Monday, July 27, 2015

Giving yourself permission to abandon a story...

In 2012, I joined the Chapter Book Challenge. The idea was to write the first draft of a chapter book, or a novel for primary aged kids, in a month. I had a vague idea, and sat down to write. A chapter book was completed and then sent off to a critique partner for comment. The biggest comment that stayed with me was "It has potential, but what's the point of the adventure?".

This story has been bugging me since then and I've been trying to find ways to make it work. I still like the premise of a time travelling adventure, but have been trying to find a point to the story without completely abandoning what I wrote in that first draft.

Fast forward to 2015. On Saturday, I went to hear Morris Gleitzman speak about his latest book. My kids are huge fans of his Once series and we were looking forward to it. Something he said really resonated with me, and that is "Your character must have a problem to solve".

This got me thinking about the story I wrote back in 2012 and I worked out why it wasn't working. The main character didn't have a problem to solve, he just went on his adventure with the irritation that his grandmother couldn't give a decent birthday present!

While I still like the idea of this story, I've finally given myself permission to abandon the drafts I had been working on and start anew instead of working on the same story and trying to edit it to make it work.

Sometimes, it's hard to let go of a story idea we have been working on for a while. It seems that all the time we spent on those words is going to waste... this is never the case. That time is spent writing words and learning our craft. While I have been reluctant to let my original story go, I know that a lot of the research I did can be used for other stories, as well as the characters I've created and some of the settings I'm sure will pop up in future stories.

Sometimes, we just need to give ourselves permission to leave a story behind completely so we can move on to something better.

Melissa Gijsbers lives in Melbourne and writes in between working as a bookkeeper and being the mother of two active boys. She is a blogger and author of flash fiction and children's books. Her first book, Swallow Me, NOW! is now available.
Follow her writing journey at www.melissawrites.com.au andwww.melissagijsbers.com

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Medieval Mars: Behind the Scenes of my Journey to Authorhood

It was about a year ago that I first heard about Medieval Mars. I was looking at the blog of Christian science fiction author Travis Perry. He often posts about interesting story ideas. That particular day, he shared an idea about a future world in which humanity had colonised the planet Mars, but civilisation had fallen, plunging society back into a medieval culture. This was all very cool, but what really grabbed me was the very first sentence of his post: “I've built a new story world and I'm inviting other authors to come explore it with me.”

I was immediately hooked. I could do this. I had been working on my writing craft for years. Travis would provide editing and would publish submissions of suitable quality in an anthology. This would be a very cost-effective way of taking my first step. Despite my lack of any previously published works he was willing to give me a chance.

My first step was to read the original novella written by Travis, which set up the world and introduced some core characters. The next step was to come up with a story idea of my own.

I wanted to write a fantasy quest story - the medieval settings seemed to lend itself to that. I would send a character on a grand adventure in search of something valuable. Hours of playing King’s Quest in my youth doubtless fuelled this particular fire.

My thoughts drifted back to high school history classes. I remembered learning about the manors that served as the heart of medieval life, with the Lord living in the manor house, and the peasants, or serfs, in the attached village, working the lord’s lands. This was my starting point. My protagonist (Alastair) would be a serf (called a hand in the medieval mars world).

Next, I needed something to serve as the object of Alastair’s quest. The setting provided some fascinating possibilities for that. This wasn’t just a medieval world - it was a medieval world in our future. These people look back on their technological past as “the time of magic”. My hero would be looking for a magical relic possessing scientific powers he wouldn’t begin to understand. I raised the stakes and added extra heart to the story by putting the life of Alastair’s beloved (Lynessa) on the line. Without this magical relic - she would die.

The last thing my story needed was a spiritual theme and character arc. The one thing that sticks out to me about the medieval church is that very few people were able to read the Bible. This lead to a lot of misunderstanding and falsehood. It seemed believable, in a medieval society, that the thing threatening Lynessa’s life would be viewed as a curse - sent by God as punishment for some unknown sin. (Yes I’m being coy - no spoilers here.) This leaves Alastair disillusioned about God. Why would he put his trust in a god who chose to curse the woman he loves?

As he embarks on this dangerous quest, through the jungles of Argyre Planitia, populated with giant beasts and genetically-engineered dragons, he also has to come to terms with the concept of grace, and gain a truer picture of God’s relationship with mankind.

The photo below, taken at the Sydney Botanical Gardens, inspired my description of a tree Alastair uses for shelter in the story.

Along the way he faces an antagonistic force in the form of a native population who will do anything to protect the magical artifact from treasure hunters like Alastair. At the suggestion of Travis, I made these people descendants of colonists from Indonesia. This allowed me to give them a few words of their own language, and some historic weapons specific to their tribe.

