Friday, 26 May 2017

Apples of Gold, by Eve Lockett

I have been looking back through my notebooks where from time to time I write down extracts and quotations that particularly speak to me. It’s very satisfying to copy someone else’s words, and I find it’s a rich resource for giving talks, creative ideas and wisdom. If you haven’t got such a collection on the go, can I recommend it? It’s also a great excuse to buy a gorgeous new notebook.

Here is a selection:

Whenever you are fed up with life, start writing: ink is the great cure for all human ills, as I have found out long ago.
C.S. Lewis, in a letter to Arthur Greeves

I read somewhere of a shepherd who, when asked why he made, from within fairy rings, ritual observances to the moon to protect his flocks, replied: ‘I’d be a damn’ fool if I didn’t!’ These poems, with all their crudities, doubts, and confusions, are written for the love of Man and in praise of God, and I’d be a damn’ fool if they weren’t.
Dylan Thomas, Note in his Collected Poems 1934-1952

If one turns aside from Christ to go towards truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.
Simone Weil, Waiting on God

When you have become God’s in the measure He wants, He Himself will know how to bestow you to others, unless for thy greater advantage, He prefer to keep thee all to Himself.
The words of St Basil

Throughout the world sounds one long cry from the heart of the artist: ‘Give me the chance to do my very best!’
Papin, in the film Babette’s Feast (1987)

Whatever the attitude of the novel, however your world is viewed, it must be your own. Not your own as a public person, not your own as a Christian or an atheist or a communist or a Conservative, but as a private person.
Writing a novel, John Braine

Through the Moomins, she’s writing absolutely from the heart. She connected so easily with me from across all those demographics, those oceans, those gaps of time, because she put so much of herself into those stories. They’re so honest, they’re so vulnerable, there’s nothing calculated about them; and that’s always universal. If you’re really, really personal, if you’re really, really particular to what’s hurting you or what’s making you happy, then you become universal.
Frank Cottrell Boyce, interviewed for BBC Scotland, Moominland Tales: The Life of Tove Jansson

‘That’s what you humans do: bring order out of chaos.’
Dr Who in the Tardis, talking to his female companion as they watch rocks hurtling through space to form the Solar System.

…science has discovered that places where true novelty can emerge have to be located at what we can call ‘the edge of chaos’. New possibilities can only come into existence in regions where both order and disorder interlace each other.
John Polkinghorne, in a sermon on Radio 4

I think you can define humanity as people who pray.
Sister Wendy, Arena: Sister Wendy and the Art of the Gospel

A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. 
Proverbs 25.11

Thursday, 25 May 2017

What's that smell? by Fiona Lloyd

To fully appreciate this post, you’ll need your “scratch-and-sniff” technology enabled.


Right, then: what do you think of this?

For those of you who don’t recognise it, this is allium ursinum – or wild garlic – and its dainty white flowers and not-so-dainty aroma permeate British woodlands at this time of year.

To my mind, however, it’s not quite so pungent as its more widely recognised cousin, allium sativum, which is the usual garlic you find in the supermarket. Personally, I rather like the smell of both varieties, and use enough of the regular stuff in my cooking to send any level-headed vampire running for cover.

I’m pretty sure, though, that while a large number of you are now licking your lips and nodding in agreement, others will be grimacing and making a mental note not to sit too close to me in future. Garlic – like that well-known yeast-extract product – is one of those things that divides opinion.

But wouldn’t life be boring if we were all the same? Some people like garlic; others loathe it. There are those who think a perfect Saturday afternoon involves watching 22 grown men chase a ball up and down a muddy field…but I’m not one of them. My tastes in music tend to lag about 200 years behind those of the general populace, but that doesn’t make my preferences any less valid.

One of the mantras beloved of writing courses everywhere is to think about your target audience.  It’s not realistic to expect that our writing will appeal to everyone, and yet so often we start off with only a vague idea of who it is we’re writing for. If we worry too much about people not liking our work, there’s a danger we’ll never share it with anyone. Either that, or our words become so insipid that they lose their ability to hold the reader’s attention. We need to continually remind ourselves that it’s okay to divide the critics: if our intended readership enjoys and / or benefits from our writing, it doesn’t really matter if others are less enamoured.

And after all, who wants to be bland?

