Reflections on writing a series

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The two Claires finally meeting!

Having connected with the author, C.F.Dunn, through the Association of Christian Writers’ Facebook page, and then interviewed her for magazine articles, it was a joy to be able to celebrate the final book – and meet Claire face to face finally (see photo)! I asked her to write a guest blog about her own reflections on coming to the end of writing a series…

mortal-fire-smallI can’t say I knew what I was doing when I started writing my debut novel – Mortal Fire – although I felt compelled to write for a reason I did not yet understand. Nor did I know where the journey would take me. For the first few years I struggled with how I could justify spending all that time writing when I could be doing something more, well, obviously Goddriven, I suppose. After all, working at school with our inspirational special needs students was both a vocation and an immense blessing. However, write I felt I must, and so I ploughed on.

For a good while after my first book was published I didn’t feel like a writer. It must be a fluke, a kindness on the part of my wonderful editor, Tony Collins. It was only when the third book – Rope of Sand – was released that I began to think, ‘Golly, this is real,’ and after book five that I said, ‘I am an author!’

Now that The Secret of the Journal series has ended, one of the questions I’m most frequently asked is: how do you set about bidding farewell to a series after hundreds of thousands of words have been lavished on building characters and story lines, setting scenes and constructing dialogue? Well, first of all, by the time you get to the final book, you know your characters – good and bad – and have come to love, respect and cherish them. They might have been a construct of the imagination at the beginning, but by the end they have taken on a life of their own.

If you have been successful in drawing multi-faceted people, they interact with other characters in the series as naturally as you would in real life. Sure, you place them in danger or put them into artificial situations – that is, after all, part of the art of drama – but their reactions should be as natural as if they lived and breathed off the page as well as on it. So, how hard is it to say goodbye?

9780745868773By the time you reach that magic final book – Fearful Symmetry in my case – the world you have created is part of the beating heart within you: you live and breathe it day in, day out over years. As a result, finishing it – wrapping it all up and concluding it – might potentially be traumatic. Yes, it has been a major part of your life and you’ve cried with them, sweated and suffered with them; but does any part of you die with them when you write The End?

Not a bit of it. You gave them life and you’ve set them free in the imaginations of your readers and there your character friends will flourish for as long as the words can be read.

And long before you finish writing that final book, new voices have slipped into your consciousness – beguiling, persistent – and you find yourself constructing a new universe and fresh situations into which you can release them to begin their own journey, and the foundations of a new series are lain.

No longer do I feel all at sea, but understand the greater truth behind that compulsion to write. That understanding has developed and grown along with the series. As I set out on the next journey with my new characters, I know where I’m going and where I want to be and – most important of all – why.

cf-dunn-picC.F. Dunn is the author of The Secret of the Journal series, published by Lion Fiction. The fifth and final book in the series – Fearful Symmetry – has been recently published. An educator at heart, she and her husband founded a school in Kent for children with dyslexia, autism, and anxiety. Returning to her roots as a historian, C.F. Dunn is currently working on the first book in a new historical series set in 15th-century England – a period of complex personalities and turmoil at the heart of the realm, where the king wore an uneasy crown.

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Advent remembering

 

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I was so moved and challenged by Lucy Mill’s guest post on my site a couple of years ago, that I asked her whether I could use an updated version this year. She kindly obliged…

I often forget about Advent until I’m in it. More accurately, I don’t realise how fast the time has gone and suddenly it’s mid December and – oh. I feel irritated; as if I’ve missed out on something. Is it worth it, now? Or have I missed the Advent bus?

This year I did at least notice when December began, which has helped. I had already made a note, in fact, that I needed to prepare myself for Advent. I know that sounds odd, as Advent is itself a preparation.

Yet I forget to make time and space for that preparing to take place.

I forget a lot of things.

2013 and 2014 were quite significant for me. We’d moved to a new area and a new church (my husband is a Baptist minister). I made new friends as well as trying to nurture the old. The editing role I already had shifted to one with more responsibility and oversight. And it appeared I had created a book. In April 2014, it was published.

