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Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Curtains and windows


This post is scheduled for Hallowe’en, when there are closed curtains and decorated windows.

My starting point is a photo I took. Walking into the mainly unlit building for a weekday Morning Prayer at the back of the church with participants sitting in a circle, I was surprised to see the curtain behind the choir stalls lit up. I quickly positioned myself for a photo of it. A couple of minutes later the relative positions of the sun and the church were such that it was in semi-darkness again. It was an unexpected moment, which could have easily been missed. My helpful phone keeps asking me if I wish to adjust the lighting – as if that wasn’t the whole point of the photo.

The choir stalls in St Bees Priory Church
I began to think about curtains in general. It is not a theme that has been suggested at the local ACW writing group I attend, although the current one of Darkness is not unrelated. The curtain in the picture screens the choir from the Lady Chapel. It also stops some draughts. There is nothing of religious significance about it, unlike the curtain in the temple, which was rent in two at the hour of Jesus Christ’s death by crucifixion. (Matthew27:51)

Curtains may be used in the theatre to reveal the stage at the beginning of each scene and to hide the stagehands as they rearrange props. There is also a safety curtain in case of fire.

How people talk about moving curtains across windows varies. I open curtains and either close or draw them. Many years ago a friend surprised me by asking whether she should pull the curtains off. (I thought of ‘off the rails’ before I thought of ‘off the windows’!)

Then again the word curtains may be used as a euphemism for death.

Some windows never have curtains, stained glass windows for example.

The light from the sun had passed through stained glass before illuminating the curtain in the photo above.

A church in the nearby town of Whitehaven burned down in a catastrophic fire in 1971. Only a small part including the tower was left standing. I have only known this church in its restored state. It has a café and a chapel downstairs. Upstairs there is more seating with views over the gardens around the original church. A beautiful stained glass window there inspired me to write a prayer six years or more ago.


The stained glass window in the tower
Risen Lord,
I love your picture
in the tower café
where from destruction
new life has come.
Through the stained fragments
sunlight builds a picture of you
creating and redeeming your world by love.
May we who see it
See beyond it to you.
Strengthen our fragmentary faith;
clarify our vision of you;
quicken our steps to follow
View from the window including a memorial to coal-miners
and our hands to serve.
May we know your will
and find peace in obedience
by the power of the Holy Spirit
and to the glory of God the Father.  Amen.

If you are looking for writing ideas (although I know many readers of this blog are more experienced than I am) perhaps you might explore these topics or find a stained glass window, which inspires you.


Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Got the Block?

Something simple today, aimed at those of us who have days where writing is hard. We're blocked, stumped, pulling our hair out (if we have any), struggling, un-inspired etc. Some memes of encouragement. None are copyrighted, so take which ones are helpful and put them on your desktop, or keep them in a handy folder to peruse at your leisure.












And finally, if your day is just too bad for words, look at this.




Have a good write.









Monday, 29 October 2018

Keeping It Simple Is Definitely Not Stupid

I’m not fond of the acronym, KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid), as there’s nothing stupid about "direct" writing. Keeping it simple is much harder to do than whoever invented that acronym supposed. I guess it is meant to imply the other person IS stupid for not keeping it simple but the reality is you have to edit hard to get your prose to the state where it reads as if it has been written effortlessly. 


In my honest opinion, keeping your writing simple is never a stupid thing to do.  Pixabay image.

You then repeat the process until you reach the point where you cannot improve the work. Sometimes you reach the point of being heartily sick of it but that’s another story.  It shows it's time to take a break and come back to it later and look at it again with a fresh perspective.  The distance away from it does help. 
Some editing is definitely needed here!  Pixabay image!


I learned a long time ago when someone makes something look easy, whether it is writing or any other creative art, you can bet that same someone has worked their socks off for years, perfecting their craft, to achieve this.  (And, as they say, other hosiery items are available!).

Just how much hard work has gone into getting to this stage?  Pixabay image

I start my editing of a story or a blog post by looking for what I know are my wasted words - “very”, “actually” and “that”.  The first two contribute little to a piece, you do need “that” sometimes but not nearly as often as you might think, and I have found by focusing on removing these words first, I enter straight into “editor mode”.  It is easier when in that mindset to cut what has to be cut.  (I can justify the "that" there!).

I overwrite, which I used to hate, but now I accept it is part of how I write and there is little a good edit or several can’t fix!  Rarely have I written a piece where I’ve needed to “fill” and I hated it when I did.  It felt artificial and was one of those rare instances where I binned the whole idea (and that is needed sometimes if, no matter what you do, it isn’t working). 

