dorothystewartblog

about writing and life and God

Day Ten: Going home

Home! After a 365 mile solo drive (if you don’t count Jesus) from the borders of Scotland down through England to Cambridge, then a sharp left turn till you almost hit the far eastern coast. Home. Whew.

And glad.

Sometimes, to paraphrase T.S.Eliot, it is necessary to take a wander back through the past and check it out and discover what it means now. And then look at where you are now and discover just how good it is – and recognise it for what it is: in my case, that where I am now is home.

Home means lots of different things to different people. I have a nomadic streak and I love new places and overnight billets – lovely hotels in locations like at Annandale Water. Waking up to beauty fills me with delight.

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View from my balcony at Annandale Water this morning

But home: that is something deeper, richer. Long ago, I put my roots down in the rich soil of Somerset, letting them go down deep – which made the pulling up when my husband died in 1994 and I had to move the more painful. I haven’t had the courage to ‘settle’ properly anywhere since then.

But driving into Westmoreland this morning, past the sign that said ‘Welcome to England’, I realised I have lived in England for 38 years. More than half my life. More than anywhere else. England is home, and Suffolk, and the town where I live, and the street, and the little house on that street with my cat waiting for me and the friend who was feeding her for me, and my church this evening, and … This all constitutes home.

And I’m glad. And grateful. And it’s time to let my little roots unfurl and go down into the welcoming soil of Suffolk. And, to mix the metaphor, it’s time for some nesting – nice things for the house to make it more ‘home’. Nice things for the garden… maybe some herbs… salads, tomatoes… food!

Home. Welcome home. At last.

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What’s it all about?

The good news is that I’m 26,525 words into the new book, Part 2 of The Mizpah Ring.

Mizpah-Ring cover final

The bad news is that I haven’t written a new word of it since 7th March.

Ouch!

I’ve given a number of talks on Mizpah Ring 1 and must admit to some discomfort, compared with the ease and joy of giving talks on its predecessor, When the Boats Come Home.

When the Boats Come Home cover

Basically I’m a story-teller, and the story I like to tell is the good news of the Lord Jesus. This is what I do in the pulpit (that’s right – story not sermon!). That’s what I do at women’s meetings. And that’s what I was able to do with talks about Boats – because Boats is really about the good news of new life and second chances offered by Jesus Christ.

But I discover I’m not so comfortable talking about Mizpah Ring – and feeling a bit blocked about Book 2. Till I read Steven Pressfield’s blog Writing Wednesdays: The Hero Embodies the Theme and suddenly I had a handle on the problem. What was Mizpah Ring all about?

It’s taken some time chewing this over, because I thought I knew – when I started writing Book 1. There was an inciting incident that set off a trail of consequences through three generations – and three books. There were bad guys who got badder, and good guys who slipped up and messed up. There were good girls and bad girls and not-quite-sure girls. And some of them went the way of all flesh, and others got turned round.

It was all a lot grittier than Boats – including  the locations. The ‘worst’ location in Boats was a pub and a dark alley. Mizpah Ring has a brothel and gambling dens!

But I’m still telling the good news of Jesus Christ- because He wasn’t afraid of mixing with prostitutes and others unacceptable to respectable society – and He loved them and came to save them too.

And so my story is one of redemption – for those who will turn round and take it. And it tells the truth about those who make other choices – something else Jesus was clear about when He walked this earth. We all have choices. We all have free will.But our choices have consequences.

And that’s what Mizpah Ring is about. Book 1 showed the choices of the first generation – and the results, bad and good. Book 2 shows what the next generation makes of it.

But that’s not all – because that’s never all there is to it. Because there is another character active in the story and in the lives of the characters: and that’s Jesus Christ Himself. And where He is, anything can happen!

So now I know, I’m grounded again and can get back to work!

 

 

 

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Beloved voices

My mother smoked. Dad had been one of those soldiers introduced to cigarettes during the war and he had duly brought the habit home. In those early days, folk thought it was glamorous, little knowing the horrendous damage it would do to skin and lungs and other organs.

