Monday, 30 May 2016

Those little glitches

Jo-Anne Berthelsen

Have any of you ever experienced those times when you are sure you have remembered everything, yet, at the last moment, someone points out something you have done wrong or something you have omitted to do altogether? Sadly, I have—more than once.

Take the time some of you may remember at our Christian writers’ conference when I arrived early at the site, specifically to check that my laptop would work with the data projector there. Yes, it seemed fine. Then I arrived early the next day for my actual workshop to check again. Yes, everything looked fine on my laptop—I heaved a sigh of relief. However, I omitted to check whether my lovely presentation actually showed up on the big screen behind me. Imagine my horror when the participants pointed out it was blank! For some time after, this experience shook my confidence in using power point presentations. Yet it also taught me not to hinge my entire input on them and to be able to ad lib better at a moment’s notice.

Or take the time I arrived to speak at a meeting of what I thought would be a small group of women and with only a few of my books, only to find over a hundred men and women present in equal numbers. I quickly revised the illustrations I had planned to use, in order to relate better to the men, but there was nothing I could do about my books. From then on, I have always made sure I can relate to both men and women, if necessary—and that I carry some extra books in my car!

Or take the day I turned up to speak at another group to find the meeting well under way. I had not realised that the time I had been given to arrive was the very moment I was expected to start speaking. I have never set out my books and organised my power point presentation so quickly in my life. This experience taught me to enquire more closely when given arrival times—and then to allow another thirty or more minutes on top of that!

Now I am in the throes of that final check through my latest manuscript for any little glitches I might have overlooked. I am sure it is perfect. After all, I have read it through so many times. Imagine my chagrin then, when one of my proofreaders points out a typo on the very first page—then another in the middle of a key Bible quotation that changes its meaning entirely. Worse, she questions some facts I have included early on in the book. Heart in mouth, I check them out again in the sources I used. Hmm, she could be right. Far better to leave the whole section out than to be incorrect.

These little glitches might well be embarrassing at the time. Yet God has used each one, I believe, to teach me more about humility and to give me strength and wisdom for the next part of my journey. Things might go wrong. Things might take us aback. But God is there through it all—and I am so grateful for that.

How about you? Have you ever experienced any little glitches like mine?

Jo-Anne Berthelsen lives in Sydney but grew up in Brisbane. She holds degrees in Arts and Theology and has worked as a high school teacher, editor and secretary, as well as in local church ministry. Jo-Anne is passionate about touching hearts and lives through both the written and spoken word. She is the author of six published novels and one non-fiction work, Soul Friend: the story of a shared spiritual journey. Jo-Anne is married to a retired minister and has three grown-up children and four grandchildren. For more information, please visit

Thursday, 26 May 2016

What an eel showed me

We've recently returned from week in far north Queensland, where we saw many great attractions. At Paronella Park the kids were given food to feed the fish on the property as part of the entry fee. The water turned out to be teeming with big, eager fish, crowding over each other to get closer to the front. Several of them had to flip onto their sides when it got too shallow to keep swimming. Then suddenly, there was a great, healthy eel in the race, slithering her way through and waiting for the next throw, just like all the fish. She even slipped right across my toes. At that moment, I changed the idea I'd always had about eels. Without much evidence, I'd imagined them to be brainless, slimy creatures which some people like to eat. This one was more like a cute little girl begging, 'Choose me, choose me!' (Our tour guide told us that all the eels on the property are female, and the males can be found further out to sea.) Her skin was sleek and glossy and her reflexes were finely tuned.

As a race, we humans make judgments and stereotypes so automatically. It's not our fault, but partly how the human brain is wired. I remember learning in Psychology that we make sense of the world by mentally storing things in boxes, even when the things we think we believe aren't necessarily true. For example, I neatly tucked eels away in the same category as the creepy, slime-dripping jellyfish I used to strike when swimming. This tendency can be useful, especially during our early years when we're making sense of the world. However, it has the potential to severely limit us if we let it keep going unchecked for the rest of our lives. It can be bad for the people, places and things we're unconsciously judging, as there's nothing more frustrating than trying to change minds which are set like concrete. It's also really sad for us to live in the narrow, rigid parameters we set for ourselves.

I believe we can open up new vistas of thought for ourselves, when we make a point of remembering that it's not an entirely predictable world, but one in which people and critters have the potential to surprise us all the time. That's where good writing may play its part. The type of books I enjoy reading are those which are fresh enough to challenge the opinions we've already made. The pens of the authors also turn out to be tools which help us hammer and chisel cracks into our discrimination, prejudice and automatic assumptions.

