Thursday, 30 July 2020

CWD Member Interview – James Cooper

Most Thursdays this year 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.

Todays interview: James Cooper

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

  1. I was born in Tanzania, the youngest of four boys, and grew up in Australia being read to by my parents.
  2. I’ve been married 20 years and have two sons.
  3. I live in the Adelaide Hills and more than anything love the sound of birdsong in the morning.

(That’s more than 3 things, isn’t it? We writers are sneaky blighters!)

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

When I was a teacher at Amata Anangu School in the early 2000s, we ran an English literacy program called Accelerated Literacy. It involved a close reading approach to some classic children’s literature, culminating in a scaffolded approach to story writing. I loved it as an approach to teaching, but it also helped me realise that great writers are ordinary human beings just like me, only who’ve taken time to study how language can be used to communicate images and emotion and to craft a compelling narrative. I remember thinking, ‘I’d love to do that!’ 

When I became a father, I discovered the joy of bedtime reading from the other side of the parent-child equation. I realised then how much my own imagination and sensibilities had been formed by that special time with my own parents and I started to play around with some picture book ideas.

But it was dabbling in poetry that got me seriously into writing, after reading a review of Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled in a dentist’s waiting room. I ordered a copy and devoured it. I did all the exercises and learned more about poetry from that one book than I’d ever learned at school. I also started penning children’s stories – anything to keep me from the academic journal articles I was supposed to be writing! (I was an Educational researcher then, living in Dawrin).

But I prefer to read literary fiction, and that’s what I’m drawn to writing most of all. I’ve only ever finished one novel, which was shortlisted for the Text Prize some years ago but still hasn’t found a loving home – several publishers have told me they think it’s really well written, before cordially declining to publish it. So I’m no stranger to rejection, which I hope makes me a better teacher! 

I started off as a schoolteacher, working in the UK and then on the APY Lands in the far north-west of SA. I made the transition to tertiary education by studying Creative Writing at Tabor College in Adelaide, where I now serve as Program Coordinator – I sort of dug in and refused to leave! But I love teaching almost as much as writing, so even though it takes up most of my time I’m not bothered. 

I’ve also been involved with Stories of Life since it began a few years ago now, co-editing all but one anthology and contributing a few stories along the way. I’ve had a few short stories published too along the way. All the while I find myself returning to poetry again and again – I must be a perennial poet!

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

I’ve no idea really. Some journal editors, I guess. Students, friends, fellow-writers. It’d be great to have a wider, less familiar audience – I don’t care who just so long as they find what I’ve written worth their time (and that’s my main concern).

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

Piecemeal – that’s the word. I tell myself that’s because I’ve got so many other commitments, but I suspect if I won the lottery and devoted myself to writing full time I’d still proceed in fits and starts. I hate to begin something and not finish, so I’m reluctant to get started, knowing the effort it’ll take (I’m such a lazy sod). But once I’m in I’m away. 

I like to have a clear opening scene before starting a story, and need to be two or three steps ahead in my own imagination before I can happily sit down to write. That means lots of time spent sitting staring into space (just ask my wife), or taking long walks and generally being alone. It may look like I’m doing nothing, but beneath the surface I’m eves-dropping, talking with characters or walking a mile in their shoes.

Apart from time and commitment, I can get hamstrung by my own perfectionism. I’m getting better with this, learning to play around a little more on the page to see what surfaces of its own accord. Reading helps fuel my imagination and inspire me to keep moving. When I get stuck with a story, I find switching from keyboard to notebook and pen really helps – I’ll take a walk and sit under a tree, open the notebook and simply start writing: not in an attempt to pick up where I left off, but rather I write about the characters and their situation as it stands, in a more abstract, analytical manner… then before I know it, I’ll usually find a crack of light telling of a passage through to the next phase of the story. I usually find I’ve got a few useful lines out of the process as well.