How odd! How extraordinary! I was a first-timer, poking it to check if it was real. I’m also a little shy of it now. After years of pouring myself into it, I feel a bit self-conscious. Reading it makes me squirm a little, like watching myself on screen.

I’m tempted to leave it on the shelf, to draw a line under it.

But that would make a mockery of what it is about. Because the book is a confession: of my own forgetfulness. My tendency towards distraction, every day and any day. And it’s also a reflection on the importance of remembering God in our daily lives – what this means.

I can’t draw a line under it; it’s part of my continuing journey and it’s as relevant to me now as it was when I started it.

Because my condition is chronic. I neglect my faith. I don’t open my Bible. Then I feel guilty about how long it’s been since I opened it. So I don’t think about it, and the pages remain unread. I pray occasionally rather than continually. I reach a point where I feel empty, and I am blind enough to wonder why.

I’ve forgotten who I am. I’ve forgotten who I am because I’ve ceased remembering who God is. As a Christian, my identity is in Christ. Yet instead of focusing on Him, my eyes drift. When I squint towards my faith, I do so through a fog of my own distractedness. I don’t allow times for rest and reflection – I fill them up with mediocre diversions. I’m a little scared to face myself and admit my forgetfulness. So I embrace the forgetfulness even more.

It takes discipline to pull myself back, and often it’s the tug of the Holy Spirit – not my own strength. God, in all patience, woos me into returning. I come understanding: whom have I but you? To whom else would I go?

The seasons of the Church are, in many ways, tools for remembering. Advent, focusing on the coming Christ, can be a great antidote for forgetfulness, if we dare to take more than a cursory sip of it. The incarnate Christ came as a fragile baby into a dark world; the resurrected Christ is still present with us now by the power of the Spirit. And the glorified Christ will come again.

Today, in spite of my busyness, in spite of the distractions, I choose to take a breath. I allow myself to remember. A mere moment, perhaps, but it births more moments as I form a habit of pausing.

In these final days of Advent, take a moment to pause. Breathe. Allow yourself to take a handful of stillness. It will help you get perspective on the rest of it – the hurly-burly, the ever-changing, the tugging cords of life.

Reflect on the light that came into the darkness, the light that cannot be put out. And ask for that light to shine on all your distractedness and disrepair.

You haven’t missed the bus. It’s not too late to start a new kind of remembering. Every morning is another chance to draw close to our God of mercy and grace. Seek the One who knows every part of you – the shallow and the deep – and who loves you.

I need to hear this, to reflect on it this Advent season.

Do you?

FH high resLucy Mills is author of Forgetful Heart: remembering God in a distracted world, which was published in 2014. Her second book, Undivided Heart: Finding Meaning and Motivation in Christ, is coming in 2017. Both books are published by Darton, Longman and Todd (www.dltbooks.com).

Lucy writes articles, prayers, poems and worship resources. She’s also been on the editorial team of magnet since 2011 and now works in a freelance capacity as their editorial coordinator, overseeing the team and editorial process.

Lucy’s own website is www.lucy-mills.com

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.

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.

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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 🙂

A day in the life of a jobbing writer

Today I am welcoming Edoardo Albert on my blog. He is a copywriter, editor and writer and his latest books, the series known as The Northumbrian Thrones, are published by Lion Fiction. The second book in the series, Oswald, has recently been published and, to celebrate, I invited Edoardo to give us some insights into his life as a writer.

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‘Alarm: 5am. But this morning, I didn’t need it. Son number three, two-year-old Isaac, had arrived in our bedroom at 1.30am, had settled in until 4.30am and then, with the hyperactive midsummer sun blasting through the curtains, woken up, thirsty, hungry and disinclined to go back to sleep. We got up. I fed and watered Isaac, and attempted to persuade him of the benefits of sleep. By 6am, he had agreed.

