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Archive for July, 2011

There are lots of ‘perks’ in writing novels, I’ve discovered. One is being able to decide the fate of my characters. I can have them live long and prosper or write them out of the picture altogether. Another is giving my characters my own and others’ experiences and having things turn out even better than they might have in real life. And yet another is actually naming my characters in the first place. Does that name really suit this character? Will he or she be confused with a previous character in one of my other novels – or perhaps even another character in the same novel? Is the name right for the particular time period in which the novel is set?

I have been known to get half way through a novel and decide a name definitely doesn’t suit one of my main characters. After all, when I started out, I didn’t expect he or she would say and do the things they now have. Characters evolve, I find. Some of them grow up and make up their own minds as to the way ahead. They might decide they want a much more exciting life than I had planned for them. So a nice, conservative, common name won’t do – they need something much more colourful and unusual. And thankfully, that can happen easily these days. I have lost track of the number of times I have been so grateful for the ‘Find and Replace’ function on my computer, where, with one click of my mouse, Andrew becomes Aidan or Angela can instantly become Amy several hundred times over!

In real life, however, I have discovered a name can be made beautiful and just right whether it’s old-fashioned or unusual or anything else, if it is spoken in a caring, respectful, loving way. Two examples from Scripture I noticed recently come to mind. In each case, Jesus speaks out someone’s name with such deep love and understanding that they must both have been shaken to the core. In John 20:15, Jesus simply says ‘Mary’ – and turns her world upside down. And in the following chapter (21:15), he speaks out Peter’s original name in a tone that must have been so full of forgiveness and grace – ‘Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?

I have no trouble imagining the tone of Jesus’ voice as he addressed Mary and Simon Peter – or how they must have felt. Many years ago, at a particularly needy point in my life, I believe God gave me a wonderful picture of Jesus holding me as a baby and looking down at me with the most incredible, tender love. He was smiling and almost lost for words as he gazed at my face and marvelled. And the only words I heard him say were ‘Wow – Jo-Anne!’ But that was all I needed to hear to know in the very core of my being how much Jesus loved me and how delighted he was with me – before I had ever achieved anything in my life. He loved me just the way I was created – uniquely and in his image, with my own personality and gifts that he intended from the very beginning. I was – and still am – his precious child, perfect in his eyes and completely loved.

So as you read this today, may you hear Jesus speaking your name in just the same loving, gentle way in the very depths of your spirit. Your name is important to him, whoever you are. He knows you. He cares about you. He believes in you. He loves you. And that’s all that matters.

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There could be several answers to this question, come to think of it. Both words end in ‘ting’, for starters. And if I remember my parts of speech correctly, both are verbal nouns. As for the activities themselves, both can be accomplished much more easily, I’d say, if one is sitting down. Both also require the use of one’s hands – well usually anyway. And both, in my opinion, require much patience and perseverance.

Now I put knitting aside several years ago. I knew if I began another project, I would get ‘hooked’ and those novels I hoped to write would never be finished. Recently, however, a family member suggested I might like to start knitting again and in a weak moment, I acquiesced. I blithely chose a beautiful pattern and bought some wool, but after reading the instructions more closely, decided I should be more realistic. It would probably take me several years to complete what I had chosen, so I lowered my sights and selected a different one.

But then the fun began. I tried the first four rows several times without success – the lacy pattern was beyond me. Backwards and forwards I went, knitting a few rows, undoing them all and trying again. Eventually I worked out what the instructions actually meant and then I was off – at least for a while. But careless mistakes began occurring – and I soon lost count of the number of times I knitted several rows, only to pull them undone yet again.

And here is where the similarity between writing and knitting kicked in for me. There was something incredibly familiar about this moving forward and retreating, this creating and undoing. Six novels further down the track in my writing journey, this ebb and flow has become almost inevitable, something that is par for the course. When I first began writing, I could not handle the idea of throwing out large chunks of the masterpiece I had created and sweated over. Yet over time, I learnt it did not kill me to delete my pearls of wisdom. In fact, I came to see it often led to discovering even greater treasures than pearls.

So for me, both knitting and writing require large dollops of patience and perseverance. And last night, as I unravelled several rows of my knitting yet again, I was reminded that this is how God is constantly called on to deal with me. I forge ahead – and God is there beside me, guiding and encouraging. I mess up – and God is there, challenging me and comforting me. I go backwards, forgetting where I’m heading and losing the way – and God is there again, urging me on and strengthening me to run the race. As Psalm 103 reminds us:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. … As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.

Yes, I will no doubt continue to make mistakes – and God, the author of all things, who knit me together even before I was born (Psalm 139), will graciously edit them out and patiently unpick them, as I allow him to.

And for that I will be forever grateful.

