What I have been reading: Spring

I know that we are well into summertime now, but I hope you will forgive the lateness of this post. I have been working hard on two books (both of which will be published in November – more details to follow). But, although I have had a little less time than usual, I have been delving into my pile of unread books and have a great selection for you below. I have the pleasure of knowing a few of the authors and it is great to be able to celebrate their amazing achievements with them (and to actually really like their books! 😉 ) I will also be posting up interviews with a couple of the authors featured here in the coming weeks so do look out for those…

Mosaic Of Grace New Cover Black EdgeMosaic of Grace
by James Prescott

This book oozes authenticity. James has obviously been on a huge journey into understanding more about God’s grace, and he shares beautifully and honestly with the reader. There are also stories from others that back up what he’s saying. I was so encouraged by this book, as God has been saying such similar things to me – isn’t it great when that happens? If you want to understand more about the precious grace of God, and be drawn in by an engaging writer, then look no further.

THroughmartha'seyesThrough Martha’s Eyes
by Corinne Brixton

I have recently discovered that I enjoy biblical fiction and I was intrigued to read this particular title, as I have read a few books based around Martha’s story in the last year or so. This one was definitely more scholarly in approach to begin with – the author is keen to capture 1st century Judea, with all its traditions and customs, well – which she does. I found I was a bit impatient in the first part of the book, eager to get to the action, but I was totally gripped partway through and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the book.

InkcoverInk
by Alice Broadway

I had heard a lot about this novel, and knew its first print run had sold out extremely quickly. Some are hailing it the new Hunger Games; others told me it was suitable for my 11-year-old daughter. So I picked it up with great curiosity. Alice is a wonderful writer and I was drawn into the dystopian world she has created immediately. The premise of the story is fascinating, as every significant event in a person’s life is tattooed on their skin and, at their death, they are skinned (descriptions not for the faint hearted) and then weighed to see if they are deemed worthy of being made into a book of remembrance. This novel tackles big issues such as love, loyalty, trust and immortality, and there are biblical stories and ideas woven into it too. I will be interested to read the next book in the trilogy – the jury is still out as to whether my squeamish daughter will be reading this one!

whatfallsfromtheskycoverWhat Falls From the Sky
by Esther Emery

When most of us face a life-changing crisis in our lives we can have a tendency to hide ourselves away or rant a lot online. Not Esther – she gave up the internet for a year and then wrote about it! I love her honesty and the wrestling within her journey. The book is full of struggle and yet contains a huge amount of hope too. She doesn’t shy away from discussing the difficult relationships in her life – and the things she doesn’t like about herself. She had walked away from faith in the past, and it was beautiful to read how the silence drew her back to God. If you know you are too dependent on technology or are experiencing a crisis then I would thoroughly recommend you read this book. For anyone else I would say – read it too!

therunawayThe Runaway
by Claire Wong

This book is about a close-knit Welsh community and what happens when a teenager runs away from home. Then two strangers enter her village not long after she leaves it and old secrets begin to be discovered… The story is centred around the teenager Rhiannon, hence the title, but there is great treatment of each character. I warmed to many of them – mainly the strong, positive female characters such as Maebh and Grace. I love the way storytelling is given such prominence in the book too.

This is Claire’s first novel (she has written a lot of poetry) and it shows great promise and skill – I’ll be looking out for her next book.

annabelleeAnnabel Lee
by Mike Nappa

This thriller is not the usual type of book I read – and it wasn’t a clear cut story either, which kept me guessing for a long time. Annabel Lee is the main subject of the story, a young girl who is hidden in a bunker near the start of the book. The secrets surrounding her are eventually discovered by private investigators Coffey and Hill, although they are complicated figures too. In fact each character is unusual, and the novel twists and turns throughout. I found the author’s treatment of ‘the Mute’ particularly fascinating. I wasn’t sure how to engage with the book to begin with, but found I began turning the pages more and more quickly as I wanted to discover all the links. If you like thrillers then I would definitely suggest you try this book out.

thelivingcrossThe Living Cross
by Amy Boucher Pye

This is a devotional for Lent, which I used this year. Utilising daily reflections and prayers I found it a really helpful and thought-provoking book. The theme Amy focuses on throughout is forgiveness and the scriptures and stories she shares from others really gets the reader to dig deep into the subject – such a skill when there is only limited space each day. There are also creative ideas to interact with, which means the book would lend itself well to a group as well as for individual study. I’ve never been through a Lent devotional before but I was glad I started with this one!

thesecondbride


The Second Bride

by Katharine Swartz

This was my chosen fiction book to take away during half term break. I was away with my extended family so I thought I would simply be dipping in and out of it when I had a spare moment. However I read the book in one straight sitting because I was completely hooked (and it happened to be the one rainy day and everyone else was occupied with games or their own books – phew!).