If an idea isn't working, despite time away from it, binning it can be the right thing to do. Pixabay image.
The other good thing was this instance made me brainstorm for better ideas, which is what I should have done in the first place.  Lesson learned there.  I don’t mind effort, indeed I expect it as we all should with our work, but I loathe it when it seems to be wasted.  Still, I'm not planning on making that mistake again so I think some good has come out of it.

Also when editing, I look for how the sentences flow.  Do they read easily?  Do they convey the exact meaning I wanted?  Could I express things better?  (The answer to that one is nearly always yes). 
No matter how fantastic your fictional world, it still pays to keep the writing simple.  Pixabay image.
Simple writing then is not lazy writing.  It is hard work but well worth the effort.  Simple writing pulls the reader in.  Look at Jesus’s parables.  Straightforward storytelling.  Not a wasted word.  No waffle.  Now there’s a challenge to us all! 

Jesus's stories are the work of the master storyteller.  Pixabay image.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

A Faith Family Tree by Trevor Thorn

Faithful Heritage

Down through five-score generations
someone passed on belief for me: 
at first, maybe a disciple
who walked beside Christ, strong and free,
inspired by the love of the Master
agog with miracles seen
fervent in faith; bold after Christ’s death
proclaiming New Life, not a dream.  

I give thanks for this faith-filled lineage
as the message was handed on,
through my forbears, or friends, or through clerics;
and sometime through children, in song
with a simple delight in Christ’s stories,
and a wonderful sense of the grace 
in the actions and love of a Saviour
who’s called me, that New Life, to embrace.

Thoughts behind ‘Faithful Heritage’

For several years now particularly at All Saints’-tide, I have marveled that, if I could trace it, there would be a genealogy of believers who have passed on the faith in every generation since Jesus lived with us on earth, until it reached me. In my case my parents, grandparents and, I think, at least two of my great- grandparents are part of that precious chain. For others, it will be people completely out of their own family; but the person who helped them to faith will have their faith-genealogy too. Somewhere down those long lines there will, quite possibly, be a saint who is recognized by the church, maybe a member of The Way persecuted to death for passing on the Good News; maybe someone of Roman extract or of the Norman church; maybe a person or people from a completely different Christian source.

This poem embraces these thoughts and could be linked for an assembly/ collective worship/ all-age service  with the simple but very effective all-age activity which can be found at http://crossandcosmos.blogspot.com/2014/10/all-saints-day-activity-timeline-of.html



In the second verse, there is another possibility that we (my wife, Pam and I) have encountered from time to time – the glorious evangelism of children brought up in the faith. We know from older friends, who in their childhood lived in comparative isolation in a home where the only book was a Bible, that many of the games they played were Biblically based (an opportunity to dig a hole and put your brother into it, for example!). This notion of children playing such a part resonates with Matthew 11.16 (children playing) but even more so with Matthew 18.3, Matthew 19.4 and similar passages in Mark and Luke. (Unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven).

Saturday, 27 October 2018

What's in a word? A reflection by Tracy Williamson


The thought came to me today, 'What's in a word?'
A voice, a short explosion of sound;
one syllable, two, three or four
A second of hanging in the air
Resonating
Then gone.
A mark upon a page, letters, shapes sounds,  a line upon a computer.
A word - not much in itself
But when joined in familial bonding, one linked to another,
Dominoes of words together, rising  to create a dynasty
Falling to shatter a world.
A name, a fact, a description, an action, a hint of something more.
What's in a word?
Emotion, heart, love, creation, desire, cruelty, passion, power
His Word in me.
His Word in me
Yet I am deaf and words are meaningless to me
When spoken.
Yet I love them
And miss them
And my heart longs to be part of them.
And so, when I speak words
And write them
My heart leaps, for
His call to me is to give His Word away
To speak His power, love and grace into being
And to write it
There is that word that comes and goes so quickly
It may as well never been spoken.
But there is another word, which comes pregnant with meaning
And life.
One word, one sound, one group of shapes,
Nothing in itself,
Yet linked with others is
Full of power that can be terrifying
or beautifully life giving.
Depicting joy shattered or
Creating hope, laughter and love.

