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Archive for June, 2010

Have you ever heard of the Living Book program?  Recently I was interviewed by a journalist from the ‘Auburn Review’ about my involvement in this program at the Auburn Library.  You can see this interview by clicking here:

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As it explains, ‘Living Books’ are people who are prepared to share their own stories, lives or culture with anyone who chooses to ‘borrow’ them at the Library for a twenty-minute period.  Readers can reserve a ‘book’ for a particular time slot and then when the moment arrives, they are introduced to their ‘Living Book’ by one of the library staff, who will later inform them when their ‘borrowing period’ is up.

There are certain rules in place for ‘readers’, one of which is that each ‘book’ must be returned ‘in the same mental and physical condition’ as when it was borrowed!  But the ‘books’ too have rights, including time out for a break when needed.

I have found that ‘readers’ reserve the two ‘books’ I have listed in the ‘catalogue’ (‘Writing for Publication’ and the more personal ‘Writing from the Heart – An Author’s Journey’) for a variety of reasons.  Some are clear that they want tips about novel writing or how to find a publisher.  Some simply want to know about my own personal journey – how I have managed to finish five novels and have four published.  Some don’t know anything much about writing and in fact may simply want to practise their English!  And that’s fine by me.  Then there are others who, I suspect, are quite lonely and just enjoy one-on-one time with someone who will listen and have an intelligent conversation with them.

I have met some fascinating people through this program – like the young scientist who just ‘happened’ to be in the library one day when the program was on and came and chatted about his dream to write that he had almost lost.  At the end, he thanked me for reigniting this dream – what a privilege!  Or the writer from one of the Eastern European countries who had published books in his homeland but now faced the challenge of doing the same here in a language not his own.  Or the Iranian doctor who was struggling to retrain in his profession here.  Or the Chinese student for whom authors were obviously such exalted beings!  Often they ask me why I write and what I write about, and I answer honestly. I tell them my novels have a fair bit about God and faith in God in them and that I used to be part of a local church ministry team.  At that point, ‘readers’ sometimes talk about their own faith, Christian or otherwise, and how this impacts their lives.  And what interesting discussions we have had!  Or they may be puzzled at my answers and choose to take the conversation in another direction.  And that’s fine too – they have the right to do so.

One of the reasons I enjoy being part of the Living Book program is that it is an opportunity to engage one-on-one with another person in a way that may greatly encourage them or make some difference in their lives. And I also want my ‘readers’ to feel valued and listened to in the process.  After all, that’s how God treats me.  So watch out for a Living Library program in your area – or come along and visit our program on Saturday 9th July at the Regents Park Community Centre on this occasion behind the Library in Amy St Regents Park, Sydney, from 2.00-4.00pm!

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Next month, my fourth novel ‘Jenna’ will be released by Ark House.  In the last few weeks, I have discussed various changes with the editor, written a whole new first chapter and re-written certain other parts of the story to fit in with these additions and alterations.   When both parties were satisfied, the novel was formatted and returned to me for checking, after which further corrections needed to be put in place.  Currently, the whole novel is being proofread yet again and the final version will then be returned to me to approve for publishing.  This whole process is extremely time-consuming yet nevertheless essential.  After all, I want to ensure my novel reaches the reading public with as few mistakes as possible.

So what happens to any current writing project I might have while this editing and re-writing takes place?  Well, it invariably ends up being sidelined – at least for a short while. Yet even a brief break is enough for me to forget what my characters have already said and done or how they are likely to think or act in a particular situation.  The thread has been lost and I have to take time to go back to the beginning and immerse myself once again in ‘the story thus far’.

But then, just as I feel I have a good grasp on what needs to happen next, I am pulled away yet again.  I have several speaking engagements coming up and I must start thinking and praying about what to say.  Don’t get me wrong – I love speaking and enjoy preparing talks.  But this is an entirely different ‘ballgame’ from writing novels.  So I head to the left a little in my brain and endeavour to come up with something that, according to what type of audience I am speaking to, will inform or challenge or entertain.

