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  


Thursday, June 18, 2015

I dreamed ...

Photo courtesy of sumetho/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
I was watching an episode of our local Masterchef and famous British chef Marco Pierre White gave a short inspirational speech about the power of dreams.

“Dreams … without them you’ll achieve nothing.”

A day later, I popped cross to a blog I hadn’t visited for a few months to find the latest post was an encouragement to write down your dreams. “Ask God again to dream with you. No, to give you His dreams!” (Lynn Donovan)

Okay. I think God might be trying to tell me something.

And just to confirm the following day the daily reading from John Eldredge’s devotional was titled “We Can’t Out-Dream God.” The post stated how the majority of people say they don’t have any dreams and those who do, only a small portion actually write them down and follow them up.

BAM!

Three strikes.

I couldn’t recall the last time I had spent any time thinking about my writing dreams. Life had gotten so muddled for a variety of reasons and I realised I’d kinda lost my way with my dreams for my writing. I was simply plodding along.

“Awakening and owning the dreams that God has placed in our hearts isn’t about getting stuff or attaining something. It’s about embracing who we are and who He has created us to be. In Him.” (John Eldredge)

So I listened.

Opened my heart and started to dream. Again. With Him.

Sure my world didn’t just change overnight but it was like I woke up again and could see a little further down the road. I’d lifted my head up from having spent too much time looking downward.

A fog had lifted. That simmering flame in my heart suddenly received some oxygen and began to burn a little brighter.

“Because the thing about dreams is, dreams come true.” (John Eldredge)

When did you last get in touch with your writing dreams?

If it’s been a while may I encourage you this week to spend some time with pen and paper (or e-device) in hand and chat to God about them.



Ian Acheson is an author and strategy consultant based in Northern Sydney. Ian's first novel of speculative fiction, Angelguard, is now available in the US, UK, Canada and Australia. You can find more about Angelguard at Ian's website, on his author Facebook page and Twitter

Monday, June 15, 2015

Your Faith Really Will Set You Free







First, let me say that I am thrilled to be an honorary Aussie. I've bragged about this to all my American writing friends. ;-) I am honored to be a part of Christian Writers Downunder. I truly believe this is His will. I was absolutely giddy when Nola first approached me about it. She even linked to my blog post about my NaNo WC. But today I am here to talk about faith in writing.

We all need faith. Even atheists have faith in someone or something.

But when God called me to write, He was asking more of me than I thought I could provide. You see, my son was born with two rare brain disorders. Every day with Christopher is a day to be remembered. Like a diver hunts for that perfect pearl or a treasure hunter seeks out the most magnificent diamond, my time with Christopher is cherished, prized about all others.

So when God said, "Go forth and write children's stories," I argued. How could I write for children or for anyone when I had to use all my energy taking care of Christopher and loving him and searching the internet about certain problems that might crop up?


"WRITE?" Say huh? Step out in faith? As I talked to my husband (who puts up with me for some strange reason), he said he'd always fancied me a writer.  He said he would help me in any way he could. He is one of my harshest critique partners. I still had doubts. But I stepped out in faith and never regretted that decision. You see, God knows what he's doing. ;-) He never asks us to something that we couldn't do. I am living proof. My faith has grown tremendously through all of this. I know now that God knew I needed an outlet. He was right, of course.


Never underestimate Him. The same God, who came to earth so that we might have eternal life, is that same God who pushed me into my writing. If it had not been for that, I would not have met some amazing people namely all of you who are reading this. I can channel my feelings, into my words. Some days are great. Some days not so good. But it all goes into my writing because I gave into my faith.  Paul said in Philippians 1:6 "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." So there you see? We can have the confidence to step out into our writing days. He goes with us. He is bringing it to completion. 




"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you." I asked for His help. He has not let me down and He never will. 

So this writing journey is a leap of faith. Know He is with you. Forever. The verse from Habakkuk is one of my favorite. :-) I will let you all know how this venture unfolds. I am confident I will use His gifts wisely. If not, I know He will tell me I haven't. He still does speak to us today. In our hearts.


Forgive me for confusing the date. UGH. Nola specifically told me not to forget the time difference. Now I must ask all of you to forgive me. It will NOT happen again.  


