Thursday, 29 May 2014

Hats, Posts and Literary Landscapes

by Cathie Sercombe
A few weeks ago, my husband and I gave our garden some overdue attention. We felled weed trees, removed deadwood and spindly branches, edited the overgrowth and carted several trailer loads of green waste to the tip. Despite the hard yakka and the potential for danger implicit in our task, the only casualty was my gardening hat – brim and bonnet ripped asunder – an inevitable consequence of its age. I’ve had that hat for forty years.

Hat, Post, Landscape and Crow-bar
Writers wear many hats. After all, writing is not all we do. ‘What!’ I hear you gasp. Of course, you know it’s true. What we do, is landscape our texts with the experiences gleaned while we wear our other hats.
My gardening hat probably lasted as long as it did because it doesn’t get a work-out very often. I’m an occasional gardener, not a professional landscaper. You might be an occasional writer, or a professional one. Either way, I bet you’ve earned a few blisters and produced a few flowers – speaking metaphorically at least.

Another casualty of time is the post on which the hat sits – a tree root has displaced it. I’ll have to put my trusty made-to-measure crow-bar to work and dig it out so it can be replaced. It won’t be the first post-hole I’ve dug, or helped dig. I’ve hefted that crow-bar to hollow out holes in the ground for 88 garden and retaining wall posts on our property. Thinking about those posts prompted thoughts about this one – so here are a few writing principles flavoured by my landscaping experiences.

Preparation and research are necessary, but don’t get carried away. The corner post (in the above corner under the rose) was my first. Hubby measured, marked where to dig and I went for it. I dug a whole lot wider and a whole lot deeper than I needed to, wasting time, effort, and concrete. I applied moderation to subsequent digs.
The first written draft is rarely perfect. It requires extra time and effort editing. Practice leads to improvement, both in technique and end result. Even those first drafts seem to get better the more you write.

The wall at the front of our property was 600mm high, which meant post-holes needed to be 700mm deep to hold firm in our ‘plastic’ soil profile. Natural springs under the footpath moistened the subsoil there, making it easier to dig. Behind the house we had to dig 1200mm holes for our 1000mm high walls; the surface was already one metre below the topsoil. The only way we could break through that clay, was by first soaking it with water.
A short story is different to a poem is different to a novel is different to a magazine article; each requires materials, scaffolding and structure of the right type, size and shape for the genre. The lessons learned writing in one genre enhance writing technique and positively inform a variety of other writing formats.

As much as we loved the look of our round koppers logs, they were difficult to work with; they had to be planed and chiseled and shaped to fit together and to fit the curve of the uprights. It was easy to get discouraged when progress was slow and tedious. Being prepared to try something different for the side and rear walls of the property allowed us to finish the job sooner and worked just as well.

Don’t get stuck in a rut. If the current writing project is dragging on and going nowhere, try something different. You may be pleasantly surprised by the results. Being a great children’s writer during the week doesn’t preclude you from writing devotions on the weekend. Besides, varying the vista may bring fresh insights and enthusiasm.

Not everybody will appreciate the effort you put into your writing projects. They may abuse them or use them in a way you never intended. We didn’t plant posts to feed termites! Then again, your readers may get far more enjoyment from your writing than you ever expected. I may not be happy when the neighbourhood mutts water our front retaining wall, but my dog just loves neutralizing their efforts.
Any writing project can seem daunting and overwhelming at times. Don’t get so stressed by the size of the project that you forget to enjoy the process. One day, you’ll look back and think, ‘Wow! I did that. And I enjoyed myself! I am awesome!’ and you’ll be right.

Have your gardening or landscaping experiences informed your writing? If so, why not share the nuggets of wisdom you’ve unearthed in the comments section below.
Catherine Sercombe is a wife, mother of three, (they’ve grown up now), creative writing graduate and published author from Queensland, Australia. She manages an education business where she has the privilege of tutoring and encouraging students of all ages to meet their academic goals. Described in publication as a ‘writer whose work reflects an infectious love of language’, Catherine says, ‘From A to Z, surely the best writing begins and ends in God.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1-2). That’s an epidemic worth spreading.’  