Needless to say once my manuscript was written it needed edits. I got it as good as I could, and then submitted it. Travis came back with some issues - some important story problems that needed to be fixed. With his help I got the story into shape and the rest is history.

Medieval Mars: The Anthology went live on 12th of July 2015. It is available in both Kindle and paperback formats. The contract allows me to self-publish my story as a stand-alone, which I plan to do. Hopefully it will serve as a product-funnel to drive interested readers to the full anthology.

So now I’m an author. I get to do all those fun things like set up my goodreads author profile, and add “Author” to my linkedIn, but this isn’t the end. This is the very beginning. I’m hard at work on my next project - a series of novellas set on a cruise ship in space, and I have a novel manuscript that I continue to edit.

I am thankful to Travis for giving me this break, I am thankful for all of you at Christian Writers Downunder who have given me much encouragement, and treated me as an equal, even though I was a wannabe, and I am thankful to God for giving me a gift and an opportunity to use it. May he get the ultimate glory.


Learn more about Medieval Mars at adamdavidcollings.com/books/medievalmars/ or find it in Kindle format or Paperback.

Conjectural map of a mediaeval manor. William R. Shepherd, Historical Atlas, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1923
Martian Background in author photo by Stuart Attenborrow.

Adam David Collings is an author of speculative fiction. He lives in Tasmania, Australia with his wife and two children. Adam draws inspiration for his stories from his over-active imagination, his life experiences and his faith.

Adam is a great lover of stories, enjoying them in books, movies, scripted TV and computer games. Adam discusses these on his own youTube show – Stories with Adam Collings.

Find him at adamdavidcollings.com or sign up to his email list for a free short story.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Just Write - Catherine Sercombe


I was enjoying a program called Bargain Hunt the other day. Contestants purchase antique and/or collectable items at one location then sell them at auction hoping to make a profit. One of the objects was an autograph book from the 1930’s which had a series of sketches and illustrations spread across its pages. It was both personal and share-worthy. I confess, I felt a tinge of jealousy – the most advanced drawing in my autograph books was a heart, drawn over a folded corner, with the instruction, ‘Do Not Lift’. When you lifted the corner, (as of course you were meant to do) the heart split in two as the words, ‘Now youf broken my heart’ appeared. Spelling was not the author’s strong point. Then again, he was only seven years old at the time. And yes, with or without his signature, I still remember his name.  


It is a long time since I have seen autograph books for sale. They are not so fashionable these days. As a child, I received three of them, from three different people, for the same birthday. Must have been a sale! I decided to invite everyone – family members, friends, even friends of friends – to write in the blue one. I made the brown one more exclusive, inviting contributions only from those people who were very special to me, mostly members of my family. I put the pink one away to use later.

The thing is, an autograph book is meant to have things written in it, so I wasted no time ensuring that happened. In two of them at least. Because of that, I have some wonderful gems of encouragement and inspiration and a whole lot of silly ditties that still make me smile – like this one:



1 1 was a race horse,
2 2 was 1 2,
1 1 1 1 race 1 day,
2 2 1 1 2.


(Hint: read one, one, two two etc)  


The pages in that book are well-worn and falling out. The one I put away for later? It’s still pristine. And mostly empty.



What’s the takeaway from this?  In the blue and brown books, I have good writing and bad. I also have a whole lot of wonderful memories. Some of those words are the only link I have now to childhood friends. The pink autograph book that I put away for later? It reminds me that, when it comes to writing, good intentions that are not acted upon create a whole lot of blank pages.

So we write. We write good stuff. We write important stuff. We write silly stuff. We even write stuff that seems pointless until, when we least expect it, the words remind us of something worthwhile from a moment in time that cannot be retrieved… oh but wait, yes it can, because you wrote it down! A lifetime later that moment is with you to relive and enjoy. 

My dad wrote this in my autograph book: ‘As you travel through life, try to make the things that could be, the things that are, lest at the end of your life you look back with regret and see only what might have been.’ 

I took his advice to heart. When it comes to being a writer, I was a late starter. But at least I’ve started. It’s no longer a ‘might have been’. Sometimes it’s hard work. Sometimes it is pure delight. But at least it IS.

So I encourage you to write. Good stuff. Important stuff. Silly stuff. Stuff for others to read. Hey – this is a blog for writers. I’m supposed to do that! But not as a harsh taskmaster. I encourage you to write because you love it. Write because it’s fun. Write because it fulfills you. Write because one day, someone might read what you wrote and discover a wonderful gem of encouragement or inspiration. Or perhaps they’ll burst out laughing at something silly and their day will be less tedious or trying. Or maybe they’ll say, ‘Well if she can do it, so can I,’ and something positive is perpetuated. Give your ‘might have beens’ a chance to germinate.  Haul out those blank pages… and just write.




