Monday, 29 February 2016

The Problem with the Empty Cup by Catherine Campbell

I haven’t written anything in ages. In fact since I hit the ‘send’ button on my sixth completed manuscript back in September the nearest I’ve got to writing is the occasional post on Facebook.

The reasons for my absence at the keyboard are many and varied: each one a perfectly understandable excuse for my lack of written words. Conversely, my publically spoken words have had to continue due to the bookings expanding the covers of my diary. Somehow I have managed to continue ministering to others in the many places I find myself every month. God’s willingness to equip for the task in hand never ceases to amaze me. He is faithful in spite of me.

However the true nature of my problem was brought into sharp focus by a picture someone posted recently on fb. It didn’t simply catch my attention as I scrolled one morning; it reached out and grabbed me.

The words: “You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first” accosted my soul.

“But Lord,” I protested, “I spend so much time preparing your word for others, and life is so busy at the moment. When life slows down a little, perhaps then I’ll have time to look after my own soul.”

My response didn’t cut it with the One who had created the cup. He wanted to fill it, not merely to satisfy those for whom it would be emptied again and again, but for the satisfaction of the cup’s owner. The Potter knows that running on empty brings no joy. Living on spiritual dregs does not satisfy.

Many of you, my ACW friends, write fiction. It’s a skill I greatly admire, but I do not have. I, like others on this forum, write non-fiction. The kind that, I pray, engages others with the challenges of God’s word and His plan for their lives. As one editor told me: “You’re a primary communicator Catherine. Stick to what you do best.”

Yet somewhere in the melee of ministry, family sickness and life’s demands it is easy to forget that to be a primary communicator the cup needs to be constantly refilled – not with what I think is sufficient, but with what the Lord knows is best to fill the empty places.

The author and teacher Beth Moore says in her book Whispers of Hope: “Nothing destroys life like emptiness. If Christ has not been invited to fill up all the hollow places in our lives, we may be saved, but we are not safe!”

“Not safe”, what a dreadful thought.

And so, in my current writing wilderness, I am taking time to fill the cup once more. It’s a process that I know needs to be ongoing. There’s no express line. It requires a slow fill. Perhaps soon there will be enough on board for me to tackle one of the three book outlines already planned in my notebook. But for now, I wait on Him.

I doubt if I am alone with the problem of the empty cup.

About the Author

Catherine Campbell is involved in ministry to women through speaking, writing and pastoral situations.

Catherine’s interest in writing started in primary school when she won a National School’s Story Competition run by the chocolate company, Cadbury. Much later she moved on from the story of the cocoa bean to crafting magazine articles published in magazines such as: The Nursing Standard, Parentwise, Just Between Us, Woman Alive, Lifetimes and Rejoice Always.

In March 2008 her first book ‘Under the Rainbow’ was published by Ambassador Productions, closely followed eight months later by her second, ‘Rainbows for Rainy Days’. Since then ‘God Knows Your Name’ and ‘Broken Works Best’ have been published by Monarch, who have also republished expanded versions of ‘Under the Rainbow’ and ‘Rainbows for Rainy Days’. Catherine’s latest title ‘When We Can’t, God Can’ was published in June 2015.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

The Attraction of Beauty or What’s in a Name? By Trevor Thorn

For four and a half years, I have been running a blog with the title ‘The Cross and The Cosmos’. The idea has been to publish poems (in the main) and occasional prose pieces which celebrate those places where faith and science intersect, and to do so in such a way that the ideas would be fairly simply grasped by non-scientists and also by those many Christians refer to as ‘Seekers’. The initiative has been encouraging insofar as it has attracted a readership far wider than I would have expected at the outset for simple maths (1% of the population may be interested in poetry, 1% in faith and 1% interested in science) makes for a tiny proportion of  potential readers. This miniscule percentage, therefore, makes it unsurprising that so far, none of the entries has exactly ‘gone viral’: but something rather interesting has come to my attention. Since the turn of the year.

It feels to me that it has become increasingly easy to uncover references to beauty in the science media. Mathematicians describe some very critical formulae as ‘beautiful equations’, bacteriologists publish pictures of extraordinarily picturesque organisms: an exquisite flower has been discovered in pre-historic amber that dates back millions of years: the paths of the brain’s cells and nerves form intricate and exquisite patterns. And, of course, ground and space-based telescopes are providing us with galleries of gorgeous pictures from all over the universe.

