Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Why blog?

 Authors are often advised to have a blog for readers to engage with. There are other reasons to blog. I know I am not the only ACW member who uses or has used blogging as a way of learning to write better. I joined ACW after I had been blogging for a couple of years.

A post on this blog about a writing day mentioned a member, who introduced herself as “Only a blogger.” Some ACW members, who are just beginning to write, might consider blogging as a way of developing a writing habit. By way of encouragement I decided to write about some of my blogging experience.

The amount I have learned through five and a half years of blogging amazes me. Sometimes there are unexpected technical challenges! Learning how to upload photos, provide links to other blogs or websites and coping with changes introduced by WordPress (not to mention the differences between WordPress and Blogger) all keep the little grey cells working.

Through blogging I have online friends in other countries. 

There are challenges which come round on a regular basis – daily, weekly, monthly or annually. 

The Blogging from A to Z in April Challenge is very friendly. I have taken part from 2013, when I was really a novice (rookie) blogger. One year I managed to complete the challenge on two blogs. Having a theme for A to Z posts is optional, but (for those choosing a theme) there is an additional bogging event – the Theme Reveal. This takes place in March, raises the profile of the challenge and allows people to find blogs they may wish to read. After the challenge is over there is a chance to continue visiting A to Z blogs on a so-called Road Trip. With over a thousand blogs involved it is impossible to read them all. Making one’s blog stand out from the crowd is a further challenge.

I aim to write and schedule my A to Z posts well in advance now. In fact I had an idea for this year’s challenge (which begins on Sunday 1 April, but skips the other four Sundays) at the same time as the idea for this blog post.

Sue's Trifles Bag
A bag from the 1st UK blog awards evening

There are writing prompts on WordPress and elsewhere. The post40bloggers have challenges and link to posts they have appreciated. Various bloggers set up a Linky whereby blogs on a theme (perhaps an inspirational one) may be added. Communities of like-minded people are formed through these initiatives. 

Blogging is said to have peaked in popularity some time ago, but there are still many new posts worth reading. The World Wide Web is a very big place!

I have had spells of blogging daily, but now I normally limit myself to one post a week on Sue’s Trifles and a maximum of two including the Photo Challenge from the Daily Post on Sue’s words and pictures. A spell using the Daily writing prompts from WordPress and later their Blogging U Introduction to poetry course has helped my writing. A balance between writing and the rest of life is required, however.

Are you a blogger? Are you considering blogging? Have you abandoned a blog? Have you done any blogging challenges?

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

How Much Technology?

Do you research the technology in your books?

I'm not just thinking about modern phones and the like, but also historical technology. Have you got the make of the car right, were there telephones in every house in the period your book's set in?

And it's not just 20th century books that you have to be careful with, it's also historical fiction. When were the first windmills built in the British Isles?

There are also various pieces of technology which we wouldn't ascribe to certain periods, but recent archaeology is showing was available. With each passing deacde, it's becoming apparent that the Greeks had more advanced technology than we credit them with. Mechanical devices to help them navigate at sea for one thing and other machines that caused doors on temples to open automatically, using hydraulics.

Were you aware the first fax machine was designed and built in the 19th Century? That parts of the London Underground were electrified before Queen Victoria died?

Elon Musk is developing an underground railway system using air pressure, but Brunel had designed something similar in the 1850s, though the materials available at the time were not sufficient for the purpose.

There are plenty of resources on the internet to help you with research, but some resources you may not be aware of are these.

- The Medieval Machine: Jean Gimpel. One of the first books I read that opened my eyes to how advanced medieval technology was.
- Ancient Discoveries. This series, produced by the History Channel (though my DVDs are from Reader's Digest), covers ancient technology in some detail. Not only does it explain how the machines, such as robots, were built, but also how effective they were. (Also on youtube. Search as: ancient discoveries history channel)
- Ancient Inventions: Terry Jones. A Seventh Art series looking at the various social aspects of the Ancient World (Also on youtube)
- Office for National Statistics and The National Archives. Plenty of information to keep you away from actually writing. How many people had dishwashers in 1980?
- British Library Online. Some of it's free to look at online, other parts require a subscription.
- Cylinder Archive. One of the stranger collections out there, it's an archive of digitised cylinder recordings from America's past.
- Scared Text Archive. Not much missing here. Just about every religion and myth you can think of. And a few you can't. Also covers various forms of mysticism and paranormal events.
- World Digital Library. Lots of ancient texts, old photos.

 Each of these can help you discover the technology of the past and what people are using now. Just be prepared to lose a few days of your life while you do the 'research'.

Monday, 29 January 2018


Do you find change easy to accept? I don’t always.

I find change easier to accept when it comes to writing though.  I see it as necessary development.

I blog for an online magazine and write flash fiction and love both.  Learning to balance the needs of both styles of writing keeps me on my toes! I also look to improve on what I do for both.  There is no such thing as perfect writing, well not in this life by us anyway, but you can strive towards it, knowing every writer is also striving.  (I find it comforting to know I'm not alone here!).