The people of first century Jerusalem had their fixed notions challenged. They believed that everyone who had his life shortened by the sentence of crucifixion was a no-good menace whose name would sink into obscurity, never to be heard of again. Were they wrong!

I've come across people who have told me, 'I never read fiction, because it's a waste of time, when you can be reading so much better material which is actually true.' They don't realise they've adopted the mindset that fiction cannot possibly hold its own sort of truth. Then they deprive themselves of a whole wealth of literature which might have the potential to move them deeply.

The man who built Paronella Park was a visionary who ignored stereotypes himself. Jose Paronella was a Spanish migrant and baker by trade, who fulfilled his childhood dream of building a fairytale castle on his property. His pragmatic neighbours told him, 'It's just weird to do something like that here in Australia,' but he didn't listen to them. I'm glad those fish and eels are finding it such a fertile place to live so many years after his death.

I want to keep training myself to watch out for extreme reactions which cause an emotional response to rise in me, and ask myself, 'Have I really got the facts right this time, or is it another eel?'

Have you noticed any eel reactions over the years, in yourselves or others?

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.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Addicted to Approval? Writing with Purpose ... On Purpose.

by Josephine-Anne Griffiths

"The fear of man brings a snare,
But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe." ~ Proverbs 29:25

Have you ever questioned what your life’s purpose really is? I know I have.
What motivates me to write? What motivates others to sing or play an instrument?
What makes it worthwhile for each of us to awaken each morning, and do whatever we do over again? Maybe you are an accountant, or drive a truck – or you are a nurse or a teacher. Maybe you are the quiet, shy child at the back of the room, that no one has noticed yet. I am hoping that by telling you why I write and what motivates me, that perhaps you may start thinking about why you do what you do each day, why it is so important to you, and what makes it so motivating and relevant?

As a younger person … a much younger person, I just wanted to make everyone happy. I desperately wanted and thought I needed the approval of everyone around me. It is, of course, a very human trait to crave that approval. We want our parents to approve of us, our friends at school. As we grow older we begin to realise that there are just so many people in the world, that it would be impossible to gain this close kinship with everybody. Why? Because God created each of us uniquely.

When I was first thinking about this post and preparing for it, I thought of calling it “Praying, Living, and Writing On Purpose”, and that is all very well, but we need to also think about doing things ‘with purpose’.  I have loved reading and writing ever since I can remember, however, I never considered it as having a purpose. After school, I went to college and learnt shorthand and touch typing on an incredibly annoying, clunky and old, manual typewriter.  I am sure many in my age group would have done a similar thing. The truth is, I always wanted to do a university degree in communication … that was it.  Nothing else interested me. Well as there were one-hundred and twenty places at the Institute of Technology, and over two thousand applicants, you guessed it – I became an office worker. No, there was no fancy title … just an officer worker.

One day I thought ‘why don’t I study accounting?’.  From that day on it would seem that I had sealed my fate. Not only would I be an office worker, but I would also be an accounts clerk. Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn't too bad at my job, and never found it a problem to learn new systems, time management, and so on.  But the problem was, that I was doing what I thought was responsible. What would bring in an immediate dollar reward.  My job/s served me well, but there was always this constant yearning to do something else with my life.

As a youngster, I was the quiet, shy child down the back of the room. There were times when I would be in trouble for talking to others at the back of the room, but you can be certain that the stories that I had to tell were awe inspiring. Then there were the other times (most of the time) when I would just sit quietly and daydream. That’s when I had my best ideas. Ideas that just had to be either told or written down.

A wise man once said “find something that you love to do and do it every day. 
This way, you will never have to work a day in your life”.  

And another quote I have always loved is this:
“The most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why”
~ Mark Twain.

We are all given gifts and talents when we are born, even before we are born. We each have a destiny, but for some of us, it takes a while to realise what the heck we are meant to be doing, and how best to go about it. These days I am a writer, plain and simple … I write (and read of course).
Do I write for the money? Definitely not! The world is run by the dollar, but if I wrote for money I would consider myself to be very poor indeed. Is it recognition then? We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t want to be recognised – I wouldn’t mind publishing a book or two … or three. But I have come to realise that recognition in a human sense, isn’t really that important. Yes, it might pay some bills, but at the end of the day, if I don’t have a passion for what I do, then I won’t be able to tell the true story. As with most things in life, what we put absolutely first on our ‘to-do’ list or list of importance, is what everything else will be based upon.

