Wednesday, 29 June 2022

The what, why and when of woke

I always thought the word ‘woke’ was the simple past tense of wake, as in ‘I woke up and it was already late.’ Likewise, it has taken time to understand ‘woke’ as an adjective, as being ‘sensitised to prejudice and conscious of its manifestations in society’ (Macquarie Dictionary Online).

When I write, I want to be aware of current trends and I don’t want to disenfranchise my readers. But ‘woke’ philosophy combines with a countercultural protest movement which is as ugly as the sins it seeks to expose, like racism. Yeah, it’s bad. Cancel it. But calling out would-be perpetrators by wrecking their careers without trial? How is that fair?

Attribution: Photo by Tom Chen on Unsplash

Literary classics written years ago are not exempt. The movement has already forced many books from sale including six of Dr Seuss’ works, because they are judged as having racist themes.

The hit movie, ‘The Grinch that stole Christmas’, is also affected. Woke commentators say that the Grinch’s green skin is a deliberate choice showing his inferiority to the white-skinned characters in the book. It doesn’t matter what the author thought. It is how it is perceived, now.

Banning Dr Seuss’ books and those of other authors is extreme behaviour. It is a real-life ‘Fahrenheit 451’ (Ray Bradbury). In that classic fiction, the written word was physically destroyed by fire, thereby cancelling ideas that were dangerous to a threatened ruling collective.

Attribution: Photo by Freddy Kearny on Unsplash

Isms and history

Recently, I completed a survey about attitudes toward indigenous people of Australia. I don’t think myself racist, but I was assessed subconsciously racist.

I don’t deny the reasons. My school taught that England’s colonisation of Australia was history we needed to know—and the correct response was to call it ‘civilisation’. There was also, the subject called ‘English’, being the study of the literature of England. William Golding’s ‘Lord of the Flies’ was still on the recommended reading list, decades after I matriculated. It lauded the governance and culture of the British Empire, and by extension, marked down other models.

Golding is cited as believing that without the constraints of society, humankind would regress to its most base instincts, to hunt and kill.  In ‘Lord of the Flies’, war refugees crash-land on an uninhabited tropical island. Conveniently, only children and youths survive. There is now little life experience to guide decision-making. One of the main characters, Jack, forms an alternate system of government which discriminates against those that can’t hunt and kill effectively. He is drawn as someone unable to think or plan ahead. ‘Order’ is restored when a British Naval officer (Golding was one of these during WWII) sees a burning island and comes to investigate. Golding’s theorem is ‘proved’ and alternate arguments cancelled.

But I wouldn’t cancel Golding despite disagreeing with his logic. The world needs healthy debate rather than being told how to behave, or else.

Many of my teachers and peers have voiced the opinion: ‘I wouldn’t trust Aboriginal people. They are not like us.’ It didn’t occur to me then how racist that was. But it is.

Attribution: Photo by Tom Chen on Unsplash

The majority is not always right.

Alternate beliefs need to be evaluated. Jesus, not culture, is the standard-bearer

Jesus taught social justice such as caring for the widows and defending the fatherless. But in it, he did not raise a hand against his oppressors, even though the offenders included the designated representatives of God—priests tasked with teaching about God and doing his deeds on earth. He spoke of their failures, but he commended the priestly office as he was to become the fulfilment of it through his death, resurrection and ascension into heaven.

Was Jesus woke? Yes—he opened blinded eyes.

And no—he came to redeem the lost, not to cancel them.

How creative people can avoid cultural errors

In today’s world, you must avoid cultural missteps. Authors—indeed, anyone who creates, publishes, or broadcasts—can slip up.

Because most creators are blind to their own bias, make sure your output is not going to provoke an adverse reaction from any segment of your audience. Don’t rely on the AI in off-the-shelf online editors. Using an experienced ‘sensitivity reader’, a type of beta reader, will recognise triggers or inaccuracies specific to your characters. This expert pinpoints cultural missteps, inherent bias, or stereotypes, which can then be redacted from your writing—by you.

You cancel the bad and redeem the message you want to convey.

It might just be the new awakening.

Relevant reading:

‘Netflix pulls Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Outraging Viewers.’ Cameron Bonomolo. Published December 2, 2019. ComicBook: (

’Woke Horror’, The new monster on the block.’ Mike Duran. Published October 27, 2021: (

‘Top ten books you were forced to read in school: Lord of the Flies.’ Nate Rawlings. Published July 9, 2010. Time: (

‘When I woke up.’ Meredith Resce. Published January 20, 2022. Australasian Christian Writers: (

Marc Jeffrey is an Adelaide-based author and poet who loves to craft words in times when his beautiful wife and lively dog (Shih tzu cross Chihuahua) are asleep. He writes of hope and justice, depositing his characters in the nexus between the ‘what is’ and the ‘what if’ – while wondering if he can leave the house without waking anyone up.

He is long-time member of the ‘Literati’ writing group, that grew out of the Tabor Adelaide Creative Writing program. When he’s not writing, Marc listens to his favourite music, which ranges from Cold Chisel to Claude Debussy

Thursday, 23 June 2022

CWD Highlights - April - June 2022

Christian Writers Downunder is a diverse group of writers, editors, bloggers, illustrators. As a group we support each other through our Facebook page and blog.

Today's blog will highlight some of the achievements of our members from April - June 2022

New Releases

The Verindon Conspiracy by Lynne Stringer

Misilina has finished her training at the Academy on verindon and hopes to prove that she’s as good an agent as her father, Keridan. However, her first assignment is guarding Lord Jolan—her childhood tormentor and the son of Overlord Ardon—who is making a planetary visit to Darsair with his bride-to-be, Mandine, to help the Darsairian government improve conditions for the mine workers. But when the miners stage an uprising and attempt to kill Jolan, can Misilina and her fellow agents keep Jolan and Mandine alive?

