Friday, 26 August 2016

More than just Comic Relief

I shared another version of this post on my own blog some time ago. I thought I'd share it here too.

What are your feelings toward the characters whose role seems to be mostly to provide comic relief? In older times, they would have been known as jesters, clowns and fools. Nowadays, they tend to be laughed off, when readers say something like, 'He was good for a few moments of light distraction, but the hero was far more complex.' Well, today I want to suggest that these guys and girls provide far more than we ever give them credit for.

Late last year, I read a YA philosophical novel by Jostein Gaarder, entited, The Solitaire Mystery. As part of the fantasy element, an island populated by a deck of cards comes to life. Members of the four suits tend to stick together and automatically assume the roles they're born to fulfill, such as baker, confectioner, gardener or silversmith. Only the joker stands apart, wandering around the island freely, since he doesn't really belong anywhere specific. This guy is one of the sharpest and most admirable characters in the story. He doesn't really fit in to his society, but decides he wouldn't really want to anyway. He would have to sacrifice his freedom of observation, and give up his habit of forming his own conclusions about the nature of the world, and that would be too high a price for him to pay.

Being treated with contempt or brushed off by others is something the joker has learned to just shrug off as part of the deal. In the part of the story that takes place in the normal world, the young hero's Dad collects jokers from decks of cards. In several instances, he taps random card players on the shoulders and asks if they'd mind giving him their jokers. In many cases, they say, 'Sure,' and hand them over without another thought, as they're deemed fairly worthless. Hans Thomas' Dad flips through his impressive collection and tells his son, 'You do get people thinking you're weird, but it's well worth it.' Then Hans Thomas realises that his intelligent, philosophical and original Dad identifies with the joker in the card decks. He decides, 'I want to be a joker too.'

As I read the book, I realised I've probably always known this deep down. Shakespeare knew it too, as his variety of jesters and fools show. There's Falstaff, Touchstone, Puck, Costard, Feste, and the list goes on. Even though other characters in the plays disparage and insult them, it's clear that their wit is sharp as knives and they see things others miss.

The day I finished reading 'The Solitaire Mystery', I was watching the Adelaide Christmas Pageant on TV with my youngest son. As I switched my attention between the TV screen and the book, the behaviour of the clowns stood out to me with fresh significance. They rush around, weaving between floats, having fun and generally making people smile. The kids in the audience grin at them, but probably don't get the significance of the ancient tradition the clowns are part of. Those guys are free to roam along the length of the pageant course, taking in more sights than other story book characters who are stuck with their own floats. They are just like the joker on the island. Their weird get-up, the bright, frizzy hair, floppy shoes and painted faces no doubt originally set them aside as weirdos and non-conformists. The fact that it's become their universally recognised uniform may show that deep down, we all hanker for their free spirited lives.

Now that my eyes were opened for it, I came across more blasts from popular culture, emphasing all this. Think of the lyrics of John Lennon's 'Fool on the Hill'. It says, 'Nobody wants to know him, but the fool on the hill, sees the sun going down, and the eyes in his head, see the world spinning round.'

For anyone who wants to get serious about studying their Bible, it doesn't take long to figure out that many of the Old Testament prophets were regarded by others as jesters, clowns and fools. Think of Ezekiel, lying on his side and cooking over his coals of dung, or Jeremiah, buying real-estate in a doomed city and writing prophecies the king burned without a thought. Since they knew that was how they were regarded, it doesn't seem sacrilegious to compare them to the other fools I've been talking about. In fact, mentioning them might even bring a sort of holy dignity to the role others have held in the centuries since.

When he was 16 years old, I took my oldest son to an appointment with his allergist at the hospital, and a couple of free-roaming clowns from the Starlight Foundation decided to make a spectacle of him in the waiting room. While he face-palmed, they went through the motions of writing out a little postcard for him.

'Now, how do you spell Logan?'

'Just the usual way,' he mumbled.

