Monday, 22 May 2017

The Gift of Perspective by Emily Owen

On May 11th, the ‘On this Day’ part of my Facebook page was flooded with memories.  It was exactly a year since the launch of my memoir, ‘Still Emily’, and there were lots of photos recalling the event.
During the last year, a big thing that’s changed since the launch is, fairly obviously, that people have read the book.  Some have been kind enough to leave a review on Amazon, or contact me directly to give feedback.
What people often comment on is the final chapter.
You see, my story, as many of our stories are, is one of happy times, sad times, ups and downs, easy times and struggles, knowing despair and then discovering hope again.
My story also involves a diagnosis of a condition called Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2), and the final chapter of Still Emily is a letter I write to NF2.
Writing to, rather than about, a situation can be very powerful. Recently, I wrote an article from NF2's perspective and discovered that giving a situation a ‘voice’ can be powerful, too.
Here is part of the article:
My name is NF2. Well, Emily’s NF2. Us NF2s are all different. I guess you could say we have different specialities, different ways of making our presence felt.
Being Emily’s NF2 often feels as though I’m in a battle.  I want to be boss, but so does she; so we fight it out, every day. Sometimes Emily wins. She wins more often than I’d like, to be honest. But sometimes I win. It’s great when I win: then it’s impossible for Emily to ignore me. I hate being ignored, I like to be the centre of attention. But Emily ignores me a lot, even when I try really hard to make her acknowledge me. 
Anyway...I thought I’d tell you about my day.  Not a specific day, just a day. It could be any day.
6 am I like to wake Emily early these days. She used to sleep for longer than she does now but, once I’d cottoned on to that, I realised I should wake her. The best way to do that is with her eyes. I don’t mean forcing her eyelids open, I mean by making her eyes sore. Emily’s eyes are really dry and, by 6 am, I can be pretty sure that the soothing cream she applied before she went to sleep will have gone. So, when she wakes, it’s not only early but she’s also in pain.
9.30 am I know Emily wants to work on some of her writing today, so that makes my plan for the day easy: mess around with her ability to focus and concentrate. Since her brain surgeries – and I have to say, I’m pretty proud of my efforts here – Emily’s memory and concentration span are a shadow of their former selves. 3-0 to me.
12.30 pm Well, what a rubbish morning. I tried really hard but nothing worked. Emily ignored me and got on with what she was doing. 3-1 but at least I’m still winning and now it’s lunchtime. I’ll score a few easy points here, as Emily finds eating difficult. She has done ever since one of her surgeries. A surgery which, I might add, was all because of me. Better make that 4-1.
1 pm Emily is looking at food and rejecting it. This is great! She can’t eat bread, crisps etc very easily at all. 5-1. Now Emily knows what she can eat, though, so eating is not too much of a problem most of the time. I’d better give her a point for that, I suppose. 5-2.
5 pm I feel better after my failure this morning. Emily tried to carry on writing this afternoon but her concentration vanished; by which I mean, I took it. 6-2. To be fair, though, Emily did stop trying to write before she got too frustrated with her brain. She never used to manage that, which meant more points for me as she got angrier with herself. So I’ll give her 2 points I think. I may be in competition with her but credit where credit is due. 6-4.
Instead of writing, Emily decided to go for a walk. She forgot to take her crutches but thankfully I managed to make her nearly fall over as she left the house, which reminded her to get them. She doesn’t need her crutches indoors but she does outside. Since surgeries (yes, credit to me again), Emily can’t walk too well. Her legs are weak and her balance is poor. Which makes it what, 8-4 to me?
6 pm Emily’s niece wanted to sing a song to her. Massive win for me: Emily can’t hear since her surgeries. 9-4.
But then, unbelievably, her niece sang the song in sign language, so Emily could understand. 9-5.
I hate it that Emily has so many people helping her beat me. It’s not fair: she has medics, friends, family, strangers. Nearly everyone Emily and I meet is nice. Well, they’re nice to her. Mostly they ignore me. Except the medics, but that doesn’t really count, as I’m their job. But even they see Emily more than me. Worse than that, Emily does too. She didn’t used to. I used to win every day. But I don’t now. I win some days. But they are becoming fewer. And today is not one of them. Even I have to admit that Emily and all the people who help her, together, deserve 5 points. At least. So it’s 10-9 to her...
Feedback, whether positive (mostly) or negative (a bit), tells me the concept of writing to or from a situation, to or from a perspective other than a directly human one, is powerful.
Image result for Feedback Is a Gift
Why not try it?  Write a letter to a situation in your life, and see where it takes you.
(The fact that you read this blog is a gift as well. To me. May is Neurofibromatosis Awareness Month. And you’ve now heard of Neurofibromatosis. Thank you.)

