Thursday, 15 November 2018

Hidden Treasures by Keren Dibbens-Wyatt

When my parents moved away a couple of years ago, they kindly left me nine boxes labelled “Keren” they had discovered in their loft. Mostly they were full of university notes and schoolbooks, now happily recycled and living new lives as, well, probably university notes and schoolbooks, but with better karma.

Everyone finds themselves fascinating, it is one of the foibles of the human race, and so it was eye-opening going through my English books and the bits of dried up classroom acrylic that must once have passed as paintings of sorts. The maths and physics books were, for me, the easiest to throw out. The ones with no pictures, or just diagrams. Books of French and German vocabulary too, redundant in the age of Google. History and Religious Studies, that was harder. All those terrible drawings of the Bayeux tapestry and motte and bailey castles, people in togas, or wearing giant phylacteries were rather sweet (or unintentionally funny). But my writing and my art? Nope, couldn’t part with it. Not even the poorly illustrated, badly written and unfortunately named “Amurus and the City of Atlantis,” (age 9) which had my husband and I in fits.

If you read any book about discovering God’s purpose for your life, you will be told to ask yourself what you loved doing as a child, before people told you what you should be doing with your life. It’s a smaller and smaller window of time these days, but those moments where you got lost in the magic of something, what was that? For me, it was always books, it was always colours and nature.  It took me a long time and some ministry to rediscover those joys, after decades of adult cares and pressures, exams and paying the rent, as well as a horrendous neurological illness had wrung them out of me. Grown ups do NOT write and paint. Grown ups go to work and pay the bills.

But some of us escape. Some of us become daring enough to start a sentence, even a paragraph, with a conjunction. And looking back at those delightful stories and poems (there must surely be some kind of institution for 7 year olds who use the word “doth” without compunction?), I felt a kind of affirmation. This strange, sick woman who loves to write, draw and paint, had her roots in a child who devoured Dahl, Lewis and Aiken, this little girl who danced in her imagination so free and wild, and wrote a story (aged five) about two patterns who met and fell in love.  It was so wonderful to find her again.

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

'Lest we forget' by Letitia Mason

Last week my community choir sang in an Armistice Pilgrimage. 

We went to seven local churches 
and a school during the week
offering a selection of poems,
anthems, and hymns to commemorate Armistice. 

Our director had arranged

a beautiful programme; and tears
were shed during the performances.

In addition to singing I was asked to read a poem by 
Wilfred Owen called the Send-off.

A family ancestor
who fought in World War 1

The thoughts expressed in the poem are uncomfortable, and this is reflected in the shifting metre of the lines. I found it difficult to read. Owen’s skill in capturing the glory, the sacrifice and the sadness of war in so few words continues to resonate down the years. A verbal snapshot of an everyday scene; a fly captured in amber, turning the mundane to a glowing gem.

Remembrance poppies will be cast in the bin, but the words and thoughts evoked by reading this poem aloud will last.

Letitia Mason fell in love with East and Central Africa while teaching at a harambee school in Kenya. She has published Lost Children of Cush, a novel of South Sudan. Tish works for Flame International and lives in Surrey with her husband and a crazy dog.   @TishMason1

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

What Do Non-Writers Do With Their Lives?

By Rosemary Johnson

I’ve often wondered. 

I started writing my historical novel, based around the Polish trade union Solidarity, for NanoWriMo 2015 and I finished the third edit - the one which rendered it readable - only at the end of October.  The idea was to attempt NanoWriMo again this year, but, at the last minute, I chickened out… or made a considered and informed decision not to.  The last few weeks and months of it editing were pretty frenetic, fitting editing into any spare moments - when I was tired, when my shoulders and head ached, and when I just didn’t feel like it.  Certainly, the deadline was my own, but I needed to get there.

Now, I’m facing the abyss, with no other immediate writing projects afoot, and an opportunity to re-join the rest of the human race.  I mean, what do they do with their time?  My husband’s a fanatical musician, either playing himself or listening to music on CD or on his computer, all day every day, so he’s no help! 

