Thursday, December 3, 2009

November wrap-up

I'm a few days late but here I am.
Over the weekend, I flew up to the Word Writer's Fair which was held in Brisbane. I conducted a couple of the workshops which were running all day; one on jump-starting the imagination and the other on creating lovable characters. About 60 people attended the Fair, there were trading stalls, I made new contact with several people and had a good time.

I also attended a few workshops myself. The first was by Andrew Lansdown, whose new book of nature poetry, Birds in Mind, has just been published. From Andrew, I found out that I'm far more 'poetic' than I thought I was. He explained that the job of a poet is to make connections between the subject of a poem and something else that on the surface seems entirely unrelated. Of course, we all know this sort of thing as similes and metaphors. Poets rely on these devices to illuminate their work. But as he spoke I realised that it's just the same for prose writers. It's easy to assume that because we don't write actual poetry, we don't have the same sort of creativity that they do. But writers of fiction and non-fiction alike use similes, metaphors, symbolism and other similar literary devices all the time. Just yesterday as I was typing away at my new manuscript, I mentioned that one of the female characters carried her heaviness of heart like an X-ray apron, or something of the sort. Most prose authors do. OK, so we may not be Shakespeares but I think we should still think of ourselves as creative as poets, my friends.

I also attended the workshop of Janelle Dyer, the author of "Yellow Zone," a novel concerning the end-times predicted in scripture. Hers was on characters too. When I found out that she and I had chosen the same topic, I initially felt a bit regretful. But I needn't have worried because we handled it in totally different ways. I like to run workshops a bit like a stand-up comedian. I find it easiest to give a spiel which includes one-liners and jokes here and there to raise a laugh. Then I have one or two short exercises at the end. Not so with Jan. Her workshop involved group participation from the start. Sheets of butcher's paper were flying around and she had us brainstorming in groups with our black textas. She'd prepared many hand-outs while I relied more on participants paying attention, adding their observations and taking notes. There is nothing superior or inferior about either way. The difference of presenters just adds to the freshness of the day.

That's the impression I came home with. We really should celebrate our differences. At the Writer's Fair, we were all people who consider that we've been given the same creative gift of working with words on paper. But our ways of expressing it were as diverse as possible. God surely uses the personalities, life experiences and passions of each individual to shine. The price of the registration included a free book of the registrants choice. There were five newly published works to choose from.

1) My "A Design of Gold" which anyone who follows this newsletter/blog would know is a contemporary drama/romance novel. I love these.
2) "Birds in Mind"; those wonderful nature poems by Andrew Lansdown which I've mentioned.
3) "Climbing Mountains", a non-fiction biography by Stacey Charbachi, who discovered a breast lump when she was eight months pregnant with her second child, which turned out to be cancer. It's a candid and warm description about her journey back to health and wholeness.
4) "Nerrilee's World", a lovely picture book about a little mermaid, which was written by my editor, Anne Hamilton, and illustrated by Sandra Templeton. Nerrilee is an Aussie mermaid for sure, when you read about all the sea creatures and plants around her home.
5) "Even Before you were Born", a collection of different people's reflections on pregnancy and birth. This is a diversity within one cover, including art, poetry, reflections and stories. I wrote a story for it, about when my oldest son was born.

So what a mixed assortment of great reads from people all using our creative gifts. I flew back home to Adelaide at 5.30am, feeling glad that I came.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

October newsletter

My new perspective
Here I am back again. I want my end of month wrap-ups to be upbeat. This reflection may seem sober but when I think about it, that's not really the case. It's a fact that hit me in the face this last week of October about the Christian book market in Australia. It's something that's been so obvious all along that I wonder it never hit me before. This awareness brought some sadness with it, but on the whole I think it has the potential to be very liberating. In short, Christian books is an industry that's not moving and I'm probably as "successful" in it as I'm ever going to be.

I've been working on my fiction ever since I was in my early twenties. All that time, in the back of mind I've hoped to make a name for myself and earn some money. Last week, the penny dropped that this may not ever be possible. I like to be optimistic, but I also need to be realistic. The set-up has long been bleak for Australian Christian authors of any genre, let alone fiction. Our two main national booksellers (Koorong and Word) seem to assume that local material won't sell very well. Australian produced writing carries a stigma. Sellers assume it will be colloquial and second rate, and therefore they don't bother to promote or highlight it in any way. They purchase a small number to get lost on their shelves collecting dust, and call that "supporting" Aussie authors. Rarely if ever does it get included in their catalogues. Hence, a vicious circle is created. Customers don't find Aussie books on the shelves because they don't know about them; and then sellers feel justified in saying that they don't sell. That's the scenario.

A friend of mine nailed it when she said that the bookstores are not there to create markets. They are there, in fact, to exploit the markets already created by writers. So unless a writer is a celebrity who will do more to support the bookstore than the reverse, the bookstores are not really interested. We assume our Christian bookstore chains exist for the purpose of outreach and evangelism, but sadly, they are first and foremost, businesses! In the past I would have considered this point of view cynical to the extreme. But after years of experiencing this, I now see it's wise and realistic. (Hey, having said this, I'd sure appreciate it if any Aussie readers who enjoyed my books would get onto the website of Koorong books and write reviews for them! We might as well try the best we can).

So here I am, almost through my thirties, and for the first time last week, I sat back and faced the fact that I probably won't ever grow 'successful' as a Christian fiction author. In fact if I keep going this way, I'll keep pouring in resources of money, time and creativity for very little return. It's been the same for over a decade. If I was "wise" in the common sense of the word, I'd choose to give up at this stage and do something else. Finding a full-time or part-time job outside of home would help financially. Several years back, we decided to put money into the publishing of my "Quenarden" series rather than put a deposit on a block of land. So my chosen calling; the occupation I'd hoped to become my "brilliant career" has actually cost us as a family. When I started thinking along these lines last week, my head started to ache and my spirits seemed to sag. I think that as well as being a calling, this has been a road of sacrifice.

Yet I'm going to keep on doing it for as long as I keep getting stories to tell! I have a wonderful, hard-working new publisher, Rochelle. I love writing stories. I really enjoy getting into my characters' heads. There is nothing like the euphoric feeling when people give me feedback that my books have blessed them. I like to think that these books are my contribution to God's goodness in the world; the way He's designed me to fulfil the Great Commission. Yeah, sure fiction can fulfil the Great Commission as well as anything else! The pen truly is mightier than the sword. If I worked in some office every day and had a great income but no chance to pursue my writing, I'd feel as if I'd missed something extremely precious. I'm glad I have a wonderful family who feel the same way.

So overall, my lifestyle is not going to change. The only thing that's going to have a complete turn-around is the way I think about things. God's priorities aren't a well-known name, expensive homes and holidays and money, after all. I'm going to stop thinking of my writing as a business and begin thinking of it as a ministry! That's what will make me happier. It's already begun to make a huge difference.

My parents had their Golden Wedding anniversary on October 24th

I was searching for a lovely card for them and discovered that there are not as many Golden Wedding cards as I expected in the shops. Perhaps its getting more unusual for couples for last 50 years in this day and age when separation and divorces touch more families than ever before. I thought I'd ask them their secret to a long, happy life together. As I expected, they made jokes without even thinking very hard. Mum said, "Keep your mouth shut" and "Agree a lot" and "Master the art of flattery." Dad said, "Figure out that she's the boss and don't forget your place." Yet as I was laughing, it occurred to me that this actually is their secret to going the distance. A sense of humour smooths out many rough patches.

My sister Julie bought them a music CD full of all the hit songs of 1959, the year they were married. She is very creative in getting the best presents. There must be a real gift to that. Not only does she come up with unusual ideas, she also finds places to purchase them. There must be more to it being happening to be in the right place at the right time, because I've tried to rely on that and it doesn't work so well for me.

A bit of interesting trivia; my parents were married on the day when TV first made it's debut in Australia. Our long-running Channel 9 went on air for the first time that night. The story goes that one of my uncles decided not to attend the wedding because of this.

Are you like the letter Q?

The reason I ask is because I've been reading a book in which the letter Q is typed in a font that makes it appear more like a quirky capital Q than the small "q" I'm used to seeing in the middle of words. Having noticed it once, I kept noticing Qs written in this way over and over on at least every second or third page. Words containing them came up all the time; equivalent, quilt, question, cheque, equal, quite, require, inadequacy, consequences, square, quality, and I just noticed that I used the word "quirky" quite unconsciously it in the second sentence of this reflection. There I go again with "quite".

Frankly, I didn't realise the letter Q is such a well-used letter in the English language. If anyone had asked me, I would've called it one of the rarer, more dispensable ones that we need to hold onto for a long time on our Scrabble palettes. I would've thought it just pops up on rare occasions to add a bit of variety. Now, to my surprise, I see that Q is far more versatile, handy and necessary than I would ever have imagined. I'd go so far as to say that if we ever dispensed with it (assuming that vowels, m, t, n and s are more important), we'd soon become unstuck and feel sorry.

In moments of discouragement, I tend to think of myself as a relatively useless person who doesn't do as much "important" stuff as others. Yet like Q, I do add my bit to the world. I look after my family, tell jokes that make people smile, write books that amuse and inspire, and I've been on hand to give people encouragement many times. If I wasn't around to do these things, the world surely would be a poorer place.