With all this in mind, I wrote a poem recently entitled ‘I Met With Beauty, Science and Faith’. To my delight, this reflection attracted more page views in the immediate few days after its publication than anything else previously uploaded to the blog.

This raised, for me, a question which is, whether a title such as ‘A Walk With Beauty, Science and Faith’ would be that much more attractive to the general public than ‘The Cross and The Cosmos’. I can’t easily ask that question on the present blog without confusing regular viewers - but I really would appreciate the thoughts of any of you who land on this particular post as to which of the two titles would be more attractive to YOU. That input would be very helpful indeed

The poem mentioned follows

I met with Beauty, Science and Faith

I met with Beauty, Science and Faith
walking life’s uncertain road.
Beauty, with her exquisite modesty
outlined a rĂ´le with which she serves God:
‘I am granted a special privilege’, she said,
‘Of stirring humans to wonder and awe,
into heightening of senses; of prompting thanksgiving 
that may wake an instinctive desire to adore.’

‘Ah!’ said Science, ‘It is my task
to explore the relevant ‘laws’ of creation
which underlie the cause and the mystery
of just such outbursts of elation.’
‘To shape understandings and insights
that between them progressively yield
deeper, empirical details 
of all pertinent knowledge-based fields.’ 

‘And then’ said Faith, ‘It is my part
to explore and illuminate,
the purpose, the cosmic significance
of both rapturous and reasoning state.’
‘To encourage human cognition,
to re-visit paths it has trod            
of experiment, wondering and prescience,
and search them for glimpses of God.’  

Trevor writes faith-based poetry and accompanies many of the poems with simple images, either painted (mainly in acrylic) or in cross-stitch, or as computer generated images. About half of the poems have a science and faith theme. He publishes all of these on his blog, The Cross and The Cosmos which can be accessed HERE

Saturday, 27 February 2016

Words in the Darkness, by Lucy Mills

This originally appeared as a Finding Inspiration column in the Spring 2014 edition of Christian Writer.

What happens when the lights go out? There are times in our lives when we struggle with darkness, of whatever kind. Times when our faith is knocked. In these times we may find writing a release. We may also find writing as difficult as everything else.

This is made even harder if we consciously identify ourselves as ‘Christian’ and, to a lesser extent, ‘writer’. To have our identities thus undermined can make our words seem like masks, pretenders to the throne of reality.

So let’s be real.

Let’s write what we feel. Any words – however dislocated and dull – will do. Let’s embrace honesty.

It may be the best thing we’ve ever written. It may be the worst. It doesn’t matter. This first draft of the heart may be ugly, but it’s only a first draft. It’s not the last word on who we are. Don’t bother counting your adverbs or censoring your anger. If it’s dross, perhaps it needs to come out – only then can we get to the good stuff.

It’s hard to express ourselves when wrapped in a blanket of unexpressed pain or confusion. We need to unravel.

Being a ‘writer’ may be important to us, but it is not the most important thing. It is identity in God that matters, whatever we write and however well we do it.

We pray with the Psalmist: Search me, O God, and know my heart (Psalm 139:23a, NIV). Despite our limited visual range, we cannot escape God’s presence. The God who sees in the blackest moments – to whom darkness is as light (v12) – remains with us in the unravelling. The rare God-glimpses we get are even more precious, because of the darkness. Let’s write about those, too.

Our words in the darkness can become the most powerful testimonies we have.

Lucy Mills

Lucy's 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 publications and is an editor at magnet magazine.

Lucy on Twitter: @lucymills
Lucy's Facebook page

Previous More than Writer posts:

Friday, 26 February 2016

Do Books Matter by Fiona Veitch Smith

“Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” (Ecc 12:12)

I’ve been feeling a bit like Solomon lately. That’s probably because I’m approaching deadlines for a number of writing contracts and am also bogged down in my ‘day job’ marking university assignments. I’m also putting together a proposal for some post-graduate study of my own. Things should ease by the end of March but in the meantime I feel like I’m barely keeping my head above water.