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Seize the day

A time to be born 
and a time to die.


So many friends, family and church members have their birthdays this month.  In counting back nine months I realised factories would close down their production lines for two weeks in August to give their staff the obligatory two weeks annual holiday, the rest is history!  Christmas has the same effect. My husband’s sister had three of her four children nine months on!  However, my theory breaks down when my brother-in-law's birthday is 31st December, mine on 1st January, a great nephew 2nd January, and my-sister-in-law on the 3rd.  

In a few decades there have been huge changes in when and how a woman can control conception.  And for those previously unable to conceive there’s hope with IVF treatment.  Yet despite this thousands of babies each year are condemned to death before they have a chance to live.

Man is now in control of the time to be born or not, and it appears is already working to be in control of when he dies.

But overall death is still very much in God’s hands. This month we have said ‘goodbye’ to two people, one who fell short of one hundred years, and the other falling short by ten days of his 60th birthday.   Steve only found out he was riddled with cancer twenty-four hours before the Lord took him home.  His words, “If I get healed, or if I die, it’s a win win situation.”  The Bible tells us that God knows our name before we were born, and He has a plan and purpose for each of us.  It has caused me to consider my life, and desire for each day to count for Him.

Only I know how my latest book will end.  I've a 'bucket' list of people and places to visit.  What is God’s list for me to do before that day comes?  I want to reveal His love and salvation in all my writing, for in this life we are meant to have a deep and meaningful relationship with the Lord in preparation for when the next one begins?

Shocked by Steve’s diagnosis, the Lord reminded me of the scripture “Behold I stand at the door and knock if anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and sup with him and he with me.”  In my mind’s eye I ‘saw’ Steve open that door, immediately light flooded in encompassing him.  I had the inner realisation that even though Steve had known the Lord most of his life, he needed time to imbibe that love, peace, glory of the Lord and was in the final preparation of meeting with Him. Twelve hours later, those in the room with Steve felt the Presence of God overflowing from him, they sensed his earthly discussions, perhaps a final cleansing, before he stepped over the threshold into the fullness of the light and all that was awaiting him. 

How good to be in, and know, God’s timing.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Fact and fiction

One of the joys of writing fiction, so it seems to me, is doing the research so often necessitated by the subject. Even if you are writing about a time and place that are familiar, inevitably questions arise, and some answer must be found that will satisfy the most hawk-eyed editor and reader. These days the internet is a valuable resource - of  course not the only one, but still extremely handy for those very specific and often obscure questions which might otherwise take some time to answer.

My next novel has a medical background, something about which I am lamentably ignorant. I have always harboured an interest in medical matters even though I could never have pursued such a career: rubbish at science, clumsy, no good at sewing, and squeamish into the bargain. So researching it from a manageable distance is both engrossing and safe. My recent researches have taken me into worlds I could barely have imagined and I  am immersed and agog. One book I recently devoured was the extraordinary true account of a young man determined to become a surgeon. It starts during the First World War and finishes before the Second; it was first published in 1938, so I read it for background interest only, rather than for anything appropriate to my projected story. The vicissitudes of the author's career, the setbacks, privations, triumphs, disasters, determination and sheer punishing hard work made fascinating reading. However it was his concluding sentence that gave me most pause:
'I had learnt that no triumph and no defeat is final.'

His story made my petty frustrations and disappointments look quite pathetic, and I took his words as an encouragement to pursue one's goals no matter what: to maintain faith, to be resolute in the teeth of apparent failure and personal adversity, to use one's gifts for God's purposes.

So far, so good, if easier to proclaim than to execute!

But his dictum, however admirable, applies only to this life that we have been given. It has no bearing on the life that we, as Christians, hope for when this one is extinct. I know it's fruitless to speculate (even though it doesn't stop me wondering just what eternity will be like. Will there still be work to undertake, goals to chase after, development, progression? Or...what?)

