Saturday, 30 April 2016

ACW Writers Rock

ACW writers could fill pages full of news especially in April. This means two blogs this month have been given over to telling the world about recent announcements.

Claire Weiner

  Clare (in her identity as Mari Howard) and Lynne Pardoe (Davidson) have just been reading her work and participating in panel discussions on writing contemporary fiction and poetry at the second Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. The Festival venue, a small, Cotswold village in South Gloucestershire is the perfect place for a ‘inclusive, friendly’ Festival of books and reading, and takes place on the nearest weekend to Shakespeare’s birthday. This year’s was an all-day event with readings, panel discussions, children’s activities, storytelling, and the pop-up cafe ‘Alice’s Wonderland Cafe’ serving tea/coffee/cakes/jam tarts/soup and featuring a bookstall with work by participating authors. Most popular featured discussion was the one on ‘Writing from or about disability and differences’. The Festival closed with Prospero’s speech ‘Our revels now are ended …'

Claire Musters

Claire just submitted a book on Self Acceptance to CWR, as part of their Insight Guides. This was co-written with Chris Ledger and will be released in October.

Paul Trembling

Paul has recently signed a contract with Lion Hudson for his latest novel. 'Local Poet' starts of with a fatal RTC (Road Traffic Collision), but as the story progresses it becomes clear that there is a whole lot more going on! There's drugs, there's mystery, there's a touch of romance - and even some actual poetry...

Paul has independently published several books, but this is his first opportunity to work with a publisher, 'Local Poet' should be coming out in October.

Wendy H. Jones

Wendy released Killer's Cut, the fourth book in her DI Shona Mckenzie Mysteries on 17th April. This was launched in Waterstones, Dundee, with some wine, food and a great deal of laughter. 

Wendy has also signed a contract with Books to Treasure to write a series of Mysteries for Young Adults. Called the Fergus and Flora Mysteries, the first book, The Dagger's Curse, will be launched at Waterstones, Dundee on 10th September, 2016.

Heather Flack

Heather Flack has been undertaking a series of talks about her book Ironside. Her latest was in Somerset where Edward Ironside fought his first battle. 

As you can see there is a lot going on in members lives. We love celebrating successes and encouraging writers. If you are a writer, budding writer and a Christian, and not yet a member of ACW you can find out more here Association of Christian Writers We would love to be able to celebrate your good news in the future. 

Friday, 29 April 2016

News and Celebrations

Today's blog is given over to celebrating with the many ACW authors who have good news to share. ACW is an organisation which supports writers who are also Christians. Not all write for a Christian market but they all have a passion for writing books and articles which can be enjoyed by readers both nationally and internationally. So join with us today as we share our announcements, celebrations and good news. 

Philip S. Davies

Destiny's Rebel, by Philip S Davies, has been voted one of four U.K. Finalists for the Crystal Kite Award from the Los Angeles-based international Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Destiny's Rebel was also released as an e-book on 15th April.

Philip has now signed a contract with Books to Treasure publishers to release the sequels: Destiny's Revenge in September 2016, and Destiny's Usurper in the autumn of 2017.

Pamela Evans

Themes from Ephesians is released in BRF's Quiet Spaces’ May-Aug 2016. Pamela has contributed the two weeks at the end of August.

Lynne Pardoe

Lynne's second book, Abandoned by My Mum, will be released soon.

This book is about Chelsea, a fourteen year old who was abandoned and was at risk of being abused. A social worker helps her to understand the traumatic circumstances that surround her and give her peace.

Veronica Bright

Veronica has had an article published in the current issue of Writing Magazine. Called Snatches from a Summer Song, it’s about the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School.

Congratulations to everyone. There will be more good news in tomorrows blog. See you all then

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Psalm 24 - Reimagined for the twenty-first century

In common with many, many people, I love the Psalms and among my favourites is Psalm 24. ‘The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it’ It is a beautiful psalm that is, of course, framed in the cosmology of David’s time.

Recently, I feel to wondering whether it could be re-imagined in the light of all we now know about the Universe. The following is the result of that wondering. Trevor Thorn

The entire cosmos is the Lord's and everything in it; every particle of matter both observable and hidden; the earth’s resources and living creatures entrusted to humans, and living beings of planets far beyond our reach.

For it was founded to inhabit the deep realm of space and on earth given the window of night, that in time we might better comprehend it.

Who shall travel beyond, into the eternal presence of The Lord, or who shall dare to approach that holy place? Even those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who love righteousness and Godly justice and who abhor greed and iniquity: they will receive blessings from The Lord and be welcomed into his kingdom of love.

This can become a renewed generation of those who revere God, who stand in awe at the unfolding of the magnificence of his creation.

Lift up your heads you galaxies and make a dazzling pathway you nebulae, that the King of Glory may pass among you.

Who is this King of Glory? It is The Lord, the mighty Creator whose Word brought forth this nurturing universe.

Lift up your heads you galaxies and make a dazzling pathway you nebulae, that the King of Glory may pass among you.

Who is this King of Glory? It is The Lord, the Almighty, our compassionate Creator, Redeemer and Great Sustainer.

