Recipe for Writing a Novel (In 20 Easy Steps, Ahem)

Just Published: The Book Beyond Time

Just Published: The Book Beyond Time
>>>Where faith and fantasy collide

Out Now!  (Link to US publisher) Or here. (UK)

Step 1. Let your mind carry you away with a crazy idea for cooking up a brilliant story. Stay up half the night writing it down.

Step 2. Add main ingredients: setting, plot ideas and a few main characters.

Step 3. Stir in some conflict, minor characters and a couple of subplots.

Step 4. Spice everything up with up with an original title. Change your mind 5 or 10 times. Return to your first title.

Step 5. Outline the story into individual chapters. Blend in help from a writing coach or editor (if you’re a novice).

Step 6. Turn up the heat: Write, write, write. When you’re not eating or sleeping, write. Ideas in the middle of the night? – Write!

Step 7. Lower the heat: Edit, edit, edit. Turn up the heat: More editing.

Step 8. Mash up what you’ve created by writing a second draft.

Step 9. Repeat steps 6. And 7.

Step 10. Submit manuscript to publishers. Allow it to simmer a while. Get rejections.

Step 11. Consider adding a huge dollop of self-publishing, read all about it. Forget that idea. Submit to literary agents.

Step 12. More rejections. Reduce heat: Edit some more. Receive standard rejections from literary agents. Stir in some more publisher submissions.

Step 13. Work on side dishes: Sort out a website; Liaise with web and graphic designers.

Step 14. Novel rises: Gain some interest from a couple of major publishers. Get all excited…only to get rejected. Author deflates.

Step 15. Feel dejected, throw in the towel and ditch the idea altogether. Feel like a fool. Pursue other projects and forget about the whole thing.

Step 16. Just as you’re getting on with your life and other interests, receive an unexpected email from a publisher offering a contract.

Step 17. Stir up some major panic. This is really happening! More final edits, proofreading, self doubt and thoughts of disbelief.

Step 17. Frantically create more than 20 different possible blurbs for the back cover. Eventually select the final version you write.

Step 18. Add the finishing touches: Liaise with the publisher. Manage to whisk away a few more minor errors or typos. Finalise proof. Breathe a sigh of relief.

Step 19. Bake at 180 degrees: Leave it in the hands of the publisher and printer.

Step 20. Remove from oven: See the finished product on Amazon and the publisher’s website. Inhale and admire the finished product. Congratulations, you just baked yourself a novel! Maybe it took three years, but hey – who said this was an easy recipe?!

(UK readers, find my novel here)

Note: Someone just pointed out that there are two Step 17s! Which proves again the importance of Step 7. I never said that I was any good with numbers 😉 …

In which I make an announcement…

Creative Commons

Creative Commons

Well, I’ve been putting this one off, and I really don’t know why. I should be jumping for joy!

Having chased publishers for the better part of a year, and had my hopes raised and dashed a few times, the children’s novel that I wrote has been accepted by a little publisher in Texas. Yes, I have a publisher!

Having consigned myself to the fact that I probably wasted two years of my life – planning, writing, re-writing and editing – I’ve actually gone ahead and signed a contract. This is really happening…

The Book Beyond Time (website to be updated) will be released early December by eLectio Publishing.

Watch this space.

Smashing Stereotypes

Photo: Creative Commons

Photo: Creative Commons

We all do it. Sizing people up, making nanosecond judgements about the people we meet, based on various unwritten criteria floating around our heads. Brainy. Boring. Mumsy. Geek. Chav. Fun-loving. Hippie. Mean. Tarty. Snob.

Last week, someone said that I didn’t look like a mother, I didn’t seem the type. Yikes, is that a good thing (as in, I don’t look all mumsy)? Or is that a negative thing (do I look like a self absorbed person who wouldn’t possibly want children)? Or is it simply that I look too young to have kids (I know I often look far younger than my age)?

But then I just chuckled to myself. I don’t look like a lot of things. I’m sure I don’t look brainy – yet somehow I managed to clinch a first class honours degree. If I want to appear intelligent I opt for glasses rather than contacts but it doesn’t always work! I probably don’t look like a poet or guitarist, yet I’ve penned quite a few poetic lines and have been strumming tunes for quite some time now. I don’t look like a teacher (yes, people used to be surprised when I told them back when I was one) – since I often seem laid back and totally not authoritative. I admit it, I’m no scary teacher, but I can certainly step into ‘Mrs Carter, teacher mode’ if the occasion so requires. (I no longer teach, but am still involved in educational settings.)