Catherine Sercombe is a wife, mother, grandmother, creative writing graduate and published author from Queensland, Australia. She also manages an education business where she tutors and encourages students of all ages to meet their academic goals.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

CREATING CUTTING EDGE NARRATIVES. Shane Brigg

CREATING CUTTING EDGE NARRATIVES
Faith-full Writing from Liminal Living.

My friend recently received some very useful feedback regarding his manuscript from his publishers. They suggested that his narrative required a tweaking of character developments, dialogues, and even chapter formatting to make the story more urgent and flow faster for the reader. In short, to help make his novel even more impacting, he needed to make it ‘edgier’, even a little ‘unstable’. In a world that is apparently becoming increasingly more unstable by the day, it seems counter-intuitive to consider adopting a state of instability in our writing. However, I propose that this edginess is exactly what we are called to, and if embraced, would dynamically enhance our story telling and its Kingdom impact on peoples’ lives.

Studies of Life Science have discovered that when an individual/system is "in a state of equilibrium, it is less responsive to changes occurring around it. This places it at maximum risk" (Pascale, Milleman, Gioja . 2000 . p 6). Comfortability makes things weak. On the other hand 'The Edge' or "Sweet Spot" - described by Frost and Hirsch (2011 p.90) as 'Liminality' - is considered to be a state that is essential for health, growth and vital living. By extension then, a person who is not experiencing liminality is potentially not experiencing all that life has to offer. Liminality describes the lifestyle of committed followers of Christ who impact the world by their humble self-denial.

Consider the apostle Paul's experience of life that seems to presuppose a challenging liminal lifestyle [1].  Having lost his life for Jesus sake (Gal 6:14, Matt:16:25), Paul felt he had 'nothing to lose'. We do well to emulate him (1 Cor 4:16), and express this kind of abandon in our writing, in our stories, our characters, and even our dialogues. Consider also how Jesus’ love is best illustrated by his own sacrificial example (Phil 2:3. vv 6-11). This could mean we might need to be more willing to experience some pain [2] 
  • When did it last cost us something to produce our writing? 
  • Are our characters a reflection of a comfortable life or ones that disturb preconceived ideas and the status quo?
  • Is there an expression of self-denial (and love that gives all, rather than self-aggrandisement) being highlighted in how we write, what we write, why we write, who we write for, what we write about, the characters we design, the heart they express, the narrative we create, and the themes we design ?


This is not a call for recklessness, but faithfulness. There is an apparent safety in non-liminal living, but God often calls His people out of comfort zones to more fully express His heart.
This is what “stepping out in faith” means. Consider Peter, Joshua, Ruth, Esther and others throughout history that we recognise as faithful people. They took faith-filled risks. They are the characters of inspiration. They are life stories of raw challenge to our own lives. To emulate their faithful living just might help make us whole, and inspire others to live more wholly. Greene and Robinson (2008.p 196) explain it this way: "unless the church is equipping believers to embrace a life of self-denial that adopts the values of the Kingdom of God, and repents of self-orientation it is rendered ineffective".

My friend’s publisher’s advice that he make his novel ‘edgier’, and even a little ‘unstable’ is perhaps valuable advice for us as Christian writers too. 
When we express a faith-filled urgency, and self-denying creativity in our writing, a powerful Kingdom impact ensues     ...........................................      And great story telling happens.




BIBLIOGRAPHY

Frost, M., Hirsch, A. (2011) The Faith of Leap. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

Greene, C., Robinson , M. (2008) Metavista : Bible, Church and Mission in an Age of Imagination. Carlisle UK : Paternoster.


Pascale, R., Milleman, M., Gioja, L. (2000) Surfing the Edge of Chaos: the Laws of Nature and the New Laws of Business. New York: Three Rivers.




[1] “I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.........”
 (2 Corinthians 11:23-27, Acts 9:15-16)

[2] Learning to love means “putting oneself on the line and embracing risk, even likelihood of pain and suffering"(Frost & Hirsch. 2011. p.88-89). Our aim should not be to escape pain but to learn to embrace it to make it grow us. "To Love is to suffer... and that's probably why we don't do it well." (Frost & Hirsch. 2011. p.89). Growing brings pain.









On the Edge. Shane Brigg overlooking Israel. 