And here is the psalm on a’ starburst’ background specially 
imagined to present the psalm in poster form which you would be welcome to print for your own use if you so wish: it might make for an interesting conversation ‘starter’. Double click on the image to access the poster in printable form.

Trevor also runs his own blog where he aims to weave together the themes of beauty, science and faith. You can find more of his work at

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Using the Time You Have, by Lucy Mills

How well do you manage your time? 

This was something I had to address in my own life when I found that all my roles – as editor, as writer, as all the other things I am and do – were flying about in an exhausting cycle. It felt like a spider’s web unhooked and blowing messily in the wind. I had to start putting my life into sections. We often say - and hear - that we need to make appointments to write – to mark out times we are writing and nothing else. This doesn’t work for me unless I do it with other things, too. Thus, I have had to draw lines all over the place.

My editing role can spill into everything if I’m not careful, so I needed to tie that carefully down – to two specific mornings per week. Only then could I allocate my ‘writing morning’ – and yes, I can only manage one morning a week for writing as a regular slot, although when deadlines are pressing I manage to pop it into other patches. So I’m not a full time writer, and work ebbs and flows, usually manageable with only a few momentary panics! If I get a big commission, I revise the routine a little - but often I just up my productivity in the current 'slot'.

As I struggle with chronic illness I need to be aware that often I am worn out in afternoons and therefore should not expect myself to do too much (so, in a way, I'm talking about managing energy as much as I am time). I'm writing this in the afternoon; it feels very hard and my head is pounding.

However, when I work I do it very intensively and achieve more in a morning than someone working slower might do in a day – so it evens out. I have one strict day off which I share with my husband who is a minister. I’m irritatingly stubborn about keeping it, but it is non-negotiable. I then have an odds and ends day which is when I try and make appointments, see a friend, do pressing chores, etc.

Church stuff – which I need to prep for, fits in on odds and ends day usually, lunchtimes, or Friday afternoons, or Saturdays . Housework falls into the same kind of pattern, and hubs and I share the load. I can’t be the domestic goddess some might like to be; I barely keep on top of things – but the world hasn’t ended and the lounge and downstairs loo are presentable. Dinner gets cooked, often straight from the freezer when I'm tired. That’ll do for now.

It’s not inflexible but there are important aspects to it. I do not check my editing emails on my day off, and only work on editing tasks on the set mornings. Once my time is up, it’s like the end of an exam – pens down, paper handed in. That’s the pattern. Sometimes I do need to check emails and respond to immediate queries when the magazine is in an intensive, time- sensitive stage, but the general rule is there. And in the main, it works. It works because it’s trained my mind to switch off, and then I don’t feel guilty about writing because this is when I do it - and when I don't do that.

The other stuff I do when I do the other stuff (!), and if I don’t finish everything on the list it gets rolled over to the next allocated slot. It’s to do with attention and focus, too. If my focus is on one thing, rather than several, I do that one thing better, and overall, I’m more productive – and what I produce is better. So, everyone wins.

My current slots are tightly packed, so if I need to do something else, to fit another ‘thing’ in, I’d need to think carefully. The routine is up for review whenever necessary – it works at the moment, but if it gets thrown out of kilter by circumstances foreseen or otherwise, I’m stretched, and I need to tweak it. Yes, sometimes it means sacrificing my writing time. Sometimes things need cancelling or changing so I can collapse for a bit. But because it’s the exception rather than the rule I can still maintain it in the long run.

For now.

What about you? 
Do you draw lines in your weekly life? 
How might doing so make you more productive? 


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:

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Save the Cat!

Recent discussions in the ACW FB group have revolved around how to make characters sympathetic or likeable. Lots of useful advice was offered from giving them relatable weaknesses to letting them have a pet. That last one got me thinking. As some of you may know, in addition to being an author, I lecture scriptwriting in a university Creative Writing department for a living – well, sort of a living (see what I did there? I made myself vulnerable and relatable; do you like me more now…?).

But, back to the cat. One of the most influential screenwriting ‘gurus’ of the last 15 years is the late Blake Snyder, whose book ‘Save the Cat’ catapulted to the top of bestsellers’ lists. Now, if you click through to his site – or that of most screenwriting teachers – you may well be put off by the tone of ‘this is the best / last / only book on screenwriting you will ever need’. I know I am.  So it may seem ironic that one of the areas on which screenwriting teachers focus is how to make characters likeable and relatable to their target audience. The key here is the target audience. It is important to note that what you and I may consider brash and off-putting may be perceived by other people as self-assured and confident – this guy knows what he’s talking about! – and that’s a value which in some quarters is held in high esteem.

Snyder (who has copyrighted the phrase Save the Cat, just in case you were thinking of nicking it) refers to an ‘obligatory’ scene in a film where the hero, who we may have seen doing some unpleasant things already, does something kind to reveal his ‘true’ character (saves the cat / child / old lady; smiles at a kid; gives money to a beggar etc). He may look like a foul-mouthed, short-tempered drunk who has a nasty habit of beating people up, but inside he’s really a good guy. Most films – certainly most Hollywood genre films – will have this scene in the first ‘act’, usually before the inciting incident takes place.

