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Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Making Difficult Decisions by Lynda Alsford

 How do you make difficult decisions? As a Christian it is not just myself and others I need to take into account. I also want to make sure I am doing what God would want me to do.

I have realised recently that I am trying to focus my attention and energy on too many things. Unfortunately that has meant my energy levels have been rather affected. I also have not got any writing done. I wanted to evaluate whether I can make more time for it. I thought I would be better once I stopped being administrator for ACW last autumn but the busyness and tiredness has continued. I find myself having to look through my diary and commitments to see what else I could stop doing. But that is so hard. What do I stop? How do I choose? I hope what I share will assist others in making hard decisions.

The good thing about this is that it is throwing me back onto God again. I am spending time in prayer and simply time being with the Lord, seeking to find out what he wants me to do. What should I give up and what should I keep doing?

Having prayed, and continuing to pray, I imagined what I would say to a friend if she were me. I thought this would help me to look at my life more objectively. I think I would tell someone else to go through all activities and look at them systematically.  

Being a writer at heart I decided to get out my journal and do this on paper. Having made a list of everything I do, I worked through it noting which brought me joy and which dragged me down. Obviously I can't stop everything I don't like - we all have to do things we don't like sometimes but it gave me a starting place.

I then asked myself why I was doing each thing. Some things have to be done - like my job. No job, no money. That is an easy one. Some things I am doing because it is expected of me, and others simply because I really enjoy them – they are life giving.

Other questions I asked myself about each thing on my list were...

  • Who would be affected by my decision? 
  • Is it a permanent decision or temporary one? Can I stop this thing for a season and pick it up later?
  • Is it in line with God’s word?


Some things on my list of activities have already been culled as I get to this point. I stopped going to my book group because although I enjoyed reading and discussing books with others, I no longer had time to read the book club book and read my own choice of book each month.

Others decisions are not so easy, so I am allowing myself time to make these decisions. I am not rushing. I am waiting on God, spending time with him while I decide.

What about you? How do you make difficult decisions? 


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  Amazon.co.uk  and  Amazon.com. 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  www.lyndaalsford.com.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Thank you, Glen Campbell

Sorry this post is late.  I'm on holiday in Ireland with a dodgy internet connection.

At school, we all loved ‘Wichita Lineman’, even though we didn’t know what a ‘lineman’ was.  It must be one of those intriguing American things, we thought.  When I found out what it really was, I looked upon GPO engineers (as they were in those days) in a different light.

As everyone will have read in their newspapers over the last few days, Glen Campbell, who had a hit with ‘Wichita Lineman’ in 1968, died, at eighty one, last Tuesday (8 August), after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.  He was singing to the end, bringing out a new album Adios, with the support of his family. 

His voice, simultaneously sexy and wholesome in that Country and Western way, ringing out from the transistor radio in my bedroom in Leicester, bared no hint of the man underneath, a womaniser and a substance abuser.  His songs were (are) all about ‘lurve’.  His lyrics have an emotional impact that all writers can learn from, an uumpth factor that makes all listeners’ hearts somersault inside them (especially teenagers, like me when I first heard it).  Listen to the lyrics of Wichita Lineman:

And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time
And the Wichita Lineman is still on the line

A hunky telephone engineer, clambering up tall telegraph poles and working in a hanging cage up in the air, offering his heart and eternal devotion – what is not to like?

In his tribute in Rolling Stone, Jimmy Webb, who created the music and lyrics for many of Campbell’s songs, wrote a moving tribute to him in Rolling Stone.  He tells us that Campbell wanted ‘to bring every suffering soul within the sound of his voice up a peg or two.  Leave them feeling just a little tad better about themselves; even though he might have to make them cry a couple of times to get 'em there.”

Cambell does the ‘making them cry’ in By The Time I Get to Phoenix in which he lets us into the agony of a breaking relationship, he travelling around the southern United States and she picking up notes and laughing in disbelief because it’s all happened before.  Much to learn here, from his use of the small actions, and the use of place names which would be familiar to his Country and Western listeners.  Me, the teenager in Leicester, didn’t know much about Country and Western, or that Glen Campbell was regarded as a Country and Western artist.  Country and Western blares out in every gas station and supermarket in the southern and western United States, the sound of the American white working class, music of resignation and acceptance.  Gospel music also has a part in it, but, although Campbell grew up in the Bible Belt, where ‘Jesus Saves’ banners hang from every church, every few yards, and punctuate the freeways more frequently than signposts, he didn’t start off singing Gospel, as Elvis did.  In 1980, he turned his back on his rackety lifestyle and became a Christian.  (I have no details.)  In 1981, Momentarily single and unattached and on a first date, to a restaurant, with Radio City presenter, Kim Woolen, he bowed his head to say a private grace before starting to eat.  That was the moment Kim decided she wanted to marry him.