Shane Brigg has a passion for mobilising young people to transform their world in Christ. This is evidenced by his nearly 30 years of Youth work including Chaplaincy in Schools, University ministry, developing youth networks, international leadership, and recently team pioneering a missional church community in a university. He is a trainer for Harvest Bible College, a Chaplain serving in 3 schools, and an innovative and adventurous disciple maker. He has a particular talent for story telling that engages young audiences and has several writing projects underway including a series of sci-fi-fantasy based teen novels that express the core theological and 'gutsy' principles of Ephesians. Shane is married with 2 young adult teen children. He loves being outdoors, engaging interculturally and expressing creative pursuits. 

https://www.facebook.com/shane.brigg.3






Monday, July 13, 2015

Criticism: A Thorny Gift by Jeanette O'Hagan

A 'Blast from the Past' reposting


Though it’s many decades ago, I still remember my Grade 6 & 7 teacher, Mr Steubins. He was an English man in the heart of Africa teaching Zambian nationals and a few white expatriate kids the three R’s and the glories of England and Englishmen in Africa. Despite this Eurocentric outlook, he inspired in me a lasting love for history, a love for English language and introduced me to the musical wonders of Gilbert and Sullivan. Most of all he always had time for a chat at the end of the school day. He also taught me the power of words to hurt and heal, though perhaps inadvertently. I recall the day I sat up straight in my chair, chest swelled with pride, while he read out and then extolled the beauty of a descriptive sentence I had written. Several weeks later, I wanted to sink through the floor, when he ridiculed (without naming me, the hapless author) the rather laboriously polite and tentative letter I had written as part of a class exercise. Looking back, I can see that both evaluations were fair though one I received gladly with both hands, while the other I took like poison.

Growing up I hated even the hint of criticism. It made me crumple and spiral inwards in shame, guilt and protective anger. I still don’t like it very much – especially when it comes from those closest to me or it seems unjustified or it is perhaps too close to a tender point. Criticise me too much and I clam up, withdraw, run away or - just maybe - fight back with a latent Irish temper. We all deal with criticism differently. For me it has always seemed like a scorching fire that withers and burns me away into vapour.

One day, some six or so years later (now back in Australia), I read a small book that opened up a new world of thought for me. Criticism, it said, can be your friend. Later Dr John Savage of LEAD ministries said much the same, “Let your critic be your coach.”  Now, as a writer, I can really appreciate the wisdom of those words. Yes, I learn and improve by practice, by reading the greats and by reading books or articles on the craft and art of writing. And when others wax lyrical over my works (as has happened from time to time), I am uplifted and encouraged. Yet, it has often been the honest and sometimes brutal search light of criticism that has forced me to take important new steps. As a writer, I need to know what I do well and what needs to improve. I value my critique partners, I value their honesty. I also value their kindness and diplomacy.

When first faced with a forceful critique I still often rear up in protective defence. Maybe smiling on the outside, I’m a riot of protest on the inside. “That’s ridiculous. She just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t know what he is talking about. She is too harsh, too rigid.” And then, as the adrenalin begins to cool, I can start to spiral down. “Well, maybe I’m kidding myself. I’ll never make it. This is too hard. Maybe I should just give up. Maybe God’s not with me in this.” It’s only after a time of reflection, as once again I give this dream – to write – back to my Lord that I begin to find my balance. Failure cannot vaporise me. Making mistakes is not the same as a permanent burial. I remind myself that my worth is based on God’s love and acceptance, not on my skill and success as a writer – or in any other area of my life (as wife, mother, friend, colleague, professional etc).

As I quieten my spirit I find I can receive this thorny gift. I can scrutinise it and trim it to fit. I don’t have to take everything everyone says on board. Not all criticism is valid. Not all of it is relevant. But there is often a kernel of truth– big or small – beneath the thorns. Suddenly, the idea that there are areas in which my writing can grow and change becomes exciting. I begin to see new possibilities, new options. Out of the dying comes life. (Now where have I heard that before?)

There is an art to giving criticism as well as receiving it. Perhaps criticism is akin to pruning. A judicious pruning shapes the rose bush, strengthening it and encouraging it to flower in abundance. A too vicious and careless pruning might stunt the bush and even kill it. And every gardener knows the bush needs fertilising and watering too. One of my fellow students in my current course suggests using a critique sandwich –with the negative in the middle surrounded by positive and encouraging remarks in front and behind. As a wise person once said:

The right word at the right time
    is like a custom-made piece of jewelry,
And a wise friend’s timely reprimand
    is like a gold ring slipped on your finger.”
Proverbs 25:11-12 The Message

How do you deal with criticism? Are you overly sensitive or thick skinned and dismissive? Or do you receive it like an edgy but faithful friend? How do you give it? Do you shrink from hurting another’s feelings or do you relish hitting hard without mercy? Or maybe you give a word in season, speaking the truth in love (Ephes 4:15). I know that in this, as in so many other areas of my life, I'm still learning.


Jeanette has recently had a short story published in the general market Tied in Pink Anthology  (profits from the anthology go towards Breast Cancer research) . She has practiced medicine, studied communication, history and theology and has taught theology.  She is currently caring for her children, in her final unit of post-graduate studies in writing at Swinburne University and writing her Akrad's fantasy fiction series.  You can read some of her short fiction here



You can find her at her Facebook Page or websites  JennysThread.com or Jeanette O'Hagan Writes .

