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Saturday, 30 June 2018

How Safe Is Your Online Data?

Over the past few months we've had several scares about hacks and data mining. Cambridge Analytica, for example, were found to be helping Trump by collating huge amounts of data from Facebook and then targetting ads at select groups of possible voters.

While this is extreme, it happens everyday in small ways that you may not be aware of.

Have an author website? How many personal details are on there?

Google and other search engines will be taking that data as they 'crawl' across the web and using it, anonymously, to build up a picture of nations, localities, cities so they can then sell that to third parties. While laws exist to protect you and me from abuse of that, anonynous data isn't always so well covered.

In some nations it's not covered at all.

Logged onto a Russian based site recently? Would you even know? What if the site is based in China? Just because it has a '.co.uk' suffix doesn't mean it's based in the UK.

Then there are cookies. Each site you go to leaves a few of these behind so that when you come back they recognise you. Or they are used to collate anonymous data for the webmaster, data that can show which nation people logged in from, what browser they used, and which link they followed to get there.

For authors, it can be useful to know that most of your site visitors are from Germany or the UK. Larger companies find this especially useful.

That, however, is not all they do.

These cookies leave a trail of crumbs that other sites, like Facebook, read. Ever wonder how they target adverts to you? Facebook looks at the cookies, sees what sites you've been to and decides what ads to target at you.

If you've recently looked for furniture via Google, you'll find furniture ads. Use ebay a lot? You'll get ads for other auction sites appearing. Ever been on a dating site? Be prepared for Philippino brides to suddenly appear.

Your data is valuable. What you do, where you go online, what your political views are, everything. It's that data that means Facebook and Google are free to use. If you didn't give it, you'd have to pay for using these sites.

The laws surrounding data usage, such as GDPR, are designed so no abuse can take place. It's also why net neutrality is such a big issue for Facebook. Lose it and they'd have to pay a fee to get on the fast track which could result in people, us, asking why we're getting ads when we're paying a higher price for a service.

There are ways to remove the cookies you don't want, or even to remove all browsing history and cookies. How to do so will depend on which browser you're using. Guides are available at the digital trends website. For Internet Explorer 9 and older versions, microsoft have a guide on their support site. For newer versions of IE, the University of Wisconsin-Madison have an easy to use guide.

Your data is a valuable resource to online companies as they depend on advertising revenue to keep going and keep their pages free. Most of what they do is harmless or, at worst, irritating. It's also worth remebering that if your author website uses cookies for data gathering then you, too, are part of this, as are ACW when you visit the page.

The short answer to the question at the start is: safe. How safe depends on what measures you take and how you react.

Answers to most of your questions are available online, just type your question into a search bar. But be warned, whichever site you go to will track you, but rarely will it be for nefarious purposes.





Friday, 29 June 2018

Should You Resemble Your Characters?

I can think of several colleagues who would take one glance at that question and say "no way". Some may express that more forcibly!

I can think of several of my own characters whom I would never want to meet in life, yet alone resemble, and for all sorts of reasons.

Outline the characters and away you go.  Image via Pixabay
So why ask? Well, so much depends on the character, doesn't it? If a character shows grit, determination, honour etc, we probably wouldn't mind emulating them. If a character shows horrible traits, we'd pass, thank you.  How many of us want to be a coward for example?

In outlining our stories, we have to create our "people" based on what we know about human nature and behaviour. We know we need our characters to be believable so that means no goody-goody heroes of whatever gender.  It also means no cardboard cut out villains.  They’ve got to have some redeeming quality or a motive which is understandable.  Often writers do both of course.  


What characters will you come up with?  Image via Pixabay
Redemption, of course, is possible, as is a good character going astray. What makes us choose which way they go? A wish to show that if this character was us, this is how we'd be? Or do we opt for the choice of this is how the character would be and I wouldn't be like this in a zillion years?

In creating our characters, we have to be honest in their portrayal (or readers will see straight through it and switch off). So maybe I should have rephrased the question to read do we resemble our characters? I suspect there would be some interesting answers to that!

Planning your characters.  Image via Pixabay
Truth is stranger than fiction but good fiction can reveal something of what humans are capable of, even if we use fantastical creatures to represent us in some way. Sometimes good fiction can be  prophetic and I am thinking of George Orwell’s 1984 here especially.  Whatever would he have made of social media? I can imagine his harsh criticism of it.

And what is the great thing about honest character portrayal? Simply, I've found both as a reader and writer, that honesty comes through, and I am engaged with those characters and their stories as a result. It is, for me, honestly portrayed characters, whether they're goodies or baddies, that grip me and keep me reading.  I identify with the truth behind their portrayal.


Always a good question!  Image via Pixabay

Even in flash fiction, my genre, the moment I have what my character is like outlined, I am away, happily scribbling the story down. After all, if I'm not engaged with my people, why should anyone else be?

It has been a long time since I last saw one of these.  Image via Pixabay
So it's off to write characters that intrigue me then. The great thing is I don't have to like them, yet alone resemble them.  Just as well really.  Fiction would suffer without the characters we dislike. Story is conflict and it is the dubious characters that get that conflict going.  We need to see the Ebenezer Scrooges before their transformation to be able to appreciate that transformation when it happens.  Now just how human is that?!

