Thursday, 29 August 2019

CWD Member Interview – Ben Morton AKA Morton Benning

Most Thursdays in 2019 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: Ben Morton AKA Morton Benning

Question 1: Tells us three things about who you are and where you come from.

I grew up in Whyalla SA, which is essentially a hot and dry city masquerading as a country town, where my friends and I camped out as teenagers to be the first three customers of the newly opening Hungry Jacks.

I first left home when I was nineteen to live over 300km from a free dinner at mum’s because I wanted to study ministry, preaching and theology and become a youth pastor, but I had to work as a t-shirt artist to pay back my fee debts.

I met my wife while studying and then teaching drama and creative writing at Tabor Adelaide and we spent a year teaching English in Japan together before settling back in Adelaide and having two girls (one more baby on the way as I write this).

Question 2: Tell us about your writing (or editing/illustrating etc). What do you write and why?

I mostly write and teach speculative fiction because I find the fantastical environments to be a more interesting place to tell stories and explore ideas. I enjoy writing poetry from time to time as well, and I like to write a good mix of adventure and humour. I also use my writing, editing, typesetting, illustration and design skills to run a small business that makes use of modern publishing methods to turn unpublished writers into published authors. I call what I do assisted publication because it has many of the benefits of self publishing and also of what used to be called vanity publishing, but avoids most of the drawbacks of both. I am excited to give writers the opportunity to see their hard work become available to their audience without having to impose the barrier of a great deal of financial expense (which, let’s face it, writers mostly don’t have a lot of money).

Question 3: Who has read your work? Who would you like to read it?

I wrote a Y/A speculative fiction novel entitled Playing God and an anthology of fantasy poems and stories called The Tale of Alathimble Spaide and Other Such Nonsense, both with Stone Table Books, which have gained a little traction in local geek culture. Most of my published works are collected in nearly every edition of the Tabor Adelaide anthologies entitled Tales from the Upper Room or the two anthologies published by my writer’s group Literati, If They Could Talk and Something in the Blood. Those have mostly gone out to people connected in some way to family and friends of Tabor, Adelaide. I have published Morton’s Anglish Fictionary (with my own label, Immortalise) which has a small local following in and around Adelaide. I really intend for my books to be read by people who love the sorts of things I love, fantasy, sci fi, language play, adventure and a good laugh.

Question 4: Tell us something about your process. What challenges do you face? What helps you the most?

I haven’t got a solidly laid out process. I mostly start with an idea I want to explore and create characters, conflict and an environment to fit it. I only ever plan fairly loosely, but I usually have a pretty good idea where I think a story needs to end, even if I am not sure about all the steps to get there. I like watching my characters figure out how to achieve their goals. I find that I enjoy creating characters a little too much and often want to add too many of them and give them too much attention. I also like them too much to let them struggle at times. I discovered in the process of my novel that the advice I had been given about skipping a bit and telling a chapter a bit further on in the story was really good advice that I should have paid attention to earlier. Skipping ahead to a part of the story that is beyond where you’re stuck and then backfilling later is a good way to get past a blockage.

Question 5: What is your favourite Writing Craft Book and why?

I haven’t read a lot of writing craft books, and it’s hard to pick just one of the ones I have, so I’m going to cheat a bit and choose two I haven’t read. A favourite youtuber of mine has recently published a book based on the writing tips from his channel “Hello Future Me.” On Writing and Worldbuilding by Timothy Hickson is high on my agenda to read next. His tips are always well thought through and have solid and well analysed examples from quality media. I love watching his videos and always benefit from re-watching them. I also recently did typesetting for Rosanne Hawke’s Riding the Wind, which I haven't read properly yet, but I have a very good idea of the content from working on it. Rosanne has so much practical experience and such a lovely and humble way of sharing the things she has learned. She was a great teacher in person, and I value her advice a great deal.

Question 6: If you were to give a shout-out to a CWD author, writer, editor or illustrator – who would they be?

There are so many folks in CWD who are friends and have been at some time a student or a mentor to be, and it’s hard to pick one person, but I know that Wendy Noble has a third book in her wonderful Beast Speaker trilogy coming out soon. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the first two, and I hear Dragon Home is going to be a good ending for the set.

Question 7: What are your writing goals for 2018? How will you achieve them?

I am currently working on a series of spec-fic dungeonpunk-esque novellas in which a group of solo characters each go on a similar mission in the same place at the same time but with little or no actual contact with each other. I want to create the stories so each solo mission stands alone, but their plot events interact so that they each enhance the others. I am in the process of applying to Flinders to undertake a cross-discipline PhD in creative writing and theology, partly because I am fascinated by the ideas I’m exploring, but also so that I can incorporate the creation of these books into my study and unapologetically spend whole days working on them.

