Monday, December 17, 2018

Jingle bells, Santa sells – by Ruth Bonetti

Australians all let us rejoice this Yuletide—though, by the sea, turkey maybe garnished with sand and sweat. How to capture the spirit of Christ-mass without snow, mistletoe and holly? 

Shopping malls are awash with tinsel, Jingle-Bell-muzak and Santa—who was invented for Coco-Cola advertisements. With his reindeer and unfashionable bulk, he muscled out the Christ Child. I'm allergic to reindeer hype and tempted to shoot Rudolf through his red nose, even if the animal liberationists counter attack. Swedish Christmas trees are decorated with cornstalk goats, not reindeer–they're ho-hum common.  While living near the Arctic Circle, I collected wood-carved nativity scenes, birch bark stars and angels to add to my Aussie pot plants.

The season of giving-–or gimme?

European gifts are given on December 6, St Nicholas’ Day. Music, services and candles lead Advent into Holy Night Mass on Christmas Eve. Northern hemisphere celebrations of the Light of the World make vivid images. Candles feature on Christmas cards and trees. The sun struggles out like a tired invalid for a few blinks mid-morning and fades by 3 pm.

Multimillion dollar marketing strategies set up parents for checkout tantrums. Glitzy TV ads build Christmas hype. Actors’ happy smiles rub vinegar into loneliness.

Counsellors know this is a peak time for lifeline calls. Relationships fracture. Split families juggle quality vs. quantity time. Frazzled striving to create a perfect day, choose the ideal Chinese sweat shop gifts. Great expectations shatter. Credit cards suffer. Many over-indulge and over-imbibe. 

Scarcity Angst

Family Christmas dinner at the redbrick riverside house. As six-year-old small fry, I am demoted to a coffee table overflow. My nostrils flare and tummy rumbles as plates laden with turkey, ham and vegetables pass along the tables—then halt. Granddad pronounces the blessing. Over the rattle of cutlery, I chirp several times before they hear, ‘Where’s mine?’ Mum scrabbles another plateful together. 
            [Excerpt from Midnight Sun to Southern Cross]

The Happy Families Myth

Loose cannon comments blitz harmony.  In my teens, catty barbs made me feel unwelcome in my own home. I fled south to camp on a friend’s couch.
The next lonely years looked out my window at the happy-family lights of Brisbane and prayed for love. That maiden’s prayer was answered. Antoni and I married 45 years ago, our relationship cemented by seven years in Europe. 

Our first European winter 

As struggling students armed with Eurail pass and backpacks, we blitzed an unrealistic £10 a day budget; youth hostels were chuiso, fermé or geschloßen for the festive season. Also banks, in the dark ages before internet fund transfers. The Vienna-Venice train offered six-hours’ sleep. Next night Venice-Rome, then Rome-Venice. 

We shared plates of goulash soup or spaghetti; a half-cup of tea still warmed throats. On Salzburg Bahnhof platform a stranger gave chocolates called “Manna.” This tiny gift warmed our hearts like a sunburst from heaven. Our marriage was firmed by sharing life’s basics; food, shelter and love.
Two years later:

Aussie friends landed on our Swedish doorstep just after our travels had depleted our cash. The refrigerator was bare except for a dubious slab of lutfisk cod. How to make it edible after the usual evil processes of salting and soaking in lye? I wrinkled my nose. Knowing tourist budgets, how could I ask the friends to take us out to dinner? Margaret resorted to hints of reading my recipe books. There was no other choice: the smelly cod. 
                                         [Excerpt from Burn My Letters]

Gifts of time, friendship and hospitality

We drove three young sons through the arctic winter in a campervan. Its heating expired at the first snowfall but we were warmed by snug beds, hospitality from friends and family. Advent music concerts, sung Christmas Eve mass in Oberammergau uplifted our spirits.

Last Christmas we shared with four unattached, grateful people. Six months later one died, too young. Alienated from his remaining family, no one organised a funeral to celebrate his life and gifts. 

Reflect; what phone calls could you make to reconcile with others before it’s too late?
Rather than see them next over—or in—a coffin, why not share Christmas cheer?

May your Christmas be truly blessed with God's peace, love and joy.