‘Luckily, I had switched off the alarm before heading downstairs, so wife number one and only was not disturbed. Sons numbers one and two had not stirred. The house was quiet, the street was quiet, I had an hour of calm to get some work done. The cat then came in, requiring breakfast.

‘This pretty well sums up the life of a modern-day writer: struggling desperately to fit some writing time in between the demands of family and making some actual, putting-food-on-the-kids’-plates money. Add to that long hours and every third person you meet telling you, ‘Oh, I’ve been meaning to write a book,’ and I sometimes wonder why I do it. But then there are times, as happened in the writing of Oswald: Return of the King, that you fall through the page into the story – it is as if a secret fire has lit inside the characters and, for want of any better way to describe it, they come alive.

‘Now, this is particularly precious but, also, particularly perilous for me, since what I am doing with Oswald and the first volume in the trilogy, Edwin: High King of Britain, is writing imaginative history. In most historical fiction, the history is the backdrop in front of which invented characters play out an invented story – sort of science fiction of the past. That’s all well and good, and at its best makes for wonderfully entertaining reading, but too often it slides into wish fulfilment. What I am trying to do with The Northumbrian Thrones trilogy is to take real people and actual events and show why they happened in a manner that is artistically satisfying and historically plausible. So it is a great privilege when these characters, most of whom were once real, living people, come to life in my mind, but a temptation too, for they are imaginings. Yet, at one level, I suppose if asked I would say that yes, I really do think Oswald was as I portray him: Tolkien, as he wrote the stories of Middle-earth, began more and more to believe that he was discovering rather than inventing. I am no Tolkien, but on the other hand seventh-century Northumbria lies on a somewhat firmer foundation of fact than Middle-earth.

‘As far as bringing this world to life, a great advantage is the fact that I have already written a book about the history and archaeology of the time – Northumbria: the Lost Kingdom, with archaeologist Paul Gething. Paul is director of the Bamburgh Research Project, which has been excavating in Bamburgh for over a decade now, and through writing and talking with him I gained the sort of insight that is simply impossible to find in books alone. For if I am trying to write imaginative history, Paul is doing imaginative and experimental archaeology, down to gathering bog ore from sites around Bamburgh, smelting and smithing it, to see if he can recreate the extraordinary weapon, the Bamburgh sword, that they rediscovered at the castle.

‘All this has gone into writing Oswald: Return of the King. I hope it doesn’t show (at least, not in a flashy, look-at-me sense, although I hope it appears in a sensed authenticity of detail).

‘As for my writing day, I squeezed in 45 minutes before catching the tube in to work. You think writing pays the bills? Think again.

‘There are some days I can devote entirely to writing, but these mainly result from not being able to find any better paying work for the day. Most often, I catch an early tube train in to work at Time Out or one of the other magazines where I play catch with my cash flow, settling in there for a day spent staring at a screen. This is good work for a writer: editing other people’s work, from the excellent to the barely competent, and marvelling how some writers, hardly able to craft a sentence, have managed to pursue careers in publishing.

‘The great joy of working in central London is the tube journey, for it offers uninterrupted reading time. As with all professions, increasing proficiency often entails doing less of what drew you to the subject in the first place. I became a writer, first and foremost, because I loved stories but, being a writer, I have less and less time to actually read any stories. Hence, all glory, laud and honour to TFL, and may their trains continue to take half an hour to get me in to central London: an hour’s reading a day is the vital word infusion that keeps the words fresh and renews the love of story.

‘So, there you have it, a writer’s day: words and screens, family and work, all in all not so different from other people. But I’ve done other jobs – deliveries, TV repairs, office work – and believe me, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about with words.’

Oswald cover

Edoardo’s first book in the series, Edwin: High King of Britain, is currently on sale in ebook form at a reduced price. It is also available in paperback.

To buy Edoardo’s new book, Oswald, please click here.