They shouted out across the huge waiting room, 'Hey, is anyone else here called Logan? Are there any Xs or Zs or Qs in it? We know he's a teenager, and teenagers are smarter than us, so we've got to get it right.'

In the end, even he had to laugh.

So here's to smart fellows like them, who are not really fools at all, but astute and far-sighted, often with more real insight and wisdom than the average person. I enjoy it when authors are smart enough to weave them into their plots. I wouldn't mind being a joker either.

Free image courtesy of Pixabay

Paula Vince is a South Australian author of contemporary, inspirational fiction. She lives in the beautiful Adelaide Hills, with its four distinct seasons, and loves to use her environment as settings for her stories. Her novel, 'Picking up the Pieces' won the religious fiction section of the International Book Awards in 2011, and 'Best Forgotten' was winner of the CALEB prize the same year. She is also one of the four authors of 'The Greenfield Legacy', Australia's first and only collaborated Christian novel. Her most recent novel, 'Imogen's Chance' was published April 2014. For more of Paula's reflections, you may like to visit her book review blog, The Vince Review where she also interviews other authors.


Thursday, 25 August 2016

Book Review Kingdom of the Air by C.T.Wells


It's 1940. The Battle of Britain has begun. A young Messerschmitt pilot is shot down over Dartmoor. He tries to evade a manhunt, knowing that if he is captured by the British, his war will be over. But when Josef Schafer falls into the hands of a sinister agent of the Special Operations Executive, his troubles have only begun. He is returned to occupied France having made an impossible deal with the British. As the air war escalates, Josef is in danger in the sky and on the ground. His allegiances are tested as he is torn between loyalty to his Luftwaffe comrades and a French woman whom he is compelled to serve. The stakes are high. Whoever controls the sky above the English Channel will decide the fate of nations.

My Review

I found this story well written, gripping and fast-paced. It was interesting to read a totally different genre to my usual list of ‘to reads’.  I’m not usually a war story fan, but this book has much to recommend it. The main character is a Nazi, so I was impressed by the author’s ability to make Josef a young man I could empathise with and like. The morality and conflicts of war are handled very sensitively and evenly, so that it is easy to feel the pain and struggle of people on either side of the battle, and also to grasp the truth of evil residing in both sides.

Being a fan of historical fiction, I liked the grounding of this story in real events, and even though the events and issues involved in a world war are hard ones to reflect on, they are certainly issues to be learned from.  I think the author handles this well. There is quite a lot of detail about airplanes, air battles, bombing and combat scenes, which suggests an impressive amount of research or knowledge by the writer. While I found myself hurrying though some of those pages, I couldn’t help but feel the fear and tension that this aspect of war evokes, and thought it was appropriate for the story. War scenes are naturally going to be emotive, but these were not overly graphic and were compelling parts of the story.
While this is not a typical romance, in fact far from it, there is a love story at the heart of this story, one which has a great influence on the main characters’ behaviour and future, and one which begs a sequel. Those who prefer to read romances with all the usual elements might be disappointed. Josef does not meet Giselle, a French woman committed to the resistance movement, until halfway through the book. Nevertheless, Giselle is a complex and engaging young woman and the relationship between these two, while unlikely given their loyalties, is one that I found intriguing and touching. The internal conflicts are as real and well written as the external ones.

This could not be called an overtly Christian novel, but the issues raised and the decisions which have to be made by the characters, will cause a reader to question their own values and attitudes. I thought this a very positive aspect of the writing. 

I look forward to a sequel to this story and would recommend it to anyone interested in historical issues, and in deep, life-changing conflicts. I’m not at all surprised that The Kingdom of the Air was winner of the Caleb Prize for Unpublished Fiction in 2014 and winner of the Clive Cussler Adventure Writer's Competition. 

