Friday, 30 September 2016

Writing A Tank

by Martin Willoughby

On September 15th, 1916, the British Army introduced the tank to warfare. Its debut was on the Somme battlefield, by that time mired in mud, blood and slaughter.

Around 50 tanks made it to the staging area before joining the infantry in there assault on the German lines. By the end of the day only 12 machines had pushed through the German lines, and by the following day only a couple remained active, the rest having being destroyed, or more commonly had mechanical problems.

It was not an auspicious start, yet by the end of the war, the tank had proved to be an invaluable aid to the allies and saved many lives just by being there, and today it is the master of the battlefield.

When starting a new book, article, short story (or blog), we can feel like those first tanks: untried, untested and prone to failure. The mechanics of the story fall apart, the characters are out of place, and the whole thing crumbles when we put it under any serious scrutiny.

We may have tested it all in our head or in our notes, but after the first draft we know something is rotten with it. Not always, but often enough.

The British army kept on with the tank as they saw the positive contribution they had made. The mechanical problems were all but overcome by 1918 and the protection they afforded the infantry on the battlefield was welcomed.

Keep faith with your idea, improve the mechanics of the story, place the characters in the right place and, like the tank, you can become a master of the field.


image courtesy of British Library flickr page

Thursday, 29 September 2016


I don’t have a favourite hymn.  So much depends on how I’m feeling and the time of year.  My favourite carol is In the Bleak Midwinter, which is inappropriate for most of the year even in Britain! 

One happy childhood memory is of our church organist playing Onward Christian Soldiers on a piano in ragtime.  Yes, ragtime.  It sounded wonderful, it always cheered me up (you had to sing with gusto, which always makes me smile!), he died far too early and I’ve never heard it played the same way since.

At the recent Swanwick Summer School, I loved the Lift Up Your Hearts service held at 8 daily (bar the last day).  Most of these services were held in the beautiful Chapel (images below) at the Hayes.  (All images by me).

The Chapel at The Hayes Conference Centre

The front of the Chapel

The arbour
The arbour with its message to "Be Still" was also a great place to think and pray.

The most popular hymn that week was How Great Thou Art. The pianist played this in a way that recalled my memories of my ragtime playing chap. I must admit if I envy anyone, I do envy (a little) piano players.  Playing the piano has been one of those things I would’ve loved to have done but I admire anyone who plays it well.  I also think There is A Green Hill Far Away sounds better on a piano.  The instrument can have a mournful quality, which is apt for this hymn, that an organ can’t manage.

What do I look for in a hymn?  Much as I love a good tune, it is the words that mean the most and I look for imagery. I love Graham Kendrick’s The Servant King with the line “hands that flung stars into space, to cruel nails surrendered”.   Whenever I sing this I see in my mind’s eye the stars being flung out.

But for imagery and comfort when needed, I don’t think you can better O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go.  There is so much imagery in the title for a start but my favourite line talks about “tracing the rainbow through the rain”.  Any Christian who has ever known sadness or difficulty (is there anyone who hasn’t?!), will identify with this.

For upbeat imagery, I would select Charles Wesley’s And Can It Be?  The line “I woke, the dungeon flamed with light, My chains fell off, my heart was free.” Again I picture this and “live it” every time I sing it.

There is, of course, some wonderful poetry in our hymns.  When I Survey the Wondrous Cross is probably one of my favourites there.  Another is Just As I Am. So over to you then!  What hymn inspires you the most and why?

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The Glorious Creation Passage in Job 38 Re-imagined for 21st Century by Trevor Thorn

Many of the beautiful NASA heritage pictures
from deep space, such as this one of
The Keyhole Nebula,
could be used to illustrate this
reimagining of Job 38.
The glorious ‘ Creation’ passage of Job 38. v4ff was written with the Bible-times knowledge of the Cosmos. This reimagining tries to express how it might have been written with today’s insights into deep space and the cosmos. (I am indebted to Prof Tom McLeish of Durham University for bringing the Job passage to attention in a recent public lecture in Cambridge, UK and thereby sparking this idea. This passage is further explored in his book ‘Faith and Wisdom in Science')

Re-imagining Job 38. 4ff

Where were you when I gave birth to the universe; when my Wisdom called forth particles from the womb of the cosmic void and seeded them into the realm of existence?

Who marked off its dimensions and form and let matter prevail over anti-matter?

On what were its footings set or who provoked its mighty expansion in the blinking of an eye?