Contrived? Yes. So why do they do it? Well, there’s an academic theory known as Audience Reception Theory. At its most basic it means that the culture and shared values of the recipients of the text / screenwork / artwork help to determine its meaning. The key here is what the audience ‘values’. As a writer it is important to understand what your readership / audience consider good characteristics and which bad. If you are writing romances, you need to know that readers want the boy and girl to get together at the end. If you are writing dystopian thrillers, know that your readers will be suspicious of authority and characters representing it. In the romance, a ‘save the cat’ scene may involve a woman who has sworn off men but we are given a glimpse of her smiling fondly at an elderly married couple. In the dystopian thriller it might involve a character working for the establishment but then choosing to turn a blind eye to a minor misdemeanour. Both examples create empathy by establishing shared values with your readership and the promise that at the end the character’s true nature will emerge.

Do you know what your readers value? How might that affect your characterisation? Perhaps you need to Save the Cat.

 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 and the Young Joseph Series (to be published August 2016) are available from SPCK. Her mystery novel The Jazz Files, the first in the Poppy Denby Investigates Series, is published by Lion Fiction, the second, The Kill Fee, will be coming out in September 2016 . Her novel The Peace Garden  is self-published under Crafty Publishing

Monday, 25 April 2016

The Comparison Game by Fiona Lloyd

If I’d been a fly on the wall at the Last Supper, I’d have got pretty irritated with the disciples. There was Jesus, reminding them about how he was going to suffer – having been betrayed by one of their number – and explaining that in future they should share bread and wine as a remembrance of him. And what were the disciples doing at this pivotal moment in human history? Arguing about who among them was the greatest.

It’s easy to tut-tut and shake our heads at their immature behaviour; but I suspect that most of us are guilty of playing the comparison game from time to time. The media bombards us with unrealistic images of how we should look, while advertisements are carefully crafted to make us dissatisfied with our lot. Before we realise it, we’re measuring ourselves against others, thinking that life would be perfect if only we had a size eight figure, a designer wardrobe and a fortnight’s holiday in the Bahamas every summer.

As Christians, we understand – at least in theory – that we’re not supposed to be obsessed with outward appearances and material possessions. Sadly, we often settle for a more spiritualised version of the game instead, by wishing we had that person’s gift for sharing their faith, or another believer’s ability to preach stirring sermons. Maybe we notice how God has seemingly blessed the woman in the next pew more than us, and wonder if our efforts to serve him make any difference to anything. Elder-brother-itis is endemic in our churches…and I, for one, am not exempt.

But this attitude can cause serious (sometimes fatal) damage to our writing. It stifles creativity and suffocates the calling God has placed on us. While it can be helpful to look at other writers in terms of developing our skills, using their success as a yardstick for our own can be counterproductive. Measuring ourselves against other writers – as opposed to learning from them – will inevitably lead to discouragement.

I guess I need to stop comparing myself and be content with how God has made me (grey hairs and all). As far as my writing goes, that means rejoicing when others are successful, commiserating when they’re not…and being satisfied with what God calls me to do. I’d love to write a best-selling novel or pen a devotional that will draw millions of people closer to Jesus; but if I never do, it won’t lessen my value in God’s eyes. I am acceptable to him just as I am.

So, as Oscar Wilde once said: Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.

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.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

The First of Three Blasts of the Trump

As I’ve been saying in previous blogs, C. S. Lewis in English Literature in the Sixteenth Century displays a wonderful balance of critical analysis and sympathetic insight. He brings out for us the strengths of the era, so that we may profit from them, while not hiding their dark side—a side that is unfortunately quite familiar today.

John Knox is one of the most important, and most colourful, figures of the Reformation in the British Isles (especially for Scots). Having been brought up a Northern Ireland Presbyterian, Lewis was well placed to understand Knox’s faith from the inside.

Soon after Mary’s accession in 1553, Knox fled from England, where he was already in exile, to the Continent. From there he wrote the Epistle to His Afflicted Brethren in England, ‘full’, Lewis tells us, ‘of his exulting certainty that the persecutors will be punished in this life and in the next’. Lewis comments ‘it is impossible to suppress the uneasy remembrance (even though we dare make no judgement) that these fiery exhortations are uttered by a man in safety to men in horrible danger’. Those are my italics: Lewis’s reactions are more charitable than mine would have been.

Knox then wrote the Faithful Admonition, along the same lines, only stronger. ‘That outrageous pamphlet’, the English congregation at Frankfurt protested to Calvin, no less, had ‘added much oil to the flame of persecution in England’. Lewis again: ‘Knox is already becoming the enfant terrible of Calvinism; and in the Admonition we see both why and how.’

Amazingly, Knox thought of himself as a culpably gentle preacher; he felt that he had sinned by not speaking out plainly enough, not being fervent enough. And this, says Lewis, for a reason that no one who had ever met him would suspect: ‘My wicked nature desired the favours, the estimation, and the prayse of men’. Lewis allows himself a degree of good-humoured criticism when he comments ‘No equal instance of self-ignorance is recorded until the moment at which [Dr] Johnson pronounced himself “a very polite man”.’

