dorothystewartblog

about writing and life and God

Getting Ready

I have rearranged my study. I have sorted out the books on the shelves that face me when I’m at work at my desk and I’ve packed away the non-writing books, replacing them with relevant writing books and book files.

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Books packed away

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Research and admin folders

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Books to inspire!

And I’m beginning to feel better – ready to get down to work again on the novel.

I popped out to the supermarket to stock up on food and met my next-door neighbour as I was going in. I had come home from a meeting on Tuesday afternoon to discover that she had cut her own front lawn and then cut mine. She is slightly over eight months pregnant. Her last child weighed in on arrival at 10 lbs and she reckons this one will compete – so cutting grass astounded me. Just as well I was out! I’m sure I’d have scolded and protested!

She wouldn’t accept a lift home from the supermarket either. Walking, she said, would do her good. She preferred to be doing things. She was ready for the birth, she said. It’s time this one arrived.

And as I sort my study and lug heavy boxes of books into the storeroom, I recognise myself in my pregnant neighbour. I’m getting ready for the labour of getting Book 2 of the Mizpah Ring birthed and into the world. And like my neighbour, I’m impatient. Because it’s time!

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Keeping on keeping on

First of all, a big thank you to everyone who has bought either a print copy or a Kindle version of my novel, When the Boats Come Home. And special thanks to those of you who have put reviews on Amazon or told me personally how much you enjoyed it.

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It’s a wonderful feeling – that something I wrote has given someone pleasure. It’s a special thrill when someone says they couldn’t put it down! And it makes me want to do it again.

So, here’s the progress report on ‘the next one’, currently planned as Volume One in a Christian historical trilogy, The Mizpah Ring, set partly in my home home of Wick:  I’ve written 42,186 words and am aiming for 85,000. Paul at the publishers says if I can get the final manuscript delivered by end-August, it will be out the first week of December in time to solve this year’s Christmas present problems.

All I have to do is write the rest of it.

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At 1,000 words six days a week, the first draft should be finished by the end of April. So… easy peasy, yes?

No. Because I’ve kind of… delete ‘kind-of’… I’ve ground to a halt. Maybe even fallen out of love with it, a little.

So I’ve laid it aside. And just about every day, someone comments on how much they loved When the Boats Come Home and what am I writing next and when will it be out. No pressure there!

Meanwhile I need to be doing all the marketing and publicity things authors have to do to let the world of readers know about the book – radio interviews, press coverage, book signings… Lovely things in themselves but they take time and energy – out of the pot available for writing the next book.

I’d be really interested to know if other writers have hit this stumbling block/conflict of interest and what do they do.  Do you just plough on, juggling last year’s baby and this? Any wise words/advice truly welcome!

I have a horrid feeling that what’s needed is simply more self-discipline – keeping on keeping on, aiming for that 1,000 words a day just to see what happens.

Shall I re-read what I’ve written… or just pick up where I left off…

Tell you next time!

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Start here

I can recognise burn-out. Been there before, got a couple of t-shirts. Still, it creeps up and denial tries pushing it away. Then God said STOP. Well, God doesn’t actually speak in capital letters like Mort in Terry Pratchett. But there’s something insistent about the still small voice when He says ‘Just stop now. Clear your diary. For the summer.’

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Oops. My jam-packed diary. All those preaching engagements, talks to ladies’ meetings, planned trips etc etc and even more etc.

Yes, that one. Big swallow here. And as I sidled up to it, things started happening. The way they do when God’s moving things in your life. First a major trip north was cancelled. Then ‘words to the wise’ were spoken… and things that looked difficult to the point of terrifyingly impossible to change simply removed themselves effortlessly. Till the diary was cleared.

And that’s scary. Waking up with nothing planned.’Treat it like a holiday,’ I was told. ‘Take yourself out. Enjoy.’ So I did. And gradually the tension started unravelling. When friends asked how I was, I really meant it when I said ‘Fine’. Days sauntered past. I slept better. I found acceptance appearing more often in my emotional kitbag and as my husband’s deterioration reached the point where he no longer had a clue who I was, I was surprised to cope perfectly well and not be poleaxed by distress when I got home.