Lynne Stringer's latest sci-fi adventure, The Verindon Conspiracy, takes place ten years after her Verindon Trilogy, but can be read by first-timers to the Verindon world. 

Date of publication: 30th April 2022
Publisher: Rhiza Edge
It's on sale on Amazon for $2.99 US for a short time only.
 Buy it here 

 Reading Stones Publishing

In April Reading Stones publishing (Wendy Wood and Helen Brown) released the third book in the Gems of Australia Series by Olwyn Harris: Emerald Dreams. 

 Helen Brown’s short story, Casey’s New Life, was short listed for the Power to Change writing competition and was released as part of a combined work. A modified version of this story will also be released along with a series of similar stories written by Helen later this year. 

Helen also released her second work of fiction, Like Father… Like Son, and we were excited to see sales exceed 50 copies within the first week.

In May, Reading Stones produced a small autobiography for Helen’s father, a unique work designed to be distributed at his funeral – life is definitely not boring for us here. We also entered Like Father… Like son was entered in the Bookshelf Fiction competition.

In June, Reading Stones released a non-fiction book about the Old Bakeries of Gympie and their Families, written by John Stark.

Starlit Realms: A Fantasy Anthology

Ten unforgettable stories of mystery and adventure from ten fantasy writers are woven together by the great Storyteller's own eternal magic.

*The mysterious Logunder Library houses no ordinary books, but those created from trees from the Enchanted Forest in a bid to save itself.
*A young princess must choose a husband from four unlikely and undesirable suitors.
*A girl's father goes off to battle dragons in an alternate war and she undergoes dangers to find him.
*A shape-shifting queen risks her life for a family condemned by age-old prejudice.
*One young slave girl risks her life for the sake of reading sacred texts.
*The final day of one of the waterfolk is celebrated with songs and music as she wanders back into the sea.
*A magic boot takes a young couple for the ride of their lives.
*A poor girl deceives the royal family to snag a husband, but it is not as easy as she thinks.
*A biological lab covers up the truth about its research and sends two science students into danger.
*On the summer solstice at Willow Woods Peak, animals may speak and a cat enlists the help of a human to unravel a secret.

The story made it into the anthology along with the stories of a bunch of other great writers - including CWD members  - Elizabeth Klein (the mastermind and editor), Adele Jones, Rebekah Rodda, Jeanette O'Hagan and Jenny Woolsey.

Starlit Realms: a fantasy anthology - is free on Amazon and other retailers. So why not download it and enjoy :)



The Long List for the CALEB prize has been announced - you can see the full list on Monday's post here.  Congratulations to our CWD members who made the long list - Carolyn Miller, Lisa Renee, Meredith Resce, Elaine Fraser, Jenny Glazebrook,  Kristen Young, Susan Brown, Emily Maurits, Dienece Darling, Suzie Pybus, Barbara McKay and Stephanie Walters.  All the best for the awards - which will be announced at the CALEB dinner on Oct 2022.

Sparklit nominee

Helen Brown's the Power of Prayer, published by Kurt Mahlburg and Warwick Marsh (they head up Canberra Declaration) was entered into this year’s Sparklit Christian Book of the Year competition.


Omega Writers Book Fair

Due to the uncertainty due to Covid earlier in the year and also the personal circumstances of the committee member, The Omega Writers Book Fair has been deferred until March next year. We are sad to skip a year but look forward to seeing our readers and authors in 2023.

Coorparoo Presbyterian Church Book Fair





10 a.m. to 2.30 p.m.

Omega Writers Conference 2022 Kingscliff

Omega Writers have decided to give you a greater opportunity to register for the conference at the early bird price. Instead of finishing tomorrow, June 18, the early bird will now close on Monday July 18.

And don’t forget, if you’re an Omega member, you can use your discount code at the checkout to reduce the price even further. 

Why go to the conference?

This year’s line-up of speakers has been deliberately curated to encourage, resource and inspire you on your writing journey. 

With opportunities to network with other likeminded and supportive writers, you will leave with new ideas, new connections, and a renewed excitement for your writing project.

The keynote speaker will be Steven James, author of Synapse and several books for writers. 

Others speakers include: 
*Collett Smart will present a plenary session on Self-Compassion, Resilience, and Well-being for Writers, as well as a practical non-fiction workshop.
*Lystra Rose, winner of the Black&Write Writing Fellowship will present on The unspoken rules of Indigenous protocols every writer should know.
*Hands-On Workshop Streams for Writers of Fiction and Non-Fiction
*A Marketing Intensive with Lisa Renee
*Tips and Advice on writing for the US Market
*Writing for Children and YA

We will also be offering participants the opportunity to book an appointment in The Hub (for a small fee) with agents, publishers, editors and industry experts to discuss their work in progress, or to pitch a manuscript ready for submission..

Did you have a new release or event or brag point that didn't make it to the Highlights Post? Keep an eye out for the next call for information from members - the next Highlights post will be in end of September 2022.

Congratulations to all our members for your milestones and achievements.

Jeanette O'Hagan

Monday, 20 June 2022

Omega Writers Presents the 2022 CALEB Award Finalists

The books and manuscripts have been read, the score sheets completed, and the totals calculated.

That means it's time to announce our finalists!

I am delighted to announce the finalists in the 2022 CALEB Awards from Omega Writers: Christian Authors Lifting Each other’s Books.

