Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Second Time Around

700 and rising. That's the number of books I have on my shelves, though I may be underestimating it somewhat.

In that collection I have non-fiction books covering Celtic and North American Mythology, histories of Asia, Europe and Africa, as well as books on psychology, philosophy and economics among others. Not forgetting a large number of novels and various translations of the bible.

What most of them have in common is their origin: charity shops.

Many of my purchases are of one type. Books that look interesting, that I may want to read about at some unspecified time in the future, knowing that I likely won't. Others I do actually read, while some just look interesting, such as the diaries of John Smith who, in 1607, led a group of colonists to America.

The aforementioned books on mythology came from a charity shop, as have some history and current affairs books on Korea. I've picked up Folio Society books for a couple of pounds, histories of subjects as varied as cooking, prisons and governesses, and novels by authors I've heard of, but never read. For 50p, why not take a chance?

The main value, for me, are the science books. They help inform me about trends in research, as well as provide background detail for stories.

Not many of the books are very old. A lot have been published in the last ten years or so, though you do get the odd, non-collectable, gem from the 19th century at a reasonable price. Then you find out why it's cheap.

In some of the dedicated charity bookshops you can get collections, such as a set of Dickens' novels, for £40, all in good condition.

For writers, however, the main use of these shops is get some cheap books for research, while donating to charities at the same time.

One last thing. Libraries often sell off old books as well, though not as frequently.

Monday, 29 April 2019


How easy do you find prioritising your writing?  I’ve found it easiest to carve out my writing time for different projects I'm working on and try to stick to that.

Planning work out helps a lot though I must admit my desk does not look this elegant!  Pixabay image.
This is not always possible.  Life has a habit of getting in the way and I’ve learned to accept this. What can’t be done one week has to go into the next but I limit this as much as possible.

I’m a member of the “get the story written and get it out somewhere” school of thought. I worry if I defer, I will keep on deferring.  Procrastination is so easy for a writer (we often call it research, yes? So many fascinating things to find out.  It will help us develop our characters.  Yes… maybe… but is the research getting in the way of you writing your characters’ story?).

Working out how to meet these is challenging but planning makes a big difference.  Pixabay image.
When life does get in the way, the comfort I have is it is not down to me delaying getting work out.

I must admit I don't plan to this kind of level!  Pixabay image
 Over time I’ve learned to use small pockets of time to jot down flash fiction stories (or write them up). Train journeys can be great for getting work done thanks to my mobile phone app. So in terms of prioritizing writing in one sense I have no problem at all.  I will write and that’s that.

Judging how to use the writing time you’ve got, when you consider the week as a whole, can be tricky. I like to use longer pockets of time for work that requires a lot of concentration such as editing or if I want to get several draft flash fiction stories down. 

Planning out your writing time will help you get more done.  Pixabay image
I try to carve out a “submissions” slot when I send in stories I prepared a while ago and which I’ve re-read after a suitable break and am happy to send off.

Balancing all of this isn’t easy but all writers need to find a way of balancing their work time in a way that suits them best. It pays to plan. You will get more done. 

Is it easier if a writer is focusing on one thing, say getting the next book written? Yes. You’ve got one project to tackle but you’ve still got to allow time to prepare it for submission, to edit it appropriately, and to get it off to agents/publishers.  You need to put aside time to work out what marketing you will do (and which you can sustain and find enjoyable to do).

Have you ticked off everything on your Writing To Do list?  I haven't either. Pixabay image
With books, you need to give thought as to whether you are going to go for the traditional publishing route at all or go for self publishing.  In either case, you will need time to work out who to submit your precious MSS to or decide whether you will buy in self publishing services (if so, which ones and where from) or go it totally alone and literally do everything yourself.

Having priorities in terms of managing your time is crucial for us all then.

We could all do with more time.  Pixabay image.

Sunday, 28 April 2019

Life Stories and Family Recollections by Trevor Thorn

It’s Saturday evening the day before I'm due to put up my monthly contribution to this, the ACW blog.
I’ve been bouncing several ideas around in my mind but today’s events have reminded both my wife, Pam, and me of a conference she attended some years ago when the delegates were encouraged to write down their life stories - not for publication, even though for some, this might develop into publishable material.

