (There is some advice on a page, which used to be called “Navigation”, but now goes under the more usual name, “Start here”.)

If an individual post is displayed there should be somewhere to comment. For people who do not have their own blog, commenting is more off-putting as there is so much personal information to enter. Where does it all go? Who can see it?

Oh, are you still there? Good.

Before you go, please take a look around and see if you can find where to comment, how to share this post on social media and how to read older posts.

Thanks for reading.

Susan Sanderson always wanted to be a writer.  In 2012 she revived her interest in writing with a project to collect the kinds of sayings, which were much used in her childhood.
Blogging was intended as a way of improving writing skills, but has become an interest in its own right.  Susan experiments with factual writing, fiction, humour and poetry.  She does not yet have a book to her name. Her interests include words, languages, music, knitting and crochet.  She has experience of the world of work, being a stay-at-home mum and an empty-nester.   She is active in her local community and Church, where she sings alto in the choir. She and her husband live in Cumbria.  

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Sunflowers by Amy Robinson

Over the last few weeks, three separate childcare establishments have sent my children home with sunflower seeds stuck in a pot.

I’m sure other mothers receive these with delight, and have children who eagerly run to water them every morning. Since we are the Robinsons, one pot sat in the boot of the car for a few days while another, wrapped in clingfilm, mouldered forgotten in the bottom of a school bag for a week.

Pot number three suffered an accident: my son turned the whole thing upside-down in a disastrous over-estimation of how much he needed to tilt the pot to peer in. I attempted to comfort him by sweeping everything into the pot, guessing which end was shoot and which root, and sticking them back.

That pot caught my attention this morning. In contrast to Clingfilm Pot and Car Boot Pot, which still have only a few leaves barely peeping over the edge, the hastily replanted seeds have shot up to about 20cm high and are growing longingly towards the window. One of them raced upwards so quickly that it fell flat on its face: but even that one has rallied and now valiantly grows at a right-angle so that its leaves, too, are facing the sun.

Sunflowers really do face the sun, don’t they? I remember, as a child, driving past fields of them in France and marvelling that they had somehow been planted to grow in such regimented order at the same precise angle, until my father (never one to miss a teachable moment) explained it to me. I would watch them in awe, trying to catch them in a moment of secret synchronised swivelling.

Sunflowers reaching for the source of their strength make an obvious metaphor for the Christian life, but it’s their sheer determination to do it against all odds that strikes me. That right-angled one would have found it much easier to grow out into the room, and could have had an attractive, straight stem, but no - its bent for sun worship trumped those considerations.

The seeds in Jesus’ parable grow a bit of root, hit rock and give up, like a Christian who falls away “when trouble or persecution arises on account of the Word” (Matthew 13:21). Not so our Pot Three Sunflowers. Neglect them, spill them, uproot them, and they still refuse the easy route, instead using all the resources they have to reach the one thing that gives them a purpose and a name.

As writers, we encounter plenty of obstacles. We may spend weeks in a car boot, parched for inspiration, or rapidly scribble five pages growing in the wrong direction. We may send off a beautifully polished manuscript to an editor, but get it back in the form of small shoots that have been scattered, scooped up and shoved back with no regard for how we originally planted them. But as a Christian, and as a writer, I have this challenge: to make sure that, whatever happens, my words continue to face the Son. However much extra effort that takes, and however much I may have to abandon my own ideas of what makes a beautiful plant, it’s the only really important thing.

Author Bio 

Amy is the wife of a Rector, mum to two children, and she lives in Suffolk with an unnecessarily large number of puppets.

She is a performance storyteller, writer and ventriloquist, and children's worker for a four-church benefice. In the past, her writing has appeared in Scripture Union's Light for the Lectionary series and All Age Annual; in a regular guest blog for Families First, the Mothers' Union magazine; and in scripts and holiday club guides for GenR8. She has also had two books about puppetry and storytelling published by Kevin Mayhew.

She possesses many half-finished knitting projects, several abandoned blogs and, at any given moment, at least one cold cup of tea.

Friday, 29 May 2015

About Memoir by Abbie Robson

Memoir is big business. People are inherently curious - if not nosy! Christians in particular like testimony - there is power in it (1Thes2:8, Rev12:11) and it gives us hope, for ourselves and others.