The Second Bride is about a family in which the parents have each been married before. It is when the mum’s (Ellen’s) stepdaughter Annabelle moves in that the tension levels hit the roof. Alongside their difficult story is one from the 1870s – connected to theirs from the outset when Ellen finds a death certificate hidden under their floorboards. To begin with, I found the way that the book hops from one story to the other quite tricky (as I wanted to find out what was happening to the characters and didn’t like the interruption). However, I got used to the rhythm and found myself reading faster and faster as the emotions and stories heightened. When the rain stopped and I was invited to go on a walk I commented to my family that I couldn’t believe how many emotions I had been through while reading this book, and I couldn’t possibly stop until I got to the very end! It is certainly a gripping page turner…

 

 

What I have been reading: winter

Here is a selection of books that I’ve read over the last few months – including those I saved for the Christmas holidays to enjoy at a relaxed pace.

pete-greig-dirty-glory-highDirty Glory
By Pete Greig

I have read Pete’s previous books, so was eagerly anticipating this one. The follow on from Red Moon Rising, which charted the first five years of the 24-7 Prayer movement, this book picks up where that one left off and comments on the subsequent 15 years.

Pete is extremely honest in this book, in which he shares the struggles, miracles and insights both he and others in the 24-7 team have learned.

This is a real faith-building book, as it is full of inspiring stories – often in the unlikeliest of places. As Pete himself said: ‘There are stories in this book that will fry your noodles!’

Pete talks about how they have remained faithful to their calling through extremely difficult times, such as his wife’s illness and those moments when pioneering was no longer exciting. He also shares some of his insights into what prayer actually is, and how important it is to be real with God.

I learned a great deal from this book, laughed and cried – and bought it for friends for Christmas. It’s definitely a life-changer.

listening-to-godListening to God
By Joyce Huggett

Another book on prayer, this is a classic that I had never actually read before. Pete Greig actually endorsed the 30th anniversary edition that I read – saying that there are many books on talking to God but few about listening to Him. That is so true, and I found Joyce’s disarming honesty about her own journey so helpful and compelling.

Joyce offers much practical advice for anyone who is stirred to journey further with God, to understand how to better listen to Him. This is another book I would recommend to anyone who hasn’t read it before.

becoming-reverend-front-cover-hi-res-imageBecoming Reverend
By Matt Woodcock

This is an amusing, heartfelt, honest – and sometimes irreverent – book charting Matt’s journey from journalist to vicar. Written in diary form, the reader journeys with him, as he expresses all the highs and lows of following his calling – and what that means for him and his family. (Some may be offended by his opinion of ‘vicar school’, as he calls it – just a little warning!)

At the same time as attending theological college, Matt and his wife were struggling with infertility, and the failure of IVF. The book includes the gut-wrenching pain they went through – as well as the soaring celebration when they finally got pregnant and then gave birth to twins (although there were still struggles to come).

Being married to a pastor myself, there were moments that really resonated with me. If you like quirky, comedic but also really honest writing then I would suggest you might like to try reading this book.

barefootBarefoot
By Sharon Garlough Brown

Wow. Just wow. I LOVE Sharon’s writing, having already devoured her previous two titles in the ‘Sensible Shoes’ series that this is a part of. I really feel like I know the four main characters, Mara, Hannah, Charissa and Meg and so was desperate to find out what happened next in their intertwined lives.

Sharon is a spiritual director, and she uses the fictional stories of these four women to share real wisdom and insight into journeying with God through the real ups and downs of life. She tackles issues such as divorce, unfulfilled dreams, dealing with the difficult choices a daughter has made and makes the characters so ‘real’ in their responses. As they each discover spiritual exercises for themselves, Sharon also provides further details for the reader – I have found those really helpful.

It is actually some of the dialogue between characters and God, or with each other, that have affected me most profoundly – I have written out quotes from them in my journal and go back to them time and time again.

If you haven’t already read Sensible Shoes, the first in the series, start there – and then devour the three books just like I have. This is definitely the most spiritually forming and instructing set of fiction books that I have ever read. I am excited (but also saddened as it means the series is coming to an end) that there is one more book to come.

knowing-annaKnowing Anna
By Sarah Meyrick

This is a really interesting and unusual book, which starts just at the moment when the title character dies of cancer. She asks her close family and friends to embark on a pilgrimage after her death, and we pick up the story as they begin walking the Pilgrims’ Way towards Canterbury. Each one has memories and aspects of themselves that they wrestle with, and the various chapters focus on different characters. The priest that is leading them offers up reflections for their moments of silence each day, and the way that the individuals respond to that provides much more depth to the story.