I’d like to say that I’m doing useful things, but I made the Christmas cake and mincemeat before the last serious bout of editing and, since I finished, my only household achievements have been to clear out the correspondence tray and scrub out the shower.  Have I perhaps dusted down all the short stories I’ve written for my writing group, which are sitting on my computer doing nothing?  No, Dear Reader.  Have I looked into submitting The Novel to a publisher, self-publishing or marketing?  Not that, either.

I’ve had a heavy cold.  Is this an achievement of sorts?  Perhaps the adrenaline which kept me going through the last stages of editing warded off the germs as well.  I’ve still got the cold and I'm exhausted.  Am I taking a proper rest and break from writing?  No.  You see, I can’t not write.  I’m fiddling about.  I’m drawing up a database of characters for my next novel I intend to write, exploring them, jotting down random thoughts.  And reading, which is pure relaxation, although I can’t help observing the techniques authors use.  I love detective fiction (a genre I could never tackle); at the moment, I'm into Joy Ellis’s Fenland Nikky Galena series.  I don’t half fancy her Christian sergeant, Joseph Easter.  But sssh!  Nikki has a thing for him too.

I am determined that one day soon my book(s) will be on the book table at an ACW Writers Day and at Scargill, and this won’t happen without me doing something about it.  I don’t know what non-writers do and I cannot afford to find out.

Rosemary Johnson has had many short stories published, in print and online, amongst other places, The Copperfield Review, Circa and Every Day Fiction.  In real life, she is a part-time IT tutor, living in Suffolk with her husband and cat.  Her cat supports her writing by sitting on her keyboard and deleting large portions of text.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

If, and the Committee of Ways and Means, by Deborah Jenkins

One of the joys of living in this part of the world is the many beautiful National Trust properties within half an hour of our home. The other day we took friends to Batemans, one of our favourites. This was the home of Rudyard Kipling and has a writing room to die for.

If, however, you can manage NOT to die, with envy (or something worse), the house and the story of Kipling's life and writing make fascinating study.

Rudyard Kipling was born in 1865, to John and Alice, new British Empire arrivals in Bombay (now Mumbai), India. His artist parents taught him to love his adopted homeland and encouarged him to roam the local markets, learn the language and connect with the country and its people. Kipling adored India and was traumatised when, at the age of 6, he was sent away to school in England, staying with a foster family who bullied and beat him. His found solace in reading and devoured Daniel Defo, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Wilkie Collins, choosing not to reveal his misery to his parents.

On the verge of a nervous breakdown, the young Rudyard's unhappiness was spotted by a visitor to the house who told his mother. She rushed across to England to rescue her son. After a holiday, Kipling was transferred to a new school in Devon that he loved and it was here that his writing gift began to flourish.

Once he left school, Kipling returned to India where he worked for a local newspaper, writing in his spare time. Plain Tales from the Hills became very popular in England and he returned here to build on its success, meeting an American publisher (Wolcott Balestier) who soon became one of his best friends. Travelling to the US with Balestier, Kipling fell in love with his sister, Carrie, and after marrying, the pair chose to settle in the US, loving their new life together, Carrie giving birth to two daughters within a few years, Josephine (for whom he wrote his Jungle Stories) and Elsie. The Kiplings' lives were turned upside down when Josephine died from pneumonia, at just seven years old. They returned to England where they later had a son, John.

They moved to Bateman's in 1902, having seen an advertisement for the house and travelling down to visit in one of the first automobiles: -

'It was the heartbreaking Locomobile that brought us to the house called 'Bateman's', he wrote in Something of Myself. We had seen an advertisement of her and we reached her down an enlarged rabbit-hole of a lane. At very first sight, the Committee of Ways and Means (Mrs Kipling and himself) said, 'That's her! The only She! Make an honest woman of her - quick! We entered and felt her spirit - her Feng Shui - to be good. We went through every room and felt no shadow of ancient regrets, stifled miseries, nor any menace though the 'new' end of her was three hundred years old.'

'The Committee of Ways and Means'! Just love that...

Kipling went on to write some of his most significant work at Bateman's, including If, Puck of Pook's Hill and The Glory of the Garden. Sadly, tragedy continued to strike. Having lost a daughter, he later used his influence to help his son enlist, in spite of his myopia (1915), only for John to go missing later in the year. His body was never found.

