Thursday, 31 May 2018

Running the writing race

There is much variety in the style and scope of the writers of this blog and in the entire membership of the Association of Christian Writers.

Some are hobby writers, others journalists or full-time authors. Some write books, whether non-fiction or novels; others write short pieces including poems.

As in the case of runners, who may sprint 100 yards or finish a longer race – even a marathon – at a slower speed, practice and perseverance are important for writers.

The difference between runners and writers is that runners are competitive. They like to win races. Failing that they like to beat their personal best times. Writers, and especially Christian writers, should not be comparing themselves with others. Each of us is an individual. Each has a unique personality and set of interests. We have our personal experiences, which may overlap with those of other people, but in our lives we will have been to different places, met different people, had different trials and tribulations and perhaps found happiness in unexpected places.

There is no need to compare ourselves with other writers. Perhaps we should compare our writing now with our writing in the past. There is no real need to compare our writing output from one day to another. Sometimes there are more important things to do than to write.

My writing folders
I was recently encouraged by a rejection. (Yes, really!) While other people were celebrating the inclusion of their submissions to the ACW Christmas Anthology, I was glad that my piece was not selected. I had attempted a piece in an unusual genre for me and had encountered something I had previously been sceptical about. I ran out of ideas for the direction to take my story in, so I ended with an unresolved situation due to writer's block. The rejection I received was the kindest ever. Amy advised me not to throw it away.

Would anyone like an idea for the start of a story set in the not too distant future?

Or a children’s story, which is not going anywhere fast? That is one I began over twenty years ago. Perhaps I should just admit that fiction is not my gift! As part of our spring-cleaning this year I had a look through my writing folders. I found a children’s story written on the back of a pew sheet from 1992. I liked it. I tidied it up. I’d like to see it illustrated as a picture book, but…

…am I scared of success? Am I scared of having something I like rejected? Are my secret ambitions unrealistic? Am I too lazy to pursue my goal?

I haven’t the imagination or staying power for a novel. I see myself as a blogger, a potential picture book author and poet, enjoying wordplay rather than creating complicated scenarios. Perhaps that puts me in the sprinter class of writers rather than the marathon class. I wonder whether anyone would like to partner me in a three-legged race?

Wednesday, 30 May 2018


Getting irritated by all the reminders, the emails, the constant pop ups?


This new directive from the EU gives more protection from the abuse of your data, information that has been given freely by you and me and that companies use to make more money.

It stops them, for the most part, selling your details on to other third parties, sales that you would have no control over and could end up in you getting invites to various pages and 'useful' medications.

So far, John Lewis and Morrisons have stopped sending me 'helpful' hints about their products, while Tesco's asked my permission to continue. I declined.

None of this will stop crooks harvesting your details, but it will stop the irritating emails. Among other things.


Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Being Thankful

How often do you thank God for the gift of writing?  I admit I don’t do this as often as I should.  Writing is at one and the same time a pleasure and a pain, as anyone who has ever struggled to get the right words out will testify. 

But when your writing is going well, and you are enjoying the process of getting your story or non-fiction work down on paper or on to a screen, isn’t that a huge joy and something we should rejoice in?
How often are you thankful for your writing?  Image via Pixabay
Perhaps using the word “gift” is not quite right here.  What other gifts are there where we have to work hard, knowing we will experience rejection after rejection (and for what seems like forever), before, finally, our work “clicks” with someone and we find we have our first acceptance on our hands? 
Appreciating what writing does for you is no bad thing.  Image via Pixabay.
Equally, having editing your book, had feedback etc, having proof-read your manuscript countless times, you have self-published and finally have your book in your hands.  Whether you go the traditional or self-publishing route (or both over time), this is a glorious moment. It is right to take a little time out to be thankful for the achievement.

I would argue this also goes for when you first have your name in print or online, whether it is a letter to the paper, a short story or what have you.  I don’t believe I’m the only writer who needs a little validation every now and again!

Telling stories or writing poetry or non-fiction is a wonderful thing.  Image via Pixabay
Writing then is something God expects us to work at, just as we should be open to and expect Him to be at work in our lives.  He is the ultimate Editor of us. The process is a continual one.  There will be setbacks on the way but there will also be positive steps forward.  I think we need both.  The setbacks make us “up our game” and the positive steps encourage us, even reward us a little for having persevered.
Thanking God for all His good gifts.  Image via Pixabay.
So, given the difficulties, what exactly is there to be thankful about with regard to writing?

1.  It proves we are literate, something that is too easy to take for granted.

2.  It proves we can communicate.

3.  Stories are a great vehicle for getting ideas across.
Writing is rewriting, then rewriting some more etc.  Image via Pixabay.
4.  Stories have the capacity to change things - and of course the biggest story of all is that of Jesus.

5.  Non-fiction can use fiction techniques to get facts across in an entertaining way (which makes taking in the “message” far more palatable than a straight retelling of said facts).

