Friday, 30 June 2017

Sodium Chloride

Take one atom of Sodium, mix it with one atom of Chloride and you get salt, whose entry in Wikipedia states the following:

"Salt is essential for life in general, and saltiness is one of the basic human tastes. The tissues of animals contain larger quantities of salt than do plant tissues. Salt is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous food seasonings, and salting is an important method of food preservation."

It's analogous to fiction. Whereas salt is essential for our physical bodies, storytelling is essential for our minds. And that's where we come in.

The bible is full of stories. Some, like the parables and the Psalms are short, while others, such as the Exodus from Egypt are longer. Even the proverbs can be read as (very) short stories. We are attracted to them from an early age and fiction is still the largest market in publishing. But the analogy also goes deeper.

Despite the rumours, neither Chloride or Sodium are lethal to humans, in fact we have trace amounts in our bodies. It's chlorine that can be lethal.

On their own they, like most substances, taste awful and are harmless to us...unless we overdose. Did you know you can drown from drinking too much water? Put them together and they save lives.

In our fiction we can take dull, boring, details of life and weave them together into something fantastic that grabs the attention. It goes further. Take two unpalatable items, such as murder and prostitution. Weave them into a story and it becomes fascinating, a fact that Tabloids have exploited since the first newspaper.

As Christians we have to be more careful with the basic ingredients of a story, and not promote or sensationalise the less salubrious ingredients. It's not an easy thing to do, but who said being a christian writer was going to be easy.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Who Do I Worship? by Allison Symes

Who Do I Worship?

Due to personal circumstances recently, I have had the thought running through my head that I worship Jesus, who knew what it was to cry at the tomb of a friend.  This has been a very comforting thought.  I am no poetry expert (as below will prove!) but felt this was the best format for what I felt I should say for this month. 

Who do I worship?
I worship Someone who knew what it was like
To cry at the tomb of a friend despite
Knowing He was about to raise Lazarus
From the dead.

Who do I worship?
I worship Someone who knew the concerns
Of ordinary people and cared for
Bodies and souls and fed the people with
Fish and Bread.

Who do I worship?
I worship Someone who didn’t have to
Come to Earth at all
And cope with being born in a stall
Where animals fed.

Who do I worship?
I worship Someone who made the world
And then went on to save it
For all who believe in His Name
For us, he bled.

Who do I worship?
I worship Someone who knew the trials
And frustrations of daily life
And in His footsteps I will go
By Him I will be led.

Who do I worship?
I worship Someone who will stand by me
No matter what I face and I can
Know, now and always, I’m not alone.
He is my Head.

Who do I worship?
I worship Someone who knew what it was
Like to be betrayed and let down.
To hurt and to know pain and to be alone
When others fled.

Who do I worship?
I worship Someone who knows full well
I would have done what the apostles did
But still loves me and, on the cross,
Took my stead.

Who do I worship?
I worship Someone who thought of his mother
As He was dying on the cross
Considered her pain more than His own
“I love you”, she said.

Who do I worship?
I worship Someone who told stories
That put points across simply and
Helped ordinary people understand
Life does hold a narrative thread.

Who do I worship?
I worship Someone who I know I can
Trust absolutely, far more than any man
And in all things will not leave me
He, indeed, goes on ahead.

Who do I worship?
I worship Someone who is beyond our
Understanding yet knows what it is to be human.
We are His sheep and
I am glad He is our Head.


Wednesday, 28 June 2017

God’s Long Reach In Our Journeys by Trevor Thorn

Recently, as I stepped into a ‘new world’, for me, of creating a YouTube Channel called ‘Sing of God and Science’, I reflected on the long path that led me to this point. Once again I marvel and give thanks for the many steps on the way which, at the time did not seem to be particularly directed toward any specific destination.

Let me unfold the story for you.

Singing in a church choir was clearly an early influence on the way this project would ultimately come about. The rhythms, the tunes and the metrical forms settled in my mind with their accompanying messages of the faith of the family that surrounded me with its love.

As a young man I then became a zealous (maybe over-zealous) young banker, a job effectively chosen for me by my father who wanted the security for me that such a career offered at that time. My combination of A levels gave no hints as to what to choose - Divinity and Chemistry! But maybe they were a pointer (as Pam, my wife reminded me when she came to read this story). So, in the absence of any alternative enthusiasm or ambition, I settled to that my father’s ideas and was fortunate to be offered a ‘fast-tracking’ programme, though it had no such whizzy title at that time. 