Which is probably why I’m feeling jaded. I’ve been asking myself lately ‘do books matter’? A few things have led me to ask this question. Firstly, a discussion in the ACW Facebook group about the commercial shelf life of new books. It was generally agreed that except in rare occasions a new title will make most of its sales in the first six months and then a new one is required to stir the pot again and get the author / book back on the consumer’s radar.

The second thing is all the book bloggers and readers who claim to read between 2-300 books a year. That’s on average 3 a week! As someone who reads 30 – 40 books a year – and that includes all of the texts I have to read for my lecturing and research for my novels, as well as the increasingly rare ‘books I read for pleasure’ – that makes my head spin. Now of course I should be grateful that there is such a voracious book-consuming public – and that my books are helping to feed it – but I just feel a bit overwhelmed by the scale. What are books really ‘worth’ when they are consumed like fast food?

The third thing that has upset my equilibrium is a book clear-out at home. I’ve only just scratched the surface but so far I’ve culled about 200 books that I have never read and if I’m honest probably never will. They are bagged up and waiting to go to Oxfam but my husband – being far more capitalistically minded than me – first wants to check their potential resale value on Amazon or Ebay. Resale value? Sigh.

But then a few of things have happened to restore my faith. I’m being interviewed for a radio show to be aired on World Book Day on the subject Do Books Matter? In my mulling I’ve realised that I’m really just jaded with the book industry as part of the consumer culture, not books themselves. The other day a writer friend of mine received an email from a soldier who told him one of his books saved his life. He was carrying a paperback in his breast pocket when he fell victim to an IED. The shrapnel from the explosive device apparently embedded in the book – literally saving his life. Gosh! That book certainly mattered.

Then another friend of mine who has written an inspirational autobiography of her life met a woman who said she had found her book in a backpackers lodge in South America. She read it and gave her life to God. Wow! That book certainly mattered.

Then a friend from my church who works at a soup kitchen for the homeless told me he’d met a man on the streets of Newcastle who had a copy of my book The Peace Garden with him. My friend spotted it and told him he knew the author. This has opened a series of conversations and a reason for the man to keep coming back to the shelter. That book has mattered.

These are just three stories. No doubt you will know of many more. But when you weigh up these three books against the millions that are consumed or discarded every year then yes, I think books do matter.

Fiona Veitch Smith is a writer and writing lecturer, based in Newcastle upon Tyne. She writes across all media, for children and adults. Her 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 is published by Lion Fiction. Her novel The Peace Garden  is self-published under Crafty Publishing

Thursday, 25 February 2016

How thin is your skin? by Fiona Lloyd

There are some days when I feel I’m not cut out to be a writer. Before you swamp me with a deluge of sympathy or – worse still – start typing Hear, hear! into the comments box, let me explain. It’s not that I can’t cope with the need to persevere, to refine and to edit. I understand that my work may need umpteen rewrites before I dare show it to anyone (and that’s just my shopping list). I’ve a well-developed penchant for beautiful stationery and I get irrationally excited at the sight of a large dictionary. And my friends must think I’m turning into a social recluse, as I often lose track of real-life conversations because I’m having a private chat with one of my characters in my head.

             Most of the things I struggle with in regard to my writing can be overcome with a little ingenuity, a willingness to learn and a healthy dose of pig-headedness. Reading articles, going on courses and interacting with other writers helps me build and extend my skill-set. Being creative with my free time enables me to make the best use of the space I have (and to forgive myself when I don’t).

One of my better selfies...
            What I haven’t worked out – cue understanding nods – is how to grow a rhinoceros-like hide. I wilt at the first whiff of criticism. I puff up with indignation if I think somebody has misunderstood what I've said. I’ve had critiques (not from you, Fiona VS!) that  left me sobbing into the carpet. And I worry that if I ever get my WIP to a point where it’s publishable, I’ll be crushed by the first negative review that comes my way. 

            Writing – like much of our Christian life – makes us vulnerable; but I’m not sure the answer is to give up, or hide ourselves away. When we choose to follow the calling we believe God has placed on our lives, we open ourselves up to hurt, disappointment and rejection. Jesus warned his disciples of this: he knows when a careless comment or an unfair review causes us damage. (Sometimes the fair ones can be pretty painful, too.)