6.  Coming up with characters and stories for entertainment is a wonderful thing to do in and of itself.  You are encouraging reading and maybe that will enable others to discover the joys of writing.

No literacy = no books to enjoy reading or writing.  Image via Pixabay.
It is a privilege to write then.  It just isn’t an easy one but something to be appreciated all the same.

On writing or on being appreciative.  Image via Pixabay.

Monday, 28 May 2018

'Hot, Clear Steam': Thinking about The Trinity in a simple song by Trevor Thorn

Hot, Clear Steam - sing it to the tune of 'Hot Cross Buns’ (Score below)
This might be helpful in thinking about the Trinity.

Hot, clear steam: hot, clear steam,
When it cools it turns into
a water stream.
If it keeps on cooling,
it will turn to ice.
So as steam cools down and down,
It changes twice.

Butterflies, flutter by:
caterpillars, chrysalids
until they fly.
Eggs to caterpillars
which in time pupate,
then emerge with gorgeous wings 
as they change state.

Toads and frogs, start as spawn,
tadpoles soon, grow breathing gills
as they change form .
then as they develop,
tails will disappear,
legs grow strong to swim and jump 
In pond or air.

Father, Son: Spirit come,
never changing, Everlasting 
God our great Creator,
Jesus, Lord and King
loves to care for everyone
and everything.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

The Right Shoes by Tracy Williamson

Yesterday I took delivery of a new pair of shoes that I'd ordered online.   Summer shoes for those wetter days when sandals don't quite work. Shoes that I can enjoy wearing both indoors and out.  Great reasons, yet I felt miserable, for the shoes looked overly sensible and fuddy duddy.  They made me feel a couple of decades older than my years and as someone who loves pretty, feminine things, I coveted dainty shoes with heels!

And yet when I tried them on, the shoes fitted me perfectly and were so comfortable that I could walk without fear of losing my balance. I have very poor balance because of being ill with Encephalitis as a child, so it was a joy to feel secure in these new shoes and to walk with ease.  And yet....I was still hankering after heels!  I wanted to look trendy! I wanted to be cool and look like a woman with clout.  Why did I have to go the sensible route when my heart was set on being powerfully pretty?
As I complained thus, the realisation came that in a similar way, I often hanker to have a different writing or ministry style.  I love exciting,  humorous writing and speakers that make me laugh or cry or whose talks are dynamically life changing.  I deeply admire people with practical gifts and long to be someone who can put up a shelf or know what to do in a crisis...I try so hard to take these gifts I admire in others and inject them into my own way of being, only to find that somehow I'm staggering around,  unable to walk straight, if at all. 
And then the Lord spoke in my heart - 'If I'd wanted you to be a Jane or Helen why did I make you Tracy? What's so wrong with the gifts I gave you?  Don't they fit who you are?  Who else can write, speak or be Tracy but you? Stop coveting others gifts and start cherishing what fits you.'
And with that  I saw how silly I've been.  My new shoes may not be trendy but they fit me and suit my uneven way of walking. In these shoes I can step out with confidence and know that I'll easily get from A to B; As I'm not worried about falling I can enjoy the walk which then becomes fun and joy giving. 
And thus through this lesson from my shoes, I will accept that I am Tracy rather than hankering to be someone else and will nurture my gift rather than coveting theirs. And I'm sure I'll find then that I can walk, (write, speak or be) with real confidence and effectiveness.  And it'll be fun cos I'll be sharing my true heart not someone else's and that brings the greatest joy, to me and also to those I share 'Tracy' with. Amazingly I may find at times I can even be humorous or dynamic...Not through me being Helen or Jane, but just through walking in my own shoes.
So now methinks, its time to get those shoes on, velcro the straps and walk..

Tracy Williamson is deaf and partially sighted following Encephalitis at 2 which also damaged her coordination.  Tracy is an author and speaker working with the blind Gospel singer Marilyn Baker for MBM Trust, a music and teaching ministry.  Tracy shares a home in Kent with Marilyn and their two assistance dogs. 

Friday, 25 May 2018

On goldfish, writing addiction and Ignatius of Loyola - by Eileen Padmore

Hallo blog readers.  I felt bashful about volunteering for this vacancy, mindful of the skilled professional posts that pop up with scary regularity.  I could stretch the truth by claiming to be an award winning writer - for at the age of eight I was given first prize in a church story writing competition.  Hand written in faded pencil on scraps of lined exercise paper  (sewn together with cotton) - it was a true account of a deceased goldfish who jumped out of his bowl to be discovered on the kitchen floor next day.

My default position still seems to be writing about real events, despite an imagination that constantly plays host to a rich variety of flamboyant characters who get up to all sorts.  Somehow they resist capture onto the page.  Perhaps this is because a former life in health care required me to churn out evidence based stuff for various publications - where any urge to use words creatively had to be suppressed.