In a while, I was made an offer I could, in career terms, not refuse: a six week residential course for the bank’s promising young men (as we all were at that time). In retrospect, I should have been brave enough to refuse the offer, as my first child was due to arrive just two weeks ahead of the start of the course. That and my subsequent over enthusiasm for my career was, in time, a major contributor to the breakdown of my marriage – but first, back to the course events.

The course material was delivered in what I now recognize as very didactic terms. We were there only to be told how the bank did things, and our opinions did not, frankly, count for much. In that situation there was little room for individual expression – until the inevitable end of course ‘review’. In wondering what to offer, I realized that I could have some gentle fun by writing about the various tutors’ traits to the tune of ‘While Shepherd’s Watched’. It was appreciated by everyone including the tutors and a latent enthusiasm for verse-form was uncovered.

Several years later this migrated into a somewhat curious form. By then I was a Deputy Assistant Manager in the bank’s largest branch (a title that has long ceased to exist). As such, it was my rôle to say farewell to those retiring who had not managed to make it as far as departmental manager, despite often very long careers. It struck me forcibly that these men (again, all men at that time) had given their lives to the bank and usually the farewell speech was a little more than a catalogue of the branches at which they had served followed by, what seemed to me, a somewhat hollow expression of thanks. And, when I made the speech - from a man half their age. However, because I was located in the Head Office branch, I was later able to ask in Personnel Department if there had been any incidents in the leavers’ bank lives – and turn those into simple songs. It rapidly became clear, the ‘recipients’ loved this. I had accidentally discovered how to make them feel special and a copy of the song could be handed to them as a memento to show friends and family afterwards.

This practice had one totally unexpected outcome. One morning I was summoned to the Chief General Manger’s Office; an unheard-of and somewhat daunting occurrence for a young man on the bank’s ladder. ‘Thorn’, he said, ‘I hear you write songs’. With trepidation I admitted to the charge. ‘In two weeks,’ said this bluff Yorkshireman, the General Manager for Agriculture retires. ‘I want a song his colleagues and I can sing to him as part of his leaving ceremony’. You could, as they say, have knocked me down with a feather; but the power of verse/song was again strongly reinforced in my consciousness. For an agricultural banker, what tune could be more appropriate than ‘We Plough The Fields and Scatter…!’

Several years later, I was thankful to leave the bank and go to work for a major charity where the personalized song-writing continued.

From there, my propensity to ‘turn a verse’ helped sustain me through an unhappy time of divorce, when versifying Psalms was a thankful diversion from the unpleasantness which each day seemed to bring.

Several years into my second marriage, now 36 years young, my wife, realizing I had an enthusiasm for things scientific, subscribed to ‘The New Scientist’ on my behalf as a birthday present. This led to a growing body of poetry on the topic of faith and science – not a very publishable combination!

It was a chance conversation with a narrow-boating friend that led me into the world of blogging. John was marvelling that his jottings on boating could attract the interest of people far and wide. The potential of taking that route for ‘publication’ of my material suddenly felt a golden opportunity – and it has been.

Several years later, with a fair sized collection of work published on my blog, a friend pointed me to Prof. David Wilkinson, an Astrophysicist and theologian. I wrote to him and he was kind enough to validate what I was doing  and express a hope that it might be possible to build up a collection of hymns and songs of faith and science.

From that sprung an application for a grant from the current ‘Scientists in Congregations’ programme to build up a body of faith and science songs, primarily for use in church primary school assemblies.

A book of songs will be published later this year but in the meantime this journey has unexpectedly led to encouraging nine local primary schools to produce their own science and faith songs – and the remarkable results can be viewed at

Whoever could have imagined those earlier steps were a preparation for such an enterprise? Gods provision is sometimes so extraordinary!

My blog can be found at

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Re-emergence is a Tender Thing, by Lucy Mills

MY FIRST POST HERE IN A WHILE - I surrendered my last two slots as they were just that bit too much. I was grappling with finishing my book.  I had no 'extras' left - my creative juices, such as was left of them, had to flow all in the same direction.

My manuscript was submitted at the end of May and just under a week ago, while travelling back from Scargill House, I received word from my publisher.  It was a positive and affirming email, with the outcome that I have very little further to do pre-copy editing, just a little tweaking at the very start.

So I'm not done with it yet, in terms of writing, but 'very nearly almost'.  I feel now I can tackle the small problem area with fresh eyes.

And so has begun my re-emergence.

On the day I submitted my manuscript I stepped out into the garden and blinked into the brightness. It was a good picture of what I felt like on the inside. Re-emergence is a relief but also overwhelming - it takes an adjustment to the colour of the light.

There's also a sense of all that waits in the wings.

