This is the website of Claire Musters, freelance writer and editor. Please feel free to look around – check out ‘About’ for more details of Claire’s publishing career.

Watch this space for some personal blogs from Claire on subjects ranging from juggling a writing career with young children to what life is like now her record-producing husband has become a full-time pastor!

Thanks for visiting the site – hope you enjoy it.

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The Jazz Files



I was delighted to be asked to be a part of  Fiona Veitch Smith’s blog tour for her latest book, The Jazz Files, and agreed to post up my interview with her again. Here it is in its entirety – long but fascinating ;)

Congratulations on an intriguing, fast-moving novel. This is the first book in a series – could you explain how your publishing deal came about?

I hope you’ve got a cup of tea in hand, this is a bit of a long story … I was hired by Monarch (Lion Hudson) around four years ago to ghostwrite a biography. They took me on because a few years before that I submitted a non-fiction idea to them which they turned down. Although they didn’t want the book, they liked my writing style and kept me in mind for the ghostwriting project. However, after nine months working on it I came to the conclusion that the man who the book was about had made up much of his story. I told Monarch and they cancelled the contract.

Lion Hudson – and, in particular, Tony Collins, one of the commissioning editors there – felt awful that the contract was cancelled and asked if I had anything else they could look at because they really wanted to work with me. The only other thing I had in the pipeline at the time was a historical novel set in the 1st century against the background of the early church. At the time the Lion Fiction imprint was being launched and they asked to look at it.

It took them eighteen months – and two rewrites from me – to decide that although they liked the book, they felt it was too ‘Christian’ for their market. Again they asked me if I had anything else. Well I didn’t; nothing written anyway. But I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth so I started mulling over some new ideas.

My research of what Lion Fiction was already publishing told me that crime mystery series were something they were interested in. So I came up with the idea of a reporter sleuth set in the 1920s and submitted the idea to them. They liked the idea and the outline but weren’t prepared to go to contract without seeing the whole book.

So I had to write it. It took me six months. I submitted it – plus some ideas for the rest of the series – and they finally offered me a contract. Phew! So the moral of the story is … don’t give up. These things can take a looooooong time to come to fruition. I’m so grateful they stuck with me and I thank Tony Collins for believing in me as a writer for so many years.

Do you have all the ideas for the whole series already set out, or is it an evolving process?

It’s an evolving process. I deliberately started the series in 1920 so I had ten years for my heroine to have adventures before it became a series set in the 1930s – whether she, the publisher or I are game for another decade, is a decision for the future. However, I had it in mind from the beginning to set the book against real historical events as they unfold through the decade. Which events still have to be decided, but I do have a basic structure in mind.

About halfway through writing the first book I knew that I wanted to set the next one – which has now been written – against the diaspora of White Russian refugees in the wake of the Russian Revolution. I know too where the third book will be set and am starting my background reading on that now. I have an inkling of Book 4, but have not made any firm decisions yet. The story and background of Book 2 were decided because one of the characters of Book 1 was a Russian and it gave me scope to delve a bit more into his back story. Also, I found a faux Fabergé Egg in a charity shop, which gave me the idea for the main plotline.

The same with Book 3 – it’s linked to the back story of another character. So a tip for writers considering writing series: have a broad dramatis personae of colourful characters. They may only play a bit part in the first book but could be developed down the line.

The Suffragette movement is still at the forefront of your characters’ minds. Your main character, Poppy, is one of the young women who were forging their own careers in traditionally male-dominated worlds. Why did you choose to set the series in that era?

After my first self-published novel, The Peace Garden, I discovered I was attracted to the mystery genre. The book started as a literary novel but soon drifted towards mystery. And as I have a degree in history and I love reading historical mysteries, it seemed to be a natural fit. But why the 1920s? Well I originally conceived of it set in 1912. The day before I received the rejection for my 1st century historical and the request for another proposal, I had been to visit the grave of the suffragette Emily Wilding Davison in Morpeth. It was the centenary of her death and I had just used her as an example of women acting out their faith (she was a Christian) in a talk I gave to my church’s women’s ministry. The pastor’s wife suggested we visit Emily’s grave and lay flowers. There is a picture of me at her grave on www.poppydenby.com under the ‘Suffragette’ link.