I’m pretty certain I don’t look like I could be fluent in German, yet I am (well, used to be), having studied German and European Studies for four years. Now I’ve written a children’s novel (as yet unpublished), I’m wondering whether I look like a writer or author. Maybe on some days, who knows!

And finally, apparently I don’t look like a Christian. That one made me smile. A year 8 pupil once made this announcement after the topic of church came up and I mentioned my interests in this area. “Really, you go to church?” he said. “But miss, you don’t look like a Christian!” Again, I really wasn’t sure at first whether this was a positive or negative thing. But then I quickly determined that it was, in fact, rather a good thing. Who says that a Christian has to look a certain way anyway? I certainly wasn’t wearing anything outrageous to class that day, just my pretty average teacher-y gear, perhaps my cool brown boots, though I really can’t remember.

It just goes to show how wrong we can be about someone, based on first impressions. It’s funny how in the Old Testament, no-one thought that young David looked like warrior or king material. In fact, he was the least likely candidate. Yet he went on to defeat the fearsome menace Goliath and reigned over Israel for 40 years. And who can forget Susan Boyle, star of Britain’s Got Talent show a few years back? No-one expected her to sing with such power and capture the hearts of the audience.

Has anyone ever been surprised to hear what your roles or skills or interests are? Or have you ever been way off the mark in your judgements about someone?

As for me, I’m all for surprising people and smashing stereotypes. 

People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart: 1 Samuel 16:7

September 11, 2001: What a day can bring

September 11, 2001. A date forever etched on most Westerners’ minds, and certainly that of most Americans. Everyone speaks of where they were on that fateful day. We don’t even need to think about it, the memories flash instantly back to us.

I remember it clearly. I was with my two young children over at a friend’s house when the phone call came. It was an ordinary day, we had been chatting over cups of tea as the little ones delved into toy boxes.  My friend switched on the TV and we gawped in disbelief at what we saw unfolding on the screen. As our kids squealed and played in the background, oblivious to the immensity of the moment, we watched the scenes of devastation. The Twin Towers, those iconic buildings that grew to represent New York City, were unable to withstand the attacks.

On September 11, we don’t just remember the where. We also remember how we felt. The shock, the helplessness, the incomprehension, the startling realisation after the second plane flew into Tower Two that this was not an accident. The sinking feelings as news cameras on the ground relayed the fear of those in the vicinity of lower Manhattan. The widened eyes of incredulity as word spread that office workers were jumping out of windows to escape the flames.

My husband, Tim, and I had lived in New York City for several months before moving out to a suburb in New Jersey. Tim used to commute to work in the financial district, arriving by train at the World Trade Center. We had walked those streets and loved the picturesque skyline. I even had a visitor’s pass which allowed me to take friends to the top floor of Tower One, to the unique ‘Windows on the World’ café with spectacular views across the city. I’d taken several friends, relatives and even my first son in a baby carrier up there. My son was born in America – I held a distinct affinity for the World Trade Center and the American people. I was gripped by the images on the TV and felt gutted.

We had been back in the UK less than a year before the towers fell. Tim and I recognised that we could have been caught up in the turmoil of that fateful day and the aftermath of the following months. Over the next few days after September 11, I could think of little else. Above all, I just found it hard to accept that it had actually happened; it seemed surreal.

The more I thought about it, the more I felt burdened to express myself creatively. I picked up my guitar and penned a song. The first lines of the verse rang out to a haunting melody:

The day began as usual
People rushing off to work
None would be expecting
The things that were to come

The chorus continued:

You don’t know what a day can bring
You don’t know what tomorrow holds

September 11 is a yearly reminder that I should take nothing and no-one for granted. That I don’t know what’s ahead around the corner and that I should value every moment with my family. No one called their bank or their boss on September 11; all that mattered was family and friends. And as each year rolls by (has it really been 12 years?) we see how fleeting this life is.

 

All Things: The God Equation/ FaithWalk

It’s one of the many wonders or paradoxes about God. Going against the expected, the obvious or the natural order of things.

