Thursday, January 19, 2017

Read Outside the Box by Nola Passmore


Author:      I’ve just written a groundbreaking novel that’s bound to be a bestseller.
Publisher:  What’s so innovative about it?
Author:      There’s this teenage girl who falls in love with a vampire.
Publisher:  Um … it’s been done before.  You’ve heard of the Twilight series?
Author:      Is that a TV show?
Publisher:  It’s a series of young-adult novels that’s sold millions.
Author:      I don’t read much fiction.  Most of it's not to my taste.  But my novel is different.
Publisher:  How do you know it’s different if you’re not reading in the area?
Author:      Just take a look and you’ll see what I mean.  
                  (Author shoves manuscript under publisher’s nose).
Publisher:  Oh it’s an historical novel?
Author:      No, contemporary.
Publisher:  Then why does the teenage girl sound like someone out of an Austen novel?
Author:      I like Pride and Prejudice and I thought I’d do something similar.
Publisher:  With vampires?

I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that if you’re a writer, you ARE reading in your genre.  If you’re not, you may face the pitfalls of our hapless wannabe-novelist. 

Now I’m going to go out on a bigger limb and suggest that you should also be reading OUTSIDE your genre.  If you have eclectic tastes in literature, that won’t be a problem for you.  However, a lot of us tend to stick within the confines of our preferred style.  We only read murder mysteries or romances or Christian biographies or Amish steampunk.  It’s comfortable in our little genre box.  We know what to expect.  We don’t have to do any unwelcome stretching.  We don’t get lumbered with a book we’re not going to enjoy.  Why try the baklava when you can eat the lamington?

But what if you peeked out of your genre box and sampled a different taste?  There are at least three benefits.

It exposes you to other possibilities.  You may find another genre or sub-genre that you enjoy reading.  You may even try writing in that genre and discover you’re good at it.  I spent eight years struggling with watercolours before stepping out and doing an acrylics workshop.  I had instant success and have even sold one of my paintings.  If I’d never looked beyond by watercolour palette, I wouldn’t have discovered that I’m better suited to acrylics and mixed media.  You could make a similar discovery with your writing.

It helps you to engage with a broader readership and learn what sells.  Do you have a Christian message that you want to get out to a mainstream audience?  How are you going to do that if you don’t know what themes and styles are popular in mainstream literature?  Do you want to write a fantasy novel with universal themes?  How are you going to do that if you’ve never read a novel set in a different kind of world than your own? A popular catchphrase at the moment is ‘join the conversation’.  If you read outside your genre, you’ll be able to participate in more of those conversations. 

It can help improve your writing in your preferred genre.  Here are some of the strengths of different genres that we can apply to our own manuscripts.

  • Suspense/thriller – hooks the reader by getting straight into the action; has good pacing that keeps the story moving; ends each chapter with a page-turning sentence or phrase.
  • Romance – develops characters we care about; delves into relationships and family issues; offers hope.
  • Science fiction/fantasy – stretches the imagination and shows what’s possible; builds a world that supports and enhances the story.
  • Literary fiction – uses beautiful language; adds layers to the plot through nuance; explores deeper themes; provokes thought.
  • Historical fiction – uses background research to enhance a story; shows how to use setting to create the story world; explores the past through the eyes of the present; experiments with alternative interpretations of history.
  • Memoir – shows how to take the main character on a journey; connects with the reader emotionally; explores universal themes.
  • Creative non-fiction – shows how to make facts entertaining and accessible.
  • Poetry – reduces ideas to their essence; expertly uses language and imagery for maximum impact; allows for expression and exploration of different forms.
  • Humour – relieves stress and entertains; provides lighter moments for more serious works; can be used to critique and question systems or ideologies (e.g. through satire).
  • Children’s literature – stretches the imagination; shows how visual and textual material work together; helps us to get in touch with our own inner child; explains key concepts simply; explores values.

This list is certainly not exhaustive and many of the strengths cross over into different genres.  Can you think of others?

Set a Goal

You’re more likely to read outside of your genre if you have a specific goal.  You might identity a couple of genres or sub-genres that you would like to try and then set yourself a goal to read a certain number of books in each.  Although you might want to start with something close to your literary home, I’d encourage you to aim a little broader than that – fiction, non-fiction and poetry; contemporary and historical; realist and speculative; Christian and mainstream; bestsellers and award winners; books for adults, young adults and children.

There are also many established reading lists you can use.  For the last two years, I’ve participated in the Popsugar Reading Challenge in which you read books from different categories.  Some are specific (e.g. an espionage thriller), but most of the categories are quite broad (e.g. a book with a red spine), so you have a lot of scope in your selections. I’m part of a Facebook group that discusses books we’re reading and it’s been a great way to learn about different genres and styles. I’ve come across a few duds, but I’ve also discovered many gems I wouldn’t have read otherwise.  If you’d like to try this year’s challenge, you can find the 2017 list here.


Set Boundaries

While it’s good to read widely, it’s also wise to determine the types of books that you’re not going to include.  I don’t read erotica, but I wouldn’t necessarily rule out a book with one or two sex scenes.  It depends how they’re done and their importance to the story.  I don’t read grisly horror or books with strong occult or paranormal themes because I know they affect me negatively.  However, I’m not averse to the odd ghost, werewolf or magical twist. The list will be different for everyone, but you should still be left with dozens of genres and sub-genres that you can happily explore.

