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Posts Tagged ‘All the Days of My Life’

Jo 17It has been an interesting experience these past few weeks to pick up my novel writing again, after completing two non-fiction books. While I love writing non-fiction, it is such a joy to feel I can let loose and create a whole new story from scratch.

Novel writing can be a slow, exhausting process, but it can also be so fulfilling, as the various characters develop and the strands of the story come together. And for me, it can easily become all-consuming too. I relate deeply with my characters. I feel their joy and pain and confusion. I immerse myself in their world. I ache for them and hold my breath at times in the hope they will make good and right decisions.

With my current novel, I felt relieved when I completed the first five chapters—always the hardest for me. The story seemed to be taking shape and gaining momentum. But because I knew I was approaching a very sad section, I baulked. I did not want my main character to endure such grief, yet I knew that was where the story needed to go. I put it aside and wrote other shorter pieces for a while, but eventually, I decided to take the plunge again.

Yet as I wrote, I became sadder and sadder. You see, without giving too much away, a little boy drowns in this novel—and his death is intrinsic to the plot. I had to describe the actual event. Then I had to portray the family’s grief and anger and lack of forgiveness too from one family member towards another. As well, I had to visualise the lasting effects of such a tragedy on my main character and begin to help her work through these in a realistic way.

At that point, I felt exhausted, as if I had struggled through those raging floodwaters myself. My earlier chapters, while being so fulfilling to write, had taken much perseverance—and now that I was on the other side of this difficult part of the plot, I wondered if I had what it took to unfold the rest in a sensitive way that would touch readers’ hearts. Had I perhaps forgotten how to write a novel, after living in the world of non-fiction for so long? Was I capable of allowing the story to develop as it needed to?

With these questions bombarding my brain, I soon descended into a morass of self-doubt and self-pity—until I remembered how helpful the Psalms had been to me during past writing struggles. I began reading them yet again and eventually came to Psalm 18:16-19:

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. … He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.

While that dear little boy in my novel might not have been rescued from actual deep waters, I knew God would rescue me. At other times in my life when I felt things were all too hard, I have experienced that loving hand grasping me firmly and helping me stand on solid ground again. God has drawn me out of many deep waters—and I know God will delight to do that for you too.

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Jo 17I have embarked on a new writing project. At least, it’s not actually new—it has been hovering around on my laptop for a couple of years, patiently awaiting my attention. Whenever I find time, I open the relevant files and try to work out where I’m up to. One contains a chapter outline for the whole novel, while another is filled with notes about the characters. A third contains the beginnings of the first chapter, which has morphed several times, as I have reflected on it further.

One thing that has kept me from becoming fully launched into this novel is my concern about how best to spend my time. What does God want me to do now? Since 2007, I have had six novels and two non-fiction works published, with many resulting opportunities to speak. Could eight books perhaps be enough?

As I prayed about it, I sensed God’s green light either way, as if God were saying, ‘Jo-Anne, I will be so delighted in you if you write this novel—but equally delighted if you don’t!’ What a wonderful, gracious, freeing message to hear! I could be at peace about it all. I could write it—or not write it.

The months passed and that novel still did not grow at any great rate. Then one day, I read Isaiah 26:8 again:

Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.

These words seemed such a good, timely reminder to me to check my motives in continuing with my novel. Was I writing it merely to get my name out there again? Did I want to be known as this prolific author who keeps producing books? Did I hope this novel would bring me greater personal kudos or renown? Or did I truly desire to write it to honour God and to share God’s amazing love and grace once again in story format?

My heart said a fervent ‘yes’, in response to this last question. Furthermore, I felt a strong urge deep inside to create the sort of novel I personally want to create this time around, irrespective of current writing conventions or literary fashion or whatever! Yet I was still wary about it all. Already, my life is full—would I ever be able to find the necessary time?

I read on in Isaiah 26 and came to the following verse:

Lord, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us (12).