For God Spoke and His Word went forth
birthing universes.
Mountains, oceans, landscapes and ladybirds
Galaxies, deserts, elephants and wasps,
Love, Joy, Anger, Fear
And me.
He spoke life into me
His word brought cells together
His word saturated my DNA
His Words murmured personality, eye colour, lash length, mental agility
Love of beauty,  of dogs,  of Him.
Hatred of hate, love of words, hatred of mockery..
All formed within me through His word
spoken in love, sung over me, spoken in birthing power.
His Word in me
His Word through me
Spoken
Written
Bringing life.



Tracy Williamson is an author and speaker working together with blind Gospel singer Marilyn Baker for MBM Trust.  www.mbm-ministries.org  Tracy who is deaf and partially sighted shares a home with Marilyn and their 2 assistance dogs in Kent.  Tracy's 6th book The Father's Kiss was published in Sept 18.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Location, location, location... by Eve Lockett


Last month, we spent a week in a small cottage not far from St Ives in Cornwall. During the one wet day of our holiday we visited Barbara Hepworth’s studio and garden to enjoy her sculptures and pick up the atmosphere of the place where she worked. It happened we arrived just as a guide was beginning her talk, and we joined the group, steaming gently as we 
dried out.
Hepworth’s own writings express how her relationship with nature, and St Ives in particular, was integral to her work. She discovered in St Ives a likeness to the North Yorkshire coast where she holidayed as a child, but with the additional quality of Cornish light. The seashore, the cliffs, the pebbles, the waves and the sky all provided her with endless inspiration. She also created her own unique and exquisite garden to complement her sculptures. In the mild Cornish climate, Hepworth was able to work outdoors on her sculpting all 
year round.
This love of the world around her was bound up with her understanding of her work in terms of spirituality. She said she used to worry that a sculptor was the maker of graven images, but decided it was only a sin when ‘the image sought to elevate the pretensions of man instead of man praising God and his universe. Every work in sculpture is, and must be, an act of praise.’
Hepworth believed the best work had a special sense of timeless praising and affirmative creation. She said, ‘it is perhaps the difference between thinking one is a god or believing that one should reflect God.’
Writers, too, sometimes have a strong spiritual association with their location. The poet and author George Mackay Brown lived most of his life in Stromness on Orkney, and only occasionally visited the mainland, once even coming to Oxford. Born in 1921, the son of a postman, he suffered from TB and, later in life, bouts of depression. He also had a growing awareness of his need for God, and converted to 
Roman Catholicism. 
The Orkneys were not only the backdrop to his life but also the greatest influence on his writing. Seamus Heaney declared, ‘He transforms everything by passing it through the eye of the needle of Orkney.’ Again, this link with the physical world had a spiritual dimension. Brown described his collection of poems Following a Larkas written mainly in praise of the Orkney light and, he says, ‘to glorify in a small way the Light behind the light.’

So many other artists and writers (and composers) have linked their work to their location: the Stour Valley which inspired Constable; Monet’s garden at Giverny; R.S. Thomas and his deep passion for rural Wales; Thomas Hardy and Dorset. 
Is it that some writers and artists are particularly drawn to the physical world around them, or is it that some places are in themselves inspirational, and draw the artists and writers? I don’t feel I refer to my location at all when I write. Is that something to do with me, or the place where I live? Should I start searching for the location that inspires? Or take a fresh and deeper look at the world around me?
Here is an example of George Mackay Brown’s poetry, deeply simple and lingering in the mind. It is about a new house and its ceremonies, but it also has a further level as the living of 
life itself.

In the finished house a flame is brought to the hearth. 
Then a table, between door and window 
Where a stranger will eat before the men of the house. 
A bed is laid in a secret corner 
For the three agonies – love, birth, death – 
That are made beautiful with ceremony. 
The neighbours come with gifts – 
A set of cups, a calendar, some chairs. 
A fiddle is hung at the wall. 
A girl puts lucky salt in a dish. 
The cupboard will have its loaf and bottle, come winter. 
On the seventh morning 
One spills water of blessing over the threshold.


Thursday, 25 October 2018

Treasure in the mundane - by Eileen Padmore

In the final weeks of our course on personal spiritual development, we were encouraged to attempt a 'retreat in daily life'.  Week six guided us to pray for the grace, 'that I may recognise him in all aspects of my life'.

'Great', thought I – in ignorance.  My mind went into sensory overdrive. Yes!  I would take time out, surrounded by butterfly hopping sun drenched flowers, aromatic herbs, chattering birds, trickling streams ..... somewhere in the fabulous Yorkshire Dales ........ steaming mug of fresh coffee in hand ......

That was before I actually read the four set Bible passages and reflected on the dramatic newspaper headlines those ancient events and teachings might generate today:

'Toe-Rag tax collector pays back huge dividends.'

