Sunday, 30 September 2018

When To Finish

How do you know when it's time to finish something?

Whether it's something personal, a job or a writing project the answer isn't simple, as it will differ for each thing. Also, it doesn't always have to be final. You can put something on hold for a while, then come back to it.

But how do you know?

With writing, it's usually a gnawing feeling that you're not getting anywhere. The characters aren't gelling, the world won't allow itself to be built, the story makes no sense.

Sometimes you can leave it for a while, days, weeks or months, come back to it and you'll see where the problems are.

Other times, you come back to it, realise it's bad and put it in a drawer. You hope that it'll prove useful at some point in the future, even if it's just as a bad example, showing you what to avoid.

I've just quit doing my own personal blog for now. The last one was Friday (28th September) and I decided to go out on a high and do a Friday Fun.

Compiling it has become more of a chore recently and I found it difficult to keep up with the Monday/Wednesday/Friday regularity, even though I knew what I wanted to write on those days.

It's been just under ten years since I started it and it has evolved over that time. I've enjoyed doing it, but it has become a chore.

I thought about keeping it going until Christmas, but decided that as I want to stop, I may as well do it now.

There are writing projects I have on hold and some I've given up on. I intend to go back to them and see what I can make of them, and not doing the blog will free up some time and, most inportantly, some motivation.

We can't know for sure when it's time to quit something, we can only follow our head and our heart. If it feels wrong, it usually is.

Learning when to quit is a lesson we take time over and should do.

"If at first you don't succeed, try again. Just try a different way. If that fails, give up. No sense in being a fool about it."

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Writing Likes and Dislikes

We all have our writing likes and dislikes.  My favourite likes include being lost in the world I’ve created, falling in love (a little) with my characters, when that line comes out just as well as I’d hoped, and when I know I've set a cracking pace.  That dialogue rips along.  That narrative keeps me gripped so imagine the effect it will have on other readers!  At least that is what I tell myself…  I refuse to believe that is just me incidentally!

Good and Bad.  Image via Pixabay
As for dislikes, these include words that are easy to mix up (affect and effect, anyone?  I always have to check those), never having as much time as I’d like for writing (ring any bells?), and when those lines stubbornly won’t come out as well as I thought they should!  I doubt I’m alone in feeling irked at that last one.

If in doubt, consult the dictionary.  Image via Pixabay
The only thing I have found helped with overcoming the dislikes was (a) going to the dictionary for affect and effect, (b) making good use of the time I do have and when I can squeeze in more writing to do so, and (c) accept every writer goes through this.  Not only that, a darned good edit or several should make those lines much better than what you originally wrote, so that is okay.

When is your writing time?  Image via Pixabay
My writing time is spent at a desk that is nowhere near as elegant as this one!  Pixabay image

 St. Paul talks about not thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought and that applies to our writing too.  The focus must be on what the reader will feel on reading your work.  Does it engage with them as you intended?  Does it make the impact you want?  This is where trusted beta readers (especially for longer works) are invaluable. 

Ah!  The familiar sight of the editing pen.  Image via Pixabay

Sadly, this is also a familiar sight.  Image via Pixabay

I have sometimes recorded myself reading a longer piece of work and playing it back later.  I’ve found it makes it easier for me to come to the piece as a listener, as if I was tuning into it on the radio (if only!), but that is when I can hear if the work does have the impact I want.  If it doesn’t impact on me as I planned, it won’t for anyone else.  I’ve also been able to work out what I like and dislike about the piece as it stands. Then of course my next task is to sort out the problems so hopefully there is nothing about it to dislike when a reader comes to it. 

Are you lost in the world of your story?  Pixabay image
Elmore Leonard when asked about writing, replied, “My most important piece of advice to all you would-be writers: when you write, try to leave out all the parts readers skip.”.  It is one of my favourite writing quotations.  The way to do it is to appraise your work as if you had not written it and be honest about what you dislike about it.  Is there anything to dislike?  Is there anything that could be improved?  The answer to that is almost certainly “yes”.  Happy editing!

Entering the world of your story.  Pixabay image

Friday, 28 September 2018

Psalm 93 Re-imagined for the 21st Century by Trevor Thorn

Moth Galaxy (imagined: acrylic by the author)

You, Lord, are ruler of the whole universe:
you are robed in the fabric of the cosmos
which was established at your Word.
The vastness of space and time
cannot contain you, Lord.
You are from and to everlasting.

Constellations are testimonies to your might,
Planets and their inhabitants praise you
   in joyful outpourings of known and unknown tongues.  