I think I'm prepared...
I suspect what we need to do is equip ourselves with strategies to deal with negative feedback. Have a good rant at a trusted friend, or douse our sorrows in a bucket of tea / whiskey. Recognise that criticisms are mostly about our words, rather than who we are as people, and that personal opinions about books are just that. (I regret to say that after 30 years together, I still can’t persuade my better half to read Lord of the Rings.) Take it all back to Jesus: when Scripture says he’ll carry our burdens, I guess that includes the ones we find on the big A. 

One more thing I’ve realised: while most bad reviews should be handled with those industrial-waste gloves favoured by bin men everywhere, there may be the occasional nugget of gold buried beneath the intemperate words. That critique that necessitated the use of a whole box of Kleenex? When I eventually dared to go back and re-read it, I found a few gems of advice hidden among the lists of problems with my manuscript. Some of it was even quite positive. Maybe God made me sensitive for a purpose…

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 grown-up children. Fiona is ACW's membership secretary.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

The new black

C. S. Lewis’s English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, as regular readers of this blog will by now be aware, is a tremendous work of literary history. It’s the kind of book that gives you the ‘aha’ experience and makes you feel cleverer.

Lewis is famous for saying that J. R. R. Tolkien ‘had been inside language’. Well, Lewis, for his part, could well be said to ‘have been inside literature’. He knew better than most critics what it felt like to be Milton, or Spenser, or any of a host of earlier writers that most of us have never heard of. He could imagine what it was like to be a person of that age who didn’t write at all. He knew sixteenth-century thought from the inside, with the sympathy of a Christian scholar who shared its fundamental beliefs.

Last month we had a look at some of the historical paradoxes that characterize Puritanism. But what was it like to be a Puritan in the early days of that movement? Lewis gives us a brilliant analogy. It may not resonate with you if you are under thirty and/or unfamiliar with political and social life in the first half of the twentieth century. But it works well if you have some feel for the atmosphere of western Europe during the half century or so when eastern Europe was dominated by Soviet communism.

In short, the influence of Calvin on the sixteenth century was like that of Marx—or even Marx and Lenin combined—on the twentieth. This, says Lewis, ‘will at least serve to eliminate the absurd idea that Elizabethan Calvinists were somehow grotesque, elderly people, standing outside the main forward current of life. In their own day they were, of course, the very latest thing.’ He tells us that we must imagine ‘the freshness, the audacity, and the fashionableness of Calvinism’. ‘It was the creed of progressives, even of revolutionaries.’ It appealed to the same kind of people who would have been Marxist sympathizers in the 1930s, and specifically to young, educated, intellectual, serious, energetic people. Lewis: ‘Youth is the taunt commonly brought against the puritan leaders by their opponents: youth and cocksureness.’

When we recognize the type of person who was won over by Calvinism we are less puzzled that Calvin’s Institutio (Institutes) was so eagerly welcomed. Starting from the original Protestant existential experience of liberation, it builds a system. It extrapolates. And, Lewis says ‘it goes on…to raise all the dark questions and give without flinching all the dark answers.’ He tells us that it is a literary masterpiece, and perhaps for that very reason ‘those who read it with most approval were troubled by the fate of predestined vessels of wrath just about as much as young Marxists in our own age are troubled by the approaching liquidation of the bourgeoisie. Had the word “sentimentality” been known to them, Elizabethan Calvinists would certainly have used it of any who attacked the Institutio as morally repulsive.’

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Washing my spirit clean - by Helen Murray

I have a diary. You see, there are all these days and I need to keep track of them. No sooner one finishes than another starts and I hate just letting them slip away without being marked.

Actually, I have dates all over the place. I have a calendar in the kitchen for appointments and arrangements; one of those with multiple columns so that I can keep track of the whole family's social and sporting commitments. My column looks much more impressive than it really is because it consists largely of chauffeuring duties and swimming training - overflow from other people's columns. Of course, this calendar isn't portable so I have a tiny diary that is supposed to enable me to make a note of appointments as I schedule them. Unfortunately, because I never get round to transferring calendar-notes to diary and vice versa, I find that much of the time I am attempting to live two parallel lives.

The system is in need of refinement.

Then there are other diaries. Electronic ones that I can never be bothered to programme. My prayer journal where I chat with the Lord about my day, flap about what might be and work through what might have been. There's the desk calendar I got for Christmas with a scriptural quotation for me to take into the day. 

And then there's my Diary. 