The next day I received news that Lion had rejected my 1st century novel. I was naturally very upset after all the work I’d put into it, but heartened that they wanted more. As I was praying and asking God to guide me as to what to write next, my eye was drawn to a book on my bookshelf called Unshackled by Christabel Pankhurst. It’s a first-hand account of the women’s suffrage movement.

It suddenly dawned on me that I should write about a suffragette reporter sleuth. (Why a reporter? Well I was formerly a journalist … but that’s another story). So I started planning the novel. However, the period just didn’t seem to fit. The clothes were boring, the music was boring and frankly, my character might have been feisty but she was downright dowdy. I felt the same writing her as I did playing Sheila Birling in an am-dram production of An Inspector Calls. But what I wanted to feel was like I felt when I played the delightful Maisie in Ken Russell’s The Boyfriend (a high school production – pic again on www.poppydenby.com). I had also just started learning to play jazz clarinet and was listening to music from the 1920s. I began to conceive of shifting my story to the 1920s and having my main character an inheritor of the legacy of the Suffragettes.

Just like Poppy I worked as a journalist in the 1990s and inherited the freedoms won by the brave women of the 1960s and 70s. Once I made this shift I immediately felt an emotional connection with the character and the period. And the rest, as they say, is history.

How did you research the historical content of your novel? 

I read a number of non-fiction books about the period, which are listed at the back of The Jazz Files and also on the www.poppydenby.com website. In addition to this I went down to London for a few days and walked up and down Fleet Street and King’s Road – key locations in the novel – to get a feel for the place and travelled the same routes that Poppy would travel on bus and train. I spent two days in the British Library reading newspapers from 1920 – particularly the Daily Mail and The Times. Some of the news stories that appear in the book were genuine articles from the time. I also went to the Suffragette exhibition and fashion exhibition at the London Museum. Some of the outfits that Poppy and Delilah wear in The Jazz Files were exact replicas of outfits I saw there. In addition I researched what was playing on the theatre scene in 1920 as well as cinema and music. The songs played in chapter 3 of the book were all actually played in 1920. These are small details that most people won’t notice but it gives me great pleasure to get these things right. I also like to think it adds a touch of authenticity that readers will feel if not know.

Fiona in her 1920s guise :)

You write in various genres, including children’s books, stage plays and screenplays. Where do you get your inspiration for each genre, and do you find writing for one of them easier than the others?

I didn’t set out to write for all genre and media. I set out to be a full-time writer and simply pursued whatever opportunities came my way. I would push at a door to see how far it would open and if it stopped, try another. The net result is that I am published and produced across the media but with varying success in each. I am first and foremost a storyteller. I come up with story ideas and then see which media would be the best vehicle to tell that story. So I rarely look at a genre then come up with an idea; it works the other way. Occasionally though I will be commissioned to write something for a specific medium and then I delve into my ideas bank and see which story would best suit the technicalities of the medium. Some stories are more visual (film) others require immediacy and audience interaction (stage) still others are simple stories with deeper truths (children) then others more epic with extensive back story (novel). Short stories and poems are better suited to a single image or concept. I wrote a poem this morning about an ageing apple tree. The concept would have been overstretched if I’d tried to write it into a film or novel. It could have been a children’s story, however, but I wanted to get across a deep spiritual truth which required the reader to have a bit of life experience to relate to – so a poem for adults it became. Each medium has its strengths and weakness. It’s like trying to choose your favourite child. At the moment though I am focusing on writing picture books for children with SPCK and novels with Lion Fiction.

For all those aspiring writers out there: how do you manage your time between being a lecturer in writing and writing itself? Are you working towards writing full-time or do you feel you have the balance as you want it?

I started lecturing by accident. A friend’s husband died suddenly and she asked me to take over her adult ed writing class. I’d never taught before, but I felt unable to say no. It turned out to be a very fulfilling experience. It also provided income to buy me time to write. Since then, now 11 years ago, I have continued to teach and lecture part time. I now lecture at two universities but I wouldn’t say it’s my day job – I only lecture a day or two a week between September and April. My day job is still writing. I think I’m beginning to find the balance. A couple of years ago I said yes to taking on more lecturing work because I needed the money but then my writing suffered. In the last two years I have tried to keep April to August completely free to write. It’s tough, because I only get paid for what’s called ‘contact time’ and I end up living off my credit card for a couple of months every year. Should other writers do it? That’s up to you. I gave up a full-time, well-paid job as a journalist to pursue creative writing, but my family’s income took a massive hit as a result. It’s not for everyone. I make sure I take on enough paid work to keep the wolf from the door. And that’s the reality for most writers. Very few people manage to do it full time without an additional income stream.