Carol writes historical novels based on her family ancestry in Australia from the First Fleet. They include the Turning the Tide series; Mary’s Guardian, Charlotte’s Angel, Tangled Secrets and Truly Free. Her earlier novels Suzannah’s Gold and Rebecca’s Dream have been re-released by EBP.  Next of Kin, was released by Rhiza Press in 2015 and the sequel, Beyond the Fight, was released in April  this year. You can see more about Carol and her novels on her website, FB author page or Amazon author page.    

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Back to the beginning?

I’ve struggled with this post – struggled with my purpose, my pride, my willingness to be completely open. But this is all I have.

A few months ago I knew why I write; 
Because it is a ministry and God uses it.  My greatest joy is in seeing the ‘God moments’ when people are drawn to Him in any way. 

Dedication to my friend
Like the school acquaintance I dedicated my first book to. My protagonist was based on her. After reading the novel she went from being a skeptic to having the beginnings of faith in God and praying daily.

But my husband became unwell and last month was diagnosed with a rare brain disease. That same friend with her newfound faith rang me up, drunk, in tears.
‘How can you believe in God now?’ she demanded amidst a few other choice words. ‘You’ve given your whole life to Him and this is what He does to do. What kind of God is He, if He even exists?’

The rant continued as I tried to give calm, quiet answers. 
‘Don’t be angry with God on my behalf,’ was all I could beg her. ‘I have peace. Rob has peace. God helps us grow stronger through things like this.’

Visiting Rob in hospital in July
‘But Rob’s going to die!’

‘We all are. But if we know Jesus we live forever with Him. Rob’s looking forward to that.’

‘So you’re saying you don’t care if your husband dies and leaves you with those four kids who need their Dad?’

‘No, I’d be completely devastated. But I’ll have God and I have peace that it will all be okay.’

‘Well you’re stupid, Jen. I can’t understand it. It makes no sense. ‘

‘I know it doesn’t make sense in our human thinking. God’s peace isn’t something we can understand. It goes deeper than our understanding.’

She couldn’t get it. She swore at me, insulted me, and with words that cut me to the core, she turned her back on God. And my heart broke. 

What is the use? Have I failed?
The joy I had at the way God had worked and used my books was shattered. Wasn’t the message in them clear enough? - the message that God allows suffering for a reason and that He loves us unconditionally? Where had I gone wrong? Had God ever used my books at all, or would all my readers come to the same point of disbelief in a crisis?

More than human minds comprehend
Then once again God reminded me of the bigger picture. I thought I was writing so people could come to know and love God. What if it is so much more than that?

I thought of Jesus. The people of the day thought He was there to be an earthly king and rescue them in the way they understood their need to be rescued. But God’s plan was so much greater.

So much more than expected!
I have to stop looking at what God does through my human eyes and values. His ways are not my ways, nor His thoughts my thoughts. Just as my friend was thinking with human perspective, so often I do, too.

I thought I’d come so far, but I’ve gone back to the beginning. With my husband’s illness I can no longer continue my work as a primary school chaplain and don’t have the money to self-publish any more. I write because I’m feeling broken and writing to me is like breathing. I need a big, deep breath of fresh air. I need to pour it all out to God and once more let my writing be my relationship with Him, not my ministry FOR Him.

Hiding my mouth at 12
Psalm 62:8 (NIV)
‘Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.’

- For me, this is how it began. A broken, lost, misunderstood teenager who could never find the words when face to face with someone; who found God there, ready to listen as she wrote and poured her heart out to Him. 

And He is here again. Closer than ever before, sharing my heart, my hurts, my life. In the brokenness He is there. In the confusion, He makes sense. In my fear He brings me peace. When will I learn to walk this closely with Him in the times of joy and perceived achievement in ministry? Why does it take heartbreak to return me to my first love – to the shelter of His arms?

I write because He is alive!
I don’t know the answers, but I do know He loves me just as I am. He loves me enough to be there when I fail, when those I wanted to draw to Him turn their backs, when it hurts, … always, forever. I am His and I will continue to pour my heart out to Him, for He Is my refuge. I write because I breathe, and I breathe for Him, because He is alive and He loves me no matter what.
And my story, God’s story, isn’t finished yet. Maybe I haven’t gone back to the beginning … maybe I’m somewhere in the middle at the crisis point. All I know is that the end will be satisfying and greater than I can ever imagine.