What I’ve been reading: May and June…

I’ve decided to create another category on my blog in order to share my thoughts on the books I’ve been reading. As a book reviewer and interviewer I love receiving a range of complimentary titles, and I thought it was about time I highlighted a few of them for you. Some of them will be titles I’ve been reading for work purposes (in order to interview the author for example, or to research a subject area) while others have simply caught my eye. So here’s a selection of titles that I’ve read in the last couple of months.

savor cover

Savor by Shauna Niequist

This is a daily devotional that covers a whole year, so I’m certainly not finished with it yet, but it has been a real welcome addition to my time with God each morning. While Shauna covers general everyday life issues (parenting, friendship, self-image etc) with great honestly and integrity I’ve been especially encouraged and enriched by the comments she makes about being a writer. It almost makes it feel like I’ve pulled up a chair at her kitchen table and she is openly sharing the things most on her heart. I’d definitely recommend the book – and it would also make a lovely gift. It includes some extra little touches – some of her favourite recipes. I’m always a sucker for some of those 🙂

the hole in our holiness coverThe hole in our holiness by Kevin DeYoung

I really get a lot out of Kevin’s books, and definitely wanted to read this as, when I first stumbled upon it, I was writing a set of Bible study notes on holiness (for CWR’s Inspiring Women Every Day – due out in 2016). The book is a very clear, challenging, truth-filled look at why we seem to miss the mark on holiness so often. With a loving but balanced approach, Kevin reminds us that the point is not to be legalistic nor should we be ambivalent about sin, but that, through Jesus, all of us can be holy. The mystery of how grace and holiness work together is beautifully described in this book.

chosen coverdesired coverChosen and Desired by Ginger Garrett

I have to confess I picked these up when they were free Kindle downloads. Ever since reading Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love I’ve been exploring other fiction that retells biblical stories. Of course, there is a plethora of such books out there and some are much better than others. Ginger has a great imagination and really transports you into the lives of Esther and Delilah in these two books. There was certainly much that made me think, although I didn’t always feel that the portrayals were as I would have imagined them. I enjoyed the Esther book – Chosen – more than Desired, although the latter interestingly moved between Delilah narrating her own story and Samson’s mother sharing hers.


ultimate justice cover kicking tree coverThe Kicking Tree and Ultimate Justice by Trevor Stubbs

Described as fantasy adventure fiction these books are part of the White Gates Adventure series and are aimed at people aged 14+. I have read them in order to interview Trevor (the interview will appear in the Sept/Oct issue of Families First magazine). I have to admit I don’t know a lot about fantasy fiction, and it isn’t a genre that I would have chosen to read from. However I was fascinated to see how Trevor would provide the ‘spiritual heart’ that he says is in his books. The first story is based around two young people from different worlds that travel through mysterious white gates that transport them to different places. Once they meet, they find that each time they are transported it is for a particular reason; the Creator has chosen them to help others. I know my 15-year-old niece loves fantasy fiction and so I was interested in passing them on to her. While reading, I did wonder if the books are a little basic, naïve even, when compared to something like The Hunger Games trilogy, which I know my niece has read (I’m making no comment about that fact!). However I will give them to her, as I’d like to hear what she thinks of them. I do also like the way that Trevor has managed to really inject the big questions of life into his writing, such as what makes us human?, why do we suffer?, as well as tackling issues such as justice, power and free choice. Even with my reservations, I have to admit I was eagerly turning the pages to find out what happens!

Today’s the day!

My books, Jesus and Prayer, are officially published today by BRF. I know I have included pictures of them in quite a few recent posts, but I couldn’t let today pass by without posting them again now could I?

So, if you are looking for small group resources, or books for your own personal study, then do please consider these titles. Each one has seven weeks of material and links to the Foundations21 website for further resources.

If you do buy them, my hope and prayer is that they will bless you and help you to go deeper in your walk with God – perhaps seeing something from a new perspective or trying out a different type of activity. We are all on this discipleship journey for life – I’d love it if you’d join me for a short time through my books! 🙂

 

Learning with F21_Prayer Learning with F21_Jesus