In 1558 Knox then turned his attention back to Scotland (not yet reformed) and wrote an Appellation to the Nobility and Estates of Scotland, showing that all the estates of a nation had as much responsibility for enforcing orthodox Christian belief as the church. He tells the common people that if they shirk their duty it will not help in the day of wrath to say ‘we were but simple subjects’. Lewis comments: ‘Knox…undisguisedly appeals to every section of the community to use instant violence for the establishment of a revolutionary theocracy.’ Lewis could not have envisaged how familiar such a situation would become to us fifty years after his death.

When he comes to discuss the First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstruous Regiment of Women (it was planned to be the first of three blasts), Lewis calls it ‘the most embarrassing of all his works’ because, ‘in a certain sense nearly every one…agreed with Knox.’ Everyone at the time believed that it was contrary to Natural Law for women to rule men; but many political arrangements, as the world is, are equally contrary to Natural law, because this is a fallen world, therefore nobody should try to depose female rulers. Spenser, for example, says that women are ‘borne to base humilitie’, but as a practical and loyal citizen, adds ‘Vnless the heauens them lift to lawfull soveraintie’. Calvin took exactly the same view: ‘it is unlawful to unsettle governments’, he wrote. Nevertheless, Knox went ahead and published his book. Lewis comments: ‘No book more calculated to damage the Protestant cause could have been written—and all, as Calvin says…because one conceited man would not think what he was doing’.

Knox writes:

Women as nature and experience do this day declare them…weake, fraile, impacient, feble, and foolish.

Lewis continues: ‘St Paul has said in so many words that he permits not a woman to bear rule over a man; therefore’, Knox says:

Nowe let man and angell conspire against God, Let them pronounce their lawes and say, We will suffre women to beare authoritie, who then can depose them? Yet shall this one word of the eternal God spoken by the mouth of a weake man, thruste them everie one into hell.

Lewis tells us that Knox concludes by stating that it is the duty of the people to depose all sovereign queens and kill all who defend them. ‘And he never to the end of his days seemed quite to understand why Elizabeth disliked this little book. He had advanced proofs from scripture; if they were invalid, let them be answered.’

Knox’s treatise on Predestination was written as an answer to an Anabaptist tract. The tone of the Anabaptists and the tone of Knox’s writing are equally harsh and vindictive. Lewis comments: ‘behind every system of sixteenth-century thought, however learnedly it is argued, lurks cruelty and Ogpu [the infamous Soviet secret police, forerunner of the KGB].’

There isn’t space to go into Lewis’s critique of Knox’s History of the Reformation in Scotland. It contains a little deliberate, but ferocious,  humour, but a great deal of unconscious humour, as in Knox’s descriptions of his dealings with Elizabeth I. He wrote to her telling her not to be offended by the Monstrous Regiment at exactly the moment when English aid was most crucial to the Scottish Protestants. Just to inculcate humility in the Queen, he told her:

Consider deiply how for feir of your lyef ye did declyne from God and bow till idolatrie.

Stylistically, the History is well written; ‘it is not the style that keeps readers away from John Knox’, says Lewis humorously.

Lewis and Knox may perhaps serve as models of how to be and how not to be a Christian writer.

Stop Press: A film on the life of John Knox has just been nominated for a bafta:

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Trophies and photographs - by Helen Murray

Apologies if this is an odd sort of post. It's about something that happened earlier this week and it's not quite straight in my mind yet. It's a bit difficult to talk about, partly because it's deeply personal, but also because it's still a bit raw and unprocessed. I'm sort of processing as I write.

On Monday I sat down to pray with two very wise and perceptive ladies that don't know me at all. We were talking about God the Father, families, our Christian journey, that kind of thing. I found myself telling them of a memory I have from junior school. The memory for me is frozen into a photograph.

There's a little girl in a blue and white checked school uniform dress standing in a school hall. Actually, she's not so little - she's only about nine or ten but she's tall for her age and ... er... not thin. She has long golden hair over her shoulder and she's looking down and smiling. She has a trophy in her hands; a polished silver rose bowl. Standing back slightly to her right is a beaming elderly lady in a patterned dress, and all around are people who appear to be clapping, some of them classmates and others parents and onlookers.

The teacher was Mrs Riley, a favourite of mine. She was my class teacher in Second Year (now called Year 4) and she donated a silver rose bowl to the school to be used as a prize in a writing competition. On the first year the competition ran, I won it. The child in the photo is me, and I have just received my trophy. I have no recollection of who took the photograph, but someone thrust it in my hands days after the event. It would have been about 1979, I think, and so quite amazing that the occasion was caught on film.

However, I have always had very mixed emotions about that picture. Despite the moment of triumph that it captures, it's never been a happy photo for me.

It was around that time that I started getting bullied for being fat, and the first thing that jumps out at me from the photo is the dress that I'm wearing. Standard issue summer uniform; probably from M&S. I remember how that dress felt. It was too tight on the sleeves. My arms were uncomfortable and I was keenly aware that it didn't fit well. I look at the picture and I feel embarrassed. You can detect self-consciousness in the picture too; my cheeks are pink and my eyes are averted. I look distinctly awkward.