“for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” ~ John 12:43 NKJV

Whether we are Christian writers or any other kind of writer, let us all remember that the purpose of our writing is to tell a story, to get a point across, hopefully in a respectful manner. If our story isn’t getting out there, if people aren’t inspired in some way, then no amount of money or accolades can compensate for the real loss we must feel. And probably if we haven’t inspired anyone, then the money won’t be coming anyway.

Can we be published writers/authors and still share our heart and soul with the world?
I say a resounding ‘yes’!  Jesus wants the talents that His and our Father gave us, to be put to good use. If I ever had to make a decision to publish by telling the wrong story, or a story that came from my heart, but got changed so as to be more acceptable to the public, I wouldn’t see being published as very important at all. As a writer, and a Christian writer to boot - I see my purpose is to spread God’s love to everyone I come into contact with, whether in person or online in cyberspace.

So, what must I do to ensure that my writing can influence people in a positive way?
1.      Pray about it before picking up the pen.
2.      Believe and trust in my ability, which was, after all, a gift from the Father.
3.      Try to always be as consistent as possible. Don’t be swayed by worldly opinions.
4.      I must always be sincere in my efforts (not everyone will or must like me – there
will be haters, and that’s okay).

When God-willing I leave this earth, and my creator asks me ‘What have you shown Me during your life’? (taken from “Imagine Heaven” by John Burke). How have you used the gifts which were given to you? How have you thanked God for saving you? I would like to be able to say ‘Lord I tried my very best, I have made so many mistakes along the way, but in the end I loved people, and I tried really hard to love them as much as You love me.

If this earthly life is merely a preparation for our eternal life to come, good or bad, is there any point to our persistent writing at all? Again I say ‘yes’!
We are not here to please ourselves or to entertain ourselves. We are here to please God whether writing, singing, balancing the books, helping the sick, raising children, loving our spouse, weeding the garden … or anything else for that matter. Life is only as complicated as we make it. So let’s just do everything that we do each day, with love. For myself, I shall just do my very best to write with a strong conviction and belief, that God’s love is all that matters at the end of any day.

I would love for you to comment below and share some thoughts.

Josephine-Anne Griffiths previously worked in the field of finance and administration. Once early retirement became necessary, and having always been an avid reader and passionate writer, the next step became logical. She is currently working on a fictional memoir Charlie Dreams and a small book of inspirations, yet to be given a title. She has tried her hand at short story writing and more recently poetry, in addition to inspirational, narrative non-fiction. Josephine-Anne, fondly known as Jo’Anne, is married to Leon. They have six children and six grandchildren between them. You will find Jo’Anne either lost within a book, behind her keyboard or in her garden day-dreaming.

You are also welcome to contact Jo’Anne via the following links:




Thursday, 19 May 2016

Tips from Meet the Publishers Day

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the Meet the Publishers Day at the State Library of Victoria. It was a wonderful day, full of catching up with friends, talking about writing, and hearing from publishers about what they are looking for in manuscripts.

While the focus was on publishing children's books, there was still a lot of advice that applies to everyone.

I came back with pages and pages of notes. Some of the tips include:

  • Different publishers have different personalities, they are looking for different things. A rejection from a publisher could be that you've submitted to the wrong publisher. Do your research as submitting to the right publisher will increase your chances of getting published.
  • Write the story you want to write rather than following trends in writing. If the story you want to write is on trend, still write it. Don't write a story that is on trend because you think it will be published. There is always room for a great story regardless of trends.
  • Every story needs a hook. There are a lot of sweet stories written that don't have a hook. They don't get picked up.
  • Publishing is a business. They need to know how they are going to sell your book.
  • Publishers are happy to see multiple manuscripts at once, just not too many! They want to know you have more than one story in you.
  • Find your writing DNA - if writing romance is your thing, then write it. Don't force writing a different genre because you think you should.
  • Don't be disheartened by closed doors, keep going to find an open one
  • Spend a lot of time on the opening of the manuscript
This is just a short summary of my notes.