Do you read outside your genre?  Has it helped in your writing?  What pearls have you discovered?  I’ll be back later to respond to your comments, but right now I have to check out steampunk titles on Goodreads.  Will I choose Beauty and the Clockwork Beast or stick with a classic like H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine?  Perhaps I’ll read them both.




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

Monday, January 16, 2017

Keeping that Focus

by Pamela Heemskerk

Courtesy of  luigi diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


I’ve been through three computers in the last three months - enough to make any writer remove their hair in handfuls!! So I’ve turned on today and gone back through the last few CWD blogs. And I am blessed to know so many people who write from the heart in ways that have changed my life. Thank you.

I know many who had a difficult 2016 – my annus horribilis was 2015.   So last year I was confronted with all the baggage from the year before. (Such fun!) My relationship with God deepened last year, and He gently and persistently placed my reactions, thoughts and feelings from 2015 to the forefront of my life to sort them through from His perspective.

He showed me where I reacted out of fear and failed to trust Him – fear undermines our belief in God’s sovereignty. He showed me where I had harboured anger and resentment; where I’d clung to my position of ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’. But most of all, He showed me where I had lost my focus on Him. Instead, I had focussed on all the issues surrounding me and on trying to solve them.

You see, our Father has a goal – to make us into the image of His Son, so that we reflect His holy and loving nature to the world. Our lives become the story of His goodness, mercy and power working through us. He will do whatever it takes to strip away anything that detracts from this goal of changing us to be like Him.

The one thing that will most effectively accomplish this change is our deliberate and sustained focus on His Person through worship, prayer, reading, meditation. Even when we don’t want to.
So 2016 for me, was a year of cleaning out and of changing focus. When we focus on the things that bother us, it shifts our focus off God and His purposes, and onto ourselves. It ‘muddies the waters’ and we cannot see where we are meant to be heading.  When our focus shifts back onto worship, it changes our perspective. The ‘big issues’ become little in the light of God’s glory.
So how does this apply to writing?

As God’s royal priesthood, we reflect His nature to the world in our lives and our writing. We have a goal, a focus for our words. We want to convey something clearly to our readers. Our editors, beta readers and writing friends can often see where we’re straying away from our goal. They help us to clean-up and restore focus.  No detours, no distractions, no red herrings – just good writing with a clear end-point. Part of our walk towards perfection.

Pamela is a non-fiction writer who has had a number of short pieces published. Her booklet on hearing loss – Rather a Small Chicken…A guide to hearing loss for family and friends - was launched last year, and she is now on a (slow) journey of discovery into the marketing world.

Email – pgheemskerk1@gmail.com

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Visual Inspiration and the Heart Within

by Josephine-Anne Griffiths


I never wondered where the writer’s inspiration came from. I suppose since I’ve been good at telling a tall tale since childhood, it didn’t occur to me to ponder. Over the years, I’ve developed my own style for drawing upon my imagination, combined with other techniques to achieve that inspiration, that powerful idea that would become a story, article, or perhaps a book one day … the arrival of the muse.


As a younger person, I was always the shy, quiet one in the group. This isn’t so much the case these days, if I feel safe within a group, I’ll usually find something to talk about. Until that comfort comes however, I am quiet and reserved … but I believe that’s okay. As a child, my quiet nature seemed to be a problem for others more than for me. I did become the victim of cruel bullying in and out of school, and as such began to feel that there was something wrong with me, something lacking in my personality.

One day towards the end of fourth form (called year ten these days), a sweet and caring Nun at the school I was attending, wrote in my treasured autograph book.

‘If silence be golden, then I think your thoughts must be of that variety.’


From that very moment, I felt a warm glow inside and thought how lovely it was that someone would see my quietness as an asset. I would often just sit and quietly listen and observe people. I had no idea that what I was doing had a name … ‘people watching’.


Writers over the decades and longer have used this as a technique, to draw stories out of what and who they see and hear. You’d be amazed at some of the scandalous but interesting conversations one can overhear in a cafĂ© (one of my favourite places to write).


When the day came that I had no choice but to retire from full-time work, I began to take some courses in Creative Writing techniques and read a lot on the craft of writing. I continue to read as there is so much to learn. I’m certain that I’ll be learning the whole of my life. When I combined what, I was learning with my love of the written word, and entwined it with the blessed talents I had so graciously been gifted with, I found that I had a lot to say, and write about.


Many writers have applied the art of seeing a possible scenario or story within a picture or photograph. I did toy with this technique while I was an active member of the Australian Writers’ Centre Graduates Writing Group. Although my activity was short-lived due to ill health, I got the idea. They are such a lovely bunch of people, it’s a pity I couldn’t have continued … who knows, maybe one day.


It is amazing how many different stories and points of view, can emerge from one picture. Just prior to Christmas, while on a cruise to Tasmania with some members of my family, my husband and I attended an onboard art auction. We did win a couple of bids and are now impatiently awaiting their arrival. With one of those artworks, in particular, I've fallen completely in love.

'La Liciana'
~ Csaba Markus
It is a beautiful painting by Csaba Markus, called ‘La Liciana’. One of the most significant moments for me at that art auction was the previewing period. It was as though I was walking through a gorgeous garden of imagery and light, with so many delights to feast my eyes on. Of course, there were some paintings I really did not like, taste in art is an individual thing. The same thing applies to writers, we are all very different in what we like to both read and write. There were quite a few paintings that sang to me, but this one by Markus captured my imagination. I had to get to know this young woman. She is so beautiful, innocent and regal.