This isn’t the sort of book I read usually, and I was intrigued by it. I found I turned the pages quickly, eager to find out what happened. There were a few elements that I found slightly unnecessary, but that’s just a personal thing (such as the language, and certain parts of people’s stories). But, overall, it was a book that kept my interest, and also made me think.

sinister-student-photoSinister Student
By Kel Richards

This is one that I saved to read during the Christmas holidays, as it seemed like a nice light read. I loved the fact that the main characters included C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. It is a murder mystery – and I discovered that it is one of a whole series of books with C.S. Lewis acting as an aide to the police’s investigations.

I did enjoy this book, but I was actually a little put off by the sub-plot. All the way through, the other main character, Morris, who is an atheist, had an ongoing debate with the others about how gruesome he felt the cross is as a symbol for Christianity. Now I’m all for writing fiction that subtly addresses issues of faith so that it reaches a wide audience, but this was not subtle at all and I found myself annoyed when it interrupted the flow of the story. If a Christian like me is annoyed by it, I cringed to think how those who do not share my beliefs may respond to this aspect of the book. Better than I did I hope! I had intended to check out the rest of the series – but I’m now in two minds about doing so…

alabastarAlabaster
By Chris Aslan

One of the discoveries that I have made, since I started reviewing books and therefore am sent a whole variety of genres, is that I enjoy biblical fiction. When I first started reading this book, I thought it was based in biblical times, and had used biblical stories as inspiration. It took me a while to realise that it was a retelling of an actual biblical story! Having realised, I then wasn’t sure about the back story that has been created. It is very imaginative, but I’m still hesitant. I definitely empathised with the characters, and the book did give a different perspective that challenged my preconceived ideas and made me look at the story afresh. So, in that sense, I guess the book has done its job. It’s certainly beautifully written and I was fully immersed in the story, eager for free moments to read more.

 

What I read over the summer

I know I am posting this rather late – but better late than never! I took time off of blogging while my kids were on holiday, and have been busy finishing off a book I am co-writing since they went back to school. But I read some great books during the summer, so wanted to share them with you:

vis-fearful-symmetryFearful Symmetry
By C.F. Dunn
I was so excited that I got to read the final book in the gripping ‘Secret of the Journal’ series before it was officially released, as I am a great fan. It certainly didn’t disappoint, as I was totally engrossed right until the end. Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing the author about her writing process and how she felt having finished the series. I was feeling quite bereft knowing that I wouldn’t be engaging with the characters anymore – it seems she has ways of keeping them alive in her head and getting to know them better! I would definitely recommend this whole series. If you haven’t read them at all, they are quite epic but flow really naturally and draw you in immediately. The series would make a great Christmas present…

the-fragmentjpegThe Fragment
Davis Bunn
This book was sent to me by the publisher the day before I was flying out on holiday, so it made it into my hand luggage. It was a delightful read, very well crafted and full of interest from the off. It is set in 1923, and centres around Muriel Ross, a young American photographer who travels to Paris to document antiques for a US Senator. But all is not as it seems, and she ends up part of a much more dangerous mission… Historical interest, intrigue and romance all interweave with one another seamlessly. I will certainly be looking up some of the author’s other books now.

chosenjpegChosen?
Mel Menzies
Having read Mel’s Time to Shine, I was looking forward to seeing what Evie Adams’ latest clients would reveal and how they would impact on her. I didn’t realise how personal this story would be for the main character, but loved finding out more about her – often at the same time as she did! It was interesting to see how Mel explored the whole concept of being ‘chosen’ – one of the other major characters, Matt, is adopted and the book charts his journey into discovering more about his birth parents and wider family. Through her characters, Mel tussles with the thought of whether being adopted means you are chosen or cheated. One of the other main themes is about being free to make our own choices – both Evie and another character, Sophie, have moments in which they have to decide whether to face both their fears and their own responses to situations and people, or to hide from the truth. Yet again, Mel has used her own knowledge to create a riveting book about some difficult subjects – it is well worth a read.

9781782642053

End of the Roadie
Elizabeth Flynn
I felt I still needed to include this book, even though I interviewed Elizabeth for her official blog tour on my website. She writes great detective mysteries with characters that are likeable and ‘real’. If you like this genre I would definitely recommend the book.