RUTH BONETTI is grateful for opportunities to explore her Scandinavian heritage family traditions, written up in her two-part saga, Burn My Letters and Midnight Sun to Southern Cross. She will share ways to surmount the challenges of Writing Family Stories at Omega Writers Book Fair on 16 March, 2019.
Follow her blog and FaceBook pages:

Monday, December 10, 2018

Ditching the Black Dog

Photo of the face of a black chihuahua X Shih tzu
Photo copyright Susan J Bruce - all rights reserved

Do you ever find that the difficult patches in the writing life come at unexpected times?
The last part of October and the first part of November was an encouraging time for me. I won the unpublished manuscript section of the Caleb Prize and I flew to the Gold Coast on the following Monday to do a Margie Lawson writing Immersion. For those who don’t know, Margie is an international writing coach, and I was delighted when a place became available in one of her teaching weeks. And yes – it was AWESOME. 
Life was busy when I returned and I lost some of the rhythm that I had built up prior to doing the Immersion. Then I received some negative feedback, had a flare of some health issues and then for some reason I stopped writing. Discouragement struck – and I became stuck. The launch of If They Could Talk: Bible stories told by the animalsan anthology for which I was editor, helped lift my spirits. But even this milestone couldn't fix my writing doldrums.  
Maybe I’m the only one who goes through periods like this. Maybe the rest of you intrepid writers have it together and never feel like a four-wheel-drive bogged to the windows in Gobi desert sand. 
I also have to admit to a tincture of perfectionism somewhere in the mix. Perfectionism would be okay if we were perfect, wouldn’t it? Imagine a first draft that you never needed to revise. Ah, bliss! Cue serene music…
But back to reality.
Discouragement, seeded with grains of perfectionism, can lead to procrastination which leads to more discouragement and more procrastination, etc., etc., etc., which leads to hopelessness and before you know it, the black dog is something other than my cheeky Chihuahua/ Shihtzu cross pictured above.
I wrote nothing, playing a LOT of Sudoku instead. The only good thing that came from it was that I finally beat my husband’s best time on the online version of the game. We’re not at all competitive in our house by the way (cough). Other than that one moment of domestic triumph, I was sad to the core and didn’t know how to break myself out of the funk. 
Then I remembered a section of a book I’d recently read. A friend had mentioned Stephen Furtick’s book, Greater, a while ago and I was intrigued enough to buy a copy. In Greater, Furtick uses examples from the life of the prophet Elisha to encourage Christians to live out God’s vision for their life.
In chapter five, the author refers to the Bible passage, 2 Kings 3. King Joram of Israel enlists the help of King Jehoshaphat of Judah to fight the Moabite army. The problem is that after seven days of marching in the desert of Edom, they don’t have any water left for their animals or their troops. 
Jehoshaphat, being a godly king, asks Elisha to talk to God about their problem. Elisha agrees and God says something strange. He tells them that they won’t see wind or rain but He will make water flow from the hills in Edom. It is easy for God to do this. In several translations (e.g., the NASV) God tells them to make the valley full of trenches – i.e., dig a vast amount of ditches (2 Kings 3:16). 
Imagine being those people. There were no clouds in the sky, just heat and dust and a sense of hopelessness. Two vast armies on the verge of dying of thirst, and God tells them to start digging. It would seem counterintuitive in the extreme. Sweat and toil all night when there’s no visible way of having your need for water met. Yet they did it, and in the morning the valley was filled with water.
Furtick uses this as a prime example of how faith works. He writes: 

It’s as if God says, “If you really believe I’m going to do what I told you I would do, get busy. Show me your faith, and then I’ll show you My faithfulness. Do your part. If you do what I asked you to do, I will be faithful to My word. 
(Greater, p. 66)

I agree with Furtick, but I also think it's one of the best metaphors I’ve ever read on the nature of the writer’s life. 
We need to believe in what we are doing and act on that belief. Most of us reading this have felt the call to write. We know God wants us to do this. So we need to do it, even if the ideas have dried up and the words we thirst for elude us. When discouragement invades and we feel like giving up, we need to seek God. And when we do, we need to act. Even if it's writing just a few words at a time. 
In this instance of depression God told me to ‘remember’. Remember that I have called you. Remember what I’ve promised you. Remember that I love you. Now go and do your thing. Write in faith: one word after another and I will fill your words with my life. Dig the ditches and I will send my rain.
And so I write – and the black dog morphs back into a naughty puppy again – and I have hope. 
How about you. Do you have times in your life where writing is hard? What helps? Does 'digging ditches' work for you? Let's encourage each other in the comments below.

Reference: S. Furtick, Greater: Dream bigger. Start smaller. Ignite God’s vision for your life., Multnomah Books, Colorado, 2017.