'Aurora'
~ Csaba Markus


I placed my preference stickers on her frame as well as another of his artworks,  ‘Aurora’.

They were both so beautiful, and I knew that Leon had always wanted a tasteful semi-nude, but it was Liciana who was singing to me. She wants me to write her story.



One of the most famous paintings, let alone a portrait of a woman, is da Vinci’s 'Mona Lisa.' Markus poses the question: What is the secret to Mona Lisa being so famous?

'It is not because she is beautiful, because she is not that beautiful, and it wasn’t a big picture.' ~ Csaba Markus.

Markus took it upon himself to study the 'Mona Lisa,' as well as da Vinci’s notes to unlock the secret, and what he learned was that there was more to Mona Lisa than her smile.

'There is balance, there is grace, there is femininity,” ~ Csaba Markus

During and after the Second World War, women began to take on more and different roles, whether it was in the workforce or politics. This redefined women, and Markus wanted to capture that spirit in his art. His artwork certainly captured my imagination, so much so that a story was already forming in my mind. I shall bring my Liciana to life within a story one day soon.

Another painting we acquired while on holiday was a gorgeous Thomas Kinkade called 'Cobblestone Bridge'. Always known as 'the Painter of Light', Kinkade has been a firm favourite of mine. I remember one day, completing a jig-saw puzzle based on a painting of his. There was a lighthouse near the cliff's edge, the waves of the ocean below were crashing and bubbling way up high upon the rocks. It appeared to be a lonely place except for the winding stone path which led up to a cute, well-lit cottage with a pretty red roof. I remember seeing a story within that picture and wondering who might be living there.

Well, now I have my story nutted out in my mind, still needing to put the words on paper. Liciana is indeed very beautiful, and yes she has something to do with that cobblestone bridge and the illuminated buildings behind it. So who is she? What happens? You'll have to read my story once it's written.

All artists, whether they be musicians, painters, photographers, or indeed writers have been given this wonderful privilege to be able to create from their own inspired imagination. Ah, but where does all this inspiration come from, you ask? It had to start somewhere.


Yes, it did! Our Masterful Creator is responsible for the creation of all things beautiful, and it is up to us to use those incredible talents that He has gifted us with to create our own beauty for others to enjoy.

La Liciana, like the Mona Lisa, follows you around the room with her eyes. She doesn’t let you escape. She captivates your imagination to the extent that you must do something about it. In fact, ‘La Liciana’ is often called the modern day ‘Mona Lisa’.

Markus says that there is so much bad news in the world, and he didn’t want his art to be one of the ‘bad channels’ broadcasting negativity. Instead, he always strives to give people hope and beauty. By painting his 21st century Mona Lisa’s, Markus hopes to honour his muse and put smiles on his audience’s faces.

In the same way, we writers should want to please our audience, and what better way than to be doing what we love. What do you think? Where does your inspiration come from? I would love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment below.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Be Prepared

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that inspiration often strikes in the most unexpected places. I remember driving from Blenheim to Christchurch after a work trip and along the way the inspiration for my latest novel, Broken Shells, blossomed in my mind. Think turquoise seas, vineyards, clusters of grapes and braided rivers. I kept pulling off the road to make notes and by the time I arrived home, the book was outlined. 


On another occasion, I was flying home from Auckland to Christchurch and I felt the Lord whisper to me that I should compile a book of true short stories about lessons I’ve learned in the sky. By the time we landed, the chapters of Fly with Me were growing in my heart.



I’ve learnt that I need to have a notebook and pen with me at all times. This is not just for writing purposes but also to record those moments when God speaks directly to my heart. In September last year, I was on a business trip to Houston. I had a free evening and after doing some research, I found that Lakewood Church (Joel and Victoria Osteen) had a writing group that was meeting at the church that evening. I emailed the group leader and asked if I could join them. I had a great time with them, was introduced to one of the pastors, and they asked for a photo with me as they’d never had a writer from New Zealand visit before.


On my way out, I asked if I could have a look at the auditorium. The pastor took me downstairs and explained a meeting was underway but I was welcome to join in. There were about 300 people clustered in the front and a woman was leading worship from the stage. It was a celebration service for people recovering from addictions so I thought I’d just stay for a few minutes and then catch an Uber ride back to my hotel. The music came to an end and a big black guy got up to preach – he was articulate, loud, and mopped his head with a large hanky every couple of minutes. I was thinking of leaving when he said something that stopped me in my tracks. God was speaking directly to me – and although I’d just been to a writer’s group I didn’t have a notebook and pen with me. Not even a scrap of paper to write on! I pulled my phone out and started taking notes on it. It wasn’t ideal but I captured the basics and those words have had a profound effect on my life.


I’m more careful these days and my notebook goes everywhere with me. It’s full of random thoughts, impressions, ideas and inspiration that the Lord drops into my heart. Some of it may never end up in a book but it’s my life story. It’s what God is saying to me, things He’s showing me, corrections He’s bringing and whispers of love for me.

I encourage you to start recording what the Lord says to you. Be prepared, take notes, look for the gold in every situation, and expect to see God. I’ve discovered the more I anticipate, the more I see and discover!