 

 

 

to-everything-a-timejpegTo Everything a Time
Eleanor Watkins
This is a story about a farming family who live in a rural setting, but still fairly close to a town. Centring around the wife, Alison, it is a very honest look at the challenges of raising teenagers and younger children. There are mysteries, misunderstandings, tears and laughter throughout, but it is also a really gentle read full of tenderness. As a farmer’s wife Alison is very aware of the seasons, and the book’s structure is hung on them too, which was a nice touch.

The family’s faith is a thread through the book too, and I like the way that the women of the community learn to share more deeply with one another and support each other through some tough times. Alison also shares times where she really sees God at work in her interactions with people – helpfully sharing her mistakes as well as good decisions 😉

Eleanor is obviously an accomplished writer: I was drawn into the story very quickly and felt like I could really empathise with Alison – as well as draw my own life lessons from those she was learning.

simplifyusejpegSimplify
Bill Hybels
I started reading this as research for the book I’m co-writing on how to deal with burnout, but I soon found it is full of really practical advice helpful for anyone juggling 21st century living. I don’t know why we all rush about so much, filling our time with endless chores – advances in technology haven’t given us the extra time and space we all thought it would (we are now constantly available – if we are allow ourselves to be!). I stopped reading after the first couple of chapters, as I felt it was a great book to work through with my husband. Each chapter ends with questions/reflections for you to apply to your own life and we have found them extremely challenging and helpful.

holyhabitscoverHoly Habits
Andrew Roberts
This book explores the ten ‘holy habits’ we see in Acts 2 (biblical teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread, prayer, giving, service, eating together, gladness and generosity, worship and discipleship making). Andrew, a Methodist minister, uses a mixture of biblical background and real-life stories to put them into context for 21st-century disciples.

I like the fact that a lot of the chapters focus on cultivating and outworking these habit in community, as so many other discipleship books are more introspective. I did find it took me a little while to get into the book – I don’t know whether it is because there are a lot of quotes – and there were a few typos, which are a particular bugbear of mine.

I did like the suggestions for further reflection and action that Andrew provides at the end of each chapter. He facilitates personal and collective reflection and action both at a local as well as global level. He also helpfully provides recommended reading and, where relevant, further resources – the list within the chapter on prayer was particularly helpful as we have a week of prayer coming up as a church! His chapter on worship really got me thinking about how well we cater for everyone during a Sunday morning meeting. There is a lot to ponder in this book…

End of the Roadie

EndoftheRoadieblogtour

This is the third D.I. Costello book that I have read, and yet again Elizabeth has created a fun, well-paced mystery, detective book. This time the murder happens backstage at a concert, so we enter the world of musicians, roadies and ticket touters.

The characters are likeable and interact so well with one another that you can really begin to imagine their lives. I love the banter between the main characters, and the fact that Elizabeth shows them at home as well as at work. I saved this book to read on holiday, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn’t quite see the ending coming this time, which was very refreshing.

ElizabethFlynn2

I’m always fascinated to hear how other authors work, and so am thrilled Elizabeth has agreed to answer a few questions about her writing methods for this, the first day of her official blog tour:

 

This book is part of a series – did you have the ideas for all of the titles before you embarked on writing the first one, or has the series developed over time? 

I only had the first one at the beginning. That was the one set in Wimbledon: Game, Set and Murder. I’d had some help from Ali Hull of Lion Hudson, publishers, on the editing and writing style. It was from Ali that I heard of Lion Hudson’s plans to ‘go mainstream’ with a new imprint: Lion Fiction, and I asked her whether I should present my novel. In fact she sent it to Tony Collins, the commissioning editor of the new imprint, on my behalf. He looked at the synopsis and first chapter and got back to me within the hour asking two questions: 1, did I plan to use the protagonist again? And, 2: Could he read the whole manuscript? This was the furthest I’d ever got with an agent or publisher before and I was just so excited. Of course I told him that I planned to use the protagonist again. I was very struck by his long-term view, even at that early stage. I whizzed off the entire manuscript to him and the rest is history. Dead Gorgeous, the second novel in the series was originally called Not Just a Pretty Face but Tony Collins didn’t really think it worked. I plucked Dead Gorgeous out of the air and sent the idea to him thinking I was about to begin a very lengthy back-and-forth of suggested titles and rejections but he emailed me back almost immediately saying he liked it and we stayed with it. I’m really pleased. I think it’s a lovely title. End of the Roadie was Tony’s suggestion. We’d had a lot of back and forth on the title and couldn’t come up with anything. I think End Of The Roadie is pretty neat.