Photo of author, Susan J Bruce
Susan J. Bruce, aka Sue Jeffrey, spent her childhood reading, drawing, and collecting stray animals. Now she’s grown up she does the same kinds of things. Sue works part time as a veterinarian, writes stories filled with themes of overcoming, adventure and belonging, and loves to paint animals. Sue won the Short section of the inaugural Stories of Life writing competition and recently won the 'Unpublished Manuscript' section of the 2018 Caleb prize. Sue is the editor of 'If They Could Talk: Bible Stories Told By the Animals' (Morning Star Publishing) and her stories and poems have appeared in multiple anthologies. Her e-book 'Ruthless The Killer: A Short Story' is available on You can check out Sue’s animal art on Facebook.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Houses of God

Last year I took my eleven-year-old son, Tully on a three-week holiday to Europe. My husband, who is not a willing traveler stayed behind and kept business and home together.

One of my travel goals was to see as much as I could in the short time we had. We certainly accomplished that. We covered the main centers of France, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy. It was a whirlwind trip of a lifetime, and one we will never forget. 

One of the biggest spiritual lessons I learned while I was away was that God doesn’t have a ‘house.’

We were blessed to cross the thresholds of many famous Christian churches on our trip, including some of the most spectacular examples of architecture this world has to offer. Huge structures decorated with priceless artistry. My photos accompanying this column really don’t do them justice.

The word that was constantly on my lips was ‘magnificent.’ While they were a feast for the eyes, I was disappointed to realize most didn’t inspire a spiritual magnificence within me.

I don’t know exactly what I expected to feel when I stood in the middle of these buildings, but I was often aware that I lacked a spiritual connection, a feeling of belonging. It disturbed me—after all, these were the houses of my living God, the God I serve and love. Was there something wrong with me? Was I lacking as a Christian? Did I not have enough of the spirit within to feel the presence of the Lord?

I took this back to God in prayer, asking Him how this was so. He reminded me of the many places I did keenly feel His presence.

At our bush camp, looking out at the magnificence of my homeland, Bible on my lap, kookaburras laughing in the trees, and the wind whistling up the valley. On the beach, sand beneath my feet looking out at an expanse of blue and green that filled the horizon. And sitting on my ‘prayer couch’ outside my house sipping a cup of morning tea, my dogs beside me.

I came to the sudden realization that God doesn’t have a house. His kingdom lies within me, and His presence fills His creation—every corner, every surface, both in the buildings constructed for Him, and throughout the entire world.
I was satisfied with this. I didn’t need to feel a spiritual connection with these cathedrals, but I did know God was there for those who sought Him.

Then, just when I thought I wouldn’t find a spiritual connection in any of these magnificent cathedrals, I entered the Sistine Chapel. It wasn’t the largest or the most ornately decorated place of worship we entered, but it certainly did stir my spirit. I don’t know why.

Maybe it was because I had just been told the story of Michelangelo’s personal dedication, sacrifice, and perseverance in completing his ceiling in spite of the odds. Maybe it was the content of his work. Within his beautiful paintings there were dedications to male and female prophets. There were stories of our imperfect natures, stories of God’s great love for us in spite of ourselves.
The small chapel was jam-packed with tourists. No photography, and strictly no speaking. We were forced to stand, and study. I do believe it was perfect. The perfect spiritual connection in the perfect place. I didn’t need to feel it in every church I entered—I just needed to wait and enter the right church for me.

So, dear reader, if you find yourself without a church to attend at this moment in your life, do not despair. Maybe the Lord is directing you to find Him elsewhere. Maybe He wants to show you where He lives in this creation He has made. Maybe He is taking you over many church thresholds so when you cross the perfect one for you, you will know it in your spirit. Maybe He wants to grow His spirit in the one place He tells us He really wants to be – Your heart.  
My son, give me your heart and let your eyes delight in my ways, Proverbs 23:26 (NIV)

I hope you enjoy some of our cathedral holiday snaps. Unfortunately, you will not find any of the Sistine Chapel—no photos allowed—but I urge you to ask the Lord to show you His version of magnificence. I know He will delight in revealing His awesome works to you, far more awesome than anything a human hand could ever produce.

... nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” Luke 17:21 (ESV)

Rose was born in North Queensland, Australia. Her childhood experiences growing up in a small beach community would later provide inspiration for her Resolution series.
Two of the three Resolution novels have won Australian CALEB awards. She has also released The Greenfield Legacy, a collaborative novel highlighting the pain of Australia’s past policy of forced adoption, as well as standalone novel, Ehvah After. Her most recent release is the novella, A Christmas Resolution.
Her novels are inspired by the love of her coastal home and her desire to produce stories that point readers to Jesus. Rose holds a Bachelor of Arts degree, and resides in Mackay, North Queensland with her husband and son.

Visit Rose at:

Monday, December 3, 2018

Exploring Genre - Collaborative Writing

by Jeanette O'Hagan

We often imagine writing as a solitary pursuit - the writer huddles alone in his or her attic, putting words on paper (or computer file) with a big do-not-disturb sign on the door.