I have never been able to see Mrs Riley standing back, smiling at me proudly.
I have never been able to see the applause of the audience.
I've never really been able to remember what the Rose Bowl felt like in my hands.

A few weeks later, someone showed me the Rose Bowl that was back from the engravers. There was my name, with the date of the first writing competition. It looked nice. The teacher put it on a glass shelf in the trophy cabinet and placed the silver mesh lid on top of the bowl. The deep lip of the lid completely covered my name. You couldn't see it any more.

I remember that moment very clearly.

My daughters now go to the same school. Before my eldest was old enough, we went to look round and meet the headmistress. As we stood in front of the trophy cabinet I asked about the Riley Rose Bowl but the new Head hadn't heard of it. 'It's probably here somewhere,' she said. 'I must look it out,'  She didn't.

I don't know why the photograph came to mind as I sat praying this week. I began to cry as I told the story. I've known that the photograph represented to me problems I've had with body image for a long time and I've been working through at lot of that in recent years, but this was something else. One of the ladies suggested something that knocked me for six.

She suggested that this moment was significant for my writing, too.

I write. I love to write, and I hate writing, and all the stuff in between. I know you understand. I want to be a writer, I AM a writer, I want to be a proper writer. I want to write novels, I want to be published! I want to 'be successful', whatever that means. Yet, I have found a hundred things in my way. Indeed, most of my blog posts here have been about what's stopping me from writing.

Among the many obstacles, I have long understood that I suffer from perfectionism and a pronounced fear of failure, but after she'd listened to my story about the photograph, my friend on Monday suggested that I have another deep-rooted fear: a fear of success.

The idea that I am afraid of actually achieving what I dream of achieving was a new one for me.

She went on to suggest, very gently, that this fear dates back to the time of the photo. Winning the Riley Rose Bowl had not been the happy thing it should have been. It wasn't a triumphant moment; it was not cause for celebration. My parents were not there when I received the award; it took place at a performance of the summer concert and they had attended a different evening. They didn't hear my name announced and join in the applause. I was uncomfortable in my dress and hated that everyone was looking at me. My engraved name was obscured by the lip of the lid and I felt humiliated. The school has since lost the trophy, even though some of the other (sporting) trophies still in the cabinet date back to those years and before.

My achievement had turned out to be a great disappointment.

So here's the thing. If success equals embarrassment, self-consciousness and humiliation, then it's not what it's cracked up to be. If winning is being the object of unwelcome attention, then maybe it's better not to win. If the commemoration of your achievement is invisible and eventually discarded, what's the point? That thing you hoped for and dreamed of, well, you did it, and it turned out to be worth nothing.

Why bother even trying?

Mrs Riley died last month, aged 96. I saw her obituary in the paper and I felt sad. A couple of years ago I went to the funeral of another favourite English teacher. There are a small number of people who have been deeply significant to me with regard to my dream to be a writer, and now all but one are gone.  I hoped that one day I would present them with a signed copy of my bestselling novel and I would see in their eyes how proud they were of me.

They would read it and tell me that it was good.

That will never happen.

I could end this post (and indeed, I should end it, before it descends still further into the maudlin) by announcing 'No more!' and claiming my release from the lies I've believed and been freed from. I don't know about that. I need to think, and to pray. I think it's good that I've come to this point now - indeed the ladies who prayed with me were very clear that it's not a co-incidence.

I've never liked that photograph, even though you'd think it would be a proud moment, but I only just begin to understand why it's been so full of pain and not joy.

Isn't it good that God has a very different definition of success?

I hang onto the fact that I know for a certainty that my heavenly Father already has pride in His eyes when He looks at me, whether I've penned a bestseller or not. Whether I ever complete my WIP or not. Whether anyone ever reads what I write.

He loves me not because of what I do, but because of who I am; because I am His child.

One more thing, before I go off to continue this in my journal. The piece of writing that I did to win the Rose Bowl - it was a little hymn.  No doubt it had a rhyme scheme that would make you cringe, but it was a child's offering of praise.

I think God smiled, even then.

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

Having spent time as a researcher, church worker and Hand Therapist, Helen is now a full time mum and writer, currently supposed to be working on her first novel. 

As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims and has seventy six Aloe Vera plants at the last count. The observant among you will note that this is fewer than last month: with regret I have to report that a whole windowsill-full of plants recently met with an unfortunate accident.

Helen 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. It's been a while since there was anything to report. 

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray

Twitter: @helenmurray01

Friday, 22 April 2016

The Comedy Genius of Victoria Wood

I read the following quote the other day:

“I like writing a lot more than I used to. I used to find it scary but now I’ve got used to it once it gets going. I used to find it hard to start. Fear of the blank page. The first thing you write down won’t bear any relation to what’s in your head, and that’s always disappointing.”

Wise words from the late, but hilariously great Victoria Wood - little did I know that only a few days later we would hear of her untimely death from cancer. I was going to share something else today, but I couldn’t let this blog go by without some sort of tribute. I’m sure I’m not the only one of us who was, and will remain, a huge fan of her work.

