32 years ago, in 1983, the then Christian Woman magazine (now Woman Alive) entered my regular column into the inaugural Magazine Publishing Awards. I had only been writing it for a year or so, and was unaware that I had been entered until the editor contacted me to tell me I was in the finals, with an award ceremony to be held at a trendy former brewery. I went along in my best daytime outfit, not expecting more than a free lunch, and was extremely surprised to win Best Specialist Columnist, pushing columnists from the Mail on Sunday into second and third places. It was a very exciting moment.
The trophy, made of some unidentifiable fake white marble, was a sculpted hand holding an apple (pictured here, rather the worse for wear - as am I - and lacking its leaves which fell off some time ago). It was rather heavy, and I had come by Underground. Lugging it home on the Tube, I thought I'd just refresh my memory on the reading that morning in Daily Light, which was in my handbag. Imagine my amusement when I read: 'You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last'. I was certainly bearing a piece of fruit!
It looked as though after this my work would really take off. But either I omitted to capitalize on it, or I chose the wrong things to write, or my recurrent depression hampered me... at any rate, the decades have gone by, and though I have edited, written or contributed to a dozen or so books, everything but the most recent book is now out of print, and my name is still unknown beyond a narrow circle of Christians. What went wrong? Did I fail to abide in the Vine? Was I too controversial, or too much out on an ecclesiastical limb, or just too boring?
Whatever the reason, that 'fruit', which I imagined as glorious writing success, has failed to last. I feel like Emily Dickinson in her poem, 'I'm Nobody - who are you?'. Most of what I write is ephemeral, not lasting fruit.
But what if that wasn't the sort of fruit that was meant? What if, when it comes to harvest, my books, columns, sermons won't weigh anything? What if the basket will instead be filled with a kind act I did here, a word in season I spoke there, a donation I gave to a charity - all things I have completely forgotten, but which meant more to God than any published book? Or, indeed, what if it was enough that a particular book or Bible note or column spoke to just one person, to encourage or inspire or heal them, and mega-sales were entirely unnecessary?
It may be a cop out. But I think we cannot equate fruitfulness with writing success or fame. Only God can know where we have really been fruitful. Meanwhile, I'll just keep writing.
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 reversedstandard.com