It has been great to see how the main characters have developed and interact with one another over the three titles you’ve written so far. I find myself really connecting with them, wanting to know what happens to them and how they deal with everyday home life as well as their work. How have you felt that connection with your characters – do they seem to take on a character of their own (ie have they gone in directions you didn’t first envisage) or did you have a clear idea of what you wanted them to be like and what situations you would put them in before you started each new book?

I do feel a connection with my characters but I only have a loose idea of how they’re going to develop. I didn’t really know, before I found myself writing it, that Patrick’s daughter was going to move back home. (SPOILER ALERT!) This is mooted in the first novel in which she doesn’t appear but she moved in at the beginning of the second book and now she’s become one of the regular characters. I don’t really have much of an idea of how Patrick and Angela are going to develop. I do remember once, in a piece on the Association of Christian Writers website that someone, in giving advice to crime writers said: avoid clichés, not all detectives are alcoholic divorcées. So I’m very pleased to make Angela a happily married woman. Patrick is an ex-DI and he’s useful as a kind of back-up to Angela as well as her husband.

Do you have a particular place you like to write in? And do you have a particular writing schedule – are you quite disciplined about setting aside a certain amount of hours each day, or when you are in the midst of writing a new book does it simply take over and envelop your days until you are done?

I write wherever I am, so long as I’ve got a pad and pen or a PC to hand.  I’ve written while working on switchboards (when I was a telephonist), I’ve written on the beach and, of course, at the kitchen table. I tend to write more in the afternoon but it’s not a rigid timetable and I’ll write in the morning if I feel so moved. I only do about 1,00o words a day, give or take, and generally know when I’ve reached the end of that day’s session, at which point I stop until the next day.

9781782642053

The paperback and Kindle version of End of the Roadie are available here. Lion Fiction are also running a special offer promotion on the Kindle version of Dead Gorgeous, which you can purchase here.

If you like light-hearted, well-written murder mysteries, I would thoroughly recommend this series.

Author interview: Beth Moran

TheNameICallMyself blog tour posterI am delighted to be a part of the blog tour for Beth Moran’s third novel, The Name I Call Myself. It is a great summer read – a romance novel that also tackles some pretty huge subject matter including identity, grief, abuse, murder. It might sound heavy, but Beth writes in such a way that grips you right from the start and there are also some wonderful moments of female friendship and laughter. I asked Beth to give us some insight into her writing process for this novel:

What was the inspiration behind this new book?

The Name I Call Myself started with three different ideas that had been floating around inside my head for a while. Like all my books, this led to asking lots of questions, that I hoped The Name I Call Myself might begin to answer!

The first idea was a brother. I have two brothers and no sisters and my daughter also has two brothers and no sisters, so I knew I would enjoy writing about a sister-brother relationship (my husband has seven brothers and no sisters, but that will be a whole other story!) I wanted to include a big brother who had once been his sister`s hero, and explore what happens when that dynamic shifts, and he is the one needing help. Is there a limit to the sacrifices we should make for a sibling?

The second idea I wanted to write about was a secret past, and a main character who has changed her name. I wondered how trying to keep that covered up would affect how she felt about herself. Does keeping old secrets mean you can never really leave them behind, or are some things better kept in the past?

But all that sounds a bit serious and heavy… I knew this woman was going to need some help, and also something to smile about, and that fit really well with the third idea, which was a choir. I sang in choirs in my younger days and really enjoyed them. They are also great equalisers, where age, size, status or labels are irrelevant, and stresses, problems and to-do lists are cast aside for a while. And let’s be honest, most of us women can do with places like that! There is also something incredible that happens when we work together to create something beautiful. And as well as being a safe place where anyone could unashamedly be their messed up, crazy selves, this choir needed to be a whole lot of fun!

Why did you decide to tackle such big issues as grief, abuse, murder and addiction?

Goodness! I certainly didn’t set out with that in mind… It was really the two threads of the brother in trouble and the secret past. Once I’d established the reasons for Faith and her brother Sam changing their identities, which had to be fairly horrific, I worked with the fact that an early trauma, if not dealt with well, can often lead to making bad choices later on. I wanted the contrast of one sibling who ended up very needy, and another who dealt with the past by trying to become independent and tough. I like including both big, serious issues and more fun elements in my stories because I think that`s the way life is for most of us.

What are your working methods when writing a novel?

I start mulling over ideas for the next novel about halfway through writing the one before it. This includes a lot of daydreaming, often while driving or walking or cleaning my house. I play around with plot elements, start getting to know the main characters and keep a notebook full of scrappy thoughts, random conversations, half-written sentences and loads of questions.