A lot of people remember a captivating performer, but, alongside the videos old and new, we will never be without some of the funniest, saddest, most captivating writing ever. From the infamous Ballad of Barry and Freda, via the side splitting drama of Acorn Antiques and Dinnerladies, to the profound Housewife 49 and tear jerking Pat & Margaret, I feel bereft that there will be no more material. I find it almost comforting that she struggled with then same things the rest of us do.

Many of us find it hard to start - that someone so hilarious and so succinct with words can have had difficulty getting started is somewhat comforting! The frustration of that first page can be palpable, and the first words might be nothing to do with the final product, but surely it’s an adventure worth starting. And just think - if Victoria Wood had never got started we wouldn’t have what we have now - if that’s not an incentive to write, nothing is.

It actually takes courage to write those first words. I’m fairly certain that I’m not the only one who looks at a blank page (or screen) and thinks I’ll never be able to write anything again. Fortunately many great writers become great writers because they faced the blank page and got going. I don’t want to be someone who never finds out what I’m capable of because I never got started.

And finally, her disappointment - that you can be a creative genius and still disappointed with what comes out is a huge encouragement! And whilst writing can start with disappointment, it can end in something wonderful. 

Here’s three things I’ve decided to learn from Victoria Woods’ huge back catalogue:

Firstly, I want to learn to write for different levels. I first heard the infamous line “Let’s Do It’ when I was about eleven. I had no idea who was doing (or not doing!) what, and wasn’t exactly an avid reader of Woman’s Weekly, but I still knew it was fall-off-your-chair funny.

Secondly, I want to find real emotion. Throughout her career, Wood was constantly full of surprises. You think she’s only funny but then she writes something like Pat & Margaret, one of the most heart wrenching scripts ever.

Thirdly, I want to learn not to limit myself. Wood has excelled in so many genres. Rather than getting stuck in a rut, I’m aiming to dip my toe in the waters of other genres, hopefully freeing up a willingness to learn.

Rest in Peace, Victoria Wood. Thank you for your legacy.

Abbie has been writing ever since she could hold a pencil. 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


Thursday, 21 April 2016

Where is the good way.............? by Ruth Johnson

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….” 
                      Jeremiah 6:16

This blog, and my monthly contribution, began a year ago and coincided with Brian, my husband, retiring and feeling at a crossroads of life.  Although not a new wife, this verse came to me. Deut.24:5 “When a man takes a new wife, he shall not go out with the army, nor be charged with any duty; he shall be free at home for one year and shall bring happiness to his wife whom he has taken.”  This year that has been outworked in our lives.  Now we stand again and await direction. 

Nine years ago we asked for a new church His answer was Jer.6.16.  We were clearly directed to a church where the sermon that morning was based on that verse confirming the ancient paths were God’s Word and Spirit.  Our love and life together has been transformed by those paths.  We have a new leader he's decided on a church motto “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness and all these things (Matt.6:25-33) will be added unto you.” That was the motto of the church where forty three years ago I was saved and we were married.  It feels we have come full circle. 

To update my breast lump the surgeon regularly suggests removing what is left after nearly six years of taking different tablet brands to shrink it.  I believe the Lord said, “Seven years coming, seven years going".  A month before a recent appointment I’d been taking Teva UK pills which I’d not been given in years and it felt they were doing more than the others. A subsequent scan and mammogram has been unable to detect so small a lump!    Unexpectedly I discovered Teva UK was an Israeli company which confirmed my decision to let the Lord finish His work.

In this last month we have immersed ourselves in seeking God's Kingdom, here and in Israel.  God is bringing the hearts of His true born, and adopted, sons and daughters together.  As we listened to our Jewish friend talking about Jeremiah I was reminded about those ancient paths, and felt the Lord say, “6:16”.  I smiled and nodded.  But He added, “the numbers are important, not the verse.”  I thought for a moment, then it hit me, June is the 6th month, the year 2016, the time set for the fate of our nation to be decreed.

Jeremiah prophesied what God desired to do, but knew the Jews wouldn’t listen.  Today, God is listening to those whose hearts wholeheartedly desire to follow and know His good way.  A week later the overall message from the ‘Women on the Frontline Conference” was to hear from heaven and say ‘yes’ to Him.

Our nation is at a crossroads, I believe we need to heed His 6:16 call by asking for His wisdom to stay or leave the EU.


Wednesday, 20 April 2016

From there to here by Sue Russell

When did you first know you wanted to write?

I thought I would tell you how I came to be the author of (to date) five self-published novels from an overt Christian worldview, and if any of it is helpful to any of you I will be pleased. It's not something that  can easily fit into a brief blog post, so I'll spread it over a number of months (unless, of course, I get the overwhelming response, 'Please don't!')
Everyone's background is different, I guess. But for me writing stories started very young, and by the time I was 11 or 12 I was busy and ambitious: I'd delivered a derivative script about tampering with oil-pipes to a television company (which replied very politely); penned a novel about the last Persian king, conquered by Alexander (for which the research was reading one out-of-date book in the school library, and 'penning' was just what I did, not being in possession of a typewriter); and other such laughable juvenile efforts. My naive ambitions far outran my knowledge or talent, but when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up my answer was always unequivocal: 'An author.' Then in my twenties I embarked on a series of children's books about a flying mouse, and made forays into poetry. Around this time I had managed to save up for a typewriter, but it took some time to find one I could afford which had an exclamation mark!