Monday, 26 May 2014

Not Seeing Clearly

Can you see anything else in this sunrise picture other than water and sunlight?

Did I when I took the photo? It was taken a while ago so I can’t remember. But a friend who had been looking at the photos pointed out to me the cross that is formed by the sunlight on the water. ‘It would be a good cover for a book,’ she said.

 I agreed and though it would have been a perfect cover for the devotional/ bible commentary manuscript I wrote tentatively titled A Day at a Time. Sadly the publisher I sent it to has elected to change direction and is no longer taking devotional manuscripts.

‘Okay,’ so you might say ‘send it elsewhere.’

Sounds good in theory but to date it hasn’t happened.  Why? Is it a case of too many other health issues happening with husband and family? Or am I just over the whole writing and trying to get published business? Only time will tell. But at the moment writing and submitting has come to a stop.

Meanwhile I am just thinking how easy it is to over look what is obvious to others.  When I look around us at the beauty of this place God has brought us to I am amazed that people can look at it and not see the hand of the Creator behind it.
To believe all this beauty just happened by accident takes more of a leap that it does to believe in a loving Creator who made it all.

I’ve also been thinking recently about the wonders of modern science and medicine. Since he seemed to feel his eyesight was getting worse, my husband went to the optometrist. Not only did he need a new glasses, the optometrist picked up that he had a hole in his macula. After being sent to a specialist and then an eye surgeon, they both agreed it was likely that it could be repaired successfully. Pretty amazing eh? This is an operation that has only been able to be done in the last twenty years. Again I thought how can people not see that  mighty Creator is behind the way people are able to come up with such creative ideas of mending what was years ago a major problem. 

The operation went ahead. My husband came home the next day and is now in the recovery period.  It appears the op has gone well, though he is not allowed to drive yet. His eye still feels as though he is ’looking through a bubble,’ he said. Sadly, that’s the way some people look at life, through a bubble, only a bubble of scepticism and unbelief. Though the evidence is right there in front of their eyes they refuse to believe in a God who created people in His own image and gave them the abilities to be able to think and reason and create. Is it any wonder people have been able to do the amazing things they do in medicine and science as well as other creative areas like art and literature and so forth?

Before I become too critical of others for what they don’t see, it made me wonder what I don’t see. Maybe God is trying to tell me something about writing at the moment? Maybe he wants me to give up? Or it could be he wants me to change direction? Or simply to persist? I don’t know the answer.  To date I am just not seeing it.  Or not seeing clearly. Only asking God to make His Will clear and then keeping alert for His answer is the way to whether I will get back into writing or not. And if I do, exactly what should I be writing? Maybe it’s a case of having to wait for His answer on that one too?

Have you ever had occasion where you were tempted to give up or have not seen clearly what to do and had to wait for God’s answer? We’d love to hear about it.
Dale writes fiction, poetry and children’s fiction, and has written bible studies and Sunday school lessons. More information about Dale can be found at or on her Write and Read with Dale blog

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Confessions of a published non-writer by Jo Wanmer

I'm not a writer. I didn't dream about writing books when I was a kid. There are no old notebooks filled with amazing pieces of brilliance. I preferred Maths to English in upper high school and failed at creative writing. I've not heard of lots of the classics,  much less read them. My spelling is atrocious. My vocabulary is limited. I’m a people person. By nature I love working on projects with people.

So why, oh why do I spend countless hours, sitting at a keyboard, hitting all the wrong keys in an effort to produce a great novel?

On the weekend, I realised most of my life expectations have never eventuated. They weren't big things, just normal Aussie dreams. God has been pulling them out of my dream closet and making me look at them. He seems to think it is time they were discarded, in the same way my sewing materials and knitting needles should be. They belong to a former life. In a way I'm sad, but in my heart I know they won't be used again. The grey nomad crawl around Australia went years ago. Now God is shaking the dust off worldly financial security, perfect family and eternal youth.

Really Jo, do these need to be taking room in your dream closet?

Old life expectations must be discarded to make way for new visions. Yesterday at the beach I buried them and worshipped my King. Now I wait to see what he is going to add to the dream closet.

Over the last ten years, God has been planting new dreams within me. They are much bigger and not as comfortable as the old ones. The others were possible. The new appear impossible, but so full of promise.

