Reflections on writing a series

claire-and-i

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.

Why do we always want something different?

On Friday my two new books are published. I am taking a moment to celebrate that fact – to thank the editor who asked if I would like to write them, and to acknowledge all the hard work it took to put them together.

Learning with F21_Prayer Learning with F21_Jesus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But it also makes me long for the day when the book I have burning within me makes it out of my heart and mind and onto the bookshelves. You see, so far I have four books under my writerly belt. But each one I was asked to write. The ideas did not originally come from me. Yes, I ran with them, developed them, put my all into them – but they don’t feel like they are quite ‘mine’.

I also look around at the Christian non-fiction authors who have huge followings, bestsellers and sell-out tours. I look and wonder – will I ever get anywhere close to that? And does God even want me to? In the times when I get frustrated, I have to consciously take my eyes off of another’s path and focus on my own. Because God has called me to walk out my own life, not someone else’s.

God really challenged me recently. I was considering whether I could feasibly take on the leadership training that I had been offered. So often we are told to look at our priorities, to check where all our time goes (yes I’ve previously written about doing a time budget – we got partway there!). I know that working parents will probably relate to what I’m going to say next: most of the time I feel like my whole self is being simultaneously stretched in at least four different directions.

Writing and editing make up my ‘job’, but I also believe they are part of my calling. I also know that first and foremost I am to love my God above everything and everyone – and then my husband and my children. I also now have a deep passion for those who attend our church. I want to see them reach their full potential, walk free from those things that have bound them and be all they can be. I am also fired up by worship and long to see people engaging with God in new and creative ways.

And yet so often I feel like I’m only just scratching the surface with each of those areas. That I’m just treading water rather than taking ground. I wonder whether I’m selling people short by not giving more – but then I know that, realistically, I haven’t got any more to give. So how can I take on anything else? But then that quiet small voice whispers to me, encouraging me and telling me it could be the one thing that equips me to serve others better, and gives me the time to actually stop and check my priorities.

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The Monday Blog Tour

The Monday Blog Tour has seen some great writers talk about their work and provide insights into their writing processes. Lucy Mills kindly tagged me to continue the tour (read her post here). So here are my answers to the blog tour’s questions:
Learning with F21_JesusLearning with F21_Prayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What am I working on?

I find the mix of work I have fascinating. Working mainly during the time my children are at school I manage to squeeze in editing other people’s books, writing Bible study guides, writing articles, interviews and reviews for magazines and websites as well as writing books myself. I have a regular column on Christian Today’s website and also have three books coming out this year: on May 23rd the first two of the Foundations 21 book series Jesus and Prayer come out, which are small-group discipleship and study guides that work in tandem with the Bible Reading Fellowship’s Foundation 21 website. Later on, in June, I have a book, co-written with Chris Ledger, being published by CWR: Insight into Managing Conflict.

At the moment I’m deep into an editorial job, which I’m finding challenging but hugely enjoyable. I’ve also got some books I’m in the middle of reading that I will be reviewing and then interviewing the authors, as well as some articles about new initiatives to write. Oh and a set of Bible study notes to write in the next few months. At the end of last week I got a snippet of interest from a publisher about a book idea I’ve had mulling over in my head for quite some months – so I need to do some actual work on that too! It’s the first book in which the idea has come totally from me (the others happened by editorial contacts approaching me) and so I’m really excited about developing it. Sometimes I seem to be juggling too many plates. But it means I’m never bored and I love the variety!

WAIS_ManagingConflict_Soft Back

How does my work differ from others in the genre?

I mainly write Christian non-fiction and, when I started doing so, I felt quite overwhelmed, and almost put off before I really began, because there are so many other writers out there doing a similar thing. But I think once you have found your particular voice then you simply have to go with it. Publishers and sites that are a good ‘fit’ for you will begin to recognise and appreciate it. I would say, for me, the most important thing is being true to who I am – and that includes the struggles and the mistakes. I feel I have to write about the everyday. I don’t know if sometimes I’m too honest – I always have to be careful about treading that line, especially as my husband is a pastor and a lot of those in our church read what I write, but I write to encourage others. I want them to be free to be who they are supposed to be – and us all to be honest with one another on a much deeper level.

Why do I write what I do?

I felt called by God to pursue writing as well as editing when I was heavily pregnant with my second child. Since then He has opened up doors I would never have dreamed of. I can still compare myself to those with endless book deals and huge speaking tours – but He hasn’t called me to walk their walk. That may come in time – but it may not. And I’ve got to learn to be content with that. I’m to be faithful in my own journey in life. And that’s mainly what I write about. The fact that it is so important not to be afraid to open up and be vulnerable. Helping people to realise that we truly should be in this life journey together – we all struggle and need each other to admit it so we can support one another fully.

