Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Feeling the burn, by Veronica Zundel

Irregular verb: I am sensitive, you are touchy, s/he is a fusspot.

Have you ever been told you are 'over-sensitive'? Apparently when I was a baby, a complete stranger looked in my pram where I was bawling my head off and declared firmly, 'Ah, artistic temperament'.
 My mother never tired of reminding me of this incident throughout my subsequent life!

But does the writer or other 'creative' actually need to be more sensitive, to have deeper, and yet more easily accessible, feelings than other mortals? Are we born without that extra skin that enables the less 'artistic' to imitate a duck's back and let life, like water, roll off them? Sensitivity can be an excuse we use to make others do our bidding ('only the tiniest bit of chilli for me please') but if we really are more impressionable or even more fragile than others, it can be both a curse and a blessing.

A curse because, inevitably, life is going to send us tough stuff and we may be more affected by it than those with thicker hide or who bounce back quicker. A blessing because - well, actually for
exactly the same reason. We who make books or paintings or music or dance can take the tough stuff of our lives, in which we get so easily immersed, and transmute it, given time and effort, into something with the potential to feed or heal or inspire others. And equally important, we can take the good stuff which we enjoy so intensely and communicate it to others in a way which will, if we are lucky (and experienced!) allow them to see it in a new light or to feel its heights and depths as we do.

Of course, if sensitivity is a necessary attribute of the artist, it has its downside - we may be perennially closer than others to tipping over into the fearful territory of mental illness or breakdown. It surely is no coincidence that so many of our great writers/painters/musicians have suffered psychologically as an accompaniment to, or perhaps the price of, their creativity (or its inspiration?). You can be a highly sensitive person without producing any artistic output whatever, of any quality, but I'm not so sure that the converse applies.

There are always the glorious exceptions, writers and artists full of unquenchable joy and humour, who enrich our lives with laughter and hope - surely P G Wodehouse, for example, a writer of enormous talent, had few if any moments of despair or overwhelmedness - although you could argue
that he was exceptionally sensitive to the ridiculousness of everyday situations.

For most of us, however, if we want to create for the consumption of a human race almost all of whom will experience suffering, and most of whom will have moments of extraordinary bliss, we will have to live through both pain and pleasure ourselves, and we may have to experience them at a greater intensity than the average. Or is that just me?

Veronica Zundel is a freelance writer whose latest book is Everything I know about God, I've learned from being a parent (BRF 2013). She also writes a column for Woman Alive magazine, and Bible notes for BRF's New Daylight. Veronica used to belong to what was, before it closed, the only non-conservative, English speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and is currently playing at being a high Anglican. She also blogs (rather occasionally!) at

Monday, 18 September 2017

#nofilter, by Georgina Tennant

Time for a confession.  Despite being ‘thirty-something’ (OK, late thirty-something) and supposedly of the generation for whom a smart phone is an arm-extension, I am inept when it comes to all things technological.  I wish I could say I was using hyperbole when I admit that it took me an embarrassing amount of time to locate the hashtag for the title of this post! 

I am a fan of Facebook and can What’s App like a pro, but the worlds of Twitter, Instagram, Snap-chat and whatever else is out there, are alien climes to me.  The mysterious hashtag, appearing occasionally on Facebook, bemuses me.  Recently one of my Year 12 students kindly and not-at-all-condescendingly did her best to explain it all to me.  I’m not sure I was left any the wiser.

One thing I had begun to notice on some Facebook posts, was the label #nofilter.  Even with slightly-improved understanding of what hashtags were supposed to do, this one still perplexed me.  What did it mean? I found out, on a church camping trip.  Sitting in the evening sun one day, camping hair and ‘no-make-up’ face on display, a more techno-savvy friend declared it a selfie moment.  “NOT one for Facebook!” I announced, knowing how terrible I looked.  “Don’t worry,” she replied – “I’ll add makeup and change the lighting so we look great!”  This, she explained, was a filter.  I had no idea how commonly they were used, naively assuming that everyone else posting their photos was just aging considerably better than me!