I'm surrounded by the sort of people who could be seen as an m or t or a. They are doctors, nurses, social workers, teachers, pastors and missionaries; the vital difference-makers doing tangible good. I've let myself feel guilty and inferior because I don't picture myself as a vital difference maker. But the letter Q has just shown me that we can be important in our own ways. We can provide the sort of uplift that is over in a flash but gifts people a happy lift. My function is to give people a break to have a smile and enjoy something I've said or written. Without the people who do this sort of simple thing, the world would be a far less spicy place. If you stop people like me (and maybe you too) doing what we do, the world would soon notice and demand us back. We're Qs! We're the simple encouragers, story-tellers and creators of beauty. Our quirkiness and quixotic qualities give the world a burst of unique fragrance!

See you next month. I'll be going to Brisbane for the Word Writer's fair in late November and will let you know what happens.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A change to come

I've decided to change how I blog. Instead of trying to keep up a regular record of happenings and reflections as I've been doing since January 1st, 2006, I'll be blogging just once a month, in the last week of the month. It will still be here at the same address but more like a monthly newsletter. The reason is mainly a matter of time and priorities. I've been a bit burned-out. It's great that my new novel has just been published but I'm finding that good things can take their toll on your adrenals and fatigue level as much as not-so-good. I'm presently working on a manuscript, homeschooling my family, trying to begin a small party-plan business and teaching Blake's Sunday School class in three week blocks. At the same time there's housework and exercise to contend with too. To be honest, it's all been getting on top of me so I decided something has to slide but couldn't decide what.

I didn't want it to be my blog. I love my blog. I love the friends I've made. I love blogging the way I've been doing it until now. But when I came up with the idea of doing a monthly newsletter, I figured out that it'll be a nice compromise. I expect it to be better in many ways.

1) Anyone who'd like to visit here and leave a comment will have a more definite idea of when I'll be saying something, so you don't need to keep coming over to check.
2) I'll definitely have much more to say. After storing up my thoughts in a journal all month, I'll never get blog-freeze again.
3) I'll be able to devote more time to reading the posts of others, because the time I devote to blogs will be freed up.
4) My thoughts will be less scattered. I'll be more focused.
5) I guess it means there'll be only twelve posts/year. That'll be weird but I'm expecting they'll be longer, newsier and more interesting.

I've convinced myself! Now I can hardly wait until the last week of October for my first newsletter. I'll be back then.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

One ingredient for happiness

I was reading an interesting article about people in Iceland. It turns out psychologists have discovered they are population exceptionally high on the happiness scale. That seemed worth checking out for a place with such a bleak climate. When researchers went over there, their findings were very interesting. It seems Icelandic people don't have the same way of assessing failure and success as most of the western world. When people execute a task, they don't sit back and rate its merit as we do. And they don't have as many critics who come and tell them where they are falling short. They just get on with their work and have fun. As a result, it turns out there are more people who call themselves artists, writers and musicians. It is a very creative hub of the world.

I loved that. My first thought was, Well, how do they know when they need to improve? The more I pondered that, the more I thought it's not really an issue. When you love your work enough to pour lots of time and effort into it, you can't help improving. Improving is a natural process, like cream rising to the top of fresh milk. And why does it even matter if you're no Shakespeare or Beethoven or Picasso, as long as you're enjoying yourself? It comes down to the path you travel being as significant as the destination. If you don't begin these creative pursuits you want to try just because you think you don't have enough talent, think of the enjoyment you miss out on. I take my hat off to the population of Iceland. They're a wise nation.

As far as my own writing is concerned, I don't think about all those far more talented and celebrated authors. I just get on with what I enjoy. When people tell me that they loved reading my stories too, I think, Well, there you are. If I'd listened to my own misgivings, I wouldn't have been the only one missing out on a bit of fun.

Having mentioned Picasso, I found a wonderful quote by him. I am always doing what I can't do in order that I may learn how to do it. Maybe this attitude is what actually makes a master creator. Of course there's also the good old quote by Goethe, Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.
By the way, copies of my new book "A Design of Gold" have arrived, if anybody would like to check out my website.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Weight of social expectations

We don't get the paper but last week when I was visiting my parents, I had a skim through theirs. Here's one of the feature articles in the Adelaide Advertiser that day.


I'd seen something about that finding on TV during the week too. You know, the sort of thing that tries to shame tubby people by showing their stomachs hanging over their belts as they walk down the street. The newspaper write-up was just a follow-up on that. I'm sure we've all read and seen lots like it. Anybody who doesn't watch their weight should be ashamed of themselves. How could you possibly let yourself get like that? It's more than just a health risk. It's a bad example to the younger generations. People like you should make an effort to get trim because you are a blot on our society.

My question is how come our society gets off scot-free? Our society makes it easy for people to gain a few pounds or kilos in a twinkle. We walk into supermarkets and there are gorgeous towers of Tim Tam biscuits and Mint Slices and Pascal's marshmallows gleaming beautifully at the end of every aisle. There are chocolate advertisements as soon as you leave the car-park and step on the escalator into the shopping centre. There are people cooking samples of wonderful shaker pancakes or chocolate mousses or Nanna's apple pies waiting to pounce on us with their little paper sample plates and plastic spoons, saying, "This is so easy to mix up, and it's on special!" Our society's message seems to be, "You've had a long day, you deserve to relax tonight. Just grab a packet of bite sized Mars Bars to nibble while you read." Our society doesn't behave like one which is concerned about its peoples' health. It behaves more like one which runs on supply and demand, economic greed, give people what they want. Our society encourages us to socialize with friends over cake and coffee.

You might argue, "Society is doing its bit! Look at the thousands of fitness clubs out there for proof." But have you considered that the fitness clubs are happy when people over-indulge in all the tasty, unhealthy food society has to offer? That's when people come and use their services. If most people were trim, taut and terrific, then it'd be a worry for the fitness clubs.

If our society was really serious about helping people lose weight and get healthy, it would urge entrepreneurs to set up alternative supermarkets for weight watchers. They'd be supermarkets that don't stock junk food, or else keep them low on the shelves and not in people's faces.

I'm speaking as a person who's experienced both sides of the weight spectrum. I know what it's like to be anorexic with hair falling out and icy cold hands and feet at all times, and I also know what it's like to have a bit of a muffin top and want to lose a few kilos. At the time, I took full responsibility for being foolish enough to get myself so unreasonably skinny. I've also taken the blame upon myself to let the kilos creep around my waist practically overnight. But perhaps that blame shouldn't be entirely mine. Some of it must go to society; yes, that same society that claims to be encouraging us to be healthy. My point is just to point out how sick I am of our society that enables and even encourages us to indulge, and then shovels the blame entirely on us individuals when we don't look exactly that way it would like us to.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Clever Old Woman

OK, here's a challenge for my blog readers. It's a brain teaser. See if you come up with the correct answer. Here goes.

Long ago in the days when people used candles to light their houses, there lived an old woman. She was poor but very clever. She thought of many ways to save money. One way she saved money was by making new candles from old ones. She found that one quarter of a candle never burned because it was inside the candle holder. Most people just threw away these unburned candle stubs but the old woman saved hers. By melting four of these stubs she could make one new candle.

One day the old woman went to the candle maker's shop and bought sixteen candles. How many new candles could she make from the left over stubs of the sixteen candles?


I confess that nobody in our family (including Dad) got the correct answer. We all took it on face value as a simple maths question and said the answer was four candles. Did anybody work out the correct answer, which is five candles?

The clever old woman made five new candles. Every four candles gave her four quarters from which to make one new candle. So from the sixteen candles she made four new ones. I guess we all got that far. But those four candles also gave her four quarters from which she could make a fifth candle.

We found a great book full of this sort of puzzle from a second hand shop. If anybody likes this sort of thing, I'll post more from time to time.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Talking about our generations

After a bit of waiting, we've finally got our new computer. It's a nice desk top one. The last two we've had have been lap tops. After being initially impressed by the size, I found they weren't really as gutsy and reliable as desk tops in my opinion. My dh was out when I went to pick it up so my ds1, Logan, set it up. Sometimes I wonder at his deftness at this sort of thing. I've been his main homeschooling teacher for several years and I've certainly never taught him all of this computer knowledge because I don't know much about them. I think it's incredible that the younger generation seem to have been born with this built-in part of their brain that knows all about computers!

Then I came across an article in the newspaper which makes a lot of sense and seems to explain it. Through the ages, each of the generations seems to have born with more innate technological knowledge than the one which came before. In a nutshell, here they are.

The Builders (born 1920 - 1945) This is my parents' generation. They lived through the Great Depression and WW2. As a result of living it tough in their childhood and youth, they exhibit a strong work ethic and financial frugality. They built the current infrastructure, institutions and the economy.

The Baby Boomers (born 1946 - 1964) My older brother and sister surprisingly fit into this one, having been born in the early 60s. I would have guessed that all the babies born as a result of returning soldiers might have been over by then but apparently not. This generation was born into an era of freedom and financial prosperity. They are characterised as being vocal on social issues and liberal in outlook. I guess you'd have to say the Baby Boomers are probably the generation to have 'invented' computers.