Monday, January 2, 2017

The New and the Old

by Jeanette O'Hagan


On the Shores of Galilee


One day, Jesus is speaking to a crowded house when the cry goes up, ‘Jesus, your mother, sisters and brothers are outside. They want to talk to you.’

Jesus stops, looks around at the hushed listeners. Perhaps the crowd expect him to
 dismiss them and rush outside and offer his family refreshments. They expect him to invite his family in and spend time with them. But he doesn’t, or at least, not at first. Perhaps because he knew his family feared he’d was crazy and they had come to take him home. Instead, he says to the crowd, ‘Who is my family? You are, if you do God’s will.’

Later that day, Jesus asks a disciple to push a boat out into the gently lapping waters of Lake Galilee. He settles down on the sun-bleached deck and spends several hours telling stories about sowing seeds, growing plants, treasures in fields, and fishing nets.  

Jesus spoke in parables – stories or word images – that conveyed deeper truths of the Kingdom. Was his family among the people crowding around the shore to hear each word? Or where they back in the house fretting because he wasn't packing to come home? Perhaps. 

As the day draws to the close. Jesus sums up:

"Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old." Matt 13:52  NIV

The scribes were versed in the Law – the Old Covenant – while Jesus brings a new understanding and a new work and a new relationship with God in the New Covenant. 

Matthew Henry explains it this way:

"... a good householder, who brings forth fruits of last year's growth and this year's gathering, abundance and variety, to entertain his friends. Old experiences and new observations, all have their use. Our place is at Christ's feet, and we must daily learn old lessons over again, and new ones also."  Matthew 13, Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible by Matthew Henry (cited in Biblehub). 

While this passage has deep theological truths about the relationship of Old and New Testaments (or Covenants) and perhaps the nature of theology itself and our walk with Jesus, I’d like to draw two related points. 

Jesus the Storyteller


Firstly, the importance of storytelling in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus didn’t always use stories (parables) but it does seem his preferred way of engaging the sceptical crowds, hooking their interest, drawing them in with stories about farming, running a household or kingdom, or about family life - stories that they could all relate to. No doubt some of these stories were based on actual occurrences or regular activities but others probably weren’t or they used symbolism rather than realism to make his point. And often that point was subtle – not immediately obvious, requiring explanation or reflection to understand fully.


I find it encouraging that, as storytellers, we follow in Jesus’ footsteps. 



Last Year's Growth; this Year's Gathering



Secondly, at the beginning of 2017, perhaps we too could be like the householder ‘who brings forth fruits of last year's growth and this year's gathering’.

We look at the old – the past. 

For many, 2016 has been a bad year, a disturbing year, a year full of strife and uncertainty. We’ve had a swag of much loved celebrities’ deaths; there seems to be greater division between different viewpoints and ideas about what’s important in our society & less ability to engage in reasoned debate; there’s been terrorist attacks and horrific wars and an overwhelming refugee crisis. Dark clouds seem to wreath the horizon.  

Despite this gloomy picture – much good has happened too. While the media loves to major on the negative (the disasters, conflicts and controversies), we need to remember that God is seated on the throne, that He works all things for good. He flips the script, so that what was meant for evil ultimately accomplishes His plans for good. God asks us to be faithful, to be beacons of His love and goodness and light - and to believe.

For some of you 2016 has been a tough year personally. For others, it may have been a great year or a mixed year. But even in the worst years, God is still at work in our lives – and showers us many good gifts that we often take for granted, not least His presence.

One of my highest spiritual moments, when I was swept up in an exhilarating experience of God’s deep love and bountiful joy, came at one of my lowest points - after thing after thing after thing went wrong. And while my circumstances didn’t change instantly, the wonderful sense of His presence was enough. Without the low point, would I have experienced that high? Maybe not.

Like the householder, we can look at what the year has brought us and, through it all, thank God for the many good gifts He has given us.

And when we look at even our difficult times with gratitude, we can also see the new things He wishes to do in, through, and for us. Only after my attitude changed was I able to walk through into the future God had been offering me but I'd been too jaded to accept. 

Let’s be open to new treasures as well as old.





Reflection


So I challenge you to prayerfully make some lists:

Five things that I can be grateful from 2016
Five hope or dreams that God has laid on my heart for 2017

If you feel comfortable, share a couple of the new and old in the comments below. 

Oh, and by the way, I was tickled to notice that after Jesus finished his storytelling, he went home with his family - at least for a season but that didn't stop him from completing his God-given mission. He honoured the old while giving space to the new.

"When Jesus had finished telling these stories and illustrations, he left that part of the country. He returned to Nazareth, his hometown." Matt 13:53, 54a, NIV

Wishing you all a wonderful, faith-filled, adventurous 2017


Scripture cited Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Images  © Jeanette O'Hagan



Jeanette O’Hagan first started spinning tales in the world of Nardva at the age of nine. She enjoys writing fiction, poetry, blogging and editing.

Jeanette is writing her Akrad’s Legacy Series—a Young Adult secondary world fantasy fiction with adventure, courtly intrigue and romantic elements. She recently launched Heart of the Mountain: a short novella and The Herbalist's Daughter: a short story. Other short stories and poems are published in a number of anthologies including Glimpses of Light, Another Time Another Place and Like a Girl.