Characters, no matter what their world setting, should resonate with readers.  Pixabay image.










Thursday, 28 June 2018

'As Mighty Glaciers Recede’ by Trevor Thorn

Credit NASA: Muir Glacier 1941/2004


 As Mighty Glaciers Recede (Poem or hymn which can be sung to any 8.8.8.8 tune: suggested tune Grenoble (Awake, Awake, Fling off The Night))

As mighty glaciers recede
and leave great scars which cause alarm;
Be sure it is the rising heat
Of greenhouse gasses causing harm.

When coastal glaciers discharge
Their rapid melt, to chilly seas:
We know, that ocean levels will   
Rise swiftly and inexorably. 

By contrast, mountain glaciers
cause havoc through reduced cascades,
so downstream waters can’t suffice
to turn hydraulic turbine blades.

We need to switch from fossil fuels
To wind and wave and solar power:
Renewables already can
make all these risks a little lower.

For everyone who loves the earth
Clean energy must be the aim,
To strengthen hope the planet can      
Be saved through this essential change.

The evidence of shrinking ice
invites all those who love the Lord -
Be stewards wise – and build up hope   
of justice for the coastal poor.

For as such massive change takes place
The least resourced will bear the toll
Of harshness in the furious wake
Of worsening weather through the world.

I would like to thank Professor Chris Stokes in the Geography Department at Durham University for his help in inspiring the idea of writing about glaciers and ensuring the accuracy of the scientific aspects of this poem/hymn: composed during my stay at St John’s College as Visiting Fellow for the term.


Other Care of The Planet poems, hymns and songs can be found on this blog HERE







Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Writing God's Words? by Tracy Williamson

The Lord spoke to me saying 'write to Jane and tell her that I am calling her to China and she needs to buy an apartment there.'!
That was actually a fictional prophetic command from the Lord so needless to say I never did write it to Jane (who was also fictional) But I share it for an important reason.  As a Christian writer, dare I believe that some of the words I write are inspired by God and that through them people will literally encounter God and hear what He is saying to them?  Surely that is presumptuous? How can I, an ordinary,  middle aged woman who has never even been to Bible College, claim to write God's words? 
Well I am not going to answer that here with a theological treatise (phew). But what I am growing to understand is that because God has chosen me to be His dwelling place.  His Spirit lives within me  and therefore uses me to express His love to others through the various gifts, experiences and personality traits that He has woven into my life, yes and through my writing too.
So what does that mean in practice? Am I to write prophetically, sharing His message through direct words from His heart or describing a picture or vision He has given?
Sometimes yes, for I've seen that just as God told Habakkuk to:
'write down the vision and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it,' (Hab 2:2. NIV)
. . .so writing down what He lays on my heart will take that message to a wider audience making it easier for them to receive than if they'd simply heard it. Such a word or picture is not as Holy Scripture of course, but nevertheless is beautiful and awesome in its power to touch someone's life or bring deep challenge.  Bible writers experienced this again and again.  Think how Zephaniah sensed God's Father heart, that He was constantly rejoicing over His children, and then wrote it down so that all could understand and be blessed.:
'He will take great delight in you...He will rejoice over you with singing' Zeph 3:17
Similarly I find God can suddenly make me aware of His love and delight in someone or deep care for their struggles  and as I start to jot the impression down it becomes a wonderful prophetic word.  I may write it as a letter and give it to them in person but I also find such words come to me as I write my devotionals, my blogs and my books.  It may be He draws my attention to something simple that I notice in my everyday life . . . once a lady came up to me carrying many bags. I sensed the bags were a sign of something in her life that the Lord wanted to touch. . . He seemed to say that she had taken on too many burdens and needed to lay some down.  I gently asked if she was feeling overwhelmed and explained about the word I felt God had given me and she burst into tears. I was able to pray for her.  Later I wrote it down as a tender word from God's heart as I felt it could help many others too.
But writing God's words as direct prophecies or pictures isn't the only way. After all, if we are story writers,  poets, journalists. . . we can hardly suddenly include a prophecy! But He can still use our writing to make His heart and ways known.  If the One who created this universe in such awesome detail and lavish beauty is truly dwelling in us, it surely follows that His creative beauty will be revealed in our writing. If He is unconditionally kind and faithful, those characteristics can and will be shown in the stories, poems, articles or blogs that we pen. And if He who spoke this universe into being and still speaks to comfort, challenge, guide and encourage us, then surely His voice of love will be heard through us too? He will be hiding inside our words empowering them to be encouraging, uplifting, comforting, hope giving, revealing goodness, joy, laughter, empathy and love. Or bringing alive the battle we all live in between good and evil, the reality of cruelty, pain and terror and yet the certainty of prevailing hope and love.

 
I find it an awesome privilege and holy responsibility to think that my simple words can be so pregnant with God's presence that His light can shine through them into our often dark and cynical world. 