More majestic than the roar of gargantuan waters
that dwarf all of earth’s mighty oceans;
more majestic than storms that are indescribably vast,
are you almighty God
You reign in eternity and even now know the
    time of your return and the end-time of the universe .

Your laws guide us into truth, righteousness and justice.
Let me delight in the holiness of your domain
both now and forever, O mighty God.

If you appreciate this sort of re-working, you may like a similar refashioning of part of Job 38 which you can find HERE

Thursday, 27 September 2018

I have a dream by Tracy Williamson

I have a dream of flying across the waters
Of bridging the gap between my world and others
Of leaping like a gazelle from one bank to another,
Of reaching the heights of true communication instead of just gazing from afar.
I dream of shouting my thoughts into the winds knowing they'll be heard;
Of knowing and understanding, of belonging of reaching
I dream of words and their power to communicate and transform,
A mighty tool, a holy instrument, a key to the heart of God,
I dream of life flowing from my fingers and ideas taking shape
A character evolving,  rising, to live, even to influence others
I dream of my words bringing God's healing to the broken hearted
Creating hope and challenge, peace, greatness and freedom
I dream.of them birthing insight, relaxation and power. Or excitement, tears and laughter
I have a dream
Of stepping out of the awkwardness and alienations of deafness
Into the land of heartfelt interaction
From the distortion of misunderstanding
To the beauty of connection

I stand on the sea shore of my life  The sea speaks of possibility and potential.  You can be soothed by the gentle lap of the waves knowing that in a few minutes its mood may change, the waves rising up amidst the whisper of danger and adventure.
I have a dream to ride those waves to the summits of my potential.
And God calls me in that place within where my words lie buried and my hopes and dreams lurk unexpressed.  The place where fears, loss and sadness become like prison guards and possibility is a naïve shadow.
But He keeps on calling and will not stop.  Not stop calling me nor anyone else, because He loves us..
And He loves me.
And He invented dreams and loves their power

The creative might of speaking something into being
Or writing it.
He calls me to dream, to imagine, to reflect, to put words to my half buried thoughts
And write them down.
And in so doing to walk through the clutching hands of those prison guards
Into life, freedom and the joy of communication.

As a little girl I learned to love books early on and often used them to escape the confusions caused by my deafness and other deep struggles.  Each story I read drew me deeper into the understanding of the power of language, and a dream grew within me to someday write powerful words myself to touch peoples lives. As the years unfolded and I became a Christian I dreamt of using words to help others, to communicate hope, joy and love and give expression to fear and pain,  even to speak from God's heart. 
Amazingly, step by step He has helped me to live those dreams and I know I have written such words that touch others and still do. 
I am so full of thankfulness but I am still dreaming...
I dream of writing novels or short stories that will give the lonely wings of hope.
Stories of life, of love of connection of emotion, of language shared and understood,
of brokenness confronted and healed, of Him alive in our hearts
I often fear that this will be impossible for in my deafness how can I write real dialogue, life  and character?
But He has opened up so much to me, I know I can dream with hope of that next step unfolding too.
I have a dream....
Do you?
Will you unfold it?
And live it?

Tracy Williamson is an author and speaker working together with Gospel Singer Marilyn Baker for the itinerant ministry MBM Trust
Tracy, who is severely deaf and partially sighted has written 6 Christian living/teaching books.  Her latest book The Father's Kiss -  living in the reality of God's love - has just been published and is available from Amazon, Eden, Christian bookshops and MBM.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Portraying Jesus, by Eve Lockett

I’m thinking today about how Jesus is portrayed in the gospels and in fiction. Some of you will have thought through long before now how to write Jesus as a character in your books, such as The Well is Deepby Ros Bayes. And you could say that every time we preach, give our testimony or witness to Christian faith, we are describing Jesus in some way as a person.

So what do we make of the character of Jesus in the gospels? I have spent nearly all my life as a believer, and have read, studied and spoken on the gospels many times; and yet strangely there is something about his manner that I find stern, abrasive, critical and impatient. If I met him, I think he would frighten me.

Does that make him less convincing? Or in fact more authentic? If I had been a gospel writer I might have been tempted to tone him down, soften him up, make him more diplomatic, more palatable. What a disaster that would have been! The Jesus of the gospels is a man championing and identifying with the oppressed, the poor, the victim, the lost and the outcast. He is confronting head on the regime that has exploited them and distanced them from God’s mercy. If I find him unsettling, perhaps it says something about me and my life.