I know this was written in the context of Israel’s finding peace as a nation. But what a good, personal reminder to me to be at peace and allow God to shape this future novel—and its time frame! After all, it was only through God’s strength, guidance and inspiration that I was able to write my other eight books, when I initially thought it would be impossible to write even one. Truly, whatever I have accomplished has all come from God.

So I plan to trust God to guide and inspire as I write—and be at peace in the process. Surely that’s the best perspective to have in it all? And, whether you seek to serve and honour God through writing or something entirely different, I hope and pray this will be your perspective too.

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Jo 23One day, I think I might write a book about all those funny experiences I have had in my writing journey. A good sense of humour is something every author needs to have, I’ve decided, so we can simply laugh and continue on our merry way, writing from a full and free heart.

I remember the first time someone told me they had found one of my novels in a second-hand bookshop. As a relatively new author, I was a little offended. How could someone throw away my precious book I had laboured long and hard to write? What an ignominious end for it! I remember too how I felt the first time I saw one of my early novels for sale on e-bay for some paltry amount. To rub it in, the accompanying description said: ‘First edition—signed by author!’

As I thought about it more, however, I realised there could be all manner of reasons why my books were being re-sold in these ways. With that inventive author’s mind, I could think up all sorts of interesting scenarios. Their owner had died and the relatives needed to clear out all those books so the family home could be sold. Someone had ended up with two copies. Someone had no more room on their bookshelves. Someone had loved it and just wanted to share it with others. Someone had hated it so decided at least to try to make a little money on a bad deal!

Last year, I received the following email via my website:

Just wanted to say I found ‘Jenna’ in a second-hand shop and have just finished it. Thoroughly enjoyed it—a ‘couldn’t put it down’ kind of book. I’ve mostly read Amish fiction for the last couple of years, and it was so nice to read an Aussie book. I live in the Barossa in SA and could identify with the towns you mentioned. That was fun. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful gift. I’m off to the library now to see if I can find any of your other books. Cheers and God bless

Now how did Jenna find her way into that second-hand shop in South Australia? I’ve no idea. And did poor Jenna get read before she ended up there? Who knows? Whatever her journey, I’m so glad my cyber friend found her and enjoyed her.

Then only last week, I received a lovely postcard from a lady in southern New South Wales, along with a cheque to purchase my second novel. She wrote:

Could you please send me a copy of ‘All the Days of My Life’, the sequel to ‘Heléna’, which I enjoyed very much. Bought it at our church’s book fair!’

How did my lovely Heléna find her way into those second-hand books at that book fair? Again, who knows? But how encouraging to receive that feedback—and make another sale!

You know, I don’t really mind whether my books are read first-hand or second-hand—or third-hand! Now I rejoice in it all, exercise that sense of humour and praise God that somehow my writing that has definitely come first-hand from my heart is reaching others and hopefully blessing them in the process.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Phil 4:4

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I almost didn’t go to the meeting that day. It was on the other side of Sydney and I was tired. Yet, I loved the women I knew would be present. They are all very committed Christian leaders from different denominations who are doing amazing things in our city and nation and even internationally. I knew I would come home inspired, so off I went.

After arriving, I chatted with several women sitting nearby and was interested to hear the main speaker, but felt too tired to engage in any deep conversation as we later mingled over lunch. I was happy to stand back and observe, until a friend noticed me and announced: ‘Oh, I was just talking about you and your books yesterday to a friend!’ However tired I was, I couldn’t let an intriguing statement like that go, so enquired further.

It turned out her friend is the librarian at a large Christian school. While chatting at a swimming carnival, my friend had mentioned she knew me. Her librarian friend had then told her they had had trouble getting copies of my books for their library.

If anything is destined to grab my attention, it is a comment like that. You see, while bookstores might run out of copies of my books or decide not to stock them, I always have adequate supplies. How frustrating it is then when I hear that potential customers can’t source them! I therefore hastily asked my friend the librarian’s name so I could contact her and let her know her quest was over.

