Friday, August 30, 2013

Control Freak

I just went to the supermarket for my weekly grocery shop. I should have stopped at home and written the blog first, but I’m glad I did it in this order because I was amused at what I noticed. Sometimes I don’t notice people as I get about doing my weekly shopping chore. Today I did. There was the little girl at the end of the aisle begging her mother to buy her a Barbie doll. Like most of us in the supermarket, the mother was under that spell of being in her own world, and didn’t regulate her tone, so her reply boomed down the aisle for anyone to hear.
“No! I’m not buying you any more toys. You have enough toys.”
Ironically, I had just been perusing the toy aisle at a discount store looking for odds and bobs that I thought a little girl in a third world country might enjoy. I was shopping for the Samaritan’s Purse Shoebox project. I used to take my kids to do this when they were young, and it was a rewarding experience helping them choose something that they liked to give to another child. It crossed my mind to whip out the pamphlet that I had in my bag, and suggest it to the harried mother, that she might like to let her little girl buy some toys for another child. I was in two minds when the little girl’s grandmother stepped up to her. I was closer to them by this time, and the little girl was whining at the Barbie display. Her grandmother said: “Be quiet! You talk too much and I’m sick of hearing you!” I wasn’t sure that these folks were candidates for my benevolent idea. I tossed it around in my mind for a few moments, but they bustled away, the little girl dragging her feet sulkily.
I found a great 4 pack of sports socks with brilliant colours. I put them in my shopping trolley thinking how my little girl would smile when she saw she had 4 brand new pairs of socks.
Then I got to the checkout. Mrs Efficiency obviously had the day off and had sent in a teenaged dawdler to do her job. The line up was long, and when another check out opened up, I toyed with the idea of changing lanes, but I checked my impatience and decided to endure, and let patience work its perfect work. I watched Miss Dawdle, and decided that I should rename her. Miss Air –head. Do you think that is too harsh? I’m not sure that she was really in touch with what she was doing. I don’t know how many times she tried to scan a product with the label facing up, before turning it over. When it was my turn to have the groceries scanned, I admit I was getting a little uptight. I’m a bit anal about how groceries should be packed, and I had stacked them in that logical order so that it wouldn’t be hard for her to figure out, but she didn’t get it. She left my 2 litre milk sitting on the conveyor belt, packing most of the other cold items in a bag. Then she put my frozen puff pastry in a bag with packaged goods. I was stressing inwardly and determined to set it to right once she handed the bag over.
I chanced a look up at another woman on the next checkout lane. Her lips were pursed so hard they’d almost disappeared. The look that I saw was clearly one of disapproval. I began to wonder what her problem was, and then got all flustered because I couldn’t imagine having to try to work out her problem as well as my own with Miss I’m-Set-On Turtle-Mode.
It was then I gave myself a mental slap. I knew what was going on in my head, and it was up to me to regulate my behaviour. I didn’t really have any idea what was going on in the Barbie Nazi mother’s head, or the Lost Lips lady’s head, or even my checkout girl. I suspect nothing was going on in her head. Really when it came down to it, my behaviour and choices are what I can control and am responsible for. The other folks have their own lives to live.
But perhaps that’s why I like writing fiction. I like to have characters who have all sorts of issues and dramatic responses, and I like to CONTOL them. Ha ha ha! (Evil sounding laugh). My characters I can control, regulate and discipline. I can arrange their lives; even throw troubles and trials at them. I can let them fail, crumble and rail against everyone. And I can let them repent, reform and get their act together. It is a great lot of fun, really. I just have to remember that sort of behaviour on my part must be restricted to fictional characters. I’d better let the poor supermarket public get about their own lives without interference from me.

Meredith Resce
Author of ‘Cora Villa’, ‘Mellington Hall’,’ How Sweet the Sound’ and other popular novels
Visit Meredith Resce Author page on Face Book

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Influences

Who influences do you remember or credit for your work?

I am heading to a school reunion, it’s been 20 years, I am feeling so old. I have kept in contact with a few people, mainly on Facebook. Though there are people I haven’t seen in 20 years. There are people who I won’t see, who can’t make it. Those that have moved away. I myself live on the other side of the country, but am making a special trip to go.

I have heard that one of my English teachers will be taking the keynote address. It wasn’t until I got older I realised how much she actually taught me. I was never much of an English student, did much more in the maths/science areas in school. Yet, she was a good teacher.