I'm not sure what to call this one. It's gorgeous to behold; a large square thing full of wonderful full page photographs.

It's from the John Muir Trust, promoting its work in wild land conservation. The photos are by some of the best wildlife and landscape photographers in the country and they are honestly breathtaking. 

From the preface, by John Beatty:
'In March 1867 John Muir suffered a serious accident that caused him to be completely blind for several months, believing he may never recover his sight. The subsequent return of his sight was an epiphany in his life that led to a lifelong commitment to experience the natural world. 
He wandered for years in the wilds absorbing the richness of all life forms, seeing the world with increased intensity, reflecting its wonders through the written word.' 
I stood with this beautiful book in my hands in the shop and read about John Muir and his appreciation of the natural world and I thought, 'Oh, Yes.' 

I want to do that. I want to notice, and record, and give thanks. 

I decided to buy this diary and write in it every day, but not use it for appointments at all.

Each day I make a note of a glimpse of God that happened that day. Some days I see Him everywhere and I have lots to write and there are other days when I'm so wrapped up and inward looking that I miss Him completely. I'm starting to see the correlation between the depth of my awareness of His presence and my prevailing mood. 

One day there was a buzzard in the garden; a big majestic looking bird with a bright yellow eye and big claws. Another day it was the way the low morning sun shone golden on the church clock as we walked past on the way to school. Early this year we saw tiny shiny ice crystals on the car roof, and the other evening the sunset between storm clouds lit the world up in orange and purple. 

Other days it's different; it might be me on my own in the car with the music turned up loud.

It might be a special hour over coffee with a friend. It might be holding hands with my daughter on the way to school, holding hands with my husband on the sofa in front of a film or holding hands with Jesus as I realise all over again that I can't do any of it without Him.

Ann Voskamp wrote down A Thousand Gifts and people all over the world are inspired and making their lists. I know that if I write one thing a day I'll only have 365 in a year, but it's a start. I'm adding between the pages little things that I want to remember; a note from one of the children or a page from the desk calendar with a scripture to remember.

I'm making a year of Thank Yous.

John Muir wrote:
'...keep close to nature's heart...and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.'
I would so love to disappear off into the wilderness once in a while. To stop the hamster-wheel and find a remote little windswept cottage on an island in the Hebrides, perhaps, just me and a kettle and my journal and some custard creams. And my computer (and WiFi!). But to find solitude. No noise but the wind and the birds. Peace, quiet. Undisturbed nature. Sky and landscape and freedom and space.

To wash my spirit clean indeed. 

Not so fussed about climbing a mountain.

In the absence of such an opportunity I want to make a note of the moments that allow my soul to breathe, even if only for a moment. 

I want to see them, appreciate them, savour them and store them up for the times when I can't remember how it feels.

Because I can't just disappear into the wilderness for years like Mr Muir, I want to pin down and bottle the glimpses of God that come my way so that I can take off the lid and inhale deeply when the walls seem too close and claustrophobic. 

Waking up to the sound of birdsong.

Mist and sunshine on the moors.

The first jaw-aching sip of red wine on a Friday night.

Two planes vapour trails crossing in the sky like a heavenly kiss.

A letter from an old friend

Wonder on my daughter's face as we watch the sunset.

Vanilla latte and a good friend. 

A sky full of stars.

So this is my project, Lord. 

Give me eyes to see and ears to hear the wonders that you place in my path just because you are a God who delights to delight. 

Don't let me walk past the gifts that you give me. 

Please don't ever let my eyes be so focused on the dirt under my feet that I don't see the vastness and beauty of your creation. 

John Muir again:
'Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where Nature may heal and give strength to the body and soul.'
Amen to that.


Monday, 22 February 2016

Writer's Flood

Me writing as a young'un
In our house, today is the first day back at school after half term. The kids have left, and all of a sudden my time feels empty. I’ve been enjoying the boundless creativity, inquisitive minds and zany ideas that come with getting the children at their best. When they get home this evening I'll get the tired, grouchy, 'please can I just play Wii?' children that appear in my house during term time, and we’ll be back in the drudge again.

The only plus point about the kids going back is that I’m able to get stuck into writing again. I love writing, it’s where I feel most at home, Coffee, notepad, pencil, computer - these are items that feel most comfortable to me, like putting on old, warm slippers. 

I just have one problem: I don’t have a project.