I never purposed to be an author, yet about ten years ago, pushed by the Holy Spirit, I set a goal to write ten books. I assumed they would be solid non-fiction, Christian life books. I knew the first one would be about our victory through the horror of abuse. Yet every effort to write was disastrous until I tried fiction. Now I must face the evidence. I am not a writer and yet my name is on a published book, a faction.

After its publication, I started another novel. But my self-opinions stalled it.
‘You can’t make up plots. What do you know about writing? Your characters are pathetic. You should do research (I hate it!) and the big one – who do you think you are to write what God thinks and feels? I filed it under ‘vain attempts’ and turned my thoughts to a non-fiction which hasn’t progressed past the title.

After the Caleb conference last year, the Lord pushed me back to the book He had named El Shaddai in 2012. With the momentum of NaNoWriMo I found my creative brain pumping and discovered I could write a novel, well together  with God, I could. One memorable day I found my protagonist locked in a hut in the bush. As the book is written entirely from her point of view, the story ground to a sudden halt. I left the manuscript overnight, flummoxed.

The next morning I told God I’d remove her from the hut with the delete button because we must have made a mistake. But He pushed me to continue and we found important plot clues hidden in the hut. I didn’t know they were there, but He did.

Living God’s dreams is exciting, if challenging. Sometimes I look at the life I thought I'd have and compare it with the one I find I'm living. One is comfortable and predictable. The other is challenging, demanding and surprising. I will admit I sometimes yearn for the former, where things were tidy and organised, but I laid it down years ago. So forgetting what lies behind (buried it in the sand) I press forward into my calling. I guess that means the third booking is coming! I know the theme, the protagonists, the settings. It is all overwhelming, but my co-writer seems to know what He’s doing and is pulling me forward with great excitement.

My final confessions - now, I love writing novels.

Jo and Steve Wanmer live in beautiful South East Queensland. Today they are celebrating forty-three years of marriage. Jo loves to read books that deal with the tough, personal issues of life, where the protagonist learns to overcome her weaknesses and difficulties. He first book, Though the Bud be Bruised, has bought insight and healing to many.

Monday, 19 May 2014

DON'T GET SICK and DON'T DIE ! by Rita Stella Galieh

George, naming parts of the violin
Language and the way things are said is very different in every culture.What is polite in one can be a little impolite in the other.

My unusual heading is what was said in parting as we left Thailand last year. We kept a straight face as it was meant to encourage us as many schools and churches wanted a return visit.

Each year we minister for a month in Buddhist government institutions such as hospitals, schools, correctional centres, shopping malls, orphanages etc. We are able to do this presentation of music and art to explain the meaning of Christianity. Where free to do so, we can tell how to pray a simple prayer inviting Jesus into hearts and lives.

We leave the artwork in every place visited together with thousands of John's Gospels in Thai which are happily accepted. We have found Bible stories translate exceptionally well in other cultures. It also helps when they watch the drawing as the message is shared.

A little piece of history: if you've ever seen the film Anna And the King, we actually had a presentation at the school where British woman Anna Leonowens taught English to the children of Rama IV, King Mongkut. The school has moved from the palace but that's where it had its beginnings. It is now a thriving Christian school where Thai parents book their children years ahead to gain entry.

We really enjoy our return visits there. The children are so beautifully behaved and respect their elders.

A few times a year we post or email our COMMUNIQUE to report on our Arts in Evangelism ministry. If you also need to write and send reports of any sort, it's worthwhile taking the trouble to make people want to read it. We do all the setting up and KWIK KOPY prints it. Pictures are important as people don't have the time to read through scads of printed pages. They can see at a glance the folk to whom we've been ministering and the interesting venues to which we've been. Capturing shots with our smartphones make things all that easier.

Besides large institutions, we have visited prisons, set up in car parks at night, slums and street outreaches. There's never a dull moment with our friend / interpreter, Somchai Soonthornturasuk! I have experienced things well out of my comfort zone...and thoroughly enjoyed them...after an initial double-take. Ah, well, we need to grow, don't we?