Question 8: How does your faith impact and shape your writing?

There are two answers to that. The first is essentially monkey-see, monkey-do. God has created me to be creative. He is a world-builder, and so am I. I am fascinated by the complexity and simplicity and interconnectedness of everything God has created, and I try in my much oversimplified way to explore what he does by doing it too. The other is that I have been created to be a communicator. I discovered fairly early in my spiritual journey that Jesus has placed in me a deep passion for that moment of realisation and understanding. I love to see it in myself, but I love even more to be the one who helps someone else to reach it. I can tell someone some truth I have learned, and it becomes knowledge they retain or forget, but if I can, through my creative work, help someone to discover a deep truth for themselves then they own it. It grows in them and forms part of who they are. That makes my heart sing.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Draft2Digital Offers Print on Demand Alternative

There have been a few shake-ups with the print-on-demand industry lately. The big changes happened around a year ago. First, GST changes prompted KDP to stop sending author copies to Australia. A little over a month later, Amazon closed Createspace and folded it into KDP Print. The conversion of titles caused a few headaches for some authors with large backlists.

As a result of these changes, a lot of Australian indie authors turned to Ingram Spark, who can not only get your book listed on Amazon, but also in the Ingram catalogue that bookstores order from. In addition, Ingram offer the option for hardcovers. And they have a factory in Australia where books can be printed locally if you want that proof copy, or a little inventory to hand sell. The main disadvantage of Ingram Spark is that they charge a fee for each manuscript upload.

A new player is arriving on the scene, which will provide a third option for consideration. I have been accepted into the BETA program for Draft2Digital’s new POD service. I’d yet to dip my toe into the world of print books, so this seemed the perfect opportunity to get started.

Draft2Digital’s print service has some good things going for it. First of all, they can distribute to the Ingram Catalogue, but they don’t charge a fee for upload. Of course, getting your book onto the catalogue is no guarantee your books will end up on the shelves of any store. But it does mean that if you approach a bookstore, you can tell them that the book is available in their usual catalogue, should they be willing to order it.

One feature I really like is the cover converter. Many cost-conscious indie authors elect to buy an ebook cover. This is a single rectangular image that represents the front cover. But print books also have a spine and a back cover. Does this mean that when you want to make a print version of your book you must go back and pay for a full print cover design? Draft2Digital have an alternative. They take your existing ebook cover and generate an appropriate spine and back to match. Clearly this won't have a fancy picture that continues from the front to the back. They’ll use a solid colour that goes with your cover artwork, add the blurb, author bio, author photo, and a place for the barcode. I think the results look great.

Draft2Digital’s print service has a wide array of options. You can choose trim size, paper colour, cover finish, all the standard settings you’d expect. You can provide your own ISBN, or Draft2Digital will provide one for free. You can also customise the orphan and widow control (how many orphaned words on the next page will cause the entire sentence to move the next page). You can elect to have all chapters start on the right-hand side, or not. You can allow the software to automatically generate the cover and the inside content, based on your eBook, or you can provide your own cover or PDF interior.

Here's a tip I've learned. If your eBook has hyperlinks in it, the automatic print conversion will add the URLs as footnotes. This makes sense. You can't click hyperlinks on a print book. But there may be times you don't want this behaviour. For example, you might have spelled out the full URL in the link text. To prevent the software from adding the footnote, you need to ensure that the URL contains the protocol identifier (http://).

I found that I had all the options I Would need, but it wasn’t immediately obvious where to find those options. The user interface wasn’t entirely intuitive to me. This is to be expected in a BETA. The process will no doubt be smoothed a little when it goes public. My biggest issue was that I was too nervous to proceed past a certain point while I was just experimenting, in case my experiment ended up published. Fortunately, Draft2Digital provide excellent support. I sent in a bunch of questions and they responded with very detailed answers, which got me back on track.

Draft2Digital give you the option to receive a proof copy to review prior to authorising the release of the book. You can also purchase author copies.

All in all, I’m quite happy with the experience of creating my first print book through Draft2Digital. Once it goes live it will provide a viable alternative to KDP Print and Ingram Spark, and will probably be my default go-to service for future projects.

You can learn more about Draft2Digital's POD service at

Adam David Collins is a speculative fiction author from Tasmania, Australia. He draws inspiration for his stories from his over-active imagination, his life experiences and his faith. Adam is a great lover of stories, enjoying them in books, movies, scripted TV and computer games. Adam discusses these, along with his monthly Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Bulletin on his youTube channel. You can find him at

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Meet Our Members: Helen Brown

Most Thursdays in 2019 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 Helen Brown

Question 1: Tells us three things about who you are and where you come from.