Fast forward a few months and I walked the ‘Race for Life’ with my sister, to raise money for Cancer Research.  A particularly unflattering photograph appeared on the local radio station website, prompting me to joke that I could do with someone inventing a “lose-a-stone” filter for people like me!

It all got me thinking about filters in our minds and the way they impact how we see the world through them.  We all have them and they affect how we view and react to situations in our lives every day.  Our filters are formed from our life experiences, good and bad.  The things people do and say, our responses to things we read and hear, are all processed through our own sets of filters. I know, from my own experience that a rousing sermon can send me sobbing into my cup of coffee, if Ofsted have been and the children haven't slept. The same message can have me encouraged and pressing on, if I'm in a better place. 

If we have been brought up in a climate of love and acceptance, missing an invite to a social event probably won’t bring forth a string of rejection-fuelled emotions.  If we have never experienced the pain of sudden loss, we probably don’t wait up, fearful and anxious if our partner is inexplicably home late.  If your experience is the opposite, your filters can bring you down in a negative spiral of fear and even the smallest remark can be blown out of all proportion, causing us real emotional pain.

As writers (although I am aware that I probably mean writers of non-fiction, here), I believe that we would do well to consider other people’s filters, as we write.  Of course, that doesn’t mean we should suppress our own voices and opinions or try to please everyone – that will never happen!  We can’t account for and anticipate every possible viewpoint as we seek to express ours. However, it is worth having a listen to how our words might sound, through others’ filters.  Is what I am writing respectful, helpful, warm, empathetic?  Will a broken person be encouraged and uplifted by this, or made to feel inadequate and still more unworthy?  Am I being real and honest (#nofilter) or presenting an image of my life being perfect and completely together?

I know when I write from the heart, admitting my own struggles and brokenness, others connect and find inspiration that their own, unfiltered issues are acceptable to admit to - and that they can still be loved by God and others, however wild their hair or weather-beaten their faces and hearts. 

Georgina Tennant is a secondary school English teacher in a Norfolk Comprehensive.  She is married, with two sons, aged 9 and 6, who keep her exceptionally busy! She feels intimidated by having to provide an author-biography, when her writing only extends, currently, to attempting to blog, writing the ‘Thought for the Week’ for the local paper occasionally, and having a poem published in a book from a National Poetry Competition! Her musings about life can be found on her blog:

Sunday, 17 September 2017

What a whirlwind! By Claire Musters

The lovely (and award-winning) Catherine Campbell patiently waiting in the queue!

I spent 24 hours at CRT, unfortunately missing the evening with the posh frocks and awards. As it was my first time, and it included a lot of other firsts for me, I wanted to reflect on my time there, as it was so worth going (even if I missed the fun of eating and celebrating with the award winners).

My eighth book is publishing in November, but this was the first time that I had been asked by a publisher to attend CRT in order to do an official launch to the trade there. Which leads me on to my next first: a book signing. I’ve only ever signed the odd book when my titles have been part of a larger display. It felt a bit daunting, but also rather exciting, to have a space saved for my book and my photo and details in the programme.

Speaking to Jane Clamp, another ACWer :)
I have to say, as a rather shy introvert, I was quite nervous about attending CRT at all. I wondered how much I would need to be ‘on show’, who I would sit next to at meal times, how often I would be left on my own etc. I even put a plea out to fellow ACW members to look out for me and talk to me if they saw me looking forlorn!

I needn’t have been worried though. My publishers (Authentic) looked after me incredibly well (so well, in fact, that even when I was on the receiving end of wonderful beaming faces and waves from a table full of ACWers I wasn’t able to go and chat to them!)

That leads me on to the main point I wanted to make here. ACW is such a brilliant, supportive group. It was great to meet and speak to so many of you while at ACW (albeit briefly!), and to have you pop up in my signing line (such an encouragement to see familiar faces).

Everyone from ACW was congratulating one another, and seeing how they could practically support each other’s work too (thanks Wendy in particular!). I came away even more glad that I am a part of this organisation – and I am definitely coming to the writers’ day in October, where I hope to speak to members for a little longer!