Now, I hear something else in Campbell’s lyrics, even though they were written before Campbell found Christ, but bearing it in mind that Jim Webb (who also composed psychedelic hits like MacArthur Park) is also a Christian.  I discern a longing for God, running away from God in By the Time I Get to Phoenix and connecting with Him in Dream, ‘needing more than wanting’ in Wichita Lineman.  I don’t think this is what Campbell and Webb intended, but it’s there.

Thank you, Glen Campbell, for all your music and thoughtful lyrics.

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.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Neither a saggy sofa nor a hard chair be! (A few thoughts on setting) Andrew J Chamberlain

The best setting is a compromise between the literary equivalents of the saggy sofa and the hard chair. I want to explore setting with you, and present the case for the best settings being both credible and immersive.

What is setting?


Setting is the moment, or moments in time and space where your story happens. It’s the moment in time, past, present or future where the story is set.

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is set at the turn of the 19th Century, in Hertfordshire and London.

Ernest Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea is set in the late 1940’s mainly in a little fishing boat off the coast of Cuba, near the capital Havana.

Winter in Madrid by C J Sansom is set in the city in 1940, just after the civil war.

Whilst there are an infinite number of settings, I think there are only these two critical qualities that a setting must have.

The setting must be credible.


The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word credible as ‘able to be believed, convincing’.
The setting has to be capable of being believed. It doesn’t have to be true, it doesn’t even have to be true to life, but it does have to be an environment that the reader can believe might exist. The reader has to trust the setting.

For this to happen the setting must be consistent within itself, and it must not contain errors which, if the reader spots them, will throw her out of the story.

As an example of internal consistency, imagine reading The Lord of the Rings, and finding that when Gandalf is stuck at the top of the Tower at Isengard, he gets his mobile phone out and calls for help. It might be temporarily funny, but in the long term it would destroy the consistency of the setting, and damage the story itself. Or imagine a Jacobite tale with steam engines, or almost any kind of novel where the weather seems to fluctuate from polar to tropical with no explanation. Unless an inconsistency is a specific conceit of the novel, it’s going to jar on the reader.

The same is true with simple factual errors. If you set your story in London and your character walks from Waterloo Station to the National theatre in ten minutes, that’s believable, the distance is less than half a mile. If your character walks from Waterloo Station to Camden Market (a distance of about four miles) in ten minutes readers who know this will stop ‘believing’ in your story.

Setting is like the seat our reader sits in. The question they will be asking, albeit subconsciously is – can this seat hold me, am I safe with it? If the reader sees something inconsistent or wrong, it’s the literary equivalent of the seat collapsing under you. The credible setting shares the qualities of a sturdy chair, the reader can trust the setting to hold their weight.



The setting must be immersive.


The adjective immersive derives from the verb to immerse, meaning ‘to involve oneself deeply in a particular activity or interest.’

The reader must not only trust your setting, they must also be able to lose themselves in it. To do this, your setting must have the necessary richness of detail to capture and enthral them.

Daphne Du Maurier brilliantly captures the readers of Rebecca, right at the start of her book with this first sentence:

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

With these few words, the writer gives Manderley, the house that features as the main setting of the story, a mystique that attracts us as readers.

An immersive setting is often presented through vivid and often sensory description. 

Part of the appeal of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is the sweep and majesty of Middle Earth. One of the reasons reads love the Harry Potter series so much is the rich sense of mystery and wonder that the author evokes in the work.

But this immersiveness on its own is not enough. A great setting is

achieved not simply by creating a rich environment, first the setting must be credible, so that readers can trust it, then it can be immersive enough to capture them.
uncomfortable to sit on after a while, but an immersive setting that is not credible is like a old saggy sofa, you might find yourself falling through it and onto the floor if it can’t take your weight.



A credible setting that is not immersive is like a sturdy chair that is



The best setting takes the qualities of each of these features and combines them, so that the setting becomes like a sturdy but comfortable armchair, it can hold you, but it’s also a place you are happy to sit in for as long as you want to.