Along with listing to panels of publishers, I also had the opportunity for a three minute pitch to a publisher. Some of the tips I have for these pitches are:

  • Write your pitch before the event, don't make it up on the spot
  • Time your pitch and make sure it is shorter than your time. When I practiced my pitch it was 1.5 minutes
  • Leave plenty of time for questions and discussion with the publisher
  • Take a relevant prop. I took a Rubik's cube as that is what my book was about. It helped to break the ice with the publisher and gave something to talk about, it also helped me feel less nervous
I really hope they run this event again next year. There were so many amazing people there and I learned so much from the publishers who were generous with their time and advice. The weekend also gave me renewed confidence in writing and submitting to publishers.

Melissa Gijsbers lives in Melbourne with her two sons and pet blue tongue lizard. During the day she works as business manager in the family business.

Follow her writing journey at and

Monday, 16 May 2016

Emotionally Invested

Recently, it’s been pointed out to me that I have skipped some of the most important parts while writing my children’s book.

I have been writing a junior fiction novel for about three years now. The story is an account of a young girl's journey with alopecia areata. Alopecia areata is a condition that causes the immune system to attack hair follicles so that the hair falls out and in some cases doesn’t re-grow.

The parts I skipped were where the girl first discovers that there is a problem with her hair and is diagnosed with alopecia.
I have had alopecia my whole life, so I know the process. Why did I leave this part out?

Two very experienced writers have suggested that I describe this process to help readers connect with my main character emotionally and get a better understanding of what alopecia is.

This sounds very logical to me.

Unfortunately, the whole process of discovering that your hair is going to fall out--and there is nothing that can be done about it--is not pleasant. It’s heart breaking.
For me this means that I have to rewind my memories to times I have purposefully tried to forget. I have to relive those emotions to be able to how to write them in a way that will touch my readers.

My question now is: How does one unlock painful memories and emotions in order to write about things honestly?
How do you tap into those emotions so that you can reach out to your readers and connect on that deeper level?
How do you sift through those emotional deep waters to know what is important for the story and what is not?

I realise these are big questions and I am discovering some of the answers as I dive into these oceans. One of the most amazing outcomes from all of this intense work is that I am finally emotionally investing in my story. Which was what I wanted to do all along. It's only now that I have had the missing pieces pointed out to me that I can delve into those subconsciously blocked memories.

Linsey Painter loves to write stories that draw on her rich heritage of growing up overseas. She and her husband work with Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) and live in Cairns with their two rambunctious boys. Linsey grew up in Indonesia and is an expert at rolling her ‘r’s and eating nasi goreng. She has since lived and worked in Papua New Guinea— yes she has seen a bird of paradise and Arnhem Land— no she didn’t encounter any crocodiles. She has had a series of short fiction stories published in Thrive Connection online magazine for women in missions as well as non-fiction stories about living and working in remote communities with MAF. Linsey is now enjoying writing for children. Linsey blogs at

Thursday, 12 May 2016


Over the years I have had the opportunity of speaking to many different audiences. Remembering these opportunities is sobering, humbling and inspiring for communicating effectively into the future through my writing. Whether it is speaking to a stadium full of teenagers, or chatting with a group of ladies at a CWA morning tea; preaching to an innumerable number of citizens in an outreach in a city square in Cambodia, or conversing beside a fire in central Australia with Indigenous elders, whenever I have the opportunity to speak I take the opportunity to leave everyone a little challenge to inspire some follow through.
It is this tenet that I take into all of my writing. Leaving people challenged in simple or profound ways.

When speaking, these challenges are often laid out in a fun and encouraging format so that the people I am talking to are empowered to choose and enter in to a self-determined contract of sorts. So, for example at a recent assembly of year 7’s at the school where I am Chaplain I spoke about how important reading was and is for me, and how important it is for them. I was an average student in primary school, and with the simple encouragement from my Grandfather to read and to understand words (I went to the dictionary for every word I did not know) I jumped academically in a year to be dux of my school (year 7). Then this pattern continued through highschool and ultimately laid the platform for me being the first person in my family to go to University (and just recently I was awarded a Masters in Ministry). Hundreds of thousands of words. Thousands of sentences. Hundreds of topics, themes, characters, nuances, engagements, and practical applications. My Grandfather’s challenge to me to learn the words I didn’t know inspired me, and set me on a path that changed my life positively forever.  Sharing that story with the year 7 cohort helped stir many students into taking up the challenge to read, and begin loving words that they may never had engaged with before.

In a world of political correctness, tolerance, pluralism and “mind-your-own-business-isms” challenging people is perhaps a forgotten art that has been vital to us as a species and is equally important for our individual development. I am glad some caring people challenged me to rise to the challenge of becoming better when I was younger, and I am thankful for friends and family that lovingly challenge me now to “keep going for it” when times are tough. I am inspired but my wife and writing friends who keep gently prodding me to keep writing even though the journey seems long and often arduous.