PS Yes, I know some of you had stack envy - I can teach you how to display your books in the same way Authentic set mine up ;)

PPS If any of you would like to be a part of my online launch group and aren't already, please do take a look - I'd love to have you there!

Claire is a freelance writer, speaker and editor, mum to two gorgeous young children, pastor’s wife, worship leader and school governor. Claire’s desire is to help others draw closer to God through her writing, which focuses on authenticity, marriage, parenting, worship, discipleship, issues facing women today etc. Her books include Taking your Spiritual Pulse, CWR’s Insight Into Managing Conflict, Insight Into Self-acceptance, Cover to Cover: David A man after God’s own heart, Insight Into Burnout and BRF Foundations21 study guides on Prayer and Jesus. She also writes Bible study notes. She has two books being published in November: Taking off the mask: daring to be the person God created you to be, with Authentic Media, and Cover to Cover: 1–3 John Walking in the truth, with CWR. To find out more about her, please visit and @CMusters on Twitter.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Journalling by Lynda Alsford

I have spent the last year or so asking myself, mostly in an unnecessarily harsh way, “Why aren’t you writing? You should be writing”. But it occurred to me in the last couple of weeks that I am still writing – It’s just that I am not writing a book. I am doing other forms of writing.

The main way I have been writing is to write in my journal. I don’t know about you but I have notebooks everywhere. I have them by the bed, in the lounge and in my handbag. I always have something with me in which to write thoughts and things I need to remember. Nowadays, when so much is done digitally and online, it is easy to forget sometimes how much enjoyment there is in actually sitting down with a notebook and writing in it.

I have always have a notebook in which I write exactly what I am thinking, good, bad, angry or sad. I write it all down in my journal. These journals are for venting and often I address them to Father God. It is a way of praying on paper. I never keep these journals. Once I have finished them I shred them and dispose of them. If God speaks to me as I am venting I transfer the thought to elsewhere - normally my spiritual journal. 

My spiritual journal or prayer journal is where I keep a list of those I am praying for and what their needs are at the moment. I also write down key thoughts about God, what he has been saying to me and what I learned in my Bible study time.  These journals I keep. They are a record of how my life with God is progressing.Writing down things God says helps me to remember them better later.

Another way I write is making to-do lists and lists of things I needed to remember. I had to-do lists and reminders everywhere. I mean everywhere. I got lost in a sea of to-do lists and reminders that I could never keep up with.  Then a couple of months ago a friend introduced me to the Bullet Journal© system (Bujo©  for short). Bullet journals were developed by Ryder Carroll (see for more info).  He describes it as “The analog system for the digital age”. It is a handwritten system, which is part planner, part to-do lists, part storing useful information. I find it very useful. I finally have all my to-do lists and reminders in one place. I am more organised than I was as well, which is a bonus.  I know  where all my lists are. I still use my Google calendar for longer term planning but my bullet journal keeps me on track with my tasks from day to day. 

The good thing about this realisation about all my writing is that it is making me realise I am a writer. It is how I connect with the world around me. I was beginning to tell myself I am not really a writer if I am not writing a book but that is a lie. So, I am changing the voice with which I speak to myself . I am being kinder to myself and allowing myself to be a writer, who is not currently writing a book. I have a book I started but am taking a break from it for a while. And that is okay. I am still a writer. 

What about you? Do you journal? Does being a writer come out in all the different areas of your life?

Lynda Alsford is a sea loving, cat loving GP  administrator and writes in her spare time. She has written two books, He Never Let Go describes her journey through a major crisis of faith whilst working as an evangelist at a lively Church in Chiswick, West London. Being Known describes how God set her free from food addiction. Both books are available in paperback and on kindle on  and She writes a newsletter called Seeking the Healer, in which she shares the spiritual insights she has gained on her journey. When she finally starts her blog, it will also be called Seeking the Healer and you can find out more about both at

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Lessons in fruitfulness 14th September 2017 by Susanne Irving

The first thing I noticed when we got back from holiday a few days ago was the hanging basket with dried sweet pea skeletons. The flowers had coped OK for many weeks despite my haphazard watering, but 2 ½ weeks without any attention had clearly taken their toll. As I soon discovered, there is no point of leaving them in the garden any longer. We may have had PLENTY of rain in recent days, but it is too late now. Their roots are already dead.