Time to rest! Others cried in exuberant support. But the trouble is, all those things that had been put on hold no longer obeyed the temporary fences I had erected.

They crashed back in.

I already had a commissioned article that was due in a week, on which I'd done nothing (and I felt all used up). My editing work had not stopped; I'd been doing the minimum I could, but now I needed to take up the slack and focus in order to ensure things happened as they should. I knew various commitments were waiting for me. Even friends, treasured things that they are, now hoped I would be free - and so did I!  But re-emergence is not like a blank slate; it's having to work out what do with the list of things that were scribbled on a slate while I was 'on the inside'.

Being set on one thing meant I now needed to move back into measuring and managing the many.  It wasn't that I had taken on loads of extras; these were all the 'normal things' that I do in my work and personal life and church - things I need to remember how to rearrange and how to approach in a sensible way.

I didn't like to disappoint those who pointed out now I could have a nice long break, when I was actually feeling bombarded with everything.

Some made me me feel as if I do very little when I'm not writing a book!  (I had a text-rant to a friend about this, who said she had a similar experience when she completed her Masters.) I know they didn't mean to, but I was feeling so raw. I had to work on my graciousness with those who said, even if in jest, 'now you have nothing to do...'

Oh, I really had to work on my graciousness.

I know everyone was pleased and being supportive... I was grateful for them and pleased that they were pleased...

but re-emergence is a tender thing.

It was as if I'd been inside the chrysalis with my book. Now I need to learn how to fly again.

Thankfully I was one of those attending Scargill's writers' weekend - I know several posts have touched on this already, so I don't want to overload non-attendees with my reminiscences; but I will say this: it was exactly right time for me. I had no expectations of myself except to go and enjoy it.

The place steeped me in a slowness I was lacking; it enabled me, like the butterfly with crinkled, weak wings, to sun myself for a while and build up my strength.

It was intrinsic to my re-emergence and I now feel stronger.  I have more time off in the not-too-distant future, which will give me more rest and time to build strength.

I was feeling so flimsy and desperate that I was afraid something would stop me from going; that something would happen to keep me here; that I would do what I did last year and tumble down some steps and sprain my ankle...anything.  But I went, and I returned, feeling like I'd had an injection of calm and confidence.

Re-emergence is a tender thing. I'm glad I was able to find a place of nourishment.

What about you?  Have you ever felt overwhelmed not just by beginning something, but by finishing it?


Lucy Mills
Lucy's first book, Forgetful Heart: remembering God in a distracted world, was published in 2014 (DLT).
Undivided Heart: finding meaning and motivation in Christ will be coming in October 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
Lucy on Instagram: @lucymillswriter

More than Writer posts in 2017:

Monday, 26 June 2017

Three Act Structure for Novelists

Part of my day job used to be teaching scriptwriting for stage and screen at Northumbria University. One of the foundational modules was all about three act structure. For film writers, it is essential that they have an understanding of this influential model as the vast majority of produced screenplays follow it. For playwrights it is important too, although the theatre sees more experimentation in form than commercial film. But what about novelists? Yes, they can also use it.

In fact, I do. My books are written using the three act structure model I learned through scriptwriting. I find it very helpful to plan my novel in this way and it helps me as I’m writing to keep on track and not lose sight of the big picture. Knowing the approximate word count for each section of the book is enormously helpful for me. It helps, for instance, for me to know that my inciting incident will kick off at around 18 – 20,000 words, and that I need to have a ‘point of no return’ in the middle of the book, which will be around the 45K mark. Then as I’m approaching the end, it helps me to know my ‘act three’, the final section of the book, should start gaining momentum at around 65,000 words.

This way of writing may not be for everyone, but it certainly is for me. Perhaps you might want to consider it too. There are lots of books you can read to help you understand this structure. Some of the best are Robert McKee’s Story and Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey (which ties the three act structure into a classical mythical model). But for now, here is a brief introduction (and a graph):

Act 1: The beginning - the introduction of the main characters and their world. This is where you establish the primary conflict of the book. What does the main character want and what or who stands in his or her way? What propels the character to start out on their journey? In my literary thriller The Peace Garden, for instance, we meet Natalie as she is arriving at her grandmother's house and she discovers that there is a plant thief in the neighbourhood. She sets out to find the thief but on the way discovers that there’s a far darker secret hiding in the quiet suburban cul-de-sac. In my 1920s mystery, The Jazz Files, we meet Poppy Denby as she arrives in London, gets a job on a newspaper and then is tasked with finishing the investigation started by a journalist who has died in mysterious circumstances.