Generation X (born 1965 - 1979) This is the one I fit into. We're portrayed as being cynical about traditional authority and open to new forms of communality but with underlying fear of the financial future as well as threats such as terrorism. I would say we're the 'guinea pigs' of new technology such as computers. I can remember the teachers writing on blackboards with chalk during my earliest Primary School years. I can remember thinking my electric typewriter was just perfect during my mid to late secondary years. I think I can probably pin point when computers took off. It was about 1985 onwards, yet I never owned one until I got married in 1992. Now I have fun telling my kids all about how much more annoying it used to be to research assignments during my school days. If our class had to research Shakespeare, for example, we'd have to rely on the World Book encyclopaedias in the school library. The quickest and luckiest would grab the "S" ones straight away. The rest of us had to use our creativity and search for things like E for Elizabethan theatre instead. If anyone had told us about the internet and Wikipedia, where everyone can research from his own home, we would have been awed.

Generation Y (born 1980 - 1994) I have a couple of nephews and a niece in this one. In a work sense, they've been labelled as a fickle, flighty "me-now" generation, based on the tendency to blend work and study and regarded as superficial and driven by consumerism. Very computer-canny and smart. To me, they often appear far more sure of themselves and their direction than I ever was. They seem to have more of an air of maturity than I used to, and are more comfortable in their own skins.

Generation Z (born 1995 - 2009) This is the one my kids fit into. Logan just scrapes in, being born in February '95. We never realised there was such a thing as Generation Z until we read this article. Reared in the social networking and user-driven content era, they are extremely tech-savvy, creative and confident with a strong work ethic and financial conservatism. Even more so than Generation Y. They think this might be a result of having more mature parents (because the Gen Xs who are their parents tend to have many of their children at a later age than their own Builder and Baby Boomer parents before them).

Generation Alpha (to begin January 1st, 2010) We'll just have to wait to see how these turn out. They will mostly be the children of Gen Y it would seem.

I find this sort of research interesting. Human traits are essentially universal across the ages of course, yet I see these generational differences play out over and over again. My Builder parents have retained their Depression, work-hard-and-don't-spend-too-much mentality, as if they're not really living in the real world but still in some historical time period of the past. Mum will comment, "That's a lot of money for a book," when she's talking about quite a normal price. She seems to still think they should be sixpence or tuppence or something from her pre-decimal era.

And the Builders and some Baby Boomers are still very rigid about teaching things like rules and grammar and mathematics parrot fashion. My first editor, who was an older lady, commented that in her opinion, it was obvious that I'm from Generation X. Apparently we are the first generation who weren't taught this sort of thing with such strict legality at school. True enough, my English lessons emphasised the thoughts and feelings of characters rather than pulling every sentence apart to work out what each of the words are.

I've noticed that while Gen Y seem far smarter and more confident than me in some ways, they sometimes display a lack of general knowledge, or trivia. When I did my radio interview, the lady remarked that Gen Y tend to use far many more 'ums and ahs' which she has to edit out of the recording.

Perhaps each generation learns the skills they need to know in the society in which they live. It amuses me when my "Builder" father expresses concern that our kids might not be as brightly educated as he used to be at their age, but then relies on my Y and Z nephews and sons to help him trouble shoot and fix all his computer problems. What we can learn from each other is immense.

Monday, September 7, 2009

What makes a Christian 'show'?

My normal computer has recently crashed, so I haven't been able to reply to any emails or work on Word for the past week. The man who's been building a new one for us has been slower to deliver than he'd said he would be. Andrew doesn't care but I hate that. I'm getting a bit frustrated and stressed. But here I am on another old computer, able to blog at least.

I've been pondering the above question of what makes a Christian show because my frustration over the computer has made me feel tetchy and not very kind. I like to type each chapter of my new story up as soon as I type them, but I haven't been able to do that and they're logging up. It shows me that it's so much easier to be happy and behave in a Christian manner when we have nothing to frustrate us. Nobody would necessarily recognise me as a Christian this week! But annoying circumstances liked crashed computers shouldn't make all that much difference in a person's outlook. Jesus said we need to let our lights shine at all times. How does this show in our lives? Accepting our saviour is such an inner, personal business, especially when we don't find opportunity to talk about our beliefs openly each day. Are there signs that identify a Christian straight off? I believe there are two.

1) They have all the fruits of the Holy Spirit operating out of their personality.
Love (as opposed to hate, resentment, jealousy and envy)
Joy (as opposed to depression and misery)
Peace (as opposed to turmoil and anxiety)
Patience (as opposed to impatience and short temper)
Kindness (as opposed to selfishness)
Goodness (as opposed to wickedness, strife)
Faithfulness (as opposed to fear and dread)
Gentleness (as opposed to harshness)
Self-control (as opposed to short temper, emotionalism, panic)

I think it's really useful to remind myself of the fruits of the Spirit every so often. When we don't, so many of the counter-fruits find room to sprout up without our knowledge. And when we look at a list like that above, we can easily see where we're beginning to get a little off track.

2) You can see that God's promises are being worked out in their lives. Their needs are being met. They are not sick, broke and needy like the rest of the world. God's will is clearly taking place on earth as it is in heaven in their lives, as they depend on His promises. They are clearly children of the new covenant.

During an altar call at church week before last, I was sitting there toying with the idea of going out the front for prayer when a quick thought occurred to me. I thought, "I shouldn't sit here, year after year wondering whether I ought to respond to altar calls." I hate to admit this. I'd never given it much thought before but I'd been coming to church for most of twenty odd years (I'd become a Christian when I was 17) with a needy mindset! I'd always attend hoping to "get something out of" the message or prayer. Now, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that! Christians are there to reach out to others after all. But we're not to meant to remain in that needy condition!

True Christians aren't like dry, parched trickles but deep, flowing wells. Instead of being anxious that I'm not going to have my needs met and wanting to have the reassurance of prayer from others, I should be trusting that I'm having all of my needs met by God. When I'm coming from that strong, God-dependant mindset, I'm more able to give of myself to others.

That doesn't mean we need to lapse into the trap of relying on our own good works (which might be a form of neediness in itself). When we keep giving and giving through our own strength we get dry and exhausted. I've been there. I don't think this busy sort of giving is necessarily what God intended. Proper giving is simply through being the people we are. Just living our daily lives with deep love for God and the fruits of the Spirit, and then doing what we want to do, it seems we can't help giving to others as a by-product.

I've been giving this a bit of thought this week. Hope it strikes a chord with some of you too.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Coffee Pot

I love stories that make points. I also have the background of a classic worrier. I was brought up that way. My parents are great but they have always been either tied up with some problem or fear, or else searching for one, because life is just too weird and empty for them when there isn't something to worry about. It's interesting that patterns like this, which aren't formally taught, are the sorts of lessons that kids 'catch.' For several years, fearful possibilities have seemed to zoom into my head without my going out of my way to think of them. Even though I've come a long way, I still have to be on my guard.

As I approach my 40th birthday in December (I was born on Christmas Eve 1969), I'm aiming to weed this sort of catastrophic thinking out of my brainwaves completely. At the moment I have to admit that even though I've developed skills to deal with them when they come up, I'd far prefer it if they stopped coming up needing to be dealt with. But I know that would take nothing short of some sort of brain transplant. I know that is possible, and that the key to this is in the Biblical instruction to let our minds be renewed. So I decided that if this is to be achieved, the Word of God in the Bible is going to have to be the means of doing it. People like me (and maybe some of you) are the sort of people who have to make a full-on decision that God's Word is true, His promises found within are certain, and no circumstances will make us think the opposite.

So here's this story about the coffee pot that makes me understand the thing is possible. It's from a book called "Overcoming Doubt" by Neil T Anderson.

"Think of your mind as a coffee pot. You desire the water inside to be pure but unfortunately you have added coffee grounds. There is no way to filter out the coffee once it has been added so the water inside becomes dark and polluted. Sitting beside the coffee pot is a huge bowl of crystal-clear ice which represents the Word of God. You can only put in one or two cubes so your efforts at clearing up the dark, polluted water seem futile at first. But over the course of time the water begins to look less polluted. When you taste the water to which you once added coffee grounds you can hardly taste or smell the presence of coffee anymore. The process works provided you stop putting in more coffee grounds."

He assures us that the was is winnable. But we must fill our minds with the crystal-clear word of God. There is no alternative plan. Just trying to stop thinking fearful thoughts won't work. And rebuking obsessive thoughts alone won't work either. So I'm continuing the process of replacing those coffee grounds daily and at the end of the year, we'll see how far I've come.

Oh, off the topic, the cover design for my new book "A Design of Gold" is now up on my website, in the toolbar under New Book Coming Soon. Please see what you think of it!

Friday, August 14, 2009

A Tourist's Eyes

I was feeling a bit homebound lately. Not homeward bound but bound to the home. For months we've been meaning to take off for a quick get-away. A few opportunities have come up but fallen through. My sister and her boys were going to stay at a holiday house near Mount Gambier and we were going to join them, but they decided to go somewhere else with other people instead. Then my in-laws invited us to stay at a holiday house at Whyalla with them but Andrew was busy with his master builder's course and a few other work related things so we didn't go. (My sister-in-law and her family, who did manage to go, tell us they had a wonderful relaxing time.)

I was brought up with parents who loved to take holidays. I've been as far as Europe with Mum and Dad. Then Andrew and I have tried to take driving breaks whenever we could, one of the most memorable being up to the Sunshine Coast of Queensland and back down the coast with the kids in 2004. It makes me feel restless not going. I even bought a luggage set which was for sale at a terrific discount a few weeks ago which makes my feet feel even itchier. And I started feeling sorry for Blake, my youngest, because he hasn't had the travelling opportunities that Logan and Emma had. When we did that wonderful trip, he was only two months old.