'Meal for one feeds 5,000.'

'Ten lepers claim magic cure.'

'Crank preacher says sell all now and gamble on the hereafter.'

Not exactly accurate reporting, but the news got distorted even then.  And Jesus was always in the headlines!  Wherever he went, the established order got messed up, driving priests and politicians into a frenzy.

So what on earth does it mean to recognise him in all aspects of my life?  And even if that is remotely achievable, will it provoke the same antagonisms?  I don't want my life turned upside down.

I turned to my Ignatian 'Pray as you go' app for enlightenment.  Sung in Latin, the Taize chant soothed – but in translation, it shredded my comfort again.

'Jesus Christ, inner light, do not let my darkness speak to me,
Jesus Christ, inner light, let me welcome your love.'

Inner darkness?  Me?  Maybe .......  Did I sometimes let it overcome the light?  You know the sort of thing: the voice that says:  'why bother,?  'you don't count',  'it won't make any difference',  'leave it to others', 'you'll fail anyway'.  Ignatius calls it 'desolation' which is about direction of travel, away from God.

Could it be that sometimes I prefer the darkness?  Does it feel safer?  Do I listen to that voice when it comes to writing?  'There are others much better than you',  'wait for inspiration', 'Do it for enjoyment, as a hobby – that way it's much easier'.

How about the opposite then?  Welcoming the inner light of God's love in 'consolation'.  Might this mean turning from 'safety' towards God – to discern his presence and listen to his voice when you know there is something to write about – even if it stirs things up.

The warm, fluffy feeling is good when it comes, but may give the lie to a state of 'desolation'.  'Consolation' can be joyful, but might also be painful.  Jesus warned us about trouble in this world.

'That I may recognise him in all aspects of my life'.  Hmmm ...... definitely a work in progress.





Eileen Padmore has retired from a life spent in health care and academia, working 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.







Wednesday, 24 October 2018

The icing on the cake



Like the profanest of mockers of a cake

Psalm 35:16, RSV margin

Cake conflict

The middle section of Mari Howard’s novel Baby, Baby, features four cakes, all made in the manse of the fundamentalist pastor, Alisdair Mullins. His wife Fee bakes the first one, an angel cake, as dessert for her son Max’s homecoming tea, but its end is untimely: the twin younger brothers steal it and eat it in their treehouse. The second cake is a replacement for the first, made, to general admiration, by Max’s girlfriend Jenny, after Fee has developed a migraine. The third cake is a chocolate one baked by Fee for late-night supper, but it is hijacked by Alisdair to be served at a session of baptismal counselling with his protégés Colin and Rachel. Happily the others in the manse get to eat the remains of it at supper time, though by then Jenny is bemused by what seems to be an evangelical cake obsession. Alongside all this the last cake is having an even more dramatic career. It is a rich fruit cake, lovingly baked by Fee for the forthcoming christening of her first grandchild, the son of her eldest daughter Erin. But in a moment of all round embarrassment at teatime, when Max has sprung his engagement on everyone, including Jenny, Alisdair intervenes and directs that the cake should instead be set aside for the baptism of Colin and Rachel’s adopted baby, Nathaniel. Max, Jenny, and obnoxious young cousin Chrissie duly arrive with cake in hand at Rachel’s: but in a moment of confusion as she tries to conceal a shameful mishap from them, the cake is dropped and smashed to pieces on the rockery.

Cake mix

Cakes are intrinsically trivial and comic. To me the misadventures of these Christian cakes symbolise the way that people of faith often get matters terribly mixed up. We treat trivia or secondary matters as primary, and by doing so, neglect the deepest and most fundamental principles. (‘You tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.’) Redirecting the two cakes is Pastor Mullins’s unconscious way of asserting his presumed ‘headship’ over his wife, his family, and his congregation. He wields this weapon almost petulantly when he sees his son acting autonomously and, moreover, choosing a partner from outside the fold, as his older sister has previously done. The smashed cake reflects the total disaster of Alisdair’s scheme of promoting the marriage of the sadly immature young couple, Colin and Rachel, the outcome of which is a criminal assault of the wife by the husband. But Jenny’s generous (one could even say merciful) intervention over the angel cake conceals the sin of the twin brothers from their father.