It was always there, niggling somewhere, the feeling that this was what I was destined to do, but I had no focus, no plots, nothing but imagination and daydreams. Life got in the way, as it does, and I did little but scribble the odd verse, sigh and complain ( and read, of course, lots of that) until, a long time later, some friends challenged me to get on and do it - write a novel for adults - and have the first draft down before my 50th birthday. By this time I had two children aged 11 and 9, and life was busy.

Leaving out the tedious steps and details, I wrote that first draft with two months to spare. To  begin with all I had was a mass of formless ideas, and I pitched in with more enthusiasm than organisation. I was having great fun and the result was, as I know see with painful clarity, at best self-indulgent. But somewhere in there I found my focus, and it was the result of a strange happening which for me is as rare as a meteorite falling in the garden pond. I'm most definitely not one of those souls to whom God speaks (apart from the routes of Scripture, or wiser friends.) There plopped into my unprepared consciousness these words: 'Do this for Me', and I had, and have, no doubt that He was speaking.

From that moment on, everything changed. I would never claim to have divine inspiration - that would be crazy - but I knew, I thought, why I was supposed to be scribbling away, and in those prehistoric days I wrote longhand and typed it up later on my keyboard - quite a labour, but I suppose that gave it a first edit! So there it was, my adult novel: 'Leviathan with a Fish-hook,' 126,000 words long, rambling, self-indulgent and formatted all wrong!

And there it stayed. I tried to get someone's interest, mainly agents, without success. I hadn't done my homework, I knew very little about the state of the industry or Christian fiction, and discouragement was the result. However, help was at hand. I belonged to ACW by this time, and at a writers' day someone mentioned American editors of Christian fiction, among them Donna Fleisher. I contacted Donna, ordered her taped course on strengthening one's fictional voice, learned from it, edited my manuscript (not very rigorously, I now realise) and sent the whole thing to Oregon where she worked - a weighty paper package. Looking back, it was the first sensible thing I'd done.

What happened next will be the subject of May's post!

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

On being a pen-sioner by Veronica Zundel

Since last November I have been, though it seems hard to believe, a pensioner. With my state pension alone (I've put off taking my private one as I can't face the paperwork!), I am richer in personal terms than I've been for a long time. In fact I haven't had such a regular income for over 25 years, since I quit my editing job some months after getting married.

Now I have never made a real living from writing, and since every book I've  written is now out of print, I'm certainly not making one now. Before my marriage I  lived on half a salary plus parental help, and since then I have lived off my husband. Pace whoever  said 'No one but a fool ever wrote except for money', my motive was not financial survival, but a possibly deluded idea that my wisdom (or foolishness?) was worth sharing with the world.

Nevertheless, this sudden increase in fortune has done dangerous things to my motivation. Why struggle to carve out time for writing when I am getting paid every month for doing nothing? (and since I am paid to do nothing, I really ought to do it...). For the last two years I have been trying to write a family memoir mainly focused on my late brother, but apart from the emotional pain of digging up the past, I find it hard to convince myself that anyone would be interested, let alone pay to read it. And to complicate matters, in the last few months several unplanned things have happened: my son dropped out of university, my church decided to close, and we got new tenants in my late mother's house which necessitated clearing out everything, and in the process finding things that were emotionally hard to take, though they might later feed into the memoir.

As a result, lately I have hardly written anything except my monthly column, one set of Bible notes, the occasional poem and this blog. I seem, as I said recently on Facebook, to have retired by accident. But do writers retire? Surely writing is one of those things you can carry on doing into your dotage, and I hope I'm a good way from that yet. Artists don't have a sell-by date, so long as inspiration keeps flowing. Picasso, Pablo Casals, PD James, all went on creating or performing into their eighties or nineties, which gives me at least 30 years more unless I walk under a bus tomorrow.

For some of you, indeed, your retirement might be the moment when your writing really takes off, as you become free to dedicate more time to it (unless like me you indulged in late parenthood and still have offspring living with you...). Can we, perhaps, produce our best work when our bodies may be failing but our minds are full of experience and reflection? I would be interested to hear from the more mature among you, what your experiences are of being what I shall from now on call a 'pen-sioner'.

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 used to belong to the only non-conservative, English speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and is currently churchless. She also blogs at

Monday, 18 April 2016

Why rest is essential to our creativity

I should yield with willing submission, but resisting rest seems to be my default mode most days as the drive to 'do' so often overtakes the desire to draw back and simply 'be'. 

Periods of extra busyness leave me flat-out with fatigue, yet some part of me still refuses to heed the signs. I ride the rush of adrenaline, feeling wired as a coiled up spring.

So I keep on keeping on, persuading myself that this time I will ride the waves without them crashing me to the ocean floor. Foolish? You bet. Those things we long to press on with can instead become a steamroller flattening us to ground. 