And then we come to the portrayal of Jesus in fiction, film or visual art. I can’t say I have ever found any film actor’s performance spot on, and maybe that’s not surprising: the imaging of Jesus in art, literature or drama is a tricky business. As writers, we may well want to depict Jesus in a meaningful and convincing way. How can we avoid the sentimental, the banal or the religious cliché? It’s a huge subject, and I can only touch on it here.

One way it’s been dealt with over the years is stylistically, as in icons, mystery plays or through allegory, rather than realistically – certainly not the super-realism of kitsch Christian art with Jesus as a perfect white male with great teeth, strong jawline, virile beard and the body of a Greek god. 

Another approach to portraying Jesus is to show the impact he had on those who encountered him. I came to Christian faith through reading a novel that described those who were transformed by Jesus rather than describing Jesus himself; which also happens to be a very effective way of discovering the Jesus of the gospels.

Christ et enfants, Georges Rouault
It’s pretty clear that children were drawn to him, they trusted him, they recognised who he was and believed in him. Women also loved him, they were affirmed by him and felt free to talk to him. They were even confident with him on their own. And he counted women among his friends, his equals if you like. Here was someone who was safe, not because he was harmless but because he was holy.

Ordinary, honest men trusted him and followed him. So did the rascals and rogues who lived by fraud, but who found their souls and their salvation when he called them by name.
Gentiles and foreigners discovered him to be inclusive in an exclusive culture. Those in authority, both Jewish and Roman, recognised in him a teacher and a leader of integrity, and ended up in his service. And a tormented, dying thief saw in him a shining guide to Paradise.

The ones who hated him were the power-hungry, the spiritually self-satisfied, those whose status he threated. Power, pride and self-importance are challenged, not gratified, by encountering the authentic Jesus.

So if we choose to portray Jesus for any reason, we have a wealth of material in those men, women and children he brought to such a radical place of faith, life and healing. Their stories reflect him, just as our own personal stories and the stories we create can reflect him, showing how often it is through the lives of others he is made known.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Paradise deferred by Eileen Padmore

My name is Henrietta and I am a reptile.  Long ago, one of my ancestors was held responsible for that great catastrophe known to humans as 'The Fall'.  But it was nothing to do with me.  Although afflicted by the curse (on thy belly shalt thou go all the days of thy life) the difference is that I am a tortoise with built in decking and a roof over my head.  Vastly superior.

My foolish owners acquired me when I was a few months old, small enough to fit into the human hand.  They called me Henry, not knowing I was a girl.  Later, when they realised their mistake, they renamed me.

In the early days I was kept warm, dry and safe in a glass box with shiny, slippery surfaces.  Food rations were generous and everything was kept clean.  On difficult days I was taken out and washed.  Then shy, I retreated far inside my shell if anyone came near.

Now I am a teenager with more freedom.  Last summer I lived out in the garden for months, left to myself to forage and wander all over.  I am content.  God created me to be in the here and now. Not like my owners who are slaves to some time measuring device.  They dash around, either in a past that has gone forever, or in a future that may never happen – evidence of 'The Great Fall'.

Me ..... I know how to live.  At night I find a sheltered spot, close to the fence under woody, fragrant plants that shelter me from wind and rain.  When the sun comes up I head for the hottest spot to bathe in those potent rays.

Paradise indeed – except for THAT DOG!  At first she was scared of me.  Quite right.  But then she pranced around in circles, yapping, begging me to play!  What a stupid creature!  Best ignored – if only!

In the drought, my keepers put out delicious supplements: crunchy leaves, juicy cucumbers, grapes – even an occasional strawberry.  Would you believe it?  That crazy carnivore stole my lettuce, not because she relished it, but for no better reason than to spoil my good pleasure.  May it choke her!  The evils of jealousy, greed, power.

If only I could have the garden to myself ......

Earlier, when they planted the rockery with jaw champing flowers I launched into the banquet.  Wrong!  I was transported without dignity to do penance among weeds.

Then there was the day the handyman almost fell off his ladder when – fully charged with heat – I took off across the garden in search of some shade.  He thought I was an ornament!  As if!  Me, a garden accessory!  What planet was he on?

That's the problem.  I have to share this bent and broken kingdom with the fallen ones.  Paradise so near – but not yet.

They say God has a rescue plan .....

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, Christian Writer and contributed to the popular ACW Lent book.  Married for several decades to a professional musician, the family includes a feisty springer spaniel and a large African tortoise.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Light years apart

‘When people come back to their houses, they have no idea what could be around the corner. There could be explosives rigged up to their kitchens, under their beds, or in the light switches in the walls... Even children’s books are rigged with hidden explosives.’ 
So says a recent bulletin from Médecins sans Frontières. It’s the situation of people returning to Raqqa in Syria. Reading such things I find it hard to see how people can deny that Satan is alive and active in our world. There’s just not enough evil in an ordinary person to account for the sadism of it. 