My parents were Salvation Army Officers until I was 10 years old. My dad then returned to his first employment love, farming. Moving around as many times as we did, means that I don’t really feel like I came from anywhere in particular. I was born in Mt Isa, North Queensland but I always felt that my roots were in Inverell, New South Wales, because both my parents spent a good part of their childhood there. This is where my parents met and fell in love. My dad’s parents lived there all their lives. Having such a rich spiritual background means that I have always known the love of God in my life and my relationship with Him as developed slowly over the years from birth to now.

Question 2: Tell us about your writing (or editing/illustrating etc).  What do you write and why?

My writing career started almost accidently, except that God doesn’t do anything by accident. I started out doing the occasional Newssheet article for our Church bulletin at the request of our minister. After about a year I realised that I could turn it into a book, that was my first book, Turning Water into Wine. These articles are where God has challenged me with something ordinary that has a spiritual lesson for me, and through my six books, others as well.

Over the last couple of years, I have been writing my first novel, but I have to say I’m not sure what God wants to do with that. It may be that it’s just a stepping stone to another venture. I have discovered that my sister is a very talented fiction writer and we, my daughter, Wendy Wood, and I are planning on releasing that one of her books on September 4th. This date is significant as it’s the anniversary of our Mother’s arrival in Heaven and it’s a way to acknowledge the importance that she had to both of us.

Question 3: Who has read your work? Who would you like to read it?

I know very few people who have read my work by name; however, I know one gentleman found that one of my stories about looking up in Turning Water into Wine, helped him while he was changing a light bulb. It doesn’t seem like a great big spiritual thing but even such small things are important to God and He can use whatever He likes for whatever purpose He deems necessary. It seems it was important enough for this man to mention it to my mother.

Who would I like to read my work, Oh, my goodness that is such a loaded question? My articles were, initially designed to encourage Christians each Sunday, and that is the main purpose of my work but it would also be great if God enabled those outside the church to at least start asking questions about their relationship with God through my books.

Question 4: Tell us something about your process. What challenges do you face? What helps you the most?

The process of writing for me is usually when I am inspired by some small incident, comment, question or when the devil has a real go at me over something I’m struggling with. So, there is usually quite a lot of prayer before and during the thinking stage. The biggest challenge I face is finding the time to write. Like most people in regional Australia we are in the middle of the biggest drought this country has seen since records started and as we live on a farm that means that I have to be a hands-on partner. The work is never ending, thankless and discouraging. You could say that most of what I write is messages to myself, reminding me of the faithfulness of God when everything looks dire.

Question 5: What is your favourite Writing Craft Book and why? 

I don’t have one, sorry.

Question 6: If you were to give a shout-out to a CWD author, writer, editor or illustrator – who would they be?

Jo’Anne Griffiths, I had the real privilege of meeting Jo some years ago while I was at a church conference in Sydney and we have been trying to make it an annual event. Sadly, neither of us could make it happen this year but we will try again next year. Jo has been a great encourager for me and edited by latest book, Still More Water into Wine. She did an amazing job and is currently looking at the first part of my novel. I’m am so grateful that God bought this wonderful woman into my circle of friends. 

Question 7: What are your writing goals for 2019? How will you achieve them?

This year I am trying to get my novel finished, as previously stated its been in the pipeline for a couple of years now, however, I’m not sure where God wants to take it yet. With the grace of God, I pray that I will be able to publish more of my sister’s stories but the year is so close to the end that I’m think we will run out of time. Yes, just blink and Christmas will be here.

Question 8: How does your faith impact and shape your writing?

My writing would not have even started without my faith, so it goes hand in hand. The challenge for me is to make sure that I am writing for the right reasons, not personal or financial. This last motivation is very difficult for me as having a second income that is not animal or drought affected is very important for us at present. There are no other jobs going around in the bush now.

Born in Mount Isa, the eldest of five children of Salvation Army officers, Helen Brown lived an almost nomadic life until she was fifteen years of age. However, she discovered books as a preteen and read a lot, well into the night and occasionally all night. Two stories that captured her imagination were “Anne of Green Gables” and Little Women”. Just like the heroines in these stories she wanted to write. A learning disability, which was not corrected until she was in her thirties, meant that schooling was a real struggle. It also meant that her dream seemed to be a distant mirage. The struggles of raising five children and being a wife to a shearer/farmer in a small town taught her a lot about life and the grace of God. During this time, she also completed her teaching degree and worked many casual jobs in order to ensure that the farm was viable. Today, she still lives on the farm in the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

The Hub at the 2019 Omega Writers Conference

By Penny Reeve, HUB Coordinator

If you’re planning to attend this year’s Omega Writers’ Conference don’t forget to make the most of the opportunities available. Not only are there going to be some fantastic Keynote Talks, Workshops and a Bookstall but there is also an incredible chance to get some professional input on your writing at The Hub!