The house remains furnished as it would have been in the Kiplings' day with oak panels, oriental rugs and graceful furniture. There is a touching tribute to John whose room is left as it was - a pile of books, pictures, clothes hanging in the wardrobe.

Kipling had such a difficult life. Privileged, wealthy, he experienced considerable trauma at a young age and enormous loss as an adult. Wandering around his beautiful home, it struck me that he was a writer who, like many of us, seem to have suffered heartache. Does this in fact drive us to write? Does it make us better writers? Can it make the difference between a writer who can connect with readers and one who can't? Looking back at my writing, I think I write better when I'm sad. But I'd rather not be sad.

Can God use people's writing whether they acknowledge Him as the Giver of All Gifts or not? I believe so. Some may consider it overused, or to be, as one paper put it 'jingoistic nonsense' but If is still one of my favourite poems, written as advice for his son, John, in 1909. A different time, a different world, it was written before John's death but contains lines which are all the more powerful in the light of Kipling's losses.

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

Somehow appropriate today too, as we remember those who gave their lives for the last 100 years of peace.

But for us, as writers, those well known lines leap out at me every time: -

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim:
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters both the same...

Ah yes, if...and there's the rub. If I'm going to live like that, I need my Committee of Ways and Means (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) to help me. And you know what? I'll fail and muck it up and get it wrong and feel like dumping the whole lot, at times. But when all is said and done, He will...

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

Click here to see the novella on amazon

My educational articles are here: -

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Suffering sorted - not, by Ben Jeapes

Q: What did Job have in his wardrobe?
A: Three woolly comforters.

There’s a video that keeps popping up on social media of Stephen Fry delivering his opinion of a God who could create a world in which there is bone cancer in children. I won’t put up a link because you can find it through Google with not a lot of effort.

Sadly the people who repost it are usually atheists under the impression that they’ve actually made some kind of point. What Fry doesn’t make clear is how he thinks there could not be bone cancer in children. Cancer of any kind is a malfunction of the natural cell division that we all need to keep on living. Sometimes it goes wrong. Fry’s outrage at innocent suffering is genuine and sincere, and I would say God-given. Sadly his argument isn’t. A God who (a) is so all powerful and transcendent that he could create a world without bone cancer in children simply doesn’t (b) owe Stephen Fry an explanation. This argument boils down to “God can’t exist because if he does then he doesn’t act like I think he should.”

(Not that it’s any of my business how Fry spends his money, but I am pleased to see he’s a supporter of several charities including Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research; blaming a God he doesn’t believe in for something he isn’t prepared to do anything about himself really would be a bit much.)

There, that was easy, wasn’t it? Suffering explained ...

Well, maybe not. An unexpected godfatherly duty I once had to undertake was to write to my godson explaining - or trying - why his father’s cancer wasn’t being healed. Two thousand years of theodicy, for a 12-year-old, summarised on two sides of A4. I came to the conclusion it’s no coincidence that ‘theodicy’ and ‘idiocy’ are such similar words.

One of my early motivations as a Christian writer - many years ago now, I'm pleased to say - was that I would one day be writing the definitive Christian works on ... well, anything and everything, really. Since then I’ve learnt to shut up on a lot of subjects and have become a much better writer, and (I humbly submit) Christian, as a result. On this particular subject I’m very happy to give the last word to another non-believer - the late Sir Terry Pratchett. His 2008 novel Nation manages to be a comedy despite being set on an island whose population is abruptly wiped out by a tsunami. It was written around the time Pratchett experienced his own personal tsunami: a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. This book is Pratchett’s Book of Job - much easier to read, funnier, and coming to the same conclusion. Job, and Nation, show that you can scream WHY? at whoever you do or don't believe in, and either way you get the same answer: “Because. Who’s asking?”