When people find out I’ve written a memoir of my struggles with self-harm they are full of questions, some of which pop up with monotonous regularity.

Was it cathartic?

Yes and no. Researching, yes, writing, no. In some ways, revisiting the past, through both memory and journals, was healing. But writing the book wasn’t cathartic, and nor do I think it should have been. My aim was to get the message out, not to resolve it from within. I had to deal with the issues before I could write a book that could help and encourage others. Catharsis is for journals, not memoirs.

Was there pressure on you to be so open?

Yes, and no. Neither publisher nor editor put me under pressure to share more than I wanted. The pressure came from me because I wanted to write something real. But being real doesn’t require full disclosure - in fact I think that would have dulled the story. That doesn't make the book inauthentic - everything in it is true, from facts to feelings. I don’t need to share absolutely everything to make something authentic, I just need to be true - to the writing style and the story.

Can you really write your story at only 24?

Well, yes and no. This is where I think there is a difference between autobiography and memoir. Autobiography, in my eyes, describes a full and fascinating life. A memoir can be informative, hopefully exhortative, and occasionally inspirational - but only within a certain aspect of life. I love that people are comforted and educated by my story - but writing the story I felt called to write didn’t include when I lost my milk teeth and at what age I got my first car.

Does it mean you’re better?

Um…. Yes and no. Better is a funny word. I used to think it had an air of finality about it - that better was this marvellous place I would eventually reach. In some ways that stunted my writing, because I felt a pressure to be ‘better’ before writing about my experience. I now know that better is moveable - I am better today than I was a year ago, but am I 'there' yet? No way. Recovery doesn’t have such an obvious full stop as the end of that last printed sentence.

Is there a pressure on you now to be honest with everyone?
Yes, definitely. But then, also, no. My passion is to get people talking about thorny issues, and my whole ministry is about being honest. But, because of the way Secret Scars was written, people at events assume they know me, and can ask some very personal questions. It’s taken a while to learn that I have the freedom to hold back.

The process of writing a memoir taught me the most important writing lesson I've learnt - that when I write, a story stops being mine and becomes someone else’s. Whether fiction, memoir or fact, writing is a gift to someone else, and stops being ours as soon as it hits the page. Writing becomes a gift we give, not receive.

  Author Bio

Abbie has been writing every since she could hold a pencil - her first self-published work was a short story about a magic key which was displayed on the fridge. After struggling with self harm and eating disorders for a number of years she went on to write a memoir ‘Secret Scars’ published by Authentic in 2007, and later ‘Insight Into Self-Harm’ published by CWR in 2014. In 2007 she launched Adullam Ministries, an information and support website and forum on self-harm and related issues.

She blogs at Pink and Blue Mummyland, tweets as @AbbieRobson and @AdullamSelfHarm, and is currently working on a book about mental health and the church. She lives in Rugby with husband John, two demanding children, and two even more demanding cats.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

God From Behind the Words

Guest post by Annmarie Miles

It’s great to have the opportunity to share some ponderings with this wonderful group. Having moved from the Republic of Ireland to Wales in December, I was eager to connect with Christian writers in the UK.I’m delighted to have found you.

A couple of weeks ago a lady in church asked if she could buy a copy of my book. I hesitated before answering and had a moment of plummeting confidence, combined with sheer panic.

Inwardly I said,“Book? Me? I didn’t write a book. Who told you that? OK, yes, I wrote a book, but... you want to read it? Well, you can’t. OK you can, but you won’t like it. And even if you like it, you won’t approve. Please don’t make me give you a book. Why did I do it? Why did I even write it? Who’s stupid idea was it anyway? I want my mummy!”

Outwardly I said, “Oh thank you. I’ll bring one next week.”

Now I love my book. I’m immensely proud of the finished product, and am besotted with a number of my characters. It is a collection of short stories about family life, work situations, love, loss and second chances. It is not, however, what I would call a Christian book.

Since I started taking writing seriously, I have been writing in two streams: Christian non-fiction and general fiction. I don’t have a flare for writing Christian fiction. I’ve tried it; it’s just not something I’m good at. When writing fiction, I feel my strength lies in taking everyday situations, memories and experiences; crafting them in to tales of hope and humour. These stories flow so much easier for me, and though they need plenty of editing, the 1st drafts are always stronger.