Thank you for reading. May He bless us all in our writing endeavors and with our lives. xoxo


I write picture books, poetry for children and middle-grade novels. Since I live on a farm, I have a never-ending spout of sounds and sights and smiles from my animals that I can use in my writing. We have seven children. Six boys and one daughter. We've homeschooled through high school. Still have some time to go on that. :-) 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Original Author by Jo Wanmer



"The tablets were the work of God; 
the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets." 
Ex 32:16

According to the Bible, God's first published words were written by the His own hand and self published. This isn't surprising as He is very familiar with Words. He is the WORD. "In the beginning was the WORD and the WORD was GOD..." (John 1:1) Those first words penned by God approximately four thousand years ago are well known to all of us. (Ex 20)

However those first published words were lost in a crash, not a computer crash but a crash of  frustration, of rejection. God's intended readers refused His first publication. They turned their attention to another source with disastrous consequences. (Exodus 32)

Graciously, God republished his work and presented Moses with a second set of tablets, this time in a hard cover to protect them. (Deut 10:2)  Then he instructed Moses to write down the rest of the revelation. (Ex 43:27)
Image from Wikipedia

God is very insistent about writing. In the Bible, He tells the Israelites to write on door-frames, stones, tablets, scrolls and hearts. It is because of this instruction we have the Bible. Many stories are passed from generation to generation verbally, but are eventually forgotten. Written words remain.

The Lord likes everyone to know about what he has done. This is demonstrated after Moses won a serious battle against the Amelakites. . As long as Moses held his hands in the air, his soldiers were victorious. The priests propped up his tired arms to ensure the battle was won. God told Moses to record the details and make sure Joshua, the leader of the army, read it. (Ex 17)

God is still saying 'Write, write, write.' A newer prophetic voice in Australia, Lana Vawser, has been encouraging authors to keep writing. (I posted her latest blog on Christian Writers Downunder on Facebook yesterday.) She says God is releasing new revelations, understandings of the Bible, stories, parables. He is looking for those who will record them for others to know. God is promising revelations for those who will position themselves to write.

Encouraged, I determined to write this week. But it's been a battle to even sit at the keyboard. I could list what has happened in the last few days, but if I'm honest there has still been enough time to sit and wait on Him and His revelation. It just seems hard to get there. The opposition is subtle, but strong. I need help to win this battle, Divine help, your help. We need to help each other.

Just as the priests held up Moses arms, I believe we need to pray for each other. In that way we can support each others efforts and win the battle to release His words to our nation and across the world. Will you join me as I pray?

'Lord, I pray for every one of us who write for you, from the accomplished author to those who scribble jottings in their journals. Burn in us with your passion and love. Stir up our giftings. Open glimpses of revelations and doors of opportunity in front if us. Release stories of passion and power through us. Use us to produce books that bring hope, healing and understanding. You, Lord, are the Author of all authors. You have known us from the moment you spoke us into being. Your creativity is deeply rooted in us all. Take us, Lord. Use us, lead us. May everything we pen glorify your mighty name. Amen.'

Jo Wanmer is the author of Though the Bud be Bruised, published by Even Before Publishing in 2012. She loves to write stories about real people, bringing the God of love and wholeness into real-life messes. Meanwhile she is a pastor, bookkeeper, grandmother and a few other assorted things as the Spirit requests.






Monday, June 8, 2015

The Wonderful Tom Swifty

Not long ago, I shared my thoughts about these Tom Swifties on my own blog. As they are addictive and very enjoyable, I thought I'd introduce them to the wider readers of this blog too. I hope you're game to have a try of making up some of your own.

Tom Swift was the hero of a series of dime novels published early in the twentieth century. He was a young scientist who had adventures with the technology he created. Ostensibly written by an author named Victor Appleton, they came from the E.L. Stratemeyer writing syndicate. Different authors, including Edward Stratemeyer himself, sat at their desks creating Tom Swift stories. Down the track, a variety of authors were employed to keep churning them out. They were better businessmen than authors, because the books were poked fun at by readers for the variety of speech tags they put in their hero's mouth. Tom Swift rarely just 'said' anything. He declared, stammered, barked, exclaimed, sobbed, ejaculated, grinned, mumbled and sang, just for a start.

No doubt the authors thought all these words gave their stories more colour and variety. Even I can remember my Primary School class being told by teachers to think of something more descriptive than 'said'. Nobody back then seemed to realise what a neat little word 'said' is. It's not a sign of laziness and lack of creativity. It's a gem, which enables readers' attention to flow and not be jarred from the story with every line of dialogue. Nowadays, every decent editor recommends that writers simply use 'said.' The fact that Tom Swift authors were teased about not doing so proves the point.