More recently, I have been drawn towards the 'new monasticism' - unlikely in view of an evangelical background with leanings towards the charismatic.  But then, we're the ones who use labels, put things into neat boxes and try to control where they fit - not God.  He is all seeing, all knowing and loves to surprise.

Now in the final term of a two year course at St Bede's Pastoral Centre (in association with the Community of Jesus at the Bar Convent in York),  Ignatian prayer exercises have prompted greater spiritual freedom and increased my awareness of the presence of God in everyday life.  They have also influenced my writing.

On silent retreat last month, I found myself at a window overlooking the harbour of Whitby.  Raindrops assaulted the glass.  Some sat like jewelled blobs whilst others joined to trace crooked lines in an untidy race to reach the window sill.  Through the distorted view, huge waves crashed roar upon roar onto the shore below.  The faint ruins of St Hilda's Abbey could be seen on the distant cliff.

The moment was mine.  I was not hurrying to do anything or get anywhere - nor avoiding tasks.  Doing 'nothing' was legitimate.  There was no need to measure time.  The 'here and now' was brim full of possibilities - suffused with praise, joy, love, demands ........

Last February, encouraged by a writer friend, I had launched into a spell of uninhibited writing with unexpected result.  To be exact, 65,000 words in two months!  Ignatius suggests we note what energises us and what saps our strength.  Ha, a clue?  Friends commented on the new dynamic in me and asked for some of whatever I was on!

The main reason for the retreat was to stand back and look for direction.  There was no loud voice from heaven or handwriting on the wall.  Not even any dreams.  Instead, a sense of presence and purpose that has encouraged me to continue.  Thanks you so much for reading.  I'll do my best to keep up.

Eileen Padmore has retired from a life spent in health care and academia, having worked in Sierra Leone, Zambia, Eire and Northern Ireland (in the troubles) as well as inner city Birmingham and Leeds.  She has had articles published in 'Woman Alive' and recently contributed to the popular ACW Lent Book.  Married for forty years to a professional musician, the family includes a feisty springer spaniel and a large African tortoise.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Separated by a common language?

Are you an Americanophile? Are you interested in the way language works? And are you prepared to have some ingrained prejudices challenged?

My guess is that, as a writer and a Christian, your answers will be yes to all three questions! As Christians we are not prone to harbour prejudices against other nations, and many of us welcome the spiritual leaders and movements that come to us from the United States. Plus we are readier than many unbelievers are for our ideas to be challenged. And, of course, language is the medium in which we work.

That’s why I’d like to recommend a new book on the relationship between British and American English: The Prodigal Tongue (now there’s a Biblical echo!) by Lynne Murphy (published by Oneworld). Unlike many commentators on the state of English and the role of America within it, Lynne knows what she’s talking about. She’s a professor of linguistics at the University of Sussex, and she’s done the empirical research to establish every statement she makes: there’s no wild theorizing or opinion-mongering in the book. She’s perfectly placed to write such a book, as an American with dual citizenship married to an Englishman with a daughter who (as she puts it in her dedication) ‘says tomato both ways’.

Publicity on the Web describes it thus:

The English language is a beautiful thing, but it suffers under relentless assault from Americans who want nothing more than to corrupt the mother tongue. Well, that’s what we’re told. But what’s the truth? And whose language is it anyway? Lynne Murphy, an American linguist living in England, dives into the war of words being waged over the Atlantic. In a laugh-out-loud report, she separates reality from myth in this special relationship and delves into the social and political forces that have seen British and American English part ways. From the origins of ‘the bee’s knees’ to why so many of Hollywood’s evil geniuses sound as though they were educated at Oxford, The Prodigal Tongue reveals how our language really works and tells us where it’s going.

I suppose one of the ideas that the book refutes is: ‘British English is being engulfed by a flood of Americanisms which are debasing our language’. It does this with factual evidence drawn from large databases of language use. But much more interestingly, it shows how aspects of American and British English reflect areas of the culture and customs of the two nations, whether in the realm of politeness, social structure, or food. The food-related parts of this book are especially fascinating and show the hand of a writer who’s at home in the kitchen as much as in the academic office.

Lynne has a particular forte of tracing very subtle nuances of difference between the two kinds of English, many of which have gone entirely unnoticed for decades. For example, did you know that frown has a second meaning for many Americans—a phenomenon affecting the mouth rather than the brow?

I hope I have whetted your appetite.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

All the colours combined - by Helen Murray

A while ago I went 'prayer weaving'.

No, I hadn't heard of it before, either. There's a little loom which consists of a series of removable prongs in a wooden base (five, in our case - just weaving something small). You take a ball of wool, or strips of fabric, ribbons - whatever you can make into strands - and weave it in and out of the prongs across the loom and back again. Knot two pieces together to change wool or texture, and then when the loom becomes almost full, pull the prongs out, threading the attached piece of wool through your creation. You can do this several times in order to make a piece that's as long as you want.

