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Posts Tagged ‘Australian novelist’

Jo 12Have you ever experienced a time when someone reminded you of something helpful you said to them once, yet you had no memory of ever saying it? You know this person is not lying—you know you must have said those words they remember. Yet you still feel something of a fraud, taking any credit for the encouragement you gave them, when it has now gone from your mind!

Recently, I heard how Jeanie Wood, whom I met around two years ago, was about to release her first novel (The Travel Club, published by Elephant House Press).That’s nice, I thought, I’m so glad she will have the joy of seeing her book in print. Now people often tell me how they would like to write a book ‘one day’—and equally often, I suspect they will never get around to it or have the self-discipline to complete such a big task. But Jeanie had actually followed through with it all and achieved her long-held dream.

Then one day she messaged me, thanking me for encouraging her to write a novel ‘just for fun’. Wow, I thought, did I really say or write that? I remembered chatting to her when we first met and offering to read a few chapters of some of her writing, which she subsequently sent me. I remembered too how one piece of non-fiction she had written was very sad and would have stirred up past memories for her of difficult times. Was that perhaps the reason I had encouraged her to write something quite different? Whatever the case, God had obviously used those three words I can’t even remember saying or writing to spur her on and help usher her into a new and extremely fulfilling part of her writing journey.

But then there are other words we say at times that do not bring joy and fulfilment. I wonder if someone has ever reminded you of something you said or wrote that hurt them, yet you were unaware that was the case—and again, may not have remembered saying or writing it.

This too happened to me once. In that instance, while I remembered what I wrote, I had no idea my words would offend. Imagine my horror then when, a few years later, this person let me know in no uncertain terms how deeply I had hurt her. I then had to write back, asking what she meant, only to be shocked all over again at the depth of her feelings as she reiterated in fine detail what I had said and done. Yet how to apologise? I did try—and I also tried to explain what I had meant, but I am unsure how successful my overtures were.

Sometimes we can be so amazed and grateful that our words have impacted others in a positive way, can’t we? At other times, we may wish we could take those words of ours back and swallow them whole! Either way, let’s continue to learn to listen well to God, to seek to tame our tongues and to share more of those positive, life-giving words rather than any that will hurt or discourage.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Ephesians 4:29

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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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If there’s one thing I have a slight reputation for, it is being a bit of a workaholic. Now I don’t always see that, but I must admit that when I get my teeth into a job, I do like to finish it. Why leave things half done? Why not have the satisfaction of seeing a job completed and knowing you have done your best? Not that I’m a perfectionist or anything – but that’s another label altogether!

I’ve discovered in my writing journey in particular, that being a workaholic can come in very handy at times. In the past few weeks, I have been working on re-editing not one but two of my manuscripts. A potential publisher suggested both needed quite extensive revision, which caused my heart to sink at first. But then my fighting spirit cut in – for a while at least – and I decided I would do it, come what may! I managed to knock over one revision, but not far into the next, I received various forms from the publisher to complete, which took me many hours all up. Now I knew this information was needed, yet I found I wasn’t quite in the right headspace for such tasks. My mind was still in my novel, trying to work out how to put the required changes in place. By this time, I had again become well and truly embroiled in the lives of my characters, wanting to do justice to them and not mess around too much with their thoughts or words or emotions. So I began grumbling. Were these changes really necessary? Would my potential readers care – or even notice – if I left things as they were?

Right at that point, an even worse thought snuck up on me. What if I do all this work and one of these manuscripts or – horror of horrors – maybe even both are rejected by my potential publisher? What about all the hours I will have wasted, not to mention the emotional energy expended, trying to work out how to put things better?

And then I read Colossians 3:23-24:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not for men, since you know that you will receive and inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Straight away, this made a big difference to my attitude. You see, these words caused me to step back and remind myself of the bigger picture. I believe God called me to write – and I believe God can touch people’s lives through my books. In essence, I am not working for any particular potential publisher or any editor. I am working for the Lord. And that changes my perspective entirely.

But these words and the timing of my reading them also reminded me that God knows about all this editing and is right in it with me. And one special, delicious little touch that shows me this is that the novel I am editing is entitled – wait for it – The Inheritance! Now I know Paul is talking in this verse about our heavenly inheritance. Nevertheless, I like to think these words are a lovely, gentle, humorous promise from God about my own novel as well.

What do you think? Do these words of Paul’s change your attitude to work?

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‘Do you want the good news or the bad news?’ I asked my husband a few days ago.

‘Oh, the good news!’ he responded.

‘Well, I’ve edited fifty-six of my blogs,’ I sighed. ‘But the bad news is I have fifty-seven more to go!’

This all began quite a few weeks back. At that time I was thinking and praying about what my next writing project should be. I had completed my first non-fiction work and submitted it to a publisher. I knew I had the beginnings of three other novels on my computer—yet was it right to tackle one of these? Or should I try more non-fiction?

An author friend emailed me, strongly suggesting I should do something with the many blogs I have written. An older friend whose godly opinion I value so much urged me to do the same. Various other friends and family members to whom I mentioned the whole concept felt this was the way for me to go too. Then not long after, I read some encouraging words from Isaiah 61 that seemed to indicate that the idea had God’s blessing and that my efforts would prosper. Soon I was fully on board, ready to tackle this next challenge.

Since July 2009, I have disciplined myself to write a weekly blog that would say something about God and faith and often about writing as well, in an effort to reach out and encourage others and hopefully draw them a little closer to God. So now I had the task of wading through more than a hundred and fifty of these, deciding which would be suitable for inclusion in my proposed book. Some I immediately decided against using. They were too personal or too ‘for that moment only’ or … well, just plain not very good!