Tracy Williamson is an author and speaker working together with the blind Gospel singer Marilyn Baker for the Christian Charity MBM Trust: www.mbm-ministries.org  Tracy and Marilyn lead conferences and other events seeking to bring restoration to people through drawing them into intimacy with God.  Tracy has written 5 books about hearing God's voice and her latest book 'The Father's Kiss' will be released this October.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Easy peasy? by Eve Lockett


Whenever I browse in second-hand bookshops, I look out for books and essays by authors explaining how they write, and their advice for those who wish to write. Some are available for free or a few pennies as ebooks, such as The Art of Fictionby Virginia Woolf, An Autobiographyby Anthony Trollope, or Essays in the Art of Writingby Robert Louis Stevenson.

Wilkie Collins, in a letter to one of his readers describing how he wrote The Woman in White, reveals the effort involved.
You are kind enough to allude, in terms of approval, to my method of writing English, and to ask if my style comes to me easily. It comes easily, I hope, to you. Let a last word of confession tell you the rest.
The day’s writing having been finished, with such corrections of words and such rebalancing of sentences as occur to me at the time, is subjected to a first revision on the next day, and is then handed to my copyist. The copyist’s manuscript undergoes a second and a third revision, and is then sent to the printer. The proof passes through a fourth process of correction, and is sent back to have the new alterations embodied in the revise. When this reaches me, it is looked over once more before it goes back to press. When the serial publication of the novel is reprinted in book-form, the book-proofs undergo a sixth revision. Then, at last, I have done with the hard labour of writing good English; and (I don’t expect you to believe this) I am always sorry for it.
This probably confirms what we already know - what appears to us easy to read is the result of hard labour. The amount of time wasted trying to understand badly written documents (instructions, reviews, official directives, emails) proves that if the writer does not work hard, the reader must. Collins also confirms that the actual process of drafting and crafting is enjoyable, and the author can feel a sense of loss when it is complete.

Many writers and artists justifiably claim they work hard, but few worked as hard as Anthony Trollope, who combined his prolific career as a writer with a full-time job for the Post Office. We are indebted to him for the pillar box, a brilliant innovation which nevertheless was controversial at the time as it allowed women freedom to correspond at will and without male sanction!
There was no day on which it was my positive duty to write for the publishers, as it was my duty to write reports for the Post Office. I was free to be idle if I pleased. But as I had made up my mind to undertake this second profession, I found it to be expedient to bind myself to certain self-imposed laws…
Averaging ten thousand words a week himself, he advised would-be novelists of the need to see writing as labour rather than a response to inspiration or genius.
I therefore venture to advise young men who look forward to authorship as the business of their lives, even when they propose that that authorship be of the highest class known, to avoid enthusiastic rushes with their pens, and to seat themselves at their desks, day by day as though they were lawyers’ clerks; - and so let them sit until the allotted task be accomplished.
(He presumably considered young women needed no such persuasion to work.)

All this talk of hard work is my way of avoiding any myself, so I had better stretch some vellum, turn up the lamp, trim my nib and replenish the ink bottle almost immediately…  

Monday, 25 June 2018

'There is no beauty .....' - by Eileen Padmore

On a recent visit to 'the Land', our bus deposited us at a quirky shop just outside Bethlehem.  Amongst a mix of hand crafted items and tacky tourist trophies I found this carved head of Christ.  Although repelled, I kept coming back until it became mine in exchange for cash that I'd intended to keep in my pocket - a case of heart over mind.

The carving spoke to me of a well remembered phrase from Isaiah 53:2 - one that had perplexed me from childhood:
' ..... there is no beauty that we should desire him.'  I use the King James version because that's the way I remember it.

The context is prophetic.  It concerns the suffering servant: the promised Messiah who we know as Jesus of Nazareth, carpenter, son of Joseph, born of the virgin Mary, son of man, son of God.

'There is no beauty that we should desire him.'  Really?  Can this be true?

The Contemporary English version leaves no doubt:  'He wasn't some handsome king.  Nothing about the way he looked made him attractive to us.'  So why did I grow up with some photo shopped image of a fair haired, blue eyed adonis - doubtful in view of his Jewish ethnicity?

'There is no beauty that we should desire him.'

If Christ existed from the beginning, as the Bible says - his permanent home in heaven - then in that celestial life he must be beautiful to behold.  Surely there is nothing less in Paradise?  Only light, glory, perfection of form - beyond dazzling to earthly eyes.

'There is no beauty that we should desire him.'

What happened?  The carving speaks of agony, abuse, disfigurement.  It screams terminal sorrow and defeat.  The brow is deeply furrowed whilst the mouth droops downward.  That which would be a beautiful woodgrain in an ornament made from the same block only serves here to disfigure.  Scars run across eyes, cheeks and lips in endless rivers of blood.

'There is no beauty that we should desire him.'

This face testifies to the desperate cost of the love that saved us from the black hole of our sin.  It tells me my sins carry a price tag that takes me into crimson - into debt I have no hope of paying back.