Before I start writing I spend a couple of weeks getting the main plot together, ending up with three or four sides of notes, following a rough order. I then create a document where I keep any more random thoughts that pop up, a timeline, areas needing research and themes I want to develop.

Once I’m ready to begin, I tend to make detailed plans for each section of the book as I go, so every day I know what I’m writing about. I also aim for a rough word count each week. This will range from 5000 -12,000 words depending on how busy I am with other things. I find it really difficult to write unless I have a clear two or three hours, but if I have an odd hour I will edit, plot details or do some research, so I’m always adding to the notes as well as the main book. I find that if I start to feel a bit lost, or progress becomes heavy going, getting back to the notes always helps me refocus, and the more planning I do in advance, the quicker I write. Having said that, I often experience that weird phenomenon where my characters just seem to take over and lead me off into a completely unexpected direction, so there are always surprises for me too!

moran_bethBeth’s new novel is available now, in both paperback and Kindle formats.

As a special promotional offer during the blog tour, Beth’s second novel, I Hope You Dance, is available on Kindle for £1.19. I absolutely loved that book, and asked Beth to write a guest post for me when it first came out, which you can read here. It was on the theme of friendship, which is a common thread in her books.

What I have been reading: Spring

Here’s a selection of the books that I have been reading in recent months:

Realm of Darknessrealm of darknesspic
By C.F. Dunn

I waited until the Easter holidays to delve into this delight as the ‘Secret of the Journal’ series has a way of gripping your attention so much that reading the books takes over! This, the fourth in a series of five, was eagerly awaited by me (the books are huge, but I am always impatient for the author to finish the next one – and still find that I have to flick through the previous ones to remember where the storyline has got to, although she has thoughtfully provided a ‘The Story So Far’ section at the beginning of each book). The series is described as historical, romantic suspense – possibly not my usual genre of choice, but I LOVE Claire’s writing and have devoured each of these books. The last in the series is out in September – I heartily recommend you starting from book one now so that you are ready for it come the autumn!

she'salmostateenagerShe’s Almost a Teenager
By Peter and Heather Larson and David and Claudia ARP

I was sent this book and put it on the side in my office thinking it would become useful in a year or two. However, I recently picked it up and found it full of incredibly helpful advice. My daughter is at the tween stage, and there is so much understanding, grace and love in the pages of this book that I am thoroughly grateful for it right now. The strapline is ‘Essential conversations to have now…’ and the subjects covered include friends, academics, body image, faith, boys, money etc. I have to confess I’ve only read four of the eight chapters so far – but that’s because I am taking my time, being challenged, writing copious notes and engaging in the suggested topics of conversation with my daughter. She noticed the book sat on the side one day, picked it up and was straight away eager to start talking! What a blessing this book has been to me, and my relationship with my daughter, so I would definitely recommend it.

having a mary heartcoverHaving a Mary Heart in a Martha World
By Joanna Weaver

I am working through this book with my women’s book study group once a month, so I haven’t finished it yet – but, like the previous book, it is full of wisdom and is speaking to me hugely so I wanted to flag it up now. I love the way Joanna describes how those of us who can be duty led (and love our ‘to do’ lists) so well, and then also reflects the longings of our hearts – to be still and sit at Jesus’ feet. With so much vying for our time and talents, it can be so hard to do just that, but she has certainly helped me, and others in the group, to start putting little practises into place to facilitate being with Jesus. Of course much of it I already knew, or had read before, but I have found I have really connected with this book and many of the subjects covered are things God has already been talking to me about so it has been very timely. I have mentioned some of this in my regular column for Christian Today – here are links to two articles.

woundedbyGod's peopleWounded by God’s People
By Anne Graham Lotz

I was intrigued to read this book, as I had heard it is Anne’s most personal book (indeed the jacket says that). She has been very open about difficulties and hurts both her and her husband have endured, but doesn’t dwell on them – they are there to back up the biblical principles she is exploring through the story of Hagar. She also includes other people’s stories so it isn’t all about her, which I was pleased to see. I also liked the touches of reflection and wondering about different aspects of Hagar’s story – where she allows her mind to think about what might have happened in more detail than we read in scripture.
Anne is very honest, which is refreshing, but also very direct – she talks about what she has learned but then turns her attention to the reader and asks where they are at. I’m not sure there is anything particularly new but I have underlined much within the pages – and I am always convinced that we Christians can be forgetful and need reminding of basic truths constantly!
In today’s culture, which bangs on about freedom meaning that we can do and be exactly what we like, it is good to be challenged on that and realise that God calls us to be His disciples. That involves a process of refining – and that means we need to readily share our hurts with God, be open to His healing and also allow Him to reveal our own blind spots to us. As Anne states, there is a blessing in brokenness, and a power in forgiving others – although there is also a cost involved. If this book helps people move past hurt towards healing then it has done its job well.

