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Posts Tagged ‘Australian Christian novel’

I was standing in our local Koorong bookstore, promoting my latest novel, when I noticed a lovely young couple nearby. Initially, I thought they might not be interested in talking or looking at my books, but how wrong I was! I cannot remember now whether they approached me first or vice versa, but I do remember their smiling, relaxed manner and how intently they listened as I explained why I was there. Soon we were deep in conversation about writing and about my books. Then after buying two, they said goodbye and moved on.

Not long after, however, the girl came back.

‘Tell me, how did you actually start writing?’ she asked me. ‘How did you know that was what you should do?’

I explained how I had always loved writing, but never considered becoming a writer and opted for teaching instead. I told her too how, twenty years before writing my first novel, I had declared to my husband I would write a book ‘one day’, never truly thinking I ever would. Then I began sharing how, when I was in my fifties, God used some words from Isaiah 42 to challenge me to start writing while visiting a friend in Turkey—at which point she stopped me in mid-sentence.

‘Um … this might be a weird question, but … were you on the radio recently?’

For a moment, I was dumbfounded, but then remembered my Vision Christian radio interview in January about a short story I had written and about my writing in general.

‘Well, yes I was earlier this year, although I understand the interview was re-broadcast a few weeks ago too.’

She was stunned, but eventually managed to tell me how, as soon as I mentioned Turkey and Isaiah 42, she remembered hearing someone share this story on the radio. She had sensed even then that God was nudging her to start her own writing journey—and now she was overwhelmed that she had ‘randomly’ met me in person and was standing there hearing that same story again.

We stared at each other, both blown away at what had happened and how surreal it all felt. Yet it soon became clear too that we both knew we were on holy ground. Now she could not ignore that nudge God had given her already to start writing—now, through our ‘random’ conversation, she was not left in any doubt that this is what God wants her to do.

What an amazing God we have—a God who continues to love us and reach out to us and challenge us to step out in trust and do the things God has put in our hearts to do! When I think how I almost missed talking to this couple because I felt they would not be interested, I cringe. Yet God overruled—and I am so grateful.

It’s about listening to God well, rather than those negative, discouraging voices in our heads, and recognising God’s hand in those ‘random’ encounters, don’t you think? And when we do, God will surely will make the way forward so clear for us.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

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‘You’re brave, attempting a Facebook Live Book Launch,’ someone told me recently.

I laughed, but wondered if ‘brave’ was the right word to choose. Surely ‘foolhardy’ would be better—or even perhaps ‘slightly deluded’? After all, while I use Facebook often, I have never quite understood it all. As well, our internet connection can be a little hit and miss at times, for unknown reasons. And we also suspected that, when too many people are using the internet at once, the sound quality of a Facebook live video can be affected.

Nevertheless, because of COVID restrictions, we decided to go ahead with an online launch, rather than a face-to-face gathering, which might not be possible on the day. We knew it would not be the same, being unable to see friends and family in the flesh and celebrate together over afternoon tea. And there would be no opportunity for them to pick up my latest novel and decide whether to buy it or not. Yet we realised there were advantages too in hosting an online launch. For a start, friends and family far away could join in. And if someone was unavailable at the actual launch time, they could always watch the saved version later.

At last, the moment came this past weekend for me to sit down at my laptop, take a deep breath and press that red button that said, ‘GO LIVE’. But as I waited for everyone to ‘arrive’ at the launch, I saw some comments from my audience about the poor sound quality. I sat closer to the microphone, but that made no difference. All I could do was forge ahead, hoping everyone could hear well enough.

And they did. To my great delight, even a good friend far away overseas was able to join in at 7.30am her time when it was -6 degrees Celsius where she lives. Undeterred, she snuggled under the bed covers, still in her warm PJs, and watched my live launch via her mobile, as I sat talking at my desk here in Sydney, in the middle of a heatwave!

I’m so glad that sound was good enough for her to understand me. But as I reflected more on my rather heart-in-mouth experience, I began to think how often, in the midst of life’s pressures, God’s voice can sound so muffled and distorted, just as mine did for my audience. Yet that is definitely not God’s fault! God is always there, speaking clearly to us each day through the written Word and in other ways too. Instead, I am the one who muffles or even mutes that loving voice, as I refuse to listen, choosing instead to busy myself with other things. Yet, just as I made the decision to keep talking during my launch, despite that poor sound quality, so God perseveres with us, always reaching out to us in love and grace, always calling us back, longing for us to listen.

In John 10:27, Jesus says:

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.

May we all be such good listeners and good followers. And may we not let those cloudy connections muffle God’s voice and spoil the beautiful, loving relationship God offers each one of us!

