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Archive for April, 2010

Anyone out there of an inventive frame of mind?  I would love to get hold of an inexpensive tracking device to attach to my three published novels, so I can see where they end up!  Of course, it could be a little demoralising if they were tracked to a rubbish bin somewhere or face down half-read and covered in dust under a bed or – worse still – unopened and long forgotten in some dark corner of a bookshelf.  But I have heard some interesting stories about where my books have got to and can only hope and pray there are more I know nothing about.

For instance, recently a friend told me he bought my second novel ‘All the Days of My Life’ at a conference around two years ago.  He was reading it on the plane home to Tasmania when he got into conversation with the passenger next to him.  Now this passenger had a very interesting ‘fellow passenger’ on his far side – a cello!  Apparently this gentleman had booked a seat especially for it – he was a member of an orchestra and wanted to keep his cello in sight.  On discovering this man had nothing to read, my friend promptly gave him my book, since a cello features quite prominently in it!   An interesting story – but it has left me wondering.  Did this man like it – or did it end up in an airport bin somewhere?

I know for sure the very first copy of my second novel found its way by plane to Iraq.  A friend was returning to her community work with Kurdish widows and wanted something to read on the way.  After she finished with it, it was lent around to fellow workers and eventually given to an American girl who loved it.  Again I wonder though – did it end up being taken back to America with her?  Or is it destined to wander around in Iraq forever?

Another friend also recently told me a story involving a plane trip.  She had grabbed up my first novel ‘Heléna’ in a hurry as she left home to attend a funeral in Coffs Harbour.  On the return flight, she noticed the young girl next to her looking curiously at the book.  Eventually this girl commented that her name was actually Heléna and wanted to know where she could get a copy.  My friend had a wonderful conversation with her, told her all about the book and gave her the details of where to buy it.  Another lovely story – but again I am left wondering.  Did this girl eventually get hold of her own copy?  Who knows?

I am aware of others who have bought my novels to read on planes and then left them in various countries with the family or friends they were visiting.  I currently know of copies in England, the US, Canada, Turkey, South Africa and the Netherlands.  But I also heard recently that one of my novels was seen in a second-hand bookshop here in Australia, while another was for sale on ebay, labelled ‘first edition – signed by author’!

I am just curious.  I don’t really need to know where my books have gone.  After all, God sees them and I pray will bless those who read them, whoever and wherever they are.  My role is to put my heart and soul into the writing of them and try my best to get them out there – then leave the results in God’s hands.

But a tracking device would still be neat – don’t you agree?

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Not long ago I was driving home from the city when a large sign painted roughly on a fence caught my eye:

A life lived in fear is a life half lived

I jotted it down at the next red light and then thought about it all way home.  It brought back memories of my own mother, whose life at times was quite overruled by worry and fear about many things and who, as a result, found herself limited in what opportunities she could grasp and what experiences she could fully enjoy.  It also reminded me of a poem by Davna Markova I was given many years ago:

I will not die an unlived life,

I will not go in fear

Of falling or catching fire.

I choose to inhabit my days,

To allow my living to open to me,

To make me less afraid,

More accessible,

To loosen my heart

Until it becomes a wing,

A torch, a promise.

I choose to risk my significance:

To live.

So that which came to me as seed,

Goes to the next as blossom,

And that which came to me as blossom,

Goes on as fruit.

I want to ‘inhabit my days’ too, don’t you?  I want to be fully the person God intends and has gifted me to be and not to be limited by fear of what might or might not happen.   I don’t want to get to the end of my life here on earth and realise how much I missed out on because I was unprepared to take a risk or two and step out into new territory for God.  Only to ‘half-live’ our lives seems such a waste to me – and to be honest, almost an insult to our God who created us.

Yet sometimes when I’m confronted with a particularly daunting challenge, I do feel that old fear I observed in my mother rising up in me as well.  And it’s then that I have to take a deep breath, remember I am being held in the incredibly loving arms of God and step out in his strength, knowing God will never let me falter and fall.   After all, I have the Word of God on that.  In Psalm 34:4, David testifies:  I sought the Lord and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears, while in Psalm 27:1, he states confidently:  The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?   

I want the seed of the gifts God has given me to germinate fully, to blossom into something beautiful that will touch and encourage others, and to bear much fruit under God’s hand, just as the poet expresses above.  I might not be the most gifted or the most widely read novelist on this planet, but at the end of my life I want to be able to look back and say that at least I tried.  At least I took up God’s challenge to write, pouring my heart into the characters and storylines I created, labouring as best I could to reveal more of the heart of God to my readers.