Written into the fabric these stories are themes of redemption and forgiveness, glimpses of grace, and the humour that has been given to me by the Creator. My hope is that everyone will see God in the writing.

I’m always tempted to tell Christians who are about to read it, “Don’t worry, He’s in there. I might not mention Him specifically, but He is on every page.” I don’t want to do that though. In fact, if the writing is good enough, I shouldn’t have to do that. It should be obvious that He is there in every story, because we know He is there in every situation.

I fear disapproval and the bruising of my writer ego. (I think we all have a touch of that - or is it just me?) My hope is that whether my reader believes in God or not, they will see Him in there somewhere. He is woven through every story, because He has woven himself through me. Maybe it is a Christian book after all.

About the Author

Annmarie Miles was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland. Instead of getting her mother's classic beauty, she says, she got her father's high forehead and sense of humour.

She blogs at and She is a regular contributor to two Irish print publications and American Writer’s website. In 2013, her first collection of short stories was self-published in conjunction with Emu Ink Publishers.

She lives in South Wales with her husband Richard, in a house full of books, gadgets and musical instruments.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Tracing the Journey, by Lucy Mills

Recently I took part in a 'blogging from A to Z Challenge'. This takes place during April. Each day, except Sundays, you write a blog post. And yes, you work your way through from A until - you guessed it! - Z.

You can write about anything, using that day's letter, but some choose to have an overall theme for their posts.  I chose to do it that way - and my theme was 'My Writing Journey'. (You can see all my posts in this category here.)

This was inspired by a talk I'd given a few months ago on that very theme.

I had been amazed, when it came to it, how much there was to say - and this prompted me to explore it further.

Often we get hung up on all our 'haven'ts' and 'not yets'. We dwell on what we have not done and never feel able to do.  But by putting that aside, and looking at the journey in a more organic way - in terms of our own growth as writers - we can be encouraged.

These days I look back and am glad my early pieces were rejected.  I hadn't found my 'voice' at that point - the writing jars on me now. I'm relieved it wasn't published.

I think about the 'small' triumphs, the startling moments along the way, and remember to treasure them. I think about how my plans turned into something different, as God nudged me in unexpected directions.

Someone as forgetful as I am needs to take time to remember.

Why not try it? Trace your writing journey.  I'm not talking about what other people might see as 'success' or even about published works, although they may form part of it.

How has life helped you grow as a writer? 

And how has being a writer moulded your life?

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, poetry and prayers for various Christian magazines and is an editor at Magnet magazine.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Jelly Bean Fairy

Earlier this month I visited the offices of my two publishers. SPCK publish my previously self-published children’s books and Lion Hudson, my new mystery series for adults.

I was warmly welcomed at SPCK and was introduced to seven different people who were all working on some aspect of my books; from editorial, to distribution, to marketing, to sales, to design and stock management. I noted wryly that not so long ago I was doing all seven of those things on my own. No wonder I was exhausted!

It’s said that it takes a village to raise a child, and the same can be said for publishing a book. Even though I used to do most of it on my own, I know that it can now be done with much greater efficiency and much less threat to my physical and mental health.

Publishing is team work. And even when I was largely on my own, I wasn’t entirely. I had a wonderful illustrator and designer – Amy Barnes Warmington – and my husband Rodney, who managed the website and e-sales. Then my daughter Megan who helped sell books at launches and markets. Beyond that I had supportive friends who helped promote the books and kind book shop managers who stocked it.

These ‘secondary’ roles are just as important to the team and should not be forgotten.

I was reminded of this when I visited my other publisher, Lion Hudson, a few days later. Again I was warmly welcomed and introduced to various people who were working on my book. I was also accompanied by fellow Lion Fiction authors Elizabeth Flynn and CF Dunn who have been immensely supportive on my journey to getting the book published.

But there was one person who I didn’t get to meet and that was the Jelly Bean Fairy. Dotted around the Lion Hudson offices were bags of jelly beans. I asked who provided them, and neither of my editors was able to tell me. I suggested that perhaps it was the Jelly Bean Fairy and was told that that indeed was the most likely explanation.