The other thing I really enjoy doing is flagging up the work of incredible organisations and individuals who truly are changing the world. I’ve had the privilege of writing about the A21 Campaign and 28 Too Many, to name just a couple.

iwed may:june cover

How does my writing process work?

As I said, I focus as much of my work into the school hours as I can, which means I have to be extremely disciplined. That said, I’m often found scribbling on bits of paper or tapping notes into my phone if I’ve suddenly had a bit of inspiration.

Generally, though, I make myself a cuppa after the kids have been dropped to school, sit and pray at my desk, read my daily Bible notes (wow, I’m making myself sound too holy – often this is done in a real rush!) and then I tackle whatever job is to hand, whether a chapter for a book or a set of interview questions. I type quickly, getting all my thoughts down, and then go back and edit everything I’ve written. I have found it much harder to edit myself, although I do try to be ruthless. I have a conversational style, and I know it can get unwieldy at times, so I usually ask my husband to read everything I’ve written before sending it anywhere!

There are times when I’m in the middle of a writing or editing flow when it is time to pick up the children. Sometimes I just have to let that go or, if there is a deadline looming, spend time with the kids and then get back to work later in the day if time allows.

To continue this tour, I’d like to tag Anita Mathias and Katherine Baldwin to take part in next Monday’s Blog Tour (Katherine will be guest blogging on my site).

Changing our perspective

I had a dream last night. The details are fuzzy but it took place at a book launch. I was listening in to two women’s perspectives on the food being laid on. One wanted to make more sandwiches. The other said it would be a complete waste of food and there was no point cutting any more loaves. The first thought that the food could go to someone who needs it if it wasn’t all eaten at the launch. While she was frustrated inside, she relented and left the loaves alone…

A little later I was lying awake listening to my husband snoring. For me, after we’d both woken up at 5am, the sound of his snoring was intensely irritating. However, I didn’t dare move him to try and stop the snoring as I knew that he’d had night after night of waking around 4 or 5am and then not being able to get back to sleep. So, although I was desperate for more sleep, and everything in me was fighting the urge, I was trying to see things from my husband’s perspective and leave him in peace.

The Easter holiday was another test of me seeing things from others’ perspectives. It was also a time to try and teach my children to do the same. After a fraught last (half-term) holiday, in which I juggled too much work with trying to spend time with the kids, I had made the decision not to work as much in the Easter holiday.

For the rest of this post, please click here.

I would rather be a doorkeeper…

My body and mind are still trying to process the amazing, but frantic, week of conferences I had last week. I was at the HTB Leadership conference, then the ‘All that we are’ conference for women at the Christian Resources Exhibition and at the end of the week we travelled to Nottingham to hear Dave Fellingham speak on deliverance ministry. I had such a blessed week and learned a great deal. I had hoped to blog about my thoughts throughout the week, but it was all so intense I know I’ll simply be filtering through the things I’ve picked up and am mulling over during the next few weeks. And so much has already been tweeted and blogged about that I’ve decided to avoid going back over old news now!

Today I woke up feeling pretty under the weather and, in a manner so unlike my usual busy Martha self, I surprised myself by deciding to send the kids off to school with my husband and crawl back into bed with my bible. I just felt that small, still voice, pointing out that yes, I only had a couple of hours free before my son would need picking up but no, there was nothing I desperately needed to get done for work so I could actually simply relax and spend time catching up on a little bit of sleep and then catching up with God 😉

The passage of scripture that really struck me today was from Psalm 84:

How lovely is your dwelling-place,
Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young –
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.

10 Better is one day in your courts
than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favour and honour;
no good thing does he withhold
from those whose way of life is blameless.

I realised that yes, my soul was yearning for that place of rest only found in Him, and that I can trust His provision for me personally. The mention of the sparrow immediately made me think of the passage in Matthew that urges us not to worry, reminding us that the birds of the air are looked after by God and the flowers of the field dressed more finely than Solomon. That is certainly a challenge to me as I am naturally a worrier. I’m learning to lean more on God though as the amount of stress we’ve been under recently would have caused me to explode otherwise!

The next part of the passage that really spoke to me was the part about being a doorkeeper. I was really challenged by that – would I rather be a doorkeeper in God’s house than be someone more noticed and important elsewhere? One of the things I’ve been wrestling with recently is where my role lies and exactly what I’m supposed to be pouring my time and energy into. That was mainly borne out of the tension of trying to support my husband while he works as the only full-time member of staff and looks after the church, as well as me working and being a mum. As I said, we’ve had a particularly stressful few weeks so that has caused me to think about everything I do – and both of us to realise we need to take a long, hard look at our priorities. Another part of it, though, came out of a disappointment over a long-term freelance job I went for. It was something I felt led to by God, something we prayed about and agreed I should go for, and also something I was told I almost got. So, understandably, I felt some disappointment, also questioned myself – and asked God a few questions too! I also saw many women at CRE last week who have a higher profile than me in the writing and editing fields and, while I know in my heart I’m not running after recognition or position, it is a lot easier to get work when you are ‘known’. I loved catching up with all the women I saw, but I also knew I had to let go. Let go of any striving to get to a certain place, to be a certain type of person – and to trust that God knows my future, knows where I am going and only asks me to be faithful with what I see put before me each day rather than worrying about what work I may or may not have two months down the line.