In fact, while there are long stretches when writing requires peace or at least lack of interruptions, producing a book most often calls for a team of people from critique partners, beta-readers, editors, proof-readers, graphic artists, formatters, publishers, booksellers, and publicists. 

But there is another way, that writers can collaborate and that is in the actual writing itself in collaborative works. There are in fact quite a range of opportunities.

Types of Collaborative Writing

Ghost Writing

In ghost writing, an experienced and capable writer is employed or invited to write a story on behalf of someone else, often a celebrity or someone with a unique and fascinating story or both. This is most often done with memoirs, but can happen with fiction. In many cases the ghost writer is paid and his or her name does not appear on the cover or may appear but in a secondary fashion (eg Deva Star with Jane Smith).

Jeanette Grant-Thomson has done some ghost-writing, in addition to her own fiction and non-fiction.  For instance, Healing Song was co-written in connection with Merrilyn Billing and tells Merrilyn's story.


In picture books particularly, the illustrator contributes as much to the story as the writer. There are many wonderful examples of this synergy between image and word such as Wombat Books' Same by Katrina Roe and Jemima Trappel, Can God See Me by Penny Reeve and Shannon Melville, Do You Remember? co-written by Kelly O'Gara and Anna McNeil, and illustrated by Kelly O'Gara.

Though I do confess a particular affection for Colourful Memories, written by Catherine Bauer and illustrated by my daughter, Kathleen O'Hagan.


In some cases, a more established well known writer might partner with a newer writer with fresh ideas.

In other cases, two or more writers may combine together to write the one book or series of books.  In fiction, each writer may be the primary writer for one of the main characters.  Of course, the writers need to agree on a range of things like settings, the plot, the subject, the themes, characters etc and may need to write the other writer/s character in their own character's scenes.

Meredith Resce, Rose Dee, Paula Vince and Amanda Deed worked together to write The Greenfield Legacy together, each one writing one of the characters to produce a great story about the legacy of past decisions.


In anthologies, authors can contribute short stories and/or poems that may centre of a theme or subject matter, or genre, or setting.

Glimpses of Light (published in 2015, the International Year of Light and edited by myself and Nola Passmore), includes a range of short stories, non-fiction pieces, flash fiction and poems on the theme of light. Contributions were from both new and more established writers, including Jo-Anne Berthelsen, Jo Wanmer, Adele Jones, Lynne Stringer, Nola Passmore, Adam Collings, Paula Vince, Anusha Atukorala, Ellen Carr, Jeanette Grant-Thomson and others.

The science fiction and fantasy anthology, Medieval Mars, has stories set in a futuristic Mars conceived by Travis Perry, that is a Mars that has been terraformed, settled and then regressed to a medieval level of technology. Each story is set in different spots in the world and written by different authors, including Adam Colling's Lynessa's Curse. The stories were published both as the collection Medieval Mars and individually as short stories by the authors.

Book Bundles

In book bundles, multiple authors contribute their books (either full length novels or novellas) usually of similar genre, theme, or setting.

Narelle mentioned some romance book bundles in the November genre post

I've participated in two - On the Horizon - which involved 22 authors writing sci-fi & fantasy set in low technology worlds. Akrad's Children was included in this and the aim was for volume of sales over a short period. Over 900 copies were sold over the three month period the bundle was available.  The boxed set continued in an altered form in Limited Horizon - with 12 Fantasy and Science Fiction Novels, Novellas, and Short Stories from 12 authors, including my Heart of the Mountain. Many of the authors in this series are secular, but write in the same or similar genres to me.

Book Series

This year, I was part of a group planning on writing a series of full length novels set in the same world. Initially we had maybe 10-12 people involved. Three or four of the authors got together and formed a premise, setting and timeline of the world. I wasn't initially that keen on some of the elements, but after much thought, come up with a premise for a storyline that fitted into the world & which I liked.

We set up a calendar of publication for 2019 on a monthly basis (I had May), with the idea that each author would bring out a novel set in the world (and consistent with each other's works). We started with a lot of enthusiasm and I was quite excited about the idea though I had other writing projects to finish before I could get started. 

Then over time, one by one, people began dropping out for various reasons. Much to my disappointment, the main organisers decided to pull the plug on the project. I have still got my plot synopsis, which maybe one day I will write.

I think multi-author book series a great concept and would love have another attempt at something like this (novel or novella) again, hopefully with better success.

It has been done. Again, Narelle mentioned the Tuscan Legacy book series, romance novels with a common setting and plot thread.  There's also the Jane Austen project - in which various well established authors were invited to write modern adaptations of the different Jane Austen novels in a contemporary setting.