Rita and her husband present Vantage Point, a five minute Christian program broadcast on FM stations around Australia. She has two published books by Ark House Press and Signed Sealed Delivered, her Australian historical romance, can be found on Amazon Kindle.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

I Wish I Hadn't Written That

By Nola Passmore

Have you ever written something you came to regret?  If so, you’re in good company.

In her pre-Christian days, best-selling author Terri Blackstock wrote novels she later regretted.  When one of her readers asked which pseudonyms she had previously written under, Blackstock gave the following response: ‘I don’t like to give that information out, because I don’t want people looking for those books.  I’m ashamed that I wrote them, because they contain things that I have repented of.  I wish I could gather them all up and destroy them, but I can’t.’ 

Of course, regrets do not just afflict novelists.  Larry Norman, the father of Christian rock music, wrote a song called Reader’s Digest in which he attacked a number of people in the music industry.  Comedian Wendy Harmer wrote and performed a parody song entitled Everyone Knows It’s Lindy based on the false assumption that Lindy Chamberlain had killed her baby daughter Azaria.  Both of these artists were later sorry for things they had written and said.

By God’s grace, I was already a reasonably mature Christian before I started sending material off to publishers.  However, I’m sure there would have been regrets if I’d sent out some of my early work.  After all, I did once argue in a school debate that we couldn’t be sure the Bible was real.  Although I was a Christian, I reasoned that it was okay to say that in a public forum because you don’t have to agree with the points you argue in a debate.  D’oh!  And of course, being a more mature Christian doesn’t mean I won’t make mistakes in the future.  It’s scary to think how much damage even one misguided remark on a blog could do.  You can later delete it, but you have no control over how many people have already downloaded it or shared it on other sites.

So what do we do if we’ve written something we wish we hadn’t?

  • First, repent.  That not only means confessing your mistakes to God, but also determining to do things differently in the future.  None of us is perfect, but we can choose to follow God’s plan for our writing and ask Him to guide us.
  • Second, if your words have caused hurt, apologise to the person concerned.  Larry Norman apologised to John Lennon and Paul McCartney for words he had written about them and changed those lines in subsequent versions of the song.  When Lindy Chamberlain was finally exonerated in 2012, 32 years after baby Azaria’s death, Wendy Harmer wrote an open apology in her online column: ‘In pursuit of a laugh, I too carried a burning stick.  Such was the firestorm of hatred, all rationality was lost … Lindy, Michael, I am truly sorry for the hurt I caused you, your family and friends.  I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me.’  Lindy Chamberlain’s response?  It takes ‘a huge amount of courage to admit that [you] were wrong … Good on her’.
  • Third, ask God to redeem the situation and any damage that has been done.  Terri Blackstock has had an incredible ministry since turning her writing over to the Lord.  She was even able to get the rights back to some of her books and rewrote them to include Christian themes.  Her Second Chances series was the result.
  • Fourth, pray, pray, pray.  Pray as you write.  Pray before shooting off that email or blog comment.  Pray before entering your work in a competition or sending it off to a publisher.  Pray when you make a make a mistake, then pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again with God’s help.

 Have you ever written anything you’ve regretted?  What did you do to deal with the situation?

Nola Passmore is a freelance writer who has had more than 120 short pieces published in various magazines, journals and anthologies (including poetry, devotions, magazine articles, true stories and short fiction).  She and her husband Tim have just started their own freelance writing and editing business called The Write Flourish.  She loves writing about what God has done in her life and encouraging others to do the same.  (Some call it ‘nagging’, but she calls it encouragement).

Monday, 12 May 2014

Editing is like pruning rose bushes

My husband and son once borrowed a Lord of the Rings unedited DVD from the library. They wanted to watch all the parts which were later deleted. They'd expected to find a number of extra scenes that hadn't made it to the movie. But there were, in fact, very few extra scenes. Instead, the scenes which were already in the movie had bits trimmed off them. They agreed that the bits that had been cut out were as excellent as the rest of the movie. But they didn't necessarily carry the plot forward. So while the scenery, characterisation and effects in them were fantastic, they didn't "add" anything to the story but just reinforced what was already there.