However, last week I met a friend who I never catch up with very often at a coffee shop on our own main street. She suggested we meet at a lovely little place I've never been into before. It has quite a small shop front so I'd never even noticed it. It's called Sazon Cafe and has a real feel of the Meditteranean about it. The little alcove I sat in has a mirror on the wall which reflected the colourful leadlight window with its morning sunshine perfectly. And the scrumptious drink I had seemed straight from the movie, Chocolat! It was called Mexican hot cholocate, and was full of exotic spices. So I went away feeling as if at least I had a mini-break.

Still feeling refreshed when I got home, I took the kids up for a long hike on top of our own local Mount Lofty Summit. It was a lovely bright winter's day with the beginning of a spring feeling in the air. Wildflowers are beginning to bloom, the panoramic view from up high is fantastic and even Logan, who'd been a bit annoyed at being dragged away from Saturday afternoon football, enjoyed himself. We went into the tourist centre, which has a great outdoor lookout over the whole of Adelaide far down beneath us. Not a bad day out for just the cost of a $2 car park.

Andrew was busy that day and hadn't been able to join us so yesterday, when he had a day off, we took another walk in the local Mount Lofty Botanic Gardens, which has all sorts of rugged hiking trails. We can see that the bushes, such as rhododendrons and azaleas, will be out in full colour in a matter of weeks so we'll go back then too.

It made me remember that last week, when I was invited to speak at a ladies group event with two other authors, the lady who'd organised it asked to say about why I chose our own local Adelaide Hills as settings for my novels. After thinking about it, I said that I'd taken Jane Austen's advice to heart. She said to write about what you were most familiar with. I love reading books that are set in exotic places, but if I stick to what I know, I could be helping make the Adelaide Hills an exotic place for others. I often see artists set up their easels here, so I'd like to do it justice with my own medium; words. I've never come across many other novels that are set in my part of the world. We can all try to put our own area on the map in our own way.

So if we can't get away, the next best thing is to try looking at your own area through touristy sort of eyes. (We do hope to make it away for the week in the beginning of September, though. We'll have to see what happens.)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Watermelon Seeds

OK, my busy few days continued on into a busy week. Rochelle, my new publisher and friend, stayed with us for two days and nights while she helped me get "Light the Dark" started. That is a party plan based business which sells Christian products created by Australian authors and artists. I am one of the South Australian reps. I will be taking my wonderful bag of products around to show ladies (and/or gentlemen) at gatherings. I am very excited about it.

But I'm the sort of person who needs a fair bit of quiet space. If there is too much sustained excitement, my head spins. I've sometimes felt guilty about that, but it's never changed so I've had to carefully examine my priorities and schedule this week. If I keep a calm head and focus on each of these commitments in their own turn without worrying about the others, I'll be right. My passions are God, my family and my writing, which I believe He's given me to do. I now consider "Light the Dark" part of helping promote my own writing along with the skills of others. I also teach Blake's Sunday School class, King's Kids, in three week blocks every few months. None of this is particularly easy, but I believe they are all worthwhile things that will bear fruit.

I remembered how a lady speaker I heard told us how annoyed she used to get eating watermelon because she had to spit out the seeds and it seemed so fiddly. She preferred eating to be quick and easy. So she was pleased when the seedless watermelon variety was produced and couldn't wait to get stuck into a juicy slab. Yet this turned out to be relatively tasteless compared to the sweeter, juicier red melon with seeds that she was used to. I agree with her on that. Even the colour of the normal watermelon with seeds is bolder and more ruby-red. She found out that the seedless watermelon varieties are sterile. Once eaten, that's the finish of them. The producers have to engineer more. She now sticks to watermelon with seeds.

Her point was that it's the same with the work we do. Satan tempts us with easy stuff which may require more pleasure and less effort than other things. This turns out to be sterile in the end. That work that God plans for us is bound to be filled with a aggravating seeds but if we stick to it faithfully, it leads to life.

I've been reading "Anne of Avonlea" with my daughter at night and quote Anne Shirley, who declared that "Everything worth having takes some work"

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Next few days

It'll be busy around my place for the next two days. Tomorrow I'll be driving down early to the airport to pick up Rochelle, a friend and houseguest from Brisbane. She will have her 6-month-old baby, Constance with her. My daughter is very excited at the prospect of having a baby girl with us for two days. Rochelle is going to publish my book "A Design of Gold" in October! That's very exciting. The details of her brand new Christian publishing house are in the Links section of my website. She's also the driving force behind "Light the Dark," the new party plan company that sells Christian books, gifts and products created by Aussies.

We'll be holding one "Light the Dark" info afternoon at my house tomorrow afternoon and in the evening I've been invited to speak along with two other ladies at a church function for ladies at a local Adelaide Hills church. Then on Saturday afternoon we'll have another "Light the Dark" session. On Sunday morning I'll be dropping Rochelle and Constance back to the airport by 6.10. It's all going to be great fun but those who know me can probably guess that three back-to-back events is a huge boost of excitement in my normally calm routine. I wonder what the effect on me will be.

I'm hoping Adelaide will put on its best display of winter weather. Since my last post, that rain has been steading drumming down every day. I've been rolling Emma's guinea pigs' hutch into the shed every night so the little things don't turn into furry icicles. Andrew thinks I'm spoiling them, but I don't want to take the chance of them catching colds and getting sick. The mud by the shed door has been churned up by the hutch's wheels. It's all good, of course. Just the way our old winters used to be. But I've been watching the national weather and Brisbane has been having sunny, 22 degree days. Adelaide really is a beautiful city but I can understand that a Queenslander, who comes from the state where it's "beautiful one day and perfect the next" might not realise that's true. I wouldn't want her to get the impression that it's freezing, wet and bleak! But that's just part of the Adelaide's rich tapestry.

I'll be back next week with my usual blogging.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

An abundance of rain

We've been suffering a serious drought for four or five years but I'm happy to say that it seems to be over in our little part of Australia. Just recently we've enjoyed days and days of heavy rainfall which has transformed our familiar area into a water-world I'd never even imagined. This is a creek at the end of our street which is powdery dry for most of the year. For the last 3 or 4 winters it's only produced a bit of a trickle but when I took Blake out for a walk at the end of the day yesterday it looked as if we were in an entirely different place more like Holland or Venice.
And the road was flooded! For years those gates which say, "This road is subject to flooding" have been permanently open and we've laughed. I couldn't believe what I saw! We hurried home to get the other two kids to come down for a look.

The sound of gushing was incredible. Now that's what I call a creek! I could watch it for ages.

I guess it takes something like a bad drought to make people smile and rejoice in the middle of a cold, wet winter. Emma even did a bit of paddling on the road. Many neighbourhood people were around. It was a cause of great awe and celebration.

And it looks as if there's even more to come. It's fantastic! Those clouds couldn't get any heavier.
A book of devotions I've been reading speak of rainfall representing God's generous abundance. It says He doesn't want to just dampen us with a little of his bounty but pour it down until it saturates us, like these clouds. And when it comes down to earth, it doesn't return to heaven without fulfulling its purpose of refreshing and brightening the countryside.
Another book I have is "The Blood and the Glory" by Billye Brim. She was living in Israel during one of their worst droughts on record. She said that scientists were making dire reports about the status of the Sea of Galilee every day on the news. I knew just what she meant because it's been the same over here with news reports about our Murray River. And then there was a sudden miracle rainfall! Newspaper headlines in huge type read "NES NES NES" which means "MIRACLE" The sea of Galilee overflowed its banks, and scientists had predicted that it would take years to fill up in normal rainy seasons. The Jordan swelled and rolled as it must have done in Biblical days.
What caught my imagination about this story is that the Judean desert bloomed. It was such an unseasonal miracle rainfall that the desert was blanketed with bright flowers. She said exotic seed sprouted that nobody even knew was down there. I love that because it can be so much like our lives. We each of us contain seed that may have been dormant for so long they seem unlikely ever to create anything good, but then they bloom all of a sudden.
Just now, I'm experiencing a bit of a downpour in another area of my life. My mind is being saturated with ideas for a new novel. "Risky Way Home" was published late last year, "A Design of Gold" will be published within the next few months and I thought I'd be relaxing and clean out of ideas, but they've just started flowing for something entirely new. I have the whole concept even down to its name, "A Clean Slate" and I'm up to chapter 5 in my writing of it. The ideas are springing into my head like those flowers in the Judean desert. I can't honestly give myself credit for creating when the ideas just appear like this. All I'm doing is being a scribe. So my notebook is filling up each day, my characters are living, I can hear their voices and laughter. I absolutely this part of writing.
I guess writer's block is a bit like a drought. I've had it before and tried to press through it, but I think it's something like a true climate drought. You can't really do much about it in your own strength and I've learned not to try. And what I'm experiencing now is like an abundance of rain. This abundance will surely occupy me for the next several months to a year and I'll enjoy every moment.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I was honoured and surprised to receive this gorgeous award not once but twice from two fellow Aussie bloggers. They are both terrific writers.

Narelle from Moments for Mum writes devotions that are specifically tailored to meet the needs of busy mothers. Her thoughts highlight topics that are close to all of our hearts and keeps reminding us of our most valuable priorities. She's published a great book of these reflections that I finished very quickly because they are so friendly and easy to read, (see her blog on my toolbar for details). Narelle is planning to release another one in time for next Mother's Day.