How deeply do you comprehend the gift of light or fully understand the mysteries of its nature? 

Who of you knows from where the sounds that fill the cosmos emanated or how music distilled its harmonies from the roaring cadences of creation?

Who gave water its extraordinary properties, decreed its many forms and accorded rรดles to each that it might adhere to the surfaces of gathering spheres, to nurture and give shape to barren terrains?

Can you make sense of the patterns of constellations as they would be seen from planets in the extreme reaches of the universe?

Can you leap between galaxies or re-fashion the orbits of stars or planets, or yet fully understand the fundamental forces of the cosmos?

Can you yet contemplate travelling to the beautiful Pleiades or loosening the cords of Orion? Have you fully uncovered the laws of the universe or can you emulate God’s care for it?

Could you reduce turbulences that beset distant planets, weather the extreme storms on other worlds or alter the path of the arrow of time?

Have you even perfected knowledge of your own benign planet, understood the reason for its existence and how to encourage your own people to act as responsible stewards for it?

Can you fathom in your exquisitely fashioned brain the mind of your maker or conceive the depth of his love?

Will you ever understand enough to render praise and thanksgiving truly worthy of the Creator of heaven and the entire cosmos?

If you enjoy this re-imagining of scripture, you might also like to look at Psalm 24 v C21 on the blog The Cross and The Cosmos which is a collection of my poetry, prose and images which weaves together the themes of Science and Faith. 

Trevor Thorn

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

A Story of your Own, by Lucy Mills

I found that writing my first book was a profound experience - a journey; something which shaped me, something I was determined to do despite the outcome (there had been other attempts, but this one had staying power).  I fell in love with my topic.

What utter joy to find a publisher who did too.

Once it was published, amid all the fanfare, I felt exhausted.  I needed time out, time to regroup - let alone time to do all the other work I do in my life.

I kept an eye on what writers in my circle of acquaintance were doing. I felt stunned when, after publishing a book (after me, I might add), they announced the second one was on the go. I know we're not meant to compare ourselves but I felt that mixture of dread and envy. How on earth?

But of course, that isn't me. And God's timing for me is different. I'm built differently. And God knows I need time to find that topic I can fall in love with, the one planted gently in my heart until I notice it growing there, sending out branches and connecting itself with other interests, other passions. The one which wakes me up at night when I realise - yes! That's the connection!

Your story is your own. And I don't mean the book you may or may not be writing. I mean your life, your journey as a writer.  By all means, be inspired by others - but be yourself.

This can be challenging, when we examine our motives. Are they simply 'to get published'? Is that enough? Or do we claim to have more noble motives, such as 'bringing God glory'? Perhaps you feel called to share your testimony and thought 'I'll write a book!'  But what if that's not the way you are called to share your story - not now, not yet?  Perhaps you are to bring God glory in something less obvious, but far more important to those you encounter.

Maybe you've written something no one else seems interested in, but it is special to you. That doesn't take away its worth as an important part of your story. It's not wasted. Don't toss it away as if it were nothing, but treasure the journey you made. Perhaps God wants to speak to you through it, most of all.

Perhaps it takes you six months to write a book; perhaps it takes you six years. That's your way of doing things, that's the way you've been made.

You don't have to produce books left, right and centre. Fallow times are important for many of us. We need sometimes to put things down, even if people are clamouring at us: 'when's the next one?'

But when the right moment comes, it will capture you again.

I've just signed a contract for book number two.  I'm elated, not just because of the thing itself but because it feels the right time.  And now I get to fall in love all over again, throw myself into the heady mix of something bigger than I am. I'm ready. I wasn't, before.

And I'm ready to listen to God and learn from God myself in the process. 
That idea fills me with delight.


Lucy Mills

Lucy's first book, Forgetful Heart: remembering God in a distracted world, was published in 2014 (DLT). The 'next one', Undivided Heart: finding meaning and motivation in Christ, will be coming in Autumn 2017. Lucy writes articles, poetry and prayers for various publications and is Editorial Co-ordinator at magnet magazine.