‘What is The Hub?’ I hear you ask.

The Hub is your chance to book an appointment with a publisher, editor or other industry expert to gain feedback, suggestions and guidance on your work in progress. It can also be your chance to skip the dreaded ‘slush pile’ and pitch your manuscript to a publisher to see if they might consider it for publication.

Typically, a Hub appointment is 30 mins long.

You submit some of your work prior to conference and received personalised feedback during your session. These appointments cost $50 each. A small number of publishers also accept FREE five-minute pitches, where you see if a publisher is interested in your manuscript but you will not receive detailed feedback.

What sort of appointments are available?

This year we have a terrific variety of appointments on offer at The Hub. Whether your manuscript is polished and ready for submission, or you’re just starting out with a head full of great ideas, there’s likely to be something for you:

A Completed Manuscript

If you have a manuscript that’s submission ready we have several publishers happy to consider pitches. Publishers attending conference this year are:
  • Rochelle Manners from Wombat Books and Rhiza Edge (children’s/YA)
  • Rowena Beresford from Yellow Brick Books (children’s)
  • Mark Worthing from Stone Table Books/Morning Star (fantasy, sci-fi and Christian non-fiction)
  • Kris Argall from Acorn Press (non-fiction, general fiction, some children’s)
If you have a finished manuscript, but are not sure whether it’s ready for submission or are seeking editorial input to bring it to a higher standard an appointment with one of this year’s editors would be a great idea. Whether you’re writing romance, non-fiction, memoir or children’s books we have experienced editors able to offer constructive, personalised feedback for your work in progress. Seeing a publisher at this stage can also be helpful, especially as you consider the next step for your project.


If you’re keen to learn more about self-publishing options available, an appointment with Debbie Lee from Ingram Spark would be great value. She can offer specific advice, suggestions and know-how to get your book to print.

First Draft

If you have a rough draft or a brilliant idea you’d like some feedback on before you go any further, an appointment at the Hub can still be a good idea. Sometimes it’s worth getting some expert advice early on, before you have too many words on the page. It can also be helpful to get some detailed and specific guidance for how to best reach for your writing goals.

How do I book?

Visit The Hub information page here and read about the editors/publishers/experts available for bookings. Then go here to the Conference Registration page.
  • If you haven’t yet registered for Conference you can book your Hub tickets as part of registration.
  • If you have already registered for conference, just skip the rego sections and go straight to the Hub Ticket booking section and purchase your appointments there.

Got any questions about The Hub? Feel free to list them in the comments below and Penny Reeve (The Hub coordinator) will do her best to answer them!

Thursday, 15 August 2019

CWD Member Interview – Ruth Amos (also writing as R. J. Amos)

Most Thursdays in 2019 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 we interview Ruth Amos

Tells us three things about who you are and where you come from. 

I am the daughter of missionaries and both my grandfathers were Anglican ministers. I’ve been brought up in the church my whole life and I’m grateful for the spiritual inheritance I have.
Pretty much straight out of high school I got married and had my two wonderful children. When my youngest was one year old I began my undergraduate science degree and ended up going right through to complete a PhD in chemistry. I then worked as a lecturer and researcher for eight years. In the middle of that time I decided that what I really wanted to do was write. So I started listening to podcasts on writing, watching YouTube videos, and, of course, actually writing. I started a blog in 2016, published my first book in early 2018 and later that year I stopped working at the university and started freelancing so that I could have more time to concentrate on writing. 
I live in the most beautiful part of Australia. You don’t know where that is? It’s Tasmania, of course! I’ve lived here pretty much my whole life and I’m content to live here for the rest if that’s what God wants me to do. My house has views of Mt Wellington/kunanyi and the Derwent River. I love to walk on the beach near my home, and I love the friendships I have in my local community.

Tell us about your writing (or editing/illustrating etc).  What do you write and why?