Improving your writing takes time and practice!  Image via Pixabay
I look back at things I've written a while ago and see now where I'd write it differently to improve meaning or see where I could've used fewer words.  All you can do is the best at the time for where you are "at" with your writing but this is a journey.  You move on, having learned from past mistakes, and so your writing does get better.

Being ready to change can improve your writing - image via Pixabay
I started my writing life with lofty ambitions to be a published novelist. I'm still working on that! It can be useful to try different forms of writing before finding out, through trial and plenty of errors, what you're best at. Isn’t it strange you can guarantee plenty of errors in life?  What you can’t guarantee is getting things right!

What will your next writing step be?  Image via Pixabay
I had been writing short stories for Bridge House Publishing and Cafelit when I spotted the latter had issued a 100-word challenge. I decided to give it a go, mainly to see if I could do it, and quickly became addicted to flash fiction. That's where I've been published but I never anticipated this when I started.

The blogging for the online magazine came about as a result of a writer friend suggesting I gave it a go.  I did and I now blog weekly for said magazine, often on writing related topics. So what is the moral of this?

Stretch your wings and see what happens. What have you got to lose?

How will you stretch your writing wings?  Image via Pixabay
Be open to the idea of new challenges and I'm convinced that doesn't just apply to writing.  Accept the trial and error process will take time.  Accept you are going to make mistakes (and probably the same ones more than once) but the process of going through that will bring you, and your writing, on to better things.  That doesn’t just apply to writing either!

Which direction will your writing changes take you?  Image via Pixabay.
Oh and if, writing wise, you're not sure where to start, why not try the ACW competitions? Entering competitions is one of the best ways I know to try ideas out and see what works and what doesn't. Don't fear rejection either. It happens to us all for one thing, sometimes you can get feedback (treasure this, it's always useful), and it is how you learn to change what doesn’t work.

Setting goals, and getting feedback where possible, can be invaluable.  Image via Pixabay.
I review at the end of the year what writing hopes I’d achieved during the previous twelve months.  Sometimes I manage them, sometimes I don’t, but I carry them over into the next year so I can have another go!  Is that cheating? I don't think so!  Sometimes things simply do take longer than expected. Learning to accept that is also part of a writer's development.

How will your writing change and improve?  Image via Pixabay
Good luck with your writing for the coming year. I hope you have many interesting writing challenges ahead of you!

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Where Are We Heading? Driverless Cars and All That by Trevor Thorn

The T Pod ‘concept’ driverless truck
on display at the Detroit Motor Show

We don’t have to look very far in the media to come across articles giving opinions about the many developments about to shape our futures. Some are pretty alarmist, some are very carefully reasoned, but all of them are united in the view that we are approaching a period of change even faster than that of the last couple of decades. To many people that will feel threatening. Others will work on the assumption it will affect others but not themselves. And some will make serious efforts to think the social implications through and publish their ideas for wide and wise consideration. These are articles and broadcasts worth seeking out.

I personally look primarily to The New Scientist and the Science and Tech pages of The Observer together with the Science, Tech and Health pages of the BBC’s news site. These last three change daily and are readily accessible to anyone with a computer. They make it clear that many of the issues around the corner are very profoundly significant . Let’s think very briefly about a few of them.

In my heading, I talk of driverless cars. They are probably closer than most of us would expect (even despite the fact that as I was loading this to the ACW site, news came in of two separate driverless car crashes!). They have an important adjunct. Driverless lorries are a logical extension and at the Detroit Motor Show a ‘concept’ lorry is on display which has no windows and no space for a driver. Called the T Pod, all the space that a driver’s cab absorbs in a conventional vehicle both for driving and overnighting can be used for goods. For transportation companies it is probably a ‘no brainer’ to change, especially as such vehicles will be able to be driven in convoy along motorways thus reducing ‘drag’ on all but the leading vehicle, and then single lorries in the convoy will be able to peel off when close to their final destination. It sounds astonishing and legal systems are going to need to change rapidly to accommodate such changes: that is the responsibility of governments. But, more disturbingly, there are going to be far, far fewer driving jobs of both lorries and cars/ taxis and I wonder if the church will have anything to offer so many rapidly displaced men and women.

The whole area of robotics allied with artificial intelligence poses further big questions. There are aspects such as search and rescue in disaster zones where drones and carefully programmed excavating robots will bring major benefits. There will also be huge changes to help in the home and it is an oft repeated theme that we can expect that robots will soon be found in care for the elderly situations. It is impossible to dream out every possible application – but there are very many indeed and some will bring ethical questions in their wake.

Finally, but probably most importantly, in this very brief glimpse, comes the whole arena of climatology and ecology. The huge problem of plastic waste in the seas has been brought into prominence partly by the careful thinking behind ‘Blue Planet’ and we should be grateful for that. There is also the issue of rising sea levels and their cause. These two issues alone give rise to many, many questions, one of which is how good we Christians are as stewards. Our earth is a unique and amazing gift and surely we should be making our gratitude for it clear by our actions and words.

