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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Day Three: A Scottish Sunday

It’s Sunday so today’s activities are church and a walk with my sister and her friends. The weather is grey and not warm – unlike the glorious sunshine I left behind in Suffolk! But this does not deter us. We wrap up like Arctic explorers and set out for Keiss.

What surprises me is how much of the old World War Two tank traps are left lining the beach.

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Clearly the threat of invasion was taken very seriously, and as we walk along, I’m thinking about the effect of the war on local people – and this section in the new book. All useful research!

I love little harbours so we drove round to Keiss harbour

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and found some lovely splashy waves coming in round the harbour wall!

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And then it was time for tea! And home in good time for evening church.

 

 

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Day Eight: Sunday in Scotland

When I was a child, Sundays were days with strictly limited possibilities for entertainment. Once a local minister was discovered to have played football with his children on the beach on a Sunday and there was a terrible scandal!

What we were allowed to do on Sundays included going to church and going for walks. My sister and her friends have continued this tradition, so this morning we went to church in Wick (Free Church of Scotland where we sang psalms unaccompanied) and then in the afternoon went for a walk at Geise (close to Thurso and Halkirk).

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There were five of us – four adults and Tipsy, the collie dog who kept us moving along the winding paths.

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Whenever I stopped to take a photograph or otherwise strayed from the little flock she came to round me up and bring me back to join the others. All the while she was enjoying the walk, sniffing intriguing smells in the bushes, splashing in the peaty-brown burn, yet still have an eye on us, her charges!

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‘The Lord is my shepherd’ and Tipsy’s gentle sheepdogging of her little flock today was a lovely reminder of how my Heavenly Father always has His loving eye on me, providing for my every need – and yes,there was cake with our tea at the delightful Ulbster Arms in Halkirk.

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There was also a rather nice salmon – but not for our supper!

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When NaNo isn’t good enough

This is my declaration of intent: I’m quitting NaNoWriMo. I’ve written 30,156 words and I’m grateful that the process has broken my writer’s block. But…

 

Because as a Christian I won’t work Sundays, I had to write 2,000 words a day to reach the target. And imperceptibly I began to lose the joy, the delight in the story. Facing my desk each day became a chore. And that’s unheard of for me!

I also began to feel that I was short-changing my story, my characters and the Holy Spirit Who inspires me. I wanted to go back to page one and take my time to get it much more ‘right’ rather than simply focus on churning out 2,000 words a day.

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A Mizpah ring

A Mizpah ring

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I’ve allowed myself two days ‘off’. Instead of slamming down words for words’ sake, I’ve allowed myself the pleasure of reacquainting myself with the research notes I made when this story of the Mizpah Ring  first captured my heart. And I’m in love again. There’s so much more than I had remembered in the frenetic NaNo days.

So I’m going back to my way of doing things: I’ll aim for a flexible one hour or one thousand words a day, approximately. And I’ll immerse myself in the research. I’ve already discovered previously unknown connections between the Highland Clearances and Manitoba, fascinating eye-witness accounts of Buenos Aires in 1900 – and I can’t wait to weave them into my book, knowing it will be the better for it.

What’s more, I now have energy and time to give to the promotion of my novel, When the Boats Come Home, due out in paperback, Kindle and e-book around 12th December. I had a day when I could enjoy a lovely virtual cup of tea with Donna Fletcher Crowe (http://internationalchristianfictionwriters.blogspot.com/2014/11/talking-over-teacups-with-dorothy.html?showComment=1416417394318#c7014225846557850925). And there’s plenty more to do – and enjoy.

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My verdict on NaNoWriMo? It’s great and I’m grateful. But now I’m out of the shallow end with the new book, I need room to forge ahead at my own pace. I’ll keep you posted!

 

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NaNoWriMo: The first day

Today marks lots of firsts.

It’s the first day of the Celtic New Year – so as a fully paid up in the blood Celt, may I wish you all a happy New Year!

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It’s the first of November. So, happy November. And if you want a truly happy November and not a miserable Thomas Hood November (‘No!’ is a great poem though), reach for Ann Voskamp’s chart of things to give thanks to God for each day of the month. (Check out her blog: aholyexperience) It starts, delightfully, with thank you for 3 things to eat. My kind of day! Especially when I’ve got chocolate brownies to have with afternoon tea.

And being the first of November it’s the first day of NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month. And I’m celebrating my first day by blogging to tell you about it. Because yes, I sat down at my laptop at 9 a. m. and put in an hour’s writing, and then after time out to do Saturday things and have lunch and a quick skim of my notes (I have a huge research folder that’s been sitting glowering at me for years…) at 2 p. m. I sat down and did another hour. And the day’s total? 2150 words. I am thrilled.

To reach the target of 50,000 words by 30th November, I need to achieve an average of 2,000 words per day of work – because I won’t be working Sundays. Cos that’s my special day off with God.

I reckon that’s a pretty good start. And I can relax now and enjoy the rest of the day and a lovely restful Sunday!

 

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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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When the new baby takes all your energy

I was advising a friend’s brother-in-law this afternoon about getting a rather good book of translated poetry published. My first port of call in preparation for our meeting was Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, which now contains lots of helpful articles as well as those invaluable reams and reams of listings.

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The Poetry section begins with an amusing – and very honest – article by Benjamin Zephaniah, followed by a down-to-earth article on ‘Getting poetry published’ by Michael Schmidt, editor of PN Review and director at Carcanet, as well as Professor of Poetry at Glasgow University. So you’d expect he knows what he’s talking about. And he begins with: “Start with this axiom: you have not come here to make money.”

And neither have we Christian writers. Which is just as well. We’d soon be sore disappointed. But there is a paradox: we’re not in it for the money, but we do want our books to reach as many people as possible. And that means sales.