I’ve blogged on here before about  writers block - about the frustration of not just knowing how to get what I want down on paper, but what to write about in the first place. And yet, I don’t know about you, but many times I complain about writers block, what I really mean is writers flood.

I have ideas in abundance, but they flit and fly, beautiful to see reflecting the light but difficult to catch and make something of. There are so many thoughts that I become paralysed by choice and end up with nothing.

It’s not that there’s nothing to do. I’ve got plenty of things I could be getting on with.

I’ve been thinking for a while about trying to write a second memoir. I’ve planned, structured, and got a somewhat accurate timeline to work from. I’ve even typed and edited some of the inevitable journal entries that mark every autobiography, but the excitement isn’t there, and I’m not actually in the mood where I want to think about it.

I’ve also sort of got a novel in my head. Well, not a novel so much as a title - the plot is still a bit shadowy. I have a saccharine heroine and a brooding villain, but beyond that nothing - and that definitely won’t a good novel make. 

The mental health book I’ve talked about before has gone on the back burner for a while - my co-writer is busy with speaking and in searching for a publisher I’ve lost the will to email. It’s still a topic I’m passionate about, but the enthusiasm for formulating ideas into a book has dwindled.

So how do I choose? How do I decide what should get the best of my time whilst school gets the best of my children’s? What decision uses my time most wisely whilst also fuelling the part of me that has been smothered for the last ten days being mummy?

A plan to go with a new term: When Seth’s teacher starts with the register, I’ll make my own list of jobs that need attending to. When Amelia is handing in her homework, I’ll be doing my homework - making sure that jobs are done, emails replied to, dishwasher emptied. 

And then, when the children are settling into their work, I shall sit down, look at my options, and start to write, waiting for the tingly feeling that says I’m onto something.

Or, if nothing else, yet another idea…

Abbie has been writing ever 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 and tweets as @AbbieRobson and @AdullamSelfHarm. She lives in Rugby with husband John, two demanding children, and two even more demanding cats.

Book cover: Insight into Self-Harm by Helena Wilkinson and Abbie RobsonCover of book: Secret Scars by Abbie Robson


Sunday, 21 February 2016

A Case of Cancer vs.Christ.....Part 1 - Ruth Johnson

“…with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.  Romans 10:10

In writing of God's invisible gifts, I ended last month with the above scripture. In 2008 the words of Ps.27 so reflected my heart I daily confessed them over my life. I'd no idea then, that this would prepare me for what was to come.

On 31st August 2010 a lump found to be benign three years earlier showed up on a mammogram, was tested again, and to my surprise found positive.  The surgeon suggested a mastectomy. At my refusal he rescinded to just removing the small lump I could see and feel! I didn't want to rush into anything, and talked to people I knew who’d been through this.  One told me of pills that shrunk her lump before surgery.  I asked the Lord to guide me, believed He’d a strategy, and felt incredibly peaceful.  

Next morning these verses in Ps.27 stood out!. "When the wicked came against me to eat up my flesh, My adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell." AMP.   Weeks earlier I’d borrowed a NKJV Bible I opened it and before me was a chain reference box headed ‘Divine Healing’.  Amazed at God’s provision I started in Genesis and spoke every relevant scripture over my body.  My peace turned to expectation.

On Friday in the midst of my time with the Lord He interrupted saying, “I want you to take pills.”  I replied, “Not something a surgeon would recommend. And, as I shan’t see him until the pre-op appointment you’ll have to organize it."  That afternoon the Clinic nurse rang to book the operation. I mentioned taking pills her response was skeptical.  Later an answerphone message said that the surgeon wanted to see me on Tuesday morning at 10.10.    

In the middle of the night I awoke to“10.10” in my mind. I thought, my appointment time, the Lord said, “No! John 10:10”  My reponse: Ah! the devil comes to maim, steal and destroy, but I came to bring life…' Right, I resist his wiles, he will stumble and fall, and believe you will release healing into my body.”

Before leaving on Tuesday, our daughter who’d been abroad rang. I was about to tell her my news when she pre-empted me. “I know, you’ve got breast cancer.” I asked “How?” Her reply, “The Lord told me three months ago" and went on to remind me of a conversation where I'd commented that no-one in our family was going to get cancer.”  Wow! If God had gone to the trouble of telling my daughter, then He was definitely on my case.  