Perhaps this is later than usual for a new year resolution, but a determined effort to keep these thoughts and appropriate actions at the forefront of our minds can be a gift, not only to our generation but, perhaps more importantly, to those of younger generations who are going to feel the impact of these changes as they grow to maturity and have to cope with the rapidity of them. Even small changes to our habits can undoubtedly be beneficial Kingdom actions.

More thoughts on these topics can be found at Eco-verses

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Learning to Breathe, by Lucy Mills

You'd think that breathing is automatic - and generally speaking, it is! But I've known those who have had to 're-learn' to breathe, for health reasons; and we are often advised to breathe 'properly' - i.e. down below your diaphragm so that it is your stomach that rises and falls as you breathe deeply, not shallow breathing so that your rib cage is the bit that moves.

I suspect you are thinking: analogy alert! And yes, you'd be right, although by all means go away and practise slowing and deepening your breathing - that may well benefit you.

At the moment I am embracing my word for the year, which is 'space' (see my post on that here). I wasn't aware, when I chose it, how I would interact with the idea as much as I have - so far, at least.

After a year of book writing and publishing, I was wiped out, then a virus caught hold of me over Christmas (hence no post from me last month!). As, like some readers of this blog, I have CFS/ME to deal with, this means my batteries are very low at the moment.

I've decided that's OK. My mind has been going at full pelt, and although in some ways life remains busy there is enough flexibility for me to spread things out a bit and re-learn to breathe, as it were.

I don't anticipate getting it right straight away.

When you're dealing with momentum, a certain amount of staggering before stopping is inevitable! Likewise, I may still breathe too fast and too shallow for a while.

But I am at least aware that I need cushion myself with space - to re-find a pausing, a peace that will recharge me as a person, as a Christian, as a writer.

Are you in need of a recharge? Some of us need it more than others, I suspect. Just like extroverts thrive on people-time and introverts derive energy from alone-time there will be those of us who find their strength in space, and those who are propelled by activity. Knowing and understanding how we tick will help us find the right prescription.

For me I need to wriggle and writhe for a while, like someone getting caffeine out of their system - I need to stop, but it's quite normal to feel jittery and fidgety about it. Withdrawing from the treadmill can result in...well...withdrawal.

And there are things in my life where I can't just press stop - as I'm sure is the case for you.  So then it becomes about looking at my life and my rhythm and see what tweaks I can make - not imposing a template from someone else. That never works, as far as I am concerned. I need to find my own method, and that changes over time. What worked for me five years ago doesn't now. I'm always changing.

So where am I going with this?  Forgive me if I ramble. It's a snapshot into my mind, I suppose, a slightly frazzled mind, which has overdosed on words and thinking and pushing towards deadlines. Let me feel fried for a bit. That's OK. I have permission.

And when I'm ready, when my mind has slowed, when I have learned how to breathe again - then maybe God will whisper - hey, look at this new thing I'm doing...


Lucy Mills
Lucy's first book, Forgetful Heart: remembering God in a distracted world, was published in 2014. Undivided Heart: finding meaning and motivation in Christ came out in October 2017.

Lucy writes articles, poetry and prayers for various publications and is Editorial Co-ordinator at magnet magazine.

Lucy on Twitter: @lucymills
Lucy's Facebook page
Lucy on Instagram: @lucymillswriter

More than Writer posts in 2017:

Friday, 26 January 2018

Series Potential

By Fiona Veitch Smith

When pitching a book to an agent or publisher, a question often asked is: is there series potential? Although I am a fiction author, I know this applies to non-fiction too.


Non-fiction series

A search of any publisher’s website – an absolute must if you are planning on writing a book which you hope will one day be sold – shows that both fiction and non-fiction series dominate their lists. I remember once pitching a non-fiction book to a number of publishers and I was asked if it would fit in with any of their existing series or imprints. I quickly went and checked their lists and discovered that my book might very well have fit in terms of subject matter, but it had been written in a very different style. It was suggested I rework my book to the existing style and re-submit. As my fiction career began to take off at that time, I never got around to the rewrite.

 But the experience taught me something: if you want to get published you would be well advised to cut your clothes to your cloth. Writing for an existing series increases your chance of getting published. Writing your book first then checking to see if it fits in, decreases it. This is not to say there is no room for original books that stand out as different, but publishers are nervous about taking a chance on a completely new name. Being a new name but writing for an existing series, minimises the risk.

Click through here for examples of series published by DLT and SPCK.

Fiction series

I have authored three children’s series (one as a ghostwriter) and one adult series. In addition to that I have two adult stand-alones and one children’s standalone. Sales figures tell me the series always do better than the standalones. Unless you are very lucky (perhaps I should say ‘blessed’ as this is a Christian forum J ) a standalone title has a short shelf life. The majority of sales take place in the first year; thereafter they slow down, sometimes, sadly, to a standstill. However, with each new book in a series that is released, interest in the earlier books (the back list) is renewed. As an example, sales of my first two books in the Poppy Denby series had slowed by last summer, but with the release of the third book, The Death Beat, in the autumn, the first two books started selling again. Hence why publishers are interested in series: they build a following of dedicated readers. The same is true of my picturebook series of Young David and Young Joseph books – each new release stimulates sales of the older books. The flip side of this, for a writer, is that you may feel tied in to producing another book in the same series when you want to branch out into something new. But despite that, I feel that the advantages definitely outweigh the disadvantages.