The Lion Hudson Jelly Bean Fairy, whoever he or she may be, performs a crucial role on the team. They bring happiness and joy through their kindness and make the office a nicer place to work – and that will have a spin-off effect on my books too.

Who are the Jelly Bean Fairies in your life? A family member who brings you a cup of tea when you’re working late? A friend who gives you a cuddle when you’re feeling down after yet another rejection? Perhaps it’s an online friend. I know of lots of Jelly Bean Fairies in the ACW Facebook group whose kindness and thoughtfulness has made the lonely business of writing and publishing a sweeter place.

The Lord made some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, pastors or teachers and … some to be Jelly Bean Fairies. And thank God that He did.

Fiona Veitch Smith is a writer and writing lecturer, based in Newcastle upon Tyne. She writes across all media, for children and adults. Her formerly self-published children’s books The Young David Series, are now available from SPCK. Her mystery novel, The Jazz Files, the first in the Poppy Denby Investigates Series (Lion Fiction), is due out in September 2015 but can be pre-ordered now..

Monday, 25 May 2015

One Word at a Time by Fiona Lloyd

It's that time of year again. (Those of you who are teachers might want to look away now.) I work as a peripatetic violin teacher, and I have 110 reports to write between now and the beginning of July. I'm worried I might die of boredom in the process: there are only so many ways you can say Chantelle has a good bow-hold (and believe me, I've used them all).

I'm trying to be pragmatic. I've learned a few short-cuts over the years, although I must be a slow learner as it took me a while to realise that if I signed my name at the bottom electronically before making multiple copies I wouldn't have to write my name out over 100 times each year. And while there are some parts of the report that have to be individually written, there are other sections (such as course content) which are repeated over dozens of forms. At this time of year, I'm the copy-and-paste queen.

Still, I always feel in late May / early June that I have an unassailable mountain to climb. It's only by breaking the task down into sections that I can see a way through it. At the first school on my list, I have 10 pupils, which is just under 10 percent of my total. Another two schools could take me up to around 40. Mount Everest has suddenly shrunk to the size of Ben Nevis. It's still challenging, but at least now I'm beginning to believe I can do it. And so it continues: word by word, phrase by phrase, form by form, until I reach that magical moment when the last report has been sent and I can sit down with a well-earned glass of wine.

There's a Chinese proverb which states that A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. That's certainly true of my reports, but it's useful advice for my writing, too. Crafting a novel or an article (or a blog-post!) can seem like an insurmountable task; but when I focus on writing one word at a time, I realise I'll get there in the end.

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.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

To Do or Not To Do—Writing courses

I’m currently studying for a degree with the Open University, and over the last two years I’ve worked my way through the Creative Writing and Advanced Creative Writing modules.

With both courses, we had a dedicated forum for sharing and critiquing our work. Tutors warned that students who didn’t use the forums tended to get lower marks. Despite that, few people took advantage of the opportunity to have their work critiqued—or to offer their thoughts to other students. There were many reasons for this, including fear of allowing people to read their writing, fear of giving someone else the wrong advice, and of course lack of time. Interestingly, most people seemed to interpret the tutors’ warning as a threat—‘If you don’t put in an appearance, you’ll be marked down’—rather than recognising the correlation between feedback and improving our work.

I started the Advanced course with a tutor who was completely wrong for me—or perhaps I was completely wrong for her. Either way, it was a disastrous fit. When it reached the point where I was ready to throw away my chances of a degree and leave the course, common sense prevailed and I requested a change of tutor, which the OU granted. My new tutor was a much better fit, and I began to enjoy the course.

Having just sent off my final assignment for the advanced course, and with two months to wait for the results, I’ve been reflecting on the value of writing courses.

Would I recommend writing courses? There are many articles on the web that proclaim ‘you can’t teach creativity!’ This is probably true, but courses can teach the basic skills—grammar, punctuation, writing techniques—and by extension offer an environment where innate creativity can grow.

We don’t expect artists to know instinctively how to paint like Rembrandt. Nor do we expect wood turners to produce magnificently carved and polished tables or cabinets without many years as an apprentice, learning and developing the craft. So why do we think writing is any different?