By the end, my piece of woven fabric was about eight inches long and about four wide. After removing it from the loom for the last time, you cut the warp threads (the vertical ones) and tie them off, and there you have it.

It's supposed to be a prayer.

The idea is that you have a conversation with God as you weave. You choose your colours instinctively and without too much deliberation in order to allow God to speak to you in whatever way He sees fit; through colour, through texture, through metaphor, through ideas or thoughts or words in your head.

I went along to the session feeling quite down; a prevailing mood for a while now. If I hadn't committed myself to begin there I suspect I might not have gone at all, and to be honest, I wasn't particularly up for having a conversation with God. I wasn't in the mood for more pep talks about persevering, or about counting my blessings. I was making up the numbers and, if nothing else, I'd decided that an hour spent doing something crafty might be a bit of relaxation time, and since my creativity isn't doing so well at the moment, I'd give it a go.

God started work a little bit before I did. I was feeling a bit frazzled as I climbed into the car with twenty minutes left to do a half hour journey. For the first time in a few weeks I turned the music up as I drove off; it was a Phil Wickham track called 'Just Hold On'.

'There is a battle in the distance
I see it flashing in the sky
It's gonna be a long, long night
All that was holding you together
Is crumbling apart
And left you with an aching heart
Take my hand, here I am'

The first thing that came to mind was that it feels as if I've been in a battle. This year has started with so many things to cope with coming at me from every angle. Things that I thought I'd dealt with (and written triumphant blog posts about) years ago are back to hassle me, joining forces with new stuff in the form of bad news, overwhelming life stuff and health issues. And then there's that old chestnut that when I need God most, I have no energy or desire to find Him.

Yes, there's a battle. Always a battle, but I've been struggling in the middle of it.

'Take my hand, here I am...

Love is gonna make it right
Just hold on, just hold on
There's mercy in the morning light
When you're weak love is strong
Hold on'

I don't really know what happened as I listened to that song, but a little glimmer of something seemed to penetrate the darkness. A ray of morning light. A little glint of something shining in the black. I turned the music up loud, and made it there, almost on time.

So, prayer weaving.

Each seat had a loom set up and ready for a participant. The vertical threads were already attached to the loom, and my seat had black threads already on it. Good, I thought.

I knew what I was going to do. The room was set out with multiple baskets and tubs of different fabrics, wools, yarns and ribbons in every colour, pattern and texture that you can imagine. I chose the darkest colours I could find in shades of black and purple and began weaving. 

It was quite therapeutic, the in-out-in-out of the thread between the pegs, a rhythmic thing that I found wasn't conducive to thinking at all, really - more just switching off. My piece of work grew longer with each row of ins and outs and I changed material every few rows.

Fluffy black thread, chunky purple wool, tweedy fabric in dark colours, purple ribbon. I wanted there to be different textures, but little colour. Dark, drab, plain.

And then... a little glimmer of gold. A shaft of morning light in the gloom.

My mind was full of the symbolism of what I was doing. In-and-out, in-and-out. A rhythmic plodding on, sometimes fast and sometimes slow.

Sometimes tightly, weaving with tension, sometimes more relaxed, loosely.

Some threads were easier to use than others, some slipping through the fingers smoothly, and others lumpy and bumpy and hard to work with.

Some strands of fabric weren't really long enough - particularly the shreds of gold that I found; I wished there were more of those, but they were quickly woven in and then I was back to my dark threads.

Some of them rough to my fingers, some silky, some fluffy and soft, some thin and almost wiry.

In-and-out, in-and-out. Like days and weeks and months and years. Life (in my negative frame of mind) dull and monotonous. Too much dark and not enough light. Too dark to see what was ahead; not enough colour to inspire. And yet, bright threads woven through adding glimmers of beauty, changing the mood of the whole piece.

At the end when my piece of weaving was free from the loom, I found scraps of red and gold ribbon and tied off the ends - my little dark-night prayer gilded at the beginning and end with little pieces of sunrise.

'There's mercy in the morning light...'

I was quite surprised at my piece, when it was finished.

I was surprised at how dark it was, in comparison with other people's. Bright colours everywhere, yellows and greens and reds and oranges... and then mine, by far the most miserable looking piece of work in the room. Still, to me it spoke of hope, the assurance that there is gold to be found even in the darkest hours, that after night comes morning, with its rays of brilliance. That God is there in the blackness.

'Take My hand, here I am...'

Afterwards, I took my bit of weaving home with me and laid it on the arm of a chair in the sitting room. As I sat, I was smoothing it out, fingering the different textures and gently shaping it in my hands.

As I looked closely, I noticed something that I hadn't intended when I'd selected the component parts.  I'd been looking for the darkest, drabbest colours that I could find, and yet... here was a dark-looking rectangle of wool and fabric, but examined closely it was full of hidden colour and pattern.