In contrast, one of our apple trees bore the biggest apples I have ever seen. The apple tree faced the same weather conditions as the sweet peas, but its roots go much deeper.

It made me reflect on what my roots are like. When faced with a drought or a storm will I still stand and bear fruit? I made the decision to read a psalm every day to get back into the habit of daily bible reading.

I love the way “The Voice” puts the blessings of being rooted in God: “For you, the Eternal’s Word is your happiness. It is your focus – from dusk to dawn. You are like a tree, planted by flowing, cool streams of water that never run dry. Your fruit ripens in its time, your leaves never fade or curl in the summer sun…” (Psalm 1:2f)

Notice that the psalm does not promise that we will always bear fruit and never lose our leaves, but that at the right time we will see a harvest…

There would be no apples today if I had not bothered planting an apple tree years ago. I had to contribute something to be blessed with a harvest, but in the scheme of things I had to do very little. This year I am particularly aware that the apple tree had the right weather conditions when it was flowering. In contrast, in some regions of Germany the apple harvest has halved because of late frost. How often do I think about and give thanks for undeserved blessings? Looking for reasons to give thanks every day is another nourishing habit worth getting back into...

What is your garden (or nature) teaching you right now?

About the author: Susanne Irving is the co-ordinator for the Creative Communicators in Petersfield. She has co-written a book with her husband John about their experiences when climbing Kilimanjaro. It is aimed at both trekkers and those who are going through a dark time in their lives. How to conquer a mountain: Kilimanjaro lessons is available as a paperback and an e-book on Amazon, with all proceeds going to charity. The German translation Wie man einen Berg bezwingt: Was der Kilimanjaro uns gelehrt hat was also published on Amazon in June 2017.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Our Memories Are Valuable Resources for Historical Fiction Writers

I was writing this as Florida was being ravaged by Hurricane Irma.  Irma has torn through Naples, a beautiful seaside resort, with a wide, sandy beach, lined with old fashioned clinker-built houses, with raised verandas, seemingly straight out of 'To Kill A Mockingbird' (although, I know, TKAM is set in Alabama, which has also been hit).  I visited Naples in 2008.  It’s surged through Sarasota, converting streets into rivers.  In 2008, we shared a house in Sarasota in 2008, with our wonderful friends, Alan and Sheila, who are (thank God) safe and in north London.  I remember sitting outside with them, in late October, at a cafe in Sarasota, at peace and relaxed, drinking gallons and gallons of black coffee from a metal jug.  But, this last Monday, my Facebook writer friend, Yvette, posted this - from one of the wealthier areas of the United States: 

Advice to Those Affected by Hurricane Irma in Florida

I feel as if I've been through this emotional process all before, a few weeks ago, when Hurricane Neville swept through Texas. In 2011, we stayed in Houston with our friends Bruce and Charlsie.  Sadly, Charlsie has since passed away.  A fortnight ago I was following the Facebook feed of their daughter, Jordan; she recounted  water sweeping up their road in Houston, up the sidewalk, creeping up the garden... but never inside house. I noted the many prayers, and appeals for prayers, and the urgent calls for anyone who has a boat to come and help. Is it coincidence that the film 'Dunkirk' has just been released? Amazingly Jordan found time to respond to our many (well-meant but probably irksome) emails, assuring us that THIS IS TEXAS. WE LOOK AFTER OUR OWN. And then she went on to tell us about some football star who had raised several million dollars in hours. Hold those thoughts.

On the day of the Referendum in June 2016, my husband tried to ring the Election Office to say that we might not make it to the polling station (where we were both supposed to be working as poll staff) as our road, which had been a raging torrent the previous day, was still several inches deep.  He got no reply as - guess what? - the Election Office was also flooded.  (We did get to the polling station btw.)  This was not the first time our road in rural Essex had flooded.  Two decades ago, neighbours, with whom we had had any contact for years, knocked on our door, walked straight into our garage and (as I was alone in the house) moved our mower on to wood blocks so it didn't get waterlogged.  I then made my way up our road and, seeing flood water pour into other houses, offered to put anyone up who needed it.  Another neighbour, remembering that we used to offer bed and breakfast, sniggered and asked me how much I would charge.  I walked away feeling very hurt.  Hold these thoughts also!