Act 2: The middle - the character has now started on their journey to find love, right a wrong, uncover a mystery or escape a vicious killer. But what happens to them on the way? This is where the character faces obstacles and setbacks, detours and challenges, in the quest to find a solution to their problem at the risk of losing everything. In The Peace Garden, Gladwin, whom Natalie has befriended in her search for the plant thief, returns to his home country of South Africa to face a murder charge and sends Natalie a series of letters in which he tells the story of his past. In The Jazz Files Poppy follows a complex web of corruption, deceit and murder in her quest to find out the truth about the death of a suffragette seven years earlier.

Act 3: The end - the story reaches a climax as the characters come face to face with their greatest fear or their greatest desire or their greatest challenge. The questions that are raised in the beginning and the middle should be addressed by the end. This does not mean everything needs to be tied up neatly, and there can be some suggestions that everyone will not live happily ever after, but the story needs to be complete in some way or you will run the risk of leaving a dissatisfied reader. Both The Peace Garden and The Jazz Files reach a climax as the heroines come face to face with their respective antagonists and finally solve the mystery.

The optional denouement - the aftermath of the climax. Once the character's problem has been solved, what does their world look like? What has changed? This can be an internal or external change, but most novels have a combination of both. Don’t linger on this section; this should be one short chapter or an afterword. In some novels there is no denouement because everything is summed up in the climax. The denouement is a useful place to briefly wrap up sub-plots but the main plot must be resolved at the climax. In The Peace Garden there is an explosive climactic chapter then a quiet denouement set seven months later. The Jazz Files’ denouement takes place two weeks after the climax, when Poppy is back in the newspaper office.

Fiona Veitch Smith is a writer and writing tutor, based in Newcastle upon Tyne. She writes across all media, for children and adults. Her mystery novel The Jazz Files, the first in the Poppy Denby Investigates Series (Lion Fiction) was shortlisted for the CWA Historical Dagger award in 2016. The second book, The Kill Fee is a finalist for the Foreword Review mystery novel of the year 2016/17, and the third, The Death Beat, will be published in October. Her novel Pilate’s Daughter  a historical love story set in Roman Palestine, is published by Endeavour Press and her literary thriller about apartheid South Africa, The Peace Garden, is self-published under the Crafty Publishing imprint. Her children’s books The Young David Series and the Young Joseph Series  are published by SPCK.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

A Cat of Many Colours, by Fiona Lloyd

            Recently, I (along with several other ACW members) attended a writing retreat at Scargill. I love these weekends: the opportunity to connect (and reconnect) with other writers – surrounded by stunning scenery – is invaluable; but there’s also the freedom to discover new ways of writing.

            One of our suggested tasks was to choose something from a selected group of objects to use as a writing prompt. The challenge was to “make us see things in a different way”, using our chosen object. The only other constraint was that we had to use a maximum of 300 words. I was immediately drawn to a multi-coloured cat, with beads at the end of its whiskers. Why did it look so sad, I wondered, and whatever had happened to its whiskers?

            Below is the piece of writing I produced. I’m not suggesting it’s the best thing I’ve ever written, but I hope it will encourage you to have a go at a similar writing exercise, maybe using one of the objects in the picture – let me know how you get on!

            Go on: stare, if you must. It’s always the same when I go somewhere new. I’ve learned to keep looking straight ahead, but I know that if I turn around, all other eyes will swivel instantly to an indeterminate point a paw’s width above my head.
            I wasn’t always like this: as a youngster, my fur was a sleek, respectable blend of tortoiseshell, and my whiskers were groomed to perfection. But, like most young toms, I enjoyed a good scrap, and by the time I was fully grown, I was covered with scars.
            That’s when the problems started. Wounds which had appeared superficial began to fester and stink. Infections linked scratches to gashes to bites, causing a constellation of sores to erupt all over my body. My beautiful fur fell out in clumps. Worse still, my whiskers – which had been savaged in one particular incident – developed strange, rounded lumps, almost as though my human had taken to threading beads on the ends.
            Naively, I assumed that the scars – not to mention those weird growths – would heal and disappear over time. Instead, the lumps hardened and calcified, while my coat regrew in shocking primary hues. My human said I was more handsome than ever, but the other cats lined up to mock me.
            Last week, I found a kitten cowering in the hedge at the far end of my garden. Her fur was bedraggled, her whiskers shredded, and one ear split open from top to bottom. She stood up as she saw me approach, and a front paw wobbled beneath her. I crouched alongside, trying to make myself as small and unintimidating as possible, aware all the time of my beaded whiskers bobbing up and down.
            “There’s no need to be afraid,” I said, “I’ll walk with you.”