Much more beautiful than I'd anticipated.

I took photographs and took the lens as close as I could to the weave and I found that the camera found a depth of colour in close up that wasn't immediately obvious unless you held the fabric up to the light and examined it in detail. Through the lens, it looked different.

A browny-purple wool turned out to be made up of a myriad of different colours ranging from grey to beige to blue and green. A black thread had specks of vivid blue, and a dull tweed hid strands of yellow and teal.

More than meets the eye.

So perhaps when life is at its drabbest, most monotonous, then its beauty can only be seen through a special lens. Maybe I need eyes to see, and ears to hear. Perhaps there are hidden treasures that can only be found in close up, with concentration; only when I am enabled to see. Maybe even the darkest fabrics are made of tinier threads that bring their own colour to contribute to the whole - but from a distance seem invisible.

So my woven prayer was more of an offering to the God of the morning light, who invites me to take His hand when I am stumbling in the darkness. When there's a battle and the night feels long, He whispers that He is there, and morning is coming. He took my grudging offering and gave me something in return. He showed me that even in the darkness there is beauty - that black is not a colour on its own but all the colours combined. Sometimes even if we can't see them, the colours are still there, undiminished.

Maybe God's got plans for that darkness. He is a God who wastes nothing, remember; all the scraps of fabric that I knotted together go to create something with depth and texture. A combination of odds and ends, of scraps and strands. If anyone can bring good things out of bad, He can. If anyone can find beauty where all seems ugly, He can.

Beauty in darkness.

Colour in the shadows.

'Love is gonna make it right.
Just hold on, just hold on'. 

Phil Wickham, 'Heaven and Earth' 2009 INO Records

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

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

A Word of Enjoyment

One morning last week, I received an email from my editor.
The evening before, she’d sent back her latest edit of my book, and that morning I’d responded with; ‘Thank you for this, I’ll get on with it shortly’.
She immediately replied: ‘great - enjoy your day’.

A simple reply, but a reply that surprised me. 
She knew I’d be looking at my own work that day.
And she’d said enjoy.
Which is why I was surprised.
Enjoy?  My own work?
Isn’t that a bit, well, not quite the done thing?
I found myself recoiling from the idea.

Then a realisation of great irony hit me.
The book we're editing includes a section on creation.
God’s own work.
Work which He looked at and said, ‘this is good.’
In other words, He enjoyed it.
He took pleasure in what He’d done.

As I settled down at my computer, I determined to not only follow my editor’s advice on the manuscript (question an editor? Me? Never!) but to follow her ‘enjoy’ advice, too. 
I often let criticism over-ride enjoyment when reading my work.  Reading my work feels a bit like looking in a mirror, and I’m not a huge fan of mirrors.
But ‘enjoy your day’ said the email. 
I’d enjoyed writing the book, why shouldn’t I enjoy looking over it as well?

I wonder if I’m not the only one who needs reminding to enjoy their writing. Or to enjoy what they have written. Sometimes we can get so bogged down in life, or deadlines, or negativity, or pressures that maybe we forget that writing is such a wonderful thing – and we get to do it!  What a privilege. Whatever form our writing takes.

My favourite thing – or one of them - about writing is words.  I love to feel words and experiment with them.  I juggle them to see if they fly in unison or fall from the page like uncaught balls dropping to the floor.  If they fall, that’s ok.  I pick them up and try again.  Perhaps introducing a different ball this time. If they are destined never to fly well, that’s ok, too.  Because words don’t have to fly to be fun.

Even as I write about words – trying not to be too wordy - I am reminded of how much I enjoy writing. It’s the reading of my writing I find more difficult.  But perhaps my editor is right. No, my editor is definitely right. 

‘Enjoy your day…’ was, essentially, saying ‘Enjoy your writing’.

Later that day, I saw a post from a writer saying, ‘Yippee! My book has been shortlisted for an award.’

Enjoy your day…

I also discovered that my nearly three-year-old nephew has learned to write his own name. 'Look! I can write my name', as he proudly shows the mostly-decipherable squiggles.

Enjoy your day…

Whatever you write or read today….don’t forget to enjoy your day.

Monday, 21 May 2018

500 Words!

Delight yourself in the Lord
and He will give you the 
desires of your heart
Psalm 37:4

*Each month as I write on this blog I rarely struggle with the content but do struggle with keeping to the recommended five hundred words.  Recently I’ve been watching a TV series entitled ‘800 words’ where George, a columnist, after the unexpected death of his wife decides to start a new life and moves his family to a small town in New Zealand.   It’s moral values are unfortunately questionable, but these days much on TV has that problem. 

As the title infers George has decided the column he writes should always finish at exactly 800 words, and through each episode he reads part of it, and you see him finish precisely on target.  It appears, unlike me, he doesn’t keep  re-reading what he has written to get to that magic number. 