Pros and Cons


Writing in partnership with other writers may spark imagination and creative energy. It may draw on the strengths of each writer and add depth to characterisation or setting. Plus it builds in feedback and editing on each other's writing.

Sometimes the more established writer/s brings visibility and connection with a larger fan base while the newer, up and coming author can bring new ideas and inspiration and a freshness to the stories or a particular insight (if, say from a particular demographic or culture).

In much collaborative writing, authors can be introduced to the fans of the other authors. While readers, attracted by an author they know and love, may discover new authors with similar writing styles, themes or genres.

Different forms of collaborative writing often enables authors to pool or share marketing efforts, thus allowing a bigger splash or more impact per buck.


With partnerships, the partners may have different understandings of what needs to happen or want the story to go in different directions. So there is a potential for disagreement which may derail the project.

Logistics may be a problem; for instance, finding the time to plan, to share segments for feedback or  different writers may write at different paces etc. Finances, copyright, royalties, costs must all be worked through and agreed upon and then held to.

The bigger the group, perhaps the more likelihood that either the project may take a long time or fall apart altogether.

There are pitfalls to consider in collaborative writing, but such projects can be both fun and worthwhile.

Have you ever been involved in such a project or considered doing so? What advantages and disadvantages did you find? Would you do it again?


Jeanette started spinning tales in the world of Nardva at the age of eight or nine. She enjoys writing secondary world fiction, poetry, blogging and editing.

Her Nardvan stories span continents, time and cultures. They involve a mixture of courtly intrigue, adventure, romance and/or shapeshifters and magic users.

She has published numerous short stories, poems, two novellas and her debut novel, Akrad's Children and Ruhanna's Flight and other stories.

Her latest release, Stone of the Sea (the third novella) is now available. .

Subscribe (here) to Jeanette's monthly email newsletter for the latest on cover reveals, new releases, giveways, and receive the short story Ruhanna's Flight for free.

You can also find her on:

Thursday, November 29, 2018

CWD Member Interview - Iola Goulton

Each Thursday in 2018 we will be interviewing one of the members of Christian Writers Downunder – to find out a little bit more about them and their writing/editing goals. Today we're interviewing Iola Goulton.

Question 1: Tells us three things about who you are and where you come from.

My name is Iola Goulton, which is pronounced yo-la (not eye-ola). It's a Welsh name and means "valued by the Lord". I think that's a great reminder to me, and to all of us.

I was born in Wales - yes, there is a reason for the Welsh name. But my family immigrated to New Zealand when I was a small child, so I consider myself a Kiwi.

I live in Tauranga, which is a small coastal city around an hour from Hobbiton. If anyone ever does one of those around New Zealand cruises, let me know—Tauranga is usually one of the ports of call, and I'd love to take you for coffee (yes, after you've been to Hobbiton).

Question 2: Tell us about your writing (or editing/illustrating etc). What do you write and why?

I'm a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction (you can find me at

Why? Because I love reading Christian fiction, and I want to help pre-published authors be the best they can be. Kiwi and Aussie authors can match up with the best in the world (as proved this year, when Kara Isaac won the Romance Writers of American RITA Award for Romance with Religious or Spiritual Elements with her third novel, Then There Was You).

I do also write, but it's mostly book reviews and blog posts (on writing, editing, publishing, and marketing). I did complete a manuscript for a novella as preparation for a Margie Lawson immersion, and that went on to win a 2016 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award.

Question 3: Who has read your work? Who would you like to read it?

I publish my book reviews at, and my editing posts at I'm also a regular guest at The Christian Proofreaders and Editors Network, at Australasian Christian Writers, and International Christian Fiction Writers.

So my work is available to anyone with an internet connection. But who am I writing for? The reviews are for Christian fiction readers (especially romance fans), while my non-fiction is for authors, particularly Christian fiction authors (whether published or pre-published).

Question 4: Tell us something about your process. What challenges do you face? What helps you the most?

As an editor, I want my work to be as good as it can be—no misspelled words or unfinished sentences (although I find I'm guilty of both when I re-read old blog posts!).

My basic process for a blog post:
  • Come up with an idea and mull on it.
  • Write the draft.
  • Leave it for a week (ideally longer).
  • Revise and edit.
  • Spellcheck.
  • Proofread.
  • Schedule the post, and create a shareable graphic.
  • Read six months later and find three glaring errors that weren't there when I proofed the post.
  • Sigh and move on.

I also reuse content where possible. For example, I'll update and reshare ACW posts on my own website or vice versa, and I'll take a popular post and shorten it to submit to the Christian PEN (which has a 500-word maximum for posts).

Question 5: What is your favourite Writing Craft Book and why?

I can't pick just one!