Andrew Chamberlain is a writer and creative writing tutor. He is the presenter of The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt, a podcast and author of The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt Handbook containing the best advice and insight from 100 episodes of the podcast, and which will be published in October 2017. 

Friday, 11 August 2017

The Now and Not Yet, by Deborah Jenkins

I am probably the least nimble fingered person you'll ever meet. The one in front of you at the parking meter, muttering, Where's the hole? while jabbing it randomly with a coin. Probably the only mother in the world who had to get her bleeding kids to open plasters, if there were no scissors available (why do they seal them unattainably in those ridiculous sheath-like wrappers?) In shops, when I reach into the depths of my purse, random objects tend to flip out and skate across the counter - a hair grip, an earring and once unforgettably, a tampon. I claim it's my poor eyesight (I  had a very rare eye disease some years ago) but my husband says I've always been like that. He says it with affection (mostly) or irritation (occasionally).

I used to get very anxious about my clumsy ways. Over the years, I've done some terrible things - knocked glasses of water over keyboards and spilled coffee on teachers. Memorably, I once stepped on a child with a high heel while he was carefully measuring the room in hand spans Forty-one, forty-two, aaaargh! I gave him a team point for bravery.

I've learned to slow down and focus on what I'm doing instead of gazing out of the window  or planning my next novel. I try to look carefully at wrappers, turning them over and over in my hands to see if there's a flap or one of those red. stringy things to pull. The right glasses help (of the three sets available, you can bet those will be upstairs). As does access to natural light.

But I can't change who I am. And my lack of dexterity has reaped unexpected benefits - a good chat with an assistant in Costa, tipping my purse out and telling him to 'help himself', assisting a young mum while she found the 'hole' in the parking meter for both my money and her own, hilarious stories over dinner with friends while my children recount early experiences with plasters. God can use who we are in surprising ways.

Similarly with writing, at this time of my life, I don't seem to fit into the categories that others do. I can't do that 'write for at least ten minutes every day' thing and I don't plan very much. I don't really use social media to promote my writing although I do post the odd link to two. I'm not great at networking. You could argue that this is partly why I'm not particularly successful and you would probably be right. But at the moment, this is the stage of life I'm at and I've decided it's OK. One of the constant challenges of writing is reconciling the 'now and the not yet' - the now of what we are actually doing and the 'not yet' of what we aspire to. But, in a way, now is all we have, and perhaps we should embrace it and be content with it while keeping those long term goals in mind.

Some of my favourite verses are from Psalm 84: -
"Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength till each appears before God in Zion."

God has given me this verse time and time again in my life. His theme for me has been very much one of travelling. As a child we moved around a lot - my dad was in the army. As an adult, I've lived in different places in central Asia and in a rented house when we came back here, while rebuilding this one. I'm glad to be in one place now but, as I look back, I can see that some of the happiest times were the transitional ones, the working purposefully with others towards a shared goal - helping others do church in central Asia, hosting teams from the U.K, doing up our house as a family.
And God regularly surprised us as we travelled these paths, blessing us in unexpected ways and using us to bless others.

As we writers nurture our dreams, chat on Facebook and at meetings, and put our heads down over those increasingly coffee stained keyboards, let's not forget to embrace the now as well as the not-yet. Who knows? One day, when we look back, these might end up being the most precious times of all...

Click on the link to see the novella on amazon
Deborah Jenkins is a primary school teacher and freelance writer who has written articles, text books, devotional notes and short stories. She also writes regularly for the TES. She has completed a novella, The Evenness of Things, available as an Amazon e-book and is currently working on a full length novel. Deborah loves hats, trees and small children. After years overseas with her family, who are now grown up, she lives in south-west London with her husband, a Baptist minister, and a cat called Oliver. 




Thursday, 10 August 2017

Scribble, scribble, by Ben Jeapes

Short version: On 6th August 2015 I handed in my notice to become a full-time writer.

Slightly longer version: I’d always done my writing career on the side, in the mornings and evenings, before and after the day job. It was never more than handy pocket money, and I was happy because by and large the day job was something that I enjoyed.

Until 2015, when I was three years into a job that I wasn’t enjoying at all. I didn’t believe in it, I was bored and demoralised, I had zero inspiration to be creative in my own time, and this was noticeably affecting the quality of my work.