Over the years in writing this blog each month it has become a source of opportunity, learning and practice to use one word instead of several, but it takes me several hours to accomplish that.  Although I’ve probably improved my honing skills, I wish I could write concisely first time.

I’ve just finished my fourth novel, and have found the plots are becoming more complicated, keeping to 400 pages more difficult, and despite changing the page layout, making the print size smaller, last time I had to add an extra sixteen pages.  And in writing a saga, it’s not just keeping the characters in character, but birthday, anniversaries and previous scenarios have to be remembered!

Right now, I face a far bigger problem than honing down to 500 words!  In each book my aim and upper limit should be 160,000.  I write in blocks of five chapters and so each word count should come in around 30,000.  With twenty five chapters that gives me a leeway for a few thousand extra ones in each chapter, which I’d been using.  At Chapter 20 I had an extraordinary download of a scenario I’ve not read in a story before, which lead wonderfully to the final chapter.  But now written, five chapters have turned into seven, and the count is a whopping 52,000 words! 

If it takes me at least two hours to hone this blog to 500 words how long could it take years to  lose between 20,000 and 30,000 words?.  With a series I may be able to move a part of the plot into book five, but as each title (so far) portrays the character who will take the reader through the next two years with a defined plot outline that could prove difficult.

Over four months I’ve been editing, the sentences maybe tighter in the first twenty chapters I’ve trawled, and the story has improved, but I’ve only lost a 1,000 words!  I need divine inspiration to bring all needed together so my readers are held in a thrall to the final page, and their cry of “Oh no, it can’t be…” will keep them waiting and watching for the next book.  

Ruth Johnson..................................This is 500 words*!  

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Inspiration Abounds by Annmarie Miles

What a joy to be joining the blog team today; and on such a momentous weekend. Yesterday some of us will have marvelled at the splendour of the Royal Wedding, today we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost. I can’t imagine much trouble with writer’s block this weekend.

Although there are times I struggle to put words on paper (or screen), it’s usually more to do with how I’m feeling inside. On the outside there’s always plenty of inspiration if I take the time to look for it.

I went to a writing workshop a few years ago and the leader challenged us to write a story based on an incidental piece of writing; like a benign text message or a note to the milkman. I remembered I had a shopping list in my bag and used it as a basis for a story about someone struggling with money who had a secret benefactor buy them some groceries. It’s one of the tales I am most proud of, in my first collection. The exercise helped me to see the storyful potential of the smallest ideas.

This weekend is easy; plenty going on to give us a hook into a creative piece or some non-fiction musings. Sadly, most weekends don’t have Princess Brides and Flames of Fire to fuel our stories. I do believe however, we can find great inspiration in simple things. And isn’t that a biblical principal? The day of small things, the mustard seed, the meagre lunch; they all have amazing potential.

Is that a story in there?
I’m a big fan of free-writing. Where you just tumble out a lot of words, non-stop, for a set period of time. Most of what I come up with is nonsense, but there’s always a nugget in there somewhere. A phrase, a setting, a train of thought; raw material for something better. If I have nothing to start with then I look out the window, I read the last text message I got, I open the fridge, I rummage in a coat pocket, I think of what might have been in an empty envelope. I find an item or an idea and I write.

Inspiration can be found in anything. Look around, look up, look down, look behind you. There are stories everywhere. Go write them!

Annmarie Miles is from Dublin, Ireland. 
She lives with her husband Richard who is a pastor in the Eastern Valley of Gwent, in South Wales. She writes short stories, magazine articles, devotional pieces for Christian radio, and blogs about her faith at Her first collection of short stories published in 2013, is called 'The Long & The Short of it' She is working on a second collection due for publication in 2018, and a non-fiction book about being an overweight Christian called, 'Have mercy on me O Lord, a slimmer.'

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Know your Words' Worth, by Veronica Zundel

Image: St Albans Review
When her husband Robert became Archbishop of Canterbury, the late Rosalind Runcie was quoted as saying, 'Too much religion makes me go off pop'. Leaving aside what Pop felt (groan!), at the time I thought rather disapprovingly, 'Oh dear, the Archbishop's wife isn't a Christian'. Nowadays I know exactly what she meant.

It's true, we disciples of The Word, especially those of us at the low (shallow?) end of the church pool, seem particularly enamoured of putting our faith into words... and more words...  As Ecclesiastes said, centuries before Christ, 'Of the making of books there is no end.' Were it not so, publishers couldn't  to make a living, let alone writers ,most of whom come nowhere near making one.