Ben Jeapes took up writing in the mistaken belief that it would be easier than a real job (it isn’t). Hence, as well as being the author of 7 novels and co-author of many more, he has also been a journal editor, book publisher, and technical writer.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Books are Friends by Ros Bayes

Since the last of my children flew the nest just over a year ago, I can truly call my home my own, and do whatever I like with it. So this week I got some friends round to help me. They moved the bed and other furniture out of my guest bedroom and moved it into what had been my youngest daughter’s room, alongside her bed, turning it into a twin room and leaving my little guest room empty. They then moved my desk and all my bookshelves into the former guest room (my daughters had been round a few days before to help me clear all the books off the shelves and pile them on my bedroom floor).

My kitchen-office-diner has been transformed into a kitchen diner. 

My desk used to be where the dresser now is, with the dresser crammed beside the table. Now there’s ample space to manoeuvre my daughter’s wheelchair in what used to be a cramped area. The desk is in the new library-study, with printer, laptop and coffee machine in place ready for use.

And then began the fun part of the exercise – working out how to organise my books on the shelves. What to do with C. S. Lewis? Does he belong in literature or theology? Because when he’s writing theology he’s literary, and when he’s writing literature he’s theological (yes, even his works on mediaeval literature, and his Preface to Paradise Lost). In the end I decided he is sui generis and gave him a section of his own after the literature section and before the theology section.

Books are friends, and I rediscovered many old friends, and had fun putting them in place. I think I can safely say that if you named any book I possess I could now go straight to its place on the shelf without having to hunt for it. I had one tall bookcase, a bit too narrow to be of much use for arranging my books, but it turned out to be perfect for the ones that didn’t fit into any other category, the how-to books, the A level books and children’s books left behind by my daughters, and the old diaries and notebooks.

I couldn’t quite fit all the Christian books into the theology section; there wasn’t enough room for them all. The solution? A shelf dedicated to books by my ACW friends (Amy Boucher Pye, Claire Musters, Lucy Mills, Sue Russell, Mel Menzies, Donna Fletcher Crow, Anne Booth, the Lent reflections book  – and the gift of Dorothea Brande’s “Becoming a Writer”, kindly given to me by Eve Lockett) and hey! Presto – it all fits in. And the empty shelf?  That's ready for my Christmas presents!

 Some books reminded me of old friends and loved ones – books that were gifts, books that belonged to my parents, books I treasured when I was studying English literature and which, besides loving their contents, remind me of a happy time in my life. Yes, books are friends and I’ve enjoyed coming face-to-face with some of them again today.

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

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Fisherman or Pharisee?

Folks, is it just me or do you sometimes feel a bit second rate? A tad not quite as good as that other person? I know God says we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others and that’s very good advice but I’m going to be real here. I do sometimes feel a little lower. When authors such as Emma Carroll, Philip Davies, Abi Elphinstone (input your own choice here) have a new book out I’m delighted for them I really am. In fact, I always buy their new books, love and enjoy them but I also feel a bit of a failure for not having my own out there yet.

Last Sunday, I sat in my village church watching the robed clergy. I stood when they said stand, repeated words they instructed me to repeat, made the required responses to various parts of the liturgy even stood before the bible while one adorned priest read the holy words halfway down the aisle. I know there are many reasons the Church of England follow these rites and traditions and I’m not about to argue the validity of them but I became very aware of being set apart from these noble priests as though I didn’t quite reach their standard. That somehow, my value as a person is less than theirs.

It’s the same in any environment, I suppose. Society is keen to remind me that unless I drive a certain car, live in a particular neighbourhood and my children attend a well-known celebrated school, I am less successful than those that do and therefore inferior. I will never forget the Cambridge don chatting to me during the Law Society meal, enquiring which university I attended. When I named a rather humble little university, he actually turned his back on me! I could have informed him I’d been offered a place at one of the top 5 redbricks, but I declined. Surely, he’s the one with the problem!

I’m only having a little moan. I’m not usually that bothered about all of this and I work hard, trying to accomplish all that God has for me.

Of course, us Christians know God’s view on this. The bible tells us over and over again that we are the head and not the tail, God has no favourites, we should be humble and not envy others. It also says that God’s will be done and I shouldn’t strive for recognition and celebration. But let’s be honest, just once, it would be nice, wouldn’t it?