It was a family birthday party that triggered this recollection and reminded us of the benefits of doing this. Among them we recollected:
  • That there are therapeutic benefits of looking back at our personal histories and revisiting the high-spots which can give rise to a sense of thanksgiving. Seeing the less good occasions with the benefits of hindsight and reminders of what helped at those times can also be helpful’
  • The possibility of helping future generations to understand a bit more about why some things happened the way they did. 
  • The likelihood of our own life story yielding themes and ideas we can explore in our wider writing and thereby giving these a touch of authenticity.
  • That making an informal record  may give rise to insights we had never had before which  may be of help to others.
  • It can be particularly helpful to record instances that have had a healing influence within our family or community.
And, let’s face it, those of us who aspire to be writers ought to be among the more competent to make our life-stories interesting or intriguing or even compelling reading, which can also be an excellent opportunity for making our faith-stories come alive!

This will undoubtedly have to feature
 in my/our life story: the day
we celebrated the end of my radiotherapy
back in April 2017.
If you are interested, 
by clicking HERE you will see
 the first of four entries
 that follow our journey through my cancer.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

The lover's call by Tracy Williamson

"My lover spoke and said to me, 'Arise, my darling, my beautiful one and come with me.'" ( Song of Songs 2:10 NIV)
Today I am going to the wedding of a lovely friend and as I thought about the coming celebration I sensed the longing of our Heavenly lover, Jesus.  He is calling us to come to Him in a new way; to arise in our identity as His 'beautiful one' and to come where He calls us to come, to be with Him.  This call is equally to men as to women.  We are all His bride, His chosen ones and He is calling us into a place of newness, of deeper love, of intimacy and joy in His presence. 
Sometimes when I come to be with the Lord it is more of a duty than a joy.  I know I ought to be having a quiet time or praying about those I know of in need of His help.  My prayers can be more like a shopping list than an intimate conversation between lovers!  Maybe you too feel that sense of obligation overriding your relationship with Him at times?  But today He is whispering to us, 'arise, come with me.'
Where does He want to take us?  In the passage the lover wants to show and draw the beloved into the realisation that spring is here.  'The winter is past' He says, 'the rains are over and gone.' Have you been stuck into a situation or a state of heart that there has felt no end to?  I felt in my spirit a deep sense of your weariness and heartache.  The 'rains' of struggle and barrenness have been going on for so long, the ground of your life seeming hard and unyielding. 
No hope, no promise of sunshine. Weariness is crushing you as if you  cannot move or step forward in any way. But your lover is calling today 'Arise, my beautiful one and come with me.'
When you hear His invitation and even with the tiniest yes, step forward in response.  you enter into His embrace and find yourself held by that love that takes every weight and shares your every concern. His understanding has no limit and He wants to whisper words into your heart that will bring you a new deep level of illumination and joy.  Recently I was trying to complete my new book, a 40 day devotional, but I had left it so much to the last minute.  I felt deeply ashamed because I knew I'd been running away from doing it but I didn't know why.  I also found that whenever I sat down at the computer to write a massive wave of exhaustion would come over me and I would be writing out of a fog of trying to keep awake.  I felt so upset with myself and couldn't understand why this was happening yet again as its something that has always happened whenever I've been doing something important.  So I was fighting this weariness and the shame of leaving things so late, but one day Jesus spoke softly in my heart as I was struggling and said 'come aside with me.' I didn't know quite what He meant but I left the computer and went to a comfy chair and sat with my eyes closed.  I thought I might just go to sleep but suddenly thoughts came into my heart about the fear that I carried throughout my childhood.  Fear of being mocked, judged and found wanting.  He said to me, 'you buried all your hopes and joy in trying new things because of what you knew might happen and you also buried your fear because you didn't want it to show and be a handle that others could use against you.  But all that burying and hiding took great energy and that is the root of why you feel so fatigued when you try to do something valuable.  You need to stop fighting and let me bathe you with my love and bring healing to the fears and sadness.' 
This was incredible to me but it made so much sense.  I felt overcome that my heavenly Father and lover had shown me so tenderly what was really happening.  He knew the root of my weariness and it was as if a door opened for me to step out of the winter of buried fear and hurt and into the spring of new hope and trust and joy in creativity.  I am not there yet, but I am stepping through that door and know He has so much still to whisper to me of His words of healing, renewing love.  Springtime is coming and is for you too.  He knows what has caused the rains of winter in your life and heart and wants to draw you into His love today to open your eyes to the beauty of spring: the beauty of being loved, forgiven, understood, and trusted as His friend.  To know that weariness of hopelessness and struggle slipping from you and new strength and purpose arising in its place.  I feel that for someone reading this your weariness and 'winter' is to do with sadness in your family, a longing for something to change but as yet no sign or hope, the feeling that you should be doing more but you have tried everything....He is saying to you with such love. 'Beloved One, I am proud of you and nothing is wasted of all you have done and all your prayers, love and tears are counting.  Trust it all into my care afresh.  I am proud of you.  you will see the answer to your heart's longing.  Come into my embrace and let me renew you in my joy.'
May you take steps into the 'springtime' of His love today and hear His voice of love whispering to you 'the great and marvellous things He wants to show you.'

Tracy Williamson is an author and speaker living in Kent with her great friend and ministry partner Marilyn Baker.  Tracy has written several books with her latest being The Father's Kiss published by Authentic Media in 2018.  Tracy loves listing to the Lord, reading, walking in the country with her Hearing Dog, Goldie and spending time with lovely friends.

Friday, 26 April 2019

Off by Heart, by Eve Lockett

Cantoria di Luca della Robbia
Recently on iPlayer I listened to Giles Brandreth’s Poetry by Heart, a radio programme about the benefits of learning poetry. The benefits for the young are obvious – it trains their minds, enhances their vocabulary and enriches their thoughts. The point of interest for me was that Brandreth wanted to persuade his older listeners it was not too late for them to learn new material. I’d always assumed I’d passed the age when it was possible. His challenge was that we should make the attempt. Apparently it helps us grow new brain cells and keeps them sizzling.
I asked a professional actor if he’d heard the programme and whether he thought it was possible for older people to learn poetry by heart. He said he’d never had any trouble learning scripts, although admittedly he used to find it easier, and when he had no script to learn he would set himself to memorise a long poem. He told me that, at the age of 84, Dame Maggie Smith is appearing in a one-woman show, A German Life
For people like her it just seems to be a gift. Others might find they simply can’t do it, and have unpleasant memories of being made to learn things by heart at school – or rather punished for not learning them. If you warm to the idea, though, the possibility is you may discover you’re more able than you thought and that you relish the achievement. Nor does learning poetry have to result in performance. Even if you never speak lines of poetry out loud, you can still enjoy memorising them, reciting them mentally, and savouring the shape of the words in your mind and mouth.
So how does this impact us as writers? One benefit must be to give us an ear for the sound of what we’re writing. Philip Pullman says about his own writing that the sound of the words shapes his sentences. Another benefit could be the influence on our choice of words and the way we use them. It’s probably not ideal, though, to sprinkle our work with remembered (or half-remembered) quotations unless we are as brilliant as P G Wodehouse, as erudite and whimsical as Dorothy Sayers, or Agatha Christie looking for a book title.
For Christians, there is another benefit to learning by heart. The Bible itself came out of an oral tradition, passed on by word of mouth before being written down. And there is a long tradition of memorising scripture verses. Some people learn whole passages, or even books, in order to retell them in an effective and enthralling way. I’ve heard Jonah told in this way, and also the gospels. 
Taking the plunge, I’ve decided to have a go at learning Luke’s account of the disciples on the Emmaus road. In the passage, Jesus recounts to the two disciples all that scripture reveals about himself. He doesn’t read it off a smart phone or a pocket bible, he knows it. And they would have known the references he selected. It seems fitting to learn by heart an account of others who learned by heart. The problem comes in choosing a translation, and at the moment I am looking at the NKJV which retains the lyrical use of language. If you know another or a better, please share it with us.
So, whether it’s a limerick, or Jabberwocky, or a passage from the Bible, let’s grow some brain cells!

Thursday, 25 April 2019

Wisdom wrapped in humour

 Now and then I stumble on a gem of a book.  Recently it was Bernard Basset’s ‘We Neurotics’, first published in 1962 and recommended to me in the 70s by a psychiatrist friend as an all time classic.  Out of print, there are still second hand copies available for those wishing to track it down.

Long forgotten on my bookshelves, it pinged back into memory as I travelled alongside a close family member off work with stress.  With our greater understanding of the human mind half a century on, I expected it to be hopelessly out of date.

But as I turned those fragile old pages, I became lost in the wisdom and humour.  Written by a catholic priest of some considerable pastoral experience, it had emerged from a deep and humble relationship with God and a love for the  people he met each day.

What surprised me most was that it was pure entertainment.  Not frivolous or consciously trying to amuse.  Rather, nuggets of ancient truth shining radiantly through pure joy.  Hadn’t CS Lewis said, ‘Joy is the serious business of heaven’?  I found myself falling about with the fun of recognising human foibles and subterfuges known to all – not least to me.  The humour was like a sugar coated pill.  It made the hard hitting ancient truths much more palatable.