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

I’ve mentioned Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled – for poetry that’s a winner. I love and highly recommend Mark Treddinick’s Little Red Writing Book. Even though it’s not chiefly about fiction, I find his passion for language infectious and his advice for avoiding clutter absolutely spot on. I learned a lot about writing from my former teacher and colleague Mark Worthing, whose original lecture notes are now a textbook: The Sacred Life of Words. This semester I’m using Janet Burroway’s Writing Fiction for the prose class I’m teaching and it’s really insightful too.

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

That’s really hard; I know some of them as former students at Tabor, others as members of my writing group and others having simply met at conferences and elsewhere. I never cease to be amazed by Nola Passmore’s industrious approach and creative output – I have fond memories of working with her in my Poetry class and could tell then just how creative and insightful she was. So, yeah, a big shout out to Nola from ‘The Write Flourish’ (and be sure to check out her many short stories)!

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

To start another novel. I’ll probably procrastinate effectively by writing a short story instead. But I’d be happy with that  

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

I’m such a judgmental person, so I’m thankful for the way in which writing (and reading) brings that to my attention and makes me examine my conscience and curtail the tendency to categorise, shun or disregard others. In that sense, writing probably does more to shape my faith than the other way around. But I suppose it must have some bearing…

Writing teaches me to pause. To pay attention and to reflect, because nothing is insignificant. That’s all of a piece with my Christian belief that God is at work in and through creation, from the depths of the ocean to the highest heavens. One of my favourite writers, Flannery O’Connor, says that without belief in the eternal soul there is very little drama. In other words, a Christian account of the origin and worth of every human life makes for the highest possible drama – because ultimately everything is at stake and almost anything can make a difference to the outcome. 

That the way out of our fallen condition must come (and has come) from without, yet through the very conditions of our earthly and creaturely status, is also important here. Emmanuel – God with us, in Christ and through the Church most importantly, but also through my neighbor, my enemy, every stroke of good or ill fortune and every signpost in nature. God’s grace abounds in all things – nothing is insignificant. 

Not only is that compelling theology, it’s the best advice for writers: every paragraph, every line, every word should be there for a reason. O’Connor (again) says, “A short story is a way of saying something that can’t be said in any other way. And it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is.” I think it’s the same in life: I can’t adequately summarise God’s purpose in creation, but I know there is purpose in it, top to bottom, and that every thing and every event forms part of the explanation. I’d like my writing to reflect that idea somehow.

James Cooper is Head of Creative Writing & Communication at Tabor College. He has written and published numerous poems and short stories in journals and anthologies, locally and overseas. He is a founding member of Stories of Life as well as inScribe Journal. When he isn’t teaching, editing, or working on his next poem or short story, he continues the search for a home for his first novel, The Thing About Alaska. James lives in the Adelaide Hills with his wife of 20 years, Claire, and their two sons, Jacob and Hamish.

Monday, 27 July 2020

How to answer the biggest question writers get asked ...

If you're a writer reading this, you've probably been asked this question as many times as I have.

What do you write?

It's a question that writers get asked because it's a way of connecting with our art; with our ability. It's a way to pigeon-hole what we do and get a sense of who we're like, helping others to understand what we put on the page. It's a way of picturing what we do as an output.

Over the years I've found that people's engagement with that question - outside of the infuriatingly common 'I'm going to write a book one day' - depends on my answer. If I answer by genre, the conversation is short. "You write contemporary? Great! <cue silence>" That's also taking into consideration that I don't really have a clear genre. My novels are set in contemporary society, but with an edge of magical realism. They're kind-of contemporary, and kind-of speculative, but not fully either. That shows in the award nominations I've received in the past two years in the USA - they're across a range of categories.

I've also answered that question by the style of my work. I did that for a while - saying that I wrote short(ish) novels. Or I write modern-day parables, which are essentially what The Baggage Handler, The Camera Never Lies and Where the Road Bends are.

