Francine Rivers on writing, faith and her new book

Bridge to haven coverFrancine Rivers has written over 20 bestselling Christian-themed novels (winning numerous awards), and regular readers eagerly anticipate each new publication. Her latest, Bridge to Haven certainly will not disappoint.

Based in 1950s Hollywood, it is the story of Abra and her journey to find true love and acceptance. Abandoned at birth and never truly finding her place in her home town of Haven, the naïve young woman is vulnerable to the charms of the fast-talking rich boy who lures her away to Hollywood.

Once there, Abra soon learns what is expected of a girl with ambitions of fame. The price she pays is huge, but Abra has burned every bridge to get exactly what she thought she wanted and feels trapped as a consequence. If she were honest with herself she’d realise all she wants is a way back home…

I had the great opportunity of being able to ask Francine about the inspiration behind her new novel – and what she hopes her readers will glean from it:

You have written about such varied subjects – a retelling of Hosea; the persecution of Christians in Roman gladiator times; the tradition of the sin-eater in 1850s Appalachia. Each one of them is written so expertly it seems that you must have immersed yourself in the subject. How do you go about researching each new topic?

“Almost every story begins with a question or issue with which I’m struggling, and each story seems to dictate the time in which it needs to be told. For example, when I was struggling with the question of how to share my faith with unsaved family and friends who didn’t want to hear anything about Jesus, I thought of the early martyrs who died in Roman arenas. The result was A Voice in the Wind.

“The Scarlet Thread came from a study of sovereignty and a cross-country trip several friends and I took, following the Oregon Trail. Local museums showed story after story of people setting off to find a better life. Hardship and tragedy followed them across the prairie – along with the question: who is in control of our lives?

“What is the difference between guilt and conviction was a question that fit the Appalachian highlands custom of sin eating, a practice brought over in the early days from Scotland and Wales. The result was The Last Sin Eater. And The Shofar Blew came out of questions on how to build a church in modern times amidst massive building projects that often destroy congregations.

“In each case, once the time and place are set, it’s a matter of immersing myself in the time period, finding good books, finding pictures, making binders with dividers between subject matter – what people wore, what their homes and daily lives were like, the political atmosphere, music, customs, etc. I even listen to music that fits the time period while I’m working. The writing process is a quest for answers and a journey with characters that become real people to me. Writing a story is my way of worshipping and praising the Lord.”

To read the rest of my interview with Francine, please click here and for a review of the book please click herepic_full_Rivers_Francine


My response to the Modern Slavery Bill

I was asked by Christian Today to write a reflection on yesterday’s Modern Slavery Bill. I was interested to learn of the coalition of anti-slavery organisations and the briefing paper that they published yesterday too. Daniel Webster of the Evangelical Alliance said this to me:

The Modern Slavery Bill is a big step from the government, it recognises this is a problem where they need to take action. But as it is, it’s not good enough, when parliament starts discussing the bill in the New Year there are areas where it needs to be strengthened. That we have slavery today should be something we’re embarrassed about, and the government must not dodge the difficult decisions, or think that simply passing a law will solve the problem.

Victims need to be placed at the very centre of the bill, the way they’re identified needs improving. It’s great the government plan on creating an Anti-Slavery Commissioner, but it needs the independence to criticise the government if they’re not doing enough.

I heartily agree with Daniel’s comments. To read my article, please click here.

How can this STILL be going on today?!

peoplepropertyLast night my husband and I finally sat down to have an evening off – it’s been a while! We had a film to watch that he had picked from Love Film. As it started, and many times throughout, we both wondered why he had picked it! He kept saying “I can’t watch this” – and I kept saying “We must”. The film – Flowers of War. What a heartbreaking, compelling, horrific movie telling of the horrors of what is known as ‘The Rape of Nanking’ (1937). During the Second Sino-Japanese War, Japanese soldiers literally tore the Chinese city of Nanking apart, killing and brutalising everything in their path.

The film is based on a book that, in turn, is inspired by the diary of Minnie Vautrin. She was a US missionary in China who, along with the main character in the film, John Rabe, worked hard throughout the war to protect women. Just a quick look online allowed me to find some excerpts from Minnie’s diary:

“There probably is no crime that has not been committed in this city today. Thirty girls were taken from language school last night, and today I have heard scores of heartbreaking stories of girls who were taken from their homes last night—one of the girls was but 12 years old. Food, bedding and money have been taken from people. … I suspect every house in the city has been opened, again and yet again, and robbed. Tonight a truck passed in which there were eight or ten girls, and as it passed they called out “救命!救命! Jiuming! Jiuming!”—save our lives. The occasional shots that we hear out on the hills, or on the street, make us realize the sad fate of some man—very probably not a soldier.”