Tom Swift and His Giant Robot  (Tom Swift Jr, #4)


Anyway, the critics of Tom Swift started making parodies of the way the characters spoke, turning sentences into double meaning puns.

'There are one hundred lollies in the jar,' Tom recounted.
'I've decided to come back to the group,' Tom rejoined.
'We've struck oil,' Tom gushed.

 The art of the Tom Swifty came to include adverbs, which were also way over-used in the stories. Many editors now advise us to use them sparingly. They slow down a story as our eyes skim over the page, and may even be an insult to readers' intelligence. We don't need to be spoon fed the way in which a character delivers dialogue. The mood should be evident from what was said, without having to tell us that it was spoken snidely, sincerely, tearfully, mournfully or any other way.

Tom Swifties are a great fun way of sharpening our wit, and perhaps if we come up with enough of them, it might help us to weed out our own speech tags and adverbs, seeing how silly they are when taken to the extreme. Some examples I've come across from others include the following.


'Who turned out the lights?' Tom asked darkly.
Tom Swift and His Rocket Ship  (Tom Swift Jr, #3)'Will you lend me your pencil sharpener?' Tom asked bluntly.
'I'm no good at darts,' Tom said aimlessly.
'Lay your guns down,' Tom said disarmingly. 
'I hate sitting exams,' Tom said testily.
'Careful with the chainsaw,' Tom said offhandedly.
'I don't know what groceries to buy,' Tom said listlessly.

I came up with some of my own.

'Pass me the sandpaper,' Tom said roughly.
'I want hot fudge on my sundae,' Tom said saucily.
'You don't have to dress up,' Tom said casually.
'I enjoy parachuting,' Tom said airily.
'He stole my chair,' Tom said upstandingly.
'You forgot to water my plants,' Tom said witheringly.
'I'd better get back to the shearing shed,' Tom said sheepishly.
'I'm always last to know,' Tom said belatedly.
'These suspenders will hold up your pants,' Tom said bracingly.
'There's a snowman in the garden,' Tom said frostily.
'I need a ruler to draw this graph,' Tom said rigidly.
'I want to pat that poodle,' Tom said doggedly.
'It's underwater,' Tom said sinkingly.
'There are bugs flying around everywhere,' Tom said waspishly.
'I'm the king,' Tom said majestically. 
'Someone else has stripped all the apples from this tree,' Tom said fruitlessly. 

And one for Harry Potter fans.

'I want to play Quidditch,' Tom said snitchily.

Now it's your turn, assuming I've convinced you that this is not a pointless activity ('I've lost the tip of my pen,' Tom said pointlessly). This gets easier. Are you game to see how many you can come up with?



Paula Vince is a South Australian author of contemporary, inspirational fiction. She lives in the beautiful Adelaide Hills, with its four distinct seasons, and loves to use her environment as settings for her stories. Her novel, 'Picking up the Pieces' won the religious fiction section of the International Book Awards in 2011, and 'Best Forgotten' was winner of the CALEB prize the same year. She is also one of the four authors of 'The Greenfield Legacy', Australia's first and only collaborated Christian novel. Her most recent novel, 'Imogen's Chance' was published April 2014. For more of Paula's reflections, please visit her blog, It Just Occurred to Me. You may also like to visit her book review blog, The Vince Review where she also interviews other authors.


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Between Sky and Land, Sand and Sea

by Jeanette O'Hagan



At the Crossways

An author’s date snatched between appointments.
I point my aqua Laser toward the closest stretch of salt water
navigating on memory, road signs and intuition
pulling up when I catch the silvery glitter of sun's light on rippled surface.
Two unexpected treasures (re-)discovered,
eliciting memory like an unexpected gift -
by the road, the Full Moon Hotel, scene of my 50th celebrations
and, glimpsed at the base of the cliffs
the Victorian Gothic building conjuring its inner city cousin
where I said “I do” 26 years and one day earlier.

I walk back along the road
looking for a way down
flashes of white between the grey-green of trees
red-ochre tin roof slants in four directions
white clapboard, pristine and pretty, rose windows,
a miniature gothic spire spearing heavenward.