But how do you get people interested in what you write, particularly if you're a Christian writer with a message to share? I've now changed how I answer that question, and it's based on a deeper question than 'why do you write?' That question I delve into is WHY I write.

So now when people ask what I write, I respond with something a bit deeper: "I write stories that help people look a little deeper into life." Or "I write stories that ask questions about the reader's life." That's opened up a whole new way of talking about my novels, and it also gets to the heart of what I consider my ministry as a Christian writer. Now a conversation will go:

"What do you write, David?"

"I write stories that help people look a little deeper into life."

"Oh ... what do you mean by that?"

"Well, The Baggage Handler is about three people forced to face the baggage they didn't know they were carrying ..."

And then a conversation breaks out about dealing with ... stuff. The person on the other end of the conversation almost always talks about the baggage a friend of theirs is carrying ... and we're having a deep conversation. It's a way to introduce the values I write about without being pigeon-holed - especially by those who don't respect Christian fiction. (And in my experience that is more common  from those inside the church, which I find sad).

So how do you answer that question of what you write? What answer could you give that opens up all sorts of conversations about the work that you bring to the world?

About David Rawlings

David Rawlings is an award-winning author based in South Australia. His first novel, The Baggage Handler, published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, was named best debut Christian novel of 2019 in the Christy Awards. He writes modern-day parables that combine the everyday with a sense of the speculative, addressing the fundamental questions we all face. His third novel - Where the Road Bends - is now out. 

You can find David at:

Thursday, 16 July 2020

CWD Member Interview - Heather Margaret Jephcott

Most Thursdays this year 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: Heather Margaret Jephcott

Question 1: Tells us three things about who you are and where you come from. 
I am a poet, an artist and a musician….plus a lot, lot more. I come from Ringwood, Melbourne, Australia and for most of the last 32 years have been living in Surabaya, Indonesia. 

Question 2: Tell us about your writing (or editing/illustrating etc).  What do you write and why?
I published a poetry book called “Open Hearts, Quiet Streams” in 2013 and am hoping to publish another poetry booklet - a dual language one, this year that I actually prepared 2 years ago. 

Question 3: Who has read your work? Who would you like to read it? 
Anyone who has my book plus my fb friends. Also, I put videos of my reading of my poetry on Instagram. These readings get more views than any other place (I suspect). I would like everyone to read my poetry that reads English and/or Indonesian and wants to feel the beauty of God’s world and love. 

Question 4: Tell us something about your process. What challenges do you face? What helps you the most?
I began writing poetry seriously as a reaction to another poet’s poetry which I thought was fantastic but dark. I wanted to see if I could write poetry that gave light and beauty and that would be read across the socio-religious categories. 

Question 5: What is your favourite Writing Craft Book and why? 
What an interesting question! I do not have a specific favourite Writing Craft Book. I have been an English teacher. Actually, come to think of it, I still am. I have learned how to write from reading and teaching how to write and have been an avid reader and especially of Victorian literature. Also, I have found Writers and Readers Conferences invaluable. 

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

Question 7: What are your writing goals for this year? How will you achieve them?
Ah….let me think about this question. This has been such an extraordinary year BUT I do have one goal that looks like it is coming into being and there is a master hand behind this, and not me. It is the publishing of an Indonesian/English Poetry Book. The publisher I used before went out of business but it appears at the moment that the Organisation we work with, the Indonesian part of it, is publishing and so we are in contact. 

Question 8: How does your faith impact and shape your writing?
I write out of my ruminations on the Word Of God, especially in the morning and also out of life as a follower of Jesus. I write for the specific context I am living in here in Indonesia but people throughout the world still appreciate what I write because truly, the Bible and life are what inspires me.

Monday, 13 July 2020

Woke or Awake? by Ruth Bonetti

Articulate wordsmiths beware!

Fellow writers do you quake in the new religion of righteous cancel culture? 
No book, statue or film is safe, even if it depicts those who fought against injustices like slave trading. 