And of course there is also the actual arranging of speaking engagements.  Yes, my publisher does some of the ‘larger scale’ promotional tasks, but the bulk of it is up to me.  So I find myself emailing places where I have previously spoken or perhaps testing the waters with new places or people – undoubtedly the most daunting challenge for me of this whole writing journey.

So how can I juggle all these aspects of my writing journey and continue to move forward in a productive, focused way?  The encouragement of friends and family is highly important, but without a doubt, it is God who enables me to keep everything in balance and who inspires me to persevere in it all.  This morning I read Psalm 92:14-15:

[The righteous] will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”

I don’t feel all that old as yet – and there are so many more things I want to write about.  So it is wonderful to feel encouraged that I can go on bearing fruit for years to come!  But it is even more wonderful to know that the Lord will always be my firm and sure Rock – in fact the perfect ‘fulcrum’ for my balancing act of being an author.  If God is at the centre of all I do, then I know I can be at peace, whatever is happening in my writing and speaking world.

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This is my fiftieth blog since beginning my blogging adventure almost a year ago now – and what an interesting journey it has been!  I have reconnected with various friends and acquaintances from the past as a result of these writing efforts of mine, and have also made several new friends who have bothered to write a comment on my blog.  Truly today we live in an unprecedented age of opportunity in the area of communication.

This is brought home to me every time I make or answer a call via skype on my laptop.  One minute I can be sitting writing merrily away and the next talking to my friend in Turkey and seeing her as well across the thousands of kilometres that separate us.  And we can chat and encourage each other for however long we like – after all, it’s free!  The same goes for a writer friend in Tasmania, who has in turn linked me up with various other writers across the world via the International Christian Fiction Writers blog and also the American Christian Fiction Writers website and email digests. The possibilities are endless.

And then there is Facebook and other similar online social networks, which, despite the difficulties these might cause, are nevertheless amazing ways of keeping in contact with and finding both new and old ‘friends’.  Each week, I link my current blog to Facebook, which provides me with a much wider readership than would otherwise be possible. And when the time comes, I can also let any number of people know in a second with one flick of my finger that my latest novel is released.  I can even upload in image of the cover as well – amazing stuff.

With all this ease of communication, however, why is it that many of us seem to ignore the ability we all have to talk with God whenever and wherever?  Forget the mobile phones or emails or blogs – God is everywhere and ever listening, always wanting to communicate with us.  That was the idea way back in the Garden of Eden, before Adam and Eve heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day and hid among the trees (Genesis 3:8).  They didn’t want to talk about what they had done – and I guess we’re not much different today.  How much we all need to step out from our hiding place of fear and shame and rebellion and into the presence of our loving God, who is good and gracious and compassionate and longs to speak to us on a daily basis!

I want to be in a place where God and I are communicating constantly, with no barriers or ‘static’ between us.  I want to be one of those ‘sheep’ Jesus talks about in John 10:27-28 who easily recognise his voice, listen intently and follow him. ‘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 hand’, Jesus says.  Through Jesus, the gap was bridged and our whole relationship with God was restored, so that we can communicate freely again.  And that would have to be the best ‘communication revolution’ ever, eclipsing email, blogs, Facebook, the lot – don’t you agree?

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Have you ever played Snakes and Ladders with a pre-schooler?  Perhaps you too have had the job of explaining that if you land on a square with the end of a ladder in it, then you can actually climb UP the ladder!  On the other hand, you might also remember the deflated look you received when you passed on the bad news that landing on a snake’s head means you have to slide DOWN said snake and thus lose a lot of the hard won ground you have gained!