I think that in this regard, film editing seems very much like book editing. I ought to know. It has been my experience over nine novels. I'm always amazed by how many snips and trims can be made without sacrificing any story line. Sometimes it's just a sentence here and there, a few "How are yous?" or "thank you very muches." Other times, I've managed to delete entire paragraphs, because I've studied them and thought, "Readers will be able to work this out in their own heads without being spoon-fed," or "This is just repeating what I said in the last page, with different words." Sometimes I've managed to shorten a book by 50 or 60 pages just by getting rid of these unnecessary little extras. I've grown to quite enjoy this process.

Early in my writing days, I used to hate it because I thought, "That's goodbye to hours of hard work." And I've had other people tell me that this is the way they feel too. But I've come to see for myself that, paradoxically, taking parts away really does add to the story's quality. It tightens the whole thing and keeps it running more smoothly. A bit like pruning rose bushes or grape vines, I think. All that foliage appears green and healthy, but it gives flowers and fruit so much more opportunity to flourish when it goes.

I think everyone needs to do this type of editing, whether you're Shakespeare or a school student. The human brains seems to be constructed so we're naturally a bit too wordy and verbose in the first drafts. That's a good thing because it means that everything we want to get across is in there, and we just need to trim away the extra bits to make it shine.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of anybody who first begins to tackle editing is that while they might have expected the process to be mostly changing and adding things, this pruning and deleting actually takes up so much of the process.

Paula Vince is the author of nine novels, mostly contemporary dramas with elements of romance, mystery and suspense. She lives in the beautiful Adelaide Hills of South Australia, which she likes to use for the setting of most of her stories. You can visit her here.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

The Little Things

Today I’m blogging not as a writer, but as a reader. Well, partly. You see, lately I’ve been determined to read more into my writing genres. Reading opportunities can be difficult to secure, but I’ve been quite determined. In fact, to mix it up, I’ve made a habit of selecting random titles from authors I’ve never read before.

Through this recent reading spate I’ve discovered something quite dreadful. I’m turning into a book snob!!!!

Maybe it’s the ever developing inner–editor monster I’ve unconsciously fostered through reading from ‘the other side’. Perhaps it’s the failing of my eternal youth, betraying a slightly irritable, at times impatient, time greedy working mother. Could it be the shock that ‘best selling author’ by no means guarantees quality?

At times I’ve wanted to shout, ‘SHOW, don’t TELL,’ after wading through yet another information dump or explanation of how a character is feeling. Other things that set me skimming were overused speaker tags; constant or overuse of unnecessary adjectives and adverbs (in some cases in conjunction with the overused speech tags); plots that took half a book to get moving; or plots driven solely by contrived romantic misunderstandings or complications. (Hey, when you’re reading into the wee hours of morn, it’s a big ask to be patient with Mary’s seventh change of heart for the chapter!)

But amidst these frustrations were sparkling delights. Well developed characters, fully engaging plots, beautifully constructed relationships and dialogues had me effortlessly tuned in. NO head hopping! It made me realise that, as a writer, the little things really REALLY matter.

The Little Things (Okay, maybe not these little things, but they are kinda cute!)
 Now for the confession – I’ve committed all these sins as a writer at various times. I’m sure I’m ignorantly committing others to this day. It’s one thing to say, ‘Show, don’t tell,’ it’s another for someone to clearly demonstrate it. I’ll never forget when, six months into studying creative writing, I re–read the first few chapters of an old manuscript I had on file. It was dreadful! In that moment I realised just how much I had to learn.

And I’m still learning. Constantly.

Something I’ve realised by my purposeful reading is how much this informs my writing. Seeing those little niggles in action really drives home the point! It also demonstrates how important it is to expose ourselves to the work of writers who are more experienced, with more highly developed skills.

For me, investing in my craft through education and being a part of a writers group have been two (of many) invaluable steps in honing my skills. But clearly, writers MUST read.

I’d love to hear how reading has cultivated your inner writer – and if/how you’ve evaded becoming a book snob in the process!

Adele Jones lives in Queensland, Australia. Her writing is inspired by a passion for family, faith, friends, music and science – and a broad ranging imagination. To find out more visit

Monday, 5 May 2014

I can't do all things...