Click through here for examples of series published by Lion Fiction.

Fiona Veitch Smith is a writer and writing tutor, based in Newcastle upon Tyne.. Her mystery novel The Jazz Files, the first in the Poppy Denby Investigates Series (Lion Fiction) was shortlisted for the CWA Historical Dagger award in 2016. The second book, The Kill Fee was a finalist for the Foreword Review mystery novel of the year 2016/17, and the third, The Death Beat, is out now. Her novel Pilate’s Daughter  a historical love story set in Roman Palestine, is published by Endeavour Press and her coming-of-age literary thriller about apartheid South Africa, The Peace Garden, is self-published under the Crafty Publishing imprint. Her children’s books The Young David Series and the Young Joseph Series  are published by SPCK. 

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Small Beginnings, by Fiona Lloyd

(With apologies to the ACW committee, who have heard some of these thoughts before!)

What can you do with one of these?

Answer: probably not much, apart from causing extreme pain to a family member if you happen to leave it lying around on the floor. Add a few more, though, and it’s a different story (or maybe even a different storey). A varied collection of bricks – especially when coupled with an active imagination – can result in all sorts of spectacular edifices.

As a child, I loved playing with Lego, although I generally preferred designing things for myself rather than following a set of instructions. But every model, whatever the size, started out a with a single brick.

There’s a good analogy here for our writing: every novel, every poem, every blog post has to start from a single word. Now, you may call me sad, but flicking through a dictionary has me quivering with excitement. Words fascinate me. However, there’s a limited amount to what one word on its own can achieve. (Not that this seems to discourage teenagers…) But if we take a word and add another, and another, and so on, our words turn into sentences. Sentences become paragraphs, which grow to become articles, short stories or even chapters in a 200,000 word novel.

Another ACW member took to Facebook the other day to share how hard she found it to get the opening sentence right for her new novel. Thankfully, she got there in the end, but it demonstrates how tough it can be to find the precise word or phrase we are looking for. But if we don’t persevere and get at least one word on the page, then we’ll never get anywhere.

There’s a well-known verse in Zechariah which talks about beginnings, and starting small. Last week, I re-read it in the New Living Translation, and it was the second part of the verse that caught my attention: Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…(Zechariah 4: 10, NLT).

As Christian writers, we believe that God has called us to write for Him. This doesn’t mean that our work has to be overtly religious: rather that we view everything we do – including our writing – through the lens of faith. How amazing, then, to realise that God gets excited every time we set pen to paper. One word on its own might not seem much, but the potential it offers is mind-blowing.

Fiona Lloyd is vice-chair of the Association of Christian Writers, and is married with three grown-up children. Her first novel, The Diary of a (trying to be holy) Mum, was published by Instant Apostle on 18th January 2018. Fiona has also had short stories published in Woman Alive and Writers’ News, and has written articles for Christian Writer and Together Magazine. Fiona works part-time as a music teacher, and is a member of the worship-leading team at her local church.

Twitter: @FionaJLloyd & @FionaLloyd16

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Voices from the Past

Long before it became fashionable, my father intermittently kept a journal. He began it in 1937–8 when he was 21 to 22 years old. He was starting on a momentous stage in his life and wanted to record his aims, his progress, his reflections, and (to some extent) his experiences.

Journal page describing Hitler’s speech
I have no idea whether he ever went back and reread what he had written years before. I knew nothing about it until I collected up his papers after his death, thirty-five and a half years ago. There was a great deal that was interesting in the journal, so I began to transcribe it. But it seemed that he hardly threw anything away. Along with the journal I found many pocket diaries, the earliest also from 1937 and 1938. More recently I decided to transcribe the entries from these as well: I thought that they would cast light on the journal. My father’s handwriting was at times almost illegible, so the cross-references help with interpretation. Frequently I wondered if this was the best use of my time, but the insights into both the man and his times became more and more interesting.

I have another treasure too. There’s a whole series of letters from his brothers and sisters covering very much the same period, and recently a cousin of mine sent me photocopies of several more letters, this time from my father to her mother (his sister) and some other family members. Set alongside the journal and the diaries, a 3-D picture is beginning to emerge.

When I was growing up, I hardly knew my father’s family. He had six siblings (and as a result  I have 15 cousins), but he was the only one to come to this country. He came at a very young age to gain a postgraduate degree and build a career, possibly in public health (though in the end he took a slightly different direction). He came from a humble family, the only one to pass through higher education. He was determined both to better himself intellectually and culturally and to uplift the whole family. They in turn made sacrifices to give him this opportunity.

The materials I have described give me a window into a close and loving family; the loneliness of a young man in a strange country who has left not only his family but also his fiancee behind; the family’s support and encouragement, willing him to make the very best of himself.