It makes me wonder: Are we so desirous of being busy, connected and 'out there' that fear of missing out persuades us to be unwise?

I know I am, more often than is helpful. When I do yield to rest, I sense God sighing with relief as I finally listen to Him.

God won't force us to slow down; He urges us to yield to His ways and picks us up when we fall. And He provides all the rest, ease and peace we crave inside. 

Here's the thing: We can relax into rest with Him any time; we don't have to wait to be sick before we surrender.

God's love stretches toward us with infinite patience, complete acceptance and tender compassion.

If we fail to rest fully we will flounder and falter:
  • Our energy, drive and creativity will stall
  • Our joy will diminish
  • Our stress levels will rise
  • Our hope will be harder to hold onto
  • Our hearts will become heavy and burdened
The irony of resisting rest is that when I eventually do yield, God tends to speak to me most in moments of surrender and whispers solace to my soul - as in the words below. I hope and pray they will speak to you too...

Prayer Whisper: Release and Rest

"In rest and repentance lies your strength. In surrender to Me you find your true significance. 

Time may be of the essence, but I stand beyond its confines.

Have you considered that I also wrote eternity into your heart so you would seek Me with an open mind and embrace My love to infinity?

When you resist rest, you resist opportunity to hear from Me in the quiet corners of your day. Unless you can release the drive and desire to succeed into My hands, you will wear yourself out in circles of comparison and sink into ditches of discouragement.

Come and rest those ambitions, dreams, hopes and plans as you yield them to Me. I am the One who will exalt you in due time when you humble yourself before Me. It is My greatest desire for you to live in daily dependence on Me.

Come closer. Relax your hold on life and allow Me to carry you as I also keep all things safe. Here you will find deeper rest and peace. Trust all your cares and concerns are safe in My capable hands.

I know what you can bear and what is too heavy for you to carry. Seek My face at intervals throughout your day. I made you and I will sustain you."

Resting can feel counter-intuitive and counter-cultural, but inspiration flourishes when we take a breather, have a change of scenery or just stop for a while, sip coffee and watch the world go by.

Does fear of missing out or losing the creative flow stop you from resting?

Do you resist or yield gratefully to rest?

Joy Lenton is a grateful grace dweller, contemplative Christian writer, poet and blogger, author of 'Seeking Solace: Discovering grace in life's hard places'

She enjoys encouraging others on their journey of life and faith 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 and on Facebook

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Finding inspiration in unexpected places by Claire Musters

My writing is focused on the everyday – the challenges of life and what it means to be a woman/wife/mother/daughter/worship leader/disciple for me today. I write out of experiences and the issues that are currently on my heart. But sometimes there are unexpected sources of inspiration that give me a jolt and make me go back to my writing with fresh vigour or a different perspective.

This Easter holiday, my ten-year-old daughter was working on a science project for school. She created a model of the solar system, researched facts about planets and then disappeared for a couple of hours – to write a poem. I had assumed she would write something about journeying through space and which planets she saw as she was doing so. However, when she shyly emailed through the poem to me I downed tools to read it, and was totally blown away. She had written from the perspective of a lowly star – although she didn’t make that immediately obvious – giving it real characterisation and emotion. And her use of metring was simply astounding.

My immediate response was: ‘I wish I could write poetry like that’. Friends thought the metring and certain turns of phrase were almost Shakespearean; one said it sounded like an iambic pentameter poem – it wasn’t quite, but then she hasn’t even been taught what that is yet! While I didn’t feel inspired to turn my own hand to poetry, admiring her talent and devotion spurred me on once again (she explained in those few hours locked away in her room she had methodically spent time writing, deleting, writing, editing).

It is wonderful to see the next generation of writers coming through – my daughter has an obvious talent (yes I know I’m biased but her teachers have recognised it too!) and loves writing and I know she will far surpass my own talent given the level she’s at already. But reading her work made me determined to be the best writer I can be too. I want to model something to my daughter; to share writing experiences and the ups and downs of creativity with her.

My next moment of unexpected inspiration came when I eagerly turned to Claire Dunn’s latest book Realm of Darkness. I’d been saving it for the holidays – and I certainly wasn’t disappointed! As I’ve said, I’m not a novelist and so I’m always amazed to see how she’s hung the whole series together (that’s a lot of pages she’s written so far!). I’m in awe of those of you who story tell so well (reading a great novel always reminds me of my rather disappointing efforts to write a novel while at secondary school).

Even though I don’t write in the same genre, there is much I can be inspired by and learn from, and Claire’s book made me think about issues such as sentence construction, overall story construction. I may be a non-fiction writer but my work still needs to hang together and keep the reader’s attention – and consistency.

Now over to you: what has been a source of unexpected inspiration for you recently?

Claire is a freelance writer and editor, mum to two gorgeous 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 discipleship, leadership, marriage, parenting, worship, issues facing women today etc. Her books include David: A man after God's own heartTaking 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 as well as Bible study notes for BRF and CWR. Claire is currently standing in as editor for Families First magazine as well as co-writing the next CWR Insight Guide: Self-acceptance and working on her own book Taking off the mask. To find out more about her, please visit and @CMusters on Twitter.