Jeanette has practised medicine, studied communication, history, theology and, more recently, a Master of Arts (Writing). She loves reading, painting, travel, catching up for coffee with friends, pondering the meaning of life and communicating God’s great love. She lives in Brisbane with her husband and children.

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


Thursday, December 29, 2016

Fifteen Great Picks from 2016


Each week on Mondays and Thursdays, someone from our faithful CWD blog team uploads a blogpost - sometimes it's inspirational, sometimes a story of writerly struggles or triumphs; sometimes it's funny, other times it's serious or both; sometimes the post reminds us why we write and for who, other times it gives practical tips - on writing, marketing or getting published. Always, it's the result of thought, research, experience, passion, creativity.

The CWD Admin team would like to give our blogteam a huge thank you for your contributions throughout 2016 (and over the years).

As we near the end of 2016, we thought we'd honour our bloggers' contributions with a pick of 15 blogposts that have inspired us this year. Out of over 100 posts, it wasn't easy to choose and there are many other posts equally deserving of notice. We have a wealth of information and inspiration on the blogsite - accessible on multiple subjects and themes.

We hope you enjoy this selection from a rich smorgasbord of offerings.

1. A Life of Their Own by Sue Jeffrey


"It was quiet. The author had gone to bed but Chloe couldn’t sleep – not now that she’d found out what could happen to her. She stared at the screen that was the barrier between herself and her creator. What could she do? She didn’t want to die.
It was a conundrum. She had only just become aware of the screen and that there was someone on the other side determining her destiny. What right had the author to dictate her fate? That she could die in 1952? It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t right. But what could she do about it?
Chloe reached out and touched the screen. She thought it might have been electrified but it was cool to the touch. She placed both hands on the shimmering surface and to her astonishment they went through the iridescence. She stumbled forward ..." Read more here.


2. Do you know what you don't know by Jo Wanmer


I didn't know that I didn't know how to write. English was never my favorite subject but I wanted to share my story. Surely it can't be too hard, I thought. So I set goals, timelines sat at the keyboard and started this adventure. I typed for hours, re-read, adjusted and produced ninety thousand words. I was surprised how good they were. Remember...I didn't know what I didn't know!

About that time, looking for a publisher, I walked into an Omega writers meeting and discovered that I was Unconsciously Incompetent about writing. In the chart (See below), I was catapulted from the comfortable position at the bottom left to the agony of the top left corner. Reality checks open us to previously unseen possibilities but is always tough to swallow... Read more here.


3. Ride'em, Rawhide by Helen Curtis

The other day, as I walked into my lounge room to relax with some Netflix and a nice hot cuppa, my eye caught something on the wall...my heart jumped, and an expectant cold shiver ran down my spine.

A spider.

A big spider.

A HUGE spider!

Okay, it was a medium sized huntsman. But it was there. And its presence affected my ability to unwind.

I stood there for a few minutes and debated my options; kill it, trap it and release it, or live with it. 
.... Read more here.


4. Indie Book Pricing by Narelle Atkins


The pricing of eBooks is a popular conversation topic among indie authors. A big advantage of independent publishing is the author has control of the price of their print and ebooks. Indie authors set the price for their eBooks, and can adjust the price at any time ... Read more here.


5. An Immersion Excursion by Nola Passmore


A few weeks ago, I was immersed.  Totally submerged.  Out of my depth.  Drowning in a sea of visceral responses.  Diving for a fresh metaphor.  And loving it!

The occasion was a writing immersion course run by the inimitable Margie Lawson (pronounced Marj-ie, as in Marge Simpson only without the blue hair).  Over three full days and two half days, we lapped up fabulous instruction, applied lessons to our manuscripts, discussed examples, and worked one-on-one with Margie to make our words dance off the page.  ... Read more here.


6. Searching for Treasure by Pamela Heemskerk


I dig around – it must be in here somewhere. I’m sure it’s here…

I keep searching – going deeper – getting to the bottom and finding fluff and broken bits and things that haven’t seen the light of day for a while.

I strain my eyes – sometimes when looking for something, my eyes pass right over it. I’m sure you’ve done the same. So I look at each item and name it, just so I can’t miss what I’m looking for.

There’s a lot of stuff in here: treasures, junk, forgotten things, insights, incomplete thoughts, words from other people, words that belong to other people, half-started piece of writing…

Surely amidst all the experiences of my life, I can find something to write about. ... Read more here.


7.  Silver linings | Use your tragedy to encourage others by Cecily Paterson


I was eleven. I was away from home for the first time ever, and I was crying into my pillow.

But this wasn’t a case of ‘I miss my mum and three days of camp is soooo loooong’. This was boarding school, stuck out in the pine forests of the Himalayan mountains. I’d been away from home for ten weeks, and I was going to be away for another ten. There were no breaks.

There was also no phone, no internet, no messaging and no Skype (nup, it hadn't been invented yet). So my pillow got wet. Almost every night.

It would have been easier to cope if I’d been at boarding with my best friend. ... Read more here.



8.  The Review Revue by Nola Passmore


A revue is a form of theatre that consists of songs, dances, and funny sketches.  Oh wait!  Wrong kind of revue.  I was thinking of book reviews.  But in deference to its theatrical homophone, here are some short sketches that outline what you need to know in order to write book reviews. ... Read more here.


9. My Love Of Serials (not Cereals) by Buffy Greentree


Today I’m spreading my love for writing serials, and not just because I’m currently publishing one. That just happens to be an added bonus.