The new religion of righteous cancel culture revolution insists "citizens who may have committed no crime and oppressed no one, feel obliged to get down on their knees in a gesture of supplication to persons unspecified." Thus Peter Baldwin sums up The race to tear down reason in The Weekend Australian  "The rise of a new cultural revelation threatens to destroy history itself."

History reveals disturbing parallels; the fall of the Roman Empire into Dark Ages; last century’s Nazi book-burning; writers, artists, intellectuals, linguists, decimated by Stalin and Mao. Today they are cancelled. In this hyper sensitive age do others feel uneasy, stifled, neutered? 

Johann Sebastian Bach: His Life In Pictures And Documents: Fischer ...Dead white males – of merit

"The evil that men do lives after them; the good is often interred with their bones." (Shakespeare) 
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." (George Santayana.)


What place in academia that chooses Confucious Institutes over Ramsay?
What place in my next manuscript for a "racist" 1959 letter quotation? 

My landlord grandfather checked a house rented to "an ants’ nest Chinese Den…Chinese heads bobbed up everywhere in every door…I don’t know whether you can complain about them or say anything nasty about them. If you did it with your eyes open we cannot blame them.” 

In 1903 he worked with Hindus "and in a friendly way I asked one how it is they can live in such an awful smell. He just shook his head and said, our smell is not as bad as your smell is to our countrymen…I think this should be our first starting point without casting any judgment." Edit out?

How can we shine light in this new Dark Age?

Awake, calls the voice to us of the watchmen high up in the tower;
Midnight the hour is named; they call to us with bright voices;
where are you, wise virgins?
Indeed, the Bridegroom comes;
rise up and take your lamps,

Johan Sebastian Bach told of the wise virgins in his cantata Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme. 

I wait with burning oil.
Zion hears the watchmen sing,
her heart leaps for joy within her,
she wakens and hastily arises...

Bach faced criticism, rejection – as we do

"The music is too showy. Some of our members even think it is sinful. Music should be simple so that it draws attention to God, not to the music or the performers."
Imagine Bach drawing a deep breath before defending his music:
"The main purpose of my music is to glorify God. Some people do this with music that is simple. I haven't chosen to use a simple style, but my music comes from my heart as a humble offering to God. This honours God no matter what musical style I use."
"I play the notes but it is God who makes the music."
Rejected by ecclesiastical employers, Bach's secular one gave him the freedom to write as he was inspired. After Bach died in 1750, his "fuddy-duddy" (white male?) music was forgotten for 80 years. In 1829, another God-driven composer Felix Mendelssohn revived his St. Matthew Passion. 

Cure Writers' Block

Bach wrote prayers at the beginning and end of his manuscripts: at the top JJ, an abbreviation for “Jesu Juva,” which translated means, "Jesus, help me."
Then the music began to pour from his soul and onto the page. When he was finished and satisfied, he wrote the letters SDG at the bottom of the page - Soli Deo Gloria - For the Glory of God Alone.

RUTH BONETTI is grateful for Bach's example as she writes Part 3 of her award-winning Midnight Sun to Southern Cross saga, St Lucia and the Art Deco Mansion–What drove the man who built it? Due for October release, it tells further Journeys of her Grandfather.  

Thursday, 9 July 2020

CWD Member Interview – Elizabeth Tai aka Tai Weiland

Most Thursdays this year 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.

Todays interview Elizabeth Tai (who also writes fiction as Tai Weiland)

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

I am Malaysian but lived in Adelaide for about 3 years before returning to Malaysia. I was a journalist for 15 over years for Malaysia’s biggest English daily, The Star. I’m an avid gardener who dreams of having her own urban homestead one day where I can organise writing retreats. 