Fiona Lloyd works part-time as a music teacher, and serves on the worship leading team at her local church. Fiona blogs at and at You can find her on Twitter at @FionaJLloyd. Her first novel will be published by Instant Apostle in January 2018. Fiona is vice-chair of ACW and is married with three grown-up children.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

My Favourite Book of the Bible

The book I like most in the Bible is the New Testament Letter of James. I really can’t think why Martin Luther called it ‘a right strawy epistle’. I take strength from Isaiah’s prediction that in the new world ‘the lion shall eat straw like the ox’. I’m happy to be a spiritual ox, building moral muscle by chewing over James’s wisdom, and I look forward to being joined at this dinner in the world to come by all the fastidious lions who go chasing up and down the scriptures to find something juicy!

Strohballen im Park By Celina Berghaus (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Eight reasons why I like this book so much

It comes in handy bite-size chunks

In my Bible it’s divided by headings into twelve parts, each round about a dozen verses. Every section is about something of real importance and relevance—trials and temptations, not showing favouritism, controlling the way one speaks, judging others, and so on.

It is so loving in the way it addresses us

James speaks to his readers (or hearers, as they would have been back then) as if they are members of his family: ‘beloved brethren’, or ‘my brothers and sisters’ as a more modern version has it; ‘my beloved’. These addresses occur about ten times, and the constant repetition is very heartwarming.

It is so primitive (in the best sense)

It is obvious that this document comes from the very dawn of the Christian church. In chapter 2, verse 2, the Christian assembly is called ‘synagogue’, which suggests that we are still at the stage when the church was a Jewish institution with Gentile members. And the teaching is very much in the tradition of Jewish wisdom literature, simpler to follow than the complicated theological discourse of most of the New Testament letters.

It reads like a letter from a close relative of the Lord

You’ve only to look at the imagery and listen to the language to sense the atmosphere of the gospels. James’s metaphors, like Jesus’s, are based on the natural and agricultural world around him. (My private theory is that they picked up their idiom from their Mum.)  We have: the flowers of the field in chapter 1, horses and ships in chapter 3, fog in chapter 4, farmers in 5. Strongly reminiscent of gospel teaching is the image of riches rotting, clothes being eaten by moths, and gold and silver rusting, and that of the grapevine not bearing figs.

It is passionate about justice

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you…You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. I think that chapter 5:1–6 is the best prophetic invective in the whole of Scripture. It makes me think of the appalling imbalance between the incomes of rich MPs and those of the sick and disabled whose benefits they voted to cut. And then it makes me think of my house with three WCs and the third world slums where people have no toilets at all.

It is uncompromising about ethics

It puts the way we think, speak, and act at the very forefront of our Christian life. This is not in any way opposed to the ‘spiritual’ or ‘devotional’. It shows that the two strands are inextricably intertwined.

Let’s not fool ourselves that we are spiritually advanced if we speak critically or viciously: if anyone thinks that he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, that man’s religion is vain. How many Christians do I know whose talk is uncontrolled? Come to that, what about mine?

Let’s not think that we are spiritual if we organize our lives around our own ambitions to be well off and successful: Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

It prioritizes prayer

The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. I trust that the outcome of the recent general election testifies to that, knowing how Christians joined in prayer in the days before Pentecost. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault… (how unlike him we are!).

It is enormously encouraging in a down to earth way

Alongside the admonitions and warnings are placed the most amazing assurances for us if we choose to persevere in the life it depicts. The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace. Beautiful, or what? (And did you catch the echo of the Beatitudes?)

So what example does it offer to a Christian writer?

It’s very noticeable that it contains no doctrinal presentation of Jesus—no declarative exposition of his ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension. Just once, James calls his immeasurably greater brother ‘the Lord of Glory’. There are a couple of references to the Parousia. Otherwise, no Christology. Instead, the whole letter is suffused with the presence of Christ. In its stern, yet affectionate, admonitions it speaks with the voice of Christ. And in its vignettes of everyday ethics it displays the Christlike way of living.

We could try copying that approach.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Unappetising sandwiches and thin places - by Helen Murray

Forrest Gump's life was famously like a box of chocolates. Mine's more like a sandwich.

All the bits of my life are like layers: family, friends, health, work, church, and so on. It's a good sandwich. A well-filled, appetising one, most of the time. It's when something is off that it all goes wrong. 

My problem is my inability to compartmentalise. When something is wrong - a sandwich component is bad or absent - whether it's a touch of blue mould on the bread or a tang of rancid butter - the whole thing is inedible. No matter that the cheese is my favourite, and there's just the right amount of pickle, or the perfect crispy bit of lettuce, I can't enjoy the sandwich because part of it is not right. 