Then, out of the blue, a seed that had been planted a few years earlier in the sideline came to fruition, and I had a year’s writing work signed up at the equivalent of a year’s salary from the day job. I had no idea what would happen at the end of that year but I took the plunge.

I did the work, the contract duly expired, and along came a new one for the equivalent of a further two years’ salary. There’s now one year to go, I have irons in the fire for other titles, and there are whispers on the wind of further contracts.

Even if it all comes to a crashing halt in a year’s time, I’ve no doubt this was God’s provision. I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do, via a route I could never have imagined. And there are other pointers.

During this time we’ve had to arrange some major rebuilding work on our home to make it sellable (which we could afford, thanks to savings accrued with the secondary writing income), deal with an extremely problematic neighbour, and move house twice. There was so much that required my presence at home: if I still had the job, a thirty minute drive away, it would have been horrendous. It seems to me that God simultaneously did the least and most that he could. He changed one little thing, and made everything else work.

Doesn’t that strike you as similar to the miracles recorded in the gospels? Jesus set them up so that first and foremost, God’s glory would be shown. He didn’t set people up with new homes and lives, but he removed the one obstacle to the fulfilment of their hopes and prospects, then kept open the channel that would allow them to continue to receive his blessings as they came.

Back in 2017, I’m very aware that God hasn’t provided guaranteed lifelong security. This is the difference between answering prayer as in the Bible and granting wishes as in fairy tales. We don’t get the happily-ever-after in this life: we’re expected to keep on trusting God. A two-year contract is about the most many people get even out in the world of day jobs. Hence he provides a very obvious opening to keep on trusting him.

It’s also become quite clear that he has thoughtfully provided us with another awkward neighbours situation, just to keep us focused.

So with full sincerity and only slightly gritted teeth, I say, thank you, God.

Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of 5 novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer. www.benjeapes.com

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Inspiration from a swimming pool by Ros Bayes



By Adrian Pingstone at en.wikipedia
 
Recently I had to write a new blog post for the website at work. I had been on holiday, and before I went I wrote 3 posts that could be uploaded while I was away. Now I was back and it was time for a new one, but I was devoid of inspiration. I left work at the end of the day not having begun a new post, and went to pick up two of my daughters. My youngest daughter and I had recently come across a fantastic, accessible swimming pool with height adjustable changing bed, ceiling hoist and a special wheelchair for wheeling disabled swimmers down a slope and into the pool, and we were keen to try it out with my middle daughter, a wheelchair user, who loves being in the swimming pool.
 
At the complex (Aquadrome in Basingstoke, if anyone’s interested) there are so many pools, flumes, bubbles, water spouts and tipping buckets that the sound of the water is a deafening roar, and that got me thinking about the many times the Bible describes things as having the “sound of many waters”. Sometimes it’s the anger of the ungodly nations; sometimes it’s the voice of Jesus Himself; and sometimes it’s the sound of the chorus of praise from the worshippers around God’s throne.

From this little observation in the swimming pool I found the inspiration to write my next blog post. As writers we do this all the time. Anything we see, hear, smell, touch or taste can become source material. Some of the results can be hilarious. I’m a fan of Miles Kington’s Let’s Parler Franglais, based on his observation of what happens when the average Brit attempts to speak French on holiday. Some can be both amusing and touching, such as Jane Austen’s observations of the different types of people in the Pump Rooms in Bath. Some are poignant, like The Voice, Thomas Hardy’s heart-rending poetic tribute to his late wife Emma, with its ethereal quality right up to the line where he mentions her “air-blue gown”, which suddenly conjures up a very concrete image of the “Woman much missed”.

Jesus did this all the time. He noticed the ordinary things around him and used them as illustrations of deeper spiritual truths. We miss the significance of some of them because our culture is so different from the one which He was addressing. Just as we would describe a character making a phone call, and wouldn’t write a detailed explanation of what a mobile phone is and how it works, so Jesus doesn’t give any clues to the significance of the references in His stories – it simply wasn’t necessary for His hearers. 

Brooklyn Museum The Lost Drachma   James Tissot
When He told the story of the lost coin, every married woman in his audience probably involuntarily raised a hand to touch her forehead where she had worn the headdress of coins on her wedding day. Every one of them could imagine the anguish of losing one of those coins. Each one would have been eager for the d̩nouement of the story Рwhat happened? Did the coin turn up again? There would have been a collective sigh of relief from the listening women when it was found, and understanding nods when the lady in the story summoned all her neighbours to a joyful celebration. And then maybe there would have been a dawning understanding, shared in whispers, that we are as precious to God as that coin was to its owner.

