Thursday, July 9, 2015

But what would you speak about?Jo-Anne Berthelsen

There I was, chatting away to some people who I thought knew me. At least, they already knew I was an author. But when I mentioned something about one of my recent experiences of speaking at a particular venue, they appeared quite puzzled. Eventually, one of them asked a question I have heard several times before.

‘But ... well ... what would you speak about at these places?’

More often than not, this is meant as nothing more than a polite enquiry about the sort of topics I am comfortable speaking on, in which case I am happy to fill them in. Yet sometimes I feel there is more behind such a question. Sometimes these people seem incredulous that I as an author—and particularly a novelist—might have anything to say that could interest or encourage or challenge others.

Now one might well (and perhaps rightly!) put this defensive response of mine down to pride and self-doubt and that slight ‘chip on the shoulder’ attitude some authors seem to display at times. But such a question disturbs me for a different reason as well—and that is that it shows how easily we can pigeonhole people. Fiction writers, these people seem to think, just write novels. Yet most novelists I know have thought long and hard about the themes featured in the fiction they produce and are quite passionate about them. In my own six published novels, I explore such themes as the love and grace of God, forgiveness, becoming the person God created us to be, overcoming rejection, dealing with anger and bitterness, and holding onto our faith in God. I feel deeply about all these and love talking about them when given the opportunity.

Beyond that, however, I believe many people are interested in hearing about how a writer goes about creating a book and about the challenges and rewards of the writing journey and of being a published author. I have spoken about such things in both church and secular settings many times and have learnt to be prepared for all sorts of questions. So we as authors have the opportunity of sharing about both the process and content of our writing and of thus being used by God in a unique way.

Now I know some of you might still cringe at the thought of public speaking. Perhaps you have had bad experiences in the past with this. Or perhaps you have more of a naturally quiet, retiring personality. We are all different. I know too that I am blessed to have had so much experience standing up in front of others and speaking in various capacities. In the past, I have worked as a high school teacher and also as a local church minister. But there is no doubt we all have something to say and a story to share. We would not be writers if we did not.

So I will continue, I suspect, to be disturbed—perhaps even a tad annoyed—when writers are pigeonholed and regarded as having little to talk about. But how about you? Have you encountered such questions in your own writing journey? Do you feel writers have anything to say?


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 both the written and spoken word. She is the author of six published novels and one non-fiction work, Soul Friend: the story of a shared spiritual journey. Jo-Anne is married to a retired minister and has three grown-up children and four grandchildren. For more information, please visit www.jo-anneberthelsen.com.

18 comments:

  1. Hi Jo - Great post. I can really relate to what you say. Although I'm just writing my first novel, there have been so many decision points already and I've definitely thought long and hard about the main theme, which is social justice. There'll also be forgiveness and mercy in there. My hope is that when people read it, they'll be challenged to stand up for what is right, even if it costs them. So yes, I think fiction writers definitely have a lot to say. Good on you for all of those speaking engagements. I'm sure your words have blessed many people.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Nola. Only about an hour ago, I returned from a speaking engagement on the other side of Sydney. It was held in a church but people from in an outside the church were there. I had many interesting conversations afterwards on all sorts of levels about writing, about encouraging others, about God's guidance, about using our unique, God-given gifts etc. Yes, these speaking engagements are tiring but I always come away feeling how worthwhile they are on all sorts of levels.

      Delete
  2. Enjoyed your post, thanks Jo- Anne. I certainly feel I have plenty to say and am surprised that people feel like that. But I still find public speaking daunting, despite past experience as an English teacher for years, and acting. I do speaking when necessary!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm surprised too, Jeanette! I think it's that some people can't compute in their minds that someone my age (!)--and a woman at that--has a theology degree and can speak on serious Christian topics but has also written a few novels and can speak about writing topics as well. Something like that anyway. At the same time, I understand their confusion, so I don't mean to be judgmental. And I'm sure you'd present some excellent talks, Jeanette, given your background.

      Delete
  3. Hi Jo-Anne. Thanks for your post :) I agree with you, I think fiction authors generally do think long and hard about the issues they bring to life in their books. The couple of times authors have come to book club meetings have been enjoyable and enlightening. I think fiction authors have a great many things to talk about.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Jeanette. During the talk I gave just this morning, I could see how some in particular who were present were so interested to hear about an author's experiences in writing and having books published--the difficult things as well as the funny things! For example, they laughed when I told them how once we my husband and I were out, I told him we had to get home quickly so I could see what my characters had been up to while I was out! Hmmm.