In times of stress or confusion, it's as if I've dropped the sandwich and it's landed on the floor in a heap of component parts. In accordance with the five-second-rule I scramble to pick it up, hastily reassembling it on my plate, but it doesn't really work. Now there are bits of carpet fluff and nothing is where it should be. It's not appetising any more. (And perhaps the metaphor is stretched a bit thin).

So, I find myself reflecting on what has gone wrong with my sandwich in recent months, or even years. For quite a while I thought that I was simply trying to get too much between the two slices of bread. Too many fillings meant that it was impossible to bite without everything sliding out of the other side and landing on your shirt-front. In response to this I pared down my commitments to concentrate on what was most important, along with the things that simply could not be changed. 

This worked for a while, but the stress slowly began to accumulate again. I found that the shoulds and oughts and musts crowded back in. Only recently have I realised that even my writing had become a burden; a heavy weight that was making me feel oppressed and anxious. 
  • should be writing. 
  • I have a gift for writing, and I should be using it. NB: the parable of the talents.
  • I've told people I'm writing a book; what will they think if I say I've given up?
  • If God has planted this dream in my heart, I should be working towards it.
Even my blog, my long-standing source of joy, comfort, inspiration and encouragement was too much. Too hard, too heavy. I have been overwhelmed. Something has had to give, and it is the writing. It's been all I can do to find something for this blog each month, and a long time since it had any relevance to writing. Apologies for that. 

Too much to do, so little space: physical, mental, spiritual. 

Then, two things happened. 

I saw this Tweet:  
'Sometimes you've got to give up trying to fulfil your dreams and just fulfil your orders. Eventually you discover that the two will merge.'  @JarrodL Cooper
I went on the ACW Writers' Weekend at Scargill House, near Kettlewell in Yorkshire. A few days before the weekend I had a strong desire to phone up and cancel as it seemed simply too much effort to make on top of the normal non-stop hamster-wheel pace of life, but I reminded myself how wonderful last year's weekend was and how imperative it had seemed to me then, to book again for this year. I threw some things in a suitcase and hauled myself north. 

Ah, Scargill. They say it's a 'thin place' where heaven and earth seem closer than usual, and they're right. I've been three times now (booked four but did indeed cancel once) and each time I have met Jesus there right alongside some lovely lovely people. 

This time I did things a little differently. 

Usually I follow the programme assiduously, going to every workshop, every session, using all spare time in my little room writing away, because it's a writers' weekend and that's what you're supposed to do, no? I always do what I'm supposed to do. This time, I found myself exploring the breathtakingly beautiful grounds for the first time ever. It helped that the weather was perfect. 

I found a bench, I sat and gazed at the gorgeousness around me. I wrote in my journal. I felt the sun on my skin. I listened to the sheep, the cows, the birds, the wind in the trees. I saw a deer. I traced my way around the prayer labyrinth and wandered through the woods. I found another seat looking down on the striking Scargill chapel, with it's pointy roof just like a pair of praying hands. I breathed in the clean air and let my shoulders relax. 

'Give up trying to fulfil your dreams'. When your dreams become oppressive, perhaps it's time to put them to the side without feeling guilty about them. I don't want to write my book. There's so much going on just with normal everyday life that there's no space in my head for writing. If I claw out a little time to write these days, my mind snaps shut and I can't think of anything. It's become another should, another ought. 

'Just fulfil your orders...' Well, I am here, now, and my life is what it is. It is not this way by chance. This 'season' of life (I don't particularly like that term which smacks to me of Christian jargon, but I concede that it's probably right) is one that is fast and full. Full of good things; full of family, growing children, to-ings and fro-ings and crises and anti-climaxes, tears and laughter. Good things, that should be embraced, not resented. They won't last forever. I am needed. Trying to shoehorn in my dreams right now is proving stressful, and impossible.

I am here for a reason, with only so much time and energy. 
  • Yes, I am a writer. Okay, I will write when I can. 
  • Yes, I have gifts, but the God I know won't look at me, thin-lipped with disapproval if I can't do justice to my writing right now. It's not the only gift I have. I have my precious family to care for and bring up, my part to play in the ministry at church, the day-in-day-out job of keeping life on the rails. He has equipped me for those things too.
  • What people think is not my concern. I answer only to God.
  • As for the dream - I think perhaps if God planted that seed in my heart, then in His timing He will give it what it needs to grow. I am loved and accepted and approved of just as I am, whether I achieve or not. Jesus saw to that. 
So I'm back to the seasons. The beauty and stillness of Scargill seeped into my soul that summer Saturday afternoon when I 'should' perhaps have been learning much needed lessons about the craft of writing. I will learn them another time. Instead of listening to the readings in the house I was wondering at the handiwork of the Author of everything. For once, I didn't do what I was supposed to do, and I cannot describe the freedom of those couple of hours. 