You also speak at conferences and offer creative writing workshops for both children and adults alike. Would you say that writers need to learn to diversify, or have those other avenues simply developed naturally for you?

I do that because a) I enjoy it; b) I have a natural gift for public speaking and teaching; and c) it helps to pay the bills (although some of the appearances barely pay enough to cover expenses – if anything at all!). This is something that suits me and my skill-set, but will not necessarily suit everyone. Yes it has increased my profile and hence gives me and my books a bit of a ‘platform’ but that’s not the primary reason I do it. I would advise writers to connect with their audiences in whatever way suits their personality and skill-set. But readers do like to meet authors ‘in the flesh’.

In 2011 you started your own ‘indie’ publishing company. How did that come about, and what was behind the decision to fold it in 2015? 

Crafty Publishing was started when my husband was made redundant (and then got a bit of spare cash when he got a new job fairly quickly). I had written a series of children’s books called the Young David Books, which I had unsuccessfully tried to get published. After they went down so well at my church my husband and I decided to use some of his redundancy money to self-publish. It was hard work but ultimately a successful little enterprise. Within four years of self-publishing we were approached by three different publishers to buy us out – two in the UK and one in America. By this time we felt we had plateaued with the books and couldn’t take them to the next level. We decided to sell the books to SPCK who are doing a brilliant job with them now and are getting them the international distribution that we were unable to do.

As things were going so well with my own books I thought I would try to give some other writers a chance – as I know how hard it is to get published – and also to try a different genre. I brought out my own adult novel and then signed another writer. We had four other writers in the pipeline (one children and three adult) when we decided to stop publishing earlier this year. The reasons were financial. My children’s books were the only things that made any money (not much, but we were approaching break-even point) yet we struggled to find sufficient distribution for the adult books to make it a viable commercial concern. We were at the point where we would have to have started siphoning off our family’s savings to fund it and we weren’t prepared to do that. So sadly, particularly for the authors involved, we had to call it a day.

You have quite a presence online: an old website, your new author website, a Poppy Denby website plus your Crafty Writers website. How do you have time to keep all the content refreshed? What advice would you give to writers wanting to make more of a presence online?

The truth is I don’t. My many websites reflect different aspects of my career over a 12-year period. One of the sites was more active when I was making my living primarily as a freelance feature writer, journalist and blogger. Another when I was earning more from giving writing advice and freelance editing and copywriting. As my career has developed so my web presence has changed. The problem is the sites are linked in to other sites and it is not that easy to take them down. As my writing career is becoming more streamlined into me being a novelist with Lion Fiction and a children’s writer with SPCK I am trying to streamline my online presence – but this takes time. So my advice: don’t take on more than you can chew!

It’s the same with social media: I am on Linked In, Goodreads, Twitter and FB but really only focus on Twitter and FB. They suit me and my relational personality more. I might give Goodreads another go but there are only a few hours in the day that I can (or should!) devote to social media. I would advise writers trying to build their online presence to choose one or two outlets and do them well. That being said, these days, having an online presence and being active in social media is one of the things publishers take into consideration when deciding whether or not to take your book. So do it, but do it wisely (ain’t hindsight a wonderful thing?).

What now for Poppy Denby and future writing projects?

I’m very excited that Poppy 2 has now been sent off to my publisher. I will be focusing mainly on lecturing over the Autumn plus promoting The Jazz Files. In between I will start research for Poppy 3. In the New Year I am looking forward to working on a new children’s series with SPCK. Beyond that, I’m very tempted to start pitching Poppy Denby Investigates as a television series. I would like to do the adaptation myself. A girl can dream, can’t she? And sometimes, just sometimes, those dreams come true.

You can buy a copy of The Jazz Files here.



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The poison of comparison


We’ve all done it haven’t we (well, I certainly hope it isn’t just me!)? Taken side-long glances at someone at church and wished we were more like them: more ‘spiritual’ (like we assume they are), more confident, perhaps even more beautiful? But what does the habit of comparison do to us?

Such moments of comparison inevitably create feelings of inferiority and condemnation and can cause us to cover up our own inadequacies. One of the main reasons for going to church is to encourage and build up one another:

‘And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another’ (Hebrews 10:24–25).