At therapy's endAt Therapy’s End
By Susie Flashman Jarvis

This book is fiction, but tackles some hugely difficult subjects that sadly occur in many people’s daily lives – domestic abuse and family tragedy. Susie is very sensitive in the way she has portrayed the characters and storyline, and I found I was drawn in to the book very quickly. I am sure her years of experience as a counsellor has helped shape her work, and I learned a lot from reading it. I have read her non-fiction too (her own story) and I actually felt this book was better written (possibly due to her growing as a writer – if that isn’t too patronising to say!). If you are interested in understanding more about what people who are suffering abuse, or are grieving from deep loss, go through then I would say do get hold of a copy of this book.

Lucy 01_Crop-AW2.inddLucy Butterfly
By Heather Cursham
NB This review is by my 10-year-old daughter.

This is a very exciting book that I found difficult to put down. The fact that you always had to wait for Lucy to be asleep to find out what the next part of her quest was made me begin to imagine what was to happen next. It felt to me as if I was beside Lucy as she ventured across her dream world, facing problems and solving puzzles along the way. I felt the way she felt while she experienced both good times and bad times, as well as times when she had to make decisions. If you like adventure and fantasy books (and are a tween!) you will enjoy this fantastic story as much as I did, so try to find a copy of this book and its soon-to-come-out sequel, Lucy Ever After.
NB I believe Lucy Ever After is due to be published in January 2017.

 

 

 

What I have been reading: winter 2015/16

As well as a few titles that I have kept returning to week after week, I saved up some of the books that I’d been sent in the latter part of 2015 to enjoy over the Christmas period, and during my recuperation from a minor op. Here’s my thoughts on the selection:

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Out of Sorts By Sarah Bessey

This was a book that I read in order to interview Sarah for an author profile in a magazine. I knew she was a great writer, but I wasn’t prepared for how much the book was going to resonate with where I was at, or how much it would challenge me. I love the way that Sarah gives us permission to feel out of sorts – as a pastor’s wife I often feel I need to hide my struggles for the benefit of those around me – but at the same time have a conviction that sharing those same struggles would help others. She talks of how a period of growth often includes feeling out of sorts as we re-navigate our assumptions about our faith. I didn’t agree with absolutely everything, but I think Sarah would be okay with that – after all she indicates that her desire in writing the book is not so others will go on the same journey that she has, but will find their own way deeper with God. Amen to that.

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Resilient By Sheridan Voysey

This book was born out of Sheridan’s own experiment: to spend a month in the Sermon on the Mount. Written as a devotional, I really took my time with this one as I found the bite-size chapters were packed with challenges and insights. Sheridan doesn’t just stick with a verse by verse walk through the Sermon – each section has a chunk of the Sermon at the start but then he includes other scriptures that have resonated with him on the particular subject in question. I found this a very honest and enriching devotional, which has given me much to ponder and work through for myself.

 

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Finding myself in Britain By Amy Boucher Pye

I was really excited to delve into the pages of this one: I have known Amy and worked for her for a few years in our editorial capacities, so I was intrigued to find out what Amy’s book would be like. And I wasn’t disappointed. Charming, witty, honest and with an openness that only an American would have, Amy introduces the British year to the reader, describing each season and event in the calendar though her American eyes. As an American married to a British vicar she has lived here for many years so has great insight. She also introduces us to some of her childhood delights and other native joys – as a Brit who grew up in America it was lovely to go down memory lane as I recognised so much of what she described from ‘back home’. This is a perfect book to give as a gift to a friend.

 

the scent of waterThe Scent of Water By Elizabeth Goudge

I saved this book to take into hospital with me, and I have to say it was the perfect choice. Gentle, tender, poetic and beautifully descriptive, the book is about a middle-aged woman from London who is left a house in the country when her father’s cousin dies. She decides to leave the city and move there, and, in doing so, embarks on a journey of discovery – about herself, her distant relative, her lost love and the people she lives near in the country. The pace is slow and meandering – at another time I may have got impatient with that but it was just what I needed. I enjoyed the moments of spiritual insights too, jotting down many of them.