My novels (written as R. J. Amos) are mysteries. Cosy mysteries in the style of Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers. I found when I was struggling with my work life, that cosy mysteries were a really great escape. There’s not too much tension (unlike thrillers), not too much emotion, and you know that the bad guy will be caught in the end. I lived on a steady diet of cosies for years, so when it came time to write, that was the obvious choice.
I have a series called the Deadly Miss series which are mysteries set at universities where I have worked – The University of Tasmania for the first two, and for the one I’m currently writing, The University of Sydney. I thought that people might like to see what working at a university is actually like. They say ‘write what you know’ so that’s where I started. When I was at the university my colleagues were excited about my writing and would greet me in the hallway by saying, ‘Ruth, I’ve thought of a new way for you to kill someone!’ We used to brainstorm murder methods over morning tea.
Just lately I challenged myself to write some short stories using prompts that my husband found for me on Reddit. I had no choice in the prompts and some of them were suited to mystery, but many were science fiction (So. Many. Aliens.) and a few were fantasy. They were so much fun to write that when I finish the mystery I’m working on now (the third in the Deadly Miss series) I’m thinking I might try my hand at a different genre. Just for fun.
I have also written a memoir/self-help book called ‘My Year of Saying No.’ This book is written under my Ruth Amos author name as it is much more solidly Christian and is non-fiction. 
I hope that my writing is uplifting, that it helps out others who might need a place of peace to escape to. But mostly I write because writing makes me very happy, it feels just right to do it. 

Who has read your work? Who would you like to read it?

I was very surprised when I launched my first novel in May of 2018, and my memoir a week later (it just worked out like that – crazy) to find that so many of my friends and colleagues were happy to put their money where their mouth was and buy my book. I had built a reader network without even knowing it.
The people who like my books like mysteries but don’t like gore or profanity. Many of my readers are women over 40, possibly because I fit in that demographic and I write books that I want to read. Many of my readers are in Tasmania and they enjoy seeing local landmarks in the books. I hope that my audience will continue to grow, though I’m sure the growth will be fairly slow as it seems to depend greatly on word of mouth. I’m hoping that as people from the rest of Australia and the world read my little mysteries they will be tempted to come down to Tasmania and see if it’s as beautiful as I say it is.

Tell us something about your process. What challenges do you face? What helps you the most?

Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I write first thing. We have one child still at home but he’s a uni student now so I don’t need to worry about getting him ready for school or anything. So once my husband has left for work, I head down to my office and fire up my computer. I find that using Scrivener helps me fall into the story a little easier as I don’t use that software for any other type of work or writing. I write for an hour or so and then get on with my other jobs – I work as an academic editor for my ‘day job’. 
On Tuesdays I don’t write first-thing, because in the afternoons I run a writing session at a local church. We open up the hall and people bring their own projects, we write for about two hours. On Thursdays I do a similar thing at a local café. I’m always there for the set two hours, and others join me as they can.
I think my biggest challenge in my writing is ‘show don’t tell’ I am always ‘telling’, and then I go back over and rewrite so that I can ‘show’ instead. 
The thing that helps me the most is my outline. It’s a very brief outline – just a list of scenes – and it’s by no means comprehensive. But if I have a scene to write, then I know where I’m starting, and I can just sit down and write. I tried ‘discovery writing’ (pantsing) once, and I found I didn’t get to the writing because I didn’t feel like I had enough energy to decide what to write. I would procrastinate like crazy. An outline works for me like a writing prompt, it gets me going. And once I’m going, I find it easy to continue.

What is your favourite Writing Craft Book and why? 

The Art of Slow Writing by Louise De Salvo. She suggests keeping a writing journal and I have found that very, very helpful. Before each session I write a few words about how I feel about the writing, and what I’m trying to do. After the session I write about how I think it went. I also jot down questions in my writing journal about plot or character or whatever is on my mind at the time. It’s helpful to go through the journal after I think I’ve finished a book and make sure that I’ve answered all of my own questions. 

If you were to give a shout-out to a CWD author, writer, editor or illustrator – who would they be?

Megan Sayer is a writer who has been very helpful to me. Especially when I was just starting out. She read my very first draft and kindly but firmly told me what was wrong with it. And there was so much wrong with it. Four drafts later I had a book I was happy to publish. I’m not sure I could have done it without her. She’s a brilliant writer and her blogs are both amusing and insightful. 

What are your writing goals for 2019? How will you achieve them?

So far this year, I have published a book of short stories, I’m about to publish a stand-alone novel – Small Town Trouble – and I hope to finish the third book in the Deadly Miss series. 
On the non-fiction side I want to publish a book of transcripts from my podcast (A Quiet Life), which is stories of people living their faith in their daily lives. I’ve interviewed all sorts of people, from school teachers to people working in prison ministry. Their stories are inspirational and I’m sharing them however I can.
I’m achieving these goals by attaching the seat of my pants to the seat of my chair and putting the work in each day. There’s so much that interrupts the writing and it’s easy to get discouraged, so I’m trying to keep my goals clear and keep a record of what I accomplish each day, so I don’t lose heart. I’m finding right now that fun animal stickers that say, ‘good job’ and ‘excellent work’ are helping me keep going. I stick them in my daily planner once I’ve ticked off all my jobs for the day.

How does your faith impact and shape your writing?