This is my prayer for you and for me; In our short time on this earth, may every word that flows from our hearts and out our mouths or onto paper or screen, bring us closer to our Saviour Jesus and fill Him with joy.

Jenny Glazebrook lives in the country town of Gundagai with her husband, Rob and 4 children along with many pets. She is the published author of 7 novels, 1 traditionally published, and 6 self published. She writes because words burn within her. She is an experienced inspirational speaker and loves to encourage others to walk closer with God and hear His voice each day. She has a Diploma of Theology and has been a CALEB finalist 3 times.
For more information go to her website:

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Best (and Worst) Advice for Writers

By Iola Goulton

Yesterday I gave you a whistlestop tour of the highlights of the 2016 Romance Writers of New Zealand conference, which I attended last weekend. The final session at the conference was an open panel featuring our international guests:
  • Keri Arthur (author)
  • Rachel Bailey (author)
  • Jaye Ford (author)
  • Heather Graham (author)
  • Joanne Grant (editor)
  • Michael Hauge (writing guru)
  • Courtney Miller-Callihan (agent)
  • Sarah Younger (agent)

 One of the questions was both amusing and interesting in the range of responses it provoked:

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever heard? 

And the worst?

I thought I’d share the answers with you today (along with my comments, in italics).

Best Writing Advice

Don’t work with a jerk. (Self-explanatory, really)
Just keep writing.
Finish your book. (I can assure you this is different to just keeping on writing. I have no trouble writing. Finishing … that’s another story).
Join Romance Writers of America. (Or Australia. Or New Zealand. Or American Christian Fiction Writers or Omega Writers or New Zealand Christian Writers. But connect with other writers and learn from those who have gone ahead.)
Follow the rules and learn from those who’ve gone before you. 
It’s not brain surgery. No one is going to die. It’s fun. (Yes, this is was an author.)
Follow your heart and stick with your gut instincts.(In relation to what you write. The book of your heart will almost certainly be a better book than the book you write to try and follow the Amish Zombie trend.)

The Worst Advice

The interesting thing about the worst advice was how often it was directly related to the best advice! (Or vice versa.)

Take this job to pay the rent. (Easier said than done. Especially when the rent has been replaced by a mortgage and children.)

Write what you think will get published. (Don’t, because you might hate it, but also because publishing moves slowly and you might be too late to catch the trend anyway).

You’ll never sell a novel set in Melbourne in the US. (Oh, yes, she did. In fact, she sold a whole series.)

Always be honest. (People might say they want an honest opinion, but they might not mean it.)

Follow the rules. (You don’t have to follow the rules, because they don’t always apply. But the old guideline still holds true: you have to know the rules before you can know test whether or not they apply.)

You don’t want to be typecast as a romance writer. (Why not?)

Chase trends. (No. Don’t. Really.)

Anyway, I hope that gives you a laugh! What's the best writing advice you've ever heard? Or the worst?

About Iola Goulton

I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction. Visit my website at to download a comprehensive list of publishers of Christian fiction. 

I also write contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist—find out more

You can also find me on:
Facebook (Author)
Facebook (Editing)

Monday, 22 August 2016

Michael Hauge at #RWNZ2016

I’ve recently returned from the Romance Writers of New Zealand annual conference, and this is the first post covering some of what I heard and learned over three busy days .

One-word summary: lots.

First up was a session from screenwriter and coach Kathryn Burnett on what makes a “cinematic idea”—meaning, what features of a novel make it a good prospect for adapting to film or television. She had two main points: first, that cinema is audio and visual, which means it has to show emotion through sound and images. We can’t rely on interior monologue to tell us what the character is thinking or feeling.