And also: what a time to arrive in Europe! On his way to England he visited Italy and Germany and saw at first hand what was happening. After a visit home in 1938 he returned to experience the Munich crisis. Gas masks were issued, sandbags piled against buildings, anti-aircraft guns were in the London parks. He describes the atmosphere in the streets, and a speech by Hitler which he heard on the radio. He records his determination to undergo medical training in the event of war.

It is both sobering and heartening to be able to read the thoughts of these young people on the brink of dark events that they could hardly guess at. They come to me and my family as we too peer into a future that looks pretty dark, though, please God, not as dark as 1939–45.

And this seems to me one of the best reasons for keeping some kind of journal and for preserving family correspondence. If your recorded thoughts are of the right quality, and especially, if as a Christian they witness to the grace of God changing and directing your life, they will enrich, encourage, and inspire your children or grandchildren when they are up against challenges similar to those that you met and endured long before.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Swimming in the ocean: a penny-drop moment - by Helen Murray

Well, January not yet done, so is it alright still to be mulling over New Year Resolutions, do you think?

My New Year Resolution, if you can call if that, is to love God more. I thought I'd go for something big this year. Specifically, to try to see what it means to love Him with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind. I suspect this is a life's work, if not more than that, but the last few years have led me here, and I think that everything that's important kind of stems from this, the first and greatest commandment.

Years ago, I read a book by Margaret Silf, called  'The Gift of Prayer: Embracing the Sacred in the Everyday'. I've no idea why but my eye was drawn to it again the other day. I had asked God what I could do to love Him more, and I think He began to answer me my reminding me of the wisdom in these pages.

The author talks about prayer as a belonging, a coming to stillness; it's about listening and learning to live reflectively. Each of the little sections is beautifully expressed but the one that stopped me in my tracks was the heading:

'Prayer is a Gift, not an Achievement'

This is what Margaret Silf has to say:

'There is one more commonly held notion
that we may need to let go.

We were told from earliest childhood 
that we would have to work to achieve our dreams.
Our so-called work ethic
is all about personal achievement.

No wonder then, that we expect prayer to work
the same way.
The harder we work at it, we think,
the better it will be.
If it doesn't seem to be 'working', it must be our fault.
We must be doing something wrong.

But suppose prayer were more like love than work?
Suppose it were something that is simply given,
and all we are asked to do is to be open to receive it,
and respond to the gifting?'

Well, I have always been an achiever - lots of exams and qualifications and measurable outcomes. I'm a 'completer/finisher'. I've always tried hard: my writing is neat, I listened in class. I've always believed that if you do your best and persevere then you'll get there eventually. 'If at first you don't succeed, practice makes perfect (and it has to be perfect!) and all that stuff.  

If something goes doesn't go to plan, I assume that it's probably my fault.  Just as Ms Silf says, if it doesn't work, then I must be doing something wrong. I've never expected things to drop into my lap without effort - I've always accepted that I've had to work and I've heard it said that nothing worth doing is easy. So can it be true that prayer is not like work?

I certainly make it hard work. I have often laboured over my prayers and made heavy weather of the whole thing.

Where should I pray? 

How should I pray? 

Is it ok to write down my prayers? 

Surely I should have some sort of on-my-knees-hands-tightly-clasped times of prayer (preferably with an agonised look of intense concentration) as well? 

How about the times when I 'pray' without  feeling my prayer?

Without the sense of presence that I sometimes get?

Without the conviction? Does that count?
What about the times that I fall asleep mid-way through a prayer? How rude.

What about the times when my prayers are just a list of complaints and requests? How selfish.

What about the times when I try to be quiet and listen and then I get distracted so quickly? How superficial.

What about the times when it all seems too much like hard work and I give up and go and do something else? How lightweight I am.

With all my heart and all my soul and all my mind? Yeah, right. Can it be that prayer is not like that?

A gift?

Like love. I met my husband and we were friends before we fell in love. I didn't realise for ages that I loved him. He asked me out three times before I said yes. My love for him crept up on me. I didn't do anything; and it certainly wasn't like work. In fact, his predecessor had been much harder work and it's one of the ways that I knew (eventually) that this one was right for me; I didn't have to try hard. I didn't have to work at being interesting or someone other than me; being with him was easy and comfortable and before I knew it I couldn't imagine wanting to be anywhere else. 

Love was a gift. A gift from him to me, and from me to him. A gift from God, certainly. A blessing. I didn't do anything. I didn't work for it. I realised one day, somewhat belatedly, that I had it. 

Prayer is like that, the author says. 

'There is nothing we can do to earn another person's love
or achieve it by hard work,
or pass an exam to obtain it,
or compel it in any other way.

We can only receive it with a joyful heart,
and respond to it with a generous life.

And so it is with prayer.

Prayer is God's gift,
and never our own achievement.'

Now, if this is true, part of my heart leaps with joy at the idea that I am freed from the pressure of trying and failing, and the other bit of my heart sinks as at least I understand the concept of passing exams. I know where I am with exams. You do the work, you pass the exam, no?

So I wanted this gift when I first read the book years ago. I asked God if He would please give me this wonderful gift. I asked Him again as He once again opened my eyes to the truth of it.

