Showing posts from 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 tes…


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 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 env…

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 de…

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 b…


‘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…

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 w…

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 h…

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 wi…

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’ w…

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 f…

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 (…

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 w…