Can't God just pat us on the head and tell us to do better next time?  No.  Why?  Because sin is sin.  If you crash a friend's car, it may be insured, the friend may forgive you - but someone has to bear the cost of the repair bill.

Whenever I look at this representation of Christ, it reminds me of the repair bill God undertook through his son to rescue me, alongside all who turn to him.

He keeps a copy - filed under LOVE.





Eileen Padmore has retired from a life spent in health care and academia, having worked in Sierra Leone, Zambia, Eire, Northern Ireland (in the troubles) as well as in 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.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Dangerous Corner

Robert and Freda Caplan are entertaining guests at their country retreat. A chance remark by one of the guests ignites a series of devastating revelations, revealing a hitherto undiscovered tangle of clandestine relationships and dark secrets, the disclosures of which have tragic consequences. The play ends with time slipping back to the beginning of the evening and the chance remark not being made, the secrets remaining hidden and the ‘dangerous corner’ avoided. —Wikipedia.

This is the outline of a play by J. B. Priestley, premiered in 1932. The idea of a ‘dangerous corner’ has many applications. It’s even a familiar experience in our personal and national lives.

Over the past few years, while my pleasantly routine and predictable life has rolled on each day, I’ve occasionally had the thought that this road cannot go one indefinitely. At some point it will come to an end, or there will be a sharp turn. When will that be? And what will it be like?

Well, in February we unexpectedly arrived at such a corner and were soon on our way down a dark side alley. This isn’t the place to go into the details. It’s enough to say that we seem, mercifully, to have reached the end of the alley and have turned back on to the high road for a while longer.

What causes these dangerous corners? In Priestley’s play, one character insists on making an issue of a small thing, and this leads ineluctably to disaster; while in his time-slipped rerun of scene 1, she is interrupted, the risky subject is dropped, and harmony prevails. When no one was expecting it, in April 1917, the German government allowed Lenin to travel from Switzerland through Germany to Russia where he turned nascent democracy into terror. In January 1933, despite their lack of a majority, the National Socialists were suddenly handed political power in Germany. In September 2001, seemingly out of nowhere, aeroplanes were crashed into the Twin Towers in New York. In June 2016, millions were stunned to learn that a slim majority had voted to take the UK out of the EU. On 8 November 2016, Donald Trump unexpectedly defeated Hillary Clinton to gain the US presidency, even though he lost the popular vote. Where do these unexpected turnings on the road of life, these dangerous corners, come from?

I am certain that they do not come from heaven. I am old-fashioned enough to believe in the reality of evil as a force in the world with the power to tempt human beings, to blind them, and eventually to bind them. Something very strange and sinister has happened to us, and especially to the politicians, media tycoons, and other powerful people who direct our fortunes. In my youth, you could regard with respect even those whose politicians you vehemently disagreed with: on the whole they spoke the truth and used straightforward tactics to advance their policies, and on the whole they lived reasonably decent lives. But the people who have replaced them live lives that exhibit avarice, lechery, and pride; they tell blatant lies and resort to secret corrupt practices to obtain their ends; they foster hatred, envy, and greed. Suddenly, for Christians, the lines have been very starkly drawn. A great proto-Christian writer might have foreseen our times when he wrote:

Justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. —Isaiah 59:14–15

We now live in a world that has turned the dangerous corner. It should not now be difficult for Christian writers to find a theme for their work. Surely that theme can only be the battle between good and evil. It should be so, even if that battle is set in Cosy-crime-ville. Not that the theme has to be worked out simplistically and naively. Good need not be made to triumph. It does so rarely enough in the real world! But good ought to be visibly vindicated, even if it fails to win the battle.


Saturday, 23 June 2018

On being old and still having something to say - by Helen Murray

I recently followed an online discussion that triggered a whole kaleidoscope of emotions. It wasn't one of those intensely frustrating Twitter discussions about politics or faith, though frustration was definitely involved. It wasn't an annoying Facebook thread that started with some passive aggressive statement followed by a myriad of gossip-hungry comments like,  'U ok hun?' though there were elements of defensiveness and irritability at times. Also alarm, amusement, scepticism and lots of bewilderment.

It began with an observation by a blogger. She observed that most bloggers whose work she read were young (she meant younger than thirty, I think) and she wondered why this was.

'Where are the older bloggers?' she opined. Then followed responses from a huge range of perspectives. I found myself laughing wryly as another blogger reassured her that she had been blogging for many years and thought herself 'a veteran'; at the ripe old age of twenty-nine. A couple of people thought that the internet was the wrong forum for older people. I was relieved and encouraged to read an earnestly expressed rebuttal of that particular point of view: someone else thought that the 'older blogger' still had something to say and often had a viewpoint that was 'relevant and interesting' even to a younger audience. Yes, really.

I was challenged to 'find my voice' and 'not be afraid to speak up' and 'embrace new technology' in order to join the throng of online writers despite my advancing years.

There followed a lengthy discussion on whether older bloggers had a significant contribution to make to 'the Blogosphere' or whether they should gracefully move aside and make way for the freshness, innovation and vigour of youth.

Patronising? Well, I'll let you decide.