Embed from Getty Images

Justice

Life and art have a surprising relationship. I believe that part of the inspiration for this cake episode was a split that really occurred in a church attended by the parents of a friend of Mari’s over the provision of cakes. But recently we have seen a national cake incident which had the potential for placing people of faith in a ridiculous light. I refer of course to the case of the Northern Irish Evangelical bakers prosecuted for refusing to make a cake for a client who wanted a pro-Gay slogan on the top. Now I think their vindication on appeal was the right judgement. I think a Jewish (or Christian, or Muslim) baker would be right to refuse to decorate a cake with a message advocating antisemitism, and equally a humanist baker would be justified in refusing to decorate a cake advocating Christianity, or a Brexiteer baker refusing to do one proclaiming ‘Remain’. This is a matter of basic civil justice. People should not be forced to promote a belief to which they are opposed. It has nothing directly to do with faith in Jesus Christ except in so far as that faith requires us to promote justice for all people. 

Just icing

I can completely understand the Irish bakers regarding their acquittal as an answer to prayer. They are grateful to God for reversing a seriously unjust sentence. But I also think that treating an inscription in cake icing as a manifestation of the battle between good and evil, especially when the ‘evil’ is a phenomenon that the world at large believes to be normal and natural, risks turning the Christian faith into a laughing stock. We Christians seldom pick our battlefields wisely. God is calling us to be good neighbours to those who fall among thieves and robbers, rather than their judges. Let’s not get stuck with the icing on the cake.

And, no, I don’t know what the Hebrew text of Psalm 35:16 means, but it has always amused me.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Letter to the weary - by Helen Murray

Hey.

You there. Feeling overwhelmed; weighed down. This is for you. 

I know that you're so, so tired. 

I know that you've got static in your head right now; thoughts going round and round and I know that it's all jumbled up and confused and you've given up trying to make sense of things. I know that you feel that everything is going wrong and that you're further than ever from where you want to be. I know that you're exhausted trying to keep up with your racing thoughts as you struggle to work out what to do next; what to say, where to go, what to think, what your next move should be. 

I have a message for you. 

You're not on your own. I know what you're going through and I am right there with you, even in the dark. I never lose my way, and I will not allow you to be lost either, because you are my beloved child. 
'...even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.'
Psalm 139:12
You know when they tell you that the darkest hour is just before dawn, and that at the moment that you think you simply can't keep going any longer - that's when daylight might break over the horizon?  

I love the image and the compassion behind what they tell you, but it's not as simple as that. It's not a matter of holding your breath until you can see again. Only I know how long the darkness will last. It might be that at any moment glorious light will flood your life and everything will fall into place, or it could be that you can't see the way forward for quite some time. Don't be afraid of the darkness. I am in the darkness as well. Is there anywhere I can't go?

I want you to learn to breathe, even when it's dark. I want to show you how to be so calm, so still, that you can see the pinpricks of light in the night sky. I want to give you eyes to see: I want to show you the stars. 

I'm teaching you about trust.

When you are still enough, close enough, you can learn to find beauty even when your eyes cannot make out anything else. There is beauty in the dark too, because I am there.

I see you agitated because you can't see, because you don't know. I see you struggle to make sense of life, trying with all your mind to understand things that are out of your control. 

Stop. Be still. I will fight for you.
'The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.   Exodus 14:14
There are times for dynamic action. When you can see the path ahead and you know what you need to do, these are full-speed-ahead times. There are other times when I want you to do nothing. Times to hide in the shadow of my wing; close to me. Safe. Lean against me and do nothing but listen for my heartbeat. You're always asking me what to do - Lord, what should I do? - but doing is not always what is necessary.

Sometimes I want you to stop, just sit with me for a while.

When it's dark and confusing your instinct to rush off can cause you to trip over things, to dash off in the wrong direction and I would save you that.
'Be still and know that I am God.'
Psalm 46:10 
Stop thinking that it all depends on you. You are not responsible for other people. You're not responsible for their happiness, or their success, or their opinion of you. You answer to me and me only, and I say - stop. Just for a while. I am here.

Stop striving. None of your dreams depends on you. I have the keys to all the doors that you wish would swing open in front of you and my timing is perfect. I know which ones to open and which to leave closed. Trust me, child of mine. I see the end from the beginning - I know the damage that would be done if I gave you all that you ask for when you ask for it. I know you. 

Maybe the dawn is just approaching, or maybe the night will go on for a while yet; that's up to me. You can trust me; I will work it all out for good. I have promised. If the darkness persists, then that too is under my control and I want you to come close to me and hold on tightly. 
'But those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not be weary; they will walk and not be faint.'
Isaiah 40:31
I want you to come close and rest; feel the warmth of my arms around you, draw strength from my strength. If you are still enough, if you put aside the hopes and fears and worries and lean into me, you'll hear my voice whispering to you in the dark. Listen to me. I speak words of truth. I guide you. I prepare you. I inspire you. I sing over you, because I love you.