As an editor, I see many manuscripts that clearly demonstrate the author’s creativity—there’s a great story in there—but they’re let down by the mechanics. That’s where courses can play a part.

Few students will reach the lofty heights of J K Rowling, but there’s nothing wrong with being a solid, dependable writer whose books sell steadily, if in more modest quantities.

So yes, I think there’s value in writing courses if they’re done professionally and with professional (and experienced) tutors.

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.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Created to create - by Helen Murray

I like to write. I like to start with nothing but an idea – sometimes even a vague one – and try to make something from it. I like to play with words and arrange them on a page, to tell a story, to explore an idea. To share something with other people.

I love the idea that I might create something that changes the world, even if only a little tiny bit. I want to make something that adds beauty, or gives inspiration. I’d like it if people were to read my words and feel a bit happier for having read them, or to change their mind, or to make them nod in recognition and realise that they’re not alone.

Earlier on I was watching my daughters draw and paint and colour. I watched them make wonderful imaginative things out of paper and sticky tape. They snipped and stuck and pretended and built and designed; it comes easily to them. They don't doubt that they can do it. They have confidence that they can put down on paper their ideas and they love making. If we don't have the materials they need they are quick to improvise. They are full of hope and confidence and creativity.

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We are made in the image of God the Creator, and so it follows that we are created to create. We are designed to make things, and it’s an instinct that is expressed in a myriad of ways; some much more subtle than arts and crafts and music and the written word and so on.  I'm sure that every last person who says that they don't have a creative bone in their body just haven't looked in the right place, or else they have forgotten how to find it. Whether it's cake decoration or restoring vintage motor bikes or gardening or flower arranging or dry stone walling. Or singing or dancing or making people laugh. 

Taking nothing, and making it into something. 

Kids find it the most natural thing in the world and they don't doubt that they can do it. They might even be quite sure that they're the best in their class; the most talented artist that ever lived.

And then…

Sometime in the future another child might mock my daughter’s felt-tip T Rex and say that it doesn't look much like a dinosaur, or a scrupulous art teacher might give her a 'D' for the still life fruit bowl because it wasn't obvious that the lemons were actually grapefruit. Next thing, the idea creeps in that perhaps she's not such a good artist as she thought she was. 

A music teacher might not pick her for the Christmas choir and suddenly we no longer hear her singing as she gets ready for school quickly. How come all children can sing and dance without inhibition and present their pictures to us with pride and confidence that we'll know what they are and yet by adulthood so many of us can't sing and can't draw, and most definitely can't dance?

Maybe we can’t remember a specific event where our confidence in our creativity was snatched from us, but so, so often, it has dwindled almost to nothing as we grow up.

Life beats it out of us. Sticking and gluing. Dancing. Imagination. Making up stories. By the time we arrive in adulthood we have hangups and chips on our shoulders and we are so self-conscious that we stop enjoying our creativity at all and we're thrown into a spin when a child comes home with an art project that requires assistance. My friend who writes beautiful, heartfelt poetry finds it hard to let people read it. Another friend shows me a painting and tells me she doesn't think it's any good so she won’t bother putting it in a frame.

I believe that God is like we are with our children. I show Him my latest creation with all its flaws and imperfections and He is delighted. He bends down and takes it from me and He turns it this way and that and He smiles and His eyes are full of pride and pleasure that I brought it for Him. It’s lovely because I made it just for Him.

I love the way that God opens our eyes to see the beauty of His creation, and I am so grateful that He has given me this instinct to make things; I want to make the most of it. When I look around I can see the beauty in other people’s creations – I imagine it’s possible to see the Creator in everyone. To notice and appreciate our God-given yearnings to make and build and add and embellish. It's beautiful.

It's an offering.

As I write this a flower is lolling over the top of the screen of my computer from the vase in front of me. It’s a gerbera; bright, vibrant orange. God’s handiwork - perfect in every way. Crisp and bright and delicate and yet robust enough to sit in a vase and make me smile for a fortnight after it was cut.

Lord God, You are the master Creator. I look at you and this flower and I look at the world around me and I realise my offerings are small and far from perfect, but then I imagine you crouching to receive it with the delight and love of a Father and I am inspired to make you something new.

Because you made me that way.

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 thereof. 

You can also find her on:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray

Twitter: @helenmurray01