I have thought about one day dedicating a book to her, but right now I haven’t got a book ready I also want to dedicate the next one to my parents (that is a whole other story). So here I am a week away from the reunion and I have a few books with me. I have thought about giving a book to her. I never really expected to do that. I am nervous as there are so many mistakes in it, but I guess I will have to just explain that.

Is there someone significant that influenced your writing? I don’t know if she really did, or if she was just someone I remember being a great English teacher.





So it’s now after the reunion and I gave her a copy of my book and she seemed really impressed. I guess she never really had thought of me being a writer. I never had when I was a school.

After lunch we had some time to spare before the dinner that was planned. I was walking back to the building when I saw Mrs Carlsen. She had said already that she ‘had started my book and she liked it.’ That was a huge boost to my ego, my old English teacher saying what she had read was good.

I also found out a friend of mine had bought the book on Amazon. I hadn’t spoken to her in a long while, but it was good to find out. Then another person asked for a copy and I had a copy left over.

These might not have been people I have seen for a while, but I am glad I caught up. It’s really amazing to see them. Most of them have not changed, except the boys will give me hugs now.


I don’t think these fellow students influenced me. But I know that my old teacher did. I had a wonderful reunion and got to get a couple more copies of my book out there.





Friday, August 23, 2013

Many Reasons to Write

My little car Mitsy is one of my prized possessions. We’d been hunting for a perfect little car for me – and I’d almost given up hope of ever finding it. My husband surprised me with it one happy day... he drove it home and up our steep drive way…. just like that. I loved it on the spot. It wasn’t brand new – oh no. It was a good 10 years old when he bought it. It wasn’t the best buy on the market. It had scratches on it – it had been driven around a lot. But it was blue. My favourite colour.


You can’t go wrong with a colour like that could you?

The one problem I had with my little “Mitsy” was that during our long hot south Australian summers, Mitsy’s steering wheel would get too hot to touch. After parking it outside for a little while – I’d get in to drive off, only to discover that I could barely touch the steering wheel – my fingers would practically sizzle. ‘Ouch!’ I’d sometimes place a cloth bag over it – and that helped – well – marginally! But on days when the mercury rose to a good 40 degrees – even that soft soothing sensible bag didn’t help.

One day last November, it was my birthday. I got into my car to drive off to work. As I sat inside Mitsy, I knew there was a difference. What was it? Oh! My steering wheel! It had been fitted with a brand new cover. I touched it. It felt great in my hands – as soft as a baby’s cheek – as pleasing to the eye as the sparkling diamond on my ring. My dear man had got it for me. He’d fitted it without whispering a word of what he’d planned to do. I was warmed. Warmed that he’d cared enough to do it. Just in time for my b’day too. What a man! (Thank you God)

When I thanked Shan for it later – I told him that there were many reasons I liked his unusual gift. It was very soft to the touch – perfect for my hands. No matter what the weather – it never got heated. Just what I needed. I didn’t need to cover my windscreen any more whenever I got down from my car. Nor did it need a bag over its steering wheel. What a relief! Most of all – that beautiful soft cover spelt my husband’s love for me loud and clear. Every time I got into Mitsy I would remember. And be grateful.

As I thought about it, I pondered the fact that having reasons for loving things and loving people is great fuel. Take writing for instance. Why have you chosen to become a writer? Do you know?

I know why I write. It’s because inside this outer covering is a God breathed writer. I believe God has programmed me to write - perhaps there is a wee computer chip called ‘Writer’ embedded deep inside of me? My Mum has been a journalist for over 70 years. Following her role model has seemed to be the most natural thing to do. I write because I am a reader and I love books. The next step is of course to write a few myself. I write because I love playing with the English language. I write because I can't help but write. Most importantly, I write so I can bless others.


“You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage, - pleasantly, smiling, non-apologetically – to say ‘No’ to other things. And the way to do that is to have a burning ‘yes’ inside.” Stephen Covey

Yes, I do have a burning ‘yes’ inside. Don’t you? To live, to love, to write.
Writing perhaps could be called my professional hobby! Because I love doing it!
Does that sound familiar?

As I reflected further, I pondered on another calling. Why do I call myself a Christian? I’m a Christian because of Jesus and His love for me. I’m a disciple of Jesus, because He pursued me. Because He found me. Because He filled my life with good things. Because He showered His blessing and favour on grace on one so undeserving as I. Because He brought deep meaning into my life. Because He gave me a wonderful sense of belonging in a world wide family of God. Oh! Many more reasons would easily gush out as a glad, overflowing fountain if I had the time and space to share them.