I sat in the sun. And tried to read.

But could not settle.

Books did not hold my attention or interest. Favourite authors seemed dull. And then little nudges began. A chance comment about frozen meat ships from South America. A ring with the word Mizpah on it. And the desire to write resurfaced and began to grow from a vague thought to a decided itch that needed to be scratched. Like burn-out, this is a familiar feeling: when I get bored enough I have to write!

So on Monday, I sat down and got started. Chapter 1 page 1. ‘The Mizpah Ring’. Book one of a trilogy. Once more it starts in my home town of Wick, Caithness, Scotland. Again it’s a Christian historical but this time begins in 1897. My heroine is called Hannah, her nasty sister is Pearl. (And if you hear the echo from 1 Samuel 1 of Hannah and Peninnah you may have a glimpse of their characters.) The story will cover three generations of four families and we shall see how the sins of the fathers do dog the heels of the third and fourth generations, but how faithful love can redeem it.  The background research, much done already, is going to be a joy and delight.

So far I’ve got to my desk for the first hour of each day and the printed pages are beginning to mount up: one hour or a thousand words, whichever comes first. And I’m looking forward to tomorrow.

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What the dormouse found

The most recent marital bed was a wooden one from a very reputable London firm. Mattress supported on slats, originally it had four huge drawers underneath, just sitting on the floor, gathering dust and enticing the cats. Beds matter to me because basically I’m a dormouse and my sleep is important to me. So I need a comfy bed. The current one is a divan. No drawers underneath and no room for anything except lost earring keepers, tops of pens, and errant cats trying to avoid ejection.

 

Digital ImageNo room for book-length typescripts, although that’s seemingly part of the writer’s life. All those masterworks that never made the grade, or simply didn’t light the blue touchpaper in an editor’s heart (I’m not sure that Editorial Boards are allowed to have hearts?) that’s where they’re supposed to end up. Under the bed.

I have plenty of these typescripts. Enough almost to support the mattress without need of the divan base. Well, I have been writing for more years than many (most?) of you have been gracing this planet. I started in childhood. Falling in love with books at an early age, it seemed wholly natural and logical to write my own stories.

Clearing my mother’s house after her death, I found amongst lots of other writings, a fragment of a Scottish historical adventure at the time of Culloden. It featured a Highlander making his escape across a moorland as he fled from the English soldiers. I’ve no idea how the story was going to proceed!

But there are several completed works “under the bed” (actually in labelled folders still in packing boxes). My first full-length novel was science fiction/fantasy. It went out once and was rejected with great kindness that nowadays I would know was actually encouragement to keep writing and send them the next one. Alas, technology has moved on and superseded my imaginings so that one is not revivable.

I tried a Victoria Holt style gothic next (set in my home county). It dealt with love, alcoholism, adultery – ‘grown-up’ things it was many years before I encountered in real life. It’s not surprising I found myself floundering in the writing!

Another dozen or so followed. Some got sent out once. I was more persistent with a few others. Quite often another story would have taken root in my heart and mind and I was more interested in finishing the new one than pushing at stubborn doors on behalf of a previous work.

And so the pile grew, with non-fiction and lay preaching taking up most of my time and energy. Till the story of the 1921 Fishermen’s Revival took hold of me and I became immersed in the lives of new characters. ‘Following the Herring’ was a joy to research and write. I dearly want it to be published. I think it probably needs a US publisher as well as a British one. It may be too overtly Christian for many British publishers but I think US publishers might welcome its frankly evangelical flavour.

Meanwhile, tidying my study and rearranging books and folders, my eye hit upon one of the “under the bed” projects: a crime novel I wrote a few years back. I had originally started work on a different plot but found I needed a previous book for my amateur sleuth to earn her sleuthing credibility. And so I had written ‘Loose Ends’ set in the Somerset Levels where I’d been living. Tucked into the folder, along with the completed manuscript, were the contents of a ring binder in which I had kept ideas for follow-up titles. The plan had been for a series…

And so I wonder: maybe it’s time for Jill to come out of the dark under the bed and into the light?