Descending the steep path beside an ant highway
birds and butterflies embroidering the faint breeze
the boisterous cries of enclosed preschoolers playing
counterpoint to cicadas, bird calls, the roar of cars,  
above planes and a helicopter traced the skyways
with raucous chatter.

I venture out on the tidal flats
past the church now kindergarten
the growl of motors and voices
fade away
in the
vastness
of cloud smudged
sky,
mud-brown sand
and
salt water.

Rippled strand stretches out like canvas
snaking through fingers of cloud-mirrored water
marked with life tracks and water currents,
sea-water trapped
in lagoons dimpled by shells
and small rocky sentinels,
reflecting back a woman on a mobile and her dog
other stray walkers,
reflecting back me.

The lullaby wind carries the sharp, briny aroma of sea things
and the susurration of pygmy waves fingering the sand,
bringing the tide in with soft gasps and gurgles.
White cotton candy clouds merge
into the grey-blue smudge of sky and sea.

On the way back to the crossways
between sky and land, sand and sea
- the phone’s battery life draining, technology failing
sun hot on skin, sweat stinging eyes and muscles humming -
the white building sits at the junction
focal point, seemingly silent and serene
its image reflecting in the rippling waters
singing divine echoes
the beauty capturing me.

Jeanette O’Hagan 28 March 2015
(Author’s date on 26 March 2015)



The last unit of my course I’ve been pursuing over the last three years, focused on understanding and sustaining creativity as writers. Among other things, we were urged to keep our inspirational wells full (as suggested by Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way). We looked at various ways of doing this such as journaling, imaginative exercises, creative word play, dabbling in different media, reading – and artist’s dates.

'The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly “artistic”– think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play.' Julia Cameron

For the exercise for week 4 (Creative Play) I decided on an artist’s date. I was writing a short story set on an island. Time-strapped and with a full hour’s travel to a surf beach, sea cliffs or lighthouse (depicted in my story), I headed instead to my nearest stretch of salt water at Sandgate, a bayside suburb of Brisbane. In the one hour window of time available, I walked, used my senses, took photos, and made voice and sound recordings.

It was an exhilarating experience despite a low grade dose of sunburn, a flat battery and, the discovery that most of my whispered reflections didn’t actually record. Still, I took home a wealth of impressions, images, emotions – the pub and the church; the expanse of sky, sand and sea; the bold birds; flowers; the tracks in the sand; shells (including a sea cone – Turritella); and a numinous feeling of blurred borders, of the vastness and beauty of God’s creation. None of this was overtly relevant to the opening scene of my short story.



What took me by surprise was how the unexpected find of the (former) church building dominated my experience – from the moment I caught sight of it like a gift between the trees, as I walked past it and as I walked back towards it and the mundane world beyond, how it stood at the junction of “sky and land, sand and sea”. While it was hard to express in words, this white clapboard building became a symbol of how my homage to God, how God himself, is at the crux of my creativity – intersecting the sacred with the profane; the finite and temporal with the infinite, eternal God who became human, lived, died and rose again in our midst.


Mudflats aren’t quite sea cliffs and there wasn’t a lighthouse to be seen - but I hoped to evoke this feeling of immensity and wonder in my short story. Driving to my next appointment, I knew I’d be incorporating artist's dates into my schedule as a regular thing.



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 webistes  JennysThread.com or Jeanette O'Hagan Writes .

Images:  c Jeanette O'Hagan 2015 (All rights reserved)

Monday, June 1, 2015

"How much longer?" by Simon Kennedy

“When is something finally going to break for me?”

I was on the phone to a good friend. We were rehashing a familiar litany. When was he going to find a publisher for his novels? When was I going to find a producer for my screenplays? We discussed how our questions reflected our impatience with God.

Both of us had sensed His call to creative communication. We had both received confirmation through wise counsel, had worked and studied diligently, and received acclamation for our early work. In our hearts we were wondering, “Lord, you have brought us to this door. When are you going to open it?”

During our conversation, I remembered a scene from a movie in which a line of archers stood with their arrows nocked, bow strings taut, muscles straining. The enemy advanced but the archers’ leader shouted, “Hold!”

Among the archers was a veteran of many battles. For him, the enemy was already within range, but he waited, calm and assured. Next to him was a young man, fresh out of training, fingers trembling on the bow string from a mixture of nerves and eagerness. The wait for him was excruciating but he trusted his leader and stood ready for the command to “Loose!”