Moving from fact to fiction, I’ve been reading a riveting Young Adult novel, The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. It takes you vividly into the world of African Americans in the United States. It shows you the strong sinews of Black family life and the appalling treatment they continue to get from white people, especially the police. I say ‘you’, but I guess many of my readers will never have the heartwarming experience of reading it. The f-word and the s-word occur often, and I know this is a red line for some Christian readers. Unfortunately, it’s how people in that society talk, good people as well as bad. There are some selfless and indeed some prayerful characters in this story, who I’m sorry you may not meet; and they are given the most brilliantly crafted dialogue I have read for a long time. And at the top of the author’s acknowledgements page I noted: ‘I first have to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I’m not worthy of all that you have done for me.’


I’ve also been looking at the blurbs for new release Christian books... Here are some snippets:  
‘A beautiful devotional that explores the names of God...’ ‘...ways of praying and nurturing the human spirit...’  ‘...prayerful reflections designed to draw the reader into an encounter with God...’ ‘...we allow ourselves to be vulnerable by sharing our struggles...’ ‘ to experience the joy of a faith-filled life’ ‘...ten blessings God offers even in the midst of difficult times’ ‘This book will reveal how precious you are to God...’ 
The world of these books is so different! It’s like a bubble, filled with a warm light, but a million miles from the struggles of this earth. I know we need to be grounded in God, etc., etc., if we are to cope with the grim world out there, but so many of these books seem to speak as if there is no such world. They speak of my struggles, my difficult times; but who am I? Most likely a middle-class, first-world, relatively affluent person who has never confronted a gun-toting policeman full of prejudice, let alone a ruined home booby-trapped by fanatics. 

Just before writing this blog the words ‘You are the light of the world... You are the salt of the earth’ came unbidden into my mind. They seem highly appropriate for Christian writers. We should let our depiction so shine in the darkness that good and bad are shown up for what they are. And we should sprinkle salty words on the slugs and snails of wickedness that consume the good green things of the earth. 

Light versus Darkness

It’s an interesting time to be alive. Never in my life have public affairs stood out so starkly, darkness and light. And never have the dark team made such efforts to say that light is darkness and darkness is light. I’m not talking about policies, primarily, but about people—the powerful rulers and media controllers.  

Recently a delegation of evangelical Christians (our brothers and sisters) went to the President of the United States and heaped praise upon him. This was, in my view, to render to Caesar what belongs to God. I fear that these Christians are courting apostasy. 

And never has the church faced such shipwreck. Our own instinct to cover up corruption and abuse and suppress difference and dissent has brought it upon us. But if we are prepared to be honest and change our minds we can escape ruin. These words used to puzzle me, but now they make sense: 
‘It is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?’ 
Some time after writing this, I read that Beth Moore, the American Bible teacher, is saying the same thing. 

So what should we Christian writers do? Let’s come out of our comforting bubble world. Let’s get out and tell the truth, first about the ordeals of the family of God and then about those who do not obey. 

Sunday, 23 September 2018

The hardest words - by Helen Murray

I'm so familiar with the phrase, 'keeping a short account' that I realised the other day that I've stopped considering what it means. It came to me in a sudden revelatory kind of way that I am not very good at confession. Not very good at all.

Now, I've been reading lately about revelation (small R) and about how God communicates with us and I read about the word, 'apokalupsis' which is a Greek word used in the Bible as one of the several kinds of 'revelation'.  It means uncovering; when something hidden becomes visible. One of those moments when something that you've known and thought you understood suddenly becomes Real. When head knowledge becomes heart knowledge, maybe. When the words jump off the page, or when you stop in your tracks and your eyes widen slightly because abruptly you get the message. 

The penny drops. 

Well, it's right out there, obvious for anyone to see, but I didn't see it. 

I am not very good at confession. I don't tend to keep a short account; in fact my account has run to many hundreds of pages. 

I know without any doubt that it has already been settled in full by Jesus but I do know that I need to keep a track of it. Make sure that things are dealt with in a timely way so that I don't get dragged under by the sheer weight of rubbish that I carry round with me, or damage other people with the unwieldy things that I haven't sorted out.  I need to keep an eye on what is accumulating around me and keep it from piling too high, because that in itself has consequences.

I mean, there are times when I think to myself, 'Oops, shouldn't have said that, sorry, God,' or send a quick arrow apology up when I'm calming down after shouting at the children, but that's only the tip of the iceberg, isn't it?