The books I recommend most often to clients are:

I'm also a big fan of Margie Lawson's courses.

These cover all the basics of writing, revising, and editing. Then it's just (just!) a case of BISFOK (bottom in seat, fingers on keyboard).

Question 6: If you were to give a shout-out to a CWD author, writer, editor or illustrator – who would they be?

The CWD admins, especially Jeanette O'Hagan. As an admin for Australasian Christian Writers and International Christian Fiction Writers I know how much work goes in behind the scenes of a blog like this. It's a lot more work than people think.

Paula Vince, for reaching out to me after I reviewed one of her books on Amazon and inviting me to be a part of the trans-Tasman writing community.

Rochelle Manners of Rhiza Press for inviting me to my first writing conference, and encouraging me as an editor by asking me to edit for her, and recommending me to her authors.

And all the members of the many online and offline writing groups I'm part of. You all inspire me at different times and in different ways.

Question 7: What are your writing goals for 2018? How will you achieve them?

Well, it's almost the end of 2018, so I'll say how I've done instead! I had wanted to get back into writing fiction, but that hasn't happened (yet. There's still a couple of months ...)

The Book Designer

In terms of non-fiction, I wanted to post weekly on my blog, and produce a regular monthly newsletter. I've achieved that, along with regular posts at Australasian Christian Writers, and two guest posts at Bad RedHead Media. I was also thrilled to be a Featured Blogger at Joel Friedlander's Carnival of the Indies with this post: A (Not So) Brief History of Fake Reviews.

I've also managed to keep to a regular schedule on my review blog. I have missed a couple of dates - sometimes it's so much easier to read the books than write the reviews!

Question 8: How does your faith impact and shape your writing?

I have been a Christian since I was about seven and my best friend lead me through the Sinner's Prayer one Thursday morning after Bible in Schools. Even as a child growing up in a non-Christian home it seemed obvious to me that there was a Creator, so it wasn't difficult to believe that was the God of the Bible, and that Jesus was the way to Him. I'm an introvert, so I'm not the type to stand on street corners and shout that at people, so I do what I can to point to Him through my writing and editing.

I write and edit for the Christian community for two reasons: I want to help build Christian writers and the Christian writing community to share the gospel and build up others, and I don't want to be forced to read or edit content that contradicts the Christian world view. I don't limit myself to only editing Christian works, but I don't want to edit anything that actively promotes an anti-Christian view. Fortunately, my chosen business name puts off those people who aren't my target clients :)

About Iola Goulton

Iola Goulton is a New Zealand book reviewer, freelance editor, and author, writing contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist. She is a member of the Sisterhood of Unpronounceable Names (Iola is pronounced yo-la, not eye-ola and definitely not Lola).

Iola holds a degree in marketing, has a background in human resource consulting, works as a freelance editor, and has developed the Kick-Start Your Author Platform Marketing Challenge, an email course for authors wanting to establish their online platform.

When she’s not working, Iola is usually reading or writing her next book review. Iola lives in the beautiful Bay of Plenty in New Zealand (not far from Hobbiton) with her husband, two teenagers and one cat. She is currently working on her first novel.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

CWD Member Interview – Jo-Anne Berthelsen

Each Thursday in 2018 we will be interviewing one of the members of Christian Writers Downunder – to find out a little bit more about them and their writing/editing goals.
Today’s  interview is with Jo-Anne Berthelsen.

Question 1: Tell us three things about who you are and where you come from.
When asked who I am, I usually say I am a writer and speaker, but I have also been a high school teacher, a full-time mum, an editor, an office secretary and a pastor! I began writing in 2004 and my first novel was published when I was 59!

I live in Sydney but grew up in Brisbane. I have been married to my husband Lionel, a retired pastor and college lecturer, for almost fifty years and we have three children and four grandchildren.

Question 2: Tell us about your writing. What do you write and why?
I write both fiction and non-fiction and enjoy doing both. I have had six novels published between 2007 and 2013—Heléna (general historical fiction); All the Days of My Life, Laura, Jenna and Heléna’s Legacy (all general fiction); and The Inheritance (romantic fiction). 

As for my non-fiction, Soul Friend: The story of a shared spiritual journey was published in 2012, while Becoming Me: Finding my true self in God was published in 2016. I have also made it a priority to continue writing a weekly blog which can be found at

And why do I write what I do? Please see my responses below!

Question 3: Who has read your work? Who would you like to read it?
My six novels were aimed primarily at women aged thirty and above, but women—and men—of all ages have read them. Among these have been non-Christians, which I was delighted about, as I think novels can portray the love and grace of God in a wonderful, non-threatening way that can touch hearts and draw readers closer to God.