Mum had been a glamorous young woman with dark hair falling provocatively over one eye like a movie star. And she was talented. From an early age she had been in demand as a singer and I recall her beautiful voice.

But the cigarettes took their toll and her voice deepened and deepened till her beautiful voice was completely destroyed and she could barely manage to reach any notes. For someone who had loved to sing, this was purgatory indeed.

On Monday night at Bible study group, a friend gave us a very lovely gift. Instead of us reading round the group, she invited us to relax and close our eyes and listen as she read the complete passage in her lovely soft Scottish voice.

I joke that my accent strengthens after a phone conversation with my sister, then I have to tame it so folk down here in Sassenachland can understand me! Maybe it’s my accent that makes my voice recognisable – so I hardly need to say who I am when I ring friends.

And I wonder does that come across on the page? One of the delights of opening a new book in a well-loved series is that sense of familiarity with the author’s voice, like the voice of a friend.

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Jesus says He is the Good Shepherd and His sheep know His voice (John chapter 10, verses 1-16). The voice of a loved one is very special. I remember once missing my beloved so much I kept ringing his office number when he was away so I could hear his voice on the answermachine message! Afterwards he commented on the number of calls where the caller had left no message!

Having given up Facebook for Lent, maybe I’ll have more time to just sit and listen out for Jesus and see if I can recognise His voice.

 

 

 

 

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Maps for the road

My planned journey is a 1500 mile round trip. It’s pretty easy to navigate: get onto the main road and drive north. Stop when you reach the sea.

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My road atlas was battered and out of date so I sprung for a new one. But it doesn’t fold flat… And maybe I’ll need a little more detail to find the homes of friends in Edinburgh and Dundee, so I decided I’d need to use my satnav. I bought it in 2006. So I decided I’d update it.

I duly found my password and user name, and logged on to the relevant site. I discovered I hadn’t registered it. So I did so now. I waited for email confirmation and then took myself to the website and discovered the update would cost £49.99. It’s a necessary business expense so I paid up.

But when I came to download, it turned out my laptop didn’t have quite the right software so I needed to download something else first.

To cut this saga short, I still don’t know whether I’ve managed to download the update.

Three things occur to me:

First, will computer frustrations never end? Is this perhaps a glimpse of hell?

Second, how much better it would have been if I’d registered my satnav when I’d first bought it, and subscribed to the update service!

And third: isn’t this just like life? Buying the satnav is a bit like my first commitment to Christ. At the time a great and wonderful discovery. And one of the loveliest things about ‘the Holy Spirit is like a satnav‘ analogy is the voice which responds to my wrong turns by saying quietly ‘Recalculating’ before gently but firmly pointing me in the right direction or reorganising my route to get me where I really should be!

But it struck me today that we need to keep our spiritual and moral maps as up-to-date as the satnav ones. Our world changes. New temptations lure us off the path. We need a satnav that works and keeps us from the dead ends and blind alleys of sin. Our commitment to Christ is in effect a lifelong subscription – but we need to make the effort to download the software to keep us up to date each day. And the only way to do that is by spending time reading the Bible and praying.

‘Your enemy the devil prowls round like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.’ 1 Peter 5:12. In the old days, maps had written on them: ‘Here be dragons’. We need internal maps that say ‘Here be moral and spiritual dangers. Beware!’

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How to have the most fun writing

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This is such fun! How could I ever have forgotten? Terry Pratchett used to say on the author details on his books that writing was the most fun you can have on your own. True, true, true!

So even though it’s a grey November day and it’s still raining, I’m one happy bunny. Because it’s NaNoWriMo Day 2 for me and the word count so far is 4491 – 7 chapters already! Oh wow. Hitting my targets. But that’s not all. The story has me in its grip. My characters fascinate and delight me. And it feels more like watching a video while I’ve got my hands on the keyboard and words just seem to keep appearing on the screen!