Meanwhile I am trying to remain focused as well as faithful. Ours is the work, His is the increase. And there is still much learning to be done, if I am not to fall on my face over a verifiable fact. The story may be fiction, but the facts have to be right; and here I must acknowledge the inestimable value of a good editor.

How about you? Do you enjoy research? Do you perhaps, like some, enjoy it a bit too much, so that the actual beginning of the writing is endlessly deferred, and the book (or whatever it may be) never gets written? I'd love to know.

Sue Russell writes as S.L.Russell and has written five novels from a Christian viewpoint, available in the usual places. A sixth, 'A Vision of Locusts,' will be published by Instant Apostle in the autumn.

Friday, 19 May 2017

What must be said, by Veronica Zundel

Love, as a well known 1970s book and film has it, means never having to say you're sorry. Except that it doesn't, of course - however much two people love each other, they will never have the gift of
telepathy, and will need to hear the words 'I'm sorry' many times to mend their relationship. Sometimes a rueful facial expression is not quite enough.

My late mother, Holocaust refugee
Does forgiveness, however, mean never speaking of the offence again? I've just been writing a guest blog for another Christian writer on forgiveness, and it's caused me to think again about what should be completely covered by forgiveness, and what perhaps shouldn't. Can I, for instance, forgive Hitler for what was done to my family in the Holocaust, leaving me with no extended family in my country of birth and precious little anywhere else? Or is it not my place, since the offence was against others? Perhaps more importantly, if I did decide I had forgiven (and the jury's still out on that one), would it mean that I never spoke of those terrible events, and the effect they had, not only on my family but on my own upbringing and development, again?

And what has any of this to do with writing? Until I started my poetry MA, now somewhat on hold because of my cancer, (although I haven't yet made the decision to defer to next year), I was, theoretically at least, writing a memoir of my late brother, who killed himself in 1975 after many years of mental illness (I refuse to say 'committed suicide' since it has not been a crime for a long
time). I regard him as just as much a victim of the Holocaust as my grandmother, great-aunt and great-uncle, who died in a concentration camp in 1942. The second generation has borne the trauma of the first, and the third generation continues to bear it in many and various ways, as I suspected and have confirmed by attending a Second Generation group for the children of survivors and refugees.

Concentration camp incinerators
The memoir, then, which is half drafted, is as much a Holocaust memoir as a record of a sibling's mental illness and suicide (which probably makes it harder to get a publisher for, as it's inevitably going to be a bit of a hybrid). And there was never any doubt on what the dedication, or under-the-title quote, at the front was going to be. It's an excerpt from the Paul Simon song 'Silent Eyes', a song about Jerusalem, and it goes like this:

And we shall all be called as witnesses, each and every one
To stand before the eyes of God, and speak what was done.

There are some things we must write about, however painful, things about which we cannot be silent, because if we are, others (and there are many already) will come forward to claim they never happened, and to write false history that denies what we know. Are there things that, like Jeremiah, you must write, because while you don't, they are burning up your heart?

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 BRF's 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 playing at being a high Anglican. She also blogs (rather occasionally!) at

Thursday, 18 May 2017

shadow: learning to savour seasons of small and stillness by Joy Lenton

Such a small creature, a tiny little thing had been my daughter-in-law's constant companion while she toiled at unyielding, winter-hard ground. Pausing from her labours, she would smile to see him perched nearby, before attending to her garden again with renewed gusto.

As spring segues into summer, daylight lengthens and myriad feathered friends come to the bird feeder, this faithful little robin is still present, hopping to and fro with an inner felicity born of knowing his place in the scheme of things.

He doesn't seek attention or strive for prominence. He's just happily going about his own sweet thing: gathering, gleaning, feeding, singing and celebrating life. 

I wonder if we are so easily pleased with small, if we can celebrate seasons where God calls us to be still, to be small, labouring behind the scenes on our own (often challenging) plot—the fertile garden of the soul where few know we are secretly tending God-sized dreams within our hearts?

Maybe we long for significance, ache to be seen, to have worth and value in the eyes of others, for our voice to be heard. Or we could be prayerfully cultivating things only God sees and knows about, while He works within our stilled, surrendered soul.

As I watched the robin at play in the warmth of sun's rays, I saw his shadow extending beyond his petite frame. It loomed larger than he was. Likewise, as we seek to serve God and potter faithfully through our days, we are casting a holy shadow larger than ourselves, as He shines in and through us.