Janet has been publishing "Footprints" magazine for several years now, full of wonderful stories, articles, letters, reflections, reviews, tips and more. It always lifts my spirits to find the lastest issue in my letterbox. How often do we find anything that good in the post? How often do we get anything that is not a bill or a dental reminder or an advertising circular or a bank statement?

So before I hand on this award to others, I thought I'd give both these ladies a pat on the back through cyber-space for using their skills with words to so directly bless so many people.

Now, the rules are that we hand this award onto 15 other blogs and drop the bloggers a line to let them know that they've received it. 15 is a lot of blogs so I'll go for 4 of my favourites. These ladies know that I think their blogs are lovely because I've been following them for quite a few years now.

That is Kate, Cristina, Carrie and Comfy. You ladies all bless me with your thoughts on homeschooling and philosophy and just being able to share the glimpses of your lives from so far away. Thanks for the great reading you've given me, and all that which is still to come.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Funny about some retail people

My daughter and I were browsing through a 2nd-hand shop on a rainy day last week. It's the Community Aid shop in Aldgate, one of my very favourites. We found some good winter clothes, a gorgeous candle holder and some cheap books. The lady recognises us because we've been in before. She's a very chatty lady. She saw that we had some Christian books in our pile and said, 'A lady just donated a stack of Christian books 5 minutes ago while you were browsing upstairs. They're here on the counter.'

Well, on the very top was my own book, "The Risky Way Home." I got all excited and said, 'Hey, that's my book!' Come to think of it, that might not have been worth getting excited about. It meant that somebody preferred to drop it off at a good will shop rather than keep it! I wonder who that donater was!! If I been down a few moments earlier, I would have seen! But the shop lady didn't seem at all interested. 'Oh, is it? Well, that's nice, isn't it?' I've had a similar experience with shop people before. When I mention that one of my books is on their shelf, they turn cool and hardly glance at it. What is it with retail people? Do they have to spend so long selling things that they don't want to bother hearing about any of it? Most times now, I prefer not to say anything at all.

But since I had mentioned it, I thought I'd say a bit more. I told her that it was a romance novel set in the Adelaide Hills in case she thought that might interest her customers. Her shop is in the heart of the Hills, after all. Can't get more local than that. 'Mmm, that's nice, dear.' I went off feeling a bit embarrassed and flat.

On the way home, I thought about my choice of words. I'd said, 'Hey, that's my book!' Maybe I should have said, 'Hey, I wrote that book!' She might have thought that it was simply a book that I have on my shelf. In that case, she must have thought I was a pretty excitable sort of person! I suppse it doesn't matter if my big announcement goes over like a lead balloon as long as somebody who'll enjoy it buys it.

But it made me think about the whole process of getting goods into the hands of customers. If the sellers of goods took a bit more interest, the producers of goods might find it easier to sell their volume far quicker!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Collecting too much manna!

The kids and I include Bible study as part of our curriculum and last week we read Exodus 16. God instructed Moses to tell the Israelites to gather enough manna to last for just one day. Some of them disobeyed and collected enough to put aside for the next couple of days. To them it seemed wise. They were planning ahead, cutting the length of time they'd have to be out working the following day and giving themselves an illusion of control in case God changed His mind and didn't provide any for the following day. It seemed wise but was really based on a lack mentality! Of course we all know that the extra manna ended up going off and getting full of weevils. And God clearly could not be pleased by this.

This reminded me where I often get things wrong and go off-track. So many times when I've felt down in spirit, soul and body (because they're all connected), I've stepped back and realised that I'm holding the weight of tomorrow along with that of today! That's too heavy for anyone. We're asked to live each day as it comes and do what lies directly before us. Even when it's a long term job (such as raising a family or writing a book), we only need to do today's part today. That's why God split up time in a number of many little 24-hour compartments.

My thoughts sometimes run along these lines. 'It's going to be so hectic next month! What if the book shops don't sell any of my books, and then they won't buy any more from me? How will I help Logan (oldest son) to work out what his ambitions are, since he's already 14 and doesn't seem to have many?" I came to see this sort of thinking all involves bearing tomorrow's weight today.

A little book I was reading explained that when we dread or anticipate events in our thoughts, it's just as we're going through the pain or doing all the hard work more than once! That was enough for me. It'll be taxing and tiring enough to get there where the time comes. I'm certainly not to wear myself out going there over and over in my thoughts!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

My tribute to Michael Jackson

Like the rest of the world, I've been very melancholy and sad this past week. I always feel this way when I hear of somebody with brilliance and everything at their feet ending up wasting themselves and dying prematurely. He still had far too much to give the world. But when I think about it, how could it be any other way? He was a victim of fame, seeming to prove that no matter how we elevate a person, they are only flesh and blood like all the rest of us.

He never knew a normal lifestyle like most of us. He was in the spotlight from the time he was six years old. I actually don't remember those Jackson 5 days but I've heard some of their music and would have loved to have been around back then. My personal experience of Michael Jackson's music begins in the early 80s with albums such as Thriller. But my point is, how can a person who has known nothing but fame and adulation manage to cope during those times when it looks like popularity is waning and album sales are getting lower? It would be foreign to anything he'd ever imagined and nobody could expect him to.

Another thing, how do you expect a person to come up with more stage theatrics and sensationalism when it looked as if he'd already given his absolute all early on in his career? He'd already thrilled his fans by being shot above the heads of the crowd like a rocket! He took upon the added pressure of trying to keep coming up with enough to keep satisfying the thrill seekers. No wonder he crumpled! No wonder he began making some weird personal lifestyle choices! I sould like a psychologist but it's so easy to understand. I really feel terribly sorry for him because in a way, all his life he has been a victim of other people's whims and fancies.

We watched a special documentary on his life last night and I wanted to cry several times. He looked so stunning and fantastic around the time he was in his early twenties. It's been sad to watch what he's done to himself. I don't know how true it is, but they said on the news last night that the coroner's report found nothing in his stomach but drugs, needle pricks covering his body and he only weighed 50 kilograms. He was a tortured soul and may he rest in peace.

One thing is clear, this proves again that we cannot control our own destinies. I supposed God could have said, "OK Michael, I'll wait until you finish your concert tour," but He didn't. Now ticket sellers have the monumental task of trying to refund purchasers. We humans make many, many plans but times like this show that our control is an illusion.

Perhaps one of the saddest parts of the whole documentary was the recent press conference at the end, when Michael Jackson, already looking gaunt and spent, said, "I'll see you in July!"

Monday, June 22, 2009

Stories and White Space

My husband began reading a new novel last night and commented that the author had used several long words in the first couple of pages. He said it was hard to figure out what was going on because trying to work out all the meanings interrupted the flow of the story. It seems to be a very descriptive historical novel, and the author has proven that she is smart but not that she is a good writer, in his opinion.

It reminds me of similar novels I've tried to read in the past. It's sometime true of books that have won prestigious prizes. The intelluctuals on the judging panels like them but the normal population won't necessarily agree with them. These books are brilliant and clever but not necessarily inviting to read.

Sometimes authors use slabs and slabs of description and imagery when I'd rather just skip all that and find out what's going to happen in the story. It reminds me of the nineteenth century classics I used to study in English lessons at school and Uni. I read once that writers like Charles Dickens needed to provide lots of descriptive slabs because TV was still a thing of the future. For example, you might find that Dickens spent five pages describing the interior of a lawyer's office, but that was because he knew that many of his readers would have no idea what a lawyer's office might contain. We in the 21st century however, have seen enough TV shows to hazard a pretty good guess of what you might find in there, so we can dispense with all the description. To readers in the 1800s it was necessary, but to us it may become tedious.

Somebody once pointed out that we 21st century readers tend to unconsciously search for "white space" when we're perusing books to buy. If a page is filled with blocks of chunky paragraphs, we instinctively get the idea that reading it may become a bit 'heavy' and require lots of concentration. When description is sparse and dialogue is plentiful, there is often lots of white space at the end of lines. Readers only need a glance to get the impression that this story will be fast-moving and easy to read. I've never forgotten that lesson because I immediately knew that it's true in my case.

When it comes to my own novels, I like to write stories that appeal to me. I consider myself to be a fairly typical representative of the population so if I like it, it's not unreasonable to hope that many other normal people will like them too.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My Radio Interview!

The week before last, I went down to through the city to the other side of town to have a radio interview on Life FM, Adelaide's Christian based radio station. It was a fantastic experience. My daughter came in with me and we were shown around the radio station after doing the interview. Here are some of the highlights.

1) We were there on a Thursday morning but the interview wasn't broadcasted until the following morning. I was part of the Friday line-up. Jayne, who interviewed me, showed us the schedule, and how songs, interviews and ads are all carefully time-slotted days in advance to give the impromptu impression listening to the radio usually gives.

2) The microphone was so large and I had to put my mouth right next to it. She said there's no way anybody could be too close.

3) This was most disconcerting; I had to put my notes away! Anybody who's seen the sort of public speaker I am would know that I'm usually bound to my notes. I never move away from the podium and I keep looking down to read bits out. I've always been convinced that if I don't do this, I'll miss things that I'm supposed to say. I thought it'd be easy to read off what I came prepared with but Jayne told me that it came across better when I was simply talking naturally, as we had been doing before we started. She said that if I'd written it all down, it was bound to be in my head anyway. I wasn't convinced by this. In my experience, things easily freeze out of my head when I'm on the spot or in a panic, but I was willing to give it a go. Speaking off the cuff without any notes at all is something I've never done before.