I suppose what’s really making it such a joy is the embargo on judging what I’m writing. Almost an embargo on thinking too much. Left-brain anyway. All I’m allowed to do is open the door to my story and let it out, and that is sheer joy.

And I’m so looking forward to December – or whenever the first draft is complete – so I can go back and flesh out my plot-driven skimpy scanty prose.

This summer I’ve been learning a lot about trust. My morning Bible study time has been in the Book of Psalms and day after day the message has been – very clearly – trust in God. Lay down your burdens and lean on Him, rely on Him, depend on Him to deal with everything, to provide what I need.

You might have thought this would be a nice easy lesson, in fact, one I should have got at least a pass mark on many years ago. Looking back, I can remember a time when trust came easy – when I was first a Christian in my late teens. But a series of dodgy relationships/disasters/life events that rocked my little boat to the point of capsize ate into that trust and now it’s something I’ve had to give a bit of attention to.

But it makes a difference.

Jesus said we should be like little children in the way we trust and depend on our Heavenly Father – and I’m discovering the amazing joy and freedom of doing just that. One of the great benefits is approaching my daily writing stints with the glee of a little child, because children don’t judge their creative output the way adults do. They just get on and enjoy it.

Which is what I’m doing. And I hope all the other NaNoWriMoers out there are too!

 

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Water, water everywhere

I used to live on the Somerset Levels, halfway between Taunton and Yeovil. And yes, there was a certain amount of flooding every year but nothing compared to what people are experiencing at the moment. Today I spent the morning with friends in Bungay, 15 minutes north of here. My friend’s house is high up with stunning views of the Waveney valley. And the floodwater is encroaching here too.

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There’s something scarily inexorable about water. Once it escapes riverbanks and drainage channels, there seems to be no stopping it.

I feel a bit like that about my husband’s dementia. I visited him yesterday afternoon. To continue the water/flood metaphor, it was as if the water had been safely/neatly channelled in pleasant manageable channels on my last visit. I’d even enjoyed the previous visit (though maybe the glass of white wine provided with my lunch helped!) – but this time it was as if I had been one of those overconfident Charlies who attempt to drive their cars through deepish water and get surprised when they’re swamped. And yes, this last time, I got swamped. And stupidly surprised.

It’s now almost 24 hours since the start of my visit. How could I forget it takes me 36 hours to recover? Just because this home is a much nicer place, a really good quality specialist provider of the care my husband needs, it doesn’t take away the fact of his dementia nor its destructive impact on us both.

But I’d forgotten. And as a result I have to sit in my swamped car and await rescue. My friends do their level best and I am grateful – for the lovely hugs, the phone calls, the Facebook messages, the thoroughly excellent caring advice. But there is no Fire Brigade or big farmer’s tractor coming to pull me out of the flood. The flood is where I am. All I can do is wait for the waters to go down. And they will. Till the next time.

One of the big problems for both the Waveney Valley and the Somerset Levels is that the land has become so saturated by so much rain for so long, that it takes very little more to create disaster rather than minor inconvenience. And it’s the same for any of us stuck in long-term situations where our emotions and our ability to cope went under a long time ago.

David Cameron promises dredging – when it’s safe enough – as a preventative for next time. Unsurprisingly, Somerset folk aren’t holding their breath!  For those of us who know that the waters aren’t going to go down – maybe for years – there are few answers.

I am a Christian. A woman of faith in Jesus Christ. But I’m finding it tough, I admit, to believe in a God of love and mercy who wants only the best for my life – while, frankly, I feel like I’m in a living hell. And as I look at my husband – and the other people in the home who are further down the dementia road than he is – my faith is sorely tested. Where is the mercy in this?

I can see the love – for these people are being looked after as lovingly, as kindly, as well as possible. And amazingly, I can feel God’s love for me, alongside me, right in the middle of the floods.