I don't feel old, you know. I know I'm fast approaching fifty, I know my knees ache after a long walk, and I know that the little line between my eyebrows doesn't go away when I stop scowling any more, but those things don't make me redundant, do they? When I write, can you tell how old I am? Don't answer that, perhaps. Maybe age is a good thing? The wisdom of the Greyhair, and all that?

After mulling it over one night when I couldn't get back to sleep after a bathroom trip (ahem, blame middle age), I came to a conclusion. It's a simple one.

It doesn't matter.

Maybe age brings wisdom, maybe it doesn't. Maybe I know things now that I didn't know at thirty three. Maybe I've forgotten important things that I knew at twenty-nine.

The most startling, life changing thing you ever read on the internet could be written by a child or an octogenarian.

The truth is that God gave each one of us a voice. Every last one of us. Young and old, fat or thin, black or white, left or right handed. We use our voices to express ourselves in a million different ways; we are endlessly creative for the sole reason that He is the Creator and He made us in His image. To some of us He gave words to play with and the desire to share our words with others. Some of us build our personalised castles in the air online and carve out our little niches on the internet. We have an idea, write a blog post and we press publish. People sometimes read it, and sometimes they don't.

So if there's a discrepancy between the way I see myself and how other people see me, well, whatever, as the youngsters say, haha. God says I'm not too old, and I'll go with that.

He's led me to this place, to the point of sitting here right now taptaptapping on my keyboard (yes! I mastered this newfangled technology and even know how to access the marvellous Interweb!) and telling anyone who will listen to me what the world looks like from where I am.

I want to tell everyone what Jesus has done and is doing in my life and why He is worth loving.

I'm not qualified to do this because I'm old, and nobody is better qualified because they are young. I'm not qualified at all. My qualification comes simply from being His child. He put me together this way. I'm worth listening to because I do my best to speak His words and point away from myself and to Him. I have a right to be here because He sent me.

I could turn to the Bible and talk about Elizabeth, who gave birth to John the Baptist in later life. To Abraham and Sarah, whose aged knees surely ached badly when they knelt to play with their baby boy. I could give many examples of how God uses older people in powerful, history-making ways, but the truth is He used Mary to give birth to the Son of God when she was no more than a child herself. David slew Goliath when he was just a youth. The truth is, it doesn't matter to Him.

Age doesn't get in the way of God's plans at all. If He's got something for you to do, you're the perfect age to do it. So I'm telling myself to get on with it. After years of pottering about with my writing and watching others focus and work and edit and find book deals and hold launches and signings and all that wonderful stuff, I'm still not clear what my goal might be with my writing, and for a long time this has bothered me. Then came this online discussion, and it brought me to a very different conclusion than those of the participants.

If I have something to say, I should say it. I should say it in the best way I can because in using the gifts God has given me because I'm doing it for Him. It's a matter of obedience. I am not defined by my age, any more than I'm defined by my dress size, my exam results, the whiteness of my teeth or whether I get paid for the job I do.

I am too old to have more babies. I am too old to be an Olympic gymnast. I am too old to get into an under-18 disco, but I'm not too old for this. I am not too old to write.

So, if you saw that particular online discussion and wondered if you were past it, over the hill, superfluous - take heart. Wave your hand dismissively and say, whatever.

God has given you some words. Use them.





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



Friday, 22 June 2018

Five Little Ducks by Emily Owen



My nephew turned three recently.  About a week after his birthday, I saw him, and he told me – very proudly – that; “I was two but now I’m three.”
I said, “Wow! Will you ever be two again?” (I’m not actually sure why I asked him that!)
He said, “yes,” and so I asked him when he’d be two again?
He thought about it, then said, “When it’s the summer holidays.”

This was just a throwaway conversation at bath time, and was soon lost in renditions of ‘five little ducks went swimming one day’ and drinking cups of bubble bath tea.
But afterwards, I thought about that conversation.
When it was the holidays, he’d turn back time.

Now of course I know he won’t really, but it’s the concept that interested me.
Holidays: Take a break from everyday life.
Turn back time: Remember a previous state.
When it was the holidays, he’d turn back time.
I thought, what could that mean for us as Christian writers?

The meaning of take a break is, in some ways, self-explanatory.  Difficult to do, but self-explanatory.  And possible, even when we think it’s not.


‘Remember a previous state’ was brought home to me recently, when I was asked what lay behind the idea for one of my books.  The question made me pause (or take a break).  As I pondered it, I realised the answer went right back to my childhood.  The concept I build on in the book is a concept I first learned, sitting in church, as a child.  This led me on a further trip down memory lane, as I recalled other times of meeting with God, of getting to know Him better, of spending time with Him.

We all have different stories of God, but we can look back and remember times He was especially close.  Or we were especially blessed.
When it was the holidays, he’d turn back time.
Do we make time to do that?  Time to pause in our writing and look back.  If we do, we’ll be reminded that God has been with us all the way. Through the ups and downs. And if anyone hasn’t had down times as well as up times in their writing journey, please let me know your secret!