PS If you missed the online book launch of my latest novel Down by the Water, please click here.

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I have many vivid memories of my maternal grandparents, seen here with my mother and me. Often on Sundays when I was growing up, they would visit us for lunch. Afterwards, my grandfather would ask us to go for a walk with him, perhaps out towards the University of Queensland or to the Toowong cemetery, where we would look at all sorts of interesting gravestones, or even down to the Brisbane River. Then, once home again, we would enjoy a scrumptious afternoon tea of fresh scones and other treats.

Sometimes, in the early days of TV, we would drive to my grandparents’ home to watch a show with them on Friday nights. And, during the summer school holidays, I would usually stay with them for a week. Most mornings, they would allow me to play the piano in their lounge room. I so enjoyed sifting through their old Scottish and Irish ballads, sacred solos and dance music and trying to play and sing whatever I found.

My grandfather had various occupations in his lifetime, including school-teaching at Rosewood, running a fruit shop in Brisbane, then a general store in Harrisville. As a child, I heard many stories about these places, particularly from my mother, who grew up in Harrisville. So, inevitably, this information has shaped my latest novel, Down by the Water, an historical novel I am launching this coming weekend.

Yet this novel is not my grandparents’ actual story. There are many differences, including the fact that my main characters have five children, whereas my grandparents had seven. But so much else about them influenced what I wrote. I even had fun weaving some of their old music into my story, as I described the local dances in Helidon, where my main character Meg grows up—and my grandmother did too. I also had photos and family records to refer to, but it was those memories from times spent with my grandparents and the things I heard as a child that helped most.

Such childhood memories can be powerful, can’t they? And how powerful they are too in shaping our attitudes and making us the people we are today. I can still remember some of the rather stern warnings my grandfather gave me about life in general, during our Sunday afternoon walks. And I hope I never forget my grandmother’s kindness and gentleness towards me on so many occasions.

I have dedicated Down by the Water to my grandparents and am delighted I have had this opportunity to let some of those memories at least live again via my novel. But this whole experience has also challenged me to remember the way God has shaped my life and walked with me and treated me with such kindness for so many years now. Without God’s gracious, patient hand on me down through the years, I would not be here writing these words. I need to remember that—and to let such memories influence everything I write.

In the years ahead, I hope I will continue to be able to say honestly, along with King David:

I remember the days of long ago, I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done. I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Psalm 143:5-6

Is that your sincere hope too?

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theinheritancefrontonly--final versionThis past Sunday, our family celebrated not only Fathers’ Day but also the official release of my sixth novel, The Inheritance! Now you might well think I’d be used to all that goes with such events by Novel Number Six. I myself thought I would merely take it in my stride—but no! Not this time. As those copies begin to appear in the bookstores, I find myself holding my breath just a tad yet again.

You see, I know this new novel is a little different from my previous ones. For starters, it feature two main characters of equal importance—and that’s something new for me. The Inheritance explores Michael Trevelyan’s struggle to come to grips with the past, be reconciled with himself, his family and ultimately God, and face the future with courage and integrity. But it also explores Alexandra Hope’s struggle to stay true to her faith in God and pursue God’s purposes for her life. It was quite a balancing act at times to put myself in the ‘head’ of one and then of the other, trying to react as each one might in a given situation. Yet while it was challenging, it was also great fun—especially when Michael chose to be very angry, arrogant and bitter all at once! I hope I have done both him and Alexandra justice. After all, they are real people—aren’t they?!

I feel too I have incorporated more suspense into the story this time around, although it is hard for me to judge this aspect of my own novels. As I wrote, at times I didn’t even know myself what twists and turns my main characters would experience in their lives or how things would turn out for some of my minor characters either. Yet, while the story might have captured and held my interest, will it do the same for my readers?

Finally, I believe the central theme of this novel is so important for us all to take to heart. I have attempted to convey clearly in The Inheritance how anger, bitterness, hypocrisy and pretence can have such an adverse effect in our own lives, as well as in the lives of others, and keep us from experiencing God’s amazing grace. As I wrote, the words of Hebrews 12:15 were very much in the forefront of my mind: See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. I felt responsible writing about such a significant issue and did not want to trivialise it in any way. And I hope and pray God uses this story to touch readers’ hearts and enable them to experience more and more of that amazing grace of God.

So for me, another new and fresh adventure begins, as I journey with my latest creation, The Inheritance. Again, I am so thankful to God that yet another of my stories has seen the light of day, courtesy of my new publisher, Even Before Publishing. If you would like to check out The Inheritance, it is now available not only in hard copy via my website, www.jo-anneberthelsen.com, and my publisher’s website, www.evenbeforepublishing.com, or in Christian bookstores but also as an e-book for Kindle on Amazon or for other devices via the bookstores.