Half an hour later, the surgeon’s opening words were, “I hear you don’t want an operation, you'd prefer tablets.”  I nodded, “Well, if the tests reveal you are hormone sensitive, I think that’s a good idea.”  I bit back the 'hallelujah', and declared, “Oh I’m very highly hormone sensitive” and it turned out I was!

More next month….

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Nuts and bolts by Sue Russell

Among the writers' groups I belong to, I have a number of nicknames. 'Commander Comma' and 'The Nitpick Queen' are the politer ones. It's true: spelling, grammar and punctuation errors leap out at me from a text, waving 'Here I am!' banners. I also once had a long, heated (but not acrimonious) discussion with a group of friends on the use of the hyphen.

Spelling, grammar and punctuation are, of course, just conventions. Normally I am happy to flout convention, tradition, anything that restricts (within reason and mercy.) In other centuries capital letters abounded, punctuation marks were scattered liberally where today we would eschew them, spelling was often quite different and not necessarily consistent, and such things as paragraphs and indentations were barely thought of. So I admit that my piffling obsession isn't something of ultimate importance, and in a hundred years' time no doubt much will have changed. Happily I won't be around to bewail the demise of the colon, or the randomness of brackets, or whatever other horrors may have come along.

However, we are living and writing today, and I think it is important to adhere to the conventions of our own time when producing a written text, whether verse or biography, textbook or romance - not in a slavish way, but simply in the interests of our content. Typos creep in, as I know very well, especially now when so many of us write on keyboards which make it easy to flip back and forth, adding and erasing, so that you end up writing 'the ' twice or  fail to notice an inverted apostrophe (I shudder.) Nevertheless, a text with errors can make the reader think, at best, 'This author is careless,' worse, 'This author is ignorant,' or worse still, 'This story must be nonsense.' It may be a great book, but justice is not done to it if it is poorly edited.

The spell-checker, I reluctantly suppose, has some value. But it can't be relied on. It will merrily let you have 'taut' when you meant 'taught,' replace 'mayor' with 'mare' or 'rein' with 'reign.' And we all know the mayhem that missing or misplaced commas can cause. 'Mrs Figgis listed her hobbies as cooking her dog and her grandchildren.' A simple comma would have prevented the irate descent of cruelty-prevention agencies on a presumably innocent woman.

I  can't remember that I was taught punctuation in depth at school, though I'm sure errors would have merited a red pencil. No, it seems to me that the acquisition of knowledge, good habits, an instinct for what is right comes from reading a lot of other people's excellent, well-edited prose. It trains both ear and eye. However there are rules, and I came across a useful (and amusing) site which may interest some of you. Just type in 'Top Punctuation Howlers.'

Having posted on this theme, I must make very sure that there are no errors in what I have written.Those of you who are even more purist than I am may object to starting sentences with 'and' or 'but.'  But that's another story altogether!

Sue Russell writes as S.L.Russell and has five novels available in the usual places: Leviathan with a Fish-hook, The Monster Behemoth, and The Land of Nimrod (a trilogy) and two stand-alones, A Shed in a Cucumber Field and An Iron Yoke. They are published by New Generation and are all broadly in the same genre - realistic British Christian fiction for adults.

Sue lives in Kent with her husband, currently one daughter, and Rosie the dog. She is an amateur singer and a church organist, and blogs at

Friday, 19 February 2016

Is eating people wrong? by Veronica Zundel

Are you a cannibal? No, I’m not referring here to missionaries boiling in a pot, but to the writer’s habit of squirrelling away little bits (and sometimes big chunks) of her and her family’s everyday life to use in her writing when appropriate, and sometimes when inappropriate. Obviously, if your everyday life is the main subject of your writing, or you're writing biography, then it’s mostly appropriate, but do you also cannibalise daily life, its ups and downs, its humour and tragedy, for other kinds of writing?

Not long ago I was writing my monthly column for Woman Alive magazine, and I found myself composing several paragraphs about a neighbour who has suffered a huge trauma and is very slowly recovering, and whom I have been trying as best I can to support. I even sent off the column to the editor. And then after several days or even weeks, I realised something: my neighbour reads the magazine, or at least has a subscription which I bought her. She is also a very private person: what would she feel if she opened the page and found her life plastered all over it? At the very last minute, I contacted the editor and asked if it was too late to change the column. Fortunately it wasn’t, and I replaced the paragraphs about my neighbour with a story of supporting my late brother through his mental illness many years ago.

