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At times, walking into bookstores can be a bit daunting for authors. There are just so many books out there already other than our own. Perhaps the writer of Ecclesiastes knew something way back around the tenth century BC when he declared: Of making many books there is no end … (Ecc 12:12). So why am I trying so hard to add to their number? Well, there are several answers I could give, some more noble than others. Take self-interest, for example. It is definitely gratifying to see my very own books on the shelves and to have people buy and enjoy them. But if that were all there is to it, then I suspect the novelty would soon wear off.

For me, my main motivation is that I believe God has called and gifted me to write. And as I pursue that call, I have found that writing for me is utterly liberating and fulfilling. Yes, it has its testing times and frustrating days, but it also has the power to make me feel fully alive. And just when it threatens to become that little bit too difficult, God specialises, I’ve discovered, in sending unique morsels of encouragement my way.

A few days ago, my son handed me two large boxes with the comment ‘Happy Christmas!’ Inside were two long awaited Braille copies of my third novel ‘Laura’, which tells the story of a girl who is blind. My son was simply delivering them to me from a friend who had persevered over many months in arranging the transcription of my manuscript into Braille, for which I feel so indebted. I had promised another friend who originally inspired this novel that I would try to get a Braille copy for her – and I can now fulfil that promise. And this also enables me to lend the second copy to others who have enquired – like a contact who wanted a friend who is both deaf and blind to be able to read it.

Then this very same week, I also received the news that the dedicated workers at Christian Blind Mission in Melbourne have now completed the narration and recording of each of my first three novels – ‘Heléna’, ‘All the Days of My Life’ and ‘Laura’! This means my books are now available in Daisy/MP3 format for anyone with a print disability to borrow from CBM’s audio library (see www.cbm.org.au). I am so delighted that those for whom reading books such as mine would have been a huge challenge, if not an impossibility, are now able to access and enjoy them.

In all of this, I am reminded of the words of 1 Peter 4:10:

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.

That’s what I believe I am called and privileged to do – to be faithful in allowing God’s grace to bless others through my books. That’s why I write. Yes, there may be many and much better novels out there already, but God has a plan and a purpose for mine as well, I believe. Even – or perhaps especially – for those who are visually impaired.

I am humbled by that – and so grateful.

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Someone once said that novelists are like bowerbirds, continually collecting glistening treasures or colourful scraps of material wherever they can and storing them away in a safe place, ready to weave into that next wonderful, creative piece of writing. Yet this isn’t something they necessarily do on purpose, I believe.  More often than not, it’s as if these treasures force their way unbidden into the writer’s mind and imagination and remain there, ready for the picking when the moment comes.

Two weeks ago, my third novel ‘Laura’ was launched.  ‘Laura’ was inspired by the life of a friend who happens to be blind.  Many early events in the novel grew out of snippets of information she shared with me about her own growing up years as someone with a perceived ‘disability’ – times when she learnt to be strong and to live life the same as her sighted brothers and sisters did.  But these facts are woven together with others gleaned from research, along with people, places and events that I created from my own imagination.  Now, three years after completing the novel, at times I find it hard to remember what came from where and to tell the difference between fact and fiction myself.

On the other hand, I’ll never forget where the ideas for some specific events later in the novel originated – for example, the moment when Laura first hears the words of the old hymn ‘Be Thou My Vision’.  You see, I was there when my friend did just that.  Then there’s the occasion when Laura helps a friend choose her wedding dress – and again, that is very close to the truth.  Let me tell you what really happened, as I remember it.

While visiting my friend where she now lives in the States, I needed to find a dress to wear to our son’s wedding.  One day at a huge clothing store, I tried on outfit after outfit, becoming more and more frustrated and embarrassed in the process.  Then my friend, who cannot see at all, held out a dress with matching jacket she had chosen from one of the racks and suggested I try it on.

It was not quite the kind of outfit I had in mind, yet, reluctant to offend her, I put it on – and immediately loved it!  I wore it proudly to the wedding and have kept it as a reminder of God’s grace to me ever since.  You see, while I know my friend chose the outfit by feeling the lovely soft fabric of the dress itself and the trimmings and pattern of the matching brocade jacket, I know too that all the time she was praying for just the right dress for me.  And God heard her prayers – and mine.

So yes, novelists are indeed like bowerbirds – but with good reason.  That’s how God made them to be, I reckon.  And if that’s the case, then I’m happy to join their ranks and admit to being a ‘bowerbird’ any day!

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No, I am definitely not some ‘miracle mum’ giving birth in my ripe old age to a real flesh and blood baby!  I already have three beautiful children and two equally beautiful granddaughters.  Nevertheless, this whole process of launching another book into the world does feel like giving birth all over again – especially when the book concerned has the very personal name of ‘Laura’.

Yes, my third novel will officially enter the world on Sunday 13th September at 2.00pm!  If you would actually like to be present on the occasion of Laura’s ‘birth’, please feel free to leave a comment on this blog, or to contact me via my website, www.jo-anneberthelsen.com for further information.  

Also on my website, you will find I am offering a special deal for any who want to purchase ‘Laura’ prior to her actual ‘birth’ on 13th.  Yes, I am selling ‘clones’ of my new baby for the very reasonable postage-free price of twenty dollars – but only for this strictly limited period.  After all, one has to draw the line somewhere.

Seriously though – this ‘birth’ has definitely been one of my more prolonged.  While the initial writing of ‘Laura’ did take around nine months, just like any normal pregnancy, the actual ‘germ’ of the idea for this novel came fifteen years ago when I first met my friend Heather.  It was she who unintentionally inspired me to create my ‘Laura’, who in her turn became almost a real person in her own right to me.  There were many puzzling, frustrating moments along the way, however, as ‘Laura’ grew inside me – times when I spent hours searching for exactly the right information about becoming blind, about education for blind students, about artificial eyes, about so many things.  At one stage I almost aborted the whole idea – it just seemed too difficult a book to write well and with integrity.  But by then I had grown very attached to my Laura – and I so much wanted her to push through all the difficulties confronting her and to make a safe entrance into the world.

And now here she is at last – after a ‘pregnancy’ lasting around three years all up!  While the original writing took around nine months, since then there have been many re-writes and many periods of waiting for my publisher to say ‘yes’ and to put the final touches on my ‘baby’.  So it is with great joy and no little relief that I can finally say, with great thanks to God …  WELCOME TO ‘LAURA’!

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