What simple things in everyday life inspire your stories and carry a deeper meaning?

 

Ros Bayes has 10 published and 4 self-published books, as well as some 3 dozen magazine articles. She is the mother of 3 daughters, one of whom has multiple complex disabilities, and she currently works for Through the Roof (www.throughtheroof.org) as their Training Resources Developer, and loves getting paid to write about disability all day. You can find her blog at http://rosbunneywriting.wordpress.com and her author page at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ros-Bayes/e/B00JLRTNVA/. Follow her on Twitter: @rosbwriting.

 

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

I support ACW Writers! by Annie Try

Ok, I know.  As I'm the Chair of ACW one would expect me to support the members.

But I was recently amazed to discover that I have over fifty books by ACW Writers on my bookshelves.  In fact, I have bought more because that number doesn't include two copies of one title (an error!) or any on the kindle app. Nor the ones I have given away as presents or which are under the sofa, lost, or in the wrong bookshelves.  We have fourteen bookcases in our house representing 71 bookshelves plus boxes of books from my parents' house and a few shelves are bulgingly double-ranked.  I have been trying not to buy books for the last few years (where would I put them?) yet somehow the numbers keep growing.



It's hard though, isn't it? I would like to buy every single title brought to an ACW event, but I can't afford this luxury.  As it is, I have bought some that are not my usual chosen genre, so they sit gloomily on the shelf like the last small children waiting to be chosen for netball teams (I was usually in that group!). I will read every one of them in time - I have never returned a book to the library unread nor given one to a charity shop without discovering the delights (or horrors) between its covers.  However, at present my reading time is self-restricted.  I know that once I start reading a book, I neglect everything else for the day or days I am totally engrossed in a different world. 

But is buying and reading enough to support an author?  A review will encourage more sales. I will admit I don't always get round to sending my honest opinion to Eden or Amazon, yet I am delighted if someone has reviewed a novel I have written.  More delighted if it has 4 or 5 stars, it is true, but now I know that Amazon becomes interested in promoting a book if it has over 50 reviews - good or bad - I am grudgingly pleased to see even lukewarm comments.

Writers' groups are excellent for support and encouragement.  For the past five years or so I have been involved with a local group or two and I am sure that without the boosts I received there, my novels may have still languished, cobweb-clad, in one of the large baskets I have in my study for almost-finished manuscripts or, latterly, as a list of chapters in the bowels of my laptop.  And our group Brecks, Fens and Pens is particularly excellent at rejoicing in each others' achievements.

So let's support each other by buying, reading, reviewing, inspiring, blogging and encouraging our writerly friends.  After all, that's mostly what ACW is all about and it will help us in our own writing journeys.









Annie Try lives in rural Norfolk with her husband.  She is Chair of the Association of Christian Writers, for which she uses her married name, Angela Hobday.  She is the author of three published novels, two are Dr Mike Lewis stories.  Out of Silence is now available for advance order, or for signed copies email hobdayangela@yahoo.co.uk


Monday, 7 August 2017

The Best We Can Be by Mandy Baker Johnson

Why do we write? Is the world a better place because our words are in it?

I want to encourage us to be the best we can be in whatever genre we favour.

King Solomon urged the readers of his day to do with all your might whatever your hands find to do. Very applicable to writers! Go for it. Don't be timid or half-hearted, full of doubt. If a thing is worth writing, then do it to the best of your ability. Believe in the gift God has given you. But don't strive about it, enjoy what you do.

We are free to enjoy writing because the Father planned good works for us to do long before we were born. He knew perfectly what would suit us, and chose the most fulfilling ministry for us. This is where we can bear fruit that will last for ever. We have the power to influence, encourage, teach, bless.... The list goes on. But we can also tear down, discourage and influence for bad. The choice is ours.

Writing is a noble calling because it comes from the Most High. He loves us and wants the best for us. He aids us in fitting words together to create beauty, share truth, and encourage. Two names for God are Creator and Word. He is the ultimate author so we are in good hands in partnering with Him.

Let's not settle for second best, for falling into that trap of assessing our work by how many likes or comments we get. May we write (and live) for an audience of One. What does He think? Is He pleased?

How do we present Jesus in our writing? Whether we write overtly Christian material or whether we go for subtle undertones, would He be delighted to read it?