'I owe it all to God..'
I'm finding these days, as I recover from a crisis in my life, that I can't take very much God talk any more. I don't mean theology (which literally means 'God talk') - I'm always happy to discuss that. I mean pious chatter, the kind that people indulge in to show how much better a Christian they are than you. In particular I get a bit sick when I hear successful actors, sportspeople or others who win awards, stating that they give all the credit to God. This so-called humility strikes me as a disguised form of pride: 'See how modest I am, I don't take any responsibility for my achievements'. And it's not even  truthful: great success only comes with vision, dedication and a great deal of sweat - qualities which are given by God, but which  have to be exercised by the person themselves.

The thing is, I'm no longer sure (if I ever was) that talking about God equates to following God. The greatest mysteries are wrapped in silence: when God finally appeared to Job, Job was dumbstruck and too ashamed of his former ignorance to speak. The divine presence had much the same effect on Isaiah, on Hagar, and on Zechariah; if these visionaries spoke at all after encountering God, their words were few and to the point.

Which is of course a problem for us Christian writers, for whom words are our business if not actually our living. Is there a time for us just to shut up? Or is there another way: to write words that are so true, so clear, so piercing, that our readers or hearers are reduced to mute awe by them? Only the greatest can do this (and some of them wrote the Bible), but it is a worthy aspiration. In the meantime, let's weigh every word carefully,  scrutinize it for value,  ask ourselves whether it's really necessary. And the same applies in worship; in the High Anglican church I now attend, sometimes the silences between parts of the liturgy speak most powerfully.
Image: Londonist

As for Rosalind Runcie, she dedicated herself to transforming the Lambeth Palace gardens, an
activity which needed no words but which no doubt spoke more to her of God than many services did. And she left them for the wordless enjoyment of all.

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

Friday, 18 May 2018

"When things go wrong, as they sometimes will..." - by Georgie Tennant

The sentiments contained within the humble and understated verse referenced in the title of this post, first entered my life from the pen of a student P.E. teacher, who wrote them in my autograph book for me when she finished her placement and left my school for pastures new (alongside the scrawls of the 1989 Norwich City Football Team, for whom I was a ball girl with green and yellow ribbons in my hair in a perhaps-better-forgotten section of my childhood). 

The words are attributed to an Edgar A. Guest, almost 100 years ago, although the poem has appeared, over the years, with a multitude of different names printed at the bottom, or none.  Perhaps you are familiar with it.  It continues, “…and the road that you’re trudging seems all uphill, when funds are low, and debts are high, and you want to smile, but you have to sigh, when care is pressing you down a bit, rest if you must—but don't you quit.”  It’s one of those poems that has stuck in my head (along with an inordinate number of stanzas from Edgar Allen-Poe’s The Raven), with its quirky rhythm and catchy rhyme.  It comes back to me in moments when I feel like doing the opposite to what it exhorts.  It continues for several verses more, all ending with the same imperative to keep going, however hard it all gets.

This can be a challenge in our Christian lives and in our lives as writers.  We find our lives’ journeys or writing journeys winding their way under the shadows of looming mountains and through the deserts of difficult circumstances and it can be so, so hard to keep going and trust, when doubt and discouragement hits.  I am at a very early stage on my writing journey.  I love writing but time is short.  I can’t see how I’ll ever write what I want to write, be who I want to be and some days the doubt and discouragement knocks me to the ground.  I have found it helpful to create for myself a ‘spiritual first aid kit’ for such times – things that I know will help, tried and trusted methods I can employ, to ensure that I do keep going, instead of having a huge tantrum and stopping by the roadside with my head in my hands, refusing to continue.  I am sure that most of it is not rocket science – but I hope through sharing them, I might remind anyone feeling doubt and discouragement of some of the 'tools' available, to help them get back up and running again, with fresh impetus and determination. 

1. Pause, reflect, accept…that your life, situation, character, calling and ministry is unique and different to others you are comparing yourselves to.  There is nothing wrong with being inspired by others and aspiring to the good values, habits and characteristics – and writing styles - they model; but accept that you are you, with your own unique set of characteristics, relationships and talents that God needs for His kingdom.  God can work with you to help you become a better version of you, not a modified version of someone else – true of our lives and our writing.  When David tried to go to battle in someone else’s armour, it all went horribly wrong.  As himself, with his own gifts and skills – well you know the rest! Teddy Roosevelt famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” He was right.

2. Remember and recall.  This is where a journaling habit helps.  Look back at bits of written down poems, songs, verses, Christian book extracts that have inspired you in the past, or testimonies of things God has done.  God has a purpose for us (Ephesians 2v10, NLT – “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago,”), even on the days we don’t feel it, so it’s helpful to reflect on the days where we were feeling it and know it’s still true today.  Have some key verses of scripture to declare when you are not feeling them, and a selection of worship songs that re-affirm the truth of who God is and the truth of who you are in Him…and inject some truth into the lies that swirl.