4) I didn't even know what questions she would ask me. Jayne Lochert turned out to be a very smooth-flowing, impromptu sort of person herself who told me at the outset that she often doesn't even know what she'll ask a person until they're there with her on the spot.

5) Emma liked the look of the room with all the stacks and stacks of music. I would've liked a look around myself, as I love the music they play.

6) We learned that they never put two Christian songs back to back. In each group of songs they aim for a Christian artist, a song from the nineties and a song from the eighties. Maybe that's why I enjoy listening to Life FM so much.

7) Finally, she offered to email the interview to me to put on our own website. I hadn't been expecting anything like that. We've tried different ways to get it on and finally succeeded. Logan put the two parts of the interview on You Tube and Andrew got in onto our website.

So here's an invitation to you. Would you like to hear it? Just get into my website (from my blog toolbar) click on "Interview with Paula" and at the very bottom of that page you'll find my interview with Jayne Lochert. I'd love to hear what you thought of it. Keep in mind, please be easy on me as I was way out of my comfort zone with no written notes in front of me.

Friday, June 12, 2009

What would you do?

I had terrible problems with a back molar tooth last week.

This is the very back one on the upper right hand side. It's had a deep filling in the past and the dentist has said that it was close to the nerve and might cause future problems. Well, it started doing little twinges a few months ago which I ignored because I knew that would mean the last resort -root canal- which I didn't want to hear.

To cut a long story short, it began throbbing very severely and very suddenly as I lay in bed last Tuesday night. So bad in fact that I couldn't get back to sleep. Taking paracetemol only seemed to take the edge off the problem for a very little while at first and soon seemed to have no effect at all. I might as well have been swallowing lollies.

I tried to get into my local dentist but they were full up. I managed to contact the local dental emergency service at our local hospital. They do nothing unless you're in agony. By then, the intense pain was throbbing right through the tooth, gum and cheekbone so that touching it made me wince, so I managed to give a pretty good description. The lady told me to come to collect an authority for an emergency visit to any dental surgery I could manage to squeeze an appointment with. Just after I picked up the form I felt a sudden crack in that tooth, and found myself holding the old filling in my hand. Then there was a massive hole when I felt it with my tongue but at least the pain had eased somewhat.

I managed to get into a dental chair at about 3.30. At first I thought it might be OK. The dentist started saying, "Perhaps I only need to replace that filling. That'd be your best scenario." But as he started digging around back there, he said, "This doesn't look good at all." I hate it when you're lying flat on your back and dentists start saying that sort of thing! He said, "The nerve has just about worn away. No wonder you've been having trouble. I can give you two options, an extraction or root canal therapy, and I think I can save that tooth so I'd suggest the latter but you'll be looking at $1100. Today I'll just begin the treatment and you'll find the pain will lessen very quickly."

So here's the position I'm in now. The tooth is no longer aching or even twinging. I'm sitting here with the beginning of a root canal in my mouth but find that I can't stand the thought of paying over a thousand dollars on a back tooth! It never sees the light of day even when I smile. At this stage I choose to opt for the extraction. Some people have been saying, "Once it's gone, you'll never have it back." But my sister had a back molar extracted once rather than paying for a root canal and she says she's never missed that tooth. Since my dh has been studying and doing odd jobs rather than working a full-time job money has been very scarce. We've had the household incentive payment from the government so if I really wanted to, we could spend a chunk of that on the tooth, but there are so many other great and sorely-needed things that money could be spent on, including curriculum, clothes and decent shoes for growing feet. Hence my question, what would YOU do?

In fact, does anybody know a bit about dentistry. I'm on a waiting list to have a cheap dental check-up at the local hospital but my name probably won't come up for over 18 months. If I could go around with the start of this root canal in my mouth for that long I would. Do you think this temporary measure would last for a year or more? At the moment, I'm still expecting it'll be the extraction in about a month.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Emma's Baptism

Emma was baptised in church last Sunday. I went into the baptism tank to help lower her. Her grandfather (my father-in-law), a retired pastor, baptised her. I told a bit of Emma's history. Here is my message about her.
Emma's story started before she was even born. In the early to mid 90s I had a history of sudden early miscarriages. Nobody ever worked out why and it's still a mystery.
Back when Logan, our eldest, was about 2 years old we were given several prophetic words by people which we clung to. A visiting pastor prayed for us out the front and asked if we had any children at all. When I replied, "Yes, a little boy," he said, "How would you like a little girl?" We prayed with him, and determined to stand on that promise and believe, but it was another eighteen months before we saw any results.
Another friend, Elva, seemed to have a connection straight to God on the subject. She said, "You're going to have another baby and it's burning my heart to tell you." Then she got anxious herself when nothing happened for so long except more miscarriages. Finally, she woke up one night in early 1998 with a clear thought, "Paula's pregnant!" And I only found out myself two weeks later.
Elva always knew we'd have a girl. On November 11th, when she was born, my parents, who were looking after Logan, received several phone calls from people, including Elva, who just knew that something was happening.

Emma's a real joy and delight with a natural cheerfulness and busyness. When she was just a half hour old she was looking around the hospital room, more curious than I imagined such a new baby could be. And when she was just a few months old she'd sing at church with a really loud baby noise. She's always had a bright smiling face.
She's the sort of person who's an example to all of us because of the joy that bubbles up from inside her. She's satisfied with whatever's going on. When there's no fun happening, she'll make up her own. Her enthusiasm is always good for the more intense people who live with her. She's a lovely splash of femininity in a family of boys.

Another thing about Emma is her love for anything beautiful. Her sense of awe is well developed and it's been wonderful to see her love and appreciation for God grow. I know He must be working a wonderful plan for her and we look forward to seeing it unfold.
Good on you, Emma!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Hey, how about the winners?

We all know by now that Susan Boyle didn't win "Britain has Talent." It's spread all through the media. "Susan Boyle comes second! Susan Boyle is runner-up. Unfortunately, Boyle misses title!" But what I thought sadly curious is that the winners received no accolades at all. Not down here, anyway. All I know is they were a dancing troupe but I don't think I even heard or saw their name mentioned on the media. They deserve a bit of a plug too, don't they? The guys just won a national title!!

Susan Boyle is a remarkable lady with an inspirational story and a wonderful voice. We all know that by now. But these dancers obviously put hours and hours of blood, sweat and tears into their act too. I hope they haven't had the gloss rubbed off their victory by the way the world media has brushed them to the side to focus on their rival.

I saw something similar in the Autralian Open Tennis this summer, when Rafael Nadal apologised to the crowd for beating Roger Federer. If I had the chance to have something broadcast, I'd say, "How about a bit of sportsmanship?"

Friday, May 22, 2009

Stress Plus!

I heard that a review of my book, The Risky Way Home, is included in the latest "Christian Woman" magazine, and decided to visit our city Christian book store when I went to take my daughter down to her art class on Wednesday. I dropped the boys off at my parents' house too. Mum was out with friends and I knew Dad would appreciate it if Logan was around to help him look after Blake. At last I was able to go to Koorong bookshop. Emma is getting baptised on Sunday morning (which will soon be the subject of another blog) and I wanted to pick up a few presents for her, too.

Unfortunately they didn't have the magazine, and were all sold out of the lovely jewellery that Emma likes. I browsed for quite awhile and chose a couple of lovely books for her. Then at 5.15 I knew it was time to go and get her, as her art class finishes at 5.45. I thought I was leaving in plenty of time but didn't allow for peak hour traffic. It was getting dark and the traffic was bumper to bumper! I came across every red light and sometimes had to wait for two or three changes before I could move. When I could move I could only crawl. Time was ticking away on my watch and I knew I'd be pushing it to make it back on time. That wouldn't be good, as Emma would have to sit around wondering what had happened to me and the boys would be waiting to find out what had happened too. I hate to think that people are worrying about me and felt my stress levels rising. I started to pray that somehow I'd be back just a little late to get Emma. Eventually it looked as if that wouldn't happen so I changed it to ask that nobody would be stressed about when I'd turn up.

At last I got to Emma's art lesson and found that almost every other mother was just arriving, and running up the driveway too. And Emma told me that Eileen, the teacher, had just remarked, "Everyone is running late tonight." It surprises me that a prayer can be answered but not the way I expect.

It turned out that Logan had got a bit worried but he managed a smile when we got there. Logan is a bit of a stress-head, as I've been in the past and tend to still be when I don't stop to reflect.

The moral of this story: Don't underestimate peak hour traffic. What may take a leisurely half hour at 2.15 may take far, far longer at 5.15. And of course, when it comes to answered prayer, just relax when you've prayed, knowing that you've done all you can and expect the unexpected.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The things people do for a bit of money!

We bit off more than we could chew last week!

Several weeks ago I found in our letter box a flyer looking for people to drop catalogues into letter boxes to earn good $$$$$$$ in their own district. It sounded like something that might be good for us so I logged onto their website and left my details. I imagined strolling leisurely for a few hours, enjoying the fresh air and being paid for it. In due time, a lady phoned offering a catalogue route that includes our street. The last person who did it had just hurt her back. It seems there is a pretty fast turn-over of deliverers and now I know why.