Thursday, July 9, 2015

But what would you speak about?Jo-Anne Berthelsen

There I was, chatting away to some people who I thought knew me. At least, they already knew I was an author. But when I mentioned something about one of my recent experiences of speaking at a particular venue, they appeared quite puzzled. Eventually, one of them asked a question I have heard several times before.

‘But ... well ... what would you speak about at these places?’

More often than not, this is meant as nothing more than a polite enquiry about the sort of topics I am comfortable speaking on, in which case I am happy to fill them in. Yet sometimes I feel there is more behind such a question. Sometimes these people seem incredulous that I as an author—and particularly a novelist—might have anything to say that could interest or encourage or challenge others.

Now one might well (and perhaps rightly!) put this defensive response of mine down to pride and self-doubt and that slight ‘chip on the shoulder’ attitude some authors seem to display at times. But such a question disturbs me for a different reason as well—and that is that it shows how easily we can pigeonhole people. Fiction writers, these people seem to think, just write novels. Yet most novelists I know have thought long and hard about the themes featured in the fiction they produce and are quite passionate about them. In my own six published novels, I explore such themes as the love and grace of God, forgiveness, becoming the person God created us to be, overcoming rejection, dealing with anger and bitterness, and holding onto our faith in God. I feel deeply about all these and love talking about them when given the opportunity.

Beyond that, however, I believe many people are interested in hearing about how a writer goes about creating a book and about the challenges and rewards of the writing journey and of being a published author. I have spoken about such things in both church and secular settings many times and have learnt to be prepared for all sorts of questions. So we as authors have the opportunity of sharing about both the process and content of our writing and of thus being used by God in a unique way.

Now I know some of you might still cringe at the thought of public speaking. Perhaps you have had bad experiences in the past with this. Or perhaps you have more of a naturally quiet, retiring personality. We are all different. I know too that I am blessed to have had so much experience standing up in front of others and speaking in various capacities. In the past, I have worked as a high school teacher and also as a local church minister. But there is no doubt we all have something to say and a story to share. We would not be writers if we did not.

So I will continue, I suspect, to be disturbed—perhaps even a tad annoyed—when writers are pigeonholed and regarded as having little to talk about. But how about you? Have you encountered such questions in your own writing journey? Do you feel writers have anything to say?


Jo-Anne Berthelsen lives in Sydney but grew up in Brisbane. She holds degrees in Arts and Theology and has worked as a high school teacher, editor and secretary, as well as in local church ministry. Jo-Anne is passionate about touching hearts and lives through both the written and spoken word. She is the author of six published novels and one non-fiction work, Soul Friend: the story of a shared spiritual journey. Jo-Anne is married to a retired minister and has three grown-up children and four grandchildren. For more information, please visit www.jo-anneberthelsen.com.

Monday, July 6, 2015

'One Day' by Sue Jeffrey

Late last year I decided to start blogging. I love writing and I like to express my opinion on things that matter. A blog seemed to be a natural outlet for those opinions. Alas, nothing happened. I'd think about setting it up then all too eagerly relegate the idea to my ‘one day’ pile. There were good reasons for this. Unexpected health issues, other writing projects, general busyness of life and church, along with paid work, are all factors that fuelled my exceptional gift for procrastination. [My honorary PhD in this subject will be coming in in the mail soon, I’m sure…] 

I might never have started but for Nola calling for writers for this blog. I reasoned that it was a great opportunity to begin. Even if it were just a one-time-only trek up the snow-capped mountain of bloggerdom, it would be a start. And so here I am. Hi, everyone!

I know I’m not alone in succumbing to the ‘one day’ phenomenon. It’s rife in our world where there are so many demands on our time and peace of mind. As writers we are especially at risk. This thing we do has no immediate productive value as our society judges it, unless we have a contract and a deadline. Even then there are those who question us.

‘Isn’t writing something you do when you retire?’ one woman said, when I enrolled at Tabor Adelaide to do my Masters (creative writing). I laugh about it now, but sometimes I still hear the whisper in my soul that creativity isn’t important. Not really. Not now. Maybe one day…

But it is important. For most of us Christian Writers Downunder, writing is a key part of our heart and our call. Our Father, the creator of all things, whispers into the deepest places of our being, saying, ‘Come, create with me.’  We obey as best we can but sometimes it’s still tempting to say, ‘Yes - but one day.’

In Ephesians 5:16 Paul tells us to make the most of every opportunity, as the days are evil. How we do that depends on our call. But we need to do it now – not one day – because one day might never come.