Snakes and Ladders is definitely a game of fluctuating fortunes, so when our granddaughters first learned to play it, I was quite happy to help them along and ‘let’ them win.  Nowadays the game still has its tricky moments for my four-year-old granddaughter – sometimes it’s a challenge to work out which way she is supposed to head.  After all, is fifty really the next number after forty-nine? Yet on the other hand, she has also become quite resourceful even at her tender age and occasionally tries to employ a couple of original techniques to aid in winning.  One is to throw the die behind her back or somewhere far away and then miraculously when she picks it up to turns out to be a six!  But the other is much more ‘spiritual’ – it involves fervently praying aloud to God to give her a six!

‘Please God – I really, really need a six!  Pleeeaaase listen to me!’ she entreats in an agonised voice, with screwed up face and hands cupped plaintively around the die.

And when, as happened yesterday, she does throw a six, she lets out a sigh of relief and exclaims in a delighted voice: ‘Oh, thank you, God – you did listen to me!’

Now I thought I had better put her theology straight at this point. So I tried to explain that whether she ends up throwing a six or not, God is still listening – and that God doesn’t always give us what we think we want or need.  But I didn’t get much further than that.  For some strange reason it seemed to be going over her head – and anyway, she had lost interest, since she had won the game.

I came away from this experience with the humbling thought, however, that perhaps God was trying to say something to me through it all. At times I’m sure I treat God like a ‘Snakes and Ladders’ God, crying out for help when disaster threatens and only giving thanks when I am rescued – if even then.  Yet I don’t want to be like that – I want to live in a place of rest and peace with God, knowing that whatever happens, God is still the same loving, holy, powerful and awesome God and will be forever.  And I want to ensure that Paul’s words are true of me at every stage of my life – as I hope and pray they will in our granddaughters’ lives:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6)

How about you?  Are you into ‘spiritual’ Snakes and Ladders?

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A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of driving a good friend to the airport.  She was returning to Turkey to work that she loves, and the strong possibility is that her friends and family will not see her for another two years or more.  It was a bittersweet moment when the time came for all of us who had gathered there to say goodbye – our friend’s heart is in Turkey, but it is also here with family and friends.

As soon as she disappeared through the entrance to the customs check area, our by now slightly teary group dispersed.  However, a few of us decided to stay on and move to a spot alongside a glass wall where passengers can be seen as they pass through a walkway leading to their respective departure gates.  And almost before we had settled ourselves, there she was again, smiling at us and waving, then turning for one final backward glance before disappearing from view.  We tried to communicate with her in various ways, blowing kisses and gesticulating wildly. I noticed too how other passengers were coming right up to the glass and placing their hands on it in an effort to reach out to those on the other side one more time.  We were glad we had stayed for this final farewell – but it wasn’t the same as being able to communicate freely, to speak and touch unhindered by the barrier between us.

As I thought about this experience later, I realised that sometimes this is how it is between God and me.  God is always there, wanting to communicate and have a close relationship with me, but sometimes these barriers spring up between us – barriers that I either deliberately put in place or just allow over time to grow bigger and bigger.  I want to talk things over with God heart to heart – and I truly want God to speak to me ‘face to face, as a man speaks with his friend’, as occurred with Moses (Exodus 33:11).  I want God to be intimately involved with all areas of my life – but for some crazy reason I distance myself behind some barrier or another. It might be that I don’t want to let go of something I know is spoiling that communication – perhaps anger or unforgiveness or even lack of trust. Or it might be that I just allow myself to become too busy or too tired or too focused on my writing or too concerned about preparing for speaking engagements, until that loving voice gets more and more indistinct and that wonderful light of God’s presence dims.  I know God is there as surely as my friend was there smiling at us from behind that glass wall – but I can’t hear what is being said or feel that restoring, encouraging, comforting touch that I know I need.

I don’t want to live like that. I don’t want to be alienated behind an impenetrable glass wall from the very one who breathes life and creativity and courage and strength into my spirit. There is a door in that wall, I believe – and Jesus is standing there.  He knocks on it, waiting for each one of us to open it and invite him in so we can relate deeply with him (Rev 3:20).

Is he there with you now, enjoying your company?

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