So the bird like, deaf nun can get away with saying to the stressed out lecturer: ’prayer is really no good at all in such a situation, indeed, in many cases it does positive harm.  Have a general intention of accepting God’s decisions but after that pretend you’re an atheist for a couple of weeks’! 

Enter the eccentric Miss Copley Smith, with complexion one shade lighter than her fawn coloured shoes – a figure of fun to the children.  The enormous madonna dominating her mantlepiece jostled with a Georgian decanter labelled ‘sherry’ which had to be sniffed to see whether it contained sherry, port or turps.  Underneath, she was pure gold, possibly even a saint in heavy disguise, dispensing precious wisdom alongside food that might contain metal filings or paint; fallout from hastily cleared away DIY projects performed on the kitchen table.

A couple of years ago I attended a retreat on ‘Laughter and the Presence of God’.  We had an epic time stripping away false facades of ‘holiness’ to discover what was really underneath. 

Donald Macleod said: ‘Laughter is one way to see happiness and hear it;  It’s the sound of joy.  It’s not joy’s only sound; there is joy in sorrow, in tears, underneath sobs, and in silence.  And there is laughter to cherish as a gift from God’. 

The lesson for me is not to take myself too seriously when writing – to get out of the way and allow God to be real – and to celebrate humour as a sign that he’s involved.

Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God’, Teilhard de Chardin.

Eileen Padmore has retired from a life spent in health care and academia, after work 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.  Last November she claimed NaNo 2018 winner at first attempt.  Married to a professional musician, the family includes a feisty springer spaniel and a large African tortoise. 

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Why do writers write?

This blog was going to be an easy one to write, or so it seemed. All we had to do was to Google ‘why I write’, collect the answers given by a clutch of famous writers, past and present, and edit them into an entertaining colloquium.

In the event, it was very difficult to find nice straightforward answers to this question, at least not without listening to long podcasts and reading articles hidden behind paywalls. The exception was George Orwell, who wrote a book called Why I Write, which provided hundreds and hundreds of unnecessary hits for our Google search.

Instead, what emerged was that for very many writers it is axiomatic that they were always going to write and that they have to do it. Take Virginia Woolf. She actually stopped writing when quite young because her doctor and her father persuaded her that it was bad for her nervous condition and that she should do gardening instead. Eventually Vita Sackville-West persuaded her to go back to writing. Or take Enid Blyton. Writing was her best academic subject, so she went in for Arthur Mee’s children’s poetry competition; Mee not only offered to print her verse but also asked for more. Her mother thought it was a waste of time, but a friend persuaded her to go on with it, and the accident of working in a stately home, reputed to be haunted, kickstarted her well-known children’s adventures.

Philip Pullman, asked ‘When did you first start writing stories as a child?’, answered ‘I think I wrote my first story at the age of eight or nine. I like to think I’ve learned a little since then, but really it’s the same process.’ Dorothy Sayers wrote ‘Man [sic] is never truly himself except when he is actively creating something.’ Whether we would agree with such a sweeping statement, it is clearly how she saw herself as a writer. J. K. Rowling is almost more extreme: 

The truth is that I can’t separate a ‘writing life’ from ‘life’. It’s more of a need than a love. I suppose I must spend most of my conscious life in fictional worlds, which some people may find sad, as though there must be something lacking in my external life. There really isn’t!

Similarly, Francine Rivers knew she wanted to be a writer from a young age. She became very successful with her historical novels, starting in 1976. After becoming a Christian, she suffered from writer’s block. She realized that writing had become an idol, and paradoxically, when she stopped caring whether she ever wrote again, the block disappeared. She heard a call to retell the story of Hosea, which resulted in her highly successful book, Redeeming Love.

Susan Howatch trod a similar path: having been a successful writer of gothic novels, she experienced spiritual emptiness. After a ‘spiritual epiphany’, she concluded that she should continue to write novels, but should ‘set forth my discoveries in the light of faith, no matter how feeble and inadequate my beginner’s faith was.’ This led to her successful series of Starbridge novels.

C.S. Lewis wrote his Narnia books partly because he wanted to write stories of the kind that he liked to read, but also because he needed to write them, and according to Rowan Williams this was probably an urge to express themes that he was already writing about in his adult works in terms that children could understand. He had no qualms about writing books ‘with their Christianity latent’, as he put it, even though he was told that this was ‘jesuitical’.

Lewis’s friend J. R. R. Tolkien agreed with him about creating the kinds of story which he liked reading, of which there were not enough. He might not have gone along with Lewis’s idea of ‘books with their Christianity latent’. For him The Lord of the Rings was a thoroughly Catholic work: in other words its Christianity was patent rather than latent. But as John Garth has shown, Tolkien’s works are also a response to the experience of the Great War. And when illness deprived him of the ability to write he described it as like a hen deprived of her beak: a sign that writing was totally in the blood.

Wikipedia says of H. G. Wells, that ‘During his own lifetime, … he was most prominent as a forward-looking, even prophetic social critic who devoted his literary talents to the development of a progressive vision on a global scale.’ Something started him off as a writer, but once writing, it was the desire to see social justice that drove him on. Much the same might be said of Charles Dickens, of course!

Which brings us back to Orwell. In Why I Write he enunciates that same early, powerful sense of calling — without any explanation of its cause — which we have seen in our other writers:

From a very early age, perhaps the age of five or six, I knew that when I grew up I should be a writer. Between the ages of about seventeen and twenty-four I tried to abandon this idea, but I did so with the consciousness that I was outraging my true nature and that sooner or later I should have to settle down and write books.

In the same book, Orwell lists ‘four great motives for writing’ that exist in every writer in different proportions at different times.

  1. Egoism. This sounds worse than it is, for though it encompasses such things as getting talked about or getting your own back, it also includes being remembered after your death, which can certainly include the desire to make a difference.
  2. Having aesthetic pleasure in the look and sound of good writing. He says that this motive is ‘very feeble in a lot of writers’!
  3. The historical impulse, the desire to find out the facts and preserve them for the good of humanity.
  4. Political purpose. This again might sound off-putting, but it is not the narrow impulse it might seem to be. As with Tolkien, it was war — in his case the Spanish Civil War — that was the defining event that shaped Orwell’s purposes. But ‘political’ really means something wider: the ‘desire to push the world in a certain direction’, which is as much what we see in C. S. Lewis and Francine Rivers as in H. G. Wells, Dickens, and Orwell himself.

Very tellingly, Orwell concludes his essay: ‘It is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.’ In just the same way, we cannot separate the compelling narratives of Lewis, Tolkien, or Rivers from the purpose — the desire to push the world in a certain direction — that motivated them.

Edmund and Clare Weiner

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Feasting on His word

I've recently been thinking about what the Bible means to me and what it might mean to others.

Psalm 23:5 says, 'You prepare a table before me' and Psalm 36:8 reminds us that, 'They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights.'

Recently, my house group was tasked with putting together a guide to help new Christians connect with God's word. This led to much discussion as we tried to decide which would be the most important things we would want to tell others about the Bible. Some people would be coming to the Bible with no prior knowledge at all, others from different faiths who might have a great deal of knowledge but have had their whole viewpoint turned upside down. Even within our group, although we agreed on key truths we wanted to communicate, there were particular themes or stories which spoke strongly to each of us in quite unique ways, based on our needs and experiences. The more we tried to unravel the different aspects of the Bible, the more we were blown away all over again at just how amazing His word is. Where to start?

One big step we took was to look at key questions: Who wrote the Bible? What is the Bible? Why should we read it? How should we read it? It wasn't too difficult to think about what we wanted people to know at this stage; there are some obvious things like knowing it's a collection of books, understanding there's an Old and a New Testament and not feeling like it has to be read in order from Genesis to Revelation. It was at this point that somebody said it was like a smorgasbord! Although we laughed, we realised this is true: the Bible is like a great feast: there are different elements, or courses, which we all need to experience, but within each course there is such a range! Whenever I look at creation I am struck by God's generous provision: suddenly, I could see this in His word. Take for example, a truth such as knowing we are saved. That's a fundamental truth for all of us. But for some people, this allays a fear of death, for others it creates a freedom to be themselves, free from trying to earn eternal life, for somebody else it gives them a sense of value they hadn't felt before. Inspired to go back to  verses which have impacted me in the past, I took another look at Jeremiah 30:17 'But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds, declares the Lord, because you are called an outcast, Zion for whom no-one cares.' This has always spoken to me about acceptance and belonging. However, looking at it afresh, I could see that this would be significant in a different way for a friend of mine with health issues.