Our lives may feel small, insignificant, our work endless and unrewarding, but if we were given eyes to see how God sees things, what then? He watches the shadow we cast as we labour under the sun. God observes and rejoices in every act, every deed done in love, in His Name, watching their reach extend much further than we know, preoccupied as we are with the tasks before us. 

Nothing we do in love is ever too small or insignificant to count. The caring cards, texts or emails you send, those encouraging words you write and share, the gifts you so generously give and persistent prayers you pray, every act of mercy and grace we perform adds up in God's Kingdom economy.

We are apt to prize the strong, vibrant, shining, vociferous ones who look and sound like they know what they're doing. God pays close attention to the lost, lonely and hurting, the quiet ones leading humble, sacrificial lives, the people who prize His attention above all earthly things. 

We can take heart from being weak and largely invisible to the world, knowing God notices and does so much more through us than we could ever achieve by ourselves. And in similar ways to the Apostle Peter, the Holy Spirit-lit shadow we cast as we walk through this world has potential to reach out and affect the lives of others for good.

The more we live in the Light of God's presence, content to stay small so He can be large in our lives, the greater Holy Spirit shadow we will cast to bathe a hurting world in God's mercy, grace and love, His tender, healing touch.

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.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Inspiration why are you so elusive? By Claire Musters

I have recently had a bout of writer's block. It doesn't happen to me that often, and I found it particularly alarming as I had a looming deadline. I spent days researching, but nothing was grabbing my attention. I just couldn't reach that place of knowing what I was meant to be writing about; which angle I was to take.

After a few soul-destroying weeks, I decided to sit down and write about my frustration as a means of processing it. It seemed to help, so I thought I'd celebrate that fact by sharing what I wrote during that time. I'm hoping it might resonate - and possibly help others who may be going through difficulties with writing currently.

Inspiration why are you so elusive?

I have looked for you everywhere…

In the shower, where a song of joy and freedom often comes, leading into focus and clarity. But I keep emerging with the same sense of confusion…

In the cleaning – I usually ignore the state of the house until the weekends, but this time my mind has decided that I can’t write in a messy house!

Within social media – surely I need to know what is going on in the world, in order to write in an informed way?

Settling down to research has been difficult, and full of distraction. My chair has ‘hurt’, my eyes have been tired and my mind not happy to concentrate for more than a few moments at a time.

Chocolate has become an even dearer friend. Yes I’ve tried being healthy, in order to aid the process, but fruit just hasn’t hit the spot (unless accompanied by copious amounts of cheese)…

Inspiration, why are you so elusive right now?

Claire is a freelance writer, speaker and editor, mum to two gorgeous young 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 authenticity, marriage, parenting, worship, discipleship, issues facing women today etc. Her books include Taking your Spiritual Pulse, CWR’s Insight Into Managing Conflict and Insight Into Self-acceptance, Cover to Cover: David A man after God’s own heart and BRF Foundations21 study guides on Prayer and Jesus. She also writes Bible study notes, and her latest co-written book, Insight Into Burnout, was published in February 2017. Her next book, Taking off the mask: learning to live authentically, will be published on 1 November 2017. To find out more about her, please visit and @CMusters on Twitter.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

What is your earliest writing memory? by Lynda Alsford

I have been thinking recently about when I starting taking an interest in writing. One of my earliest memories of writing are from my school days. I had an excellent teacher at primary school called Mrs Hecks. She taught me most of my basic knowledge.  She was a lady who loved children and loved passing on her knowledge to us. She had a preference for fountain pens and I used one regularly at school until I moved on to secondary school. I stayed in touch with her regularly until she died a few years ago in her 90s. As an aside, do you have a favourite teacher? What was it that made them special?

I can remember Mrs Hecks asking us to write a story about how thunder happens. I have no clue where the idea for my story came from but I wrote  a story about God moving his furniture about heaven with big bangs. I can remember really enjoying writing it. My imagination had been sparked. I could see God busy with his removals in my head and really wanted to share what I could see. However, I didn't know how to emphasise the loudness of the bangs with good descriptive prose. I was only about 7 or 8 years old and all I could think to do was write the word bang in great big letters on the page to emphasise how loud each bang was. Each story was then read out to the class. I can remember now how these over large letters made Mrs Hecks giggle as she explained to the class what I had done. 