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Charity begins…

This morning I had to go to Southwold for the quarterly holding-back of the tides of life – i.e. having my hair recoloured. And yes, my roots were pristine white  in what Ann, my hairdresser, described as a halo round the top of my head. Seemingly all the rest remains my natural brunette. (For those of my friends who thought from my ditzy behaviour that I’m naturally a blonde, sorry! I just enjoy playing blonde sometimes.)

Anyway, Southwold was cold. No surprise there. But at least it was dry. And after the chop and chat and colour session I went for a browse round the charity shops. Now I have two theories about charity shops:

1) the posher the town, the better the quality of the clothes in the charity shops.

2) the posher the town, the poorer the quantity of clothes in the charity shops.

I came home with four books (yes, I know: do I really need any more books, and when will I ever get round to reading them considering I’ve a full flush of library books to finish?) and one chunky sweater, hand-knitted and possibly quite new.

The first charity shop – Sue Ryder – was well-stocked but I came away with only two books. The second one was middling – and I got the sweater there. The third – furthest along the street – was very poorly stocked with clothes and again, I only bought books.

I wonder do people get tired lugging their bags of cast-offs along the street, dumping them thankfully at the nearest shop from the parking space they have miraculously been able to find. (For those of you who don’t know, Southwold’s that kind of town.)

How do you choose which charity shop to take things to ? They’re all supporting good causes. I suppose you could do it on a rota system: this shop this time, the second one the next time and so on. But I reckon you’d forget. Or I would.

Does having more than one charity shop in a town divide the take? Or is competition good and increases the total market?

I like charity shops.

I like being able to find quirky interesting books, books I didn’t get round to reading when they came out but I’ve since heard were good so now I want to read them. When I was losing weight, I loved being able to purchase in-between-size clothes that I knew would be too big in a couple of months. And I love off-loading my mistakes on charity shops – whether it’s bedlinen that looked lovely but rucks up and is uncomfortable, clothes that really don’t flatter (I won’t boast here about trousers that have become too baggy!!), presents that just aren’t me… It feels good to clear the space at home and make a charitable donation that basically costs nothing. My Scottish soul loves that!

So with a small glow of satisfaction, I’m going to declare the weekend starts soon (I’ve got a synopsis to run through one more time to see if I can squeeze it into one page) then it’s kettle on, new sweater on and settle down with one of the books.

Then it can rain or snow or whatever! Have a good weekend. And here’s a cheerful pic of a robin that was singing its little heart out when I went past today. Yes, it’s still January and grey and miserable but tomorrow’s February and spring is on its way!

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And here’s another one of Southwold in the summer. Yes, we will get back to the beach in the sun this year!!!

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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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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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Our emptiness, God’s opportunity

There’s a story about a monkey and a jam jar. The way to catch a monkey is to put something in the jam jar that appeals to the monkey. When he puts his paw in and grabs it, he discovers he can’t get his paw out… unless he gives up the thing in the jar. And that is the one thing he won’t do. So he’s trapped.

Unclenching our paws from the stuff we hang on to – that’s not easy for us either. Or me, anyway! But it came to me today that it is only when I empty my hands that God can fill them with what He wants to give me. My emptiness is His opportunity for generosity and love and grace.

This is fine – so long as we trust in a gracious, generous, and loving God. The devil’s lies twist our trust into distrust – or not quite trust, which is much the same thing. Emptying those hands, opening our hands and hearts and lives to God demands trust that He is Who He says He is, that He is Who Jesus says He is: our loving, always faithful, ever gracious Heavenly Father.

So today – and Thursday is the John-outing day – I decided I would practise emptiness. Each hiccup I met with a silent internal reminder that today was about cultivating emptiness – which meant no grabbing for control that things should be done my way, or to suit me in any way, or give me what I wanted. It meant surrendering all of that and waiting, empty, on God. And it helped.

I came home exhausted and tearful as usual. But then a friend arrived, bearing gifts!

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She had planned to drop in on another friend who lived nearby – but found she wasn’t in. So who else lived near who might appreciate a visit and flowers? Yes, me! And it was perfect timing for me. I’d done the collapse and tears bit and was very definitely feeling empty – so my friend’s lovely visit and gift of flowers filled my emptiness! Thank You, Lord.