I will give you the strength to carry on. 

I will never leave you alone in the dark. 

With my love

Jesus



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

As well as being a reader and a writer, she is a student of theology, a master of procrastination, a drinker of far too much coffee and a full-time swim mum. If you get a whiff of chlorine while reading the blog, it's probably because it was written on a poolside somewhere. 

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

Monday, 22 October 2018

Lost in Translation? by Emily Owen


Image result for proverbs 12 18         








Last week, I was in Albania. I have friends who are missionaries there and, during my time with them, they asked me to speak to a group about faith and disability and writing. I have experience in all three. What I don’t have experience in is speaking Albanian. Many who came to hear me would not understand English. We needed an interpreter…
The day before I was due to give these sessions, the lady who would be interpreting for me met with me, at her request. We spent time together, discussing how we could work together the following day. I needed her help and guidance; I’ve never spoken via an interpreter in this way before. 
The interpreter had one main thing for me to remember: stop speaking after a couple of sentences, so she could translate. Then I was to say another couple of sentences and pause again. Etc etc.
In the event, I found stopping after saying so little quite difficult – at first. I soon got the hang of it. I have a reputation for being a talker at times, but, when I was in the mindset of pausing, it wasn’t as hard as I’d anticipated.
As Christian writers, we have the privilege of taking things God puts on our hearts, and translating them into words. Perhaps a little like an interpreter.
Do we remember to pause?
The reason my interpreter wanted me to pause, was so she could be sure she didn’t miss anything.  She spent time listening to what I was saying right then. Focussing on it, digesting it, translating it, getting the point across.  Only when she’d finished did I speak the next bit.  Only when she was ready to move on. Had I simply spoken for an hour, then expected her to translate, I’m pretty sure bits would have been missed. They’d have been lost in translation.
Do we, like my interpreter, take time to pause?
To pause before God? 
To digest what he is saying to us, so that, when we come to write, nothing is lost in translation?
A few times, as I spoke, the interpreter stopped me and asked for clarification. She hadn’t quite understood what I’d said, and wanted to be sure she did before attempting to translate it.  She wasn’t embarrassed to stop me.  She wasn’t embarrassed to say, ‘I don’t understand’. 
I didn’t mind her interrupting me; I was glad she did. And she listened as I clarified my meaning. Her one aim was to be sure she translated to the best of her ability. So that nothing got lost.
As writers – and non-writers – sometimes things God puts on our hearts can seem confusing.  
We don’t understand them.  
And we might forget that we can always pause, turn to God and say, ‘I don’t understand’.  
He doesn’t mind, I’m sure of it! 
Then, as we pray in our pausing, asking for clarification and understanding, we are in a place to translate to the best of our ability. 
So that nothing gets lost.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

The beauty of Canada - a travel blog

A typical scene in the Rockies
21." And God said, 'Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds....

29.  'I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the earth and every tree that has fruit seed in it... 

31.  God saw all that he had made, and it was very good... the sixth day."              Genesis 1     



We spent most of last month in Canada, a country that had been on my bucket list for years and finally we decided to 'push the boat out'.   Not literally, but we did board the Star Princess from Whittier in Alaska for a 7 night cruise.

After a day at sea we spent several hours at the Hubbard Glacier which, although retreating, is still five miles wide.

One of my favourite authors, Lesley Pearce in her book 'Gypsy' describes the heroine's hazard journey across Alaska in search of gold.  The story came alive as we ventured the way of the pioneers whose stories and characters were included in the plot. Our adventure used the railway built later and warm and comfortable.
Skagway, the gateway to the goldfields maintains its original atmosphere, it's buildings mostly wooden. The Red Onion Saloon remains a beer parlour, and although women no longer ply their trade upstairs you can see the cribs they lived and worked in. We ate a BBQ under canvas, were similarly entertained sitting on benches and quite cold, but nothing like they had to endure.

Our next stop was Juneau where the ship moored alongisde the main streets with shops selling familiar brands, and dozens of jewellers where,  having not seen the northern lights, Brian bought me a necklace and ear-rings the stones reflecting their colours.