And here's the penny-drop point. The moment of apokalupsis - literally 'uncovering': when the veil is lifted; when head-knowledge becomes heart-knowledge. The point at which you suddenly understand something that you've known for years - a revelation.

God has given me the gift already. He's given it to all of us; every one of us who ever wondered about prayer - what to do, how to do it, whether we're doing it right. To every one who ever glimpsed who He is and turned to face Him with a whispered, 'Yes, Lord.'

The author goes on:

'Everybody who ever tries to pray
is convinced that everyone else is doing it better!'

Ain't that the way?  I look around my church and everyone without exception seems to have more of a handle on prayer than me. Some people seem to find it so easy. Some people seem to do so much praying. I wish my prayer life was like his, or hers...

'It isn't true, of course,
because the love of God is the ocean in which we all swim.
All we can do is become more aware
of the reality of that ocean
and let this awareness inform the way we live.'

How beautiful is that? We are all swimming in the ocean of God's love. It's not about getting it right. It's about spending time in the water. The more time I spent with my husband-to-be, the more I got to know him. The more I knew him, the more I loved him. The more time I spend with my heavenly Father, the more I get to know Him. The more I know Him, the more I love Him.

So, this gift, Lord God. Prayer. As I read and write this, as I try to invite You into all the stress and strain of my daily life and practice your presence all the time instead of squashing you into the bleary tail end of my day, help me to unwrap the endless layers of the gift you've given me.

I want to swim in the ocean of your love, dive right down further and further and discover the treasures hidden in the deepest, darkest places. I want to go right under and learn to open my eyes to see. I want to float where the tides take me. I want to experience the breadth and width and depth of it. I say yes, Lord. 

Come, Holy Spirit. Teach me to pray. Let it grow and grow until one day I look back and realise that I love You with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind. 


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

Monday, 22 January 2018

Valid Voices by Emily Owen

After I’d spoken at an event, a girl came up to me, wanting me to sign her book. 
She was with a family member, who encouraged the girl to tell me the name to write by fingerspelling it out for me (‘Fingerspelling’ is the sign language alphabet; I am deaf).
I was impressed that the girl knew some sign language, and said so, then turned to watch as she spelled out the name.  She formed the shape required for the first letter using her right hand.
I often try and anticipate words people are spelling after the first letter (something to do with liking words, writing, word games?!) so, before she’d spelled the second letter, I’d already narrowed the options down. I knew the second letter would need two hands to make the required shape.
Which is why I was surprised to see her move her right hand towards the top of her left arm, not towards her left hand.
Using her right hand, she made the next shape against her arm, as though her arm was the flat left palm I’d anticipated.

It was only then that I realised.

The arm I’d assumed was under the left sleeve of her coat, the hand I’d assumed was hidden beneath its length, were not there. 
The sleeve was empty.

And yet, I understood every letter she went on to spell. 

Using a method which worked for her, doing what she could do, was enough. 
It was more than enough.

If that girl had compared herself with the vast majority of fingerspellers, the ones who use two hands, she may well have given up.  What was the point? She could never be like them, so why even try?

But she didn’t do that. 
She didn’t compare.

If I were to constantly compare myself with other writers, maybe I would give up.  Not least because I start a fair few sentences with ‘because’, rebelliously ignoring the voice of my school-days English teacher.

To quote from one of my books, Still Emily; ‘Comparison is one of the most unhelpful things I know’.

I won’t go into the reason behind me saying that (it’s in the book), but it still holds true for me today.

Perhaps, though, in terms of writing, I should add a caveat: Negative comparison is one of the most unhelpful things I know.

Yes, compare with other writers.
Learn from them. 
Look at their style, their use of language, their plot structure. 
But never assume that, just because you’re not like them, you can’t write.
Never assume that your voice is not important.

I spent time over New Year with a friend, and she suggested we watch a film.  Her favourite film of all time.  A film I’d never seen: Dead Poets Society.

*If any one is wondering, I thought it was brilliant.*

In the film comes the following:

Image result for find your own voice quote

‘Find your own voice.’

In life, in writing, in whatever it may be….

 Image result for the powerful play goes on quote

As that girl and I hugged (and posed for a selfie),
I knew, 
without a shadow of a doubt,
that her voice is powerful.    
Her contribution is unique. 
It is individual.
And it is beautiful.

The world – and I – would be poorer without her verse in our story.

Sunday, 21 January 2018

The windows of my mind

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - his good pleasing and perfect will."  Romans 12:2

Each year, in my walk with the Lord I grow in faith and excitement. I find he often works in conjunction with our seasons.  I don’t gather in the harvest, plough and sow fresh seed, but sense He does.  And it is during the latter time He turns over my life and points out issues that maybe I should have, but haven’t dealt with.  Last October I had a growing awareness something wasn’t right, but it took me until early-December before the Lord showed me the windscreen of my mind had been hit, and in gradually cracking it had begun distorting my vision on life.  

I didn’t need to know the cause, but the Lord pointed out that I’d allowed that distortion to affect how I saw people, situations and places, and worse still engage in negative opinions and gossip.  I sat with Him to consider this.  If I was in a car I’d have to push through the cracked glass in order to see where I was going.   If it were at home I’d use the opportunity to replace the glass with double glazing to afford greater protection in the future.