I have made peace with the letting go of my writing dreams. I don't know if Mr Cooper is right in his assertion that my orders and my dreams will one day merge, but I know that holding onto them so tightly that my fists are clenched white has done me no good. The stagnant presence of those dreams in my life-sandwich has spoiled the taste of the whole thing, so I have lifted the crust and taken them out. *

Maybe those dreams are not discarded, just packaged up carefully to keep off the dust and placed gently on a shelf for another time. A less full, rushed, juggling kind of time. A more spacious time. I don't know, but I trust God with that. 

Until then, I need to concentrate on now. I have my orders. 

Love those who need loving. Do what needs to be done in the strength I have, in the place I'm in. Stop, when I can, and rest. Learn. 

Listen to His voice and do what I see Him doing. 

That's the Plan. 

*... in much the same way that one removes the slice of gherkin from a McDonalds cheeseburger. 

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

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

Helen has a blog: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith.

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray
Twitter: @helenmurray01

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Handing Over The Ticket by Emily Owen

Free Train On Tracks Royalty Free Stock Photography - 982257

I recently travelled by train from the East Midlands up to a little village in Scotland.  When the ticket inspector came, I scrabbled around for my ticket (why am I never organised enough to have it immediately to hand?) and showed it to him. He took it, checked it and handed it back to me but, before I could take the ticket, he started inspecting it again.  Of course, despite knowing I’d bought the correct ticket, I felt irrationally guilty and visions of me being turfed off the train at the next stop ran through my mind…

“Where’s that you’re going?” he asked. I could see him wracking his brains.  Then: “No, I’ve never heard of it.”

I told him it was in Scotland and, realising that I did know where I was going, he checked off and handed the ticket back before moving on down the train.

He didn’t know where I was going but the fact that I knew was enough for him.

As I sped northward, watching the beautiful scenery flash by, I thought about my ticket which had my destination written on. I thought about the ticket inspector who’d checked it off and handed my ticket back to me simply on the basis that I knew where I was going, even though he didn’t know. And I thought about life.

I don’t always know where I’m going. Sometimes I think I’d like a ticket telling me where to go, what to do, what to write, what to say.

There is such a ticket, it’s just that I’m like the ticket inspector, wanting to know: “Where am I going?” But, rather than wrack my brains and try to figure out what it says on my ticket, maybe I should also be like the ticket inspector and decide to hand the ticket back:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take (Proverbs 3:5/6).

This is a verse my sister and her husband had at their wedding, right at the start of their journey together. Time and time again, it’s been a ticket that they’ve handed over to God, choosing to let it be enough that He knows where they are going. Even when they don’t have a clue.

Perhaps we can all hand our tickets over to One who does know where we’re going, every minute. And let the fact that He knows be enough.

My train ticket did get me there. God’s ticket will direct our journeys in life, too. 

‘Do not depend on your own understanding….’

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

An ordinary man who lived an ordinary life! Ruth Johnson

A time to weep
and a time to laugh

A time to mourn 
and a time to dance


Last month when I reported on a friend who walked into hospital on a Friday afternoon with pneumonia.  On Saturday tests were carried out, the results on Sunday revealing Steve's body was riddle with cancer, and he died on the following evening.  A shock to all who knew him.  Three weeks earlier he’d been fit enough to cycle the five miles to and from church, and besides the odd glass of wine, he didn’t drink and had never smoked.

The ‘thanksgiving’ celebration of his life was attended by at least five hundred people.  Relatives, friends from church, his naval career (when he’d married and had three children) along with colleagues and connections from many years of running his IT business.  People had been drawn to him, a man who lived, talked and walked in the love of the Lord.  And his son, following in his footsteps, spoke of the importance of faith in his father’s life, preached a Gospel based sermon to encourage those who didn't know the Lord to experience the Father’s love in this life, and have their destiny in death assured.

In the ‘Order of Service’ for Steve Sherwin (11 May 1957 – 1 May 2017) I was very moved by the poem written by his daughter in law.  It is, of course, deeply personal to her, but she has given me permission to copy it here because I felt, as writers you would appreciate it.   And, if you do, and would like to read more Helen can be found at:

Dream on Dear One
By Helen Sherwin

Dream on dear brother
Hold your wishes before the Lord,
Where we failed to listen and act,
Go to the one who made it all,
Ask him what, why, how and when
Then reply simply with a nod,
For today you are standing
In the presence of your God.