Adelaide is still reeling from the news that a prominent sporting personality was murdered last Friday – by his son. It’s unbelievable. Phil Walsh was senior coach of the AFL team the Adelaide Crows and in that role was a well-liked mentor to many young footballers. He had been a strong influence at several clubs before this. I remember reading an article about Phil before the current footy season. In 2012 he had an accident while on holiday in Peru. He was hit by a mini-bus and his injuries left him in hospital for weeks. He realised that life was precious – and brief – and he needed to take risks and make the most of his potential. When he returned to Australia he listed all the things he wanted to accomplish. Until that time he’d been content to be an assistant coach but in late 2014 he agreed to be the senior coach at the Crows. He died a few months later.

The whole thing is tragic and many in their grief will ask ‘why?’ There is no answer other than ‘the days in which we live are evil’.

I don’t know where Phil’s heart was/is with God – only the Lord knows that – but I do believe that when he died he was fully engaged in what he perceived was his life purpose. 

Are we?

Our God is gracious as he calls us forward in our craft. He forgives our procrastinations. He whispers to us as we feel his tug to co-create. ‘Begin afresh, my child. Forget about yesterday, don’t worry about ‘one day’, today is here. It is precious; so are you!’

What has God put on your heart to accomplish? What will you do today?


Sue Jeffrey was born in Scotland but moved to Brisbane, Australia with her family when she was just a wee lass. After a childhood spent reading, drawing and accumulating stray animals, Sue studied veterinary science and later moved to Adelaide where she worked as both a vet and a pastor. After a sojourn of several years in the Australian Capital Territory, Sue returned to Adelaide with two dogs, a very nice husband, and a deep desire to write. Sue recently completed a MA in creative writing at Tabor, Adelaide and now lives in Grange, South Australia, with her husband, two ancient doglets, a fat, tortoiseshell cat and a recently rescued cockatiel (yes, she still accumulates strays). Sue also paints animal portraits.




Thursday, July 2, 2015

A Little Encouragement Goes A Long Way by Nola Passmore



Some years ago, I found a brochure in my letterbox advertising a beginner’s class in watercolours.  It would only take up three Saturdays, so I thought I’d give it a try.  At the first lesson, Margaret the instructor showed us how to stretch our paper and apply different kinds of washes.  So far, so good.  My paper was damp and stretched on my board.  My background washes were passable.  My brush was poised to add the dark silhouette of a tree.  And then … disaster struck.  The tree was deformed, the colour was too dark.  I tried to fix it, but each brushstroke only made it worse.  Margaret walked around the room, commenting on each person’s masterpiece.  By the time she got to me, I was disheartened and embarrassed.   ‘I’ve mucked up the tree,’ I blurted out.  ‘It’s hideous.’

'But look at these lovely colours you have in the sky,' she said, pointing to a tiny patch in amongst the branches.

She was right.  I did have some lovely colours in one tiny square of the painting.  I’ll never give Monet a run for his money, but those words of encouragement kept me going.  I did twelve lessons with Margaret and a number of workshops with other artists.  Some of my pieces have been good enough to give as gifts.  I won an encouragement award at an art show.  I later took up acrylics and managed to sell one of my works.  If my teacher hadn’t found something good in my very first painting, I probably wouldn’t have turned up for Lesson 2.

This made me think about my writing journey.  I’ve had a lot of positive feedback over the years, but there have also been detractors.  A work colleague made me feel inadequate because I hadn’t published as many academic papers as him.  His reaction made me lose heart.  A friend scoffed at my idea of publishing a poetry collection.  It was another 25 years before I started writing poetry again.  Now I’m older and wiser, I try not to let other people’s opinions dictate whether I can pursue my dreams or not.  God’s opinion is what matters.  However, He also made us for relationship.  The words of other people, especially those we love and trust, can have an effect for good or bad.

How do you respond to the creative efforts of others?  Do you pick out every spelling mistake and grammatical error, but fail to see the big picture of what they’re trying to communicate?  Do you criticise works that aren’t your cup of tea, yet neglect the beautiful imagery the author has used?  I admit I’ve been too critical at times.  As an editor, it’s easy to look for all of the problems without taking enough time to comment on the things that are done well.  I’m not suggesting we give people false hope and pretend their work is wonderful when it’s sorely lacking.  My art teacher sometimes took the brush out of my hand and demonstrated a technique to help me improve.  However, she also told me what was good.

Let’s make a habit of giving constructive feedback to help each other be the best we can be, but let’s also give encouragement.  Whether we’re beginners in the starting blocks or seasoned professionals with lots of runs on the board, those cheers from the side lines can spur us on to greater heights.

Do you have a story of someone who’s helped you in your writing journey?  I’d love to hear about your experiences.


Nola Passmore is a freelance writer who has had more than 140 short pieces published, including devotionals, true stories, magazine articles, academic papers, poetry and short fiction.  She loves sharing what God has done in her life and encouraging others to do the same.  She and her husband Tim have their own freelance writing and editing business called The Write Flourish.  You can find her weekly writing tips blog at their website:  http://www.thewriteflourish.com.au  

Monday, June 29, 2015

How to manage the emotions that writing can bring up

Sitting up in the top of my cupboard is a blue box tied with a piece of white fabric tape. It’s been there for two years now and I haven’t touched it.