Be strong and courageous…for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.
(Deuteronomy 31:6)

God is with us, all the way.

Just to go back to bath time, and the song my nephew and I sang:
‘Five little ducks went swimming one day
Over the hills and far away
Mummy duck said quack quack quack quack
And the little ducks came swimming back.’

Writing is a gift from God.  If He’s called us to it, He’ll help us in it. 
Calling us back, each time we sit down to write. 
And if we drift off, He’ll still call us back.
When the time is right, He’ll always call us back.
But only after we’ve been encouraged, refreshed and renewed. 
By remembering that He has never left us. 
Not for a single second.

When it was the holidays, he’d turn back time.


Thursday, 21 June 2018

1000 reasons for my heart to find...

"I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;

 I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and rejoice in you;

 I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High."
                           Psalm 9:1-3





Four years ago I was very taken by a song written by Jonas Myrin and Matt Redman.  Many of you will know it.  I love the lyrics it so fits with how I feel about the Lord, and my desire to worship Him.  Put the title into Google to hear it, the words are at the bottom.
  
The line that particularly touched me was “For all your goodness I will keep on singing, Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find Bless the Lord oh my soul….” Could I find one thousand reasons for my heart to find?   On my own blog I decided to begin and for one hundred days wrote ten reasons to thank and bless the Lord. 

I was blessed by doing it.  I tried not to have repeats but there must have been and I should have thought it through before I started.  I did have a different subject each day, but it occurred to me I should have planned it using a more in depth subject where I'd be unlikely to get repeats.  I’m not a gardener, but thanking the Lord for the variety of flowers, trees etc and their differences I'm sure could add up to 1,000.

I’ve just found out my blood pressure is over the normal limits.  In considering just how incredible my body is in the design, function, it’s self repairing capabilities, longevity and ability to store up probably millions of data retrievable in an instant, it seemed possible there are a 1,000 reasons to bless the Lord for His extraordinary, unique creation of me.  

When you read this I will be on Day 39.  I started at the top of my head, and will work my way to the tip of my toes.  Some days I learn as have to use Wikipedia, others are just simple. For example:  Bless the Lord for fingers to:

1. use a keyboard
2. grip a knife and fork
3. turn pages in my book
4. point at things
5. peg wet heavy clothes on a line
6. poke into small areas or objects
7. stretch over and around my body
8. pick up small objects
9. tear open an envelope
10. scratch where it itches
                                                                                     Ruth Johnson
Words to 10,000 reasons 
Chorus: 
Bless the Lord oh my soul
Oh my soul
Worship His Holy name
Sing like never before
Oh my soul
I'll worship Your Holy name

The sun comes up
It's a new day dawning
It's time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass
And whatever lies before me
Let me be singing
When the evening comes
Chorus
You're rich in love
And You're slow to anger
Your name is great
And Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness
I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons
For my heart to find
Chorus
And on that day
When my strength is failing
The end draws near
And my time has come
Still my soul will
Sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years
And then forevermore
Forevermore
Chorus


Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Writing in my native language

My favourite coaster - it means, 'I like coffee'
I’m often asked, “where in Ireland is that accent from?” That's when I'm not mistaken for an American (which happens a lot!). The accent is easy to hear, standing out in the welsh valleys town that I live in. Sadly, the accent is all I have. I regret not making more efforts to study the Irish language when I was in school. It was such a chore to me, but I should have stuck with it. My Irish-ness is more important to me now as a writing adult; I'm a little saddened that I'm unable to write something in my native tongue. 

Though my accent can't be heard in my writing, I've often wondered if it is possible to read it there? People who know me say I write how I talk and so they can hear me. I'd love to think that half way through a piece, a stranger might think, "I bet this writer is Irish. This sounds Irish." 

I've thought about it a lot since moving here nearly four years ago. If I can’t write in the Irish language and I can’t write in an Irish accent... how can I communicate my Irish-ness? 

It took a while for me to let that one go. In more recent times, I've been concentrating more on my ‘heart language.’ I’m not sure it’s the same thing as my writing voice. Maybe it is, but 'heart language' is what I like to call it. 

At the heart of most of the stories in my first collection, was the desire to give people a second chance; mainly because I got one. I love a happy ending, and though not all stories lend themselves to 100% happily ever after, I tried to give my characters the opportunity to have a tomorrow that is a little easier than today. 

My second collection will be different. I'm almost finished polishing the last few stories and I can sense something has changed. When I was writing it, I lost a dear friend in violent circumstances and just a couple of months later, my dad died. My writing took a darker turn. There is more loss and grief in this book. Maybe it's more realistic, I'm not sure. I do know that because my heart was breaking, my heart language was full of broken-ness.  

I was tempted to re write, now that I'm somewhat recovered from the loss, but I stopped myself. It's a season in my writing that I feel I'd be wrong to hide, or dress up. My circumstances had an obvious effect on my writing, my consolation is that I really do write from my heart. 

I pray that in time, my writing will become rooted in the native language of my eternal home. A place where grief and loss are replaced by joy and restoration. Second chances don't exist because we won't need them any more. The ultimate happy ending.