For several mornings I awoke hearing in my mind Dusty Springfield singing the words ‘the windows of my mind’, later to discover the song was ‘windmills of my mind’!   It never ceases to amaze me the things the Lord will use to attract our attention.  I needed a renewing of my mind, and protection from what Joyce Meyer calls ‘stinking thinking’.   The scripture about confessing our sins one to another came to mind.  And I discovered when I did that, and apologised to others for the negative comments and judgements I’d made, I asked the Lord to help me change.     

A good father disciplines his children, but it had taken several months to recognise why I felt what I’d call ‘slightly out of kilter’.  But when I did and obeyed His Word, He told me the replacement would be triple glazed to help me view life through Him, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and draw conclusions from His perspective. 

What a wonderful Christmas gift to know in Him we can enjoy His great love, joy and peace in the midst of a world that has fallen into confusion.  God is everywhere and in everything, and my heart is to choose to release God’s love, blessing and encouragement into all I write and those I meet.  

As 2018, and my birthday arrived, I became aware of a tinge in the triple-glazing which makes the grass look greener, the sky bluer and the sun a deeper glow.  May you, reading this, experience a greater measure of the Lord, and know you have been called for a time such as this.

Ruth Johnson

Saturday, 20 January 2018

The need for encouragement by Sue Russell

I've been thinking about the ongoing need most of us have for encouragement. I guess as writers we beaver away somewhere - a study if we're lucky, a corner of the kitchen table surrounded by dirty dishes if not, or wherever it is we work - alone, at least in our heads, if not in reality. Especially when we are first setting out on this perilous quest, full of traps and pitfalls and replete with disappointments (I remember them all), we need every shred of back-up and cheering-on. Friends who have faith in us, fellow-writers who like our work even when we are struggling, are invaluable.
Like many others I suspect, I have had moments of asking myself, 'Whyever are you putting yourself through this torment? How can you ever succeed in the current climate/against such competition/ when nobody's heard of you?' It's then that someone telling you that you mustn't give up, your work has value, they like it and one day others will too, can make the difference between slogging on and chucking it all in - even though the impetus to write may not have abated one whit!
I am not in the least bit famous. I never will be, barring a miracle, but that's ok. Of course I would like my books to be read more widely, but that's another matter. However, because there have been those gleams of encouragement along the way, because supportive friends have kept me going, because little by little some people have seemed to like my stories, I have battled on in what often seems like a vacuum, and now  those gleams seem to be (for the moment) becoming a little brighter. Sometimes it takes a long time before any kind of recognition comes your way, and you probably have to be prepared for the long haul.
The noble book club
A couple of months ago one of my piano pupils asked me if I would like to be a guest at a meeting of her book club. Since this meant 8 sales in one go, and 8 people reading my book and presumably being willing to give their opinion, I wasn't going to say no. The eventual meeting was enjoyable and instructive, even if I did come home with a thundering headache. But this was book no. 6, and my pupil has known about my writing and attended some of my launches for 9 years! This is no criticism of her - I am very grateful for her support - but just an example of how sometimes these things take a long time. We've all heard stories of how an author had to wait till book no. 10  - or more - before anyone took notice.
So wherever you are on this mad journey, I'd just say believe in what you are doing, get all the support on offer, avoid the naysayers, be realistic, practise and improve all you can, and keep on keeping on. Meanwhile we can help one another. I'd list tweeting and retweeting, splashing one another's achievements all over facebook and elsewhere, buying or downloading each other's work and faithfully reviewing. No doubt there are other ways, but whatever you can do, it makes all the difference.

The latest book is A Vision of Locusts, published by Instant Apostle and available in the usual places.

Friday, 19 January 2018

I'm a writer, not a speaker

Yesterday I was interviewed (at my home, since the interviewer turned out to live in the neighbouring 'London village') for what felt like forever, though it was less than an hour, by a reporter from the Radio 4 'Saturday Live' magazine programme. They'd had a feature a couple of weeks ago about treasured garments, and I'd submitted something on my grandmother's black velvet evening top, which my mother brought from Vienna in 1939. They couldn't fit it in that programme, but since my grandmother died in the Holocaust, they had decided to record an interview and use it on Holocaust Memorial Day.

The interviewer (JP, if you're a listener) was very nice, but after he left I realized I was shaking all over, and needed a calming coffee and a long time on Facebook to recover. I suppose it was partly because the topics I was talking about were painful (my family's Holocaust background, my brother's suicide) but also because, although my friends would all attest to my talkativeness, talking actually exhausts me, especially talking to strangers or to a crowd.

This is highly inconvenient in an age when publishers no longer do your book publicity for you but expect you to do most of it yourself (remind me what publishers are for again?), and especially require you to be a speaker as well as a writer. If anything, this is worse in the Christian publishing scene, where books by 'celebrity' speakers sell better than any
others, and where you will essentially get nowhere as a writer unless you are part of the never-ending round of festivals, conferences, retreats and Christian knees-ups.

