Friday, 31 August 2012


This week I attended an expo for people involved in the creative arts.  In God’s Company was aimed primarily at artists, writers, musicians, photographers and dancers who are also followers of Jesus. I’m still on a high.

I’m aware that creative arts have so often been given lip service in some branches of the church; relegated to the sidelines in favour of more conventionally ‘useful’ activities such as teaching, evangelising or counselling. While such activities may indeed be useful, worthy and God-breathed, they are by no means expressive of the full range of ways God demonstrates His goodness. Because there are many who have never been affirmed and encouraged in their giftings, there were a few tears of healing at IGC, but overall the atmosphere was electric with a delicious freedom to release and cross-pollinate ideas.

The workshops were conducted by teachers who combine the pursuit of excellence with a passionate desire to glorify the King of the Universe, the author of all creativity. This was heady stuff for me.  My previous teachers (all of whom were very experienced, knowledgeable and really good at what they did) were inclined to dismiss the very notion of God, let alone that creative abilities are gifts from Him, that it pleasures Him to watch us using them, and that it’s an expression of our love for Him.  I drove home each day with a big grin on my face. 

It’s so easy to experience God’s presence and pleasure when you’re doing what He designed you to do! It sure beats just doing what you ‘oughta and shoulda’.  

Friday, 24 August 2012


All this cold, wet weather is making me very couch-potato-ish. When the necessary chores are done, a good book, an old black and white movie and the heater going full bore, are some of my chill outs of choice (should that be, ‘warm ins’?). Another one is Scrabble, but there’s no other person in the house who will play word games, so I play Facebook Scrabble. Actually, I much prefer the variation on Scrabble called Take Two, but there still must  be the minimum two players. And it’s not yet available on Facebook. Bummer.

For the uninitiated, let me explain the difference between Scrabble and Take Two. Scrabble is all about making the biggest score. You don’t actually have to have a great vocabulary or even an enjoyment of language.  It’s all about winning. It’s possible to achieve a winning score with three-letter words strategically placed on triple word squares. It helps if you use obscure words containing X, Z or Q, which of course requires an encyclopaedic memory because the rules prevent you from consulting the lists in your Scrabble dictionary during the game. You can also gain big scores by constipating the board with words run parallel (either vertical or horizontal) to existing words. This should be named Diarrhea Scrabble. Because that’s what it does. Believe me.

Take Two isn’t played on a shared board.  Each player makes her own individual crossword puzzle. To this end, you can freely dismantle words to make new ones as you pick up new tiles. For example, you may have made ‘acquire’ to start with, but yearn to make ‘acquisition’ when you later find yourself with an overabundance of I’s.  Each player finishes her turn by calling ‘take two’ (tiles) and the game is ended when all tiles are used. The ‘winner’, if there must be one, is the player who finishes first. The beauty of this is that a nine year old could, in theory, defeat a Stephen Fry. It's hilarious when the nine year old is shouting 'take two' every minute and Stephen Fry is still happily working on his 25 letter masterpiece. Take Two is a great leveller and therefore an ideal family game.

But enough of this. If only my Facebook friends would stop gardening or whatever and join me on the potato couch…

Thursday, 23 August 2012


“What? You swallowed a dictionary or something?” I don’t know how many times I was asked that question when I was at school.  Somewhat in the manner of young Joseph flashing his many-coloured coat I was probably unwise to use my precocious vocabulary in front of my classmates. Like Joseph’s brothers, it really got up their noses. Sure, the question was rhetorical and said with an accompanying laugh, but it often sounded like a put down.

So for many years I deliberately dumbed down and used words of one syllable wherever possible. With changes in life experience I met people with unselfconscious, unstunted vocabularies. On hearing a new word I either ask the meaning or make a note in the ubiquitous jotter that travels in my handbag and consult the dictionary later.  With the confidence that comes with age I'm less concerned with what people think and now I, too, use the words that live in my head.  But wouldn’t you know it, I still get that old put down from many adults. To compensate for ignorance they invariably decide attack is the best form of defence, conscript support from bystanders and come in with all guns blazing; “Ho ho, you swallowed a dictionary?”

These days I just have a good laugh with them, and silently marvel.  Some people will never know how sweet a dictionary tastes!

Thursday, 16 August 2012


According to Google, ‘windows of the soul’ is attributed to no one in particular, being simply a traditional English phrase. The French have a similarly worded phrase, ‘the eyes are the mirror of the soul’, equally old and traditional.

What had sparked my interest in sourcing the phrase is the work a psychiatric nurse has been doing with long term institutionalised mental patients. She is a follower of Jesus Christ but the facility she works in does not permit her to speak of His love or His power to heal. While working with a severely delusional man she began to engage him in uninterrupted eye contact for about 15 seconds, during which time she quietly refuted his specific delusions and spoke encouragement directly to the deepest part of being, his spirit. He became quiet and reasonable and remained so between sessions. She had found a way to communicate with the man he really was – in his spirit, not his mind.  What was even more remarkable was that in the following months he occasionally would approach her at the nurses’ station and lean forward for eye contact, saying, ‘I just need to look awhile’.  His spirit had begun to recognise when it needed a bit of encouragement.