Published Adult Fiction

The winner will receive a $300 cash prize and trophy.
  • Dusk's Darkest Shores by Carolyn Miller
  • Fake Identity at Stake by Lisa Renee
  • In Want of a Wife by Meredith Resce

Published Young Adult Fiction

The winner will receive a $300 cash prize and trophy.
  • Finding Joy by Elaine Fraser
  • Framing Fleur by Jenny Glazebrook
  • Elite by Kristen Young

Published Nonfiction

The winner will receive a $300 cash prize and trophy.
  • Skinny Girl by Susan Brown
  • Two Sisters and Brain Tumor by Emily Maurits
  • Surviving Childlessness by Steph Penny

Unpublished Adult Fiction

The winner will receive editing services from Iola Goulton at Christian Editing Services to the value of $400.
  • Dienece Darling
  • Samantha Oritz
  • Suzie Pybus

Unpublished Nonfiction

The winner will receive a Manuscript Review and Feedback from Nicole Partridge to the value of $400.
  • Susan Barnes
  • Craig Chapman
  • Barbara McKay
  • Stephanie Walters
Judging for the Unpublished categories is anonymous, so we can't tell you the titles.

Congratulations to all our finalists!

It's great to see a combination of familiar and new names on the lists. The winners will be announced on the evening of Saturday 8 October as part of the Omega Writers Conference. Click here to find out more. The conference is not being streamed online, but we will try to livestream the awards ceremony (technology permitting!). If you haven't yet booked to attend the Omega Writers Conference, then I have good news: the committee have extended the earlybird rate. Sign up by 18 July to save $50. Omega members can save even more - you can find the discount code in the members area of the website.  

Thursday, 16 June 2022

The Value of Unpublished Words


  • A traditionally published book = Value
  • A quality self-published book = Value
  • A homemade photocopied booklet = ?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the value we place on various types of writing. As writers, we want to find an audience for our work. In my role as an editor, however, I’ve often had to tell authors that their manuscript needs more work if they want it to be published. Sometimes a LOT of work. Many take feedback on board and polish up their drafts, but I know there are others who’ve felt discouraged and maybe even doubted whether they’re meant to be writers. This is never my intention, as I always try to be encouraging, but I have no control over how people will respond to my comments.

I think one of the problems is that we tend to equate value with publication, but they’re really two separate things. If we want to be traditionally published or produce a quality self-published book, there might be certain things we need to do (e.g., adhere to spelling and grammar conventions, use creative writing techniques, have the work thoroughly edited, ensure that the cover and overall book design are pleasing). However, our work can still be of value even if none of those things happen. Here are some examples.


You might record your thoughts in a journal or write a blog as a regular practice or at special times (e.g., during a trip). Or you may keep a diary on a particular theme (e.g., a gratitude journal or a prayer journal). You might later use some of this information as the basis for a book. However, even if you don’t do anything specific with it, the practice itself is still valuable. It helps you to recall events such as answered prayers. It hones your powers of observation and reflection. Even the process of writing can be beneficial in helping you to work through issues, including mental health concerns. Click here for some more information on the benefits of journaling for mental health. Whether anyone else ever reads what you’ve written, journaling is valuable.


Back in the Dark Ages when I was at school, I had a lot of overseas pen pals. I also collected stamps, so I loved opening the letter box and finding letters from India, Sweden, Germany, England, Austria and more. With the advent of email, text messaging and social media, we've largely lost the art of letter writing. Even sending Christmas cards is becoming less common. After all, if you've been in touch with someone on Facebook all year, what's the point of sending them a card and Christmas letter? 

While the speed and ease of modern communication certainly has its advantages, there's still something special about receiving an actual letter from someone. They're ideal for those who aren't on social media, such as older folk in aged care homes who might not have a mobile phone or computer. They're more permanent than emails. You can keep them and read them over and over. 

Remember that most of the New Testament, including Luke and Acts, are letters to various individuals or churches. We're still reading them 2000 years later.

Postage can be an issue. I'm old enough to remember when you could post a letter within Australia for 7c and overseas for less than $1.00. Now it's $1.10 for a small local letter and between $2.50 and $3.75 for a small overseas letter. Phew! I guess I won't be sending out 100 Christmas cards anymore. However, think about who might be blessed by receiving an actual letter and who might like a longer email occasionally. You can't underestimate the power of an encouraging word. Your words are of value.

Writing Prompts and Exercises

We’ve all probably come across blogs, books or classes that have included writing prompts or exercises. But is there any point to these if we’re just writing bits and pieces that aren’t for publication? Absolutely! They help us to hone our craft and get the creative juices going. The process of creating in itself can be good for us. I’ve sometimes written a funny piece just for fun and it’s really lifted my spirits. I’ve also ended up with some publications from snippets that started out as writing exercises, though that shouldn’t be the main aim. Art for art’s sake is still of value.


A zine is a small homemade booklet that is usually photocopied and distributed free of charge. There’s no ‘right’ way to make a zine. Some zines are produced using computer software, but they can also be handwritten, cut and pasted from other material or a combination of both. Some zines are like newsletters (e.g., they might advertise what’s happening in the local community), while others contain poetry, art, comics, short stories, true stories, opinions, reviews, calls to action, how-to information. There’s really no limit.

 My local book shop (Jeremy’s Book Exchange) has just started a zine library and I felt inspired to have a go at making a little mini zine for fun. Click here to see Austin Kleon’s two-minute video on how to make a little zine from a single sheet of paper.

I used some blackout poetry for this zine, which involves finding some text from newspapers, books or magazines, choosing some words that would make a new poem and then blacking out the rest. Here’s a photo of the finished product.

You can put anything in a zine. You could use it to try out some ideas, to bless other people, to get across some information. Whether it’s just for you, for the members of your family, or for a wider audience, it’s of value.


Intrinsic Value

I’ve only just scratched the surface here and could have easily written longer blogs on each of those topics, but hopefully that’s whetted your appetite for more. Don’t equate your worth or the value of your writing with society’s idea of what’s valid. You are made in the image of God and are of unimaginable value to him. He has also imbued you with interests, desires and gifts to help you and others. Whether published or not, your work has immense value.