There are a few opportunities to stop the accumulation that are handed to me on a plate; for example the general confession that we do corporately early on in church on a Sunday. That's all very well, but if one of the children chooses that moment to ask me a question (anything from the deeply theological, 'Mummy, how come God can be three people at the same time?' to the scarily mundane, 'Are there parsnips for dinner? I don't like parsnips,' to the ominous, 'She won't let me touch her walrus,') and my attention is far, far away from my sin. 

So I go straight onto soaking up the absolution and blessing (if I get a chance) without the effort or inconvenience of examining myself. 

Alternatively, but with an equally negative effect, is when I am asked to bring to mind my own wrongdoing over the past week and all I can think of is what someone else of my acquaintance should perhaps be confessing. I could be quite helpful in compiling a list of transgressions on someone else's behalf; my own - not so much. 

Bypass the confession bit. Let's sing something.

And then came my Apokalupsis moment:  

I had a picture of myself, walking in a valley. A beautiful, wide, lush valley with majestic, snow-capped mountains either side - several of my significant scenes take place here. God is here, in my valley. It's very beautiful. I am enjoying being there, strolling around and looking at the view. I can feel God as the sun on my face, on my skin. I am warm, relaxed and happy.

I turn away from God to examine something beautiful and I still feel His warmth on my shoulders. I bend and pick something up, and then my hand closes on it too tightly, and it breaks. I hold the broken remains of this beautiful thing for a moment, and then I decide that there is nothing I can do about it, and I throw it over my shoulder. I move on.

A moment later I reach in my pocket and I take out a piece of paper. It has writing on it, but I don't know what it says. It annoys me. I screw up the paper with both hands and throw it behind me, over my shoulder. I walk a few more steps and pull something else out of my jacket; it's been tucked inside, in an inside pocket. I don't know what it is, but I laugh unpleasantly and I discard it behind me. I walk on.

I keep going, and I keep throwing away bad things over my shoulder. I go through a range of emotions; disgust, aggression, fear, anger, slyness, bitterness, self-pity, pride, spite, resentment, malice. I discard each one because I want rid of it but there's always more. Sometimes the sin is represented by an object - a half-eaten apple with a grub in the middle of it, a book with the cover ripped off, a bracelet with the precious stones missing... and sometimes it's a word on a piece of paper, or even a bad smell. They all go behind me as I wander on, my back turned to God.

At last, I sense that something has changed. I am cold. I can't feel the sun any more.

God has gone. He's left me. 

I whirl round and immediately see what's happened. There is a huge pile of rubbish towering above me. God hasn't gone; He is still where He has always been, but I am some distance away. All the mess that I've discarded is blocking out the light and warmth of the sun. I am standing in a shadow. 

No wonder I'm cold. 

I hesitate, not knowing what to do. I am amazed that I had not been aware of all these things that I had been carrying around - where did they come from, to make such a huge mountain of rubbish? But I know, in my heart - that's where. They came from inside me.

And now they're blocking me from experiencing God. I can't feel Him any more. I can't see the light, and my beautiful valley is in a terrible state. It isn't beautiful any more, with the offensive landfill of my life strewn across it. 


And that was it. That's what I realised about confession. I was still in my valley; God hadn't cast me out, because I have a right to be there. Jesus paid the price for my huge pile of rubbish, and yet its presence there was ruining everything for me. The sense of space was gone, the fragrant air now smelled of refuse, and most importantly, I couldn't feel the warmth of God on my skin. I couldn't gaze into His brightness, for the way was blocked.

I need that light and warmth. I can't grow without it; I can't manage without it. It might be a while before it seeps into my consciousness to notice that it's faded, but I am lost without it. 

So I got out my journal and I asked God to send the Holy Spirit to show me what I needed to confess. I wrote a list. I numbered them, and I wrote without stopping as specific things popped into my head one after another with no repetition. I stopped when I got to one hundred and one things. 

One hundred and one.  

I think I only stopped then because He took pity on me. 

I realised how bad I am at confessing things. And also how thorough the Holy Spirit is. 

How small I felt, and yet how grateful. How God is endlessly patient, endlessly forgiving. How nothing had changed, but something was different. 

How after I finished with my journal that evening how calm I felt and how well I slept. 

I am trying to do better. I'm trying to examine the state of myself each night instead of letting things get so out of hand. I know that I'm fighting a constant battle against the things that lurked in that huge towering pile of rubbish but I know that now and again, something that I threw away stays thrown away, and that's a triumph.

And by the grace of God, I am facing Him again, now. 

I can feel His warmth on my face.

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