I was really encouraged by particular words I received last week that affirmed some of my heart’s desires – I had been getting to a place of wondering whether God was asking me to lay down my dreams for now in order to concentrate on building the church alongside my husband, but that burden has now been taken off me. A lot of what is on my heart does involve my ministry within the church, often working alongside my husband, as well as encouraging and equipping people in the wider Church through my work but I realise now that God is cheering me on in all of that. And, while I don’t know what form it is all going to take, I do realise that being a doorkeeper in His house is far, far more precious than trying to be something I’m not. I may never be as ‘recognised’ as some of the other people I work with – but that’s okay. I have my Father’s approval and today I’ve realised I am actually totally content with that. 🙂

Can’t settle down to work…

Ever have one of those days when you simply can’t seem to settle down to anything? I am today – I can’t believe I only have half an hour left before I pick up my son from nursery and I’ve achieved nothing so far (apart from bagging a free book for my hubbie – yay- and having email conversations with publishers). I have managed to do my bible reading for the day. I’ve been finding reaching back into the Old Testament really interesting and thought-provoking, but today, when I read about a man sacrificing his daughter, all I could think was ‘really?’. My brain couldn’t go further than that!

Both my husband and I look and feel shattered. It has been an exceedingly long couple of weeks, partly because our church is in the process of trying to buy a building and there have been endless plans and letters to formulate. But today is submission day – so we’ve done all we can. Now, as well as praying earnestly, we need to turn to what else needs our attention – him to his preach and me to my writing. But I think we are both simply too wrung out. I am usually incredibly focused. I’ve been doing this work-from-home freelancing thing for a long time now, and I am always determined to utilise the first few hours of the day really well as that is my only child-free time. But today I’ve been meandering through the windows on my computer – looking at the drafted book I have almost finished and the half-written ideas file for a magazine editor. I can’t quite seem to actually get down to doing anything. But I think that may be because my body needs a little rest – it’s done so much already this week. The fact that I can’t focus on anything is my body revealing I need to slow down a little and take it easy today. This is really unlike me, but I’m finding I’m telling myself that it’s okay if I don’t actually achieve that much today. There is always tomorrow… 🙂

Entering an office again…

Next week I have the privilege of commencing a month’s work with Idea magazine as a consultant writer for them. For the first week I will be in-house every day learning the ropes, meeting everyone etc and after that will go in for meetings and when I can (as obviously I have little people to look after at home after school/pre-school!). I was really pleased when I was asked months ago if I would like to do this, and that feeling hasn’t changed – I’ve just experienced a few others alongside it! I was fine up until the point that my husband asked if I was nervous. I have been so busy finishing off editorial jobs, continuing research for articles due in January and trying to get on top of all the Christmas and birthday shopping that I hadn’t stopped to think. But when I was asked head on the answer had to be yes. It didn’t help when he said he would be petrified – having to meet all those new people, work in an office and ‘perform’ as it were – be enthusiastic, forthcoming with ideas, creative etc. I guess that is all on my mind – mainly because I want to be the help they obviously need for this month, and want to do my best/make a good impression etc. But after almost 12 years of working from home I wonder how I will fit into the office environment again. Part of me is really looking forward to the commute – to having time to myself to read and ponder (all you mums out there will know what precious little time there is for that these days…). Another part is having to gear myself up for the hour’s journey before I can sit down and do any work – I’m so used to a 30-second commute to my office! And I’m wondering how it will impact my relationship with my kids over the next month. I know I was over stressed finishing off the last job I did, and trying to do that at a weekend with all the family in the house was really really hard. But knowing I will be leaving the house before they are even dressed and only getting back at dinner time is going to be so so strange. I am going to try and ensure I am back to eat with them and do bath time and bed time stories but it is still going to be so far from the norm it will seem weird. I know I can struggle and moan about the difficult juggling act I have trying to fit in working around taking and picking up kids from school, going to playgroups, taking my eldest to ballet and the various church responsibilities I have, but I do realise I am so blessed to be able to work part time from home and still be there to do all those things. I am hoping to learn more about what it is like for the majority of working mums this week, so that when I do write about that juggling act I don’t say things that are patronising. I know I have it much easier than many others – but that’s not to say it’s not a challenge. And this month will be a new and different type of challenge. I have so enjoyed the opportunities God has opened up for me this year, and it is great to use my brain again to converse on a professional level with adults rather than simply take part in child activities. I just hope my brain is up to the change in ratio between those two things! ;D