And who knows?  Maybe, by God’s grace, there will even be the ones and twos whose lives have been touched and changed as a result.

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As a novelist who is constantly trying to grow and learn, I like to read how other authors handle the various challenges the whole writing process brings.  Some write only when they are ‘in the mood’ and the inspiration is flowing.  Others say that if they worked that way, they would never write anything.  These are the more self-disciplined among us – the ones who can set themselves a target of writing so many words per day or per week.  Some are very organised and totally plan out their novel or other work before they start.  Others are what are known as ‘seat of the pants’ writers who have only a vague idea where they are heading when they begin.  And still others like me fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

When I begin a novel, I like to have a clear concept in mind as to what my story is about – what general challenges and joys my main characters will experience and what central issues the story will grapple with.  But I also like to leave room for my characters to develop, to make their own choices as to how they will handle this or that situation or even what sort of a person they will become.  It is an interesting journey, watching these characters grow and change.  As a result, life as an author can be fascinating and exciting – even totally absorbing and energising.

But it’s not always like that, in my experience.  In fact, many days I sit staring at my computer screen, wondering where all that flow of creativity and joy of bringing my characters to life could possibly have gone.  Should I discipline myself on these occasions to write anyway?  Or should I conclude that my ‘writer’s block’ has won out for the moment?

Well, at times I do go off and do something else for a while.  Yet at others, I know I simply have to ‘hang in there’ and push through this difficult stage.  And that’s why some words Paul wrote to the Colossians impacted me recently – words that on the surface seem quite a contradiction.   As Paul is endeavouring with all his might to help believers stand firm in their faith in Jesus Christ and grow in understanding and love for one another, he writes:

We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me (Colossians 1:28-29).

So I get the picture that what Paul was trying to do wasn’t easy.  Yet in the midst of it all, he was being energised by a power beyond himself.  He was definitely ‘struggling’ and putting in a lot of effort of his own, but the energy that sustained him was not his alone.  Instead he was receiving and relying on ‘his’ energy – that is, Jesus Christ’s – to complete the task he had been given.

So on those days when I struggle very much with my writing, I try to keep my eyes on Jesus, knowing he called me to do what I’m doing and will ‘energise’ and empower me to complete it.  God is bigger than any writers’ block – his energy and creativity are inexhaustible!  And I’m so thankful for that.

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Two weeks ago I found myself in a unique situation.  A friend, Kerry Osborne, was recently awarded ‘Highly Commended’ in a competition run by the Black Dog Institute for an essay she wrote about helping the elderly cope with depression.  When the time came for the awards ceremony, however, she discovered it fell slap bang in the middle of a family holiday, so she was unable to attend.  Instead, she asked me to go and accept the award on her behalf.

Now I did see Kerry’s essay before she entered it in the competition.  She sent it to me for my comments, since I am a writer and also worked in editing many years ago.  I loved what she had written – it was a moving and heartfelt story of how she learnt to relate to her own parents in their respective illnesses, which were accompanied in both cases by depression.  I suggested only minor changes – Kerry has a lovely way of expressing herself and her writing is quite able to stand on its own merits. [To read Kerry’s essay ‘Bringing in the Light’, please click here and scroll down the page.]

When I arrived at the awards ceremony and explained I was representing my friend, I was promptly directed to one of the seats marked ‘reserved’ at the front of the room.  So there I sat among the other winners, waiting for the moment when Kerry’s name would be called out.  I expected they would just hand her award to me where I was seated – but no, I had to make my way out into the aisle and step forward just like the other winners to receive my friend’s framed certificate and shake the hand of the Member of Parliament who was so graciously presenting the awards!

Can you imagine how I felt at that point?  I was happy to be there, representing my friend.  I was pleased and proud for her – but I most certainly felt unworthy to be shaking that MP’s hand and marching off with my framed certificate!  I had not earned it.  It did not belong to me.  I had no claim to it at all – except that Kerry had written an email to the organisers to say that I had the right to collect that award on her behalf.

This experience gave me lots of food for thought over Easter, particularly as I reflected on the significance of Good Friday for me personally and for us all.  On the day Jesus died, he gave me the amazing gift of being able to stand before God and know I am totally loved and forgiven.  Jesus paid for this gift with his life – and even though I did not earn it at all, I have received the reward of his loving sacrifice.  One day I will be with him in heaven forever – but that’s precisely where the analogy with my friend’s award falls down.  Eventually I will hand that over to her when she returns from holidays – it’s not mine to keep.  Yet my acceptance as a child of God is something I will never have to give up, as Jesus himself says:

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand (John 10:27-28).

And that has to be the best ‘award’ ever – don’t you agree?

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