      Delete
  4. Great post, Jo-Anne. I wonder if it's because authors are perceived to be introverts who don't get to see sunlight much as we spend all our time in our writers caves?

    I'm greatly encouraged by the fact you speak so regularly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, you could be right, Ian, re that general perception of introverted authors preferring to lurk in their writers' caves! I'm an introvert and always need some 'down time' after I speak somewhere just to recharge. But I still enjoy speaking because I'm passionate about sharing the things of God with others and encouraging others to be all God purposed them to be, so it's worth it!

      I haven't done nearly as much speaking this year because I really needed a bit of a 'sabbatical' after quite a few very busy years of writing and speaking. But I feel very grateful for all those opportunities, for sure.

      Delete
  5. Thank you for sharing Jo-Anne. You made me curious as to what your characters had been up to whilst you and your husband were out ... giggles.

    I admit that I had preconceived ideas about fiction writers and have been eating humble pie since joining our FB group. Thank you for a thought provoking post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your lovely honest comments, Mimi. And by the way--my characters were up to ALL SORTS of interesting things I never expected them to do!!!

      Delete
  6. Some people only read fiction books - so writing fiction can be an important way for people to learn and grow in their faith. The trick is writing it without preaching. And I guess, if written well, the 'preaching' can then come when speaking at public events. I'd not thought of in this way before.
    I love writing fiction that speaks to social issues / personal development in Christ, so I guess that is what I would speak on, though I quiver at the thought. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jo Anne.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, that whole issue of not being too 'preachy' in our fiction is definitely a challenge for all of us, Catriona. But that's so true we can then take up these deeper themes that drive our novels and speak about them in various places. For example, one of my novels highlights the challenge to use our God-given gifts to serve God, so I have spoken quite a few times in churches and at women's events on this topic, using passages such as 1 Peter 4:7-11.

      Delete
  7. Very interesting post Jo-Anne. Of course we writers have plenty to say. We think. We dream. We are passionate about issues. We write. I think it's just that people don't think much about what a writers life is like and don't realise that what they see is only the tip of the iceberg. I have to confess that I would be equally puzzled about the ins and outs of other occupations we know nothing about. So I guess we might need to cut some slack and perhaps educate the public when we can.

    I have to add that most people I've encountered do try to understand what a writer's journey is all about. I am mostly a non fiction writer - and yearn to help people grow closer to God - so a lot of my writing is aimed in that direction.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Oh, I love that observation you made, Anusha that people don't realise what they see is only the tip of the iceberg! That's so right. And I also think you're right too about our needing to cut people some slack when they might not understand us as writers because we ourselves don't understand so many other occupations either. I well remember how I didn't understand the exhausting nature of high school teaching until I became one myself! And I also remember wondering what ministers did all week until I married one--and then later became a pastor myself as well.

    ReplyDelete
  9. A very stimulating post. Thanks Jo. And I've also enjoyed the great comments. I've lately been using a little playacting by assuming the role of a Victorian governess to give some background to my novels because I write in that time frame. I usually speak in church groups but I wonder if that would be acceptable in Probus or similar clubs?

    ReplyDelete
  10. Thanks, Rita. And yes, I reckon some sort of presentation about the Victorian era would probably be very acceptable at Probus Clubs, Seniors' Clubs etc. Usually you get to speak for about forty minutes plus questions in such places. And you can have your book table at the back for anyone interested. Worth a try anyway!

    ReplyDelete
  11. I'm comfortable in public speaking but I think many people expect authors to be someone really cool, like a rock star, rather than a mother of four like me. Thanks for the blitz visit.
    Susan Says

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Love your comment Susan! Don't know all that many 'rock star' authors, I guess, but I know plenty of cool ones!

      I imagine what you mean by 'rock star' authors though are those authors of best-sellers we tend to hear a lot about who are way beyond our reach and somehow not quite 'human', as I used to think when I was a child.. But no doubt they are ordinary people too--mothers and fathers and husbands and wives etc. Sometimes when I speak about writing, I explain how authors are real people who work hard and have made themselves quite vulnerable, putting their work out there for anyone to read and criticise or otherwise. And I actually think that would be a good starting point for a talk, Susan, to tell your audience how you are a mother of four and also an author!

      Delete