This photo is of the preserved old part of Ketchikan built on stilts over the river.  A broadwalk passes the houses, now shops, and in one we held a lump of gold which was surprisingly heavy and worth about £19,000!  They have 250+ days of rain, but so far we'd bright, warm sunshine.

Two days later in Vancouver we were dogged with rain, not good for photos but bus,sky train and ferry helped us keep dry as we visited the tourist places.  The third day we took this photo from Stanley Park, the sun came out, we ate outside at Lonsdale Key, visited the Sky Tower both afternoon and evening and really liked Gas Town and its famous steam clock.  Next morning we were up at 5.30 am packed and ready for our transport for our two days on the Rocky Mountaineer.

The sky was blue, the sun shone, the views from the train were awesome as we headed for Kamloops and next day Banff. There we used the cable car, and wondered at the top, how without road access, they'd built such a beautiful three-storey building.  After a late lunch we collected our hire car and began our drive up the Iceland Parkway where rain turned to snow!
We stayed overnight in a log cabin where a smattering of snow covered everything, but at the Icefield Centre three inches had fallen.  Vehicles with huge tyres took us to walk on the ten-storey thick glacier, but the Skywalk was colder and we could barely see the mountains encased in cloud.  The roads were quiet, and no ice or snow had been left on them.
After a brief stop in Jasper where there was no snow, we headed to Hinton to stay overnight.  Our 'Gypsy App' had just told us about   the Caribou in mating season being surrounded by females there were twelve in this photo opportunity.  Unfortunately the wolverine in the road, dashed away before I could snap him.
The next morning after removing three inches of snow on the car  it was time to head back.  Again, due to low cloud we missed seeing lakes, valleys and mountains, but we did see caribou, moose and two elks in the road.  And finally on our last day the sun came out for five minutes at Lake Louise enabling us to see the way the colour changed into the vivid colour you see in pictures.  


I've gone passed the usual 500 words, but hope you have enjoyed this taste of Canada.

Ruth Johnson






 







   


Saturday, 20 October 2018

NaNoWriMo Prep

I'm sure most of you have heard of NaNoWriMo and know that it stands for National Novel Writing Month. Their website tells us that in San Fransisco in 1999, twenty one people took part in the very first challenge. The challenge being, to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That's 1667 a day, or 2000 a day if you want a day off each week.

In 2017 there were over 400,000 participants in the November challenge, in six continents. The interactive site and forums are financed by fundraising amongst the participants and sponsorship by a number of writing and publishing based companies. There's merchandise available to buy, and a host of online support groups; as well as 'municipal leaders' who support individuals across the participating regions. There's a whole separate website devoted to younger participants. To 'win' NaNoWriMo, all you have to do is reach the 50,000 word target within the 30 days. There are also two other challenges during the year - CampNaNo runs in April and July, with a word count target of 20,000.

This is my fifth time to participate. I've done one CampNaNo - working on my short story collection. I've also done the November challenge three times. I've worked on two non-fiction projects, making me what's called a 'NaNo Rebel.' This is allowed and encouraged, so that non-novelists can get involved. I have written one novel, and this year my project is a also novel.

I've always been a 'pantser' as opposed to a planner, but this year I'm too busy to risk sitting down with a blank sheet of paper, as I usually do. I feel I need to be ready to write, and have lots of the thinking done, so that the short amount of time I have each day, will be productive and free of panicked staring at my computer screen. So, this year I've taken an active part in the October prep, which in NaNoLand is called 'Preptober.' There are lots of prompts and ideas to help the writer get ready. None of the actual writing should be done, or should be counted if done, but it is a time for working on storyline, setting, characters, scenes, POV etc. In the NaNoWriMo Facebook group, many MANY questions are discussed between participants. Here's a small selection...
  • What should I call my protagonist's horse?
  • What is your main character's favourite colour?
  • Fill in the blank; I was flying on the back of a dragon until ____
  • What would your male MC in his late 30s order at a bar?
  • Anyone willing to share experience with adoption?
  • Does anyone know about herbs?
  • I’m on the hunt for lesser known mythological beings...
  • Is anyone incorporating a deaf character into their story?
Most of the questions are not ones I would ask or can answer, but every so often there is one I can contribute to, and I've enjoyed most of my interactions on the page. 


One of the other things encouraged during Preptober is to think about the book cover. It may not look anything like the eventual actual cover, it's more to encourage contemplations regarding how a story can be summed up in an image. I've never done that before, and found it hugely helpful. I had been struggling with the tone of the story, and the journey the characters would take. The working title, 'Gorse Lodge', came to me straight away, after that I didn't have much. Putting some thought into the cover and (sort of) subtitle, has really helped me formulate my plan.