She also pointed out that film is expensive, so producers aren’t going to spend time or money on any idea that doesn’t have all the essential elements of good cinema: a compelling character facing a difficult problem with something significant at stake for the person … but solvable in 90-110 minutes of screen time (which is broadly equivalent to 90-110 pages of script), in only a couple of settings, and something that can be seen to have been solved.

The best ideas are external and rely on action.

I often see book reviews where the review says “this book would make a great movie!” I now know that isn’t always true. Sure, some books make great movies, but many stories are best told as a TV series, a play … or as a novel. The talent comes in knowing why one story might work best as a novel and another might work as a film. I don’t know anything about screenwriting, but this workshop showed me enough to judge whether a story has what it takes to be cinematic.

Friday was an all-day session from Hollywood script consultant Michael Hauge. 

While many of his ideas (and all his examples) were from film, he pointed out how novels and films have a lot in common. His main point was that the most important thing we do as novelists or screenwriters is elicit emotion. As novelists, we do this by “showing” the movie in the reader’s mind.

Many of Michael Hauge’s concepts were familiar. For example, he utilises the traditional three-act structure of film and fiction as taught by writers such James Scott Bell and KM Weiland. He talks about Character, Desire and Conflict, and the Outer and Inner Journeys, which are similar to Debra Dixon’s Goal Motivation Conflict.

But he also covered a lot of ideas which were new to me, and which I found helpful in considering my own manuscript … and which my manuscript assessment clients are going to find extraordinarily annoying when I start asking questions about the character’s inner journey or false belief or why the reader should like them or empathise with them.

I read a lot of books on writing craft, but there is something special about hearing the same content as part of a large group, especially when question time started. 

We soon found out that asking Michael Hauge a question is about him turning the question back on us. I thought I asked a simple question about the difference between longing and need, but before I knew it he was challenging me on my main character’s outer conflict and inner wound (oops. She didn’t have either—well, not that I could articulate to Michael Hauge and 100 romance writers when put on the spot). Watching him grill other members of the audience was just as fascinating—for me, if not for them.

He then applied his principles of plot and structure to the movie Hitch, which was an excellent way of reinforcing the principles (and now I want to see the full movie!). His final session was on being the hero (or heroine) of our own story. Challenging, to say the least.

There were also excellent sessions from Australian author Rachel Bailey (the Black Moment, and Sexual Tension … which I’ll cover in another post), and a great session from agent Sarah Younger on identifying the high concept in your novel. She made it sound so easy …

I know some of you will have been to the Romance Writers of Australia this past weekend. Did anyone attend Michael Hauge’s session? Or Rachel Bailey’s? What did you think?

About Iola Goulton

I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction. Visit my website at to download a comprehensive list of publishers of Christian fiction. 

I also write contemporary Christian romance with a Kiwi twist—find out more

You can also find me on:
Facebook (Author)
Facebook (Editing)

Friday, 19 August 2016

Writing Process

Writing Process. 

Everyone has one.
Some writers are fantastically organized, with meticulous plotting, spreadsheets galore, a fabulous title, months of research at their fingertips. Plonk them in a seat and they can emerge six hours later with five thousand quality words.

Others are ‘pants-ers’, going with the flow, waiting for those moments of inspiration to hit, happy to see the different pieces fit together, like a quilt sewn of patches.

Others of us are a mix, finding benefit from structure (or at least an idea of what the end might look like!), whilst seeing the positives of keeping things a little ‘loose’ as our characters come to life and beg to say something other than what was planned.

I’ve written eight novels now, and find my writing process varies. Some projects have been amazingly straightforward (strangely enough, these tend to be NaNoWriMo projects). Other stories have proved amazingly coy, resulting in twiddling of thumbs amidst mild panic.

The story that wrote fastest (and I think was one of the best!) was a NaNo project, written only a few weeks after I’d finished the main character’s sister’s story. This meant I had a great grasp on storyworld, and together with a few weeks dreaming and planning (‘stewing’ I like to call it), meant I had both a basic chapter outline and whole scenes ready to roll when the time came to ‘piece’ it into my story. I could write fast, leaving asterisks for the tricky research questions I hadn’t been able to learn prior to commencing, like whether vermilion really was a colour accessible to the average amateur artist in 1819 England. (Yes, is the answer, though it was both toxic and expensive!) 

I recently started another project, typing up my first chapter from a burst of scribbled inspiration, typing with a smile as I'm thinking how fun it is to begin something new, with all the possibilities ahead. I enjoy the start. Most of the time I enjoy writing the middle, even if it feels like I'm slapping words out I just know will need editing later. There's something exciting about seeing strands of storyline weave together, sometimes in surprising ways, resulting in prayers of thankfulness as it seems the story has been shaped by a hand far greater than mine. I even enjoy mining those wells of emotion, tears trickling down my cheeks as I draw on experiences of pain or loss, seeing true things transformed to a greater truth. Writing as catharsis. Writing that heals. Writing that offers hope.

When I think about my writing process, I realise I usually enjoy the editing, too: tweaking words, culling repetitions, going for a(nother) cup of tea as I mull over phrasing, often aloud, which make me very glad when I've got the house to myself! And then there's rereading, where sometimes I'm taken by surprise by what I've written, and I'm brought to tears - in a good way! Moments of gold in the sometimes painful journey of bringing what once were vague stirrings of an idea into something tangible and real.

Over to you. What’s your writing process? What's your favourite part about writing? 

Carolyn Miller lives in the beautiful Southern Highlands of New South Wales, Australia, with her husband and four children. A longtime lover of romance, especially that of the Regency era, Carolyn holds a BA in English Literature, and loves drawing readers into fictional worlds that show the truth of God’s grace in our lives. Her Regency novel 'The Elusive Miss Ellison' will be published in the US by Kregel in February 2017. She is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency.

Connect with her:    



Thursday, 18 August 2016

Book Review: The Things We Knew - by Catherine West

Review by Andrea Grigg

One thing I love about a Catherine West story is that she never disappoints and her latest contemporary Christian novel is no exception. Not only does ‘The Things We Knew’ have plenty of romance, it’s also full of mysteries and family secrets. I loved it!

The story begins in Nantucket, Massachusetts, with twenty-four-year-old Lynette Carlisle, childcare worker and closet artist, who is at her wits end. She suspects her father has Alzheimers, the family home is falling down around her, and there’s no money to fix it. None of her four siblings are taking any of her concerns seriously, and to complicate things, Nick Cooper, the boy next door, has arrived home, dredging up feelings Lynette never quite buried.

One by one, Lynette’s four siblings (David, Liz, Ryan and Gray) arrive home and that’s when the story amps up. Although written from only three points of view (Lynette, Nick, and Gray) a plethora of family dynamics and secrets are skilfully revealed as the siblings and Nick confront each other with their realistic and sometimes heartbreaking issues.

Overarching all of this is the mystery surrounding the death of their mother, Diana Carlisle, twelve years earlier. The police called it an accident, but no one seems to know exactly what happened or why. As Lynette attempts to unlock her memories, she is plagued by nightmares. Intriguingly, these come out in her paintings, which even she can’t interpret.

Strand by sticky strand, the mysterious knots unravel, and there’s more than one happy-ever-after to satisfy my romantic heart. I loved the conflict between the characters and the continually deepening complexities of both circumstance and relationships.

Interestingly, while ‘The Things We Knew’ sits comfortably in the Christian arena, a number of the characters are not believers, which I found refreshing something I’ve come to expect from Catherine West.

Did I mention I loved this story? ‘The Things We Knew’ gets five stars from me.

Thanks to Catherine West and Harper Collins Christian Publishing for a free e-book for review.

 Andrea Grigg lives on the Gold Coast, Queensland, and is a writer of two contemporary Christian romances, ‘A Simple Mistake’ and ‘Too Pretty’. She would love to connect with you via: 
Twitter: @andreagrigg