But then came the real slog. Then I had to begin to read the ones I had selected yet again, this time not only editing them but also grouping them into categories such as ‘Encouragement’, ‘Following God’s Call’, ‘Perseverance’ and other similar titles.

So now I have arrived at Number 57. Sometimes the going has been easy and delightful as I remember why I wrote this or that blog and rejoice again over some God-moment in my life. At other times, I move slowly, taking in again some deep lesson from God that I wrote about originally with a contrite heart and a spirit touched and comforted by God’s own Spirit. And I sit again in God’s presence, asking myself where I am now with that particular issue or difficulty.

Yes, it is a lot of work—and at times I wonder if I would have started at all, if I had know what I was letting myself in for. But then I realise perhaps the key thing this whole exercise has shown me yet again is the utter faithfulness of God in my life. Time after time, I read how God reached out to me, met me at my point of need, rejoiced with me, grieved with me, persevered with me, forgave me—and all of this in absolute love for me. And I remember God’s words to the Israelites so long ago:

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” (Jer 31:3)

My blogs are indeed testimony of the truth of this in my own life—and I am humbled and oh so thankful.

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During the recent heavy rains, we knew it was quite likely that the creek outside our back fence would inundate our yard. After all, this creek flows down from a nearby high ridge and into the Parramatta River not far away. So when heavy rains coincide with a high tide in the river, then the water has to go somewhere.

We knew we were not in any danger as we watched the creek quickly rise. Nevertheless, we clearly remembered the mess left in our yard from previous floods and did not want to have to shovel and hose and clean up yet again.

Then I noticed a blueberry ash tree I had planted several years ago on the creek bank was now surrounded by murky water. It had been a giveaway at our local Council’s ‘free tree’ day when a tiny seedling and had managed to survive being attacked by our lawnmower and a total lack of care from me. There it was, still standing bravely upright—and I was so proud of it.

I left my post momentarily. And when I returned, my blueberry ash was nowhere to be seen. I stood staring at the spot, feeling very sad for a tree that had fought so gamely to survive. It had not cost me anything, so was no great loss. But it had taken years to get to about a metre and half in height. And now it was wiped out.

Disgusted, I walked inside.

Not long after, my husband ventured down our yard to begin cleaning up—and next time I looked, lo and behold, there was my blueberry ash again!

‘It was weighed down by a lot of debris that had caught in its leaves,’ my husband told me. “Once I removed that, it sprang back up!’

Later, I went down to inspect my tree myself. Yes, it was standing up, albeit at a slight angle. Even its little, dark blue berries were still intact. At its base, the roots had obviously been strained and tested—but they had held firm. I straightened the tree, packed some more earth around it and placed a rock at its base. Yes, it had survived and would live to grown even firmer and stronger.

Immediately, I thought of the words of Psalm 1:1-3:

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

The roots of my blueberry ash had obviously gone down deep enough into the moist soil by the creek to withstand the fast flowing flood waters. Yes, my tree had been weighed down with debris but it had stood firm. What a parable for my own life! What a graphic reminder of how I need to close my ears to discouragement and bad advice and instead send my roots down deep into the Word of God, drinking from that living water only God can provide! Then when the difficulties of my writing journey threaten to overwhelm me, I will remain unmoved, lift my head, shake myself off and start again.

May you too be like my blueberry ash, standing firm, whatever the waters that may swirl around you!

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I wonder if you’re like me and have a drawer or a box or a folder where you put all sorts of precious things you can’t quite bring yourself to throw away? My drawer of treasures is almost overflowing. It currently contains old certificates, cards of appreciation from the various places I have worked, funny little messages my children or grandchildren have written, various orders of service from weddings and funerals we have attended, newspaper and magazine cuttings about people I knew—and so the list goes on. But in one folder I unearthed there recently, I found some of my writing from over twenty-five years ago. I didn’t even remember clearly that I was doing any writing at that stage of my life, but there was the evidence before my eyes. As I sorted through it, I found an old church newsletter from 1985—and on the front was a poem I had written.

Now I don’t pretend to be a poet. I have enough trouble being a novelist! But I immediately remembered the emotions and frustrations I was feeling at that time in my life as I read my poem again—emotions that stirred me enough to work hard to express them on paper. Thankfully, by the grace of God, I came through that time, but it occurred to me that there may be some people out there who are going through similar frustrations in their lives right now, particularly in their writing journeys. So last week, I chose to share my poem in a blog I wrote for the International Christian Fiction Writers blog (http://internationalchristianfictionwriters.blogspot.com/).  And lo and behold, already two people I have never met have contacted me from the other side of the world, expressing how much the poem had meant to them and asking for permission to reproduce it. One lives in the Adirondack Mountains in the north of New York State – I don’t even know where that is!

If God could use a simple, little poem to bless someone else so far away, I figured that maybe he also wants to bless someone closer to home. So I decided to share my poem again, in case any of you identify too with what I wrote. The poem really is a prayer—a cry from my heart at the time—and is based on Isaiah 9:6:  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Wonderful Counsellor, surround me with your wisdom.

My mind is tired, with indecision torn.

Where is the path prepared for me to follow?

I need you, Lord, to watch, to guide, to warn.

 

Almighty God, defend me with your power.

My weakness wins, my courage ebbs away.

O Holy One, great Lord of all creation,

For strength to stand secure I humbly pray.

 

Everlasting Father, how you love me!

I am your child, forgiven, forever free!

O hold me fast, transform me to your likeness,

Till men in me your face more clearly see.

 

Prince of Peace, bestow your calm assurance.

My heart is troubled, turmoil takes control.

O send your soothing Spirit to surround me.

Speak, Lord, till I am still within my soul!

 

Is that your heart cry right now? May you have listening ears to hear what God is saying to you. And may you know the loving presence of the Prince of Peace close by you and around you this Christmas, giving you all the wisdom and assurance you need.

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