Sadly the poison of comparison infects this process and so the encouragement we can receive from meeting with one another is cut off. I’ve had instances in which I’ve struggled severely with feelings of inadequacy within a few minutes of entering a church building. My response is to turn inwards – it feels like my personality is literally curling in on itself – and then I either find a means of escaping conversations or I put on a big, ‘happy’ smile and pretend all is okay, confidently speaking out while all the while I’m withering inside.

It took me a long time to understand that by comparing myself to whichever person it was, I was comparing all my week’s baggage with their present image – and often I did it without even speaking to them!

God gently began to talk to me and remind me that what I was seeing on the outside was just a snapshot of their life. I couldn’t possibly know what their week had been like, and how they were emotionally, physically and spiritually, without asking them – and without them choosing to give me an honest answer.

They could have shouted at their kids on the way to church, sworn at their partner in an argument in the week and gossiped about their boss because they were fed up with them. They could be wrestling with God about unanswered questions or prayers or be carrying some really deep hurt that is causing them a huge amount of pain… So to base my response to people on such an enormous amount of assumptions was really unhealthy and unhelpful.

Often our conversations remain on a superficial level because we are protecting ourselves. We are uncomfortable and unsure of our footing with those around us precisely because of the assumptions and comparisons we’ve made. By doing this, we’ve allowed the poison of comparison to infect our relationships.

The truth is, many of us are longing to know that we are not alone in our struggles. One of the wonderful things about church is that we can meet like-minded people and learn to support one another. We can be honest and share what difficulties we are facing and receive support – through prayer and practical help – as well as encouragement to worship God through the suffering. I wonder if we can stop the comparisons long enough to get a bit deeper and give ourselves the chance to experience that…

I explore this issue further in my forthcoming book: Authentic Church: learning to live mask-free.

This article first appeared on Christian Today.

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True beauty

girl looking in mirrorI have a ten-year-old daughter who is beginning to be obsessed with fashion, make-up and yes, dare I say it, her figure.

I love the growing opportunities for girly shopping days together, as we have a huge amount of fun and the one-on-one time is priceless. But I am alarmed at the preoccupations that are already surfacing. She is thin, but apparently not as thin as one of her friends. She has some fantastic outfits (mainly from her older cousins, which is such a blessing), but is apparently not as ‘fashionable’ as that same friend (outfits are ‘judged’ at school discos).

Right from an early age, I have been teaching her that inner beauty is more important than outer beauty, but as she is growing ever closer to teenage-hood I can see the message ‘you must be thin and beautiful to be worth anything’ beginning to penetrate her mind. Alarmed, I have started to ask myself: Am I perpetuating the acceptance of that silent message somehow?

Yes, as I’ve hit and passed the ripe old age of forty, I’ve uttered the words ‘Oh no! I’ve put on weight!’ as I’ve tried to squeeze into a pair of skinny jeans, and have also asked ‘Does this outfit make me look fat?’ And guys this isn’t just a female-only problem: the message of the media is that you need to be toned and beautiful to be successful. The male grooming industry has exploded in recent years, so I know it is not just we women who obsess about such things.

I recently read a tweet from Stylish, quoting Helen Mirram: ‘I hate the word beautiful, I wish there were another word for it’.

That got me thinking about what true beauty is, and what I want my daughter to think about when she asks herself: Am I beautiful?

I do believe that the media’s constant use of glamorous models, whatever it is they are advertising, drip feeds us with the idea that we need to try to attain what, for some, is an unattainable goal. Here’s some of the ideas I’ve been using to combat the unhelpful messages we find all around us:

• Ask yourself: Am I happy in my skin?

When we remember that God has knitted us together in our mothers’ wombs (Psalm 139:13–14), and that each one of us is totally unique, it is time to accept ourselves for who we are. We can each strive for acceptance and affirmation from others (yes, my spirit is lifted when someone says ‘you look nice today’!), and yet God has a never-ending supply of both, if we would just look to Him.

Here’s an excerpt of the verses from psalms, taken from The Message. If you find it hard to accept your body shape, why not spend some time meditating on this, speaking it over yourself, because you are a marvellous creation:

‘Body and soul, I am marvelously made!

I worship in adoration—what a creation!’

Learn to be positive, and celebrate you for the person God made you to be; the real you.

• Stop obsessing about what you wear.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to look good, or enjoying the process of dressing smartly (and putting on make-up if you like wearing it), but allowing it to take over your focus isn’t healthy.

