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.