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One of our daughters is travelling in Europe at the moment. She recently left Romania and just arrived in Berlin. Already, she has emailed us from there and put photos up on Facebook – and already I have checked out where she is staying via Google maps. Now I can see clearly the places she is likely to visit and follow her emails and blogs better.

These days too, I regularly talk with friends overseas and even here in Sydney via skype. With one click of my mouse, I can dial up my friend in Turkey or another in the Netherlands and in a second, we can not only be talking freely but even see each other, if we choose to.

We in the developed world are becoming so used to instant communication, instant solutions, instant satisfying of our needs and desires. Why wait? Time is precious. And that’s the beauty of mobile phones. We can be contacted immediately wherever we are, so we can get on with arranging our lives, so we can do two things at once – like talking on the phone while driving.

In contrast, however, there is nothing instantaneous about writing novels. I am often asked how long it takes for me to write one and I always find this difficult to answer. Perhaps around a year, depending on what else I’m doing, but it is hard to quantify the many ‘bites’ needed to write and edit a novel, then re-write and re-edit, probably over and over again.

Then there is the small matter of finding a publisher. Sometimes that can take months, even years. And when one is found, it can take many more months before a book makes it through the editing process and into the publisher’s release schedule. And of course it usually takes a few years before authors can develop any sort of ongoing ‘fan base’ too. Writing books is, for most then, a very long term process.

I think God prepared me quite some time back for this aspect of writing novels. When I was nineteen and in my second year of my Arts degree, I enquired about combining a theology degree with it, but that turned out to be impossible. Almost thirty years later, however, after three years of fulltime study, I finally received that theology degree I had wanted to do so many years earlier.

So I’m convinced God is into long-term projects. What is thirty years to God? In 2 Pet 3:8-9, Peter writes:

Do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

That’s God’s heart for us – patient, longsuffering, graciously walking with us, taking us at our own pace. One day, God will say ‘It is finished!’ yet again and wrap things up on this earth. But not yet – not until the time is right.

So I need to be patient too and hold on in faith. I need to keep writing those novels and other books, just as God guides, and not lose heart or become frustrated. God has a perfect time for everything. And I also need to relax so I can truly enjoy the journey of creating my next book, not seeing it as a task but as a privilege from God.

Now that’s something I’d miss out on if writing books were instantaneous!

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Do you ever have those days or weeks when you wonder if all the effort you’re putting into something is worth it? I’m sure this could apply in so many situations other than writing – we all get tired and discouraged at times, don’t we? But often authors seem to be a prime target in this regard. We pour ourselves into some novel or work of non-fiction, editing and rewriting and searching for a publisher. Yet even then, the journey is not over by a long shot. In Australia at least, and in Christian circles in particular, the author has to expend a lot of energy on promotional work and speaking. Publishers are too small and too under-resourced to help greatly in this regard. Book promotion can be a fascinating and fulfilling experience – but it can also contain considerable challenges and discouragement. After all, not everyone might be as enthusiastic about your book as you are and, in particular, grasp how it might be relevant or helpful or challenging for the kingdom of God.

Recently, someone asked me straight out whether my books were ‘selling well’. I smiled but stifled a sigh. Over the four years since my first novel was published, I have never been able to find a satisfactory answer to this question – and now my fifth novel Heléna’s Legacy has just been released, I am still no wiser. After all, where is the benchmark with which to compare my sales? I know how many I have sold myself of each title and have at least some idea how many the bookstores have purchased. But can I really compare those figures with sales of other Christian novels here in Australia, even if I knew them? After all, I write general fiction, while others might write romantic or historical fiction or both – one genre might well be more popular than another.

Now I understand such questions might be asked with my wellbeing in mind. Yet I wondered from this person’s facial expression and her slightly incredulous tone of voice whether she might not be such a fan of my books and was at a loss to know who could possibly enjoy them enough to continue buying them! Or was she coming from the same place as someone else who told me recently she was in the process of reading one of my novels and was enjoying it. However, she was having difficulty, she said, in reconciling herself to the fact that I had written it! Hmm.

But for all this, I know I’m doing what God wants me to at this stage of my life. And if I was in any doubt about that, some words of Jesus I read this morning in John 15:16 soon fixed that:

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.

By God’s grace, these words reminded me yet again that this whole crazy writing journey isn’t just my idea. I know God clearly called me to begin writing almost eight years ago now and challenged me to ‘bear fruit’ through both writing and speaking. And I can still rest in that fact – even on days when I am a little low on energy. I can approach my current writing project at peace with God, myself and the world, knowing the ‘success’ or otherwise of my books is ultimately in God’s hands.

And that’s the best antidote for discouragement any author can have, don’t you think?

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