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

I write across many genres.
I currently write non-fiction as Elizabeth Tai and science fiction (space opera adventures) as Tai Weiland. I decided to use a pen name for my fiction because I spent many years building a career as a journalist and non-fiction writer as Elizabeth Tai. I’m also a personal finance blogger in real life, so it’s helpful to have a totally separate brand to write under. I also came up with a pen name because, in the past, I preferred to be more “under the radar” with my fiction. Now I wondered if I should’ve just written under one name because having two pen names is like managing two companies!
Tai Weiland is currently working on the space opera series, Distant Stars. I’ve always wanted to create a universe that I can write endless stories from, and this was my way of doing that! My first novel was conceptualised in 2013, during Nanowrimo.
The first book, a novella, is a prequel to the series - Heretics of Thran. The second is Book 1 - Shadows of Corinar. I’m editing the second book of the series, Nexus Point and hope to publish it by September. You can find out more about Tai Weiland at

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

The whole of Malaysia has read my articles as Elizabeth Tai the journalist, I suppose, but not many people know me as Tai Weiland. That’s because I’ve not gone all out to promote her. I plan to only do that once I’ve uploaded the second book of my science fiction series, Nexus Point.

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

I am a semi-planner. I would have a certain vague framework for my novel and it’s off to the races I go.
Just kidding.
I notice that I need to be able to imagine a scene in my head before I could write the words. I have to be able to connect with my characters emotionally before I get fired up. When the details of the scene and the emotions of the characters connect, I can write really fast. I can complete a novella in a month - but that’s if I have a good idea of what I want to write.
But in general, I get  frustrated at the pace I come up with ideas. My life is so full that I don’t have enough “dreaming” time to come up with the plots of my books. And since my career involves producing words as well, a lot of my creative energy is used up by the day job. 
 I’m also currently in the midst of changing careers and it takes a lot out of me. I spend so much of my time learning about my new career job and industry that it leaves leaves me little time or energy to spend on my books. A lot of times I feel as if I have to choose between my books and my career, and it’s never an easy decision.
If I had one wish, I wish I could stop time so I can just finish all my books and then hit publish!

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

Ooh, this is like asking me to choose a favourite child! I’d say of all the books I’ve read, Editor-Proof Your Writing by Don McNair has brought my fiction writing and editing to the next level.

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

I’d like to give a shoutout to Sue Jeffrey who has been my steadfast friend, counsellor, agony aunt and prayer partner! (She’s also an author, writer, editor and illustrator in one package!) She was a literal answer to prayer. When I came to Adelaide in 2012 and started my writing adventure, I asked God for a writing friend, and boy did He deliver! We met during Nanowrimo when Sue and her husband Marc decided to pop in at a Glenelg cafe for a write-in I organised. In the end, we ended up talking more than writing. In fact, we’ve not stopped talking and I’m ever so grateful for her friendship.

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

Two main goals: 

  1. Finish the second book of my series  
  2. Lay down a solid foundation for my author business. Meaning, I want to set up my mailing list, tidy up my website, set up my reader magnet and finally do some book promotion - all that jazz. I would also like to start connecting with fellow authors.

The last 2 years has been very tumultous for me, career wise, and it was hard for me to focus on my authorpreneur business. Fortunately, I came across Mark Dawson’s Self Publishing 101 course - I’m using it as a blueprint to accomplish goal #2.

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

I’m still working on this, to be honest. 
I’ve always been a truthteller. I once wrote a fairly popular Christian blog called “Messy Christian”, and many readers tell me they liked my blog because I was honest. I was the kind of person who called out injustice, even if the person I’m highlighting is a well-known Christian figure. I asked difficult questions and poked a lot of rigid mindsets.
But with fiction, the journey has been a little challenging. In my early years I felt really, really constricted by the need to adhere to certain “rules” in writing fiction. I thought a Christians can only write Christian fiction, and that we shouldn’t show violence or even sex. So I felt a lot of guilt when I write fiction and try to “hide” that part of me from God. I kept thinking that God would be mad at the fiction I want to write! I think that’s why I write under so many pseudonyms - on some strange level, I didn’t want people (and God!) to know I was writing them!
But eventually my understanding of faith and my writing evolved, and I realise that I can communicate the truth and the values of the gospel in a unique way via my fiction, even if I had sex and violence in them. 
In fact, my science fiction stories has a faith component in it. It always disturbed me that science fiction worlds are often atheistic, as if that’s the pinnacle of progress. Faith is very much present in my worlds, and God takes an active part. The message of my stories is this: You may have all the technology and wonderful science, but you will still need God to truly be complete.