Have you got some other examples of unpublished work that’s helped you? I’d love to hear your stories.

Author Bio

Nola Lorraine (aka Nola Passmore) is a writer and editor who has had more than 150 short pieces published in a variety of genres including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, true stories, memoir, devotions, magazine articles and academic articles. Her debut novel 'Scattered' was published by Breath of Fresh Air Press in 2020. She would love to connect with you through her website:

Picture Sources

Featured photo by hobin on Pixabay.

Journal writing photo by kaboompics on Pixabay.

Zine photo by author.

Author photo by Wayne Logan at WRLPhoto.

Monday, 13 June 2022

Reliably Write

The first weekend in June heralded WordFest Toowoomba 2022. Hosted at “The Lighthouse”, a fabulous initiative by local Toowoomba “Child Writes” creative, Emma McTaggart, a wintery blast met exhibitors and attendees alike, sending hands diving for pockets of thick jackets and scarves winding tight about necks. All over, it was a modest but enthusiastic gathering.

The second year of the event offered an array of workshops catering to writers and readers across a range of genres. Other familiar faces were also in attendance (Nola Passmore and Jessica Kate). I was thrilled to be on the “Knowing your YA audience” panel with author Verity Croker and chair, Ben Tupas.

This cosy conversation explored (amongst other things) our written works, creative processes, and the topic of the moment: how to know and connect with a young adult audience in a way that is relevant and authentic. (Since, as Ben kindly highlighted, we were not exactly “young adults” anymore. 🤔🤨)

At the close of the session attendees were invited to ask questions. This led to a discussion about narration viewpoints and character/reader perceptions in the context of young, perhaps naïve, protagonists. In essence, an “unreliable narrator”.

“An unreliable narrator is a storyteller whose perspective isn’t totally reliable if we want to get the full picture or the whole truth.” ~ Kaelyn Barron

The unreliable narrator is an interesting concept and a well-used literary device. My personal leaning is that no viewpoint is ever truly reliable, and I too have made use of this technique in my stories to create tension between reader insights and the protagonist’s view of their life, values, goals and the realities they are yet to perceive, whilst challenging the reader’s own.

“Fiction that makes us question our own perceptions can be powerful. An unreliable narrator can create a lot of grey areas and blur the lines of reality, allowing us to come to our own conclusions.” ~ reedsyblog

Interestingly, this concept of “unreliable narration” lingered in my mind into the week—and not in the context of writing.

As Christians, we readily reference scripture and songs that remind us of who we are in Christ. But is it just me, or are there times when you also find yourself engaging the world in a way that conflicts with the new identity that has been placed upon us as redeemed children of Almighty God?

The longer I reflected on this, the more I was reminded of the importance of realigning our “self-narration” with our identity in Christ. For as anyone who has been a believer for more than five seconds knows, some days this is not at all how reality plays out. Just like our written characters, we can narrate our world with horrible unreliability.

In the face of rejection, we don’t always feel or act “beloved”. In the face of massive mess ups, we don’t necessarily feel “chosen”, “forgiven” or “the righteousness of Christ”. In the face of brutal failure, we may seem the opposite of “an overcomer”. When we’re hit with a gut-punch betrayal or loss, we don’t necessarily feel “unforsaken”. And yet all these things, and so much more, are still true when we place our hope in Christ and step into relationship with Him.

Because of Jesus’ life, sacrifice and resurrection, our identity in Him has already been validated. Yet so often we can wrestle with speaking, acting, and even thinking, in accordance with who HE says we are. The importance of spending time in the Word and prayer and building relationships with others who will encourage us in these truths becomes vital in this context. For as we grow in who we’re truly called to be and our self-perceptions become more aligned with our identity in Christ, this will allow us to “narrate” our identity in our world with increasing reliability.

Queensland author Adele Jones writes young adult fringe and near-science fiction exploring the underbelly of bioethics and confronting teen issues that include disability, self-worth, loss, domestic conflict, and more. She also writes historical fiction, poetry, inspirational non-fiction and short fictional works, with themes of social justice, humanity, faith, natural beauty and meaning in life’s journey. Adele’s first YA novel Integrate (book one of the Blaine Colton Trilogy) was awarded the 2013 CALEB Prize for unpublished manuscript. As a speaker she seeks to present a practical and encouraging message by drawing on themes from her writing. For more visit or

Thursday, 9 June 2022

No barriers

 Jo-Anne Berthelsen

Soon after my first novel Heléna was published in 2007, I became curious about where all those early copies would get to. I remember wishing I could install a tracking device on them so I could see who read them and what interesting adventures they had along the way. Of course, I also realised that could be discouraging. After all, some might end up unopened on dusty bookshelves somewhere or, worse still, in the recycling bin! On the other hand, some readers might love the novel and even lend it out—or buy it as a gift. Some copies might end up in libraries too and hopefully be borrowed often. The possibilities were endless!

During COVID lockdown, I had several requests for my older novels, especially All the Days of My Life, the sequel to Heléna. It seemed people had re-discovered Heléna on their bookshelves while bored at home, then decided they would like the sequel. I do not stock any of these two novels now, so asked family and friends if they would part with their old copies. Several were unearthed in this way and it was fun to give them another chance at life with new owners.

Then this past week, I received another request via email for All the Days of My Life. A lady wrote to tell me her husband had just finished reading Heléna and loved it. So … did I have any second-hand copies of the sequel available? I didn’t—but I knew a friend had one. I drove to pick it up and emailed the prospective buyers to sort out postage, only to discover this couple actually live in Canada! Apparently, they found my novel Heléna in their church library—but how did it get there? What’s more, the copy is signed by me, so I must have sold it personally to someone.

To be honest, I am amazed people anywhere are still reading my very first novel published way back in 2007—and I am certainly amazed a copy has ended up in a church library in Canada! Somehow, time and distance have been no barrier for this particular copy at least.