Fired in unison, the arrows took a devastating toll.

My friend and I felt like we were somewhere in between the veteran and the rookie, having been victorious in a few minor skirmishes. We had trained hard, proven ourselves competent and were chafing for more action. This scene held a powerful reminder: It’s not about us.

Yes, we had been enlisted, honed our skills and been placed on that line. Our Commander had been with us at every step. He knew our capabilities, our temperament, our desires. But when He said, “Hold,” regardless of our individual opinion, we needed to trust that He understood the field of battle. His strategy was sound. With Him, we would ultimately be triumphant.

In His timing, our efforts would be far more effective.

By the end of the conversation, we had changed the question from, “When is something finally going to break?” to “Will I be ready when He gives the command to loose?”


Do you stand on a similar line, wondering when God is going to release you? Or maybe you’re a veteran who can share some words of wisdom for those of us who are still waiting to be called up to our first major battle. It would be great to hear your thoughts.

____________________

Through his involvement in Omega Writers, Simon is committed to seeing Christian writers aim true and hit their mark. His "victorious skirmishes" have included national short story and poetry prizes and placing as a finalist in an international short film competition. His YouTube channel, Songs with Simon, has almost 750,000 hits. He is actively waiting for feature film and television scripts to be accepted for production... all in God's time.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Breathing Life by Anusha Atukorala

I opened my eyes. Seven a.m. My beloved was disappearing from my line of vision - off for his morning shower.

I sat up in bed; my eyes full of sleep; my brain still basking in the dream I’d been engrossed in till that moment.



With eyes half closed and stifling a wide yawn, I picked myself off the bed and padded towards our dining room.

“You can get back to bed” Shan called after me as he noticed his wife was on the move. “Don’t worry about my lunch. I can get something.”

Hmmm.. That was thoughtful of him. He has always been a considerate man; one of the many things I love about him. I half turned to go back to bed. But then .....decided I'd be a good wife and do the needful instead. I could always retire to bed for more sleep afterwards. Which is what I did. By the time my beloved was ready to leave, his lunch box had been filled and deposited on our dining table. His sleepy wife was back in bed; ensconced inside our soft comfortable duvet. I didn’t go outdoors to wave my man as I usually do. I was content to kiss him goodbye while wrapped in my duvet. Blame it on my fibromyalgia. It was pretty bad that morning, so needed some delicate handling.

When I finally opened my eyes it was midday. Not quite. Somewhere in the vicinity of 9 a.m. (Shh…don’t tell! The rest of the world might be shocked.) I grinned as I glimpsed my bed-fellow. Little Raf sat looking at me with his cute little giraffy smile. Who’s Raf, you ask. Raf is our much loved pet. Raf came to stay four years ago and has become very much a part of our family. My husband had placed Raf in a life-like position – so when I opened my eyes, it seemed as if he was looking up eagerly at me, ready to play. I had to laugh.

“Good Morning Raf” I said patting his head. Raf responded with a little wag of his tail. Raf possesses melting brown eyes. When we jiggle his legs and make him prance around – he can act incredibly life like. His expressions vary and tug at our hearts. So yes, I could easily fool myself that he was a real life giraffe. We’ve breathed life into him. Not hard to do. Don’t tell me Raf is only a soft toy because I shan’t believe you.

Breathing Life. Does that sound familiar? Fiction writers need to breathe life into their characters don’t they? If the characters in a story work well – there is a good chance the story will make it. True – a good plot’s vital. But I’ve often been hooked by stories whose characters have made friends with me. I’m presently reading one of my favourite authors – Mary Stewart – and her protaganist is easy to believe in. She lives in my mind as I read the story and I can’t put the book down.

Breathing Life. Have you asked God to breathe life into your writing journey? My own journey was on fire for many years. But in the last year my creativity took a slight nosedive and I have been struggling. I continue to enjoy writing. But have had to ask God to breathe life into my writing journey. Every day. Do YOU need to do that too?

Breathing Life. And how about your Christian journey? How’s that going? I've been reading an insightful book during my Quiet Time. “The Lost Art of Practising the Presence of God” by James W. Goll. It challenges me daily to a closer walk with God. It’s breathing life into my relationship with God through wise words and the example of several forerunners of our faith. It reminds me that God leads me deeper on an inward journey with Him so I can be useful to Him in an outward journey to bless His world.