There is a Bible verse that has been appearing in my Facebook newsfeed quite a bit lately:

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Philippians 4:13

There are also dozens of quotes about being a 'Supermum' and 'having it all'.

Many of the people who talk about the above verse say that as long as our faith is strong enough we can do anything and everything... many have different points as well, but the general feeling that comes across is that we can do EVERYTHING.

Doing it all is a pretty hard thing to live up to.

In September last year, my then nine year old came down with glandular fever. He was very, very sick for a week and didn't bounce back the way the doctors assured us he would, and he is still struggling. The result of this was that many of the balls I was juggling were dropped.

I had to take an extended break from work, writing was pushed aside, I stopped contributing to this blog, and a number of other things had to take second, third or even last place to the priority of looking after a very sick nine year old.

One of the biggest lessons is that I CAN'T do all things - both as a Mum and as a writer - at least, not all at the same time. There are times when writing and editing need to be put aside for other things, and there are times when those other things are put aside in favour of writing and editing.

The other lesson I've learned is to trust in Christ and lean on his strength. This is a lesson I keep on learning.

To me, the verse above isn't about doing everything or having it all, it's more about relying on the strength of Christ to do the things that need to be done.

There are other lessons I've learned during this time too, but these are two of the big ones.

Melissa Gijsbers lives in Melbourne and writes in between working as a bookkeeper and being the mother of two active boys. In August 2013, she had 3 fractured fairy tales published in Teapot Tales: a unique collection of fairy tales. She has also had Christmas stories published in Jingle Bells: Tales of Holiday Spirit from Around the World, and Tales by the Tree: An anthology of Christmas Flash Fiction. Follow her writing journey at

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Being a real author

I think I could write a book about my book promotion experiences over the past seven years. In this scintillating piece of literature, I would include some of the more startling and amusing conversations I have had at my book table, such as the following:

‘So what do you have here?

‘These are my six novels and this one, Soul Friend, is non-fiction.’

‘Oh ... what are they about?’

‘Well, I explore different faith themes in my novels such as understanding God’s love, forgiving others, using our gifts to serve God, overcoming rejection, holding onto our faith, and so on. My latest one here, The Inheritance, highlights the importance of dealing with anger and bitterness in our lives and learning to trust God. It has a strong male main character in it as well as a female one this time.’

‘Oh ... so you said they’re novels. Do you mean fiction?  I don’t usually read fiction.’

‘Yes, they’re fiction—but several of them were inspired by real people.’

‘Oh, okay. ... And what about this one here? Did you say it’s non-fiction?’

‘Yes. It’s the story of my own journey with my spiritual mentor Joy.’

‘Oh ... you mean you wrote it yourself? Wow!’

‘Yes. I wrote all these.’

‘You mean ... you mean you wrote all those as well?’

‘That's right.’

‘Wow! I’ve never met a real author before. That’s amazing!’

It’s a little strange how, even when I talk about ‘my’ books or ‘my’ writing in such settings, some people still think I must be selling someone else’s books. After all, their expression says, I couldn’t possibly be an author! Yet I can well understand where they might be coming from. You see, when I was a child, I always thought authors weren’t real people like the rest of us. I think I imagined them as a race apart—some sort of exotic beings from a realm far removed from us whom we could know only via their names on the covers of their books. They must be so clever, I used to think. Only super human beings could weave stories together like that. Imagine writing a whole book!

Now I know differently, of course. Now I myself have joined their ranks. And, as I usually assure those who have such conversations as the above with me, authors are quite normal people—well, sort of! We just happen to love writing, even when that involves many hours of hard work. And some of us also believe that’s how we can best serve God and others.

I never imagined I would be a ‘real author’. I can well remember the day I received the proposed cover of my first novel and how I felt when I saw my name in large letters at the top. My first thought was ‘What have I done?’ Now my work and many of my inner thoughts would be out there for all to see. But in the years since, I have discovered what a privilege it is to be a ‘real author’ and to take hold of every opportunity to honour God and bless others that comes my way as a result.

What are your thoughts about ‘real authors’ or your experiences of being one? Is this a term only published authors can use? Does it differ from the term ‘writer’, which I still prefer to put down as my occupation?

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 three grandchildren. For more information, please visit or