Dream on dear father,
For in His Kingdom dreams come true,
Enjoy the perfect family,
A ready-made community for you,
Laugh that cheerful laugh, A joy no longer flawed,
For today you are standing
In the presence of your Lord

Dream on dear friend,
Lay peacefully and rest,
Your suffering is over,
Your strong faith won the test,
We thank God that we knew you,
But if we could be sold bold –
Oh we wish you could stay longer
With that ever generous soul.

Dream on dear son,
Let our sadness turn to joy,
Because you’ve taken on eternity,
I’m proud of you, my boy,
And though I ache to see you,
I’m reminded by the Psalms,
That at this moment you are resting,
In your true Father’s arms.
Dream on dear husband,

Be yourself before the Lord,
Though here I’ll always miss you,
I know we’ll meet once more,
A brother, father, son and friend,
There’s so much that you bring,
But today we know you’re feasting,
At the banquet of your King.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Scargill by Sue Russell

It is all too often the case that when my turn to contribute to the blog looms I can find nothing to say. What do I know about Christianity or writing that hasn't been said before, that might amuse, inform, move, challenge, provoke?  Such questions to myself normally result in pitiful blankness. So this month I am going to cheat.
 I and a host of others have just come home from the ACW writers' weekend at Scargill House in the Yorkshire Dales, so the credentials of Christianity and writing can hardly be faulted, and our return coincides very happily (for me) with my date on the calendar.

It was my first time at Scargill, but I hope not the last. The weather was kind, the landscape inspiring, the hosts a delight, and the company unparalleled. It is a rare joy to be with so many people at one time with whom one has at least two major things in common - as above, Christianity and writing! I met people whom I had previously known only on social media; new connections were generated, older ones cemented, in an atmosphere of warmth and acceptance., and there was a free sharing of thoughts and skills.

I shall add a few photographs in the hope that if you haven't been before, you will consider going next year. You'll be glad you did, I suspect.
Above, Scargill from the other side of the dale, a view of the dale, the house and chapel. Left, the door to the beautiful walled garden, where two of us met one afternoon to try to beat a plot into shape.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Is confession good for the soul? by Veronica Zundel

Since starting my poetry writing MA (which has now had to be put on hold for a year because of my cancer treatment), I have become increasingly aware that 'confessional poetry' is largely a term of abuse in today's poetry scene. It calls to mind poems about personal pain (usually of a love-related
nature) in which the word 'I' occurs a lot and there is not much attention to technical quality or striking language and imagery, rather what appears to be prose chopped up into little lines, and a hearty helping of clichés.

Now I've probably written a lot of this sort of poetry myself in the past, though sometimes disguising its personal nature by using 'She' or even 'You' instead of 'I' - unrequited love is an endlessly fruitful source of poetry, and I've had more than my share of it. There is of course a Christian equivalent, pious poems with a liberal sprinkling of religious platitudes, generally the literary equivalent of those slushy worship songs often known as 'Jesus is my boyfriend' songs, ie if you took out the word 'God' they would sound exactly like Top 10 romantic ballads (only not quite up to the Top 10).

George Herbert
But is the personal really that taboo in modern poetry? You could argue quite easily that much of the poetry of my heroines Sylvia Plath, Stevie Smith and the earlier but in many ways very modern Emily Dickinson, was personal and 'confessional' to a high degree, yet no one would claim that the result is bad poetry. Or going back further in history, is not the work of John Donne or his contemporary George Herbert, not to mention Shakespeare's 154 sonnets, deeply confessional? Yet all use powerful, unusual language and imagery and can never be accused of cliché.

It was 1970s feminism that coined the phrase 'the personal is political', and from a Christian viewpoint we could add 'the personal is theological' too. I have said often that I prefer to read novels by women rather than by men - they just seem to be far nicer to their characters, while men's writing can often be rather detached and cold. I am finding now that the same applies to poetry: women's poems reach and sometimes break my heart, while so much of men's poetry (not all by any means) seems mainly to be about showing off how incomprehensible you can be.

The fact is, confessional does not have to mean slushy, formless or sentimental. 'Written from the heart' does not automatically imply 'written without use of the head'. Ultimately, we all make whatever we write from the fabric of our own lives, or our personal observations of the lives of others. If we are good writers, it goes through a transformation in which our inner feelings and thoughts become an outer artefact, separate from ourselves and capable of independent life (a bit like having children really). If we are not, perhaps we should give up.

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