Breathing Life. We writers have the Author of Life on our side. He, the Word – became flesh. His life has been the light of men. His Holy Spirit has breathed life into each of us. Do you need some life breathed into your spirit today? Or into your writing life? Or onto your journey? Or inside your characters?
You only have to ask. He’s the Author of Life. And He’s The Word of God; none other.

Breathing Life. Let’s breathe life into our world today. Through our writing. Through our lives. By working together. Let’s bring his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.



Anusha Atukorala has always been fascinated by the English language. She is passionate about Jesus, love, life, family, friendship, reading, writing, the beauty of God's creation and lots more. Her first book 'Enjoying the Journey' contains 75 little God-stories and 16 colour photographs of our beautiful world. Do drop in to say G'day at her website - Dancing in the Rain. She'd love to connect with you.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Then Who Will?



Imagine: Boundless potential

Over the past two decades there seems to have been a shift in the landscape of Christian fiction, a broadening of what’s ‘Christian’ enough for the inspirational industry. Yet, feathers still ruffle over the occasional publication that is seen to contain inappropriate content (not enough or too much of certain elements), or attempts to present more ‘liberalised’ content in a way that really misses the mark.

As writers we have the capacity to invent stories that push all bounds. I suppose as the apostle Paul said (I Cor 10:23), all things are permissible, but not everything is constructive or beneficial. He follows that up by advising us not to seek our own good, but that of others. In relation to our writing, how do we determine what is constructive and beneficial to the good of others (whatsoever things are ...), while still remaining true to a plot and relevant to readers?

In recent months I’ve read a range of best-selling YA novels. Most include the usual modern ‘teen themes’, and overall they’ve been enjoyable reading. But some experiences depicted in a few of those novels would have been very foreign to my teenage self. Not that I always responded wisely as a young adult, but I had a sound personal conviction of actions, choices and consequences. On one hand, I’m extremely grateful for that awareness, yet what niggled in the back of my mind was this isn’t always the case and some of those topics would not be broached in many ‘Christian’ novels, at least, not in a way that enabled a reader to unpack and gain greater insight into those challenges.

In response to why a Christian should write books on particularly gritty topics (specifically rape, abortion and violence, but this could also include intimacy, sexuality, substance abuse, origins etc), author Stephanie P McKean recently tweeted, ‘Then who will?’ And she makes a good point. Like it or not, young people today are being confronted by issues many Christian novelists are reluctant to touch. It’s occurred to me that if young readers aren’t offered a safe, reasonable, honest and respectful alternative, these confusing concepts will take root from whatever angle they're presented and develop unchallenged into their adulthood, potentially forming unhealthy behaviours, thinking and relationships, which can become a life-default.

The fact is, bad things–and I mean really bad things happen to really great people, which can shake what a person ‘knows’ and values. Sometimes even internal forces, like a series of poor choices, can over time cause a life-destroying fallout that impacts generations. I’ve watched it happen to people dear to me, but I’ve not written many comparable situations in a novel. For one, some wouldn’t be viewed very favourably in the current climate of political correctness. Further, I feel one would have to pen such stories in a very sensitive, positive and purposeful way. And maybe that’s a key.

Perhaps the soul of our stories, the unique voice each author brings to their work, should be found in our ashes of brokenness, that wrestling with life’s real nightmares and prevailing in spite of our wounds. Being intimately acquainted with suffering brings an honest vulnerability, but it takes bravery to write truth in its gritty, confusing, imperfect reality. Perhaps what is ‘constructive’ and ‘beneficial’, is the willingness to take what was intended for harm and use it for good, writing stories that shed the light of truth on the grey corners of our world, with the knowing of a soul that has walked a healing journey with the One.

I know some of you are already brave. I’ll try to be braver, too.


Adele Jones lives in Queensland, Australia. She writes young adult and historical fiction, poetry and short inspirational works. Her first YA novel Integrate was released in September 2014. Her writing is inspired by a passion for family, faith, friends, music and science – and her broad ranging imagination. To find out more visit www.adelejonesauthor.com or email contact@adelejonesauthor.com
http://www.amazon.com/Integrate-Adele-Jones/dp/1925139093
http://www.adelejonesauthor.com/writing/novel-things-historical-fiction/