God loves us without condition. If we never wrote another word, He would still love us outrageously. He cannot do anything less. But let's fulfil the ministry He has given us.

The Bible teaches that there will be a judgment for followers of Jesus when our motives and secret intentions will be revealed.

How sobering to think that if my focus is getting a few likes on Facebook then God may well say: 'Fine, you got your reward right there.'

But if we see past that and write the very best we can to see the smile light up His face, then surely there will be the words we long to hear: 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'





Mandy Baker Johnson is a private medical secretary and freelance writer. She enjoys blogging and recently co-authored her first book, Drawn from Words. She volunteers with a Christian charity working with women in the sex industry, and is currently researching this area for her second book.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

A writer's blessing by Philippa Linton

The immensity of sea and sky on the Burren, 8 April 201
At my ACW writers' group earlier this year, we were talking about the power of landscape. I shared my visit to the south west coast of Ireland in April 2016, where I’d been deeply affected by seeing a famine cemetery.  There was a ruined church on a velvety green hill, looking out over the huge mirror-like expanse of Galway Bay, with the ghost-like silhouettes of the Connemara mountains on the far horizon.  The graveyard was neat and intact, with tall limestone headstones. But there were other burial markers scattered about, pitiful little humps of rock which marked the final resting places of the famine dead – the million Irish men, women and children who perished from starvation and disease in the Great Famine. These numb little stones, unnamed, unmarked, looked like accusations to my English soul; I felt the rebuke sharply because British oppression and colonialism had caused so much of the misery.  Later that day I visited Poulnabrone Dolmen, a megalithic tomb high up on the limestone plateau of the Burren, and the unearthly wildness of the place sent my spirit reeling.   I told the group how I could virtually feel the power thrumming softly through the ancient glacial rocks and stones and in the air all about me.  It was if I could feel the very soul and spirit of Ireland.  

Another lady in the ACW group then spoke of a similar feeling she’d had at Stonehenge, of power emanating from the ground.  Others shared equally haunting experiences of place and atmosphere – at the Delphi Oracle; at Aachen Cathedral; at Bergen-Belsen, where an eerie silence persists and no birds sing even in mid-summer.  Because all of us were Christians, none of us were interpreting these experiences in an ‘occult’, or a pantheistic, way.  We pick up on atmospheres because we are writers and artists, alive to the beauty of the natural world and sensitive to the story of human pain and struggle which is written on so many places.  The human story is reflected in the places and landscapes we inhabit.  Places retain memory, especially traumatic memory.  How could a famine cemetery or a concentration camp not proclaim silently their past horrors?   How could the land itself not react in protest?   We see the signature of God in the beauty and immensity of creation, but also pick up on the collective grief of human pain written into the very stones of the land.


Surely it is a writer’s blessing to be alive to beauty and pain.  God gave us the gift of words to share with others the beauty and the pain and the suffering so that they might understand and learn and emphasise more deeply, so that we can help shine some light on what is indescribable, or anguished, or sublime.  For such a gift I am grateful.  



Philippa Linton is a Lay Reader in the Anglican church.  Her day job is working for the Education & Learning Department of the United Reformed Church.  She has many unfinished stories from childhood.  She likes Tolkien, Gerard Manley Hopkins, cats, and early 20th century feminism.



Saturday, 5 August 2017

Why I'm not a poet by Jane Clamp


I thought I’d be a writer,

It seemed the perfect fit.

I have ideas, a laptop

And a smashing place to sit.



I thought I’d be a writer,

I have just what it takes:

A love of words and, most of all,

A love of coffee breaks.



My friends say I am mouthy,

Or they do when they’re polite.

What better way to spend my day

Than “speaking” as I write?



I’m going to be a writer,

I’ve adjusted all my clothes,

Adding in the pockets

Where a book for sale goes.



I’m going to be a writer,

I’m doing a writery dance: 

I dream of the day when bills to pay

Come out of my advance.



In thinking I’m a writer

I wrote an awful lot

But when I read it back again,

I found I’d lost the plot.



I’m going to be a writer

But the world will have to wait

I’ve only just got in from work

And it’s ages since I ate.