The important thing is, the same God who made us, made His word. He provided it for everyone, knowing at the same time how it would be used to shape laws, governments and countries, yet caring enough that there's that specific story or verse just right for when I'm making a difficult decision at work, or a friend's child is starting a new school.

Have you ever been to a particularly fancy hotel? When I think about the Bible as a feast, I can see the head chef lovingly spreading out his buffet, making sure it's got a bit of everything it should. Yet at the same time, He's looking at each person as they come up in the queue, smiling as he straightens the dish they need, turns something to the front so they can see it better.

What about our own writing? We don't know our readers like God knows His. Nevertheless, if we trust His anointing and write for Him, we can trust that He will help us create work which delivers something significant. I would have said that faith and forgiveness are key themes in my novel, but I'm beginning to see other topics, like resilience and trust, that might also mean something to my readers.

I hope our house group are able to help those new to God's word. But I also want to continue to delve deeper into the Bible myself, walking with the Holy Spirit and engaging with the words I need to know. I don't know exactly what I will find, but I know it will be the very best for me, and for those I share it with.

Rebecca Seaton mostly writes fantasy but would love to write a crime novel one day if she could just pin down a coherent plot. She manages a behaviour recovery provision for primary children and is on the advisory panel for Pen to Print, a Barking and Dagenham-based initiative for supporting new writers.

Monday, 22 April 2019

Jesus Is (Still) Alive! by Emily Owen

This time last month, I was in hospital, following an operation. I’m fine, all went well, but the reason I’m mentioning it is this:

The bed that was found for me was in an Intensive Care (ICU) room. I didn’t need to be there medically, but that’s where the bed was. After a shift change, a nurse walked into the room and I said, “Hello”. She jumped a mile! She knew there was a patient in that room but, being ICU, she’d thought the patient would be unconscious.

Basically, she got a shock because she hadn’t realised I’d be so alive.

We’re currently in Easter weekend. Yesterday, many of us celebrated Easter Sunday, rejoicing in the fact that Jesus is alive.

That first Easter Sunday, a bit like my nurse, people got a shock when they realised Jesus was alive.

I’m not belittling what that nurse experienced – to be honest, she nearly hit the ceiling – but, the thing is, she could have known. She could have known which patient was in that room. She could have known, by checking notes or speaking to colleagues, just how ‘alive’ I was.

I’m not blaming her that she didn’t, or in any way being negative about the above excellent care I received, I’m simply saying that she could have known.

A bit like that first Easter Sunday, people could have known Jesus would be alive. Hadn’t He told them He would be?!

What about us? In our lives? In our writing? Do we sometimes wonder how alive Jesus really is in it all?

Maybe, like the stone in front of the tomb, or the ‘ICU’ notice above my door in hospital, the evidence we think we see or know suggests to us that He is not very alive in our situation, in our life, in our writing.

But He is alive and, like that nurse, we always ‘could have known it’. Even better, we always can know it.

There are many other verses which assure us that Jesus is alive in every second of every day. The bible is full of ‘notes we can check’, to remind us of that. We have colleagues to check with, too, right here in ACW. Every time I read and/or am part of the conversation threads, I’m reminded that Jesus is with us in this group. As we encourage/laugh/cry/struggle with each other, He’s there.

One of the reasons I was in hospital was to have a benign tumour removed from my arm. It was quite large, and used to particularly bother my five-year-old nephew. He didn’t like 'my lump' (though, true five-year-old, he also had a sort of fascination with it!). He wished I didn’t have it. He told me to tell the doctor to take it out.

When I saw the doctor, I passed on Josiah’s message. (I’m not fully giving a five-year-old sway over a surgeon’s decision making, but I did pass on the message.)

Last weekend was the first time I’d seen Josiah since my surgery. As always, he looked at my arm. But this time, there was no lump.

He said, ‘The doctor took it out!’

I said, ‘Yes, he did.’

Josiah said, ‘That’s because I encouraged you to tell him.’

Jesus is Alive! I encourage us to continually encourage each other – and ourselves – in that knowledge as we live and write for His glory.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Let's celebrate with thanksgiving...

For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.

                           John 3:16 (AMPC)

We have just returned home from a cruise down the Rhine to celebrate by husband’s birthday. I have just realised my contribution this month falls on Easter Sunday, so the above seems appropriate!