Yet, as I have reflected on this whole story, I have realised something even more amazing. I may not be able to install tracking devices on my books, but God knows where they have all got to—and God is quite able to carry them through time and space to wherever they can minister to someone. Those fifteen years since Heléna was published here in Australia are the mere blink of an eye to God—they are certainly no barrier to the One who was and is and always will be.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 2 Peter 3:8

I find this verse so reassuring, don’t you? Somehow, it puts everything I worry about into much better perspective. Things may take longer to unfold in life than I might have hoped—and yes, my books may also not have as wide a distribution as others. But I can be at peace about it all, because I belong to the most awesome, powerful Creator of the universe for whom no barriers are ever insurmountable.

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 the written and spoken word. She is the author of seven published novels and two non-fiction works, ‘Soul Friend’ and ‘Becoming Me’. Jo-Anne is married to a retired minister and has three grown-up children and four grandchildren. For more information, please visit

Monday, 6 June 2022

Starlit Realms

 by Jeanette O'Hagan

I don't know about you, but I've always struggled with words - that is in writing too many.  

With essays and assignments, I'd usually spend a good proportion of my time removing the huge pile of words over the word limit. In one Arts assignment on medicine in ancient Egypt, after shaving off all the that I possibly could, I 'killed my darling' and surgically remove a beautiful paragraph on the Egyptian pregnancy test. 

So. Hard. To. Do. 

So it won't surprise you that most of my stories turn into novels and my novels turn into series and my series beget other series. 

When various pundits suggested short stories as a way to hone one's writing, I was sceptical. I didn't know how to write short stuff. But I gave it a try - first for a charity anthology - Tied in Pink.

The word limit was 5000 words - so not as restrictive as many such enterprises. In the end, it took me three tries and three stories to hit the mark - Wolf Scout, Full Moon Rises - and finally The Herbalist's Daughter. Each one of those stories included a mention of a pink ribbon (part of the requirements of the anthology), but it was the last that made it within the word count and into the anthology.

The Herbalist's Daughter, in 2014, was my debut into publishing. And I discovered along the way that, yes I can write short stories - usually long short stories - but short stories none the less.  

(Here's another confession - it took me two goes to hit the more generous word limit of 7000 words for the Glimpses of Light anthology - Heart of the Mountain (which later became the first novella in the Under the Mountain series), was my first failed attempt, with the second attempt, Ruhanna's Flight coming out at exactly 7000 words. 

Strangely enough - I have more success in keeping to 700 or even 500 words than 3000.  

 From being a sceptic, I became a believer. I love short stories because:

*Getting a short story accepted is easier than finding a home for a novel
*It's fun to write them
*They help sharpen writing skills
*It's encouraging to collaborate with other writers 
*While not exactly easy to write, they do take up less time (I almost said lives) than a full novel
*Short stories are a great way to experiment or try something new.

Since that first heady acceptance, I've continued to write and have short stories accepted and published - as well as a few knock backs. Mostly, I'm neck deep in edits of my novels - and probably will be for a while as I hone and polish my next two or three drafts. 

At the beginning of the year, I jumped at the chance to write a new short story for submission to the Starlit Realms anthology. Writing a new story revitalised me. Even though I linked the story to my other stories in the world of Nardva (in this case the prequel to Ruhanna's Flight), I explored new characters in a different time and background. 

The story made it into the anthology along with the stories of a bunch of other great writers - including some fellow travellers - Elizabeth Klein (the mastermind and editor), Adele Jones, Rebekah Rodda. Sally Odgers and Jenny Woolsey. 

Starlit Realms: a fantasy anthology - is free on Amazon and other retailers. So why not download it and enjoy :) 

Ten unforgettable stories of mystery and adventure from ten fantasy writers are woven together by the great Storyteller's own eternal magic.
*The mysterious Logunder Library houses no ordinary books, but those created from trees from the Enchanted Forest in a bid to save itself.
*A young princess must choose a husband from four unlikely and undesirable suitors.
*A girl's father goes off to battle dragons in an alternate war and she undergoes dangers to find him.
*A shape-shifting queen risks her life for a family condemned by age-old prejudice.
*One young slave girl risks her life for the sake of reading sacred texts.
*The final day of one of the waterfolk is celebrated with songs and music as she wanders back into the sea.
*A magic boot takes a young couple for the ride of their lives.
*A poor girl deceives the royal family to snag a husband, but it is not as easy as she thinks.
*A biological lab covers up the truth about its research and sends two science students into danger.
*On the summer solstice at Willow Woods Peak, animals may speak and a cat enlists the help of a human to unravel a secret.


And, if you haven't already, give short stories a go. 

Jeanette O'Hagan has spun tales in the world of Nardva from the age of eight. She enjoys writing fantasy, sci-fi, poetry, and editing. Her Nardvan stories span continents, millennia and cultures. Some involve shapeshifters and magic. Others include space stations and cyborgs.

She has published over forty stories and poems, including the Under the Mountain Series (5 books), Ruhanna's Flight and Other Stories, Akrad's Children and Rasel's Song, the first two books in the Akrad's Legacy series - and new short story in the Starlit Realms: Fantasy anthology.

Jeanette has practised medicine, studied communication, history, theology and a Master of Arts (Writing). She loves reading, painting, travel, catching up for coffee with friends, pondering the meaning of life.

Thursday, 2 June 2022

When you have no energy to write. What I’m doing to revive my spark.

 I let go of my self-publishing dreams two years ago. 

No doubt it was 2020, and COVID-19 was raging around the world, so my judgement may be impacted by that. But in truth, it was a decision that was building up for years. 

Life gets to you. And life really got to me since 2018, when I left the comforts of my day job in a dying industry to carve what I thought was a new, exciting one in digital marketing.