Stuff happens. He gave us free will and we made a hash of it. As a result there are horrible diseases, broken families, bad things in our world, and few if any of us manage to avoid at least some of them.

But God is still there. And He cares. He really does. So as I sit in my swamped car in the flood I drove into, I reckon the only thing to do is shift over into the passenger seat and let Him take the wheel.

But now, this is what the Lord says – he who created you… ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.’ ” Isaiah 43:1-2a

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After the storm

Thursday night, the worst sea storm in 60 years hit East Anglia. Friends had to be evacuated from their homes, roads were closed, only opening this afternoon. So I took myself down to Southwold for a walk along the beach to enjoy the sunshine and see the damage.

Storm-damaged beach huts, Southwold, 7/12/13

Storm-damaged beach huts, Southwold, 7/12/13

This is not uncommon. The beach huts are very close to the edge of the promenade and frequently get battered by winter storms. Each year repairs are essential, but it’s sad to see people’s holiday delights so tattered. Especially when you remember the crazy prices these beach huts fetch nowadays: over £60,000 each!

Today there’s still a bit of splash on the sea, catching the afternoon sunshine.

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And when I reach the south end of the beach, the Gun Hill Cafe is open for hot drinks so I can sit outside and sip a black coffee.

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As I walk back along the beach to my car, I spot a gull standing motionless on a post with the waves splashing around him. He’s not bothered. He knows he’s safe and can fly away whenever he wants to.

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And me, walking through this season of storm in my life, I’m reminded there’s a Rock for me to stand on and sheltering wings. And that makes all the difference.

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The novel with no name

This afternoon I completed the last revision of the novel. Last but for a few nit-picky things. Now all I have to do is write the synopsis. I also want to do a back-cover blurb and what I call a ‘Publish me because’ which sets out the case for publishing this book. Oh, and I also need a title.

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When I was a child, I always fancied being a Dame, or being awarded an honorary D.Lit. Dame Dorothy… has a ring about it. But that’s not the kind of title I’m struggling with. My novel needs a title. A handle.

It’s had a few, admittedly rather poor attempts. In fact, some rather dreadful! Here are a few examples:

  • Homeward Bound
  • Encircling Love
  • Send the Fire
  • Under God’s Banner

The book is aimed at the Christian market, mainly female readership, probably aged over 45. People who like a good story, a family story, with heartache and struggles, family secrets, tragedy and romance, with a happy-ever-after, and some laughs as well as tears. It’s meant to be uplifting – to cheer and encourage and strengthen and build up faith.

And it needs a title. It feels so cold to keep calling it ‘the novel’ like a baby languishing for days, weeks, with no name!

It’s set in 1921 and centres on the Fishermen’s Revival in Great Yarmouth in East Anglia and my home town of Wick in the far north of Scotland so it needs a title that gives a taste, a flavour of the salt sea, the herrings, the Scotch fisher lassies, the rough-spoken evangelists and their Lord who called them to be fishers of men. But it’s also the story of one family and a young widowed teacher who finds love when she thought it would never be possible again. A story of hope and redemption, of truth winning out and bringing reconciliation and healing, of steadfast love – human and divine. “Steadfast love” ?

Oh dear! I’m still working on it…..

 

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Surgical Spirit

Let me mention a word so powerful it is almost guaranteed to produce fear – okay, a twinge at least – in the hardiest soul. Ready?

Dentist.

There. It worked. And so did the dentist I found I had to visit this morning. I have this tooth that’s been a pain for around twenty years. (I am not exaggerating.) Recently widowed, signed off from work by a kindly doctor, I discovered I could have a whole set of new fillings, crowns etc. very cheaply thanks to the generosity of the benefits system. Whoopee, I thought, and my Scottish thrift overtook my natural cowardice and got me into that dentist’s chair for the full works.

He made not a bad job of it – except for this one tooth which never really settled down. It has nagged and been duly probed at regular intervals.

