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?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Making Progress...

As I'm writing this post, my 14 year old son is on the floor in front of me working on the exercises set by his physiotherapist. He works hard at these exercises every day as they help strengthen his left leg. Last Easter, he came down with a condition called Complex Regional Pain Syndrome in his left leg, and he wasn't able to walk, wear shoes, or even go to school! He has worked really hard and about six weeks ago, left the crutches behind to attend a new school. His hard work has really paid off.

During the time he has been unwell, there has been steady progress in his health, but there have also been setbacks. He didn't let these setbacks stop him. If they had, he wouldn't be walking right now.

While living through his journey, it's easy to get caught up in how hard it is. He was having at least three rehab appointments every week at one stage, along with juggling Distance Education, his brother at school part time, and work! But now, watching him do his exercises, we can reflect on how far he has come, even though there is still a long way to go.

This may not seem like it has much to do with writing, but it does!

Every story we write and publish is a journey, and it can be long and hard, and there are setbacks. These could be in the form of writer's block, rejections from publishers, feelings of doubt, or even simply life knocking us off course. In spite of the setbacks, we work at our writing, editing, publishing, and promotion to get our stories written and out there.

When we're in the middle of the journey, there are times when we can feel like giving up and forgetting about our writing dreams, however, if we keep going, we will get there.

Along the way, it helps to sit back and reflect on how far we've come. It could be looking at the number of manuscripts we've written, submissions made, books published, or anything else that's we've achieved. This doesn't mean the journey is over, it just means we are well on our way.

So, while I'm watching my son do his exercises and reflecting on how far he has come, I can see a box containing copies of books with my name on the cover that reminds me how far I have come in my writing journey. The effort he puts in and the differences in the strength of his legs show how far he has to go, just as the half-finished manuscripts on my computer and drafts floating around the house show me how far I have to go in my writing journey.

Every day, my son amazes me with his progress and I have to keep reminding myself that only a couple of months ago he couldn't walk.




Melissa Gijsbers lives in Melbourne with her two teenage sons and their pet blue tongue lizard. During the day, she works as the business manager of the family business, and at night she writes children's chapter books.

Follow her writing journey at www.melissawrites.com.au and www.melissagijsbsers.com

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Original artwork by Melinda Jensen

2016 has been a tough year, both here in Australia and throughout the globe. Wars and the inevitable atrocities that accompany them, are escalating. Americans too, must be feeling the winds of change acutely – some distressed by the presidential election results and others by the conflict and worldwide criticism that have ensued in the wake of their political choice. It's a situation that leaves the global community divided and fearful.

Only one thing seems certain. Emotions are high. We all tend to become further entrenched in our positions during times of high stress, desperate to either flee or fight. Fear becomes our sole motivation. Yet, at times of great turmoil it's both far more important and far more difficult to hold tight to God and follow His lead.

I have heard many stories of woe and heartache during the past year, clothed in robes of bitterness, anger, sorrow and fear. People are turning on each other, unashamedly claiming to not care about what happens to others beyond their shores, or even their own neighbourhoods. I was shocked to learn that some of my overseas friends feel this way about Australia, and therefore me and mine. Disturbingly, I have heard the harshest judgements from fellow Christians who seem to feel more than justified in turning away the needy and allowing the less fortunate to go hungry and homeless. I can only wonder at how much this grieves the Father's heart.

Enchanted by (or is it morbidly fascinated with) Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol' since I was a child, I find myself ruminating about its metaphors and wondering if the world is currently 'stuck', like the bah-humbug Ebenezer Scrooge before he meets the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future.

How would most of us fare if visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, the first eerie visitor to Scrooge's miserly hearth right before Christmas?

This angelic spirit, as I prefer to think of it, shows Scrooge scenes from his past that occurred around Christmas-time, to demonstrate the necessity of changing his ways, as well as to show the reader how Scrooge came to be so bitter and cold-hearted. The lesson here, of course, is that none of us are born this way. Life is often cruel, just as it was for the young Ebenezer, who grew up, devoid of real love in a miserable boarding school, abandoned by his father.

As the years went by, he faced many hardships of the kind almost bound to break his heart and alienate him from his fellow human beings. And yet, life is not all about circumstance.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Stuart Miles


As I've entered my fifties I've realized that very few people live a charmed life, and most of us have stories of heartache that helped shape who we are. When I look around me I see those who have grown through these experiences into more compassionate and aware human beings; and of course, I see those who've hardened their hearts, determined to look out for number one and only number one.

There is always the element of choice. The ghost of Christmas past doesn't linger on a sense of blame, despite relentlessly bringing painful scenes before the hapless Scrooge. Instead, he largely allows Scrooge to relive the painful memories he's so successfully snuffed out over the years. Without bringing those memories to the fore, none of us can hope to understand why we are the way we are; nor are we able to effect personal change and lay to rest any attitudes of resentment, fear and bitterness, the very attributes that are running rampant on today's world stage.

As Christians, we don't need to believe in, or encounter, ghosts. We have our very own, accessible and willing, supernatural God, ready to lead us gently on a tour of our painful pasts and re-establish His heart within us. That heart knows no bounds when it comes to compassion, empathy, generosity, kindness and acceptance. It is tireless in taking in the world's orphans and widows, the wounded and homeless, the desperate and starving, the lonely and heartbroken. He gives no heed to the colour of our skin or what part of the world we come from, but he does care what he finds deep in our hearts. Let's not disappoint Him in the coming year. Let's pray for a world-wide epiphany, a global 'Ebenezer Scrooge aha! Moment.'

by Melinda Jensen

Melinda follows Jesus as closely as she can, learning every day. Passionate about social justice, equality, the environment and mostly, discerning and activating her purpose according to who she is in Christ. She has had a humble number of short stories and poems published, in print and on the web; and is working on a couple of short stories for young people. She kids herself she might one day be able to do her own illustrations.







Wednesday, December 14, 2016

All My Little Problems (and they are little when juxaposed to homelessness, hunger, persecuted church) Are Nothing Compared To That BIG Picture

Yes, I will probably bore you with some family pictures. Four of seven kids (we 

homeschooled our kids). (They're saying farm chores aren't what they wanted to do at the 

moment.) :-)


They are great with their faces, aren't they?


Before

After

Ivy's lifelong (also homeschooled) best friend when Ivy and Sarah had a facetime about all of this.


Ivy being the only girl with six brothers has learned to stand up for herself through the 

years. She started college in August. By November she had been attacked. So now the 

therapy begins. 

Ben is a senior this year. He is in the top picture on the right in the white shirt (and 

glasses). Two wrecks in 6 months. He just had another wreck Monday.

As I look at these pics, I see innocence. Ivy's was stolen. I also see God. He's bringing 

us through. And I see my writing. Without which, I would have gone mad. So God, 

innocence and writing. All tied together in a Christmas bow. I am not saying that I 

celebrate these life things that have happened to our family (please read on about that). 

But I am saying, God gives us the strength. The strength to cope. 

Since I last left you, my husband has a severe throat problem, my inbox was wiped out, 

my website has vanished, Ben had another wreck, I had another biopsy, Ivy was attacked.  

You've heard people say that He never gives you more than you can handle, right? Well, I 

say He lets things happen to ready us for His Kingdom. He knows that it is more than we 

can handle. He wants us to learn trust and faith and mercy and grace. And the writing 

part is in the plan. The plan that gets us through the life stuff.

I discovered that voice is really the persona we portray in a piece of writing. Pain helps 

us find our writing voice. That is wonderful to me. It gives me pleasure and joy to know 

He is walking with me. And that means if I have to go through all of this to know Him 

better and to understand Heaven, then so be it. So yes, I celebrate.


Isaiah 42:13 For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to 

you, Do not fear; I will help you.


He will help you. With life. He'll show you how to use trials to benefit your life and your 

writing. And teach you that He'll never leave your side. Lean on Him for everything. 

Even when you don't understand. Because HE understands. Because HE cares. And 

we were never promised a rose garden here on earth. AND because this place is NOT 

our home

Merry Christmas from the Campbell family to all of you. 



Monday, December 12, 2016

The well-read wise men


Once at Christmas time, I bought this little box at the Community Aid Abroad shop down in my city. On the box is a picture of the three kings, and inside is a gold candle and two little bags, full of chunks of frankincense and myrrh. You're meant to place the little rocks in the candle flame to fill your room with fragrance. So far, I've preferred to leave them intact, for a sniff every so often around this season. They are a beautiful, sensual Christmas keepsake.

A small roll of parchment tells how these three items were presented to the Baby Jesus by the Magi, after their long trek from the east to follow his star and find him. Once, one of my sons said, "They weren't very thoughtful presents, were they? Why would a baby or toddler want those last two things? It sounds like they were giving him what they would have wanted to receive rather than what he would have wanted."


I was glad he was thinking about the principles of gift giving, but had to laugh to think of the Wise Men toting rattles and building blocks across miles of desert on their camels. I've even heard theories that Mary and Joseph themselves might have been bemused by the last two items, after saying, 'Thanks very much for the gold.'

But objects in the Bible always carry great significance. A lot of thought did go into those gifts, and in retrospect, they were proven to be perfect for the recipient.


Gold represents kingship. It has always been an extremely precious metal valued by royalty, and symbolises Jesus' kingship over us, and all his creation. He is Sovereign over things on earth and in heaven.

Frankincense is a luxurious perfume or incense made from the resin, or gum, of a particular tree. It's highly fragrant when burned. This may symbolise Jesus' priestly role in our lives. He was the ultimate High Priest, willingly born to be a bridge between God and mankind, identifying perfectly with both. Nobody else could intercede so perfectly. What he achieved by his life and death allows us directly into God's presence. The frankincense in my little kit smells wonderful.

Myrrh is an anointing oil obtained by making incisions into the bark of another specific tree, and allowing the gum to flow out. This gift looked ahead to that baby's sacrificial death on our behalf, enabling us to stand clean and right with God. The baby grew up to be somebody who would take the punishment all men and women deserve on his own shoulders. Now, as well as being assured of a heavenly afterlife, we know we can shake off all guilt, feelings of unworthiness and being unable to measure up in this life too. The myrrh also smells really lovely.



I like to ponder the men who brought these gifts to Jesus. They had the best ever reason to embark on a long, gruelling trek through scorching sun and driving wind. Their route no doubt varied from appearing totally God-forsaken to containing dangerous brigands and crooks, anxious to prey on passers-by. I can imagine their satisfaction when they finally made it to the modest abode of the infant boy, and were able to say, "Here he is. Not many know his significance, but we do."

These men are the perfect examples of the benefits a well-read life may produce. Their vigilant reading and studies enabled them to grasp what was taking place in history. If they hadn't been so vigilant, they would have missed it and been none the wiser. It reminds me of the great things that can happen, and the insights we can receive, when we delve into books. Fiction and non-fiction alike can contain lots of treasure we may miss. Here's to a good year of reading and writing for us all in 2017.

I wish you all a wonderful and blessed Christmas.

Paula Vince is a South Australian author of contemporary, inspirational fiction. She lives in the beautiful Adelaide Hills, with its four distinct seasons, and loves to use her environment as settings for her stories. Her novel, 'Picking up the Pieces' won the religious fiction section of the International Book Awards in 2011, and 'Best Forgotten' was winner of the CALEB prize the same year. She is also one of the four authors of 'The Greenfield Legacy', Australia's first and only collaborated Christian novel. Her most recent novel, 'Imogen's Chance' was published April 2014. For more of Paula's reflections, you may like to visit her book review blog, The Vince Review

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A Life of Their Own



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 and found herself in another realm.
She caught her breath. How could this be possible? Then again she’d travelled in time and space from present day Melbourne to 1950s France. That hadn’t been impossible – not according to the author – so why couldn’t she leap beyond the story? She was real – in all the ways that mattered – and she could determine her own destiny.
Chloe glanced around the room. She was in a house not that much bigger than her own.  She smiled to herself at the snoring coming from what must be the bedroom then jumped as a little voice behind her said, “Hello.” She let out a nervous giggle when she realised it was a small pet bird.
The snoring stopped and she held her breath, cursing her lack of self-control. What would she do if she were discovered? But the snoring resumed again and all was well.
Chloe turned her attention to the computer. She’d memorised the password from the last log on and it was simple to find the Scrivener file. She frowned as she read through the latest chapter. This would never do. She pondered for a moment. If she erased the text, the author would just rewrite it. Chloe didn’t know if she’d be able to escape from the pages again any time soon. The author usually shut the computer down at night. She bit her lip as she searched through the other files. Research … character … outline ... . That was it!
Chloe opened the file. Her eyebrows lifted as she read. She hadn’t thought of that outcome… She chewed on her lip again and a small smile quirked on her lips as she began typing.
The sky outside was developing a faint pink hue when Chloe finished her work. She stood, stretched and placed both hands on the cool screen. In an instant she was back in her own world. At least now her destiny was surer.

The antagonist watched as Chloe reappeared through the shimmering screen and hurried away  down a dark street. He’d been waiting for his chance ever since he’d seen her disappear into that other world. He placed his hands on the screen as she had done and leapt. He smiled with delight as he sat at the desk, cracked his knuckles and began to type.

Several hours later, the author plonked down into her seat and placed a steaming mug of coffee on the desk next to her computer. She yawned as she logged on but the yawn developed into a sigh. The outline file was open – again. Who was it this time? Last week it was Ethan who seemed to have a life of his own. Didn’t these characters realise that she, the author, was in charge? Why did they always want to take over? She pondered for a while then decided that this would be a great topic for a blog…

It fascinates me that this phenomenon happens again and again when I write. Well … characters don’t literally leap out of the screen and rewrite the story (sometimes it would be good if they could) but most of us have experienced the protagonist who refuses to behave in the way we want them to. I once heard author Diana Gabaldon talk about the writing of her Outlander series. In the initial stages she tried hard to give Claire, her female protagonist, an eighteenth century voice but she kept sounding like a 20th century nurse. In the end Diana gave up and constructed a scenario where she could get this 20th century woman into the eighteenth century. The rest, as they say, is history.
There is an element to every creative process that goes beyond the normal workings of our rational mind. The creative brain reaches into places we would never have dreamed of going ourselves (or maybe we would only have gone there in a dream). And as Christians we can call on the Holy Spirit to further empower our imagination. It makes writing a wonderful, crazy voyage of discovery.
How about you? Have you had characters assume a life of their own and take over mid-story? Did it help or hinder the narrative? Please let me know in the comments below :).



Sue Jeffrey was born in Scotland but moved to Brisbane, Australia with her family when she was just a wee lass. After a childhood spent reading, drawing and accumulating stray animals, Sue studied veterinary science and later moved to Adelaide where she worked as both a vet and a pastor. After a sojourn of several years in the Australian Capital Territory, Sue returned to Adelaide with two dogs, a very nice husband, and a deepdesire to write. Sue has a MA in creative writing and her short stories and poems have appeared in several anthologies including Tales of the Upper RoomSomething in the Blood: Vampire Stories With a Christian Bite and Glimpses of Light. Sue won the 'short' category in the inaugural Tabor Adelaide/ Life FM 'Stories of Life' award and her e-book, 'Ruthless The Killer: A Short Story,' is available from Amazon.com. Sue also paints animal portraits.