The struggle to establish myself in a new niche was more daunting than I thought. I endured toxic jobs, crammed massive amounts of knowledge and struggled to maintain a foothold in impatient corporations that were more than willing to toss you out if you couldn’t catch up.

As I struggled with these challenges, writing stories about spaceships and aliens faded into the background. The worry of putting food on the table and saving enough for retirement was all-consuming. 

And then the pandemic hit. I found myself without a job like thousands around the world (though of my own choosing — long story) and having to grapple with lockdowns, social distancing, isolation and family health crises. 

I wish this was a “10 things to do if you don’t feel like writing” post. But I have no easy answers except to share my experience as I try to revive my dying flame of creativity.

Overcoming my mental blocks

When I think about my space opera series, I still get twinges of the happiness I used to have when I first built the world. But the moment I think about what’s involved to get my work out there — the high editing fees that I probably can’t afford, the arduous revisions, the promotion and marketing I’d have to do, my enthusiasm deflates like a popped balloon.

Like most authors, I don’t enjoy these activities. Especially when your day job is marketing! You’d think that it’ll be easy to do marketing stuff in your free time, but this is like working all the time without a break. Fiction writing becomes work, not a fun escape.

It came to a point where I couldn’t listen to my favourite self-publishing podcasts — Self Publishing Show or The Creative Penn. I even told friends to stop sending me self-publishing marketing articles because all these were triggering the guilt and despair of not being able to act on my dreams.

Each time I open the pages of my unfinished novel, I’m filled with the crushing sense of failure. And pressure. So much pressure! The “musts” that invade my mind as I try to just complete the story — you must market this. You must advertise. You must, must must. My eye on self-publishing success, although I’ve given up on ever achieving it, is still ever present.

And I have so little mental energy these days.

My day job takes an immense amount of energy. So much so that none is left at the end of the day, and all I could do is flop on the couch, exhausted and turn on Netflix.

I feel like a failure for not even having the energy to pen a sentence. I’ve tried to overcome my mental energy problem with various productivity hacks, but no luck.

Times like these I reread Kristin Kathyrn Rusch’s article, When to Stop Writing where she says, “If you’re a driven person and writing has been at the heart of that drive, not writing is a terrible thing to go through. You can push through it—sometimes. But you can’t always. Sometimes you have to rest. Sometimes you have to let the brain adjust to the new reality, whatever it is.”

I would say I’d have to adjust to many new realities in the last few years!

Becca Syme of Strengths for Writers has an explanation for my lack of energy to write, saying that while life’s dramas fueled some personalities to write, there are others who are so drained by them that the creative faucet runs dry.

My writing retreat

I am the latter, and I’ve grown to accept that.

I’m in a much better place now, but the tough years of 2018-2020 still haunt me, and I am still burnt around the edges. Fortunately, I’m now able to live my ideal life while earning a good salary (touch wood) and I’m now working on reviving my dying creative flame. Here’s what I’ve been doing:

Putting aside the pressure to earn

I put a lot of pressure on myself, so I’m still avoiding podcasts that scream, “you got to do this or that to succeed”. I’m avoiding anxiety-provoking articles that yell, “If you don’t do this your books will never sell.” My aim now is to regain the love and sense of fun I used to have when creating and writing new worlds. I’m pushing aside thoughts of monetary success for now, as they don’t seem to motivate me but crush my creativity instead.

Allow myself to dream again

Not of self-publishing success but of my characters’ stories. I have a soundtrack for each one of my characters. Each time I put it on, my mind dreams up new possibilities for them. I go for long walks while listening to their songs, watching them live their lives like an observer.

Absorb inspiring stories

Some writers say that TV is a distraction and should be eliminated so you can write better. For me, TV shows and movies are food. I’ve been watching shows such as Star Trek: Picard, Dune, the Marvel movies to give me creative food to fuel my stories. 

Set my stories free

I have a feeling that I am such a rebel that I want to do things the opposite of what people recommend. The tried and tested method of being a self-published author don’t seem to appeal to me. I realise what fuels my writing is not just money (money is always nice, isn’t it?). It is community.

I began my writing life writing fiction online, posting them chapter by chapter in my website or online portals. Free. I used to get such a thrill seeing a reader comment on the chapter. This connection with my readers is something I miss dearly.

People are still doing this online, posting chapter by chapter in places such as Royal Road. Webnovels are hugely properly in Asia, and it’s such a pity it has not caught on in the West, because there’s such creative freedom in being able to write this way. Nevertheless, I’m exploring it despite the ardent naysayers, setting my novel free on the Internet. There are opportunities to monetise using this method, but I’m trying not to think about them too much right now.

Taking good care of myself

During the hard years of 2018 to 2020, everything seemed so uncertain. My future, my career prospects, certainly my income. During this time I really envied married friends who could rely on their other halfs to take care of the financial matters while they take time off to do something creative.

The burden of my survival lies solidly on my shoulders, and mine alone. So I put my head down to do just that. I was in survival mode, even if I didn’t realise it at the time. 

I compromised a lot. I lived in a cramped, roach-infested apartment because I could pay cheap rent. I ate junk food because it was easy and preparing healthy meals seemed arduous. I barely exercised because it was far easier to flop down on a couch and watch TV.

Late 2021, I started prioritising myself, starting with a 2-month sojourn in the lovely island of Penang, living by the beach. Then, I left my awful apartment and moved into a lovely walk-up apartment with really reasonable rent. It’s on top of a hill. Now, my mornings are filled with birdsong instead of screaming toddlers. My balcony has become a haven to rest, meditate, read and write. In fact, I’m typing this in my balcony, which has wooden floors and is surrounded by beautiful green plants.

I cook most of my meals now, taking pains to ensure they are not processed but are all natural. I exercise every morning if I can, taking walks on roads lined with old, giant trees.