If you've never thought of taking part in NaNoWriMo, it might feel like it's too late for you now. Maybe in the future, it could be for you. It is a great opportunity to get a lot of words down in a short period of time. Fiction, or non fiction - both can be worked on. And even for poets.. there's NaPoWriMo - 30 poems in 30 days.

I can't wait to get started. l'll be knee-deep in NaNo when my next post comes around.
We'll see if I'm still as chipper about the subject then :D

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.'






Thursday, 18 October 2018

Rediscovering the Joy, by Georgie Tennant


Writing can be a serious business.  If you are dogged by deadlines and your inbox contains an influx of demanding emails from editors, publishers, marketing managers, it can be hard to keep the pure joy of writing alive.  I am not yet in a position to have experienced any of the above – but, as last summer approached, I was struck by a realisation: everything I had written recently was serious and hard-hitting. This was understandable – I have walked paths of pain and loss and writing can be cathartic.  Seeing others connect with it, too, is somehow redemptive.  But sometimes, you need to put all that aside and rediscover the joy.

For the first time, last year, I booked myself onto the ACW annual writing weekend at the beautiful Scargill House in North Yorkshire.  As I left work for the weekend, a colleague spoke some wise words: “I know your writing helps you work things through,” she said, “but try to enjoy yourself – write something just for fun, just for you.”  Her words stayed with me and I did just that.

After a morning of inspiring talks and a bit of private writing time, we had a choice of how we might spend the afternoon.  The workshops on offer, if I recall, were ‘Art,’ ‘African Drumming,’ and some kind of ‘Expressive Dance.’  I was stumped. My stick people don’t even look like stick people, I have about as much rhythm as a toddler at Rhyme Time and – well I’m not even going to try to describe my dancing abilities.  I felt like hopping on the back of the nearest sheep and directing it to the local train station to get me out of there. 

Fortunately, my rescue was imminent.  Martin Horton, inspired by an activity he had done himself, added a last minute workshop to the list.  This one had my name on it.  It is one of my best memories of the whole weekend.  He had come across a poet called Brian Bilston, on Twitter, who had written a poem called ‘Index of First Lines,’ (you can read it here) and had challenged the general public to borrow his first lines as inspiration for their own poems.  Reading his poem was amusement enough, but what followed was just inspired. 
Each of us in attendance, scribbled away, unable to stifle snorts and giggles, as we wrote for the pure and sheer joy of it.  I don’t think anything we produced would gain us first place in any poetry contests, but the level of silliness and enjoyment in that room for that hour were a delight to experience.  Someone wrote about making strudel with her grandmother.  Someone else wrote about the impossible search for missing household items.  My offerings are below.  I don’t promise that they are great literary creations – but I hope they’ll make you chuckle and maybe even inspire you, too, to go off and write something for no other reason than pure, sheer enjoyment.

I am a bowl, chipped at the rim
I am a bowl, chipped at the rim,
I am a lightbulb, low wattage and dim.
I am a spade that’s missing the handle,
I am a flip-flop, not an elegant sandal.
I am a tyre, deflated and flat,
A racquet with snapped strings, no longer a bat.
I am an air bed with a definite leak
A librarian’s door with a very loud squeak.
I am a bowl, chipped at the rim -
Not whole or complete, but still chosen by Him.


Please don’t do that, it’s disgusting 
(based on real - life with my boys!)

Please don’t do that, it’s disgusting.
Why did you think
it was a good idea
to lift the toilet seat
With your tongue?

No, not that either -
Don’t you understand
how many people
have peed in
the jacuzzi water
you’ve just drunk?

Please refrain from that too – 
no – head out
from under his bottom -
You don’t know where it’s been!

I know you didn’t mean to,
but please try
not to fall 
in the dentist’s rubbish bin next time -
it really is quite
awful to think what
might have been in there,
when your head
ended up in there too.


Georgina Tennant is a secondary school English teacher in a Norfolk Comprehensive.  She is married, with two sons, aged 10 and 7 who keep her exceptionally busy. She writes for the ACW ‘Christian Writer’ magazine occasionally, and is a contributor to the ACW-Published ‘New Life: Reflections for Lent,’ and ‘Merry Christmas, Everyone: A festive feast of stories, poems and reflections.’ She writes the ‘Thought for the Week’ for the local newspaper from time to time and also muses about life and loss on her blog: www.somepoemsbygeorgie.blogspot.co.uk