Yes, there are many many reasons why I write.
And many many reasons why I am a follower of Jesus.

I am a Christian Writer because God has blessed me more than tongue can tell. I love to share His love with His world. To declare through the written word that the Word of Life is alive and at work and has given me many grand reasons for writing about Him.

What about you?
Please do feel free to share your reasons to write. I’d love to hear them.




Anusha is a writer who feels deeply blessed to be called one. She stands at only 5 feet ½ an inch tall in size but don’t let that fool you – what she lacks in height she makes up in spirit! She’s passionate about life, Jesus, connecting with others, the beauty of Creation and of course WRITING.

Do pop in at her website to say Hello.
Dancing in the Rain http://anusha-atukorala.webnode.com/

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The World of Books




In the same year that I discovered the treasures of the school library, my parents began reading the Narnia series to me (and my brothers) at bedtime. At the tender age of seven, I was hooked – on Narnia of course – and on reading. I began to devour books at every spare moment. My mother shook her head when my report card came home: “Jenny’s spelling needs improvement. She should read more.” Rather than reading more, Mum was encouraging me to read less. I had a quota – I was only allowed to read one (chapter book) a day.

 I’m still hooked on reading as the piles of books on my floor waiting to find some non-existent bookshelf space attest. I am sure many of you can tell similar childhood stories of finding the enchantment and joy of reading. Books while away a dull hour while we wait at bus stops and airports, comfort us when we are too sick to do anything else, provide escape from the stresses and boredom of our ordinary lives. Books transport us to other worlds; reaching across far flung distances and centuries or maybe just the suburb next door. They reveal fascinating facts and magnificent settings, unveil the mysteries of other cultures and mindsets, give us insight into other people lives and motivations, take us to the heights and the depths of human emotion, help us to confront our fears and challenge us to be better, to do better in our lives. There are many other ways to learn – going out and doing, connecting with people, engaging with other media, spiritual disciplines  – but for me a life without books is hard to imagine.

From wisdom of the Scriptures to the avalanche of other books I have read over the decades, books have sculptured my thoughts, led me to new insights and directed me down different paths. And this is as true for the fiction that I’ve read – and yes, even fantasy –  as of the more serious, non-fiction tomes. From C S Lewis’ Narnia series, I learnt the meaning of forgiveness and the beauty, gentleness and untamability of God. Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans resonated with my own feelings of isolation in my highly mobile childhood. Patricia St John’s Treasures of the Snow and particularly a Tangled Woods’ Secret taught me to rely on God’s grace and power. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings spoke of the courage of ordinary people doing great things in the face of impossible odds. It exposed how the lure of power can twist even those who desire to do good. One book (whose title and author I have sadly forgotten) helped me understand that my perceptions of people can often be a projection of my own insecurities. Elliot’s Middlemarch portrayed the unfairness and destructive nature of gossip. Austen’s Mansfield Park intimated that character is more important than beauty and poise even in romantic love. Lee’s To Kill a Mocking Bird and Griffin’s Black Like Me exposed the brutality and arbitrariness of racism. I could go on – Little's Jungle Doctor TalesCoolidge’s What Katy Did, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Lewis’ Screwtape Letters and too many others to name or even recall.

It is this legacy of reading that inspires my own desire to write stories that inspire and challenge – as signposts to God’s love and forgiveness – through well crafted and inspired story telling. And the writers who have moved me along my journey are my role models – from the unforgettable stories of Old and New Testaments and the parables of Jesus to the winsome tales of Lewis, Tolkien, St John and company.  


How about you – what books have inspired you and, if you are writer, which ones do you wish to emulate?

Jeanette O’Hagan

Jeanette lives in Brisbane, has practiced medicine, taught theology, spoken at various groups & is currently caring for her children, studying writing at Swinburne & writing her Akrad series.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Writing as Personal Therapy

I am an introvert by nature, and I suspect quite a lot of writers are. It’s easy for me to spend many hours on my own, planning and plotting for a novel and then writing scene after scene. I sometimes lose all track of time and place, and am shocked when I turn away from my computer to find it is way past time that I should have been thinking about cooking the evening meal or going to bed.