My daughter and I went to this lady's house on Monday evening and found a Mount Everest of catalogues waiting for us. It included 9 different types, including thick catalogues from Cheap as Chips and other emporiums as well as vouchers from Dominos that needed to be folded. Our job was to take them home, prepare individual rolls comprised of each of the 9 which we were to rubber band, and then have them all delivered by Wednesday at midnight. Then we were to return on Friday night and repeat the whole thing, finishing the next delivery by Sunday night. "You'll get $100 from this," she told us. Then she gave us a map of our section, which seemed to include a third of Mt Barker spanning several kilometres! I had misgivings on the spot but Emma and I lugged them into the car and they filled the whole back seat to the roof.

So that night, Logan, Emma and I were standing around the table preparing the rolls which took absolutely hours! Rubber bands were snapping, the couch was getting piled, our fingers were inky and hard to bend. And my husband was telling me, "If you'd put this much time into promoting and selling your books, it'd be great." And I said, "We haven't even started delivering yet."

Next morning we got up early, crammed bags full of catalogues into the car boot and back seat and got going. I'd drop Logan off at one cul-de-sac and Emma at another, and Blake would go with whoever he chose. I'd do another section and drive back around to pick the others up. After the first couple of streets, the kids were still saying, "This isn't too bad," but I knew it wouldn't take long for the novelty to wear off. After a few hours and several steep hills it had turned to, "My feet hurt!" and "This is a rip-off" That last comment came when we figured out that after splitting the money four ways, we'd each get only $25 for all our hard work! We went home for a quick lunch break and then got back onto the job in the afternoon.

We traipsed through very flash new sub-divisions with multi-storey homes. These were the steepest and hardest, as these people pay for the magnificent views on their lovely blocks of land. Then there were the older, poorer areas where the letter-boxes were rusty and many of the houses in need of repair jobs. This area has a gipsyish sort of charm of its own. So many homes have old, faded couches out on their porches and whimsical wind-chimes and decorations hanging from their eaves and rusting old car bodies and horse floats in their overgrown yards. I found it interesting to think that every week, people from all sections of Mt Barker rub shoulders in the shopping centre. It brought home what a varied demographic area we live in. We just didn't want to do it twice every week for a measly $25 each. Especially when we reminded each other that this would fill each and every week-end, rain and shine, as well as mid-week. Only one of us had a wow of a time and that was Blake. I think even he would soon get sick and tired of it.

So it wasn't a difficult decision to chalk this up to experience and give in our notice already. The lady didn't sound surprised. When a job keeps 4 people (or rather 3, as Blake wasn't all that much help), working flat-out for far more than 10 hours for only $100 when normal award wages for one person is around $18/hour, getting calluses on our fingers and blisters on our feet, it needs to be re-thought. Especially as it actually ended up guzzling a fair bit of petrol in the car. It turns out that lots of short, spasmodic drives in one area is as costly as a long, steady drive down to the city. Andrew worked out that at that rate, we were being paid less than 1cent/catalogue roll.

Anyway, good has come out of it. The kids are aware that there are better jobs out there than delivering catalogues, I am keen to put just as much times into writing ventures for better pay, and whenever we find our rolls of catalogues from now on (for someone has taken over from us already), we spare a thought for the poor delivery people.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A little, miracle word

Here's an excerpt from a book on creating writing that I was reading by Elizabeth George. I've read several books on the craft of writing over the years and when I come across some good, wise advice I like to jot it down. I think what she says here is particularly useful because most people fall into this trap. We can't help it. So often we're taught to do it at Primary School.

"Sometimes a writer just starting out thinks that she needs to be especially creative with her tag lines, believing that the repetition of 'said' lacks snap and personality. Actually, 'said' is a little miracle word that no-one should abandon. When a writer uses 'said' in a tag line, the reader's eye skips right over it. The brain takes in the name of the speaker, while the accompanying verb - providing it's the word 'said', simply gets discarded. To a large extent so do 'asked', 'answered' and 'replied.'
But that isn't the case with all those fancier tag lines (snarl, moan, snap, hiss, wail, whine, whimper, shout, groan, sneer, growl, etc.) These call attention to themselves. You must use them with the realisation that they will leap out at the reader. When the writing is really doing its job, the reader will be aware that someone is shouting, snarling, thundering, moaning and groaning. The scene will build up to it so the writer doesn't have to use obvious words to indicate the manner in which the speaker is speaking."

This is so true. It's part of the best advice I've received over the years, which is that simplicity adds strength, and complexity and wordiness often weakens. When I mentioned this to a group of Primary School teachers once when I was talking about editing your own work, they were very surprised but they could see the wisdom behind it. "We always give students extra ticks for being descriptive and the longer the word, the better."

I've also learned to steer of adverbs in most cases. Those are the frilly words that describe a verb. Some writer once mentioned that they sound so great and descriptive but are an author's downfall. Words such as sadly, angrily, happily, merrily and furiously all should get the flick.

"The mouse scurried hastily behind the clock." Of course he did! Do you need to mention it? That's implicit in the word "scurried." "The mouse scurried behind the clock," will suffice.
Same with, "Grandpa chuckled indulgently at his grandchildren." It's good to come across advice that helps us to relax and be less complex rather than more.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Doll's Houses and Bamboo Trees

During the week I came across a few neat little analogies to help us keep working faithfully toward our goals, even when we can't see much in the way of results.

The first was in an email from a friend. She wrote to tell us about the Chinese bamboo tree. For the first five years of its growth it puts out a tiny shoot that doesn't seem to change. Although it looks as if absolutely nothing is happening, it still needs regular water during this long stage. All of its development is underground where we can't see what is going on, but at the end of the five years it suddenly has a massive growth spurt. In the space of 5 weeks it grows to over 30 metres tall. She encouraged us to remember the bamboo tree and keep watering our dreams, even when it seems as if nothing is happening. They will surely grow with persistance but one thing is certain; they will wither if we give up watering.

The second was from some notes I'd taken at a conference a couple of years ago. It's about a pastor whose little girl asked him to build her a doll's house. He fobbed her off by promising to do it, but kept on working on his sermon notes. Then he noticed that his daughter was busy getting things ready to put in the doll's house. She was collecting all her furniture together and excitedly digging around in the toy box for her favourite dolls. The father's conscience began to prickle him. Although he'd intended to do nothing that day, her obvious faith and trust in his word motivated him to put aside his works, go out to his shed and begin work on the doll's house. The speaker encouraged us that it's a bit like this with us and God. We must start working toward our goals and visions even when it appears as if nothing's moving to all intents and purposes, and He'll be pleased by our faith in Him and move on our behalf. If we aren't prepared to do this much, we can't expect Him to take us seriously and work on our behalf.

These little stories work for me. I'm the sort of person who is naturally impatient for results, and the occupations I've chosen, writing and homeschooling, both require lots and lots of patience. Both have long periods when it looks as if nothing is happening. But I keep watering; I keep getting ready for that doll's house. Any good things are worth working and waiting for.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

17 Again

Last night Emma and I took a break from all the boys and went to see this movie. It got the thumbs up from both of us. I like the relaxing, heart-warming sort of movie that you can just enjoy without getting bogged down with heavy, depressing themes. And predictability is one of my favourite things sometimes. Of course we all know that by the end of his turning-back-time experience, our hero, Mike O'Donnell, will reconcile his differences with his wife. I found it very amusing to imagine that Matthew Perry ever looked like Zac Effron. We're big fans of both.

I'm highlighting this movie on my blog because I think it's a good choice for homeschoolers. It certainly cures me of any wild thoughts of ever sending my children to High School. One of Logan's archery friends who attends our local High School told him it's a 'hole from the pit of hell.' Whoa, the school in this movie, Hayden High I think it was, probably leaves Mount Barker High for dead. So in the first place, it reinforces our decision to keep our kids out of that pit!

There's a great scene when Mike (in his 17yo old body with his 37yo dad outlook) ticks off his Health class when the teacher distributes condoms to each member of the class. The bully grabs a handful, sneers at Mike and says, "I'll bet he doesn't even need one!" And Mike jumps out of his seat and declares, "You're right, I don't need one! Do you know why? I'm not in love!" And he goes on with his spiel to say that, in his opinion, they shouldn't even be used outside of marriage. It's a great, stirring speech that makes you want to cheer him on.

Without being a plot spoiler, I like how he comes to realise what is really important to him. A common theme but still a good one. I have to admit to a few smiles when he turns 37 again, declares his undying love for his wife and regrets his folly of not appreciating her more. Being a "Friends" fan, it seemed like a real Chandler Bing moment and seemed a bit weird not to see Monica walk in. But I won't hesitate to borrow that movie when it comes out on DVD and that's probably my highest recommendation.

It also made me imagine how I'd behave if I turned 17 again. It was 1987. I remember that year as one of the hardest of my life. I was doing my last year at High School, dreading the possibility of getting fat or not getting into university. Like Mike O'Donnell, I think if I had the chance I'd attempt to change my 17y0 experience by not being a perfectionistic, anorexic little stick insect. I'd know that even if I'd never busted myself to get into Uni, I'd no doubt be doing the exact same thing right now. I think this movie probably does show those of us who are parents and nudging 40 that during all those hectic years, we actually have gained a bit of wisdom. They were certainly not wasted years. And to walk out of the cinema with that knowledge is more than I'd expected.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Prophets and Writers

I was doing some Bible reading and 1Corinthians 14: 3 seemed to leap out at me for some reason. It said, "The person who prophesies speaks to people for edification, encouragement and consolation."

I'd probably read over it many times before without wanting to step back and zoom in on that verse specifically. The reason it stood out now is because I've been wondering how to answer the question, 'What's the point of writing romantic and/or fantasy fiction?' I'd decided the best answer is that it's just fun. I enjoy telling the stories and I like it when others enjoy reading them. I'd decided that must be enough. Then 1Cor 14: 3 popped up. I like that idea about speaking to people for edification and consolation but especially encouragement. I thought, "Prophets and writers might have something in common." And then I remembered something a good friend of mine wrote in an email a few weeks back. She'd been talking about that very thing.

"Our ability to put words together as a message for others is a prophetic gift. All creative/performing arts are. As prophets we speak forth or express God's message to audience or readership He calls us to move in. We need to be bold like prophets and not grow weary."

I love that. Although in the past I've sometimes been sad that writers aren't mentioned specifically in lists of spiritual gifts, it may be because writers and prophets share the same taproot. This is a thought that encourages me to push on and not lose heart, like Isaiah and Jeremiah of old who were certainly not always received favourably (in fact most often the very opposite.) Writers and prophets share the same purpose. We proclaim God's message. Even something as unlikely as romance and fantasy can do this.

The Good News version of 1Cor 14: 3 says "The one who proclaims God's message speaks to people and gives them help, encouragement and comfort." Even a good romance story can do that in its own way!

I loved the comments and feedback on my post about dual blogs. I'd been intending to diversify and begin another blog but have decided to stick with just one for the time being. It's new name, Faith, Family and Fiction reflects all of my passions. (Homeschooling will be including Family to stick with the alliteration). After this post I can clearly see how they can easily overlap anyway, so if I had two blogs, I'd find it tricky to work out where to put them. Hence my decision to stick with one for now.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A lesson in perspective (or rude awakening)

Here's a funny little episode just before Easter.

My 10yo daughter needed a new pair of shoes so we visited Spendless, our cheapest shoe store. And after trying several pairs, I decided on a nice little white leather pair with cute buttons on their buckles. But when we got to the car, Emma didn't seem completely happy. She grumbled, "I don't like those buttons. They look so old-ladyish to me." We all assured her that we didn't think so at all.

Then today we visited a friend of mine in her mid-30s who has little twin baby girls who Emma loves. This friend noticed Emma's new shoes and said, "I had a pair exactly the same but they've just broken and I was a bit sad." So on the way home I tried to comfort Emma. "See, April had exactly the same pair so they're not old-ladyish at all."

Emma gave me a sideways look that spoke volumes. She said, "Mum, you and April are old. I want to wear shoes that people aged 15 to 20 would wear." And she rattled off a list of young girls in the music or movie scene whose footwear she'd rather pattern. So there we have it. When we move into our 30s we have no idea that our fingers are no longer quite on the pulse until our daughters let us know. To me, old-ladyish shoes would be the slip-on type my mother, who is now in her 70s, would wear. A timely reminder that I've left the young, trendy generation some time ago. But when I think back to the angst I used to suffer then, I don't think I'd really want to be there.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Multiple Blogs

As you may have gathered from my extended absence, the editing continues. But this is not about that saga.

I've been thinking of beginning another blog after reading an article about the benefit of multiple blogs. The man who wrote it believes that every blogger should keep one blog for each of his passions. He says this inspires us to keep up to date with each of our passions. It pushes us to keep learning because we can only post something on our blogs if we do. The responsibility to update our blogs gives us the necessary pressure to keep learning.

I found this interesting because I'd been thinking this blog is a bit of a mongrel, so to speak. Even before I came across this article, I knew there was no theme to it. I talk about homeschooling issues, about writing and about my faith and family. If I really want to take his idea to the extreme, I could have four blogs, one for each of the above. But that makes me baulk straight away. Sometimes it's enough to upkeep one blog, let alone four!

But I was toying with the idea of beginning a brand new blog specifically about creative writing to encourage all writers, because I believe we are a forgotten, hardworking part of the population who really needs encouraging. I'm sure I could find enough to say about the subject to keep a blog going. I'd keep this current blog for faith and family posts. And I'd begin a brand new blog about writing. But my question is this. Would people necessarily want to read two blogs by me?

I know some of you have been keeping two blogs successfully for months, even years. What I want to ask my multiple blogging friends is this? Do you feel keeping two blogs is worth the effort? Do you get traffic to each of them? And if I started a new blog on writing, would you visit it? Will be interested to see what you have to say.

I can think of few friends who each keep two very different themed blogs

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Up to my eyes in editing!

Sorry, good friends, that I haven't been blogging for a few weeks. Until I looked at my last date I had no idea how long it had been. But the fact is, I'm up to the stage of having my most recent manuscript, "A Design of Gold" edited and I've been working on the changes I need to make.

Editing is always a very humbling experience. Since I've started writing my books I've had input from four different editors, Judy, Pat, Alison and Wendy. I could make it six if I include Suzanne, my proof-reader for the Quenarden series who was just as sharp and cluey as an editor, and Andrew, my husband, who always gives me suggestions and tips whenever he reads anything before I've sent it to the editors.

Letting a m/s go unedited would be a foolish move. Each time I've been over it myself until I've thought, "Surely they won't find much," but they always do! And very, very rarely is it anything to do with punctuation. Yet often people assume that punctuation is probably an editor's main job.

The most daunting sort of editing is the storyline editing. When I wrote my first Quenarden novel, my editor Alison explained why I needed to totally change and re-write slabs of the story. To start with, I didn't have a large enough distinction between the dialect of the Quenardians and that of the three teenaged protagonists who suddenly entered their world from a rock crack in a cliff. They all seemed to be using similar modern vernacular, which wouldn't be the case for the Quenardians, who had generally all lived isolated in that land for several generations. So I went through every page and changed the dialect of every native born Quenardian to my own sort of Celtic-cum-old Scottish/English patois. I don't know much about different dialects but I figured that as Quenarden was my country, it could be more unique than anything else people had come across. And it seemed to work. But it took awhile to change every single conversation in the book.

The second change was making my villain nastier. They told me, "Pythos is a wuss!" I had to work on making him seem far more menacing to readers from the start, and that was a challenge. For those who don't know, he's dragon-reptilian type of intelligent creature. I'd already given him semi-transparent orange skin so that horrified humans could watch his digestive system working. But apparently that was only the start. I needed to work on the menacing quality of his person.

I eventually achieved this by shifting around episodes in the book, like one of those square puzzles where you keep moving the panels around to form the picture. Beginning on page 60, Troy, Beth and Nathan had their first encounter with Pythos' evil henchmen, the Harrison brothers. A man named Joseph O'Donnell was selected randomly from the crowd to be a human sacrifice to Pythos. Originally, I'd slotted this little anecdote much later in the book. My editors figured out that bringing it in earlier would make a far greater impact before we even came to our first introduction with Pythos himself.

Without going into it, I re-wrote so much! I added more details to the first Race for Freedom (and anybody who's read them will know what I'm talking about.) I made Beth and Nathan's escape from Pythos' mountain headquarters far more suspenseful, with more breathtaking danger. And keep in mind that all this was after I'd already thought it was pretty good. Humbling, as I told you.

Another thing that editors do is to just change a few words or sentences for the better. Authors are so close to our own writing, we know exactly what we're trying to convey and assume that readers will too. Not the case.

Towards the end of the book, when the spent and battered Nathan is brought face to face with the terrified Pedor, the repentent traitor, I had Pythos bellow, "I believe you boys already know each other!" My editor suggested that I change it to "No introductions needed, I believe." The first wording, she felt, sounded too much like a "jolly old uncle."

And in another episode, Troy had a bit of a dig at Nathan, who had been teasing him. Levi asked, "Were you a hero where you came from, Troy?" to which I had him reply, "No, I wasn't. This is just Nathan's idea of sick humour." The editor suggested that I change the order of just two words so it became, "This is just Nathan's sick idea of humour!" I liked it much better.

As for my recent, "The Risky Way Home" I was advised to ruthlessly tear out several episodes, losing page after page of text. The heroine's sister Abby was having marital problems with her husband Jeff, and I'd intended for their story to be a bit of a sub-plot. My editor said, "No, slash it out! We don't care about them. We only care about Casey and Piers. This just interrupts the action we really care about." So several hours of wasted work went to the trash but I did it happily in the interests of having a nicer, tighter story.

Needless to say, "A Design of Gold" has been up for lots of reworking too. (My editor, Wendy's blog is in my tool bar, "Scribe of Spirit") She sent me an email saying, "Your standard is slipping, Paula. You need to re-write several sections before I can edit them." And she also suggested that I either turn one of my male characters into a female or re-write some of the action sequences so that a female has more involvement. "Don't forget you're writing for the women's market." Now, that made my stomach lurch to just think about it! I was aghast. I'd got fond of my boy and coudn't contemplate turning him into a girl! They are real friends and family to me. It'd be like turning one of my two sons into a second daughter! To cut a long story short, I suggested an alternative which meant I wouldn't have to make the sacrifices. She was happy with it, as long as I filled it with plenty of drama. So re-writing is what I've been doing all last week. I'll say no more, as I don't want to say too much about the plot of my as yet un-published book. (Wendy, if you read this, hi! I hope it the story's OK)

Whew, that's my excuse for neglecting the blog. If it's a little on the long side, just consider that I'm making up for not doing it for some time. And I think all this proves that there's no way a writer who gets thoroughly edited can possibly get a swelled head.