Serials, unlike series, are the TV of fiction. Each episode is a nice, neat story that takes the reader through the usual ups and downs, and leaves them with some feeling of completeness. However, each episode is part of a larger overarching plotline - the season if you will.

Being an avid TV and movie watcher myself, I understand the subtle difference between those times when you want to curl up and spend an evening meeting new people and finding out all about them, and those when you just want to have a quick chat with friends, catch up on what's happening in their lives, and still get to bed early. This is when you want a serial. ... Read more here.


10. It’s all a bit harder than I thought by Jenny Glazebrook


It’s all a bit harder than I thought.”

I groan when I hear myself say these words.
And not because I have a feeling my editor would point out they're not grammatically correct and I'm using superfluous words.
It's because I find myself using them so often.
It’s a habit of mine to be optimistic and dive into something with great plans, dreaming how wonderful it's going to be.

Then, suddenly I realise there is more work involved than I anticipated.

I keep trying until it becomes clear I just can't do it. ... Read more here.

11. Shoes, Bare Feet and a Christian Book Fair by Jeanette O'Hagan


 You have probably heard the story about the two shoe salesmen sent to Africa in the early 1900's to scout the territory.
      One telegraphed back: "Situation hopeless. Stop. No one wears shoes."
      The other telegraphed: "Glorious business opportunity. Stop. They have no shoes."
Now, I’ve seen a couple of interpretations of this probably apocryphal story – most laud the second salesman for seeing opportunity. Some point out that modern marketing often exploits people by creating a yearning for false and even unhealthy 'needs' (the beauty industry, for instance), while one suggested that salesman A went back to Europe to a lucrative career while salesman B struggled to sell shoes to people who didn’t want them.

Whichever way we look at the story, sometimes I feel that being an Australian or New Zealand Christian author is a little be like trying to sell shoes to barefooted people. We often struggle to interest people in our books. ... Read more here.



12. Exploring the Tangible Terrible & the Magical, Mystical Mystery By Charis Joy Jackson


"If we discover a desire within us that nothing in this world can satisfy, also we should begin to wonder if perhaps we were created for another world."
-C.S. Lewis
The first time I found this quote, by one of my favorite authors, I longed for some portal that would transport me to this other world I knew I was really created for.

Could I be like Lucy Pevensie and step into some magical wardrobe where all the Daughters of Eve were revealed in their true form to be Princesses and Queens? Where could I find the ship that would carry me to the shores of Middle Earth or Faerie?

My desire for this other world was so strong I decided to start breaking it down. What was it about those places that seemed more real than this place called Earth?  ... Read more here.


13. Pardon Me, But My Activism Is Showing by Elaine Fraser 


 For the past two years I’ve been working on a novel. A novel that scares the life out of me. It scares me because it raises issues around sexuality and faith. I shared some of the journey in a recent blog entitled Scary Writing.

I attended a Q Commons event a few days ago and one of the speakers told us that:  
Over 46% of our neighbors believe religion and people of faith are part of the problem in our communities, not the solution. As a growing list of contentious issues present themselves on the cultural front—such as racism, gender, euthanasia, sexuality, religious freedom and more—the Church finds itself on the margins of the mainstream conversation perplexed about how to engage. David Kinnaman

It got me thinking about who I write for and how I tell my stories. Am I writing for the converted? The people who cling to traditional religious structures? Or am I writing for those who are outside faith, or of another faith?

I am firmly placed in writing for those on the fringes of faith ... Read more here.


14. I Will Trust in You by Adam Collings


My wife’s alarm yanked me into wakefulness. Another hour and mine would be going off as well.
"Adam," she groaned. "I'm in pain and I haven't slept all night." My heart plunged. "I'm going to have to call in sick."
I put my arm around her. The stupid injury kept coming back to taunt her. I re-assured her that she was doing the right thing. She wasn't in a state where she could give her patients the care they needed. A bitter seed began to germinate inside me.  ... Read more here.


15.  Writing to Discover Truth … and Yourself by Ian Acheson


... During the course of the last couple of years of struggling with the story I was also grappling within myself. Sorting through my own mess, my light and dark.

Having completed the first draft early in the year I was able to reflect a little on the process. What become apparent was I needed to go through my own season of discovery about myself to be able to write the story.

I recently read an article Francine Rivers wrote in a recent Christianity Today where she talked through how most of her novels came out of her “questions of faith.” ... Read more here.


Images © Jeanette O'Hagan 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Tuesday Spotlight - Nola Passmore


Each Monday and Thursday, Christian Writers Downunder's faithful and talented blog team contribute blogposts to inspire and inform aspiring and established writers. In 2017 we will be adding Tuesday Spotlights - posts that spotlight both writers and organisations that contribute to the writing scene Downunder. I think it's only fitting that the first Tuesday Spotlight will be on the one and only Nola Passmore.

Nola took on co-ordination of Christian Writers Downunder towards the end of 2013, when Lee Franklin was no longer able to continue in the role. She built up the admin team, kept the blog and Facebook group flourishing & helped facilitate stronger links between CWD and other wonderful groups such as Australasian Christian Writers (ACW), Omega Writers (OW) and Faith Writers (FW). At the end of last year, Nola handed the responsibility of co-ordination to Jeanette O'Hagan, and at the end of this year, she has decided to leave the administration team so she can focus on the Omega Writers Annual Retreat and the Toowoomba chapter group in Toowoomba, writing her novel, and the Write Flourish, among other things. 

The Admin team (Anusha, Paula and Jenny) are grateful for Nola's wise leadership as coordinator and her input during the transitional period this year. Thank you, Nola.


Three-quarters of the CWD Admin team: Nola, Anusha & Jenny


###

Nola is a writer, a poet and editor at The Write Flourish. She has a quirky sense of humour and has an inspired ministry of 'nagging' (encouraging writers to write). I managed to pin Nola down to ask a few questions.

Jeanette: How long have you been a writer and what inspired you to follow this calling?

Nola: I’ve been writing since primary school, though my first loves were songwriting and poetry.  I detoured through more formal academic writing during Uni and my former life as a psychology lecturer, but a key event happened in the early 2000s that set me on my current path.  Dr John Ashton asked if I would contribute to a book called the God Factor: 50 Scientists and Academics Explain Why they Believe in God. I was intending to write an academic piece, but God had other ideas.  He prompted me to write a more personal story about my experiences as an adoptee. A couple of years later, someone contacted me from the Australian Stories/Aussie Stories franchise to ask if they could repackage that article as two stories in one of their upcoming volumes.  Up until then, I thought you had to write a complete book in order to be able to share what God had done in your life.  I started sending short pieces off and have had success in a wide variety of genres.  Since then, God has confirmed to me that he has called me to write, but also called me to encourage others to write and use the creative gifts He has given them.  (As Jenny said, it’s sort of like spiritual ‘nagging’.).

Jeanette: You've had an impressive number of short pieces published over the years. What writing projects have you got on the go at the moment? What joys and challenges do they provide?

Nola: I still love writing short pieces, and usually have some of those on the go (e.g. short fiction, creative non-fiction, devotional pieces and poetry).  However, I’ve cut back on those at the moment so that I can concentrate on whipping my debut novel into shape.  It’s an historical novel set in Nova Scotia, Canada from 1881 to 1917, and has a social justice theme.  I’ve finished the first draft, but am still wrangling the plot.  There’s a lot of work to do, but I’m hopeful of completing it in 2017.  I always imagined I’d write a novel one day, but it’s been a lot harder than I thought.  I now have a greater appreciation of the incredible work that goes into every book we see in a bookstore.  My biggest challenge is that I’m trying to write a story with a broad historical sweep set in another country.  What was I thinking?

Jeanette: I’m looking forward to reading your novel and, I agree, novel-writing is a lot harder than it looks.

Which famous writer (past or present) would you like to meet? What would you like to ask them and why?

Nola: I’d like to meet King David and get him to play the psalms on his harp so I could hear the original music. 

Jeanette: I love your sense of humour. Has it ever got you into strife or, alternatively, won you accolades. How important is humour to writing? 

Nola: It probably has gotten me into strife, though I can’t think of a particular example.  There will always be someone who takes offense, even if you have the best intentions.  I fully believe that God had a tremendous sense of humour or He wouldn’t have created us, so the ability to laugh at ourselves is crucial.  Humour can also lift people’s spirits and bring about positive physical changes.  Even if we don’t exclusively write humour, the odd lighter touch can give readers a breathing space in more serious works.  From a personal perspective, I find that writing humour is like an elixir.  When I left my academic job, people were more concerned about who would write the Christmas skits than they were about any academic skills I might have had.  I was quite pleased about that.




Jeanette: You and your husband Tim left the security of University careers to start the Write Flourish. Can you tell as a little about this business and what it can offer writers?

Nola:  The Write Flourish is a freelance writing and editing business.  Tim and I both have a desire to help others develop their manuscripts so that they can present the best work possible.  We do manuscript assessments, structural editing, copyediting, and proofreading.  Tim mainly focuses on non-fiction, including technical, academic, inspirational and scientific writing.  I focus more on fiction, creative non-fiction, inspirational writing and poetry.  I’m also available for workshops and one-on-one mentoring.

Jeanette: Finally, we've greatly appreciated your involvement in Christian Writers Downunder. What do you think CWD has to offer writers? And will you continue to be involved?

Nola: First, let me say that I was thrilled when Jeanette (Jenny) agreed to take over the reins.  I’d enjoyed my time as coordinator, but I felt led to put more time into other endeavours.  Anusha Atukorala and Paula Vince have also been amazing team members.  I’ve really valued everyone’s wise counsel, care, concern, encouragement and prayers.    I will definitely still be involved, but mainly as a regular participant rather than committee member. 

I think the strength of CWD has been in the information, encouragement and support that it provides to Christian writers, readers and those in related fields (e.g. editors, publishers and illustrators).  We’ve worked hard to develop an atmosphere where diverse views can be discussed within a supportive environment, and I know that will continue under the leadership of Jenny, Anusha and Paula.  I also really value the links we’ve developed with the other Christian writing groups.  We may have some different emphases, but we are all looking for ways of glorifying God through our writing.  I’ve been very blessed by the love and encouragement I’ve received.  May God continue to bless CWD and the other Christian writing groups abundantly as we seek to share His love in a hurting world.

Jeanette: Thanks Nola both for your contribution to CWD and for taking time to talk to us. Wishing you all the best in what God has for you and Tim and your fur babies.