Fiona Lloyd works part-time as a music teacher, and serves on the worship leading team at her local church. Fiona self-published a violin tutor book in 2013 and blogs at and at You can find her on Twitter at @FionaJLloyd. Fiona is vice-chair of ACW and is married with three grown-up children.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

The Dark is Rising

In Susan Cooper’s 1977 children’s novel Silver on the Tree, the hero, Will Stanton, encounters some boys from his school bullying a younger boy, Manny Singh, on the bank of a stream. They are taunting him for his ethnicity and his musical studies; the biggest bully, Richie Moore, snatches his music case and drops it in the water. Will’s grown-up brother Stephen comes on the scene, and, having tried to reason with Richie, finally drops him into the water to retrieve the music case.

Later, the bully’s father calls round at Will’s house. A discussion follows between Mr Moore on the one side and Stephen and Will’s father on the other. After Stephen has explained that he acted in response to Richie’s bullying Manny Singh, Mr Moore, addressing Will’s father, says: ‘Made a lot of fuss about nothing, that kid, I dare say. You know how they are, always on about something.’ Thinking he means children, Mr Stanton agrees. ‘Mine usually are,’ he says.

Mr Moore replies: ‘Oh no, no...I’m sure your bunch are very nice. I meant coloureds, not kids.’ And after some further, slightly sharper interchanges, he says ‘I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think they should be here, them or the West Indians. Got no right, have they? Taking jobs that should go to Englishmen, with the country in the state that it is…’

An argument develops between him and Stephen. Mr Moore, still sitting in his car, becomes heated:

The man’s face had darkened. He leaned belligerently out of the window; his breath came more quickly. ‘Let them solve their own problems, not come whining over here!...They don’t belong here, none of ’em; they should all be thrown out. And if you think they’re so bloody marvellous you’d better go and live in their lousy countries with them!’

Mr Stanton makes a very measured response, ending with an offer of ‘reparation’ for any harm done to Richie. But:

‘Reparation hell!’ The man started his engine with a deliberate roar. He leaned over the seat, shouting above the noise. ‘You just see what happens to anyone laying a finger on my boy again, for the sake of some snivelling little wog.’

And here is Will’s reaction:

From the moment when he had heard the man in the car begin to shout, and seen the look in his eyes, he had been no Stanton at all but wholly an Old One, dreadfully and suddenly aware of danger. The mindless ferocity of this man, and all those like him, their real loathing born of nothing more solid than insecurity and was a channel. Will knew that he had been gazing into the channel down which the powers of the Dark, if they gained their freedom, could ride in an instant to complete control of the earth. He was filled with a terrible anxiety, a sense of urgency for the Light, and knew that it would remain with him, silently shouting at him, far more vividly than the fading memory of a single bigot like Mr Moore.

Now, in Susan Cooper’s fantasy sequence, The Dark is Rising, the Old Ones are a select group of people from all times and places whose mission is to combat the rising Darkness and prevent it from taking possession of the world. But when I was reading this passage it jumped out at me how applicable it is to ourselves and our own times. Christians are the true Old Ones, the people selected to champion the Light and stand against Darkness. In Cooper’s mythology the weapons that Will and his comrades use are various symbolic objects which have to be recovered in a race against time. For us, as no one reading this needs to be reminded, the weapons are prayer, righteousness, and faithful lifelong witness. Cooper’s portrayal of hatred—‘real loathing born of nothing more solid than insecurity and fear’—seems to me still to ring true, 40 years later. And Will’s insight that this hatred could be ‘the channel down which the powers of the Dark, if they gained their freedom, could ride in an instant to complete control’ sounds a warning note to me as a Christian.

In my April blog post I suggested that there are moments in history when, inexplicably, normal restraint is removed, society begins stepping towards chaos, and fearsome mockery and cruelty are unleashed. When unbelieving society sleepwalks into the jaws of the rising Darkness, Christians are called to make a stand.

Perhaps I am reading the signs of the times wrong, but I fear that now may be one of those times. This is my last blog post before the General Election. I am praying for all leaders, friend and foe alike, and for all voters, especially those beguiled into apathy. And let us pray especially for our fellow writers, the journalists and editors of our national newspapers, that they may tell the truth. Will you join me?

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Switch to technicolour - by Helen Murray

In a couple of days I will have been a Christian for thirty years. Technically, I have been a Christian for thirty years.

I'm not sure that I was much use to God for many of those years, but by the same token I know that He can work through us when we look least likely to be any use to anyone, so I won't rule it out.

The fire was lit in 1987 when I first encountered Jesus in one of those, 'I'm talking to you. Yes, you,' moments.  I burned brightly for a few years, and then my light sort of dimmed to a faint glow for a long, long time. It nearly went out a few times. He kindled it afresh in the years following the loss of my Dad, when motherhood and near-despair knocked me over at the same time and I found myself unable to get up. This time, God breathed on the embers and there was a flame again.