Lucy on Twitter: @lucymills
Lucy's Facebook page

Previous More than Writer posts:

Monday, 26 September 2016


The trouble with housework is you spend the whole day cleaning, washing, dusting, sorting… and then six months later, you have to do it all again!’
Ah, the cycle of futility! We are all part of it, like it or not. And sometimes we don’t, so deeply that we wobble off the cycle for a while, or in extreme cases altogether. I know two helpful books that address this problem, one is called ‘The Quotidian Mysteries’ by Kathleen Norris, the other is called ‘Ecclesiastes’.
So what problem, some of you might be asking in cheerful bewilderment? The problem of living today what you lived yesterday and having to do the same things all over again – not like Groundhog Day, reliving the same events but each time with new creative possibilities, but an endless weary cycle of action and response, like the grass growing and needing to be mowed over and over again. The writer of Ecclesiastes sees this as the burden God has laid upon man, and he ain’t wrong. It is a burden alleviated by thrill-seeking but not eluded by it, and sadly thrill-seeking often ends with making the burden feel heavier.
But there is a further burden God has laid on man, and that is he has put eternity in our hearts. We are like caged birds, longing to soar and fly, yet being confined by time and space, reduced to picking and scratching and singing songs we can never follow in their flight.
Just before you give up on me, this is the condition Jesus accepted when he became flesh. If we want to find a way to meaning and purpose, we need to see through his eyes as he walked the earth and endured the burden of mortality. And his teaching continually refers to living for the day, living with simplicity, living obediently, but with hearts full of kingdom riches.
This is where I would recommend turning to Kathleen Norris and her exploration of ‘acedia’ – the spiritual torpor or apathy associated with repetitive monastic life but clearly experienced more widely. As a writer, she understands this from a creative point of view, and has discovered for herself that the cyclical burden of life has within it a wonderful potential to bear fruit. Here are some snatches of her book (my paraphrasing):
The sacramental is manifest in the ordinary – daily bread, daily prayer – there is sacramental possibility in all things. The daily rhythm of sunrise and sunset is a symbol of human hope. Creation is renewed every morning; even Creation itself was a daily process. Grace, like manna from heaven, is a ‘quotidian (daily) mystery’, i.e. it cannot be stored up for future use but is given at the time of need. We are all engaged in priestly work, in transformation, even in acts that seem futile to the world. It is in the routine and everyday we find the greatest possibilities for transformation.
And so we live faithfully the daily mystery, finding grace in daily bread, until we come to the day for which all creation longs when it will no longer be subjected to futility, but will be liberated into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Slowing Down, by Fiona Lloyd

Earlier this month, hubby and I achieved a longstanding ambition of visiting Paris together. (Those of you who read my post last month will know that this runs counter to the prevailing trend in our family.) The weather was gloriously hot, so we took a boat trip on the Seine, wandered round a local market, and generally did our best to soak up the local atmosphere (otherwise known as French beer). The place I most wanted to visit, though, was the Musee D'Orsay, famous for its collection of impressionist paintings.

The building itself was impressive, with a huge main hall containing dozens of sculptures, and several side galleries where the paintings were housed. We paid our entrance fee and looked forward to a happy couple of hours admiring works by Monet, Van Gogh and others. It always feels a little surreal standing in front of a well-known painting you've previously only seen in a book or a magazine. And the pictures were, for the most part, amazing - although one or two were frankly bizarre.

The downside of going to see the pictures in real life was that lots of other people had had the same idea. Instead of pottering around outside, basking in the sunshine, they were cluttering up the galleries, phones at the ready. Some of the paintings are so large that you could only get a proper perspective on them by standing well back...but as soon as I did this, half a dozen tourists would cluster in front of the picture, obscuring my view. What I really wanted was to sit at a distance and contemplate my particular favourites, but it seemed that most visitors preferred to go for a whistle-stop tour of the museum, snapping souvenirs on their i-phones to enjoy later.

The Welsh poet, W.H.Davies wrote in his poem, Leisure:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

He was writing about the need to stop and appreciate the beauty that is all around us, but I think his words could equally be applied to our spiritual lives (and by extension, to our writing). When I'm at work, I find myself rushing from one job to the next. Weekends are too often spent catching up on all the other things that need to be done, and sometimes spending time with God gets relegated to the bottom of the list. I tend to be a Martha rather than a Mary, prioritising busyness over sitting still.

Experience has taught me that I flourish spiritually when I make time to sit and enjoy God's presence instead of rattling off a quick shopping-list of prayers and then dashing off to the next task, but it's a lesson I need to keep re-visiting - how about you? 