 

twosteps forward

Two Steps Forward By Sharon Garlough Brown

This is the sequel to Sensible Shoes. Again a title I had had for ages, I saved it for the Christmas break. The first book introduced us to four women who met during a spiritual formation journey at a retreat centre. They are all very different, but strike up a friendship that lasts beyond the retreat. With sequels I am always concerned that I won’t get as caught up in the story, or won’t care as much about the characters as I did first time round, but Sharon did a brilliant job of moving their stories on and I was gripped. I loved reading about how the characters were learning to use the things they discovered on retreat back in their everyday lives, with all the difficulties and struggles they contain.

As she did in the first book, Sharon also includes great spiritual insights, many of which are highlighted ready to be transferred into my journal as they spoke to me personally. I love it when a novel is more than a mere escape – although that is obviously a big role novels play in our lives. This book left me challenged, with new spiritual disciplines and exercises to try. I heartily recommend it – and the whole series if you haven’t read the first book. I’m excited to learn that Sharon is already working on the fourth book in the series…

Author interview with Fiona Veitch Smith: part 2

In the second instalment of my interview with Fiona Veitch Smith, she provides more detail about what a writer’s life is like for her…

Fiona in her 1920s guise :)

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.

To purchase The Jazz Files, please click here.

Author interview with Fiona Veitch Smith: part 1

Having been captivated by Fiona’s latest novel, The Jazz Files, I was delighted when she agreed to an interview. I’ll warn you up front that it is long, but so fascinating and full of honesty and advice for writers and aspiring writers alike that I simply couldn’t cut it. So please do read this and tomorrow’s instalment for a behind-the-scenes look at how Fiona’s new crime series has been birthed and crafted – and what life as a writer is like for her.

COV_Front_JazzFiles

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.

To purchase The Jazz Files, please click here.

What I read over the summer

July and August were fun-filled months in which I spent many happy moments with my family. While on holiday, I was also able to squeeze in a little bit of extra reading time. Here’s my thoughts on the books I read…

Pastor's Wife, The_Figures_newThe Pastor’s Wife by Gloria Furman

I had just read a review that slated this book when I received it. But, for me, it was refreshing to read a book by a woman who understands the unique situation us pastor’s wives are in. If anything I was impatient with the first chapters, thinking, yes, yes, great truth but it’s for everyone. I wanted to get to the parts that were specific to pastor’s wives. And what she said I mostly agreed with. I say mostly as there were a few bits I wasn’t sure I would wholeheartedly go along with. But, overall, it was an encouraging book.

9781910786000Naturally Supernatural by Wendy Mann

I love the fact that Wendy Mann is so honest and down-to-earth. She’s a ‘normal’ person who has been on a journey with God, discovering how to live supernaturally everyday. She is happy to share it all – the times when she’s seen breakthrough and the times when fear has stopped her from stepping out. I had a real longing to experience more of what Wendy was sharing and, after reading this book; I was left with the feeling that I too can learn how to live naturally supernatural.

Time to Shine MDP

Time to Shine by Mel Menzies

I don’t often get a chance to read fiction so I made sure that I saved this particular book for my holiday so I that I could take my time and really savour it. I have to say I’m glad I did, as I found this book gripping – really well written and the characters very well constructed.

The only thing I wasn’t sure of was the title – it seemed a little twee. That is, until I read the quote it comes from – I won’t give anything away but it is brilliant. I heartily recommend this book.

JesusrightwhereyouwanthimJesus right where you want him by Phil Moore

Phil Moore’s latest book explores some of the age-old arguments people give against believing in Jesus – and what Jesus himself said about them. I found this to be a confidence-building book, as it equips us to handle those difficult questions people might throw at us (as well as issues we may be wrestling faith ourselves). He covers subjects such as suffering, judgment and religious violence. This is definitely a book to delve into.

gaggingjesus

Gagging Jesus by Phil Moore

In this, a previous book, Phil Moore unpacks 15 things that Jesus said that we seem to wish he hadn’t. We certainly don’t hear them preached about often. They are the type of subjects that can get us hot under the collar – and arguing amongst ourselves. From pornography and masturbation through to anger, hell and divorce, Phil pulls no punches as he explores what Jesus really has to say on these life issues. Provocative and challenging, this book will certainly get you thinking.

diggingfordiamondscover

Digging for Diamonds by Cathy Madavan

Cathy Madavan has such a wonderful personality and her wit and wisdom really shine through her book. As women we so often need reminding of the beautiful facets to our beings, including our identity, strength, character and purpose. Cathy does this so well, generously opening up her own life to us in the process. She also provides great biblical insight and poses deep questions to get the reader pondering. This is a gem of a book 🙂