Someone recently stopped me and asked were the sales of my new book, Still Caring, doing well. I gaped. It’s only been out a week or so!

But then I remembered when I was publisher for business books at McGraw-Hill UK, I reckoned there was a visible sales pattern: sharp take-off from day one (books into stores as a result of good repping), leading to a plateau at eighteen months, and then — depending on author activity — a rapid or slow tailing off till the first print-run was sold out, or we were left with a thousand or so unsaleable books in the warehouse, and the commissioning editor with a red face. (It is said that this is why commissioning editors moved companies every eighteen months – before the results were in!)

I’m still working pretty hard at promotion for the new book. I’m being interviewed by the lovely Lesley Dolphin of BBC Radio Suffolk on Wednesday afternoon, sometime around 3 p.m. (You can hear it live or  ‘Listen Again’ online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/suffolk) There are a couple more print media to receive customised press releases for insertion in their October editions, and then a couple more radio interviews. Hopefully this will help local sales keep ticking over.

But on the corner of my desk is the printed-out draft of the novel and I’m longing to get back to it. But the new baby is demanding all my time and energy! I fear the novel will sulk or storm like an ignored toddler and I’ll find it hard to renew our previous relationship. I wonder do other writers have a good way of dealing with this?

Meanwhile, I have a service to prepare for Sunday, a talk for a lady’s meeting tomorrow afternoon- and it’s hot, hot, hot! Still, the blog is written so that’s one tick on myTo-Do list today!

 

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Mary, Mary, really rather contrary

I’ve got just about every window in the house open. There’s the tiniest breeze, and it is so welcome. But how is it that just a few days ago, it seems, we were complaining that there was no sign of summer – and now it’s almost too hot, too humid…

I sat at Suzie’s Cafe on Southwold beach this morning and could have been at any coastal resort on the Mediterranean!

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But I had to come home and get back to the big re-read. Strangely there was quite a lot of resistance. I think it’s fear that the good bits will come to an end and I’ll plunge into a deep dark hole of total tosh.

It’s really odd: this Sunday I’m not leading worship any place so I had the whole week available for the big re-read. But I have really not taken advantage of all that lovely free time. Next week, when I have a service to prepare, I’m sure I’ll get more done!

It’s the same about the weather. The only word for it is contrariness. We think we want something, complain when we haven’t got it, and then either don’t like it or don’t use it when we do get it.

Not quite the same thing but connected is a thought I wrote in my diary a couple of weeks ago: “If you don’t value what you’ve got at the true value that it is, then when it’s lost and you discover how rare and wonderful what you’ve lost was but now it’s too late, you’re going to grieve a lot harder.”

Maybe the moral of the story is summed up in the old hymn:  “All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above, so thank the Lord, O thank the Lord, for all His love.”

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Done it!

There’s a sadness about coming to the end of the novel I’ve been working on. Yes, I want my heroine to have her happy-ever-after… but I don’t really want to leave them!

However, tomorrow, I shall probably see the lovely people who started off the spark for this story and I want to be able to report that the book is finished, so I sat down this morning and wrote the last chapter.

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I’ve kept a record of my word-count on an index card and on a spreadsheet. The card tells me that a year ago, I’d only reached 30,000 words. The competed first draft totals at 83,836.

The plan had been to commit to doing one hour’s writing each morning or 1000 words, whichever came first. If I’d really applied myself, I’d have reached the finale sooner – but I don’t think the story would have been so rich, the characters so rounded. It takes time.

I’m glad I’ve had the time to write this book. I’m grateful to Peter and Alice for being the trigger, that Sunday last year when they had kindly invited me to lunch after I’d led worship at their church. And I’m especially grateful for the strengthening of my faith as a result of the reading, research, thinking and writing I’ve done along the way.

Now I shall take a break from this book. I need to tidy my study, and find the typescript of the crime novel I wrote several years ago so I can read it through and decide if it’s worth more effort. And then, in around a couple of weeks, it will be time to return to my friends from the Fishermen’s Revival, hopefully refreshed and a little more objective so that I can revise and polish their story as they deserve!

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Flexible fun – and worship

“Blessed are the flexible… for they will not be bent out of shape!”

I was grateful for the willing flexibility of our congregation at Halesworth URC on Sunday morning. They have cheerfully accepted the removal of the pews and their replacement by comfortable chairs. Yesterday they arrived at church to find not serried rows of chairs as expected but groups of  six chairs set round tables in such a way that all were facing front. And on each table was a basket of crayons, scissors and gluestick, and a tambourine or other noise-maker.

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Every table.

No one jibbed. And no one complained. (I’ve checked!)

I was leading an all-age service and was delighted to discover all ages joining in the activities – colouring in, cutting out, and so on. My theme was the fruits of the Spirit and we ended up with two displays: one showing the bad fruits of the flesh (represented by a wormy apple. I invited them to make it as horrid as could be!)

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The other by juicy grapes on a grapevine.

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I’d planned that the labels would be coloured in, cut out and glued on to the fruit but we didn’t have enough time. I had far too much material and had to do an on-the-hoof cut and paste, leaving out one hymn, and moving swiftly to the punchline!

What I noticed was that, because of the table layout, people sat with people they usually didn’t sit with. And they chatted and worked together as teams. (I started off with two quizzes: with prizes!) Nearly every face had a smile on it and there was a lot of helping one another.

It wasn’t traditional worship. Neither was it anything new. And without a willing co-operative congregation, it wouldn’t have worked. But it was worship and fellowship.

Yes, I was shattered when I got home, but here on Monday afternoon I’m looking back with love. And a smile. If you want a smile and a reminder about the fruits of the Spirit try www.youtube.comwatch?v=8j2PUWQa7fs and do sing along!!!

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