Fiona Lloyd works part-time as a music teacher, and serves on the worship leading team at her local church. Fiona self-published a violin tutor book in 2013 and blogs at You can find her on Twitter at @FionaJLloyd. Fiona is vice-chair of ACW and is married with three grown-up children.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Comfort in Dark Times

Image copyright of HarperCollins Ltd

I wrote a dystopic fantasy for this blog, but then I decided it was too dark. So I’m starting again.

We have just begun on our annual reading of The Lord of the Rings. We always start again around the time of Bilbo and Frodo’s birthday, 22nd September. Actually we were reading something else—John Garth’s wonderful book Tolkien and the Great War, the best biography of Tolkien there is—but our daughter and our new grandson came to stay and she said ‘are you reading The Lord of the Rings yet?’ and we said ‘No, but we can start.’ So we did.

This evening we were reading the last part of the chapter called ‘The Shadow of the Past’. In it Gandalf tells Frodo the full and very bad news about the Ring; and very humanly (of course he is a hobbit, but he stands for the ordinary person) Frodo bemoans the situation: ‘why do we have to live in times such as these?’, and later on, ‘why did the Ring have to come to me?’

We can just imagine the deep well in Tolkien’s heart from which he drew these anguished pleas. In the summer of 1914 everything was going his way. He had gained top results in his examinations and could count on a glittering academic career; he had finally won the hand of his beloved Edith; he had the support of his four close schoolfriends (the group that called themselves the TCBS). Out of the blue, European war in all its horror engulfed him and his generation. They too must have thought ‘why did this happen to us and why do we have the task of dealing with this dreadful threat to our country?’

I find this chapter—which I have read, along with the rest of the book, countless times—immensely comforting. And I don’t mean comfort only in the sense of ‘consolation’, although I include it. I also mean that it is strengthening. The shadow of our collective past has caught up with us, and this generation is facing darkness unlike anything we knew when we were young. Admittedly there is not a physical Mordor or Land of Shadow, literally ruled by a Dark Lord who plans to enslave the world. But we see everywhere armies equipped with terrible weapons inflicting merciless cruelty and destruction; and, as bad, we see lying, treachery, callousness, self-righteousness, and blame taking over the public discourse and behaviour of our world. These are the methods and morals of Mordor.

Tolkien's chapter comforts me because it and the whole book are suffused by a deep and subtle Christian ethic that runs deeply counter to this Mordor ethic. When Frodo says ‘I wish it need not have happened in my time’, Gandalf replies ‘So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given us’.  And later when he cries, ‘Why did it come to me? Why was I chosen?’, Gandalf tells him ‘Such questions cannot be answered. You may be sure that it was not for any merit that others do not possess: not for power or wisdom at any rate’. A subtle but clear echo of what St Paul says to the Corinthians. Tolkien’s mind and imagination was shot through with biblical principles.

When Frodo questions the acquisition of the Ring by Bilbo he is told that, while the power of evil was working in the Ring to get back to its maker, another power was secretly at work: Gandalf says, ‘I can put it no plainer than to say that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it’. Evil seems to have everything going for it; but in darkness another force is quietly making a way for small people to turn it to good.

That is my comfort in Dark Times.

Friday, 23 September 2016

I don't see that joy, sister! - by Helen Murray

Here's a little anecdote. A true story. 

New York city, nineteen ninety something. Backpacking with a friend. The Empire State building, the Twin Towers, the Staten Island Ferry and the Statue of Liberty in one weekend and then, before we caught a train somewhere else, Sunday worship at a cavernous New York church.

It was held in a huge theatre right in the heart of Manhattan. There were thousands of people swaying to music and and the service hadn’t even begun.  A vast gospel choir in red and purple robes with big white collars straight out of the Blues Brothers had a band with guitars, keyboards, a five piece rhythm section and more brass than you could shake a stick at. Swirling spotlights played on the congregation as the music got louder.

Then, without warning, a small, bald man with an impossibly shiny head trotted out from the wings, bowed to the assembly and began to convulse. Nobody bat an eyelid; indeed the band started to play - it turned out that he was conducting, and with such energy that it looked as if he’d been electrocuted.

The place erupted. Everyone was on their feet, reaching for the heavens, calling out, and dancing with abandon. They were full of the Spirit and He was bursting out all over. I could only gaze in awe at the uninhibited celebrations all around me  – I was overwhelmed by something I’d never seen before (or since, actually); something so wonderful but a world away from church back home. No, further than that.

Worship here was a whole-body experience. Fingers outstretched, arms waving, hips gyrating, eyes tight shut and expressions of ecstasy or pain – it was hard to tell which. The aisles were full and so people danced even in the confines of their rows. 