On the non-fiction side that’s easy. In my blog, podcast, and memoir I’m writing to Christians, encouraging them to live their lives for Jesus. 
On the fiction side I’m hoping that my work shows enough excellence that people of all walks of life want to read it. My main character goes to church, and she models care for others. I also have tried to portray a good marriage relationship – not a marriage that is full of distrust and infidelity, but a marriage where the partners work to overcome conflict and actually talk with each other. So I don’t necessarily write ‘Christian Fiction’ but more fiction that is informed by my faith and hopefully waters the seed that has been planted and brings people a little closer to the Lord.
In everything I write, I want God to get the glory. 

R. J. Amos is the author of the Deadly Miss series. She left her academic career in chemistry behind in 2018, choosing to concentrate instead on writing novels. She loves to walk on the beach with her husband, read cosy mysteries in front of the fire, eat chocolate, and drink coffee (though it’s mostly decaf these days). She has two grown-up kids and she lives in Tasmania — the best place in God’s good earth.

Her websites are and 

Monday, 12 August 2019

Ready, Willing and AGENCY

In my work with young people discussions have arisen over the years of the importance of empowerment to help create positive solutions for their future. Recently a useful tenet has been raised about the necessity of “agency” to be afforded to the young people we engage with. Giving agency means the instilling of hope and a sense of purpose, meaning and belonging in their worlds. Giving agency to the characters in our stories helps our narratives have a deeper meaning as well. 

Sociologists (1) suggest that people experience agency in the context of actions oriented to the past, future and the present. The ‘past’ or “iterational” aspect of agency refers to how a person can selectively reactivate actions based on understanding from actions and thoughts from the past. This may include how people have actions in response to typical situations that help them sustain their interactions, identities and institutions over time. An example of this in our storytelling may be how a character we have created may be able to face and resolve circumstances at the end of their character arc simply because they have experienced other similar situations earlier in their story. 
The ‘future’ or “projective” aspect includes how a person purposefully creates potential future. A character in our storytelling may dream, visualise, imagine, or self-talk about possible future trajectories of action connected to their fears, desires, and hope for the future.
The ‘present’ aspect of agency is the “practical-evaluative element”. It includes the capacity of people to make judgements and chose actions in response to a situation, demand or context. Characters we have developed need to be described with a reasonable ability to reason, have a will, and be shown to be able to function in the variable telling of their stories.

An example of agency from my work as a Chaplain helps explain this:
“James” was a student who was dropping out of school in year 10, experimenting with substance abuse, and had a horrific background.  In a letter at the end of his schooling he related how the first session of meeting with me as his chaplain was enough for him to put aside the plans he had made to seriously harm himself. How this happened was through him regaining a sense of agency (or Hope) in what seemed a hopeless situation. We talked about how little successes from his past could help his future. We talked about the things he could practically action. He also came to recognise that he had people supporting him and to simply be there for him.  James was not only helped though chaplaincy to get the support he needed he was empowered to help himself. James also joined a team helping other students and raised his own support to go on a Humanitarian project overseas helping others.

Empowering Agency in others changes the lives of those being supported, who in turn go on to help change the lives of others as well. A bit of a secret about empowering agency in my chaplaincy  interactions is that it is not about having to “fix” the students I work with, but it means I am there to simply be a role-model that asks good questions that empower the students to design solutions for themselves.  We do well to create the same type of environment and opportunities for our characters. For a student like James living without agency, your friends insist on you making bad decisions, the situation you are in seems hopeless, then you either cope or don't with the situation you've been put in. With agency, you get to work out what you want to do, then make a decision, then deal with the results of that decision. Agency linked with positive influences and empowerment helps design constructive futures. 

The very same thing that agency means in real life, should be afforded to characters in our stories. Giving a character the opportunity to make decisions about what happens to them, rather than imposing a set of circumstances upon them and forcing them to react. When you give a character 'agency' you are also instilling in them the power to fulfill their destiny. Agency is self-determination. Characters can be an 'agent' of their own will. Giving agency means making sure a character has the ability to make choices that drive the story. The options a character has will depend on their history, skills, background, experience, status, training, etc. which are all great options to help embellish a narrative and to  craft a deeper storyline. You want a character that can take action and not just be acted upon. Agency gives characters the ability to make choices. A character’s personality is revealed by their choices, not just by surface elements. What a character chooses when faced with a decision tells you who that character is. This is real, like life. It helps readers want to engage at a deeper level with a narrative. Agency also helps make it all flow. A story is more engaging, an adventure is more fun and a narrative more believable if the protagonist has options and reasons and the actions have consequences, and you help show all of this process.

A well-crafted story that gives agency to characters motivates the reader to lean in, read on and want more. It is engaging. More than this it could empower, equip, and get people mobilised. Agency turns your characters into ambassadors, it empowers protagonists to follow their dreams, sort out problems, and make a difference. A character who is relentless about getting it right, when everything else is not gives a sense of agency. Agency gives individuals in our narratives a will and a reason to want to leave a legacy.
All this ignites a mobilisation faithfulness in your readers, because it’s about inspiration, hope, meaning and purpose.

Are you ready and willing to give agency? Let me inspire you: Go and be an empowerer 😊


(1)    Emirbayer, M. and Mische, A.  (1998). "What Is Agency?". American Journal of Sociology. 103 (4): 962–1023.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

CWD Member Interview – Nikki Rogers

Most Thursdays in 2019 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 interview: Nikki Rogers

Question 1: Tells us three things about who you are and where you come from. 

I’m a mother, teacher, Jesus-follower and author/illustrator of Created To Be children’s books. I currently live on the Gold Coast with my husband, two children, and four bantam chickens.

Question 2: Tell us about your writing (or editing/illustrating etc).  What do you write and why? 

I have written and illustrated 7 inspirational children’s books so far. I originally started writing books for my own children to help them understand valuable life lessons, encourage them with the truths that they are unique and inspire them to be all they were created to be. I now hope to inspire children all over the world with these messages and maybe even remind some adults to shine the beauty within. You can find my books at

Question 3: Who has read your work? Who would you like to read it?

Many people have read my work. My books have been used as resources in schools and given as gifts to many children around the world. However, I would love every child to read my books; they may be just what kids need to hear.

Question 4: Tell us something about your process. What challenges do you face? What helps you the most?

My biggest challenge is marketing. I believe that my books were God-inspired and will be a blessing to many, but I struggle to promote my books and charge for them. I also often have my doubts about my ability, that I’m not qualified, and my books aren’t professional enough. 

To overcome these doubts, fears and challenges, I find it helpful to look over the many positive reviews I’ve received from people who have really appreciated my books and remind myself that God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called.

Question 5: What is your favourite Writing Craft Book and why? 

I don’t know.

Question 6: If you were to give a shout-out to a CWD author, writer, editor or illustrator – who would they be?

Naomi Eccles-Smith is an incredible storyteller, gifted illustrator and author of the Dragon Calling Series. Her books and illustrations are amazing!

Question 7: What are your writing goals for 2018? How will you achieve them?

I would love to get my books into the hands of more children and families, renew my passion for why I do what I do and start on a new book that has been on my heart for a while. I hope to achieve this by doing more author talks, gifting books to foster families and surrounding myself with people who encourage me and help me stay focussed.

Question 8: How does your faith impact and shape your writing?

It is in Christ we find out who we are and what we are living for. I feel a great sense of responsibility to be a good steward of what God has given me and I want to bring Him glory through my writing.
The main thing I want people to know is this: You aren’t here by chance. You are not an accident. You were created in the image of God and He is for you. He has amazing plans for you. Go and be all that you were created to be!

Monday, 5 August 2019

Exploring Genre: Fairy Tale Retellings

by Amanda Deed & Jeanette O'Hagan

The remake of the Lion King is currently screening in the cinemas, while the casting for the new Little Mermaid is causing a small furore on the interweb. Hollywood is addicted to remakes and retellings of old classic tales (how many times can you redo Robin Hood?) - and the literary world isn't that far behind with countless retellings of Pride and Prejudice or the other Austen books, or the many Shakespearean Plays.

What is a retelling and why do need another one?

In a retelling an old and usually popular story is 'retold' or adapted to a new audience - perhaps in a new media, or with changes in focus or settings. Fractured retellings give a new twist to the old tale (for instance, Jack and the Beanstalk from the giant's perspective). While they can be overdone or done badly, retellings breath fresh life into old stories for new generations of readers (and viewers).  Sometimes they steer close to the original. In other cases the correspondences are much looser. The best retellings show us something new while breathing the soul of the original tale.

Fairy tale retellings are a sub-set of retellings - they adapt classic fairy tales and present them in a multitude of different ways. Examples abound. Just about every classic Disney movie is a fairy tale retelling. In the general market we haave Kate Forsyth's books, for instance, Bitter Greens, which retells the Rapunzel story against the backdrop of seventeenth century France and sixteenth century Venice. Jane Yolen's Briar Rose uses extermination camps of Nazi germany as the gripping setting for her retelling of Sleeping Beauty. While Marissa Meyer in the Lunar Chronicles intertwines retellings of Cinderella (Cinder), Little Red Riding Hood (Scarlet), Rapunzel (Cress) and Snow White (Winter) in a gripping four book epic sci-fi with a cyberpunk setting.

Then there are the Charming books by Kristine Grayson (aka Kathryn Kristen Rusch) are based on fairytale characters living in our world e.g. Rapunzel, Bluebeard, and Prince Charming (after his divorce from Cinderella). The books are clean romance and are more fairy tale extensions than retellings.

Amanda Deed's Retellings

Australian Christian author, Amanda Deed has recently released some fairy tale retellings set in colonial (nineteenth century) Australia. She is working on a third. This is what Amanda says:

"I must make a confession. I love fairy tales. I love happy-ever-afters, and all the magic that goes with them. I love princes and princesses and true love. Nothing appeals to my romance-loving heart more. Something within me says “this is how it’s meant to be” even if the reality of our world looks a lot different. Eternal optimist? Maybe.

Anyway, my favourite fairy tales on the screen are Beauty and the Beast (Disney), Cinderella (the Ever After version), and now Rapunzel (the Tangled version).

Several years ago I began to grow some ideas to write some of these fairy tales, twisting them a little to fit with my usual genre – historical romance in an Australian setting. And so, Unnoticed (Cinderella) and Unhinged (Beauty and the Beast) came into being.

For me, usually, an idea for a novel comes along with a theme. For Unnoticed, it was essentially about self-esteem. A lovely girl who suffers rejection so much she believes she is worthless, and how that self-belief has to be turned around. So many teenage girls suffer these issues and need to know how precious they really are, so I wanted to put this culturally relevant theme into an age-old fairy tale. For Unhinged, mental health weighed heavily, again an issue that is prevalent in our society but is also as old as time. What if the beast wasn’t an animal transformation, or a physical defect, but what if mental illness made him ‘beastly’? And how does one learn to really love a beast?

Both of these novels were close to home. I have my own story of self-esteem struggles as a teen that I drew from, and there are several people in my life who live with mental illness that also helped give insight to these situations. All that was left was the challenge of making an interesting story that could shine light on these issues and bring hope to people. Hopefully I have done them justice!

Currently, I am working on a third fairy tale, a Rapunzel story, tentatively called Unravelled. This one will be about true freedom. Olivia is a teen convict in Van Diemen’s Land, both longing for and afraid of freedom at the same time. Can you be free even while locked in a prison? Sometimes circumstances can feel like prison walls, but there is a freedom that surpasses every situation."

Christian Retellings

Thanks, Amanda. I've read Unnoticed and loved the intertwining of Cinderella themes in a unique Australian setting and I appreciated the strong themes of God's love throughout the story. Unhinged is sitting at the top of my To-Be-Read pile.

A few Australian Christian authors have ventured into this fertile field.  Melissa Gijsbers has been part of a story in the fractured fairy tell retellings Teapot Tales: A Collection of Unusual Fairy Tales.  Charis Joy Jackson has written a wonderful fantasy and allegorical retelling of beauty and the beast in Rose of Admirias. I had fun with a flash fiction based on Blue Beard with a twist at the end.

Popular American Christian author, Melanie Dickerson, has written several historical fairy tale retellings set in mostly in Europe and with strong Christian themes, such as The Healer's Apprentice (Sleeping Beauty), The Merchant's Daughter (Beauty and the Beast), The Fairest Beauty (Snow White), etc.

Biblical stories can also be retold. A genre we covered earlier here.

Writing Retellings

Often an exact replica can be lifeless.

  • In a good retelling, the writer captures the essence of the story with creative insertion of recognisable and pertinent details (the glass slipper or the poisoned apple). 
  • The transformation/transmutation to a new setting and props feels a natural fit, rather than forced. (I once attended a performance of the Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor at Windsor, Brisbane and with costume, props and stages sets all from1960s Australia and it worked brilliantly.) 
  • The reteller needs to make creative choices about what to include, what to transmute and what to leave out. (For example, including the slipper for Cinderella but leaving out the stepsisters chopping off their toes to fit in the earliest versions.)
  • Retellings of more recent classics may run into copyright issues and permissions (with satire as a possible exception). Fairy tales, Jane Austen novels and Shakespeare plays are popular choices for retellings not only because they are classic stories that resonate down the years, but also because they are in the public domain.
Jeanette O'Hagan

Have you written /attempted a retelling? Have you read any? Which are your favourites and why?

Amanda Deed is an award-wining author residing in Melbourne with her husband (AKA Mr Funny Man), her three zany teens, three cockatiels, three budgies, three bunnies and an elderly hound called Princess. Outside of her family, her life revolves around words and numbers (writing and accounting) with a splash of music here and there.

Her first novel, The Game, won the 2010 CALEB Prize for Fiction, and she has since had several novels final in the same prize. Amanda loves to write about her favourite things: her faith, Australia, romance and Australian history. As such, her novels explore themes involving spiritual convictions, relationships and historical events.

For more information, go to