Monday, 6 July 2020

Daring Risk

Recently countless people around the world mourned the passing of Ravi Zacharias, Christian apologist and founder of RZIM. When I heard this news, I thought how much poorer humanity was for this loss. I was equally moved by the extraordinary legacy he left, fuelled by his heart to respectfully and compassionately seek out the questioner behind each question: helping the believer think and the thinker believe.

The start of his legacy can be traced to a step of faith and obedience when, as a seventeen-year-old, God met him on a bed of suicide. He vowed to leave no stone unturned in his pursuit of truth. In hindsight we see an extraordinary life, but as he began stepping out in the early years of his journey, I expect he faced many obstacles. His obedience to the call of God on his life may have been seen as risky, for the potential cost it could incur.
Photo Credit Elijah Hiett @elijahhiett- Unsplash
The more I reflect on this, it seems risk is often a companion of obedience, and obedience to God (with all its risks) a companion of legacy: Dare we trust His version of our lives over our own?

As Christian writers, our lives encompass much more than our writing journeys, but in the writing context I believe the coupling of risk and obedience can be evident as we dare to write truth in a culture that is aggressively post-truth.

Whatever genre, I suspect many of us can recall a moment we’ve felt the risk of writing what the Holy Spirit’s laid upon our hearts. It may not have been hot sweats and clammy palms (although it could have been that too), but I’m sure you’re familiar with that tussle of “dare I?”.

It could be an open reference to faith in your general market novel. It could be cutting that risqué scene that would make your story “edgier”. It could be including those uncomfortable, gritty elements that honestly portray humanity at its lowest. It could be letting yourself be vulnerable enough to write about your own brokenness. It could be putting down the pen for a few hours on a tight schedule to remind a child they’re well loved. It could be writing into a new genre. It could be using the word sin to depict the flaw that runs through every human heart, for which the only cure is a Saviour who willingly gave all to rescue us from our sinful condition and recklessly pursues us with His love.

Each of our writing journeys are different, as are the wrestles we face. We can each write a legacy that touches a different part of our inherently broken world. Fact is, being counter-cultural is very risky, no matter how gracious you are (and gracious isn’t really my strongest point—working on it!).

The question is, dare we be obedient to penning words that make us tremble when they’re whispered into our heart from the ultimate Creator? What if those words risk public humiliation? What if they risk being misunderstood? What if they risk losing friends or being shunned by family? What if they risk losing possessions?

What might we risk by our obedience to His drawing?

Then again, what might the souls those words reach gain? Could they be words that point a searching heart towards truth?
Photo Credit - Ben White @benwhitephotography - Unsplash
Fact is, we all blow it and are all largely risk averse, but I am confident in the kindness and mercy of a God of second chances. I also believe each step of obedience to Him can write a lasting legacy. It may not seem much at the time. We may never know the impact of our written words. But who knows what legacy we’ll leave when we’ve passed from this life to eternity, if we but dare take a risk.

Adele Jones is a Queensland based, award winning author. She writes young adult and historical novels, poems, inspirational non-fiction and fiction short works, along with juggling family responsibilities and a ‘real job’ in the field of science. Her first YA novel Integrate was awarded the 2013 CALEB Prize for unpublished manuscript. Her writing explores issues of social justice, humanity, faith, natural beauty and meaning in life’s journey, and as a speaker she seeks present a practical and encouraging message by drawing on these themes. For more visit or