On my last visit for a six-monthly check-up to my latest dentist, I mentioned it was giving my gyp again. Latest dentist is maybe a weensy bit laid back about these things and suggested I use toothpaste for sensitive teeth. I assured him I already do – his advice last time I mentioned this tooth. Well, he concluded, if the pain remains for an hour or two after contact with hot or cold, then maybe you need to come back. He took an x-ray to show willing.

By Friday, it was giving me more gyp. Every cup of coffee produced agony. (And I have a high pain threshold as anyone with my kind of past has to.) I finally wrote ‘Ring dentist’ as number one on my To-do list for Saturday.

And – you guessed it – didn’t. By Sunday evening, if there were a higher slot on the list than number one, it would have been there. Monday at 10.35 I was in the dentist’s chair. Not my usual dentist but a wonderful lady called Judith who discerned trouble at mill and set to, to sort it out. Root canal work, she said kindly, as she explained in detail and with diagrams exactly what she was doing. There was infection at the base of a nerve and it needed – to put it in plain Scottish – howked out, treated with antibiotic to kill the infection and then refilled. Today.

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It got me wondering just how many niggling, nagging, not-nice things I allow to continue niggling and nagging at me, without biting the bullet and getting them sorted out? High pain thresholds are one thing, but sin tolerance thresholds should be rock bottom and highly sensitised. Not easy in a world that doesn’t seem to have any sin threshold at all.

The demand for political correctness and inclusivity seems to insist on total acceptance of anything and everything. But rotten apples spread their decay. My dentist said it takes only three weeks for a small dental infection to get to keeping-you-awake-at-night proportions.

Jesus said we need to be careful about how we think  since anger can lead to murder, a casual lustful glance to adultery and the break-up of a marriage and a family. Small beginnings. Niggling, nagging bad habits, self-indulgence, things we may not think matter.

Advent starts on Sunday. Traditionally a time to prepare for the coming of the God-with-us in amazing humility and vulnerability. Today’s lovely dentist did a good job of identifying where the rot had set in. Maybe Advent is a good time for a spiritual check-up, letting the Holy Spirit probe our depths and howk out anything that’s gone bad in us!

 

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Hello again!

Blog breaks have become quite the trend recently. It’s true writers need to clarify their priorities – and writing that book definitely comes first. So sometimes a break from writing the blog can be a needed respite. But there are withdrawal symptoms!

Comments, feedback and blog stats  reassure us that we’re not alone out here in our ivory towers. Or in my case the back bedroom of my house looking out over a misty moisty November afternoon. It’s really good there are people out there making the effort and taking time to read what we’re up to. That our words are not withering like the leaves on the autumn trees and falling unseen into an unlovely deep-mulch gutter.

So thank you for reading what I’ve been writing. I hope you’ve found something to interest or entertain or inspire or encourage you. Because that’s what I care about: you, and interesting, entertaining, inspiring and encouraging you.

I have a picture in my head of my readers – smart, lovely, more females than males (though the males are very welcome too), and probably Christian, or at the very least women of spirit, women of faith.

This weekend I went to Penhurst in the south-east of England to a Christian retreat centre in a lovely old house.

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The event was a weekend retreat on Writing Christian Fiction.

Tea break on the way home

Tea break on the way home

But I also came back with a much clearer idea of what I’m up to. My mission, if you like. My USP. In writing and preaching, in talks and classes, what I really want to do is interest, entertain, inspire and encourage – particularly God’s beloved daughters in Christ.

Because you’re worth it.

And He loves you.

And there’s a lot more good stuff waiting for you.

I’m particularly delighted to get to be part of the sharing so I’m committing to finishing the final run-through and polish of ‘the novel’ (ooh, I need a good title for it! We may need to talk about this in a few days). Book 2 is rapping with gentle insistence on my mind. Starting once again in my birthplace of Wick in Scotland, it takes the reader to Canada during the Klondyke goldrush, then Buenos Aires… But more on that later! And I’m committing to blogging on a regular basis again.

So, hello again.

I’m back.

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