Something happened. I woke up? I changed gear?  I grew up?  I don't know, but about in the last decade things have changed. It's the hardest thing to describe; things shift subtly and incrementally and then one day I look over my shoulder and I am amazed to see how far I've come.

'Isn't it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, 
everything is different?' *

It's as if my life changed from pastel shades and muted greys to full, glorious technicolour. It's vivid and vibrant and exciting. It still has ups and downs - indeed the ups are higher and the downs are lower than they used to be. Until this last decade I didn't really understand what it felt like to be so miserable that it's hard to breathe, or so filled with wonder and awe and joy that I find myself in laughing even as I cry.

It's hard, living a full-colour life.

For many years I was in a constant state of waiting: when this happens, when that happens... for the next hurdle to be over. Then things would 'get back to normal'.

Then one day the penny dropped. This is normal. 

It's relentless, ongoing, never-stopping, day-in-day-out exhausting normality of life on His team. Not normal at all.

Better than normal. Harder than normal. More worthwhile than normal.

I could get the old normal back, I think; I could choose it, back off and get comfy on the sofa again instead of putting one foot in front of the other over and over each time the going gets tough, but why would I?  I feel as if I'm living.

Time is rushing past so quickly. It's nearly the middle of another year, one that only feels as if it only started last week. It isn't five minutes since I was grumpily packing away the Christmas decorations for another year and waiting for the first shoots to appear, and here I am with the longest day only a month away and wondering when someone will tell me how many shopping days there are until Christmas.

Jesus said, '... I came to give life - life in all its fullness.'
John 10:10

Full colour.
This is life, then. Is this what Jesus meant when He said 'life in all it's fullness'?

Full as in busy, constantly on the go?  Probably not.
Full as in rich, complex, endlessly challenging, surprising, amazing? Yes, definitely.

Life with Him. It's hard, but I wouldn't change it for anything in the world. He never said it would be easy; He said it would be worthwhile.

These last few years have been more meaningful than most of the others put together.  I have learned more about God, about hearing His voice, about staying close to Him, living under His wing, being sent out on His business and doing things I never thought I could do.

I have learned a little about how He sees the people around me; His hopes, His dreams, His heart, His plans.

I have learned life-changing things about myself.

I am loved. Right now, as I am, imperfect, middle-aged, overweight, tired, confused. Sheep-like. Special. Unique. Loved by the true and living God.

Full colour.
The colours are breathtaking. A kaleidoscope. Never the same. Each day different.

I blurted this idea out to someone the other day, the idea that life can change from black and white into colour, and they knew what I meant. It's not just me! I was met with nods of agreement and recognition of my description, especially when I said that it wasn't a fluffy sort of change; things got harder, not easier. Things weren't 'normal' any more.

So perhaps this is a self-indulgent anniversary reflection. Thirty years since I first gave my life to Father God. I've taken it back and handed it over many, many times since then. Thirty years since I first heard His voice; since His Spirit first moved me to tears of awe and gratitude for what He did for me.

Thirty years.

And then, a few years ago, He fitted me with a warp-drive and I've learned more in those years than in the previous twenty. It turns out that you're never too old; it's never too late.

Thankyou, Lord.

Thankyou for the colours, thankyou for the ride, and for holding me close when the curves and inclines and steep drops make my tummy go funny. Thank you for the breathtaking scenery, the places that I could never go if you were not with me and for the exhilaration of the journey. For the sunshine and the rain. For the sound of your voice and the treasures that you show me. For the music of heaven and the wonder of your company and the promise of more to come. For the gifts you are giving me; the things I never imagined that I could experience and most of all for the hope that nobody can take away.

I feel as if I'm really living.

* This quotation is often attributed to CS Lewis, speaking as Prince Caspian, in the Narnia book of the same name. I thought that was where it was from until I tried to check it, and it turns out that it was not actually said by Lewis. I don't know who said it, originally, but it has a lot of truth in it. 

Helen Murray lives in Derbyshire with her husband, two daughters and her mum.

As well as writing and reading, she drinks coffee, takes photographs, swims, breeds Aloe Vera plants and collects ceramic penguins.

Helen has a blog: Are We Nearly There Yet? where she writes about life and faith.