3. Phone a friend (at the risk of sounding like a well-known game show).  Pick up the phone, send a text, be honest about your need for support and prayer.  It is biblical to support and uphold one another.  Much is said, regularly, on this blog about encouragement.  Don’t be afraid to reach out for it and admit you need it.  It can make a significant difference.
4. Remind yourself to just keep going, sometimes to just keep standing.  Accept that you might not feel different right this second, but trust that God is working things out for good.  I love the part in Chariots of Fire where Harold M. Abrahams complains, “If I can't win, I won't run!” The wise Sybil Gordon replies, “If you don't run, you can't win.”  How much might we disqualify ourselves from if we throw in the towel when things get hard.

So, let’s keep going – keep running our races and writing our words, believing God has a good purpose for us, a long-term plan for our good and His glory, whatever the bit called today is looking like.  And if you have other 'remedies' in your ‘spiritual first aid kit’, please share them below, to help the rest of us get back up and running when things go wrong, as they sometimes – often - will!

Georgie Tennant is a secondary school English teacher in a Norfolk Comprehensive.  She is married, with two sons, aged 9 and 7 who keep her exceptionally busy. She feels intimidated by having to provide an author-biography, when her writing only extends, currently, to attempting to blog, writing the ‘Thought for the Week’ for the local paper occasionally, and having a poem published in a book from a National Poetry Competition. She feels a bit more like a real author now the ACW Lent Book is out and she has a piece in it! Her musings about life can be found on her blog:

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Meeting authors up close By Claire Musters

I had the privilege of accompanying my son’s primary school class to the Barnes Children's Literature Festival last Friday, where 500 children crammed into a marquee on Barnes Green to listen to three authors talk about their background, their inspiration and the type of writing they do. I found it fascinating – and also really encouraging. 

The last author, SF Said, told the children that, in his day, no one got to meet writers – they remained mysterious and other worldly, locked away somewhere writing. That immediately resonated with me and I pondered whether I would have chosen a writing path earlier if I’d had the chance to interact with some writers in my childhood.

When we first arrived, we were whisked straight in and the first author, Caroline Lawrence, began her talk. I think all of us, teachers included, had expected a more interactive set up, and so we were concerned that the children wouldn’t sit still all day and engage. But the kids absolutely loved it all, and the authors each had such a different approach that they kept the children’s interest.

Caroline shared about her own background; her fascination with ancient Greece and Rome and how she came to write the Roman Mysteries, as well as her other work. Revealing a little of the story right at the start of the series and the historical aspects she interweaves through the books, her ancient ‘poo stick’ was the prop the kids found most interesting! They may not have known it, but she taught them a lot of history that day, including how communal toilets were set up! ;)

Caroline shared her secrets for crafting story plots.

After a quick break, and a chance for book signings (during which Caroline was flooded with children and teachers clutching books), the poet Joshua Seigal stepped up next. His slot was a mixture of poem reciting and interactive poetry. He had all the children and adults involved; at one point we helped him ‘write’ a poem (as he had multi-choice line endings – written in such a way, however, that we all fell for the endings that made for the funniest poem in the end). A real extrovert, he was hilarious and very engaging.

Lunchtime followed, and then we heard from SF Said. A much quieter, considered author, his passion for his subject still shone through. His emphasis was on getting the children to tell him what their dreams are; what their hopes for their careers are. And we soon learned why – he wanted to instil a sense of perseverance, of feeling like they could make their dreams happen whatever the cost. 

SF Said told the back story of how he became an author, which included his first book being rejected 90 times! That book, Varjak Paw, took 17 drafts until it was ready to be published – and it went on to win the Nestles Smarties book prize. He has taken between five and seven years to complete a novel. As an author, his talk was a real encouragement and inspiration to keep going, keep pressing on with what I feel I need to be writing about.

Each of the three authors was very different, and their allocated slots in front of the kids were too. I know that as writers we can often find it a big step to do talks in front of people (especially if we are introverts). And, while it is often rooted in a need for marketing, actually we need to remember it is so wonderful for people – kids especially – to meet authors. They come to recognise that we are just like them; simply with a passion for words and a perseverance to produce the works we do. Just coming face to face with a ‘real life’ author can inspire future generations to engage with writing – so many of the kids told SF Said they wanted to be writers just like him. 

So keep going – all of you, but, given the subject of this blog, particularly you children’s writers: I hope I’ve either given you a few ideas for your own author visits, by describing what these writers did, or provided you with the impetus to reach out to schools afresh in order to share your work directly with your audience. 

Claire is a freelance writer, speaker and editor, mum to two gorgeous children, pastor’s wife, worship leader and school governor. Her books include Taking off the mask: daring to be the person God created you to be, Cover to Cover: Ezekiel A prophet for all times, Cover to Cover: 1–3 John Walking in the truth, Cover to Cover: David A man after God's own heart, Insight Into Managing Conflict, Insight Into Self-acceptance and Insight Into Burnout. She also writes Bible study notes and magazine articles. To find out more about her, please visit and @CMusters on Twitter.