The film made for extremely uncomfortable viewing, especially the parts where Japanese soldiers entered the so-called safe zone of a church to try to rape the young girls there. And when two women were brutally raped and murdered I must confess to almost being sick. Minnie herself commented on similar events that she witnessed firsthand:

“In my wrath, I wished I had the power to smite them for their dastardly work. How ashamed women of Japan would be if they knew these tales of horror.”

As my husband and I squirmed in our seats, wondering why we were continuing to watch, all I kept thinking was how cheap the lives of those women had become. They were totally expendable to the men who used then killed them. Yes it is often a sickening side effect of war, and yet such events are still going on today. Yes, in our so-called ‘civilised’, ‘peaceful’ Western societies day after day after day girls are taken, suddenly, against their will and forced into a life of slavery, servicing upwards of ten, twenty + men a day. This simply should not be happening! During this week, which includes EU Anti-Slavery Day on Friday, let’s make it our mission to find out more about the horrifying things that are going on on our doorstep – yes Europe is rife with human trafficking. Writing about the Jubilee+ Faith and Justice conference I attended earlier in the year, I quoted Gareth Davies of CARE, who informed us that: “trafficking is the second largest form of international crime – unlike drugs, people hold their value as they can be bought and sold many times.” How horrific is it to stop and think about the reality of what that means for those individuals trapped even today?

The problem may seem overwhelming and, indeed, one individual can do little to make a change. But together we CAN make a difference. There are some fantastic anti-trafficking organisations out there, such as Stop the Traffick and A21. The latter has a team of volunteers cycling 1250km through some of the main trafficking routes used in Europe – from Sofia, Bulgaria to London, England (and going through ten countries where the problem is most prevalent). Their Freedom Challenge is taking 11 days (ending October 16th) and, as their site says, has been undertaken to: “raise awareness both in countries where many young women and children are taken, as well as to raise $210,000 for The A21 Campaign shelters and victim assistance programs.”


If you don’t know how the Freedom Challenge is going… find out! Support them as they come to the end of their huge undertaking. And look at these organisations’ websites to see if there is anything you can do to get involved and help. Really, in our society, in our lifetimes, HOW can this STILL be going on?

The ‘hidden’ cost

I had the great pleasure of attending the Jubilee Plus conference on Faith and Justice a couple of weekends ago. I haven’t posted about it before as I was busy writing entries for their site – you can see my thoughts here and here.

But one thing I definitely wanted to bring your attention to is a hard-hitting video about human trafficking, particularly poignant now in the light of the collapsed factory in Bangladesh. Click on the link here, watch – and respond. I know it’s been around for a little while – but this issue isn’t going away so we all need to take action!

A source of inspiration

I have spent the last week or so learning about, and interviewing, a woman who has totally inspired me. I suddenly realised it has been quite a long time since somebody has been an inspiration to me, and I like the resulting determination and fresh vision I have gained from the experience! 😉

So let me tell you about the woman who has inspired me. Julia Immonen seems like just an ordinary woman – but with extraordinary passion and, yes, determination. She certainly makes things happen. Since learning the horrifying truths of human trafficking, she set up her own charity Sports Against Trafficking in order to use sport in a positive way to raise awareness on this important issue. And the last 18 months have been spent making the idea of a Row For Freedom crew a reality. As part of that all-female rowing crew (only 1 of which had any previous rowing equipment – can you believe that?!) what has she just gone and done? Only broken 2 world records by rowing across the Atlantic Ocean! What an incredible feat of endurance, determination and grit for the whole team. Totally inspirational (especially as I really don’t have a sporty bone in my body so cannot comprehend doing such a thing!). I had the privilege of talking to Julia when they were still on the ocean. What impressed me was the attitude the whole team had towards what they suffered – and suffer they did. So much of their machinery broke down, and they all had terrible sea sickness to start with then grappled with sores and crippling cramp. But when they found things difficult they just remembered the victims of trafficking and found the strength to keep going.

I was also inspired by something else Julia told me. She said that being on that ocean stripped her of everything, and she was able to see what her faith was really made of. And now, with so many great ideas and plans for future campaigns etc, she told me that she doesn’t want to do anything but that which God has called her to do. What a great plumb line that we can often forget amongst the busy-ness of life. Am I doing only what God has told me to do, or have I filled up my time with so much stuff that God’s voice can’t be heard over the din of activity?

If you want to find out more about Row For Freedom’s world record crossing please take a look at my article for the Evangelical Alliance here. And watch this space – I am planning on writing about their achievements, and the issue of human trafficking, a whole lot more!