German traditional is to put painted eggs around a fountain in the middle of a town square.  A central and eastern European tradition, as eggs were seem as a symbol of fertility and rebirth. Google said, “An egg is an ancient symbol of new life and has been associated with pagan festivals celebrating spring.”  Christians have adopted the egg to represent Jesus’ bringing resurrection life. It seems both Christmas and Easter have been entwined with pagan rituals!  The German Lindt chocolate factory was full of eggs and bunnies for sale.  Google says a staggering 80 million chocolate eggs are sold annually in the UK and 5 million Cadbury Cream Eggs are sold worldwide..  The first chocolate Easter egg of solid chocolate was produced by Fry’s in 1873 and the market is now worth £220,000,000

How many of those buying eggs will also celebrate with thanksgiving that Jesus bought their salvation with His life?  People in this land hear the story, but rarely the full Gospel message.  I was 25 before I understood the need to know Jesus as my Saviour.
As part of our cruise we visited The Residenz Palace in Wurzburgbuilt built in the style of Versailles with 366 rooms for one Bishop and his servants.  When Prince Bishops were appointed to rule over an area, the decor was lavish with pictures painted on walls and ceilings.  One, desiring to impress visiting dignitaries, covered a large, high ceiled room with gold frames and mirrors.  I felt so sickened by the sight I walked straight through it.  Where did he, or the church, get the money to do such things and provide for their upkeep? 

That evening Notre Dame was on fire. People gathered to sing hymns in the streets, the treasures within were saved, but when a few days later 600 million pounds was pledged to rebuild the structure, it caused me to wonder again at man’s priorities.  Daily we see on our TV screens people, through no fault of their own, turned out from their countries, have no place to live, opportunity to work, and no money to feed their starving families. 

How would Jesus respond to that?  Peter wrote to Christians explaining God’s house was to be spiritual and built with living stones (people) who would form a royal priesthood and holy nation, Yet man’s generosity runs to replacing a monument to the Christian faith, but has an amount of that magnitude ever been given to show God’s love to millions of people by relieving their suffering?

As we celebrate with thanksgiving the salvation provided by Jesus’ sacrifice, let’s ask for  His Word and truth to penetrate hearts and minds so His church is rebuilt, not in man’s way, but as He desires. 

                                                                                                                    Ruth Johnson

Saturday, 20 April 2019

A peculiar people!?

Happy Easter weekend to you all. What a glorious time of year for those who believe!

Today (and running a little late) let me share some thoughts about this creative life of ours :)

When I married my beloved, he was a primary school teacher. We were nearly 10 years married when the possibility of being a pastor’s wife became a reality. We didn’t come via what I saw as the usual route and so I had many anxieties about it. One of which was the worry that the church might be a bit weirded out by the idea of the pastor married to a writer.

I was delighted to find that the wife of one of the elders is a writer too, so they were used to having a scribbler amongst them. Over time I learnt that the church has another writer, a poet historian. Then I found a photographer who is married to an artist. Then another artist. And just recently another. We’ve got some amazing musicians and singers, and a couple of actors too. Not bad for a little valleys church.

It turns out I live in a very creative corner of the Eastern Valley of Gwent. There is an annual poetry competition, The Poet of Pontypool, there’s a library, a museum, and a recently closed school building is about to be turned into an arts centre.

And there was me worrying I’d be the odd one out! Myself and a friend were so desirous to write 'locally' we started a new writing group ourselves. Afon Llwyd Writers, We named it after our local river, with the strap line #letthewordsflow

The first Afon Llwyd Writers meeting
Writing can however be a lonely business sometimes. A lot of the time we just need to get our btms in a chair and get the work done. But part of equipping myself to do that means seeking out my tribe for, encouragement and accountably. I feel very blessed to be surrounded by folk in and out of church life with whom I can get my fill of creative encouragement or share the burden of self doubt.

I really appreciate the ACW Facebook page. Sometimes in the busyness of life I don’t interact as much as I should, but I love to see it pop up. To rejoice (and envy a little) the successes of fellow members, to read an inspiring poem or chuckle at an #abitastic update. If you’re a Christian writer with access to Facebook go find our page. You won't just ‘like’ it, you’ll ‘love’ it. :)

Whatever way suits you best – online or face to face – find some people you can share the writer life with. The family of God are called 'a peculiar people', the creatives within that family... well we can often be another level of peculiar :) Let's encourage each other along the way x

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 Her first collection of short stories published in 2013, is called 'The Long & The Short of it'. Her second collection, 'A Sense of the Sea and other stories,' was published in 2018. She is currently editing a non-fiction book about being an overweight Christian called, 'Have mercy on me O Lord, a slimmer.'