I have no trouble not speaking to another person for many hours, even days. I have been on many a silent retreat and found them refreshing, rejuvenating, and sometimes life- saving. So it’s no wonder that I find writing a form of personal therapy. The solitude and silence of my writing times are in themselves therapeutic as it gives me relief from all the voices around me, the noises and demands that are constantly a part of so much of our day to day life. Not only do I enjoy the silence and solitude but I find it essential for my well-being.

I also find that being completely immersed in another time and place, another person’s story, enables me to internally reflect on life’s issues; the consequences of actions and words, the meaning of life, the mental and emotional processes of dealing with forgiveness, grief, fear, pride, conflict, faith, love and all the other aspects of personal growth and relationships, which form part of my stories.

In doing this I also wrestle with these issues at a deep level for myself. As a psychologist, I listen to others in counselling sessions, as they deal with these things, and it’s obvious for a lot of people that reflecting with other people is very helpful. But I’m sure I’m not alone as a writer, in being able to do this through my writing, which becomes cathartic, challenging, revealing and inspiring for me.  

I think the creative aspect of writing is also very therapeutic. Words are precious, powerful and wonderful things. As writers we get to play with them, put them together in ways that describe something beautiful, or terrifying, or reflect a character’s feelings and thoughts. We can reshape and reconfigure words until we’re satisfied that they paint the right picture or reveal the right emotion. I love to plot a journey of growth and change, and then explore and experiment with words until they carry my characters along those paths, hopefully in ways that also carry the reader with them. It’s incredibly satisfying to have this creative outlet.

So writing nurtures my heart, mind and soul. I can think of very little that is equally therapeutic for me. I wonder if others have the same experience in their writing?






This week I will be in a chalet in the snow country with my family. (Not this one, but something like it) This will be a wonderful time for our family, but will also mean I have little contact with much of my usual world. I’m looking forward to this – as any introvert would - but it means I am unable to respond to any comments to this blog for a week or so. I will look forward to catching up with your thoughts when I return, so please don’t take my lack of response as disinterest.

 



Monday, August 12, 2013

Who needs Minions when you have perspective!

Recently, I jokingly said that I needed Minions. They are the little yellow beings in ‘Despicable Me’ that run around looking after all the menial tasks so that their master can get on with whatever he wants to do. I had decided that all the necessary things I needed to do in life were keeping me from what I love to do – write.
Finding the time to write is a topic well versed in literary circles. Unfortunately not every author can boast a great living from writing, so we have ‘day jobs’, and also ‘home jobs’; ‘mother and father jobs’; ‘generally-helping-others jobs’, and the lists go on and on. Then there are the vital tasks of promotion and helping others promote their work. It is amazing how long you can spend sitting at a computer at night. I was starting to wonder if I would ever get the chance to concentrate solely on a new work in progress.
Lately I have even grown to loathe my catch cry of ‘I’m sorry, I’m so busy.’ It is starting to sound like an excuse for everything, even to me, who finds frustration in just how busy I am. But then I came to a realisation - to everything there is a season.
My new writing may be a slower process than usual, but perhaps that is the plan. Maybe all this business is the Lord’s way of telling me to slow down on the new work, He has something else for me to do right now.
When I look back and see the enormity of releasing four books in less than twelve months, I can see that I needed a break. My released work also needed a break. It needed to be nurtured, and to grow. How does it grow? It gets fed. So only having the time to feed my released work has really been a great thing.
As writers, churning out new work is what we think we need to do. But the fact is an author doesn't just write anymore. We also need to promote and support the publisher who has taken the risk on our work. It’s about taking the time to work on getting our books read.
So I have decided that I don’t need Minions. I need to be in God’s plan for the work I am doing for His purpose. I need to give myself a break and pray about where He wants me to be – and BE there with a committed work ethic, and a joyful heart.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Don't Lose Your Voice

I'm sick. For 6 days now I have been fighting off this incessant bug; woozy pounding head, aching muscles, sleeping more than my cat, and a throat that feels like I've just guzzled half a bottle of Draino. All of this has been rather horrid, but for the most part tolerable if I gritted my teeth and rode it out. Until last night. Last night, the unthinkable happened. 

I lost my voice. Yep, completely 100% gone. And for me, there is nothing tolerable about losing one's voice. Sure, it's funny when I try to laugh at my boys' jokes and sound just like Marge Simpson, or possibly her zany sisters Thelma and Selma; but that's where the fun ends. Putting it bluntly, I need my voice to function! I cannot communicate without it! Everything becomes hard; the morning schedule - gone! Telephone calls - impossible! Socializing with my school mum friends - well, okay, so I managed to squeak out a few words here and there with them, but not as many as usual. 