Bio & Photo. 

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

Monday, December 26, 2016

Writing tips and how-tos: Keeping the tension in a scene

I edit a lot of manuscripts by first-time writers: biography, memoir, fiction and non-fiction. A common issue that comes up is how to build and keep the tension in a scene. 

Tension is like a flower; it starts small, grows, blossoms, and then, at the right time, comes into its own glory.

We have agapanthus flowers out the front of our house. They start as a green bulb-shaped pod. Over time, the bulb expands and its covering dies off. Eventually, when the pressure from the flower is so great that the dead covering can't hold it any more, the flower bursts out for everyone to see.

Sometimes I've tried to 'help' the flower along, pulling off the dead covering before the flower is ready, but it hasn't helped. That flower needs time to come to its full beauty.

The same is true for tension in a scene. It needs time to grow and come into its own.

I often find that first time writers build half the picture, but lose, or almost bury, the key tension moment right at the last moment.

____________________________


Here's a real-life example of a scene in which the tension was buried:

I lived with a childless couple, Mr and Mrs Jones, in the country during the war, because all the children were shipped away from the city for their own safety. It was a happy place, and I started calling the couple Mother and Pop. They treated me like the son they had never had. It was a happy time and I enjoyed life in Wales.

Meanwhile, Mum and Dad decided to visit me, just to make sure I really was alright, despite my happy, weekly letters. Mr and Mrs Jones invited them to stay in their home, but their generosity had unforeseen consequences.

Just before the visit, Mrs Jones said to me, “Now Jimmy, when your mother comes to stay you mustn’t call me ‘Mother’, you must call me Mrs Jones. Call your mother ‘Mother’ and your father ‘Dad’. Don’t call Mr Jones ‘Pop’.  Do you understand all that, Jimmy?” I expect I replied that I would remember, but of course I didn’t. I let the proverbial cat out of the bag when I got excited, playing with the real cat on the coconut matting on the kitchen floor.

Mother was understandably distressed and took me home the next day, ‘for my own good’ of course.


____________________________


I have used this scene to teach tension with Year 9 students. After reading it with them, I ask them these three questions:

1.         What is the crisis point of this scene?
2.         How much space is allocated to it, in this version?
3.         Draw the scene as a graph, in terms of time and tension.


____________________________


Then I show them this rewritten version of the scene:

I lived with a childless couple, Mr and Mrs Jones, in the country during the war, because all the children were shipped away from the city for their own safety. It was a happy place, and I started calling the couple Mother and Pop. They treated me like the son they had never had. It was a happy time and I enjoyed life in Wales.

Meanwhile, Mum and Dad decided to visit me, just to make sure I really was alright, despite my happy, weekly letters. Mr and Mrs Jones invited them to stay in their home, but their generosity had unforeseen consequences.

Just before the visit, Mrs Jones called me into the kitchen. Her face was serious, and I felt nervous. “Now Jimmy, when your mother comes to stay you mustn’t call me ‘Mother’, you must call me Mrs Jones.” She looked at me intently, so I nodded, as though I understood.  “Call your mother ‘Mother’ and your father ‘Dad’,” she said. “Don’t call Mr Jones ‘Pop’.”

I fiddled with the tablecloth a little. The cat jumped up so I patted it.

“Do you understand all that, Jimmy?” Mrs Jones repeated, taking my hand and holding it in hers. “It’s important.”

I raised my eyes to her face, which still looked worried. “Yes, I understand,” I said. “You’re Mr and Mrs Jones, and my Mum and Dad are my Mum and Dad. I won’t forget.”

A smile flooded her face, and I felt relaxed. “Can I play with the cat now?”
“Of course.”

When Mother and Dad arrived, I hugged them tight and danced around them and called them ‘Mum and Dad’. When Mrs Jones made them tea in the kitchen, I sat by them while they talked together. It wasn’t until the cat came in and started batting her paw against the coconut matting that I got distracted and moved across to play with her in the sunshine.

“That’s a lovely cat,” said my mother, to Mrs Jones. “But I hope Jimmy doesn’t give her any trouble.”

“Oh, he’s usually very kind to her,” said Mrs Jones. She directed her voice to me. “You’re normally a good boy, aren’t you Jimmy.”

I looked at Mrs Jones. “Yes, Mother, I am,” I said. And then I stopped. “I mean, yes, Mrs Jones, I am...”

There was a sudden silence. I could feel my face turn red; I could hardly breathe. Mrs Jones had turned away to the sink; she seemed to be doing something with the dishes, and my own mother had a stretched face and tight lips. “It’s a lovely place here,” she said, but I could tell she didn’t mean it.

“Yes,” said Mrs Jones. “Thank you.” And I could tell she didn’t mean it either.
The next day, my mother took me away from the Jones’ house.


____________________________


“What are the main differences between the two versions of this scene?” I ask the kids, and straight away they can tell me three key ones: length, dialogue and the set-up that indicates the crisis is coming.

All scenes should have tension, and as writers, we must remember to give that tension the space and time it needs to develop and flourish so that when it comes to the point of crisis, we are ready to feel it and be part of it.


____________________________


Questions for us as writers:
1.      Do we set up a scene so that it includes tension?
2.      Do we use dialogue to build the tension?
3.      Do we give the tension the space it needs to grow?

4.      Do we bury the crisis point, or allow it to take up the space it needs?