I have written previously about dressing our spirits; we can spend so long choosing what to wear but do we daily make a conscious decision to put on those garments that God has laid out for us?:

‘So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.’ (Colossians 3:12–14, The Message)

beloved cover

• Change your idea of what beauty truly is.

As part of my daily reflections I am working through Rachel Gardner’s great book Beloved. Just today I got to her chapter on beauty, and loved the way she turned the definition of beauty on its head. She explains how our society has reduced beauty to glamour (outside, superficial, skin-deep beauty), and has some great, quotable lines on the difference between the two:

‘If glamour is the blusher painted onto your face, beauty is the inner radiance that lights you up from the inside.’

‘If glamour is the outfit that helps you make an entrance, beauty is your generous heart that makes your presence change the atmosphere.’

‘If glamour is the perfume clinging to your clothes, beauty is the fragrance of your life that lingers long after you’ve left the room.’

It is interesting to see how the Bible speaks directly about the importance of inner, rather than surface, beauty:

‘Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God. This is how the holy women of old made themselves beautiful.’ (I Peter 3:3–5, NLT)

Taking the time to cultivate that gentle spirit has, so far, been a lifelong journey for me, so I’m taking these verses as an encouragement to keep on going!

It is this overall message that I hope to convey to my daughter, and it has also challenged me to think about the way that I live. Later on in her beauty chapter Rachel also says: ‘The goal of glamour is to make everyone feel envious. The goal of beauty is to make everyone feel loved.’ Isn’t that so true? We can get a fleeting feeling of contentment (or smugness – let’s call it by its true name!) when we know people are looking at us enviously. But those we look up to, those we describe as having a ‘beautiful spirit’, are those people who go out of their way to make others feel loved and accepted. They are the true successes; and the true world-changers.

• Remember your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.

I am certainly not saying that we should let our bodies go to wrack and ruin. They are a gift, and we have a responsibility to look after them and keep them healthy, which often takes more work as we get older. I know the following verses from 1 Corinthians are in a passage about refraining from sexual immorality, but I think they are a good checkpoint for us to see what our attitudes to our bodies are:

‘Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.’ (1 Corinthians 6:19–20, NIVUK).

The Holy Spirit is in us; is our attitude towards our bodies and the way we behave towards those we are in contact during the day honouring to Him?

This article first appeared on the Christian Today website.

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Suffragette – and sacrifice

SUFFRAGETTEOfficialUKPosterI was so excited to see the new film Suffragette last night. It was everything I was hoping it would be – challenging, inspiring, uncomfortable in (lots of) places, beautifully shot, well acted. When I take the time to ponder what those women went through I still can’t quite believe that it was such a relatively short time ago. Our generation of women owe a huge debt of gratitude to the women of that era who refused to be silenced. (But yes I do acknowledge there is still much to be done…)

I have to say, I’m not sure that I would have condoned the violent methods that were employed by the WSPU. But watching the film last night, having the bits of history literally brought to life in front of me, did make me think again. How would I have felt if I had been led to believe that there were men in government that supported votes for women, who spent time listening to women’s testimonies, only to be told in a quick announcement that nothing was changing? As Meryl Streep said in her speech as Emmeline Pankhurst, for fifty years they had tried peaceful methods. How much pent-up frustration must there have been amongst the crowd of women at that point?

suffragette film pic

I know, if I’m truly honest, how frustrated I get if my voice isn’t heard. So while I can’t say I agree with all I saw and have read about their methods, and it’s a shame the film didn’t include the more peaceful ways the suffragists, for example, protested, I don’t feel that I can sit in judgement. I can’t get the thought of the women being expected to simply accept the decision out of my mind, and the way the police dispersed the crowd using violence – and even physical abuse (ripping clothes and groping).

The film’s action is propelled by the story of a young mother, Maud. It is hugely emotive at times – she seems to be pushed into becoming a suffragette by others and I found myself finding that rather uncomfortable. But, trying not to give too much away, she gets to a point where standing up for the rights of women could cost her everything – including her family. I was really challenged by that. Is there a cause that I’m that passionate about?

Then I thought to myself: what would I do if there comes a point in my life when following Jesus could cost me my family? It’s such a painful thing to consider – and yet the Bible talks about us losing our lives for Jesus (Matthew 10:39), and there are many around the world doing just that right now.