As I got older I discovered Enid Blyton. I collected and read all 21 famous give books. I loved them. I can remember hiding under the bed clothes reading with a torch so mum wouldn't know I was reading when I should be asleep. When I was about 12 years old I wrote an adventure book, trying to be like Enid Blyton. I can't remember much of the story except it took place in a wood with children going on an adventure. I remember trying to draw the illustrations too. 

What is your earliest writing memory? Who inspired you in your early writing?

Lynda Alsford is a sea loving, cat loving GP administrator and writes in her spare time. She has written two books, He Never Let Go describes her journey through a major crisis of faith whilst working as an evangelist at a lively Church in Chiswick, West London. Being Known describes how God set her free from food addiction. Both books are available in paperback and on kindle on  and She writes a newsletter called Seeking the Healer, in which she shares the spiritual insights she has gained on her journey. When she finally starts her blog, it will also be called Seeking the Healer and you can find out more about both at

Monday, 15 May 2017

Faith, Hope and Love, by Mark Anderson Smith

Many of us were born to be writers—that is my belief. Just as some are born to be musicians, or artists, or dancers, we were born to write.

Yet for me, I struggled to believe it was true. I had wanted to be a writer since around aged Eight, when I realised I wanted to be the person writing the stories I was reading.

Wanting to be a writer will never cut it though. You can’t want to be a dancer—you have to get off your seat and dance. You can’t want to be a singer—you have to open your mouth and sing.

It’s no different with writers—if you want to be a poet or novelist or writer of prose, there is no way to achieve that other than to write.

I’ve struggled with self-belief for most of my life. Can I do what I want to do? Should I be writing? Will anyone else think what I write is worth reading?

That lack of belief in myself has held me back, has caused me to give up far too many times. I’ve had several ideas for novels, one that is now over thirty years old and still only ten pages long…

Without a doubt, writing a novel or non-fiction book is a big project when you’ve never done it before. Our best ideas are often far bigger than we are capable of tackling. One reason why so many people start novels and fail to finish them.

Yet, if we persevere with tasks that are beyond us, we often find that we grow into the challenge. We become the people we need to be, to overcome the problems we couldn’t tackle before.

I started my latest novel—Fallen Warriors—back in 2007. It was an incredibly foolish concept for someone who’d never even managed to publish a short story. A story about a group of strangers, drawn together as miraculous events occurred. They say (those mysterious “They”) that new writers should stick to simple plots. That dealing with multi-layered story lines is likely to end in disaster.

Perhaps “They” are right. Seven years into writing Fallen Warriors, I had all but given up on the story several times. Too complicated, too confusing even for me as the writer. Yet what can you do when a burning idea won’t leave you, when it keeps you up late at night?

I had a breakthrough a few years ago when I realised I was being paid to be a writer. That I had been for years and just hadn’t realised. A mid-life crisis a decade before had prompted me to seek God’s guidance. After much searching I decided to try and build a career, something I’d never had. I went back to school. Graduated from college with my first Higher Education certificate and found that writing wasn’t my only passion. I also had a thing for databases. And an undervalued programming language—Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). From 2004 till 2014 I wrote code and created databases using Structured Query Language (also known as SQL.) I built up a decent reputation writing business applications for quite well known organisations.

After one six month project, out of curiosity, I worked out how many words I’d written over the project. By the time I’d reviewed the user guides, technical documentation, SQL queries and VBA code, I realised I’d effectively written the equivalent of a novel…

It was one of those lightbulb moments. I was already getting paid to write. People were not just reading what I wrote, but were interacting with those applications on a daily basis. And those applications were complex. At least as complex as the novel that was still very much on the back burner.

To be sure, a novel is a very different beast to an application or a dry technical manual, but the realisation that I was using writing skills—drafting, brainstorming, creative thinking, editing, formatting—every single day, was empowering.

It took three years from that point to finish Fallen Warriors, but I’m positive that was the point I went from doubt to hope, when my uncertainty over whether I could transformed into belief that I must keep trying.

Quite rightly, we often focus on the emphasis on love in the statement by Paul: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.” Yet without faith and hope, is there any point to love?

If I do not have faith there is a God that loves me, what use is that love to me? If I do not have hope that my sins are forgiven, how can I trust God will accept me?

Yet, somewhere else it is written, it is God’s very kindness that leads us to repentance. Without God choosing first to love us, would we be able to have faith or hope?

I choose to believe that God created us to hope, to have faith, to believe as well as to love. For some of us that journey is easier than for others. Realising that God calls us to follow him and acting on that is not the end of the struggle. Yet the words of Jesus make it clear that God wants to give good gifts to each of us, gifts to serve others with, even the gift of writing.

I know that I was holding myself back for much of my life, but even when it is us ourselves holding us back, I believe God can work a change in us if we ask, seek and keep knocking on whatever door is in our way.

God has given you a gift, perhaps many gifts... He’s given this gift to you freely for you to choose how to use. I know that as I’ve allowed myself to express the gift of writing, I’ve been blessed. May you know what gifts God has given you and may your eyes be opened to see how you can use them.

About the Author

Mark Anderson Smith is a Scottish author who for ten years lived in York, England—the setting for his Christian thriller: Fallen Warriors (

Mark confesses he had the initial idea for Fallen Warriors while daydreaming through a church service. He longs to see the Church return to the passion and power the early apostles displayed.

He is also the author of The Great Scottish Land Grab (, a contemporary political tale of one man's fight to reverse the Highland Clearances and transform Scotland, first published in 2014.

Married with three children, he works as an IT Consultant in Scotland, developing applications for businesses, databases and reports. Mark is passionate about goals and a few years ago accepted a challenge to write down 100 goals. To date he still hasn't stood on a new planet or learned to fly, but insists there is still time…

Visit his Facebook page:

Follow Mark on Twitter:

Sunday, 14 May 2017

A tale of two trees 14th May 2017 by Susanne Irving

Back in 2008, I went to a women's weekend at Waverley Abbey House entitled "Seasons of the Spirit". During one session we were invited to find a tree or shrub that represented the season we felt we were in. I "adopted" the bare tree on the right. It had an infection so had been pruned hard to ensure its survival.

Every time I visit Waverley, I now check on "my" tree's progress, which at times has seemed almost non-existent. However, the photos I have taken of the view at least once a year tell a different story. It shows the tree’s gradual recovery unfolding through the seasons.

The tree has become a symbol of hope and renewal, not just for me, but also for other women who have felt severely pruned and damaged by life events.

So I felt very protective of the tree when I heard someone say that they wished the tree had not survived. Someone else commented that it was an example of a tree that had been badly pollarded. They seemed to dismiss the signs of growth and only judged it by its current outward appearance.

Yet who are we to judge the shape and state of this survivor? I recently discovered an old drawing that shows that the tree was already around in 1840, reminding me of the importance of taking a long view.

The second tree from the same period is just a stump now. Its trunk snapped in a storm two years ago whilst its seemingly crippled neighbour stood strong, a reminder that outward beauty and growth can hide inner decay.

It does not look as if that tree will ever grow again, but I have decided to suspend judgment. I have been told that its branches now provide shelter for ducks and other nesting water fowl. So the end of its story is still being written.

When things don't seem to go according to plan, I feel crippled or just frustrated at the slow rate of my transformation and growth, I remind myself that my story too is not yet finished - but I have already been told it has a very happy ending.

About the author: Sue Irving is the co-ordinator for the Creative Communicators in Petersfield. She has co-written a book with her husband John about their experiences when climbing Kilimanjaro. It is aimed at both trekkers and those who are going through a dark time in their lives. How to conquer a mountain: Kilimanjaro lessons is available as a paperback and an e-book on Amazon, with all proceeds going to charity. The German translation of the book is due to be published this summer.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

We Will Survive by Rosemary Johnson

Has your writing never been rejected?

What?  No?  I don’t believe you.  All writers receive rejections.  A successful women’s magazine writer told me that she received acceptances and rejections in a ratio of one to three.  One of the standard warnings given to new writers is that they must expect their submitted work to be rejected.  The underlying message in this warning is that the poor aspiring newbie must toughen up, but rejection hurts, in love, in friendships, at work, and especially when some (obviously) stupid editor has sent us the ‘not for us’ email in respect of the piece of writing into which we have poured our heart and soul.
Some scribblers stop submitting for publication after two or three goes, or post their work (available to read for free) on their blogs, and some, unable to bear the treadmill of the subbing process, don’t sub at all.  But, if we want to people to read what we write, we have to cope with the possibility of rejection.

I asked some of my writer friends on Facebook how they dealt with rejection; their strategies included rants, walks (aka sulks), ‘deep breaths’ and cups of tea.  Another thing you might do is to play some rousing and uplifting music, like Gloria Gaynor’s 1970s hit, ‘I Will Survive’, for instance.  If you’re in your house alone, turn it up loud, let it throb and thump through the floorboards, and dance like nobody is watching.  “Lie down and die”?  Not us!  We will survive.  We will listen to what our critics say, weigh their critical comments, perhaps seeking further feedback, but we won’t dwell on them too much.  We will survive.  We will move on and sub again.  The more we sub, the greater the chance that our next reply will be an acceptance.

Gloria Gaynor, by the way, is a Christian, although she wasn’t at the time she brought out ‘I Will Survive’.  After she became successful, she got into drugs and drink, but one day she felt someone grabbing her by the collar and pulling her up, saying, “That is enough’.  Immediately afterwards, she locked herself in the bathroom, crying “Oh my God, oh my God,” until she realised who it was: God.  Later this year, she will debut her new gospel album. 

For me, ‘I Will Survive’ - words and music - is full of hope, one of the three things which remain (1 Corinthians 13).  It’s taken me a long time to work out why hope is up there with faith and love, but I realise that we need hope to keep us going.  We are able to keep putting your work out there, writers, because we are indeed more than writers.  Our self-respect is not bound up in seeing our work published, nor can it be deflated by rejection emails.  We are children of God, loved by God, and God, like any loving father, reads everything we write - although His red pen is different.

Rosemary Johnson has had many short stories published, in print and online, amongst other places, in Alfie Dog Fiction, The Copperfield Review, Circa and Every Day Fiction.  In real life, she is a part-time IT tutor, living in Suffolk with her husband and cat.  Her cat supports her writing by sitting on her keyboard and deleting large portions of text.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Venturing out from the bunker – biblical wisdom and social media outrage by Andrew J Chamberlain

Last year there were two major shocks to millions of people in the West: Britain voted to leave the European Union and Donald Trump was elected as the President of the United States. One reason why these outcomes seemed so shocking, for those who were disappointed and even for some who were pleased with these results, was because much of the polling before both events turned out to be

The other reason for the shock was that so many of us had substituted discussion and debate about the merits of a course of action with a retreat into our own tribe where we could reinforce our certainty that we were right and the others were wrong, and not only were they wrong but they were fools or idiots or evil, and that our way was self-evidently right, beyond the point of debate. Social media has only exacerbated this problem, with its ability to turn a tribe into a mob, and its tendency to encourage outrage and vitriol over debate and civil disagreement.
For us Christians the problem is more pressing than it might be for other people. Others can stay in their tribe, their bubble, and mutter together, but if we belong to a church community, we must face coming back to our most important tribe, and there we may find examples of the very people who, in other circumstances, we were accusing of being fools or wrong, or even evil.

When we are confronted by brothers and sisters who we care about and love but whose views are completely at odds with our own, we feel pain We are confronted by a kind of dissonance that requires us to re-evaluate who we are, what we believe, and crucially how we deal with the people around us. The na├»ve leftie liberal and the right-wing bigot find themselves sharing the peace, and then sharing the body of Christ. Jesus’s sacrifice for his bickering, fractious children may shame us. To retain any integrity, we must reconcile.
The pain we feel at this moment is a good pain, it’s a pain we need to feel. It’s a healthy torment. We should not be afraid to engage with the brother or sister who amazes us with their attitudes, rather we need to engage with them.
To help us do this the bible gives us some practical suggestions. The most appropriate one for the social media age, I think is St Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians: “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians Ch4 v15) I think this is an imperative for Christians in the social media age. It doesn’t mean we avoid the subject or tip-toe around it, this advice contains the tension we find in much divine wisdom: speak the truth, but do it in love.
The other practical advice comes from Christ in the gospel of Matthew. If you have something against your brother (or sister) reconcile with them before you offer your gift at the altar (Matthew Ch5 vv23-24).

If we are functioning as we should with others, Christian or not, we will face the helpful challenge of bearing with, and reconciling with the most outrageous people. If at times we feel the challenge to be too much for us, we can console ourselves with the fact that when we feel the enormity of Christ’s expectations, we have ventured out from the bunker, and are on the right track.