I’m scared.

Inside it is every letter I ever wrote home from boarding school – five years’ worth. And honestly, I don’t want to go back. I know, though, that I need to do it. The after-effects of those five years have been large in my life and I still have dreams where I’m back in boarding, usually with one or more kids in tow, attending maths class in our freezing cold Himalayan mountain classrooms and getting into trouble for not doing my homework. (At some point in those dreams, I say to myself, “Hang on. I’ve done a whole university degree. I don’t have to be here, doing maths with cold fingers.” At that point I wake up and lie in the dark for a bit.)  

I know I’m going to have to go there and open that box, though, so I have a plan. Next year is the year of the memoir: The Year I Read My Boarding School Letters.

But I’m still scared. I’m scared of the emotions that will rear their heads, of the things that I’ve ‘sorted out’ becoming ‘unsorted’. Basically, I’m scared of feeling, again, like I felt at boarding.

This year I’ve been teaching a ‘Write Your Memoir’ course with another writer. Last week in our session I handed out a sheet with a list of tips on Managing Your Emotions While You Write Your Memoir. Anytime we write about things that have happened to us, we are going to be dealing with emotions. Some, like my boarding school letters, we know will stir up old angers and fears. Others may pop up unexpectedly, right out of the blue. Either way, we need to know how to deal with it when it happens, so here are the tips I gave my class – tips that I’ll be dedicated to sticking to myself next year.

·         Keep a journal/blurt book.  Use it to write down whatever you want – even if you’d never tell another soul. Crying and punching pillows is also allowed.
·         Find a support person - someone to talk to. The right person is a gift. The wrong person may be a curse. If you really can’t find anyone, consider booking in to see a professional counsellor.
·         Limit your writing time to a manageable amount. Putting boundaries around the time you’ll spend thinking about hard things each day or each week can help.
·         Stay healthy. Eat your vegies, drink enough water and make sure you exercise. It dissipates stress and creates that lovely serotonin and dopamine in our brains.
·         Find a mindfulness/meditation practice. Pick one that works for you and do it every day. It may be prayer, relaxation, playing music or colouring in.
·         Breathe deeply for two minutes every day. It increases oxygen and gets rid of stress.
·         Stock up on funny DVDs and books to give you a hit of humour. If you’re laughing, it’s hard to be sad.
·         Realise when you’re ‘kicking the cat’. If the people around you are suffering because you’re passing on your stress without realizing it, stop and take care of your own feelings.
·         Take time off if you need to. I can’t believe I would ever tell anyone to stop writing. But if you need to, you need to. (On the other hand, you could move on to the next tip instead…)
·         Balance out the hard memories with the good memories. Follow up writing about the hard stuff with something that’s more positive.
·         Make a list of ‘rewards’. Write down ten things you’d like to do but haven’t gotten around to yet. Reward yourself with one of them every time you do a piece of difficult emotional writing.

·         Anything else that works for you. You probably know what it is, because you’ve been doing it for years already.
Cecily Paterson is a novelist for young teen girls, based in New South Wales. She blogs at 
www.cecilypaterson.com

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Style: Are We Being Robbed? by Jeanette Grant-Thomson


I love writing and reading. I love slipping into the world of the novel with its believable characters, its enjoyable setting, its gripping story. Unique well-written styles delight me. I enjoy words and I enjoy writers who obviously do too.

But during the past, say, fifteen years, there’s been a difference. I wonder if we’re being ripped off. With the emphasis on ‘tighten it up’, ‘delete every unnecessary word, especially adverbs’, has sometimes come a blandness, a lack of individual style.
I would like to – realising these are just my own views and not gospel – express my feelings about the current trend.

Why the push to write so succinctly?
We are told: We live in a fast-paced society.  Nobody will take the time to read your novel if it is written in a leisurely way, with adverbs dangling everywhere.  It’s action readers want. It’s a text message world. People want facts delivered fast and hard. It’s even been whispered: the Real Reason is that publishers have to save money on printers’ ink! Seriously (woops, another adverb!).

I see their points.

But nothing quite replaces a good book which creates a world where you can escape for that precious time of unwinding at night. So let’s have a look at a few of the contemporary authors I’ve really enjoyed – and who are also best sellers. I applaud these writers who have felt free to ignore the current trend and wend their way patiently through descriptions, adverbially modified where appropriate, and to repeat things for effect. To write with their own distinctive style.