For me, trapped mid-row, twenty oblivious cavorting bodies between me and the aisle at either side, I felt my personal space somewhat invaded.  

Despite being stuck in the middle, I was definitely on the outside looking in. You might say that I was significantly outside my reserved, Anglican comfort zone.

Not knowing the unfamiliar songs I hummed along. I had my hands very firmly in my jeans pockets. I have to admit that I became so carried away with the music that I may or may not have perhaps been tapping my right foot.

They were singing a song about the joy of the Lord. At last! I knew this one! I could remember the words and with what, for me, passes for great gusto, I added my little warble to the beautiful harmonies and counter harmonies that were so effortlessly and energetically offered all around me. I began to enjoy myself.


The very large orange and purple clad lady gyrating to my left nudged me in the ribs with a meaty elbow and leaned over to bellow in my ear:

‘I don’t see that joy, sister!’


I don’t know if she expected me to switch it on like the Oxford Street Christmas Lights, maybe, but what joy there had been – and there had been some, actually, easing nervously out of its hiding place,  limbering up for something a bit special - like a bit of swaying from foot to foot, maybe - well, that bit of fledgeling joy panicked, elbowed his way through the crowd and fled the theatre right then.

She didn’t see the joy. Well, I can understand that.

It would take a trained eye.

It was there, though. Honest. 

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. Or at least working on something. 

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

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, but she hasn't given up.

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray
Twitter: @helenmurray01

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

In His good Ruth Johnson

“There is a time for everything, 
and a season for every activity
under heaven.”



In July I felt an urgency to return to the book I was writing two years ago, to re-read, re-edit and it seems now to re-write much of the fourth novel in the six of my Hearts Desire Series.  August had only two events booked in and thus a clear and perfect time to get back into the characters and plot.  Despite a five week run, the two events cancelled, I’ve only reached Chapter 16 due to the plot subtly changing.  I always know the end from the beginning, but what happens in between never ceases to amaze me. And I confess having read my third book to help me into the fourth I’m surprised that I’d written it.

Each 400 page book is a separate story but follows the same set of characters, and life is seen through the character named in the title.  The first story begins in London 1966 with ‘Jane’, 1968 with ‘Jill’ and 1970 with ‘David’, best read in order, and if interested the last time I looked ‘Jane’ was free on Amazon Kindle. 

My aim is to write page-turning novels that romance both the soul and the spirit.  We know the journey of life isn’t smooth so the storylines include a variety of subjects e.g. rape, abortion, murder, death, grief, abuse. Interwoven in the plots is how our heavenly Father desires, despite our failings and mistakes, to invade our lives with His love whch includes people and His Word.  

We serve a supernatural God who has a plan for our lives and I’ve experiences that make for tales far more extraordinary and stranger than any fiction I could write.  And as writers’ I expect you too have a sense of God’s hand in the hundreds, if not thousands of hours spent using the talent God has given us. My belief is to keep on investing those abilities and skills, and in a similar way to the parable Jesus told of the talents, God will bless and multiply when we invest, and not bury, the gift He has given us.  

I engage with Christians across the country who are excited and encouraged that the Lord is listening to the prayers of His people, and we are moving into a new season of God’s activity in individual lives and the world in which we live.  Forty-three years ago when I gave my life to the Lord I’ve never settled, but had a pioneering spirit to forge ahead and step out in faith.  I’ve based my books on Ps.37:3-5 in the belief that God knows what He has placed in us, and when we trust, delight and commit our way to Him our heart desires will line up with His and, as it says in Ps.27:13 “I am confident that we will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living”.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Owls, moles and a new door by Sue Russell

I confess to breaking one of the ten commandments.
I am a sinner, of course. But I have tried to honour my father and mother; I attempt to keep the Sabbath holy; and I have not (that I know of) bowed down to idols, murdered, thieved or lusted after my neighbour's husband (nice chap though he is.)
What I have done is rather less tabloid-worthy, and more mean-spirited - to my shame. I have coveted: not my neighbour's new car, not his cellar full of wine, not even his roses free of aphids. I have coveted the success of others, specifically the success of other writers. Thinking about this I realise that I have not actually begrudged them their day of glory - not at all. I have applauded them and wished them well. I know that in many cases they have worked long and hard, honed their craft, studied the market, endured setbacks, disappointments and failure. Some are superb networkers, brilliant at publicity and marketing. They deserve their success. For those of us who are working for God's glory (all of us, in one way or another) the success of one is the success of all, and we should all be cheering: as I see others do, and I do myself.
Why is it, then, seeing others succeed, that I can so often feel such a wave of discouragement and hopelessness? What causes me to ask 'Why do I bother?' and 'What's the point?' If I am truly working for God's glory rather than my own should I not be doing what he has asked of me to the best of my ability and leaving the outcome to him? I should, and I do - but sometimes I wonder if I do so only because I don't really have the choice to do otherwise. Giving up was never an option: writing is part of who I am, and without it I would be less myself and certainly more miserable.
So what is the problem? Is it just that I am sinfully desiring things I shouldn't? Or is it simpler, a longing for a drip-feed of encouragement to keep me going?
You write your novel (or whatever your WIP may be), using the ideas that come to you and such skills as you have. You edit and polish it within an inch of its life, and ask trusted readers to comment. When it emerges into public view, for a while there's a ripple of interest, people buy copies, some enthuse, some even post a review. And then it all goes dead.
Is this your experience? I wonder, if you are doing better (and I know some are) perhaps you could offer me some insights.
Meanwhile, don't let's forget that many, maybe most, of us are battling away unseen and unsung. Let's offer encouragement where we can: reading each other's work, and then reviewing or some other form of feedback. How else are we to learn to do better? There are those who like my work, but they are the only ones I know about, because they've told me, and I am very thankful  - to both of them. (I jest, of course - surely there are more than two?)
While in the confessional, I admit to a ridiculous tendency to self-dramatise. At a particularly low point I decided that my epitaph should read: SHE HOPED FOR AN OWL, BUT ALL SHE GOT WAS MOLES. (For clarification, read my blog - in short, I have been hoping for the barn owl to return to our garden in France, and equally fervently wishing that the moles currently so rampant in the same garden would pack their bags and leave!)

I realise all too well how these admissions make me look: nasty, petty and stupid. I can only hope that honesty at least may strike a chord with you.
As I write, here we are at our crumbling pile in France, awaiting the installation of a new front door. The old one has been here a lot longer than we have - fourteen years - and is rotting from the bottom up. Daylight can be seen through various holes, the glass is cracked, and it is neither draught-proof nor secure.  Doors, of course, have a symbolism of which we are all aware: they close, keeping the world and the weather out, but they also open, letting in the air and the view. I will try, with God's help, to keep the door of my spirit open - to his gracious guidance, even in the face of my foot-stamping truculence, and to hope. May it spring eternal.

The old door.

Sue writes as S.L.Russell and has published five novels from a Christian point of view: Leviathan with a Fish-hook, The Monster Behemoth, The Land of Nimrod, A Shed in a Cucumber Field and And Iron Yoke. A sixth is almost finished in draft.

Monday, 19 September 2016

On saying nothing, by Veronica Zundel

'I have nothing to say and I am saying it and this is poetry' said one poet famously (I might remember who it was by the end of this blog post). I think it was W H Auden who stated that poetry does not make anything happen. It was definitely my first steady boyfriend, when I was 16, who declared that poetry was rubbish. In spite of that, I went out with him for a whole four months , went on holiday with a friend, met someone much nicer but was faithful to boyfriend 1, only to find on returning that in my absence he had gone off with Julie Senior, the sportiest girl in my school, who would only know a poem if it hit her in the shape of a hockey ball.

I was going to write about having nothing to say, but now I find after all I am going to write about poetry. Does it, in fact, say nothing? Does it make nothing happen? And most importantly of all, is it rubbish? To answer the last question first, yes, lots of it is. Including many  sincere but  unimaginative poems by Christians (excepting present company, of course...) But the cream generally rises to the top. As for making nothing happen, I have read many a poem that has a) made me think, b) consoled me and/or c) filled me with the joy of words and the joy of life. Is that nothing?

Whether poetry says nothing is a more complex question. The fact is, when poetry tries to say something it is often bad poetry. Most somethings are better said in prose. If you try to write a poem to make a statement, it is very likely to come out as a bad poem, or not a poem at all. It's a bit like posters with texts on (let alone those plaques with which some nun ruins every beauty spot in Europe). Isn't a picture of God's creation, or indeed the real thing, enough incentive to worship God? Clearly God didn't do a good enough job in creating it then.