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I wonder if you’ve ever tried to describe a scene you have imagined but found your audience wasn’t quite catching the vision. It’s frustrating, isn’t it? It’s so clear in your own mind – surely what you mean is obvious? Yet more often than not, I find it’s my fault rather than anyone else’s when this happens. Usually, I have not taken the time to stand in the other person’s shoes or to think how best to convey that picture in my head to them.

I experienced this again recently in trying to explain to a designer what I wanted the cover of my next novel to look like. It is entitled The Inheritance and isn’t due out until next year but needs to be featured in a catalogue soon. Since the book is set largely in the English countryside, I have always pictured an old, English manor house on the cover, with a wide, curved driveway leading up to the main door. I also imagined lots of trees and green lawn as well, with gardens sloping down to a nearby lake. And over the stream leading to the lake, there would be an old, stone bridge, since one of these is featured in the story on key occasions.

Yet when the poor designer came up with his version of the cover, I felt something was lacking. There was the manor house and the driveway, just as I had asked for – but somehow it all seemed a little soulless and unromantic. I could not envisage my characters living and breathing, loving and hating in that place, as they do in the book. So back it went to the designer, along with a little more information, for him to have another go at getting inside my head.

Perhaps you have experienced this issue yourself at home, as my husband and I do on occasions. Sometimes one or the other of us may be so involved in what we are working on or thinking about that we blurt out a comment about it all, forgetting the other person is on a different tack altogether. At such times, I have been known to let out an exasperated sigh, as my husband stares blankly at me and asks for some clue as to what I’m talking about! And all the while, I’m thinking to myself, ‘He must know! It’s so obvious what I mean!’

So it’s a huge relief to me when I can turn my attention to God and rest in that all-knowing, all-powerful presence once again. I don’t have to explain myself to God. In fact, I don’t have to explain anything to God. God knows all my thoughts even before I myself am consciously aware of them, as Psalm 139 reminds us:

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.

God has no trouble understanding those 3D images and concepts in my head, as well as all my motives, dreams aspirations and intentions. In fact, God is right there with me in every part of my life, intimately involved and eternally watching over me. And that’s something I hope I will treasure forever and never take for granted.

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I wonder how long it is since you have signed an important document or agreement of some description. Perhaps it was in the process of purchasing something big – like a house or a car. Perhaps it was that agreement to pay back to the bank the money they were kindly lending you. Did you feel as if you were signing your life away? Perhaps it was those certificates you signed on your wedding day. Or perhaps it was an agreement at a hospital, consenting to a particular procedure you were about to have. How did you feel when you were putting your signature on those important documents?

Last week, I found myself signing two important documents once again – two more book contracts, this time with a different publisher. One was for my first non-fiction book, Two are better than one: the story of a spiritual friendship, which describes my own journey over the past fifteen years or so with my very faithful spiritual mentor and friend Joy.  The other was for my sixth novel, The Inheritance, which focuses on the theme of forgiveness and highlights the truth of Hebrews 12:15: See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Now I was very happy to sign both these contracts. I love my sixth novel – I feel I have been a little more adventurous in the way I have gone about writing it and I love the characters as well. As for my non-fiction book, while I feel quite nervous about having many of my inner struggles of the past few years made public, I believe in this book and hope and pray it inspires others. Yet in both cases, I found myself hesitating for a few seconds before signing on the dotted line.

You see, signing these contracts means I commit myself to see these books through to publication and beyond. For starters, it means I am declaring these books are all my own work – and that I will deliver these completed works by the dates specified. But more than that, it means I agree to cooperate to the best of my ability with my publisher throughout the whole process and to do my utmost after publication to promote my books well. Now in return, my publisher also has to sign and agree to certain terms, such as delivering the finished product within a particular time frame and paying any royalties due. So we both commit ourselves to keep our end of the bargain and to work well together in the process.

All of which has made me reflect on the biggest commitment of my life – my commitment to love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind and strength and to follow him forever. While these other documents we might sign or contracts we might agree to are important, nothing could ever be as important as our commitment to God. God’s commitment to us was made abundantly clear through the death of Jesus Christ, an act of love above all other. While we were still sinners, far away from God, Romans 5:8 tells us, in love, Christ died for us.

I chose to sign my life away to God many years ago and am so thankful for that. But right now, how am I doing as far as being true to this greatest commitment of all is concerned?

Could this be a question you might ask yourself too?

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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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