In our writing we have the opportunity (perhaps the responsibility) to challenge people. We challenge people not to judge them, but to empower them. The next time you have the chance to communicate to a particular audience, challenge yourself. Stop. Take a deep breathe. Ask, is there something I can inspire, challenge, equip, empower others to consider? Is this something I can learn or grow into? The next time you recognise that you can help someone by a little encouraging challenge, do it.
Humbly. Supportingly. Caringly.
Maybe the best way for us to be true through our writing is to do the journey with people we trust who can challenge us to be all we can be as writers. This challenge should be mutual, and its action overflowing to our readers to enthuse self-determined contracts that lead to positive transformation.

Monday, 9 May 2016

It’s all a bit harder than I thought.

“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.

That's when I turn to my husband and admit it’s beyond me. I don’t have the ability, time or strength to complete the project. I need some help.

And Rob helps.
Every single time.

I do the bulk of the work, but he takes on my vision and shares my dream and I end up with the results I’d hoped for. 
Often better.

Like this doll’s house for my daughter.

I had big ideas when I designed it. I had a grand time working out how impressive it was going to be.

Big ideas ...
Then I got to the hard bit. I started sawing the wood. My wrists – weak and painful from carpal tunnel syndrome – gave out on me. Rob did the cutting.

Next I realised my design for the stairs wasn’t going to work. Rob suggested a simpler way. I had to let go of one aspect of my dream. Even though my spiral staircase was going to be the star of my construction (insert the laughter of hindsight here!).

Simpler but better than I imagined.

And finally it became clear I had made some wrong measurements and the parts didn’t quite fit together. Rob was able to work out where I’d gone wrong and re-size for me.

There were things I didn’t know about working with wood. I didn’t have the skills and my imagined 'raw talent' was not enough. Rob had those skills and passed his knowledge on to me.

If I’d insisted on doing it alone I wouldn’t have finished.
Or maybe I would have, but that might have been worse.

How is your writing journey?

Have you realised it’s 'all a bit harder than you thought'?

You begin your writing journey all excited because writing is the fun bit. There are grand dreams of people loving your writing as much as you enjoy writing.

My amateur attempt at a book cover
But even if you know how to write, you might not know how to find a publisher. Or how to self-publish. How to market. You can’t move forward unless someone helps you.

Perhaps you now understand every author –including you with your God-given manuscript- needs an editor. And your editor points out you need to cut out some of the bits you love. They’re too complicated, the manuscript is too long, some of the bits just don’t fit together properly.

Or maybe it hits you that don’t have the skills required to complete the job. You can’t scrape through with your 'raw talent'. You didn’t know how much you didn’t know until you were right smack, bang in the middle of it.
Working with a professional (spiral staircase version)

It would be easier to give up.
Or barge ahead on your own and decide 'it'll do'.

Please don’t!  You are not alone.

As Christian writers we have God. 
We have each other.

We have sites like this one to encourage one another, share insights, network, develop our skills. (When Rob was seriously unwell a few months back and I thought I might lose him, I came to this site to request prayer. The prayer support and encouragement moved me to tears - thank you everyone. God knew I needed you!)

There are conferences like the Omega Writers’ Conference where you can meet those who can help you; editors, publishers, like-minded authors, those with skills and experience they can pass on to you.

We need each other. Just like I needed a professional elancer and Bookwhispers to do the covers of my self-published books (I've added pictures to show you my book-cover journey and illustrate my point).

Communicating til we're all happy
It is not a sign of weakness to realise you need help, but rather a sign of humility and strength. Because none of us were meant to do it alone.

So if you’re at that point of feeling, ‘It’s all a bit harder than I thought’, take heart. Keep going. Reach out to those who can help and the end results could be different, but far better than you ever imagined.

And the reality is far better than the dream.

Jenny is involved in the Omega Writers' Conference and would love to see you there. To find out more, go to
Jenny loves writing inspirational Christian fiction for young adults. She is the wife of Rob and the mother of Micah, Merridy, Clarity and Amelia. They live in the country town of Gundagai with lots of pets. Jenny is the author of 7 published novels. She is a primary school chaplain, enjoys inspirational speaking, and is passionate about sharing her writing knowledge and experience and encouraging others in their walk with Jesus.
To find out more about her and her books you can go to