Kate Morton, author of The Shifting Fog, The Forgotten Garden and a few others. Kate rambles, gives plenty of details, takes her time in getting to the first pivot point of the story arc (I wonder if it may be too long but I so enjoy the journey, I forgive her), and she periodically addresses the readers.
She takes us into the magical worlds of her characters and her 500plus page novels are captivating reading. I willingly suspend my disbelief! (Did anyone else have an urge to pray for Eliza, in The Forgotten Garden, when she is about to make her final disastrous decision?)

Then there’s Alexander McCall Smith, particularly in his first five or six Botswana books – his quaintness of style, his creative use of words, his wonderful character Precious Ramotswe, all are a delight and take one into the ‘dry, aching land’ of Botswana with its ‘vast empty sky’. Its characters talk like many people do. “It’s just like that, Mma. It just is.” All set amid adverbs galore.

Why delete adverbs? They – well, they modify!
‘Find a better verb,’ you say. Sometimes this works. But I prefer fluid, textured prose with a sprinkling, only where appropriate, of adverbs.
 Recently I read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. The first several hundred pages of this gripping testimony are almost devoid of adverbs and despite the   wonderful story, I felt the prose lacked texture. It was hard and staccato in this part. Well . . . I thought so.

There’s definitely a place for simply-written, fast-paced novels. I’m sure they will continue to be popular. But give me a novel that feels free to break the current rules and leads me into its special world with the author’s individual writing style and well-rounded characters. 


Jeanette Grant-Thomson, a Brisbane author, has been writing in various genres since she was a child. She began book-length works with her biographical novel Jodie’s Story, published in 1991.Her most recent novel is Lantern Light, set in PNG and Brisbane in 1972-4.

Monday, June 22, 2015

CALLED BY NAME - Mazzy Adams

One of the great joys of having children is the fun of choosing their names; at least, it becomes a joy once you get past the wrangling (as in ‘will Great Grandpa Gatsby ever forgive us for calling our son Scott Fitzgerald G.?’).  

When my husband and I chose names for our children, we opted for meanings which represent our prayerful desires and prophetic blessings for them, believing that every time we call them by name, our prayers and blessings are reiterated. How delighted we are that our adult children embody the very blessings we bestowed.

Name choices are significant for writers too. Character names, book names – we have to choose names more often than the average Jo. I have written stories with characters that seemed to name themselves. Other times I’ve gone searching for the ‘right’ name. Often my choice is influenced by the meaning of the name.


Sometimes, we rename ourselves. There are numerous blogs and articles on the subject of authors’ pseudonyms and the reasons for them. I was happy publishing under my own name, until I wrote THAT story; one that had to be written; one that begged to be published; one that spoke to the power of God’s grace to heal victims of physical and sexual abuse; one that spoke of the overwhelming responsibility every adult has to protect our children from predators; one that challenged the wall of silence that has kept many adults, myself included, isolated in a room of pain, filled with unspeakable memories.  If only that story was fiction. But it wasn’t. It was the all-too-true story of my childhood.  

Writing THAT story was also a turning point for me; one that brought healing as I wrote it, and more healing as I shared it with my siblings. So, did I really need to publish it? As I prayed and agonised over that question, the answer was a clear yes. Not because the world needed another story about abuse. But because there can never be enough stories about the power that positive action, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation have to overthrow evil and release healing, wholeness, and goodness again. You see, the man that abused me as a child, died the same day he truly repented of his sins against me; in his place, I received a loving father who would also be a wonderful grandfather to the very end of his days. For that reason, when my story, Releasing Rainbows, was chosen for publication in the inaugural issue of Snapdragon, A Journal of Art and Healing, I used my pseudonym.  



I prayed much about that name choice too.  After all, God’s an old hand at name-changing: Abram/Abraham, Sarai/Sarah, Jacob/Israel and Simon/Peter all had name changes at his instigation. In each case, their names were changed to reflect God’s calling and plan for their futures. God had a bigger vision for them than they or their parents had had. He wanted to call that future into being, and keep calling it in until it blossomed to his glory.  With that in mind, I chose the pen-name Mazzy Adams; Mazzy which means ‘precious’, and Adams to represent all humanity; a new name to call into being a specific hope and purpose: to write stories which will bring blessing, encouragement, healing, wholeness and goodness to every precious person that reads them. After all, God is in the business of making people new again.     

How do you choose names for your literary characters? Do you consider the meaning and blessing (or curse) inherent in those names? Have you thought of using a pen-name, perhaps one that speaks God's calling into your work? God himself is known by many names; each represents his perfect qualities present and active as his name is uttered. Great Author of Life, will you please write your perfect desires into our literary lives too?



If you would like to read Releasing Rainbows by Mazzy Adams, it can be found in the inaugural issue of Snapdragon: A Journal of Art and Healing, an online journal filled with dynamic and uplifting poetry, images and creative non-fiction pieces that reflect the healing journey.  http://www.snapdragonjournal.com/store/p3/The_Inaugural_Issue,_March_2015.html