Jane Clamp is Groups' Coordinator for ACW and writes for radio. She is finishing her second novel whilst spending most of her time up a ladder decorating.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Our Relentless Drive for Pursuit of Happiness Through Products – and the One Saving Grace by SC Skillman

Happiness. Islands in the South Pacific, palm trees, blissful sunshine, golden beaches, a turquoise sea spangled with silver, cocktails, a balmy breeze and… happiness? contentment? inner peace?
John Lennon allegedly said: "When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down 'happy'. They told me I didn't understand the assignment, and I told them they didn't understand life."
I don't expect the teachers were particularly thrilled by this reply! However despite the fact that this quote is cited as some sort of inspiration for spiritual enlightenment in certain places on the internet, I don’t believe John was right when he said this. And interestingly, from all the material that I have come across on the life of John Lennon, it is thought he was probably at his happiest when he was playing with his friends up the tree in the grounds of the children's home, Strawberry Fields, in Liverpool.
The pursuit of happiness puts me in mind of a brilliant book I read called “Finding Sanctuary” by Abbot Christopher Jamieson. In this book he talks about how we wear numerous masks during our lives, and in pursuit of happiness we constantly seek products which the advertising industry tells us are going to make us happy. We long for peace and a state of calm and inner contentment, and we seek it through more products, such as holidays. In fact we can never escape from the compulsion to seek the fulfilment of our ultimate longings within a product of some kind.
Being reflective about all this is a good step on the journey to seeking some kind of release from this compulsive drive. It has been said by a doctor that everyone needs to go on retreat once a year (and of course Abbot Christopher was the one who featured in that TV programme The Monastery about the men who went on retreat). Though it could be argued that even a retreat is a product!
I write this as I am just about to consume a product – a week’s holiday in Bavaria – and launch four products myself – 2 books and 2 ebooks – and am thinking of using marketing techniques tried and tested by the advertising industry – the Mr Bigs of this world. In fact when I think about it all, I could despair, except for one saving grace, most surely a gift of God, that helps us keep it all in perspective – a sense of humour!

Thursday, 3 August 2017

So, Is the Work in Progress? by Mari Howard aka Clare Weiner


Diggers at work!
The longest procrastination?

Our church jumped in with both feet this month: work is now in progress, after 108 years, to complete the building. 

Ever since the money ran out in 1909, the West End has been waiting … and during those years, a lot has happened. Of course the back of the church, the west wall, was nicely finished off, and a beautiful garden was created where the proposed seats for 400 more people had been on the architects plan. Then, nothing more could be afforded.

The west end garden ... before ...
Today, a longer nave isn’t exactly what we need: congregations are, thinking realistically, smaller than what was expected in 1909. But, if the church’s mission is to take the gospel out to the community today, we do need to develop. Both our building, and our expectations, and what we offer. We need small meeting rooms for weekday events, an office, a good kitchen. We need up-to-date toilets: in plural, and with baby changing space, not just the one which lurks, like a dingy afterthought, beyond the vestry.  The vision is to offer the church as a better space for worship, and other congregational gatherings, for community use, to be a place of welcome to those who rarely if ever go inside a religious building, and to hopefully be open during the week for quiet, prayer, or just to look around.

The diggers have arrived, dug trenches for water and other facilities, and already a concreted area shows the ‘footprint’ of the new space. And the trenches are evidently fitted out with the pipes and the wires, as they’re now filled in!

So now, instead of a work-in-progress, St Michael’s truly is a work in progress - work is progressing, moving forward, after a hundred and eight of years of waiting. Hopefully, the extension will stand for many years, watching over the progress of a church keeping up with the challenges of the times, in tune with how our God wants us to respond to a changing society, climate change, increasing technology, and whatever the future holds. 

And what about us?

Often we refer to ourselves as ‘one of God’s works in progress’. Are we making progress like the builders, are we  ‘like living stones, being  built onto spiritual house, a holy priesthood, offering sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ’? (I Peter 2.5) And are we, as individuals, ‘temples of the Holy Spirit’? One area our Vicar wants to develop, alongside of the fabric of the building, is the spiritual life of the congregation. We need to build up our prayer lives. And pray for the parish around us, and also about the tasks we each are called to in daily life. So that we become truly the body of Christ in our community.

Beams and foundations 
The personal challenge

This message underlined for me that if the call to write is my God given task, it deserves priority. It’s easy to think that writing is self centred, whereas making cakes and serving on the summer Saturday cake stall, helping with the Christian Aid collection, sorting the Food Bank box to make sure everything we give is suitable and in date, and all similar distractions are selfless, more spiritual, and superior. But if the task is to write, they are distractions, worthy but time-consuming. They can be done by others. It’s a temptation to feel guilty, saying ‘I have to work’ when the work is writing fiction. This I think can be a problem for the Christian writer, as most people don’t realise how much time it takes to write a book, and how serious writing is actually very demanding! ‘Oh I’d love to be a writer’ people say, not thinking how much social life, let alone church social life, they’d have to not do in order to get it done.

So, having been to Scargill, and spent a wonderful week in Cornwall (renewing my inner eye and my photos for use in the new book) it is now down to writing in the holiday month of August. Which should work, since all the usual church activities are taking a break … Love You to the Moon is a complex story, and past the planning stage. They say you should be preparing your publicity well before you finish the book …The church extension is due for dedication in April, the Bishop probably has it in his diary.  … can I get a version to the beta readers by then?





Clare Weiner writes as Mari Howard and is currently working on the third in a family saga tracing the ups and down of a couple of young professionals, (one raised in a Christian family, the other not), their birth families, their children, and their crises, in today’s world.
The books explore our changing culture, and how we might live generously and inclusively with people unlike ourselves. Website:Hodgepublishing








Wednesday, 2 August 2017

ACW Lent Anthology

This month, I'm using my blog date to flag up a brand new venture for the Association of Christian Writers: an anthology of writing for every day of Lent, titled New Life: Creative Approaches to Lent.

This is a great opportunity to see your writing in print, especially for those members of ACW who, like me, can't imagine tackling something the length of a novel, but specialise in poetry, short stories, devotionals and so on.  Each writer will be given a Bible passage to inspire up to 1000 words of their own unique style.

Of course, it's not just about seeing your own writing in print: the anthology will also support and publicise the ACW, celebrate the gifts and talents that we share as writers, and provide an inspiring and creative alternative to a traditional Lent devotional.


Imagine all this talent, and yours, squeezed into one super book!

There is still time to get involved: details are on the Facebook group, on the website and in the e-mail inboxes of ACW members!  Thank you to everyone who has sent a sample of their writing so far: they've been pouring in, and we're really excited by the range of potential contributors and types of writing.  If you haven't sent a sample in yet, you still have until August 20th to do so.
If you need any more information or can't find the details on the website, or comment here or send an e-mail to publicity@christianwriters.org.uk.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

The Call of the Great Outdoors by Veronica Bright



Trees, flowers, insects, birds – they have a lot to tell us about God.
I read recently a report in the i newspaper that ‘children today spend less than half as much time playing outside than their grandparents did.’ Also, that ‘the National Trust has found that this decline of outdoor play is resulting in a disconnect with nature.’

This is, of course, a widely general observation, and doesn’t apply to all children. It’s nevertheless worrying. In Called by God, a booklet of readings and reflections for each day of the month based on the Lee Abbey Rule of Life, I read, ‘We are called by God to look around us continually with eyes wide open; God is constantly revealing himself to all people through his creation.’

The back-up is provided in the first two verses of Psalm 19.
‘The heavens declare the glory of God;
The skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
Night after night they display knowledge.’

Several years ago, my husband, son and I were eating our evening meal in a hotel on the seafront in Treburden, on the north Brittany coast. The restaurant was full and the windows overlooked the seafront. The sun began to go down, producing one of the most spectacular sunsets we have ever witnessed. Visualise the sky. You don’t need words, do you? They aren’t enough, or else they’re too much of a cliché. All the diners in the restaurant stopped eating. They stood up, watching the colours change. They left meals cooling on the table, eyes fixed on the sky. And as night finally won the battle with day, everybody in the restaurant burst into spontaneous applause. They were thanking God whether they knew it or not.

‘God is constantly revealing himself to all people through his creation.’

All people – from every country, every faith, every culture.
It’s easier for some people to spot him, of course. The woman who cooks a meal for her children, on a noisy traffic island in Calcutta hasn’t got much of a chance. Neither has a boy in a high rise flat in a crowded city nearer home. Perhaps he gets to a park once in a while.

When I worked in a village school years ago, we used to sing the following hymn in assembly (as it was called then)

‘Daisies are our silver. Buttercups our gold
This is all the treasure we can have or hold.’

These are still some of the most precious things in our lives. Along with bees in the lavender, swifts high in the sky on summer evenings, bats searching for insects at dusk.


For people like me, a beautiful moment in nature was, is, or may be, the beginning of a relationship with God.