You can also find her here:

Pinterest: @HelenMMurray
Twitter: @helenmurray01

Monday, 22 May 2017

The Gift of Perspective by Emily Owen

On May 11th, the ‘On this Day’ part of my Facebook page was flooded with memories.  It was exactly a year since the launch of my memoir, ‘Still Emily’, and there were lots of photos recalling the event.
During the last year, a big thing that’s changed since the launch is, fairly obviously, that people have read the book.  Some have been kind enough to leave a review on Amazon, or contact me directly to give feedback.
What people often comment on is the final chapter.
You see, my story, as many of our stories are, is one of happy times, sad times, ups and downs, easy times and struggles, knowing despair and then discovering hope again.
My story also involves a diagnosis of a condition called Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2), and the final chapter of Still Emily is a letter I write to NF2.
Writing to, rather than about, a situation can be very powerful. Recently, I wrote an article from NF2's perspective and discovered that giving a situation a ‘voice’ can be powerful, too.
Here is part of the article:
My name is NF2. Well, Emily’s NF2. Us NF2s are all different. I guess you could say we have different specialities, different ways of making our presence felt.
Being Emily’s NF2 often feels as though I’m in a battle.  I want to be boss, but so does she; so we fight it out, every day. Sometimes Emily wins. She wins more often than I’d like, to be honest. But sometimes I win. It’s great when I win: then it’s impossible for Emily to ignore me. I hate being ignored, I like to be the centre of attention. But Emily ignores me a lot, even when I try really hard to make her acknowledge me. 
Anyway...I thought I’d tell you about my day.  Not a specific day, just a day. It could be any day.
6 am I like to wake Emily early these days. She used to sleep for longer than she does now but, once I’d cottoned on to that, I realised I should wake her. The best way to do that is with her eyes. I don’t mean forcing her eyelids open, I mean by making her eyes sore. Emily’s eyes are really dry and, by 6 am, I can be pretty sure that the soothing cream she applied before she went to sleep will have gone. So, when she wakes, it’s not only early but she’s also in pain.
9.30 am I know Emily wants to work on some of her writing today, so that makes my plan for the day easy: mess around with her ability to focus and concentrate. Since her brain surgeries – and I have to say, I’m pretty proud of my efforts here – Emily’s memory and concentration span are a shadow of their former selves. 3-0 to me.
12.30 pm Well, what a rubbish morning. I tried really hard but nothing worked. Emily ignored me and got on with what she was doing. 3-1 but at least I’m still winning and now it’s lunchtime. I’ll score a few easy points here, as Emily finds eating difficult. She has done ever since one of her surgeries. A surgery which, I might add, was all because of me. Better make that 4-1.
1 pm Emily is looking at food and rejecting it. This is great! She can’t eat bread, crisps etc very easily at all. 5-1. Now Emily knows what she can eat, though, so eating is not too much of a problem most of the time. I’d better give her a point for that, I suppose. 5-2.
5 pm I feel better after my failure this morning. Emily tried to carry on writing this afternoon but her concentration vanished; by which I mean, I took it. 6-2. To be fair, though, Emily did stop trying to write before she got too frustrated with her brain. She never used to manage that, which meant more points for me as she got angrier with herself. So I’ll give her 2 points I think. I may be in competition with her but credit where credit is due. 6-4.
Instead of writing, Emily decided to go for a walk. She forgot to take her crutches but thankfully I managed to make her nearly fall over as she left the house, which reminded her to get them. She doesn’t need her crutches indoors but she does outside. Since surgeries (yes, credit to me again), Emily can’t walk too well. Her legs are weak and her balance is poor. Which makes it what, 8-4 to me?
6 pm Emily’s niece wanted to sing a song to her. Massive win for me: Emily can’t hear since her surgeries. 9-4.
But then, unbelievably, her niece sang the song in sign language, so Emily could understand. 9-5.
I hate it that Emily has so many people helping her beat me. It’s not fair: she has medics, friends, family, strangers. Nearly everyone Emily and I meet is nice. Well, they’re nice to her. Mostly they ignore me. Except the medics, but that doesn’t really count, as I’m their job. But even they see Emily more than me. Worse than that, Emily does too. She didn’t used to. I used to win every day. But I don’t now. I win some days. But they are becoming fewer. And today is not one of them. Even I have to admit that Emily and all the people who help her, together, deserve 5 points. At least. So it’s 10-9 to her...
Feedback, whether positive (mostly) or negative (a bit), tells me the concept of writing to or from a situation, to or from a perspective other than a directly human one, is powerful.
Image result for Feedback Is a Gift
Why not try it?  Write a letter to a situation in your life, and see where it takes you.
(The fact that you read this blog is a gift as well. To me. May is Neurofibromatosis Awareness Month. And you’ve now heard of Neurofibromatosis. Thank you.)