What I was reading as part of my daily devotion today, Rachel Gardner’s wonderful book Beloved, has a line that really jumped out at me: ‘Nothing life can offer, including life itself, can compare to knowing Jesus’. Wow. I know I know that, but just reading it afresh made that truth hit me again. Wow.

Watching Suffragette made me truly grateful for those who stood up for what they believed in, and also made me question whether I ever do the same. But this morning I’ve been challenged once again to consider how much I am willing to give up for Jesus…

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International Day of the Girl

This weekend, on October 11th, it is International Day of the Girl. This is too important a day to let it pass without comment, so I’m writing this now while I’m at my desk. There are too many girls out there in the world still facing the terrors of war, rape, female genital mutilation, child marriage… And too many being denied an education and the hope of a future that is different to their present. Here’s some sobering facts from the UN Women website:

  • Worldwide, more than 700 million women were married as children (below 18 years of age). More than one in three—or some 250 million—were married before 15. And child brides are often unable to effectively negotiate safe sex, leaving them vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy.
  • Every 10 minutes, somewhere in the world, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence.
  • In emergencies, adolescent girls are especially vulnerable to sexual violence, and in some cases, are abducted and exploited for sexual purposes by armed groups.
  • Nearly half (44 per cent) of adolescent girls worldwide aged 15 to 19 think a husband or partner is justified in hitting or beating his wife or partner under certain circumstances.

As a mum of a 10-year-old daughter, my thoughts naturally turn to her on when I think about International Day of the Girl. Because she’s MY girl. And because I love her so so much, I want to protect her from the big, bad world out there. But I also know I can’t, and that it would be wrong to. She is her own person, growing into her own woman. But just this week, I’ve been pondering the messages and life lessons I’ve been giving her. Written after a paragraph listing all the limitations so many girls around the world have, it seems almost flippant to say one of those is about beauty. And yes, I’ve even written about it in my regular column. And yet that issue is about education too. And about what society tells our daughters they must think and feel – and expect.

I’ve loved watching social media’s response to Nadiya Hussain winning the BBC’s Great British Bake Off. People were captivated by her speech and it’s been plastered across my Facebook status page. And rightly so. The words are full of confidence and courage, as well as tenacity and determination:

I’m never going to put boundaries on myself ever again.

I’m never going to say I can’t do it.

I’m never going to say maybe.

I’m never going to say I don’t think I can.


This is something I hope and pray for my own daughter, as I watch her struggle with issues such as identity, beauty and friendship. As I try to support her as she navigates the sometimes unfair and pressurised world of preparing for secondary school (we live in a highly oversubscribed, grammar school area).

This is something I hope and pray for our sponsored child, a daughter from Tanzania who wants to be a teacher when she grows up. Whose favourite colour is the same as my son’s, and who is always telling us that she is praying for us when she writes.

This is something that I hope and pray for the other daughters of the world – that they will be granted those opportunities that every girl should have a right to access.

And it is also something that I pray for myself too. Far too often, it is easy to leave courage behind and to allow fear to put those old boundaries up again. But, in the knowledge that my faith brings me, I know we were created to be free, to be brave, fierce, sensitive, creative, to be trailblazers. I want to forge as far ahead as I can in my lifetime, along with my peers, so that my daughter’s generation reach even further than we do.

International Day of the Girl is about ALL our futures – let’s do whatever we can to support and educate the girls of today.

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Why I’m glad my friends aren’t nice…

beth-new-cropped-w179I’m so pleased Beth Moran agreed to write a guest blog for my site. She is a brilliant writer, drawing the reader in right from the word go in the way she constructs her storylines. Her characters are totally believable and we get to share the best and worst moments of their lives. In honour of Women’s Friendship Month, on this last day of September, I asked Beth to write about the importance of friendship in women’s lives. This is one of the themes that weaves throughout her latest novel, I Hope You Dance, which centres around Ruth, a woman in her thirties who has just lost her husband. She discovers he has left her with a mountain of secret debts so she and her teenage daughter have to move back into her parents’ home. Ruth has to learn to face her past, present and future head on…

I’m going to come right out with it: for a long time, I had big issues with Christian women. Well, not all of them. It was the nice ones I had a problem with. The ones that always smiled, and said encouraging things, who made little jokes about their own deficiencies while their faces glowed and shiny hair sat perfectly in place. Those women who never complained, or gossiped, or growled at anyone. Who tirelessly served others, forsaking the last piece of cake so someone else could have two. Not once kicking up a fuss or making a mess or forgetting a birthday.

Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely liked these women. My issue was, I didn’t trust them.

Oh, I trusted them to do what they promised, to keep a secret, to be kind.

I didn’t trust them to be my friend.

I didn’t trust them when they said, “Well done, you were fantastic!” or “It was so wonderful to see you!” or told me how gorgeous I looked, or what a mess their car was or how they totally understood why I just kicked a chair across the kitchen.

I was dubious about the fact they were doing “really well!”, had an amazing time – every time, no matter what or where or how long the time. I didn’t quite believe they always loved being a mum, or a wife, or a Christian, or none of those things, as much as it appeared. And I couldn’t accept they liked me.

Instead, I felt comfortable with those who were blunt, who sometimes shouted at their kids in public, who made loud, large mistakes. I found myself spending time with women whose houses were a tip, honoured they invited me into the chaos. Grateful they were honest enough to tell me when they’d had a flaming row with their husband, or felt useless and weak, or were too tired to pray anymore. Or that I’d hurt them.

I loved these women, who welcomed me with open arms into their imperfections. I felt safe to be imperfect, too. These were the women I could turn to when I couldn’t forgive, or struggled to do the right thing, or I wanted a genuine answer to “Does my bum look big in this?”

But a weird thing happened. Me and these non-nice women, over time we learnt to have our rants in private, to share our fears, our troubles, our sins, with coffee in our messy living rooms not after Sunday services.

Together we learnt to lean on each other before things reached snapping point. To share advice and faith and lessons we’ve learnt about living well.

And then I realised this: nice women let off steam from time to time. They can feel angry and worried and overwhelmed, just like the rest of us.

The women who appear strong and assured in public, who are pretty darn fantastic at what they do; the women who can laugh at the days to come, despite current trials, or past pain – those women have learnt the value of true friendship in private. To cherish a small number of absolute, 24/7, warts and all people in their life. Those who cheer us on, who pray with us, who help us to be the women we were created to be. Those friends who tell us when we need to find a better balance, or stop whining and get moving, or where to go and have a decent bra fitted.

When we have a few, well-chosen people we can be our worst selves with, we are able to face the rest of the world as our best selves.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be thought of as one of those nice women. I’m embarrassingly honest, prone to getting feisty and I have a sense of humour that hovers on the boundaries of taste. But I’m okay with that. And I’m so grateful that some women love and trust me enough not to be nice to me all the time. It’s how I know they count me as their friends.

9781782641704Beth’s latest book, I Hope You Dance, is available now, and is published by Lion Fiction.

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Women’s Friendship Month

I know that we are on the last stretch of September, but, as I only recently discovered this, I didn’t want to let International Women’s Friendship Month pass by without mentioning it. Started by a national women’s sorority in the United States, originally as a national day, it was expanded to a month and is now recognised internationally.

9781782641704One of the books I read this month was I Hope You Dance, by Beth Moran. It is a beautiful story about love, loss and new beginnings but what struck me most was the portrayal of deep friendships amongst the group of women that her central character, Ruth, finds herself becoming a part of. Wary, cynical and untrusting to begin with, Ruth is taken aback by the level of openness that is shared amongst these somewhat unlikely friends and is slowly drawn into the centre of their friendship circle. I love the fact that they are a real mix of characters, who would probably never have got to know each other if it wasn’t for their attendance at the local church. Unlikely friendships are so wonderful at revealing some of the creativity of our Maker don’t you think?

There is something about friendship amongst women that is so vital, so life-giving. To be affirmed, encouraged and spurred on is so necessary. But it’s also those friends that are willing to give us a kick up the backside when we need it, or know us well enough to be able to tell us when we look worn out (because we know they will do all they can to help us rest), that we desperately need. Life is enriched when we open ourselves up to the possibility of such deep relationships. I know it is scary, as it also opens up the possibility of being hurt. But there is always risk in relationship isn’t there? Being loved and accepted by other women, and loving and accepting them in return is a wonderful gift. Yes there are those sticky moments at times when we might ruffle each other’s feathers – but that’s an important part of friendship too. We learn to be more gracious – and can also learn a lot about ourselves, if we allow ourselves to. I just wanted to pause today and thank God for my friends – why don’t you too?

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