A poem is an arrangement of words which can do many things: enchant, inspire, challenge, amuse, arouse the senses, frighten, even deliberately alienate. What it is not good at is conveying a 'hidden' message a bit like a fortune cookie.  When T S Eliot was asked by an earnest woman what one of his poems meant, he replied 'The poem is what I mean'. The words he had put together were the best way of doing what he wanted to do with words, and no paraphrase could come  near. I saw a meme today that went: 'The bad news: there is no key to happiness. The good news: it's not locked'. I feel tempted to say the same of poetry. It doesn't need a key, because it's not a cupboard out of which to take something that's not poetry.

As I write, I am still waiting to hear whether I've got on the Poetry School/Newcastle
 University MA course in Writing Poetry. They'd better tell me soon; the induction course is in just over a week. Whether I get in or not, I will have the same resolve in my poetry writing: to say less and write more. A poem is a work of art, not a cartoon; it doesn't need a caption (though a title can be helpful). Like music, painting, sculpture, it exists for its own sake, and attempts to 'translate' it usually end up destroying it.

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 what was, before it closed, the only non-conservative, English speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and is currently churchless. She also blogs at

Sunday, 18 September 2016

When your well runs dry and you need reviving

I am no gardener, but this summer I became responsible for keeping our tiny plot alive. With my husband too incapacitated to do it, and no other help on the horizon, I was forced to take my child-size watering can out to thirsty plants on a regular basis.

It was a question of pacing myself, taking several short trips to the sink and back again over the course of a day - and praying for rain. 

My arms and legs ached tremendously from the unaccustomed effort. Some days I had to concede defeat, though I also discovered unexpected benefits.

Before long, the plants and I were good friends as I mothered them. Spending extra time outdoors made me more aware than ever before of the wonder of living, growing things, how vital it is for them to be kept alive by liquid refreshment.

One day I noticed our geranium plants had limp leaves and dry brown stems. They were barely alive.

It was suggested that I leave them alone and concentrate on the healthier plants. 

A stubborn streak in me took over and I watered them, anyway - with no expectations, only a determination to give them opportunity to recover.

Nothing happened for ages, then as I stepped out the door one day I was greeted by glowing new flowers and shiny green leaves. My faith was tangibly rewarded!

It got me thinking how we are completely dependent on God for nourishment on a daily basis. He freely supplies all we need to thrive and grow spiritually as well as physically. Yet there are times when we fail to see we are dry and thirsty, lifeless, in fact. 

In reading a familiar Bible story recently, I saw how easy it is to allow guilt and shame to keep us away from others and from God's best.

We can neglect to see how much we thirst inwardly for God's living water. How we ache on the inside for His loving presence. 

I found myself reinterpreting the story via a lens of poetry...

Living Water

She blinked, wiping sweat from her brow 
as she frowned, surprised at the stranger 
smiling his request. This was equivalent 
to her own risky behaviour as viewed
in other people's accusing eyes
He seemed nonplussed, quite nonchalant
in fact, as he gave his responses 
while she toiled to meet his need,

conscious only of the glare as her face
flared red with heat and embarrassment
She sought to divert attention
from herself, wanting to escape,
cool down, rest, take a break
Because she was already under
too much scrutiny, her past raked
up by the whole community

Yet he lingered on, loitering
with intent, eyes crinkled soft
with good-natured merriment
She was used to hearing words
of scorn and derision, but he
continued relating such riveting news
that it caused her to pause again

Finally meeting his gentle eyes,
she dared at last to hold them fast
within her own usually downcast 
gaze. Now fixed on a friendly face
made warm with love, she gasped
Breathlessly blinking back the tears
and overcoming her many fears,

she abandoned her bucket,
gathered up her skirts and ran
ahead, longing for others to hear
all that he had said. In her sheer
eagerness to share the Good News
about living water she was no 
longer ashamed, or worried about 
what people might think or say

The woman at the well had a life changing encounter with Jesus. She became washed clean, revived, restored by grace, given fresh hope and purpose. These things are freely available for us all.

This season I've felt depleted like my dying geranium plant. It's heartening to realise how much God can invigorate and sustain us during times when we feel barely half alive.

I have struggled to keep going, wondered if words would come to write again. Then God reassured and strengthened me in my weakness.

Like health and energy, Inspiration and creativity may wither a little but they become renewed by God's grace. Hope is strong in lives surrendered to Him, who rely on the Chief Gardener of our souls to tenderly care for them.

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