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Posts Tagged ‘Laura’

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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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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It’s great, isn’t it, when we meet up again with old friends we haven’t seen for ages and the connection is just as warm and close as it ever was.  It’s like everything else falls away and we are once again appreciated essentially for who we are, irrespective of anything we have achieved in life.  The friendship is real, reaching across time and distance.  We feel valued, loved – and our hearts melt.

Last week I held the book launch for my third novel ‘Laura’.  One friend who attended has known me for around forty-five years.  We were at high school together, but lost track of each other for over forty years.  Then around three years ago, she managed to find me again – and our friendship has become even stronger, as we mutually support each other in our various endeavours.  In fact, she was the one who originally invited me to a holiday camp as a teenager where I discovered for myself how Jesus Christ loved me so much and gave himself for me.  At that camp, the best friendship of all began for me, as I came to understand what it really means to be a child of God and to be welcomed back with open arms into his family.  Just like the lost son in Luke 15 in the bible, I knew I had come home to where I belonged.

Many of my other friends who celebrated the release of ‘Laura’ with me have attended all three of my book launches in recent years.  They have hung in there with me, faithfully supporting me as I pursue my literary endeavours, cheering me on as I seek to bring my dreams into reality and do what I believe God has called me to do at this stage of my life.  They have stuck with me – and I am so grateful.  And whether my faithful friends know it or not, they mirror God’s own faithfulness and love to me – a love that will never come to an end and will see me through all the ups and downs, all the disappointments and successes of my life.  That is exactly what God promised thousands of years ago to Joshua:

As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.  (Joshua 1:5)

Whatever happens, it is so reassuring to know that God is in it all with me for the long haul.  I will never be forsaken – and in turn, I don’t plan to forsake God.  I’m in it for the long haul too.  I truly want to be ‘God’s friend’, as Abraham was called, to the very end (Isaiah 41:8; James 2:23).

How about you?

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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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