All of this reminded me how valuable eye contact is in ordinary life.  Giving someone your true attention with eye contact is so affirming. It says, ‘You are valuable as a person. You are worth noticing’. It is information conveyed at the most primary level of our need for affirmation and it is information received and welcomed regardless of the depth of conversation that accompanies it.  The eyes have it.

Sunday, 12 August 2012


Mark Applebaum, the mad scientist of music, says boredom is good. His argument is that it can push you into taking roles and having experiences you wouldn’t otherwise attempt. On hearing what Applebaum does with experimental sound many people – and I ‘m one of them - ask, ‘This is amusing, but is it music?’ His answer is, ‘You should not be asking, is it music, but is it interesting?’  He has a point.  I suppose. I’m still wondering about that. But it did get me thinking about how it might relate to being a writer.

Firstly, the boredom bit.  In my case I don’t get bored when I’m writing. I might get frustrated with my inability to find just the right word, the pithy phrase, the knock-‘em-dead start/ending/climactic moment for my story, but that’s not boredom. Boredom results from jadedness about what you are doing. That says more to me about the ineffectiveness of any form of ‘doing’ to satisfy the inner person; the futility of finding one’s identity in what you ‘do’.

Applebaum’s second point had me questioning whether or not a piece of writing should be good or merely interesting. How on earth can you separate the two? It doesn’t matter how innovative or unusual the premise/plot/setting/ may be, If the writing is poor none of those factors will impress the reader for very long.  A certain novel with ‘grey’ in the title springs to mind.  Applebaum’s tongue in cheek performances make for amusing theatre, but is it enjoyable music? Could you bear to hear it more than once? In the same way bizarre or titillating writing may have shock value, but if it’s bad writing it won’t stand the test of time. 

The fact is, if a book is well written it is also more likely to be interesting, keeping the reader fully engaged with both plot and characters and becoming one of those to be read again and again. When a writer is more interested in shocking or titillating the reader at the expense of fully developed characters and depth of language  the writing soon becomes – dare I say it – boring.  That sort of boredom certainly prompts me to experience something better to read.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

My favourite book is 53 years old. It’s a bit tatty having been thumbed through, pored over, underlined and dog-eared.  It was a gift from my English teacher in second year high school, who, desiring to reward me for some excellent work, had told me to select any book of my choice at a particular book shop. I came home with a paperback copy of Roget’s Thesaurus.  It has been carried in satchels, briefcases and handbags and packed and unpacked during numerous house moves.  It went with me to England for six years when many other titles were reluctantly culled. It even survived, albeit charred, smelly and minus a front cover, a workplace fire in 2007. It has been indispensable as a student, teacher, parent and now, writer. It's worth its weight in gold.

It is a tool of trade, but not merely so. A dictionary is a tool. A telephone directory is a tool. A thesaurus is fun. As a trainee teacher I once introduced it to a class of young adults who had severely undernourished vocabularies.  Their writing and speech was full of the word ‘nice’.  The poor, wretched word was used to describe any pleasing thing or emotion and it got a sweat and grunt workout every time I asked the question, “So why do you like such-and-such?” I borrowed thesauruses from everywhere, enough for everyone, gave instructions on how to use it, and set my students to replacing ‘nice’ in a set of example sentences. To my surprise and delight they completed the exercise and spontaneously went on to repeat the process in examples of their own written work.  There was a buzz of discovery as they critiqued each other, selecting replacements for many over-worked words and consulting dictionary meanings for hitherto un-heard of examples. They had discovered that words could be fun, that language could be played with.

I bought myself a new thesaurus to replace the fire-damaged one, but I don’t use it. Quite apart from the different layout, which doesn’t please me, it’s pages don’t contain the memories of discovered joys.  So I cobbled together a new front board for the old one and covered the whole with shiny gold, self-adhesive plastic. Its weight is now ‘gold-plated’- sort of!

Friday, 10 August 2012


I do a lot of mental meandering, especially when I should be asleep. I even wrote a poem about it, once. Don’t panic, this is probably the only poem that will ever appear on my blog, unless someone else writes it.

There are no signposts in my head
Just vast, uncharted plains.
No dwelling places, no oases,
Merely tasks meandering,
Rising, crossing and dissolving,
Ideas revolving on themselves.
Doubts, perceptive in the mind,
Journey on to innerspace.
There are no streetlights in my head
Just deep unlighted lanes,
Dead ends for brave imagining.
Craters darkly deep
And lonely satellites of dreaming
Hurtle into orbit
Claimed by territories of sleep.

The thing is, I can think all I like, but unless I start scribing those ideas I’ll never be the writer I want to be.  So I’m going to dream and think and describe and proscribe, every which way I can. I will scribe until I die.