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 www.auntyamo.com 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.'

Monday, 18 June 2018

The Seven Ages of Writing, by Georgie Tennant


Last month, we went on our church’s annual weekend away.  This involves leaving all home comforts behind and pitching a wide variety of temporary accommodation in the middle of a field, an hour from home, eating bacon sandwiches in your pyjamas with those who wouldn’t usually see you so attired and generally embracing the great (freezing) English outdoors.


Towards the end of the weekend, I was busying myself, packing things away in the caravan, feeling content as I listened to my boys riding their bikes, laughing.  Being someone of nostalgic inclination, it wasn’t long before my mind meandered down memory lane.  A couple of memories sprung to mind: the first was trailer-tent camping, where our then-15-month-old-only-child was zipped into his compartment each bedtime, where we left him to bounce off the soft and padded walls (literally) until he was exhausted enough to lie down and sleep.  Very funny to listen to.  The second was at one of the summer Bible weeks (Grapevine as it used to be called, One Event now).  Still too young to attend a children’s group on his own, my energetic toddler beetled around under our feet as we attempted to load our worldly goods into the car to travel home.  Feeling envious of those who could perform this feat sans offspring, I looked up to see him, plastic bin on his head, careering straight into a swing-ball pole.  He ricocheted off it and laughed.

These things were stressful at the time and hard work – but now I can look back and smile.  I have always detested the posts on social media that tell me to savour every second, because it will soon be gone – usually written by someone for whom the day to day intensity of motherhood had long faded.  Quite frankly, there were some parts of it that I wanted to soon be gone.  But, with primary school-aged children now, growing in independence, I am beginning to understand their sentiment.  Before long, my just-turned-ten-year-old son will be a teen and his seven-year-old brother will be catching him up.  I try to breathe in and store it all in my soul just a little more than I did before.  (That’s not to say I don’t get stressed by “I need to build a model of an active volcano by tomorrow,” announcements or “he whacked me over the head with the space-hopper on the trampoline,” complaints – sentences I could never have predicted I would have to hear or deal with, when I first held my new born babies in my arms).


It got me thinking about life stages in our writing.  Shakespeare breaks life down into seven ‘ages’ in a well-known speech from the play, ‘As You Like It’ – the infant, the school boy, the lover, the soldier, the justice, the ‘lean and slippered pantaloon’ and the second childhood. (You can read it here, if you feel so inclined). Could we categorise our writing in a similar way?  Perhaps your writing is yet the infant (I think mine is somewhere around there!) – you’re beginning to write, the germ of an idea is there, you introduce yourself as ‘not really a writer compared to everyone else,’ at your local group, but the passion is there, the seed germinating.  Perhaps it’s the school boy – growing in confidence, sometimes fearless, sometimes retreating in terror, finding new levels, growing in skill, every day an opportunity to learn.


The lover comes next – you might be him (or her) if your writing is growing and developing – you’re finding your voice, honing your skills, growing in knowledge, preparing for lift off, out in the big wide world. Then the soldier – at this stage, perhaps, your work has left home, making its way to places you never dreamt it would see and you are excited for it, wondering how it’s doing, whether it will spread its wings and fly.  If you have passed all these stages, perhaps your work is the justice, as you enter the twilight years, wise and well-seasoned.  There is less intensity, less drama and what you do, say and write inspires the next generation of infants and schoolboys and soldiers.

I won’t try to drag the analogy as far as the ‘lean and slippered pantaloon’ or the ‘second childhood’ – I’m assuming if you’re reading this blog, you haven’t reached that stage yet, in your life or your writing!  But the fact is, wherever we are now, we’ll all be there eventually.  One day, you’ll look back on the phase you’re in now as a happy memory, viewed down the avenue of years and through the mists of time. So, for now, whatever stage of writing you’re at, savour it, make the most of it, even enjoy it, amid the sweat and tears of the daily grind.  Let’s embrace the stage we’re at and be thankful for every second we get to use the gifts God has given us, knowing that He delights in them too, more than we could ever know. 



Georgina 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: www.somepoemsbygeorgie.blogspot.co.uk

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Embraced by my Father By Claire Musters


Today is Father’s Day, a time when we pause and reflect on the amazing qualities our own dads have. For some, it is a time to remember a wonderful dad no longer with them. For others, the day sadly brings back painful memories, and they long for the 24 hours to pass quickly.

For myself, I could describe to you how wonderful my stepdad has been to me; the changes that have occurred in him over the years to enable him to become the incredibly patient and loving full-time carer of my mum. I could also affirm how great a dad my own husband is to our kids; how he brings fun and laughter as well as great wisdom and grace to our family.

That is all true, but I actually want to pause and reflect on how God has revealed His fatherhood to me in ways so precious over the years. Writing it down and sharing it is a great way to remember – and to honour His faithfulness.

I experienced the break up of my parents’ marriage when I was extremely little, so do not have much memory of it. I was fortunate to have a wonderful stepdad come into my life very soon after, and he has been amazing to each of us over the years (and continues to be). Not a Christian, there have been moments of pain as he has railed against the faith that the rest of us embraced in my tween years, but overall he has been an incredible gift to us all.

But as I reached my teenagehood, and we moved back to an area near my biological dad, I began to get really confused and hurt about father figures in my life. I was seeing my ‘real’ dad more regularly, but he didn’t feel like my dad – my stepdad did. But this was also the time when things regarding us attending church were really annoying my stepdad, so life at home wasn’t always peaceful. I tried desperately to not upset either of them, but found myself overwhelmed by the pressure and unsure how to be myself around them (particularly my biological father). 

That’s when God stepped in. 

It was like He gave me a big, fat hug, and I felt Him whisper that I could look to Him for a picture of what fatherhood is; what it is meant to be. Neither of my dads could fulfil the needs I have, and I couldn’t be to them all the things I was pressurising myself to be. He reminded me that only He is the perfect Father. Now, I know for some, interacting with God as Father is difficult, due to experiences with earthly dads. I am not trying to bring up past hurts for you at all; this is me honouring the way that God worked in my young, confused heart to reassure me of His love and care.

I haven’t always accepted that love though. After a particularly painful time in my life, when I had seemingly destroyed everything good in it and was battling for life as I knew it, God again showed me the depth of His love for me. Instead of condemning me, pointing out my sin and telling me what I needed to do now, He simply started speaking to my soul about who I am and how much He loves me. It was the very first time that the truth about who I am in Him actually reached my heart, and it began to blossom there. It gave me the courage, much as Hagar felt in Genesis 16, when He asked me to go back into the difficult situation in order for Him to redeem it.

He doesn’t orchestrate things to make our lives easy, but God definitely does have a beautiful Father heart full of grace, mercy, acceptance and love for each of us. 

Whether you are celebrating today, or feeling sorrowful, my prayer is that you know your heavenly Father’s tender touch. xx

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. To find out more about her, please visit www.clairemusters.com and @CMusters on Twitter. 

Saturday, 16 June 2018

This Topsy-Turvy God, by Liz Carter




I’ve been thinking a lot about kingdom values lately, and how they apply to my writing. Subversive values which turn the thinking of our culture on its head – values which mean the weak are strong and the poor are rich, the failures are successes and the dregs are the honoured. God’s incredible order of grace means that all those negative labels we apply to ourselves, all the rejection words we speak over ourselves, are turned upside down and our ashes transformed to beauty.

Never so pertinent as in our writing trials and tribulations.

I’ve been through a rollercoaster of a journey for the last few years with my writing. I’d known for years I wanted to write books; I’d made attempts when much younger but life took over and as my health worsened I told myself it was just another thing I’d failed at, another ambition I hadn’t reached and never would. 

But it niggled at me, and then shoved me full in the face. I couldn’t let it go, it was part of me, it was in me. Writing books wasn’t just an ambition, it was a need so desperate it wouldn’t let go. It was a calling. So I started. I wrote a novel and I began to learn about the craft of writing, soaking up books about the art and about style and showing and telling and all those other crucial things. I loved the process and the book poured from me, getting itself onto paper in a great rush of enthralling creativity. I was there! This was what I was made to do!

Then came the rejections. The agents’ one line emails. Not for us. Wouldn’t fit our list. Not something I’m interested in. The occasional bite which sent me flying high. Please send your full MS. Really like your concept. Lovely writing. But all coming to nothing.

Then I wrote another book. I wrote a book I felt God had been cultivating in my mind for a long time, and I submitted a proposal to IVP and it was commissioned. I was ecstatic. I thought that I would never feel weak or a failure again; I’d done it. I was going to get published.

But it wasn’t quite like that. The bumpy road of my editor’s frank and sometimes painful comments sent me into some dark places, places where I could only fall at God’s feet and ask for his help. I couldn’t do this thing on my own. God spoke so lovingly and faithfully about his kingdom grace, and I came to understand Jesus’ weakness in a much fuller way through these years of excitement then rejection on repeat. Jesus was fully human and suffered in a way none of us can even comprehend, far from a figure of power and strength, and yet brought about the greatest triumph in history. 

I love the writings of Paul, because one of his underpinning narratives is that of this subversion of power and riches. Whenever I feel that I am too weak, I read some of Paul’s verses about God’s power being made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9) and how God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27). I love this crazy wild grace, this outpouring of lavish, scandalous love which knows no boundaries and doesn’t count our achievements or our ambitions or our finances or our looks or our position in society. Only our hearts.

I love this topsy-turvy God and love that he’s called me to write about him. I love that he speaks to me in my rejection and in my sickness as much – if not even more than – in my successes and high points.

I pray that today, if you are feeling weak in any way, whether in body, mind or spirit, that you will know the outrageous grace of God crashing through your sorrow and lighting your way.

Turning rejection into glory.


Liz Carter lives in Shropshire with her vicar husband and two teens. Her first book, Catching Contentment, will be published by IVP later this year. 
www.greatadventure.carterclan.me.uk/ 










Photo by Mathilda Khoo on Unsplash