Recently I spoke to a friend, who is on the same road of trying to get herself motivated to start her creative venture. Both of us promised to get our work out there this year.

That’s a promise I’m making myself this year — to get my work out there, pushing aside dreams of glory and self-publishing success … and to regain my joy in creating worlds again.

Wish me luck.

Elizabeth Tai writes Science Fiction as Tai Weiland. For more, visit

Monday, 30 May 2022

Wonderful Criticism

By Charis Joy Jackson


I hate criticism. OK that’s not true, I used to dislike it, but now, I’ve discovered how much constructive criticism has made me a better writer. I’m still learning and I hope I will still be honing this craft well into my 90’s. But most of all I hope by reading this, it will help you change the way you look at criticism.

Let’s be honest, none of us really like it. We want people to read our stuff and say it’s THE shining example of what the written word should be. We want to take home all the awards and praise of how amazing we are as creatives, but often we deny one of our biggest allies. Criticism.

Yes, you can receive criticism that’s hard to hear. But one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about it, is to accept it as often as I can, because it’s helping to sharpen my skill.

When we look at criticism and use our time and energy to fight what’s been said about our writing, we’re wasting our creative juices on negative actions and thoughts. We’re effectively shutting our creativity down and the next time we sit down to write, it’s gonna be harder for us to put pen to paper.

As a young creative all I heard was the negative criticism offered and it hit me on a personal level. Now as a more experienced creative I actually understand the purpose of constructive criticism. Not just criticism, but constructive criticism.

The point is not to tear someone's work apart, but to make it stronger.

I think if more people understood the fine art of constructive criticism we'd live in a happier, more creative environment. And I'm talking about people receiving it and people giving it.

To give helpful criticism, we need to start with what we like. Talk about how it moved you. Be specific to point out things you especially enjoyed. It's ok to gush a bit about these parts. It's a huge encouragement for the artist.

Then move into areas you think could be strengthened. The more specific, the better. As a writer, I need those specifics. Especially if it's dealing with character development and the choices the character made.

On the reverse, if you struggle to receive criticism, the best thing for you to remember, is your work does not define you. Say it with me.

Your work does not define you.

Your identity is not in what you do. So when you hear someone “tearing” apart your hard work, smile and remember they’re not talking about you.

If you get someone who doesn't know how to give criticism, have grace for them and take what they say with a grain of salt, because even some of the harshest criticisms may actually be hitting the nail on the head. Even if it isn't said the right way.

When I was first learning to receive criticism, I never wanted to listen or make the changes that were being suggested. I felt that if I did, it would no longer be my work, but a joint effort. Truth is, it's still your work and you should listen to that criticism, because you want your work to be the best it can possibly be.

If we all believed that to take on board someone's criticism made it no longer your work, then we'd never have any epic stories. There would be no Tolkien's or Lewis'. Your work is still your own.

And at the end of the day, you choose how much you take in from the criticism you receive. Use it as a tool and not your enemy.

Charis Joy Jackson works as a full-time missionary with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) a non-profit organisation. During the day she mentors young adults, teaches on several topics including worship, intercession and how to makes movies. In her spare time she spins stories of speculative fiction and captures her crazy dreams in print.

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Thursday, 26 May 2022

Behind the Scenes: Big Apple Atonement by Carolyn Miller

Today we go 'behind the scenes' as Jeanette (Jenny) O'Hagan interviews the fabulous and prolific author Carolyn Miller.

Jenny: Congratulations on your upcoming release of Big Apple Atonement – the fifth book in the Original Six - slightly sporty sweet romance - series. What inspired you to write this series?

Thanks so much, Jenny! The first two books I ever wrote (before any historicals) were two ice hockey books featuring Christian athletes who played for Chicago and Toronto, which just so happened to be two of the original six hockey teams in the National Hockey League of North America. I loved these books (Love on Ice and Muskoka Blue), and wanted to see them published, but because it’s a fairly niche market publishers weren’t so interested, so I decided to publish them myself as part of a series. This meant writing four other books (including a book serving as a prequel to Love on Ice, which became The Breakup Project), based in the other Original Six cities: Boston, Detroit, Montreal and New York. I’d visited four of these six cities, so I was thrilled to get the chance to showcase some of the amazing places I’d seen, such as Chicago’s Art Institute in Checked Impressions, and Montreal’s Botanic Gardens in Heart and Goals. The heroes of these books are linked by an online Bible study group, which I later discovered is a legitimate thing, where Christian hockey players encourage and support each other. I love that high profile Christian athletes (high profile in the US and Canada at least!) can have similar questions to many Christians, but with the added tension of money, fame, and other trappings of pro sports, which means each book has a slightly different focus. It’s been great to see numbers of readers have loved the books in this series too!

Jenny: Since publishing your popular Regency Brides romance series, you’ve been quite prolific with the Regency Wallflowers, the Independence Island and now the Original Six series. How do you come up with fresh ideas?

Several of these books and series stemmed from books I already had sitting in my computer, so it’s been a process of finding the right one for the right time. (I figure some of these books in my computer could be making me money!) But really, I find stories are everywhere – you just have to pay attention to the news, to your own life, to what God is challenging you about, to conversations, to people. I’ve recently started doing ballet fitness, and my instructor is a former ballet pro and shared some amazing stories about her life, so guess what? I now see a ballet book in my future.

Jenny: That should be fun 😊 What do you enjoy most about writing in the romance genre? Have other romance authors influenced your writing? In what ways?

Romance is basically the process of developing a relationship, which is what we all do in various ways every day. No, not every relationship involves romance, but the same kinds of challenges face us all: misunderstandings, learning to trust, to forgive, to not judge, etc I love that romance can reflect God’s ‘wooing’ of His children, and I do enjoy bringing faith elements into my books. Some of my fave Christian romance authors include Becky Wade, Susan May Warren, Susan Tuttle, Jaycee Weaver and Kara Isaac, all of whom create relatable characters and include faith elements in a non-preachy way, which is my hope too.

