Thursday, 22 November 2018

CWD Member Interview – Jo-Anne Berthelsen

Each Thursday in 2018 we will be interviewing one of the members of Christian Writers Downunder – to find out a little bit more about them and their writing/editing goals.
Today’s  interview is with Jo-Anne Berthelsen.

Question 1: Tell us three things about who you are and where you come from.
When asked who I am, I usually say I am a writer and speaker, but I have also been a high school teacher, a full-time mum, an editor, an office secretary and a pastor! I began writing in 2004 and my first novel was published when I was 59!

I live in Sydney but grew up in Brisbane. I have been married to my husband Lionel, a retired pastor and college lecturer, for almost fifty years and we have three children and four grandchildren.

Question 2: Tell us about your writing. What do you write and why?
I write both fiction and non-fiction and enjoy doing both. I have had six novels published between 2007 and 2013—Heléna (general historical fiction); All the Days of My Life, Laura, Jenna and Heléna’s Legacy (all general fiction); and The Inheritance (romantic fiction). 

As for my non-fiction, Soul Friend: The story of a shared spiritual journey was published in 2012, while Becoming Me: Finding my true self in God was published in 2016. I have also made it a priority to continue writing a weekly blog which can be found at

And why do I write what I do? Please see my responses below!

Question 3: Who has read your work? Who would you like to read it?
My six novels were aimed primarily at women aged thirty and above, but women—and men—of all ages have read them. Among these have been non-Christians, which I was delighted about, as I think novels can portray the love and grace of God in a wonderful, non-threatening way that can touch hearts and draw readers closer to God.

As for my memoir Soul Friend, this is aimed not only at Christians of all ages, in the hope that they will seek out a soul friend/mentor to encourage them in their own faith journey, but also at more mature Christians, in the hope that they might consider being a soul friend/mentor for those seeking to grow in their faith. Thankfully, a good number from both these groups of people have read it, as well as others who simply related to some of the challenges I faced in the period of my life covered in this memoir.

Finally, my most recent book , Becoming Me, is aimed at challenging younger women in particular to discover who God created them to be and to step into all God has for them in life. I included questions at the end of each chapter in the hope readers would reflect on their own journeys—and I know this has been helpful to quite a number.

Question 4: Tell us something about your process. What challenges do you face? What helps you the most?
My writing process falls somewhere between that of a plotter and a ‘panster’. I begin by planning out my chapters and writing a brief summary of what I hope to cover in each. Invariably, however, I find myself unable to stick to this outline and the number of chapters soon grows! When writing a novel, I also find it helpful to set up a file with notes about my main characters, including what they do at certain ages, when and how they connected with other characters and so on. This is particularly helpful if I have to put the novel aside for a period.

When I began writing in 2004, the only place I could find to write was at our kitchen table, in the midst of everyone and everything. It was a challenge to stay focussed, yet somehow, God enabled me to complete my first five novels at that table! Now, I have a quiet study in our new home where I can look out my window at the nearby trees and listen to the birds—bliss!  Also, with my earlier novels, I used to become so absorbed that I would write till all hours. But now I am a little older (!), I find I write best first thing in the morning.

Currently, my greatest writing challenge is lack of time, firstly because we mind our two youngest grandchildren a lot and secondly because of ministry commitments. Just this past week, we completed four months of supporting our church’s pastoral team while our senior pastors (husband and wife) have been on sabbatical leave. This was a great privilege, but meant that, to a large degree, I had to put my writing on hold. However, there’s always next year!

Question 5: What is your favourite Writing Craft Book and why?
I must admit I prefer books that deal more with the writing life rather than specifically with the writing craft, helpful as they may be. For example, I love Bird by Bird: Some instructions on writing and life by Anne Lamott and Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L’Engle. When I first read this latter book in my early days of writing, I felt somehow vindicated in my whole approach, especially when I read how closely L'Engle linked writing with prayer, something which made complete sense to me. 

Question 6: If you were to give a shout-out to a CWD author, writer, editor or illustrator – who would they be?
I think I’d like to go way back to the beginning of my writing journey and honour Mary Hawkins, who introduced me to Christian fiction writing circles and encouraged me in general. However, I am also indebted to Carol Preston for endorsing my non-fiction and supporting me in this practical way.  

Question 7: What are your writing goals for 2018? How will you achieve them?
My goal in what remains of 2018 is to revise my outline for my current historical novel, then pick up the threads of those early chapters I have written already. In the new year, our grandchild-minding commitments will lessen a little, so I plan to try to complete this manuscript by the end of 2019.

Question 8: How does your faith impact and shape your writing?
Each of my novels has centred on a major Christian theme such as holding onto our faith in God, whatever happens; accepting God’s love and grace; using our God-given gifts; forgiveness; and dealing with bitterness and resentment. So my main aim in writing my novels is to have good, believable storylines and authentic characters who come to grips with the challenges they face in a way that touches my readers, impacts their lives and draws them closer to God. After my very first novel Heléna was published, a reader contacted me and explained how she did not feel God had been there for her in the hard parts of her life. However, she then wrote, ‘But maybe I should try God again.’ I remember saying to my husband, ‘But it’s only a novel!’ Yet her response confirmed to me that God can use good stories to touch readers’ hearts in ways non-fiction cannot.

As for my non-fiction, with Soul Friend I want my readers to experience the healing and encouragement God brought to me via my lovely soul friend Joy and to offer that healing and encouragement to others in turn. And with Becoming Me, I so much want to encourage others to allow God to remove those layers of self-doubt, perfectionism and anything else that holds them back from being all God has created them to be and to stand tall, ready to make a difference in this world. So my faith is intrinsic to all the non-fiction I write, including my blogs.

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 the written and spoken word. She is the author of six published novels and two non-fiction works, ‘Soul Friend’ and ‘Becoming Me’. Jo-Anne is married to a retired minister and has three grown-up children and four grandchildren. For more information, please visit


  1. Thanks Jo-Anne. It was lovely to read your post and to hear more about you and your writing life. You've had a lot of writing success in a short time - well done. I know your books and your talks and your blogs touch many. Bless you too for your faithfulness in the different seasons of life. Spending time with grandchildren must be a special pleasure and one that will reap rich rewards in their lives. And yes, ministry commitments are so important too. Wow - almost 50 years of married life? That is very special. Congratulations. May God continue to bless you, grow you and use your writing for His glory.

    1. Thanks again, Anusha. Re my having a lot of writing success on a short time (I started writing in 2004), I guess it depends what we understand 'success' to be! I'm sure none of my books would be classed as best sellers, but they were the books I felt God wanted me to write at the time, so I'm more than content with that. And yes, I hope those many hours we spend with our grandkids does and will bless them. I think our two younger ones probably feel we are a bit too strict and 'old school' (!) but we do our best.

  2. Hi Jo-Anne, you're a person who really knows of the value and potential of the written word, and lives it out. Thanks for sharing about how you've made it work all these years, and how it's evolved. And also for being a great example and role model for so many.

    1. Oh wow--thanks for those encouraging comments! I'm sure you were writing and had books published long before I did though, Paula, so you have certainly stayed the distance too and encouraged so many along the way.

  3. Loved reading about your writing journey Jo-Anne. I remember your editing workshop at my very first Omega Writers conference. Thanks for your encouragement and role model.

    1. Wow, Jeanette--you have a good memory! And yes, I do vaguely recall presenting a workshop ages ago called 'Getting in before your editor does!' Thanks for your lovely comments.