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Seize the day

A time to be born 
and a time to die.


So many friends, family and church members have their birthdays this month.  In counting back nine months I realised factories would close down their production lines for two weeks in August to give their staff the obligatory two weeks annual holiday, the rest is history!  Christmas has the same effect. My husband’s sister had three of her four children nine months on!  However, my theory breaks down when my brother-in-law's birthday is 31st December, mine on 1st January, a great nephew 2nd January, and my-sister-in-law on the 3rd.  

In a few decades there have been huge changes in when and how a woman can control conception.  And for those previously unable to conceive there’s hope with IVF treatment.  Yet despite this thousands of babies each year are condemned to death before they have a chance to live.

Man is now in control of the time to be born or not, and it appears is already working to be in control of when he dies.

But overall death is still very much in God’s hands. This month we have said ‘goodbye’ to two people, one who fell short of one hundred years, and the other falling short by ten days of his 60th birthday.   Steve only found out he was riddled with cancer twenty-four hours before the Lord took him home.  His words, “If I get healed, or if I die, it’s a win win situation.”  The Bible tells us that God knows our name before we were born, and He has a plan and purpose for each of us.  It has caused me to consider my life, and desire for each day to count for Him.

Only I know how my latest book will end.  I've a 'bucket' list of people and places to visit.  What is God’s list for me to do before that day comes?  I want to reveal His love and salvation in all my writing, for in this life we are meant to have a deep and meaningful relationship with the Lord in preparation for when the next one begins?

Shocked by Steve’s diagnosis, the Lord reminded me of the scripture “Behold I stand at the door and knock if anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come in and sup with him and he with me.”  In my mind’s eye I ‘saw’ Steve open that door, immediately light flooded in encompassing him.  I had the inner realisation that even though Steve had known the Lord most of his life, he needed time to imbibe that love, peace, glory of the Lord and was in the final preparation of meeting with Him. Twelve hours later, those in the room with Steve felt the Presence of God overflowing from him, they sensed his earthly discussions, perhaps a final cleansing, before he stepped over the threshold into the fullness of the light and all that was awaiting him. 

How good to be in, and know, God’s timing.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Fact and fiction

One of the joys of writing fiction, so it seems to me, is doing the research so often necessitated by the subject. Even if you are writing about a time and place that are familiar, inevitably questions arise, and some answer must be found that will satisfy the most hawk-eyed editor and reader. These days the internet is a valuable resource - of  course not the only one, but still extremely handy for those very specific and often obscure questions which might otherwise take some time to answer.

My next novel has a medical background, something about which I am lamentably ignorant. I have always harboured an interest in medical matters even though I could never have pursued such a career: rubbish at science, clumsy, no good at sewing, and squeamish into the bargain. So researching it from a manageable distance is both engrossing and safe. My recent researches have taken me into worlds I could barely have imagined and I  am immersed and agog. One book I recently devoured was the extraordinary true account of a young man determined to become a surgeon. It starts during the First World War and finishes before the Second; it was first published in 1938, so I read it for background interest only, rather than for anything appropriate to my projected story. The vicissitudes of the author's career, the setbacks, privations, triumphs, disasters, determination and sheer punishing hard work made fascinating reading. However it was his concluding sentence that gave me most pause:
'I had learnt that no triumph and no defeat is final.'

His story made my petty frustrations and disappointments look quite pathetic, and I took his words as an encouragement to pursue one's goals no matter what: to maintain faith, to be resolute in the teeth of apparent failure and personal adversity, to use one's gifts for God's purposes.

So far, so good, if easier to proclaim than to execute!

But his dictum, however admirable, applies only to this life that we have been given. It has no bearing on the life that we, as Christians, hope for when this one is extinct. I know it's fruitless to speculate (even though it doesn't stop me wondering just what eternity will be like. Will there still be work to undertake, goals to chase after, development, progression? Or...what?)

Meanwhile I am trying to remain focused as well as faithful. Ours is the work, His is the increase. And there is still much learning to be done, if I am not to fall on my face over a verifiable fact. The story may be fiction, but the facts have to be right; and here I must acknowledge the inestimable value of a good editor.

How about you? Do you enjoy research? Do you perhaps, like some, enjoy it a bit too much, so that the actual beginning of the writing is endlessly deferred, and the book (or whatever it may be) never gets written? I'd love to know.

Sue Russell writes as S.L.Russell and has written five novels from a Christian viewpoint, available in the usual places. A sixth, 'A Vision of Locusts,' will be published by Instant Apostle in the autumn.