Long story short, when one loses their voice, communication of all kinds is next to impossible. 

And I believe that the Church is losing its voice. Christians are losing their voices. I have been a Christian for 30 years; I always loved sharing this fact, from when I was a little girl in primary school, right through my working years, into this season as a mum of primary aged kids. It's never crossed my mind to not share this with others; why wouldn't I want to speak the truth of Jesus Christ to others?

Why not indeed? How it saddens my heart to read of so many Christians watering down their faith so as not to offend anyone, to be "inclusive" and "tolerant" and "unoffensive." There is so much pressure on churches and individual Christians  to stay mute about so many different issues, that ultimately the message - the Gospel of Jesus Christ - is withheld. Is it because we are afraid of being labelled bigots, or worse - fundamentalists? Or is it that our freedom of speech is becoming less 'free' and more "tow the line or stay silent?" 

Our voice - as individuals and as a collective - and our message are clear. In Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John, Simon Peter declares this message boldly and confidently -  “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6: 68-69).

As Christians in the 21st Century we will face much scorn and ridicule for our faith. In some instances we may even become "Public Enemy #1." The question is, as we used to say, "can you hack it?!" Will you make a courageous stand for your God, in the name of Jesus Christ and in the power of his Holy Spirit? 

When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

"Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples!"

"I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."  (Luke 19:37-40 NIV).

Or will you be out-praised by a rock?!



Helen XO








Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Fresh and the Familiar



One of the first assignments in my creative writing course involved a set of four poems.  I fancied myself as a bit of a poet, so I was pretty confident I’d nailed it.  The lecturer rang to give me feedback and was very positive about two of the poems.  However, the other two were not as original as they could have been.  As he explained what he meant, I realised that I had used some well-worn phrases and ideas (e.g., God lavishing grace on us and people wearing emotional masks to hide how they really feel).  He encouraged me to look for the original thread that would take them out of the ordinary.  After revision, one of them was published in an American poetry journal.  I’ve never forgotten that advice and try to inject it into all of my writing projects.  I don’t always hit the mark, but I know that when I do strike that chord of originality, the whole piece sings.

After using parables to teach his disciples, Jesus said that “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” (Matthew 13:52, NIV).  In the Amplified Bible, that last phrase is translated “the fresh as well as the familiar”.  What a great goal for Christian writers. 

So how do we inject originality into our writing? 

  • Read, read, read.  One problem with that poetry assignment was that I had hardly read any poetry since leaving school, which was … ahem … a long time ago.  I didn’t know what people were writing, I didn’t know how styles had changed, and I didn’t know where to send material. If you read more in the genre that you’re writing, you not only find out what’s already been done, but you also pick up great tips for improving your own writing.

  • Look for a fresh angle or perspective.  One trick I’ve used in poetry is to write from the point of view of a different character.  I’ve had poems published from the perspectives of Rahab, Barabbas, Sapphira, Joseph the father of Jesus, and the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak.  I’m sure I’m not the first person to have written poetry about these people, but by taking a different angle, it automatically puts your work into a smaller pool and hopefully brings fresh insights to a familiar story.

  • Chart new territory.  In some ways, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecc. 1:9), but we can look for new ways of expressing it.  For example, if you’re writing a crime novel, we already know that there will be a variety of suspects and a swag of red herrings before the murderer is revealed at the end.  What can you do to make the journey through that path more interesting?  What if your sleuth isn’t a detective, an FBI agent or a forensic pathologist, but a precocious 11-year-old amateur chemist who lives on the crumbling estate of Buckshaw in 1950s England?  Alan Bradley did that to great effect in his highly original Flavia de Luce series.  What will be your novel’s unique mark?

  • Pray and spend time in the Word.  Although I’ve left it until last, this is the most important point.  God is the master of originality.  If He created the world, surely He can give us great ideas and insights for our own writing.  As you spend time in the scriptures, ask Him to show you a fresh angle for a devotion, an original way of progressing your novel or an interesting theme for a poem.  After all, He’s never out of ideas.


 
Nola Passmore is a freelance writer who has had more than 90 short pieces published in various magazines, journals, and anthologies (including true stories, devotions, poetry and short fiction). She has a passion for writing about what God has done in her life and encouraging others to do the same. (Some call it "nagging", but she calls it "encouragement").