As for my memoir Soul Friend, this is aimed not only at Christians of all ages, in the hope that they will seek out a soul friend/mentor to encourage them in their own faith journey, but also at more mature Christians, in the hope that they might consider being a soul friend/mentor for those seeking to grow in their faith. Thankfully, a good number from both these groups of people have read it, as well as others who simply related to some of the challenges I faced in the period of my life covered in this memoir.

Finally, my most recent book , Becoming Me, is aimed at challenging younger women in particular to discover who God created them to be and to step into all God has for them in life. I included questions at the end of each chapter in the hope readers would reflect on their own journeys—and I know this has been helpful to quite a number.

Question 4: Tell us something about your process. What challenges do you face? What helps you the most?
My writing process falls somewhere between that of a plotter and a ‘panster’. I begin by planning out my chapters and writing a brief summary of what I hope to cover in each. Invariably, however, I find myself unable to stick to this outline and the number of chapters soon grows! When writing a novel, I also find it helpful to set up a file with notes about my main characters, including what they do at certain ages, when and how they connected with other characters and so on. This is particularly helpful if I have to put the novel aside for a period.

When I began writing in 2004, the only place I could find to write was at our kitchen table, in the midst of everyone and everything. It was a challenge to stay focussed, yet somehow, God enabled me to complete my first five novels at that table! Now, I have a quiet study in our new home where I can look out my window at the nearby trees and listen to the birds—bliss!  Also, with my earlier novels, I used to become so absorbed that I would write till all hours. But now I am a little older (!), I find I write best first thing in the morning.

Currently, my greatest writing challenge is lack of time, firstly because we mind our two youngest grandchildren a lot and secondly because of ministry commitments. Just this past week, we completed four months of supporting our church’s pastoral team while our senior pastors (husband and wife) have been on sabbatical leave. This was a great privilege, but meant that, to a large degree, I had to put my writing on hold. However, there’s always next year!

Question 5: What is your favourite Writing Craft Book and why?
I must admit I prefer books that deal more with the writing life rather than specifically with the writing craft, helpful as they may be. For example, I love Bird by Bird: Some instructions on writing and life by Anne Lamott and Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle. When I first read this latter book in my early days of writing, I felt somehow vindicated in my whole approach, especially when I read how closely L'Engle linked writing with prayer, something which made complete sense to me. 

Question 6: If you were to give a shout-out to a CWD author, writer, editor or illustrator – who would they be?
I think I’d like to go way back to the beginning of my writing journey and honour Mary Hawkins, who introduced me to Christian fiction writing circles and encouraged me in general. However, I am also indebted to Carol Preston for endorsing my non-fiction and supporting me in this practical way.  

Question 7: What are your writing goals for 2018? How will you achieve them?
My goal in what remains of 2018 is to revise my outline for my current historical novel, then pick up the threads of those early chapters I have written already. In the new year, our grandchild-minding commitments will lessen a little, so I plan to try to complete this manuscript by the end of 2019.

Question 8: How does your faith impact and shape your writing?
Each of my novels has centred on a major Christian theme such as holding onto our faith in God, whatever happens; accepting God’s love and grace; using our God-given gifts; forgiveness; and dealing with bitterness and resentment. So my main aim in writing my novels is to have good, believable storylines and authentic characters who come to grips with the challenges they face in a way that touches my readers, impacts their lives and draws them closer to God. After my very first novel Heléna was published, a reader contacted me and explained how she did not feel God had been there for her in the hard parts of her life. However, she then wrote, ‘But maybe I should try God again.’ I remember saying to my husband, ‘But it’s only a novel!’ Yet her response confirmed to me that God can use good stories to touch readers’ hearts in ways non-fiction cannot.

As for my non-fiction, with Soul Friend I want my readers to experience the healing and encouragement God brought to me via my lovely soul friend Joy and to offer that healing and encouragement to others in turn. And with Becoming Me, I so much want to encourage others to allow God to remove those layers of self-doubt, perfectionism and anything else that holds them back from being all God has created them to be and to stand tall, ready to make a difference in this world. So my faith is intrinsic to all the non-fiction I write, including my blogs.

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 six 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, November 19, 2018

Pillow Talk – Sleeping Clean

This is not the blog I was preparing for today. I was going to bring my vulnerability and talk to some of those doubts we writers can wrestle. Instead, as I was reflecting on the content of my post, the wise words of a friend came to me: “Get some sleep before you make a decision on that.”

(You would be surprised how closely related my decision and the content of my blog were.)

It occurred to me that my greatest challenge recently has not been self-doubt, but sleep deprivation. Given my constant nemesis doesn’t appear to be going away, I thought I’d share some advice frequently dispensed by my also wise husband. Maybe we can all learn a thing or two about sleep hygiene while we’re at it. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll be the only writer out there in need of some reminders!

Tired Woman Computer_Photo Credit: Sutprattana
So here are some of the top hygiene tips frequently given:

1)      Turn off devices at least 1-2 hrs before bedtime

This is probably my greatest challenge as I have quite limited writing and computing time available at home. By the time the humans have been fed, homework down and small human put into bed, the night is gone. (The small canine is also somewhat time consuming, but rather less demanding most times!) Much of my writing happens at night. It’s also when my brain is most active. Sometimes the ol’ afternoon nap has been my saviour, but during the working week, this isn’t an option. Devices keep our brains active, so device-free time is pretty important for good sleep. (Another recommendation for improving sleep is trying to make a regular bedtime. This helps with the device off factor, as if you know when you're aiming to sleep, you have an actual time to aim for.)

2)      Avoid energy drinks, high caffeine or high sugar drinks after mid-afternoon

My husband and I have a little night routine where we stop for 15 minutes to reconnect over a caffeine-free drink—usually herbal tea. Not only is this relationally beneficial, it’s also a great way to calm the mind in preparation for sleep. Unfortunately, often my husband will go onto bed while I remain up doing things, but when I can go to bed, this is definitely helpful. (It’s also great when purchasing gifts, as there are so many wonderful tea blends out there, and you get to share the present night after night, for weeks.)

3)      Avoid having devices in your room

On this I am a TOTAL hypocrite! My phone is my alarm. To be fair, I do activate quiet mode and usually put the phone face down, so my sleep isn’t interrupted by texts or calls. On the other hand, I’m notorious for browsing online after bedtime, especially if I’m researching something for work or my writing. My peak brain time is 10pm to 2am, so often if I’m trying to figure something out this is when my brain’s working overtime on it.

In the pre-device days, when I was a university student, I used to manage this by working until around 1 or 2am, and if I could sleep in past 8am I was fine. (Not the best morning person!) In the workforce this is unsustainable, so it’s probably worth still having that hour or so of device-free time, just later. If I can print something out and read on paper, that is another way to avoid devices, but still glean the facts while my thoughts are clicking.

4)      If you can’t fall asleep initially (after 20-40 minutes) get up and sit in a quiet part of the house with no devices and low/no light, then try again

Sometimes this works for me, sometimes it doesn’t, but I figure it’s better to get up than lie on a bed with growing frustration over your lack of sleep. Unfortunately I’m one of those gifted souls who can do the get up, go back to bed, can’t sleep, get up etc routine for several days … well, nights. (It’s really annoying!)

5)      Try relaxation breathing techniques

Elaine Fraser gave this tip at one of the Omega Conferences. If you’re struggling to sleep, this can really help bring down anxiety levels and there’s probably a heap of resources out there on the most effective ways to use breathing to our benefit. (Maybe I should look them up. LOL)

6)      Sleep with a pen and notepad beside your bed

Whether you’re worrying about something or struck with a brilliant writing idea, keeping a pen and paper beside your bed means you can write it down. This helps get it out of your mind and aid in reducing anxiety. I’ve found this technique particularly useful over the years.

7)      When using devices after sundown (or within those hours leading up to sleep) activate the night-shield function or equivalent to reduce stimulating blue light exposure. (This is that orange-yellow tint you can activate on your screen.) Blue light suppresses the production of melatonin, which can really mess with our circadian rhythm.

8)      Stretch before bed

This one is my own advice. Because physical discomfort is a significant factor in my inability to sleep, I’ve found stretching with a physio roller or such a key way to relieve discomfort and enable a longer opportunity to get to sleep before the unsettling tossing and turning starts. (And if the stretching doesn't work, another thing I've found helpful is a hot shower just before sleeping.)
If you want to know more, there are heaps of resources out there on sleep hygiene and quality, including managing devices and sleep (they really are having a significant impact on our quality of sleep), but these suggestions are a good place to start. You might want to try essential oils or other ways to wind down. This is just a starting point. I truly believe the world would be a happier place if we all just got a few more hours sleep each week. I think our writing and family would also benefit. Let me know if you have any other great tips to add to the list!

Adele Jones is an award-winning Queensland author. She writes young adult and historical novels, poems, inspirational non-fiction and fictional short works, along with juggling family responsibilities and a ‘real job’ in the field of science. Her first YA novel Integrate was awarded the 2013 CALEB Prize for unpublished manuscript. Her writing explores issues of social justice, humanity, faith, natural beauty and meaning in life’s journey, and as a speaker she seeks to present a practical and encouraging message by drawing on these themes. For more visit or