We've also known hurricanes. Remember 1987?  We lived in Surrey back then.  We went to bed that night, thinking it was a bit windy.  In the small hours, I looked down our garden, to the two stout (and I mean really stout, with trunks as thick as a man) oak trees bending over like pipe straws.  Amazingly, they returned to their normal posture afterwards and, next day, I hung my washing on a line tied between them.  However, returning to the night… my husband realised that his car boot was open and saw his library of organ music (probably worth about £1000) blowing about in the 'breeze'.  He rushed outside in his pyjamas to rescue it, pinning down ancient, dog-eared pages with one hand as he attempted to pick up others.  He didn't lose any of it.  

The following morning, I got our daughter up as usual, dressed her in her uniform and drove her to school; she was one of only four children to arrive in her class. Many of the roads in Surrey were blocked by falling branches and whole spinneys and woods were flattened. Hold these thoughts also!
Why am I reminding you of all this?  We writers need our resources, especially those of us who write contemporary fiction and historical fiction. All of us need to hold on to our memories, not just what happened (which will get recorded in the history books and in Wikpedia), but what we were thinking and doing at the time.  If you can't use it in your writing, another writer will.

Rosemary Johnson has had many short stories published, in print and online, amongst other places, in The Copperfield Review, Circa and Every Day Fiction.  In real life, she is a part-time IT tutor, living on Essex/Suffolk border with her husband and cat.  Her cat supports her writing by sitting on her keyboard and deleting large portions of text.  Rosemary apologises to any readers who have already read this post on her blog Write On, but she spent two hours composing a wonderful post on rejection, only to realise she had written on rejection last May.  Ho hum.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

“Faithful the wounds of a friend”? When your writing tells you the truths you don’t want to hear by Andrew J Chamberlain

“Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” Proverbs Ch27 v6

After more than twenty years as a author, I have just started to think of writing as a friend. I have realised that the craft fulfils many of the requirements of friendship. We spend hours together and I try to invest regularly in the relationship. I get fretful if I am away from my ‘friend’ for an extended period of time, and when the relationship is not going well I feel it personally.
To non-writers the intimacy of this relationship will seem strange; after all writing is just a hobby isn’t it? No need to get over excited! Alas, how little they know of writers and their writing!
But if writing is my friend, what do I get from this friendship? One rather terrifying ‘benefit’ is that my writing allows me to access the kind of honesty that can get under my skin and confront me with truths about myself and others, a scary prospect.
I’ve always considered authenticity in writing to be essential; but the consequence of this is that the most successful writing can end up being the most revealing writing. We can end up confronting ourselves with truths about our fears, our weaknesses, and our honest reactions to circumstances; and this isn’t just in the private pages of a prayer journal or diary. It can be a discomforting process, but if I am now thinking of my writing as a friend, then I should give this friendship, like all of my relationships, wholly to God.
As I recognise writing as a friend before God, the wisdom of Proverbs begins to make sense. I want to maintain an honest relationship with my work, and consequently it tells me to the truth, or rather forces me to confront the truths in my life. In that sense the craft fulfills the obligations of friendship as described in the verse above. The process of writing with honesty, before God, can sometimes be very hard. But the wounds are inflicted faithfully, and with our best interests at heart, and it is far better for me to be encouraged into honest self-awareness than to flatter myself with deception.
Honest writing is indeed a scary prospect, but I’m going to accept that challenge and try to find the faithfulness that God promises from true friendship.

Andrew Chamberlain is a writer and creative writing tutor. He is the presenter of The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt, a podcast and author of The Creative Writer’s Toolbelt Handbook containing the best advice and insight from 100 episodes of the podcast, and which will be published in early October 2017.