Jenny: After gaining a reputation and avid fans for your regency romances, you made the call to write in a different sub-genre – contemporary romance.  Were you nervous at the time? What challenges and opportunities did you face in making the change?

Ooh, good question! Yes, I was nervous, but because I’d originally written contemporary (and even won awards for it!) I knew I could do this, and to be honest, it’s been GREAT. Switching between genres is like a palate cleanser, so I write (or edit) a historical then go write (or edit) a contemporary, which means I’m mentally fresh. I joined the Independence Islands series (published by Celebrate Lit) as a transition step to gain some contemporary readers, as I fear some of my historical readers have pigeon-holed me in the Regency vein. It feels funny to have to reassure my readers that they’ll still find the same sorts of stories in my contemporary books (faith! relatable characters! realistic settings! humour!) that they’re used to seeing in my historicals, but hopefully time will win them over. It’s been great to meet some new readers, some of whom are now reading my Original Six series because they found me as part of the Independence Islands series. It’s also been great to connect with other authors as part of that series.

Jenny: You’ve successfully made the switch from being published by a traditional publisher to indie publishing. What motivated you to change. What pros and cons have you discovered along the way?

I write full time, and to be honest, my earnings are not nearly what I’d like them to be (ha - whose are, right?). I also found that I was feeling a little creatively constricted by just sticking to Regency. When my publishers told me in 2019 they weren’t interested in publishing my contemporaries, I knew the only way I could get my books out there was to self publish them. So, knowing that I had a Winter Olympics story, which would be perfect to release during the 2022 winter Olympics, I decided to push to create the series and write the four remaining books in 2020 and 2021.

Some of the challenges include the huge learning curve in learning what self publishing involves (hey, I’m still learning!), but I love the creative control I have, with everything from story ideas to release dates, cover design (my daughter is now designing my contemporary covers!), to editing, to links to future book series, and promotions. I’m not hedged in by other people’s expectations, so I can try things. And I’ve found that with more books out there I’m earning more money too which is awesome. (I can now pay for our mortgage!)

Jenny: Awesome! What do you know now about the craft and business of writing that you didn’t when you started?

When I first started writing it was all about the joy of creating a story. Now I know that if you want that story to be published, you need to treat this process as a business. I’ve always been pretty good at staying motivated and enjoy beating my publisher’s deadlines for edit returns and the like, and I think that’s served me well to stay productive when it’s my own self-imposed deadlines I’m working towards. So I write (or focus on writing things) most days from 9am until my kids return from school/ uni. It’s my job, not something I fluff around with when I feel like it.

Part of that means investing in things like conferences. I have learned so much from attending the Omega Writers conferences, and they have been instrumental in helping me write in series, learn craft, and develop author connections I deeply value now. If people are serious about being authors then they should invest the time and dollars into conferences like this. I’m so glad I did. (Find out more about the Omega Christian Writers conference here – it’s only in-person every 2 years, so this is the year to make it happen!)

Marketing is huge, whether you’re traditionally or independently published, so us more reticent types need to be okay with letting others know about our books, and joining with other authors to cross promote and find new readers. That’s my goal at the moment: find new readers, and that takes time.

I’m very thankful to have learned some of the business of writing through being trad pubbed first, and that’s helped me gain readers and connections that would’ve been harder otherwise. I’m so thankful I stepped out and trusted God (not just my agent or publisher) for my writing career, especially with stepping into writing the kinds of books I like – and that other readers seem to enjoy too!

Jenny: Now that you’re nearing the end of the The Original Six series, do you have any plans for another series in mind? What elements will be the same and what will be different from your previous series?

Yes! The sixth book in this series is Muskoka Blue which releases July 28. This was actually the second book I ever wrote (don’t worry: it’s been heavily edited and tweaked since then) and I had a loose kind of series that built on it. So I plan to have two more books based on a small town in the Muskoka region (a gorgeous lake-filled area I’ve visited, which is 2 hours north of Toronto, Canada), one of which will be a Christmas book. If I can get my act together, I hope to see them release this year (yes, this self-pubbing thing might be addictive!).

I also hope to link to another hockey series set in the North-western areas of North America, so it’ll be a similar Bible study group but for players based in Calgary, Vancouver, Seattle, etc (some of these are places I’ve seen too). I LOVE writing in series, and it’s been fun to see the preorders as people move through the books, checking in on various characters to see how they’re doing 😊

I’ve also got plans for a cowboy-type series that will be part of another multi-author series releasing next year. I never thought I’d write about cowboys, but I love the fact these kinds of books are based on things I care about: relationships, the environment, faith, and the small-town factor - as I live in a small town, that works well for me!

Really, in all of my books, historical or contemporary, I’m writing about similar things: relatable characters, realistic settings and scenarios, relationships & romance, non-preachy faith threads, all mixed together with some banter and humour. I’m so grateful people have taken a chance on reading the wild imaginings of a small-town Aussie girl, and so thankful to God I get to do this amazing job!

Something to look forward too :) Thank you, Carolyn, for taking the time to share about your books and experiences.

Carolyn Miller lives in the beautiful Southern Highlands of New South Wales, Australia, with her husband and four children. Together with her husband she has pastored a church for ten years, and worked as a public high school English teacher.

A longtime lover of romance, especially that of Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer and LM Montgomery, Carolyn loves drawing readers into fictional worlds that show the truth of God’s grace in our lives. Her contemporary romance series includes the Original Six hockey romance series, and the Independence Islands series, and her historical series include the Regency Brides and Regency Wallflowers series.

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Buy Big Apple Atonement at Amazon or Koorong