It’s one of the reasons why I love Him.

Take this promise: God makes all things work together for my good. (Rom 8:28)

All things. Not some things or most things. Yes, especially the bad things.

It doesn’t mean that God caused or intended the bad things. We know that bad stuff happens for numerous reasons, including some that are totally inexplicable. And that, this side of eternity, he generally allows them to happen. Suffering happens in our fallen world.

But get this: No matter what occurs in life, God is able to turn things around, so that good can come out of something evil. It may not happen immediately, or we may not see the connection for quite some time. But the process mirrors his way of redemption and grace.

Nothing is irredeemable. Nothing is beyond the touch of grace. Just as a seed is buried and forgotten in the dirty earth, only to rise up as a beautiful flower or majestic oak, so too God is able to take the dark and awful places of our lives and bring about something that reflects His glory.

The story of Joseph in Genesis is the prime example of this. Joseph starts out with such hopes and ambitions, only to find his dreams shattered as he gets thrown in a pit, sold as a slave and ultimately put in prison. But even in the dank prison, God remains committed to Joseph and to fulfilling the purposes he has for his life. Opportunities arise, Joseph gets promoted and life starts to look good again.

Joseph endures a run of dire circumstances and mistreatment but remains faithful to God and doing the right thing. When he finally gets re-united with his brothers and reveals his identity to them, he says: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (Gen 50:20, NLT)

What an amazing picture of God’s intervention and grace! He didn’t prevent the actions of Joseph’s brothers who tried to harm him. He didn’t stop Joseph ending up in prison. But he turned those situations around and caused good to come out of them. Likewise, if we love God, he promises to make everything turn out for good in the end.

In my own walk of faith, I have seen evidence of this spiritual principle at work in my life. When my dad’s cancer returned and his prognosis became increasingly unfavourable, I felt compelled to invest time in writing a novel for my sons. The project had been on my mind for a while, but for some reason, my dad’s illness inspired me to write.

It was cathartic writing on the train home after visiting him in hospital. The more he deteriorated, the more I wrote. Despite the desperately sad feelings, and literally seeing him fade further away with each visit, I felt that I couldn’t just mope around depressed.  When he died in January 2012 I had nearly finished the manuscript. In the days and weeks after the funeral, having already given up my part time teaching job, I focussed on completing the final chapters. When I went to visit my mother a month and a half later on her birthday, I stayed up late that night, sat at my dad’s table to type the last few pages of the first draft. I finished around midnight.

It felt significant to finish a project that I’d been working on for over a year in that very place at that very time. While I experienced immense loss, I also experienced overriding assurance that I had created something of worth, a labour of love. I know that I probably would not have started writing the story, were it not for the difficult circumstances in which I found myself. The anguish of losing my dad was still brutally painful, but his death didn’t have to mean only an end. For me it signified the beginning of a commitment to write – to start this blog, to pursue freelance opportunities again, to consider publishing my children’s novel. I had birthed something out of the most painful period of my life so far.

I’ve yet to find a publisher for the book. But, somehow that doesn’t seem so important any more.  I mainly wrote it with my sons in mind, and technology means that the older ones have already been able to read it on a Kindle device. A hard copy isn’t necessary these days.

I love to be reminded of God’s ability to make good come out of bad, undermining the negative equations that should result from the natural order of events.  The above song from Jesus Culture, that we sometimes sing at church, encourages me time and again that he makes ALL things work together for my good.

And what about the car crashes, the emergency operations, the major disappointments and all the stuff that just goes wrong? I don’t know. All I know is that through the trials of life I have learned to have compassion and empathy for others going through similar circumstances, where I might once have ignored their plight. And I have learned to trust, as Joseph did, that even in the dark times God is with me.

So I’ll continue to hold on to that promise, and revel in a God whose equations often don’t add up.

What my Dad taught me (without saying a word…)

Today is my second Father’s Day without my Dad. It’s a gut-wrenching day to spend without hearing his voice or seeing his face. But I’ve chosen to smile, knowing that’s how Dad would want me to spend my day – smiling in his memory and focussing on the good things.

So we’ve had a good family day today, we’ve eaten outside, played games and enjoyed fun, laughter and chocolate. We’ve celebrated my husband for being a great dad to our three sons.