Thursday, 18 April 2019

Writing Easter

Today is Maundy Thursday.  If you are devoutly un-Anglican and un-Catholic like me, you might not know what Maundy Thursday even means – I ignorantly assumed its phonetic links to the word ‘mourning,’ meant it carried a similar meaning (apologies to all who are now squirming at my lack of general knowledge).  Thank goodness for Google; apparently, Maundy is an Anglo-French word, derived from the Latin, “mandatum,” which means “commandment,” and reflects the final teaching of Jesus to the disciples (John 13 v 34 – “a new command I give you: love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another,”), before the heavy weight of his divine mission pushed him to his final, agonising hours.

As the Easter weekend unfolds, provoking, as it does, soul-searching and moments of reflection, be encouraged, as a writer, to respond afresh to the rich and multifarious writing stimuli it cannot fail to provide: the charged atmosphere of the Last Supper on that Thursday evening; the agony of Jesus in the garden; the shame and pain of Peter, denying his Lord three times, despite his insistence that he would go with him to death; the horror it must have been to witness Jesus’ final cries; the puzzlement of the temple curtain tearing and dead men walking from tombs; the bewilderment and desolation of Easter Saturday and the utter joy of the women at the tomb on Easter Sunday as bitter mourning turned to hearts leaping with hesitant joy.  How can we not find something in all of this to write about?  How can we not set our hearts and minds and pens to find a fresh angle, a new way to weep or rejoice, in poetry and stories, fiction and non-fiction?

Many literary greats have found similar inspiration – Christina Rossetti wrote ‘Good Friday,’ in 1866, a lament about her lack of closeness to God.  John Donne, some 250 years before that, wrote “Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward,” as his journey caused him to reflect on the events of the first Good Friday. If poems aren’t your thing, apologists like Lee Strobels, once a determined atheist, offer some thought-provoking apologetics writing in books like ‘The Case for Christ,’ and ‘The Case for Easter.’

I certainly don’t count myself in the company of any of these literary giants, but I have turned my hand to a piece or two about Easter.  My first ever blog post was a poem I had recently written, after a long non-writing spell (you can read it here if you feel inclined).

Last year, wading through the swamp of grief, in the wake of my sister’s death, I was struggling to see how I would face Easter at all, with all its hymns of triumph and, in the kind of church I attend, lively, celebratory songs.  Instead, I wrote something that reflected where I was at – dwelling in the Easter Saturday darkness, but with the invaluable knowledge that the disciples at the time weren’t privy to – that Easter Sunday and all that it accomplished was waiting in the wings, whether I was feeling it or not.  (You can read it at the end of this post).

This year, I am in a different place again.  I will join in with gusto, when my current favourite, Hillsongs' ‘O Praise the Name,’ is sung, though I will still find it hard to hold back the tears when I sing the line, “O trampled death, where is your sting?” (It still stings, though I get the point it makes!).  I am learning, slowly, what it is to live and walk the line between the Easter Saturday darkness and the Easter Sunday triumph.  I think we all are – and in that in-between world, where we dwell, there is rich fodder for writing.  So – whether you are a poet, short story writer, blogger, or apologist – spend some time, this Easter, writing from where you are and who you are about an Easter that is relevant to us all – there is a world out there waiting for the hope you write!

 Easter Saturday Living; Waiting to Sunday to Come

Easter Sunday; a strange thought this year.

Celebrating the impermanence of death when it feels permanent and heavy right now to those of us left here, in her wake.

Celebrating hope, light and victory when those things still feel a long way away on the hard days and the dark days, when grief wraps its bindweed more tightly.

Celebrating a God for whom nothing is impossible, yet we did not see our impossible become possible.

Joining in with dancing and joy when tears are more my currency.

It's easier to face Good Friday. I can relate to a tortured and suffering saviour. He gets it. He's walking it with me.

I dwell comfortably in Easter Saturday when hope lay dormant and sadness took hold. I belong with the exhausted disciples and the women overcome with emotion and grief.

I'm not at all sure I am ready for Easter Sunday. Dancing, rejoicing, all-things-come-good. I will stand there one day, feeling it more convincingly.  But for now my life is Friday-Saturday; Sunday stands, a long way off. But I'm glad it's there. The hint of possibility, the glimmer of hope, draws me on.

Georgie Tennant is a secondary school English teacher in a Norfolk Comprehensive.  She is married, with two sons, aged 10 and 8, 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: