Friday, 30 March 2012

Aussie Writer on the Journey: What I’ve learned from judging Writing Contests

by Narelle Atkins

I’ve been judging writing contests for a few years now, and I believe my experiences have helped me to revise my own stories.

My goal as a judge is to provide constructive feedback to the entrant to help them improve their story and grow as a writer. Sometimes this means providing gentle comments about why something in their story isn’t working for me. Or explaining why they need to improve a specific aspect of writing craft and directing them to helpful writing books. It always means providing positive and encouraging comments on the aspects of their story that work well. And occasionally I’m wowed by an entry that is ready for publication. In this instance I will give an entry a perfect score and let the author know I’m looking forward to buying their book!

It’s very important as a judge to explain why you are giving an entry a less than perfect score. The entrant will want to know why their story isn’t working for you and I offer direction or suggestions on ways to improve their story. It is not the role of a judge to do line edits or rewrite sentences.

Contest judging has helped me to hone the critiquing skills I need to apply to my own work. I find it much easier to see the flaws in other people’s manuscripts than in my own. Judging has helped me to step back and critically appraise my own work during the editing process.

By judging contests I’ve also learned more about writing craft. I need to understand point of view and characterisation in order to effectively judge these craft elements in contest entries. When reading a contest entry with a critical eye, I am learning the importance of writing craft in our stories. If a story isn’t working, I try to discern the aspects of writing craft that need to be improved. An understanding of story structure is also important and I believe we learn this by reading widely in different genres. I also look at whether a story fits genre conventions. For example, a romance must have a hero and heroine facing conflict and struggling to achieve their story goals and happily-ever-after romantic ending.

Contest judging is a way of giving back to the writing community. I’ve appreciated the time and effort volunteer judges have put into reviewing my entries and I hope my comments help contest entrants move forward in their writing journey. I’ve also received some lovely thank you notes and it’s good to hear that contest entrants have appreciated the time and effort I’ve put into judging their entries.

Have you judged any writing contests? What have you learned from your judging experiences? Have you been a reader judge for published or unpublished contests? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

Narelle Atkins writes contemporary inspirational romance. She resides in Canberra, Australia with her husband and children. She can also be found at the International Christian Fiction Writers blog.

Narelle is a co-founder of the 30 Minute Bible Studies website. In May she will be launching a new 30 Minute Bible Studies blog. To learn more about Narelle, please visit her website.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Aiming to deliver excellence

Last week, I took my daughter, mother and sister to a local cafe. I don't often eat out but this was a special occasion, because my sister was visiting all the way down from Cairns and even my mum hadn't been up into the Adelaide Hills to visit me for several years. We wanted to give them a good day out.

Our cafe experience began well. My mum and sister had frothy lattes and cappucinos brought out piping hot and straight away. I suggested to Emma, my daughter, that we ought to start using the cafe's vouchers whenever we find them in our letter-box, as it was such a lovely place.

However, time began to drag. The hot drinks were finished and still they hadn't brought out my soup or the bowl of wedges we'd ordered. Eventually, my sister went over to remind them. In another ten minutes, we had our wedges, which were obviously the type tipped straight from a plastic bag and deep fried. The question, "What took them so long?" hung between us. They obviously didn't have to peel the potatoes.

There was still no sign of my bowl of soup. We'd finished the wedges. My sister and daughter decided to keep shopping. I went up to the counter and the girl cried out over her shoulder, "Yeah, your soup's coming," in a flustered manner. At long last, they brought out a shallow, luke-warm bowl. I decided it was just OK. Perhaps if I'd had it as a starter before the potato wedges, when soup is meant to be enjoyed, I might have said it was yummy. I guess the cafe thought they'd delivered what we'd ordered but by the time I left, my mind had done a sharp turn-around. I won't be going back there again, no matter how many vouchers they shove in my mail. They didn't realize they'd lost a potential regular customer.

I am well aware that the same thing can happen to authors of books. Readers, like customers, have put aside valuable time with the hope of enjoying what we have to offer. They deserve for their reading experience to be as great as it possibly can. When I write a novel, I like to think of it as a 'service' as well as a 'good.' I know that if it's slipshod and rough around the edges, readers have a perfect right to say, "I'm never going to read anything else by her." Knowing that a lot of the excellence is in the finishing touches, I try to do the following.

* Go through paragraphs to make sure I don't use the same word more than once in the same cluster of sentences. If I can't think of an alternative word, I get out my Thesaurus to find one. It's worth the extra time taken.
* Make sure there are no unnecessary tags such as, 'he said' or 'she asked' when it's obvious from the context who is talking.
* Carefully evaluate every sentence to make sure the story actually requires it to help carry it along. If it doesn't, out it goes. In writing, less is definitely more.
* Weed out extraneous words such as most adverbs, and also lots of waffle such as, "When he got out of bed..." or "he nodded his head" (what else would he nod?)
* Change the syntax every so often, when the order or arrangement of words in sentences may make even the slightest difference. Even in this blog post, I changed, "perhaps if I'd had it before the potato wedges as a starter when soup is meant to be enjoyed" to "perhaps if I'd it as a starter before the potato wedges, when soup is meant to be enjoyed." Isn't that just being pedantic? No, I really think such fine tuning makes a difference to the reading experience.
* Try to make sure not too much about a character is being revealed before it should.
* When it comes to descriptions, use all five senses wherever possible without making the slabs thick enough to disrupt the flow of the story.
* Make sure an editor gives it another thorough going-over (and if I've done all the above, which is really only the tip of the ice berg, I know editors and publishers appreciate it.)

I'm sure I could think of more, but that's enough for the point I'm making today. None of us want to be perfectionists, as we can't be perfect anyway. There are always things in a manuscript we may miss, but this cafe experience reminded me how important it is when we commit ourselves to writing with an attitude of pursuing excellence. When I say that I want my readers to get the enjoyable reading experience they hope for, I really mean it. There have been many half-hearted people who say that they'd love to read my books but never get around to it. When people actually do choose to invest the time, I want to do all in my power to make sure they won't regret it.

Paula Vince is the award-winning author of 7 novels. She is a homeschooling mother who lives in the beautiful Adelaide Hills with her husband and three children.

Monday, 26 March 2012

When Rita Galieh’s laptop decided to crash last week, she invited me to take her spot on our blog today. Now while I’m sorry for Rita, I’m also happy to be given this opportunity to share publicly in the joy of another friend and member of Christian Writers Downunder, Marion Andrews. You see, just a few days ago, Marion’s first non-fiction book, My China Mystery, was released by Even Before Publishing. What an exciting moment! As Marion explains on her Facebook author page: A bundle of old letters, 150 tightly inscribed photos, a message from the Gurkha Museum and a visit to meet the Queen: these are the ingredients that make up "My China Mystery". How tantalising is that?

Marion and I go back a long way. We met in 1964 at the beginning of Year Eleven. She had come to Brisbane for her final two years of high school from her home in western Queensland and, so I soon discovered, was boarding with relatives not far from my own home. I still remember the day in class during that first week of Year Eleven when, for some reason, we were asked to tell everyone where we had been born. As we each took our turn, from the back of the room, I heard someone say firmly, ‘China!’ I turned around and saw a girl with very blond hair, fair skin and a friendly face, smiling as we gasped in astonishment—and I was immediately interested to find out her story.

We soon became friends, studying several subjects in common and sharing those long, hot bus and tram trips to and from our school in South Brisbane. But we shared much more than that too, I was delighted to discover. Marion was a very committed Christian. In fact, her parents were missionaries in north-west China at the time of her birth and her father was now ministering in a country church. I had become a Christian only a matter of months earlier and both of us were keen members of our school’s Crusader group. I will never forget being invited to stay with Marion’s family one school holidays for a week. How wonderful it was to experience this warm, Christian environment and to see mother, father and seven children praying together for others on their knees beside their chairs around that breakfast table each morning!

Many years have passed since then, but around three years ago, the two of us were invited to lunch at the home of a mutual high school friend. As we sat around the table looking at our friend’s photos of her recent trip to China, Marion shared something of her parents’ experiences there. Soon this friend and I were both encouraging Marion to write a book of her father’s exploits—and thus the idea of ‘My China Mystery’ was born.

Since then, it has been a delight to follow Marion’s journey as she has applied herself to unravelling and recording her family mystery and to see the love for God and for her parents shine through the pages of her completed book. Who would have thought all those years ago at high school that Marion and I would both end up as published authors? Only God!

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:9

Note: My China Mystery is currently available direct from the author, from her publisher ( or from Amazon and will soon be in Christian bookstores.

Jo-Anne Berthelsen grew up in Brisbane and holds an Arts degree from Queensland University. She has also studied Education and Theology and has worked as a high school teacher and editor, as well as in local church ministry. Jo-Anne loves communicating through both the written and spoken word and currently has five published novels—‘Heléna’, ‘All the Days of My Life’, ‘Laura’, ‘Jenna’ and ‘Heléna’s Legacy’. She is married to a retired minister and has three grown-up children and three grandchildren.

Friday, 23 March 2012

When The Marker Broke Ground.

How old were you when you discovered you were a writer?

I was 9. Like most people who've moved into adulthood in pursuit of the writing dream, it started for me when I was a kid. Many trace their first writing success to the school room and their stories are much like mine.

One Friday afternoon in grade 4, our teacher commissioned us to write a story in honour of his son's first birthday that weekend. The writer with the best story would receive a piece of cake on Monday morning as their reward.

I was not a sweet tooth, so the prize interested me less than the task.

Write a story...

I don't have a copy of of what I wrote that day, and all I remember is the quirky detail of making my narrator the cake itself. This impressed my teacher enough to award me the prize and true to his word, produced a slice of sponge cake wrapped in a cream blotched serviette for me, just after Monday's assembly.

That's it. No other memory itself. No dog-eared copy in a box of childhood treasures. Only the buzz of creating something to share with a reader remained.

Fixed in me as sure as any marker on the landscape of my world, that moment set my course. It was a year of many markers. I gave my heart to God that year too, and learned to write with an ink fountain pen.

I like to look at myself back then as someone gathering loose threads for a future project. A little writing encouragement, the beginning of a life changing faith journey, and the delight of all things 'old-fashioned.' But I'm a romantic and tend to fix things in such a way they have a soft focus around the edges and rose petals scattered on the ground. Ok, maybe not the rose petals...

Still my memory serves me well to have an age for when I knew writing was a part of who I am.

How old were you, when the marker broke ground? When you discovered writing, be it fiction or non-fiction, would shape your days?


Dorothy Adamek writes Historical Romance. 
This month she's been doing the March-photo-a-day challenge.
 Visit her at her blog Ink Dots.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Through the Ages

In case you haven't figured it out yet, I love historical novels ... and movies ... and anything else besides. So what is it that I, and many others like me, find so attractive about the old days?
I could say it's the costumes - from doublets and wimples of medieval times to crinolines and bustles in the 1800s - they alone are enough to hook me in.

Or perhaps it's the language when flying one's colours meant nothing to do with flags, and pinchpenny and doddypoll were serious insults.

It could be the simplicity of living (not saying I would survive happily without the mod-cons of computers and air-conditioning), where the cow had to be milked and the butter had to be churned, but no-one had to jump in their car and sit in peak hour traffice just to get to their workplace for the day. Or the fact that marriage meant marriage - in the Biblical sense, because there was a Scripture reference next to the dictionary meaning of the word in those days. And evolution hadn't been invented yet, so most people had a belief in creation and God.

But then again, maybe it is just the absolutely amazing things men and women accomplished without the tools we now have, and often gave God the credit for it. Some of our own explorers, for instance, survived miraculously in an impossible desert environment, just to open up the land to further exploration and settlement.

Some days I simply stand in awe of our heritage, and writing about it is like entering a whole other world. Now that I've surfaced to tell you all this, I'm getting back in my time machine and heading back to 1855. Lucky me!

Amanda Deed resides in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne where she fills her time with work, raising a family, church activities and writing historical romance novels. Her new novel, Ellenvale Gold was released at the beginning of November, 2011. For more information, see:

Monday, 19 March 2012

The power of stories

This scene at Half Moon Bay, on one of the Antarctic Islands, is so peaceful and so beautiful. But like life, this place is not always so tranquil. There have been times when this place has been, and still would be, a death trap.                                     Our trip to Antarctica in February offered not only amazing scenery but also wonderful and terrifying stories that began over a hundred years ago; of men driven by a passion for adventure, a vision of achievements unimagined by most,  and the courage to face hazardous and life threatening circumstances for months and even years. Men who dreamed of reaching the mysterious south pole or crossing the unknown continent of Antarctica from side to side. Men who were willing to face freezing temperatures, dangerous pack ice, isolation, starvation, exhaustion and possible death in order to carry out their goals.                                                                                                                                                                                        Walking in some of their footsteps, seeing the sights they saw, experiencing a little of the conditions they faced, reminded me of some of the lesser seen characteristics of human nature; those reserved for the few willing to push at the boundaries most of us refuse to cross. It made me wonder about the motivation of such men. Was it fame, excitement, curiosity, or sheer determination to face the seemingly impossible and overcome? Whatever drives such expeditions, they leave a legacy that enthralls, inspires and terrifies most of us mortals.                                                                                                                     Their stories will be told and retold for many years to come, and are certainly best heard and read while surrounded by wild seas and white jagged mountains, of huge  floating chunks of ice, katabatic winds that will blow a large man to the ground in seconds, hundreds of thousands of curious king penguins, elephant seals and albatross - all of which we experienced at different times during our journey.                                                                                                                                                     It was an unforgettable experience for me, again giving me a great appreciation of the wonder and beauty of God's creation, and also the resilence of human nature. It was also testament to the power and fascination of historical stories, and further inspiration to continue writing about the lessons we can learn from the past. 

Friday, 16 March 2012

An Inconvenient Realisation

So I made a somewhat impulsive decision about six weeks ago: I decided to enrol in a Bachelor of Education course after thirty years. Perhaps it wasn’t impulsive. Perhaps I should have done it thirty years ago.
I have been actively involved with instructing both children and adults over the years, lecturing in various adult courses, private music tuition, running music and drama groups and so on. But I have never been able to get a serious paid job as I have never done the study to receive the academic qualification.
So back to school I went, and have been rapidly reengaging the brain cells with serious study. A bit of a shock to the old system, I have to say.
So have I learned anything in the last four weeks? Actually – yes! And it was probably a light-bulb moment when I suddenly understood something that has been bothering me for probably twelve to fifteen years.
I have not been able to understand why my teenage and now adult children have to question everything. They are not content to settle for the age-old thoughts and ways of doing things. There is always some objection to my set-in-stone doctrine and world view.
But the last couple of weeks, we have been investigating the relatively new way of education called ‘student focussed learning’. Now how is that different to the way I was educated? I’m glad you asked. Back in the 1970’s, we sat in our rows of desks, watched and listened (according to theory) to the teacher as he droned on at the blackboard, scratching things up with chalk, referring to the one and only text book, and then we were asked to repeat the information. We learned by rote and regurgitated the information (or not) at exam time. We would not have dared question the principle or investigate the subject for soundness of theory. And we certainly didn’t talk to the other students for fear of receiving a clout from a blackboard duster that could well come sailing through the air toward our head. Ours was an education of ‘sit down, listen, repeat after me’. Got it? Good! Now don’t forget it!
Apparently things have changed. Somewhere in the 1980’s students were encouraged to research, dialogue with their fellow student’s, question the topic etc. The teacher provides the topics and suggests resources, and may even guide the discussions, but essentially the student is asked to critically analyse the information, to find the flaws, suggest solutions and so on.
So now I understand why there has been so much mental and emotional conflict in the household. As a result of my teacher focussed education, we got some information, we formed a fairly restrictive world-view, set it in stone, and went on our merry way. This generation have found flaws in my world-view, and feel obliged to point out the holes in my research, and, bless their hearts, feel a need to encourage me to investigate further.
Isn’t that annoying? And awkward, especially when you find out new information to hand that sheds light on a dearly-loved-doctrine and shows it to be flimsy at best.
Anyway, at least I now understand why this generational conflict has occurred, and now have only to negotiate the challenge: am I willing to take the lid of my set-in-stone ideas and doctrines, and allow them to be examined and criticised, or would I prefer to keep the blinders on. Frankly, I’d prefer to keep the blinders on, and tell the little treasures to do as they’re told! But I suppose that would just make me ignorant and ridiculous. It’s all very inconvenient.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Critiquing Christianly

I’m going to boldly go where no prudent person has gone before. I’m going to attempt to draw a parallel between God’s attitude to sin and a writer’s attitude to misplaced apostrophes.

And not just misplaced apostrophes, but any aspect of writing that we think is wrong or could be improved. Such as using sentence fragments. Or starting sentences with conjunctions.

The context for this is a question that has come up in this group and also in the Australian Writers’ Forum ( and probably most other writers’ groups. When critiquing someone else’s writing, should we be exclusively supportive, or should we point out perceived problems?

In 1 Co 5, Paul addresses a church that was turning a blind eye to sins committed by one of its members—and they were apparently proud of their ability to bite their tongues and accept the situation. Paul won’t stand for it, and tells them to confront the guilty party.

Mt 18:15 also directs believers to point out a fellow believer’s fault to him.

Jesus demonstrated his willingness to take strong action against behaviour he thought was wrong; for example, driving vendors out of the temple using a whip (Jn 2:14–16). And the Old Testament brims with examples of God or his prophets directing his people to confront wrongdoers.

So it seems to me that we are not obliged to bite our tongues when faced with wrongdoing; rather, we are to speak up. The general principle I’d like to conclude is that we are not called to be agreeable the whole time.

If we courageously (and perhaps foolishly) apply this principle to critiquing, it would lead us to comment negatively on aspects of writing with which we disagree. Obviously this should be done nicely and with the intention of helping the writer to improve their craft. Following Mt 18:15, it should preferably be done in private and so may not be appropriate when reviewing titles on Amazon, etc—although in that case the principle of not misleading those who read our reviews should be considered.

Obviously subjectivity is a problem when critiquing writing. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between personal preferences and absolute right-and-wrong. Even I don’t have the courage to explore any possible parallel between this problem and the extent to which Christians are expected to know exactly what’s right and wrong regarding sin (although I know of no passages in the Bible in which any such uncertainty was accepted as a reason to stay quiet). ‘This may be just my opinion, but…’ seems appropriate.

No matter how tactfully expressed, critical comments can be hard to make. They can jeopardise friendships. But ‘tough love’ can also make friendships stronger by showing how keen we are help our friends to succeed.

I know I’m stretching any analogy between God’s attitude to sin and our attitude to writing flaws perhaps beyond breaking point. Splitting an infinitive probably doesn’t justify flagellation as a response.

Now, feel free to critique my writing—and my theology!

Peter McLennan

Monday, 12 March 2012

Beautiful Big Blobs of Blessing

A month ago, my husband and I celebrated 26 years of married life. It was yet another milestone to celebrate. Another opportunity to pause, ponder and be grateful for God’s love and faithfulness in our lives. During that anniversary week, we had cards arrive from our extended family arrive every single day. On Monday there was one from my brother and sister in law who reside in Whyalla. On Tuesday came one from my brother and his wife in Sydney. On Wednesday, (the day of our anniversary) a card from my sister and family in Sri Lanka – perfectly timed. On Thursday, a beautiful card from my Mum graced our letter box. On Friday, a card from my sister and family in America arrived. 5 days. 5 cards. A card each day. Much better than getting them all together! Our anniversary lasted a whole week!

It felt very special to have a wish a day in our letter box all week; wishes from family who cared for us and have been part of our lives as long we have been a couple. Not just one blessing. But a week of them. So here I am today blogging about my beautiful, big blobs of blessings as they arrived that week.

We Christian writers too have many big beautiful blobs of daily blessings, don’t you think? Firstly, we have a message in our hearts to share. Even if we all don’t write about it in exactly the same way – all of us Christian writers do have something in common. We have a desire to see God’s kingdom here on earth – it’s so exciting to be part of it – no matter what we write about, be it writing fiction or non fiction; creating characters or sharing from the heart. Each of us have a different calling – but one Source of that calling. Jesus! That in itself is a great blessing, don’t you think?

We are also deeply blessed because we love books and we love reading and writing. I’m sure you will agree that Books and Reading and Writing are three big reasons to celebrate life? How grateful I am to my parents who imbibed in me a love of books and a love of words and also a love of reading and writing. We also have so much to praise God for in this modern world – computers to help us get our stories typed in double quick time – spell checkers to assist us to fix our troublesome spelling – Facebook and the Internet to keep us connected – in a world that is fast shrinking – in fact we can get help and encouragement from other writers in an instant, even if they live a world away.

Those of us who are able to use kindles and e-books can access books at the click of a finger. Even our experiences in life – be they good or bad – are all fuel for our writing and a hot-bed of ideas. Our experiences of God – add an extra spark to our writing. Yes, we all do have many beautiful blobs of blessing splashing down on us all the time. Wouldn’t you agree?

And then of course there’s more! As Christians – God lavishes many good things into our lives all the time, every single day, even if we don’t always recognise them. Bright beautiful days – supportive people in our lives - family and friends who care – fascinating books to soak up – refreshing cool weather – work that puts bread on our table – comfortable homes and a roof over our heads – the use of modern technology – medicines that treat our ailments – the freedom to worship God in this wonderful country Down Under - these are but a few blessings I can list off the top of my head – which every one of us can lay claim to, in some form or another.

Sometimes though our blessings are masked or camouflaged. Have troubles or difficulties come your way? Has a friend let you down? Has sickness been your lot? Has money been scarce? Dare I say that even the troubles in our lives are actually blessings if we but realise the truth? I’ve discovered that God has ministered to me most powerfully when my human resources have been at a minimum. When life has been difficult. When friends have let me down. When I have been forced to lean on Him.

I have to admit that yes, very special blessings have indeed been mine when I have come to Him in great need, at my lowest ebb and then found in Jesus – comfort and hope, beauty and truth, life and freedom. Yes, the troubles in my life have been much larger blessings than my moments of comfort and pleasure. They have helped me discover the rich, eternal blessings I have in God alone.

Today, dear writer friends, I would like to challenge you – and to ask you about the blessings you’d like to thank God for this Monday morning, as we begin a brand new week. How has God blessed you today? Is your book being published in the near future? I praise Him with you. That’s great news indeed! Has He blessed you with a fresh idea to write about? How very exciting! Keep writing! Has your book been a source of blessing to others? That’s wonderful. Are you enjoying your writing like never before? A big ‘Yay’ to that! Has He brought new opportunities for ministry? Always a cause for praise. Or has he blessed you with trouble – so you are forced to lean on Him in a new and more intimate way? Now that is a big blob of blessing I assure you – even if you can’t quite see it that way!

Perhaps today is a day to stop and take stock of our blessings? We have each other – a group of Christian writers – all writing to bring honour and glory to Him who called us. We have words and ideas, books and writing, songs and stories. We have the Source of all that is good with us. We have a glorious hope to cling to. We have Jesus.

I’d love to hear what blessings God has brought your way in the last few days. Perhaps it’s a good time to stop, reflect, discover and give Him thanks and praise for those big, beautiful blobs of blessings in our lives!

What do YOU think?

Anusha Atukorala has been splashing and basking in many colourful blobs of blessing all her life (sometimes in forms she did not recognise) - thanks to the goodness of her Lord and Saviour Jesus who gave her a song to sing and a message to proclaim. Her website and blog is called Dancing in the Rain and can be viewed at:

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Writing conferences

The thing I want to talk about is writing confernces/fairs/festivals. Whatever they are called are beneficial. I think most of us have been to at least one, if not more. I have met fellow writers, and people who don’t think I am too weird for what I do.

You never know what little insights you will pick up, or who you will meet. If you can afford to go to one I think it is really worth it. I love when I go to a Christian conference as these people understand where I am coming from. As my books all have a Christian theme or values some non-Christians won’t always understand them.

I had a plan to go to the local arts festival (most capital city have one). But then I decided to get see my parents on the other side of the country so didn’t have the spare money to listen to a writer’s workshop. I will be going to another writing workshop when I visit my parents. Not sure if the subject is exactly what I want, but I might get a few contacts.

Contacts who might give you a job (paying even), or at least give you encouragement. I have met a guy Nathan and it was nice to know I could contact him about the conference I am going to. I wasn’t too sure if the topic would be beneficial for me as a fiction writer. He then wrote to the presenter and the topics have changed slightly. (Telling your own true story)

No matter how long you have been a writer, or how many books you have published, there is always something to learn. Even if you just meet other writers. (Last time I met someone who lived in the same suburb as me). Writing is generally a solitary job, and I love being able to talk about writing and not have a person’s eyes glaze over. I can get a little obsessed with my writing and characters

If you have the chance to go I would encourage you. I also would like to know what you get out of it? Why do you go to writing conferences? I am sure people can think of more reasons that I can today.

Sorry this is short I think I got too much sun on the weekend.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

There is something I want to share...

chapel, night, light, bill, god, jesus, think, church

There is something I want to share with you all, though I don't know quite how to voice it, I will try.
I have had this burning desire to share simple living with others for years now - simple living that is based on my Christian faith, for me that is Franciscan simplicity. I have a Facebook page that I share with my friend Ellen in San Diego. It's called The Simply Living Challenge. I will put a link at the bottom for anyone who might be curious. From this FB page is growing all sorts of exciting things like workshops - the Salvation Army invited me to talk to their women's group,  perhaps a manual/ book - because it seems to be writing itself (oh joy), an email note, a retreat and more.

What I want to explain to you, as my Christian friends, is the way that God is doing a work in me as I share my experience of simplifying my life with others. Radical, life changing things are happening. God is showing me that to truly be a light for others I have to be transformed - and he has planted a longing in me for that.

Our little Anglican church has it doors  left open during the day, so a few weeks back I went in there and begged God to reveal himself to me.I offered my life to him - my work - my everything. But you know when you do this you don't really think much will happen. You want it to but your rational brain tells you that you can't expect too much. I think sometimes we don't realise that he is doing the very thing we have asked because it doesn't come packaged the way we expect.

I am trying to think of an example to share with you of how he is revealing himself to me. Take this morning. I'm writing this on Sunday. I am in training as a LLM (Licenced Lay Minister). At this stage all I can do is sit prayerfully in the sanctuary, though I can sing with the congregation and join in with the liturgy.  I can't begin to tell you the peace I feel up there. Our priest is one of my closest friends and she and I have agreed that there is no hurry for me to do anything other than sit until I feel God urge me on to the next stage. So I am still and the process is slow. Just like simple living should be. Then I notice that when I sing beside her our voices sound especially lovely together (and she has noticed this too). I don't think I am a good singer but I love to sing. The singing is moving me and drawing me closer to God. It has dawned on me today that maybe the reason I rarely play music is because it hurts. I want to sing. I want to play an instrument, but I think I can't.

My priest friend lent me a CD this week. The music and words of the chants are the voice of God to me - and now I am playing the piano again (though it is basic - as I had to stop learning at the age of 12) and I am dancing again (as though no one is watching) and I am allowing myself to sing and to play CDs in the house.... surely God is revealing himself to me through the way he has wired me. Do you know the words of  Saint Iranaeus - 'The glory of God is man fully alive'?

This month on The Simply Living Challenge I am challenging myself, Ellen and the others in our community to   Simplify their Soul. Allowing God to reveal to us himself in our desires, our passions, our gifts seems to be the first step. Do you want to join us? To ask God to reveal himself to you and watch what turns up? Yes you are a writer - but what is behind that? How has God wired you and what does he want you to share? And what is it you have forgotten about yourself? Ellen wrote these words in the comment section of my personal blog - 'We forget to be whole sometimes'. (
Could this be said of you? It is certainly true of me. Those words resonated deeply within me and made me cry.
Asta x

Friday, 2 March 2012

But is it a true story?

I wonder if any of you novelists out there have heard this question before?  I can’t tell you the number of times I have been asked this in the middle of my bookselling when I’m frantically trying to give people the right change or sign one of my books or fill out an invoice.

If you have been asked this, I would be very interested to hear how you’ve answered it. It’s quite a trick question, don’t you think? I know what those who ask it usually mean, however. They want to know if my characters are ‘real people’ and if the events in my novels ‘really happened’. Well, in some instances, my characters are ‘real people’. But some of them are only partly so—and some are actually two or three or more ‘real people’ all rolled into one!

As for whether the events I write about ‘really happened’, some did—and some didn’t. And bits of some happened and bits didn’t! And various bits that ‘really happened’ to various people on various occasions are sometimes all rolled into the one event.

But then it gets even more complicated. Sometimes I have ‘real’ characters involved in events that did not actually happen and are not strictly speaking ‘real’. And sometimes ‘real’ events take place but the characters I portray in these events are not the ‘real people’ who were involved. And so it goes on ...

 A few months back, I wrote a blog for International Christian Fiction Writers called ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’ ( Among other things, I wrote how sometimes when I tell readers certain events in my novels ‘really happened’, they look very doubtfully at me and wonder if I’m telling the truth. Sometimes people are so amazing and events so bizarre that my readers assume I ‘made them up’. In response to this blog, LeAnn Hardy, an American author and ICFW member, commented how she firmly believes that ‘the best books tell the truth even when the story is made up’. And I am inclined to agree with her. I would hope that even when nothing I have my characters do ‘really happened’, they are in fact acting ‘truthfully’ or acting in line with the character I have given them and thus come across as authentic. And I hope too, of course, that God’s truth is clearly conveyed in my novels whether the characters or events or both are ‘real’ or not.

Anne Lamott makes some interesting points about telling the truth in writing in her excellent book Bird by Bird (Scribe, 2008). In her chapter on ‘Character’, she writes:

A write paradoxically seeks the truth and tells lies every step of the way. It’s a lie if you make something up. But you make it up in the name of the truth, and then you give your heart to expressing it clearly. You make up your characters, partly from experience, partly out of the thin air of the subconscious, and you need to feel committed to telling the exact truth about them, even though you are making them up. (pp 52-53)

So ... are all the characters and events in my novels ‘real’? Well ... yes and no! But do I write ‘true’ stories? I certainly hope so!

Jo-Anne Berthelsen grew up in Brisbane and holds an Arts degree from Queensland University.  She has also studied Education and Theology and has worked as a high school teacher and editor, as well as in local church ministry in Sydney. Jo-Anne loves communicating through both the written and spoken word and currently has five published novels – ‘Heléna’, ‘All the Days of My Life’, ‘Laura’, ‘Jenna’ and ‘Heléna’s Legacy’.  She is married to a retired minister and has three grown-up children and two grandchildren.