Is it ethical, is it necessary, to use bits of other people’s lives in one’s writing like this? Should they have a say in whether you do? (that is, if they aren’t complete strangers like the two teenage girls I overheard at the local High Street before Christmas, one saying to the other ‘I’m going to make the knickers out of tinsel’!).

Tinsel knickers? Ouch!

When I wrote my last book, about spiritual lessons from the experience of parenting, I inevitably included many details of my son’s childhood, though avoiding any that were too embarrassing. Before sending off the MS, I asked him to read the book and tell me whether he wanted me to change his name to anonymise it a bit more. He was OK with my using his real name, but in my column I still refer to him as ‘Genius Brat’, while hubby is ‘The Grouch’.

In the end, I suppose all writers are cannibals, picking up oddments of other people’s lives and transforming them, sometimes more disguised, sometimes less, into their work. The question is, are we exposing what should not be exposed, or doing harm to someone else and their reputation or sense of privacy? It may depend on how much you alter the details ‘to protect the innocent’, but when it comes down to it, there are some stories that you just don’t have the right to tell. Working out which, identifying what you can’t say no matter how much you want to - ah, there’s the real art.

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

Thursday, 18 February 2016

How to free the writer within by Joy Lenton

I'm sharing an example of free writing to reveal how it can lead to freer thinking. It's received wisdom that writers do free writing of first thoughts when barely awake because this helps stir their latent creativity.

Mine would be a blur of fatigue and brain-fog in the morning hours, so these free writing exercises are last thoughts done at day's end.

The potential benefits of free writing are to increase a natural flow of words when blocked or stalled and unleash deeper, natural creativity.

This is an inspiring suggestion made by Natalie Goldberg in her acclaimed book, 'Writing Down the Bones:Freeing the Writer Within'.

These unedited exercises tend to be building blocks I set aside for future use.

Here are two examples of the results of timed free writing exercises I have undertaken. I offer them with a little trepidation and with the hope they will encourage you to have a go...

"Susurration of night sounds hisses in my ears. I can feel the creep of cold from window and street.

Detached as I am from activity, I am free to ponder. Rooted to bed, to page, to blankness; wedded to the written word.

Writing has become stream of consciousness spreading itself, splashing like tears blurring ink.

I try to think because that's what I do, but thinking is too constrained, too disciplined for this emptying of the mind.

I think too much as it is, my mind a constant whirr, reeling back and forth, projecting images to accept or reject on the cinema screen of my mind.

I long to be calm - it's bedtime after all - but today has sapped all my energy and I'm depleted, wrung ragged when I run on empty.

I long to feel replete, full of contentment. Instead, as I hunker down, scribing black on white, I sense disquiet sitting mouse-like on the inside of me.

It's a pipsqueak of protest venting aloud without a sound. My heart's yearnings are speaking."

"Sat within the lap of time and space, I reach for a reason to write out my heart. Seek a way forward when I'm stalled and plans fall apart.

Maybe this...this going with the flow will release a new stream in me? 

I want to wrap love up in paper as I sift gifts to give, choose a present to represent my idea of what will appeal to the recipient.

Will they be touched and sense the way I've thought of them? 

Or will they dismiss, simply shrug a perfunctory word of gratitude when their mind has an alternative attitude?

It's hard to judge what others desire to have. Most of the things that matter most can't be bought, only freely given.

My deepest longing is not to miss the most important things. Like the love letters God strews along my path each day.

It requires more of an inner listening and alertness than necessarily noticing with physical eyes."


All inspiration comes from God and He reveals the ways we can express ourselves best as we write and give Him the glory for everything.

Sometimes we just need a nap or a rest break to replenish our creative juices. 

Sometimes we need to spend more time with God and wait on His perfect timing.

What helps to restore the flow for you when writing feels hard to do?

Joy Lenton is a grateful grace dweller, contemplative Christian writer and poet who is currently working on her first anthology. 

She enjoys encouraging others at her blogs and as she seeks to discover the poetic in the prosaic and the eternal in the temporal. You can connect with her on Twitter, or on Facebook.