On arriving home, I decided to email her straight away, despite my tiredness, explaining how my books are available via my website and that I would also be happy to visit her school. I prayed something would come of our contact, but admittedly not with any great confidence.

The next day, I received an urgent email from a minister’s wife from the other side of town. She had chosen to review one of my novels at a women’s breakfast that coming weekend. She had tried to get hold of twenty copies to sell there but the bookstore had sent her the wrong book and had none of the right book in stock anyway. Did I have the copies she needed, she asked.

Later that day, she phoned. I had offered to take the books to her workplace and soon discovered this was at the same school as the librarian whom I had previously emailed.

‘That’s how I knew to contact you,’ she told me. ‘I was telling the staff about my dilemma when the other librarian mentioned your email to her.’

In the end, I was invited to attend the women’s breakfast myself, talk about my own book, then sell them! And I did—nineteen copies of that particular novel, plus a few others. All this came about because I ‘happened’ to go to a meeting I almost backed out of and ‘happened’ to talk with a friend there who had ‘happened’ to speak to her librarian friend who ‘happened’ to be able to tell her colleague I had supplies of my books!

Do you think God had a hand in all this? I do! After all, in Isaiah 55:8-9, God tells us:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

I’d rather have God’s thoughts and God’s ways any day, wouldn’t you?

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In my life, I’ve had three real babies and five ‘book babies’. Even now, I can remember the challenges of deciding on names for our real children. And I can certainly remember the dilemmas of what to call my ‘book babies’ too. With three of them, I opted for the names of their main characters. For another, I chose a phrase from Psalm 23, All the Days of My Life. And for my most recent novel, I decided on the name Heléna’s Legacy¸ since this summed up the main thrust of the plot. Besides, it has a nice rhythm to it – plus a bit of alliteration and assonance thrown in!

There’s a lot to think about, isn’t there, in choosing a name? Just this week I witnessed firsthand two people’s struggles with choosing names for their babies. In the first instance, our daughter Tina is struggling to find just the right name for their first child. She likes a certain girl’s name, but her husband thinks it’s a little old-fashioned. And as for a boy’s name, they are tossing up between two options. To complicate matters, her husband is Ghanaian—and it’s common practice amongst Ghanaians to choose the day of the week on which a child is born as one of the names for that child. Hence our son-in-law’s name is Kofi, which means Friday.

The second instance involves an author whose book I have just finished editing. I thought the current title of the manuscript was not the best and he agreed. It was a friend’s suggestion, but he himself had always had something different in mind. The only trouble with his ‘something different’ is that, while many of his potential readers will relate to this title, a good proportion, in my opinion, won’t. In fact, they might even be somewhat offended by it. So what to do? Will this author go with his initial idea?  Or will he play it safe for the sake of possibly gaining more book sales?

While thinking about these dilemmas this week, I noticed a manger scene featured in a large shopping centre. Yes, with Christmas approaching, these sometimes still do pop up, despite some people apparently feeling that mentioning the real meaning of Christmas spoils it all for everyone! Later I reflected on the fact that Mary and Joseph were left in no doubt what their baby was to be called. In Matthew 1:20-21, we read how the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and made it clear:

She [Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.

Jesus, we are told, is the Greek form of Joshua, which means ‘The Lord saves’. But in the same chapter, we read that Jesus will also be called ‘Immanuel’, which means ‘God with us’ (1:23)—a name given to the Son of God hundreds of years earlier by God himself through the prophet Isaiah (Is 7:14). Well, they are both wonderful names, don’t you think? Yet many people at the time rejected this man called Jesus, their Messiah, the one anointed by God to be their Saviour. Some acknowledged the truth of the name ‘Immanuel’—but others refused to believe God was indeed amongst them.

I hear such love in both these names – Jesus and Immanuel. They epitomise God’s heart for us—God reaching out to us, knowing full well these beautiful names might be ridiculed and even used as curses. But God chose the best names ever, from my perspective. I need a Saviour. I need God with me.  Those names for me are so full of meaning—and I think they’re absolutely perfect.

How about you?

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