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One is one and what does the church do about it?

On Monday afternoon I had tea with a friend. Among the many things we talked about was the topic of identity. After the death of her husband – after the initial shock, the administrative stuff that simply has to be done, then getting through the bereavement process – she is at the point of considering who she is now.

When you’re widowed, you don’t simply spring back to who you were before you married, like a piece of elastic. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge and you are someone different. Hopefully more mature. Older, yes. Wiser, maybe!

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My experience of my husband’s dementia has propelled me willy-nilly through several changes of role – from wife to housekeeper to carer and now to care supervisor/visitor/finance manager/and so on. But as the illness progresses in its inexorable downhill way, I realise that not only has my role changed but so too has my identity.

I am not a wife in a marriage with a husband who knows me, loves me, cares for me, shares my life. I exist in, what is in effect, an amicable – albeit tragic – separation. According to a statistic I read today, 97% of white women in America who are separated from their husband will be divorced within five years. My husband was diagnosed with dementia six years ago and there is no knowing how his illness will progress. But we will never live together again. And he will never again be someone who knows, loves, cares for me or shares my life. Any awareness he has of who I am or what relationship we had will diminish as time goes on. It is already minimal.

Neither fish nor fowl – neither ‘really’ married nor divorced/widowed, it’s a most peculiar state to be in! As someone who lives as a single person, I relish my freedom to do pretty much as I like – while being on call 24/7. But as someone who is used to being married, every time I come back from visiting the care home is like another dose of bereavement – a reminder that the expected future of a life together, holidays together, someone to come home to and talk to simply no longer exists.

The word for it is loneliness. Something all singles of every kind must face and deal with. I’ve just finished reading Kate Wharton’s Single-Minded. It’s a most excellent book both for singles and for married friends, pastors etc. to understand how better to minister to singles.

It’s funny how singles get missed out in our churches, especially older singles. We have Mothering Sunday and Father’s Day, not to mention Family Services… (Oh please can’t we call them All-Age?) So often I hear people saying what the church needs is more young families – as if young Mums had the time or the energy to do much apart from raise their family!

The demographics are clear that older singles are a growing population in our churches and a wonderful resource – but they have social and emotional needs too, needs that the church can supply if they take their calling to love one another seriously. Maybe Kate’s book should be required reading!

 

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Busy, busy…

The plan was to read rapidly through the typescript of a crime novel I had written several years ago, in order to assess whether it was worth revising and sending out again. So far, although I have actually found the thing and it’s sitting in pride of place in my study, I have not read a single word. There is simply too much going on.

Who said ‘Life is what happens when you’ve made other plans’ or words to that effect? Well, this week appears to be a life week.

The care home where my husband lives held its Relatives and Residents meeting this afternoon, so I had to attend that. It’s  a great opportunity to find out what’s going on from the manager’s viewpoint as she reports on the intervening period since our last meeting. She always tells us what plans she’s got for the future, and what changes will be happening.

Today’s meeting was well-attended by residents but only four relatives turned up. It was a cheerful, reassuring meeting with everyone in good heart. Afterwards we had time for a cup of tea and chat and admire the gardens.

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On Saturday, the Summer Fete will be held so I shall be down there to help with that. I rather think I need a summer frock. One of the ladies was agreeing with me that there’s a difference between a dress and a frock – to the complete bemusement of the elderly gentlemen around us! I think it’s quite a subtle difference, qualitative somehow. Anyway, I must somehow find the time to squeeze in frock-hunting. The picture in my mind’s eye – which pretty much guarantees I won’t find it! – is of something with flowers on in my favourite jade and blue and white.

I’m not a frock type. I live in jeans. But in this hot weather I reckon a frock would be bearable. I do have a plain beige linen button-through dress (note the word) in my wardrobe but I’m not 100 per cent confident the buttons would button or stay buttoned all the way up the front!

And then of course tomorrow is Thursday so it’s John-outing day. He has a birthday soon so we’re having the special lunch out tomorrow. It’s booked and should be rather nice.

Whew! But it’s nice to be busy. Nice to be spending most days this week with people. And nice to be doing nice things! I can get to the book next week, can’t I?

 

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