That’s not to say I don’t think about my Dad on such days. I do. And I’m thankful for the memories, for the good times and for his legacy. He taught me a lot of things growing up and often had some wise words to share. Words about thankfulness or trust or God’s goodness.

But there’s something that he never really talked about, but simply modelled to me throughout his life. And I think it might just be the most important thing he ever taught me – without saying a single word.

My Dad showed great interest in people. He was friendly and kind to all – whether the guy selling vegetables at a market stall, an old lady sitting alone at the back of church, or the caretaker of the school after parents’ evening. Everyone was important to my Dad and he showed respect to all, regardless of their education or background.

I’ll never forget the time he invited the postman and the milkman in for breakfast one Saturday morning! Dad just wanted to make everyone feel welcome, and was generally easy-going with all those he met. In his job as a chartered surveyor, he sometimes had the opportunity to mingle with some pretty wealthy businessmen. But he never hankered after mixing with the upper crust of society. He showed equal amount of attention to those of both high and low status.

And that’s something for which I’ll always be grateful. My Dad taught me the importance of the individual, the value of listening to others. Without saying one word in this regard, or offering any direct advice, he showed me how to mix with a vast cross-section of society and to be at ease in a variety of settings.

So far in my life, this has proven invaluable – at work, at the school gates, in my neighbourhood, while travelling. When I find myself welcoming strangers or encouraging an outsider, I’m reminded how my Dad’s legacy lives on. In my thoughts, words and actions – as well as in some traits of my sons.

So, thanks, Dad, for being an exemplary father and an all-round decent man – always willing to honour others and show friendliness to all.

See also: My Dad, an English Gentleman, here.

Spiritual Climate /FaithWalk

Image

I’m sitting on the balcony wearing a sleeveless summery top and denim shorts. The hills, palm trees and sailing boats contribute to the delightful scenery  from our holiday apartment. I watch people as they stroll along the promenade beside the beach and it’s amazing to observe who are the tourists and who are the locals.

It’s April in Majorca – a stark change from the wet and cold conditions still dominating the British Isles. It’s warm and sunny, but only the start of spring on this holiday resort.

There’s a woman crossing the road wearing a coat and winter scarf. It’s inching towards 20 degrees and I chuckle to myself. She’s obviously Spanish; she won’t be ditching the coat till it’s a couple of degrees warmer. The Brits are easy to spot; they’re wearing very little. Starved of sunshine and warmth after a brutally cold, long winter, they’re quick to strip off the layers and soak in the sunshine. Having left behind temps barely hitting 5 degrees for so long, 20 degrees feels blissfully hot.

So why the difference in attire? Most will recognise immediately that it’s all a question of acclimatisation. The Spanish are used to the Majorcan sun – it’s nothing special or unusual to them. They don’t feel a desperate need to catch a bit of a tan; they know they’ll be plenty more sun on its way. The thermometer will likely reach 35 or 40 in a few weeks and, for now, 20 is just pleasant, if not still slightly cool to them. Admittedly, even we have felt rather cold indoors in the evenings since we arrived.

This got me thinking about my faith – whether I’ve grown accustomed to the spiritual climate around me, such that I’m happy to walk around burdened by layers of stuff, rather than appreciate the newness of each day’s sunshine. Could I possibly be looking for opportunities to strip off some unnecessary layers such as legalism or spiritual striving, and simply enjoy basking in the presence of the Son? Or will I continue to take His presence for granted some days, knowing that He always promises to walk beside me?

Perhaps I’m so settled in my spiritual climate that I don’t even notice that things have changed? Has my love for God grown cold or predictable? Maybe I need to shed my coat of mediocrity and my scarf of smug satisfaction and revel in the warm glow of Christ’s grace once again, stripped of the cumbersome layers of obligations and concerns. I’m often so busy trying to achieve in my Christian walk that I neglect the simplicity of enjoying Christ and relaxing in his presence.

Just as the Spanish might take the sun for granted, it’s so easy to start taking the Son’s presence for granted. Whilst I hope that’s not true for me, I’m aware that I often don’t really make the most of  revelling and delighting in him daily. I’ll never know when I may next be led to walk through a valley or dark shadow. Life has shown me those dark days will come.

I should brim over with the goodness and spiritual warmth he pours out on me today. What a wonder to experience his light and tangible warmth! God is good.