Yet many if not most writers are natural introverts (it's quite difficult to pursue such a solitary profession if you're an extrovert like me) and, unless they started by being speakers and ended up writing, are out of their comfort zone when addressing a horde of eager fans or potential fans. Even if you're an extrovert, it doesn't necessarily mean you are able to stand up with minimal notes or none at all, and keep an audience entranced for 40 minutes plus questions. I love preaching, though I prefer preaching to people I already know, but I can't cope without the entire sermon written out beforehand. Research is fascinating, but I could never have been an academic - too much lecturing.

What can you do if you want to promote your work but just don't have the contacts to get speaking engagements, or just plain don't enjoy speaking? I suppose there is always the good old reading and signing at a bookshop, or these days, social media campaigning (at which I confess myself also a novice).  But it's not easy, when you're basically quite a shy person who spends their life drainingly pretending to be a confident one. Any ideas from your own experience would be welcome. Or even commiseration, if you're a reluctant speaker like me.

Veronica Zundel is a freelance writer whose latest book is Everything I know about God, I've learned from being a parent (BRF 2013). She also writes a column for Woman Alive magazine, and Bible notes for BRF's New Daylight. Veronica used to belong to what was, before it closed, the only non-conservative, English speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and is currently playing at being a high Anglican. She also blogs (rather occasionally!) at

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Too Many Words!

Sometimes it feels like there are too many words in my life.  Perhaps this is an odd thing to say, for someone beginning to consider themselves a writer, but, actually it's not the written ones that I'm bemoaning here.  I consider those to be more of a comforting friend, invited in on my terms. It's the incessant noise of the spoken ones, uttered by others and by the internal monologues in my head, that can crowd in and steal the silence, disturb hard-won peace. 

I would not want to live in a world of complete silence and don't want to convey ingratitude for any of the word-makers in my world. Anyone, however, with any experience of combining marriage, a job, small children, hobbies and church life (or any combination of two or three of the above!) will know how rare moments of glorious, undisturbed silence can seem. 

Small-child-owners, past and present will also, undoubtedly remember their unrivalled skill in relaying very long stories with no apparent sequence or point. Active listening ceases after the first few nods and the internal words take over: shopping lists, that phone call to the bank or the text you haven't sent yet, drown out the voice from the back of the car, as you say 'oh,' and 'really,' long after you've lost the thread. I've been jolted back into these conversations before, by my husband pointing out that I've just agreed to something I probably would have vetoed if I'd been giving the monologue my full attention (New Year's Resolution: be fully present). 

My children, additionally, have the impressive ability to talk to me simultaneously, on walks home from school and I have to judge who started their sentence first, to decide on the order of news-delivery. The opening words of the chosen story-teller are usually drowned out by the earnest protestations of he-who-has-to-wait-his-turn. 

When they fall silent (almost exclusively when sleeping), the internal words clamour - scheduling, planning, creating, strategising, leaving me longing for a 'mute' button.  It can be a good thing - my best blog-beginnings often start ricocheting round my mind in the shower.  And I've worked out where to sit Andrew in Year 11 in my tiny classroom so he doesn't distract Abigail or Tom, at 6 a.m, whilst washing my hair (I don't teach an Abigail, Andrew or Tom, for those concerned for confidentiality). But sometimes the words keep pounding and pushing, clamouring and yelling, when what I  need is God and silence and peace and rest. 
 It is a discipline and something we can practise being better at, to stop, breathe, be, actively halt the march of the words. And it's only in those moments that we might, just maybe, hear some better words from the only One who can speak life and peace into the clamourous din. 

Speak (a poem I wrote, last year

Speak, Lord,
For your servant is...
Oh hang on,
That joke on Facebook was fantastic - 
I must just...
... while I remember. 
There we are...

Speak, Lord,
For your servant is...
Awww look, they've commented on it...
Just take a sec to check...
Nice to make people smile. 

Speak, Lord
For your servant is...
Oh bother,  I
Didn't phone her to
Deal with the details
Of the Sunday School trip.
Won't take long. 

Speak, Lord,
For your servant is...
Blast this Bible app
Needs updating again! 
While I'm here
I may as well update
What's App, Instagram, 
Snapchat, the Met Office...
Ooh sunshine
For the church weekend away! 
Must pray that holds. 

Where was I?
Speak, Lord
For your servant is...
Ah! The Tesco delivery! 
I'd completely forgotten!
I'll just put
the cold stuff away,
Then I'll be 
back for a chat,  God.
The state of my cupboards...
... no time to sort.
I'll just tackle one...

And God looks
And loves
And longs,
Poised, willing, 
The word we so need, 
Ready on His lips,
As he patiently waits 
for us 
to finish our sentence.

Georgina Tennant is a secondary school English teacher in a Norfolk Comprehensive.  She is married, with two sons, aged 9 and 6, who keep her exceptionally busy! She feels intimidated by having to provide an author-biography, when her writing only extends, currently, to attempting to blog, writing the ‘Thought for the Week’ for the local paper occasionally, and having a poem published in a book from a National Poetry Competition! Her musings about life can be found on her blog: