Friday 10 November 2017

FERNANDO AND ME by Karen Collum

Submitted by Jenny Glazebrook 

At the Omega Writers’ Conference this year I met a lady whose smile lit up her face.
Karen with her CALEB prize
She was the winner of the Childrens Picture Book section of the CALEB prize and also the overall runner-up, yet this wasn’t the source of her joy. She shared her story with me and it blessed me so much I asked her if I could share it with you, too.

This is Karen’s story:


By Karen Collum

There were so many reasons why I shouldn’t have gone to the Omega Writer’s Conference on the last weekend in October that I almost cancelled. In fact, less than two weeks before, I sent an email saying I couldn’t come and asking if my room could be sold to someone else…

You see, it had been a crazy few months since I booked for the conference way back in June. In June I wasn’t working full time. In June I hadn’t been sick. In June everyone was fit and healthy and fine and the thought of going away for a weekend with fellow Christian writers was perfect.

Fast forward to October and everything had changed. Full-time teaching, a week-long church camp for 300+ kids, a horrid bout of Influenza B that landed me in hospital and a serious medical emergency for a close family member had thrown a whole toolbox of spanners in the works. I decided not to go and sent the cancellation email. Then I prayed about it, asking God for affirmation of my writing, got the affirmation the very same day and sent another email cancelling the cancellation.

Still questioning my sanity, last Friday I got on a plane from the Gold Coast and flew to Sydney for a weekend of writing. And what a weekend it was! I am still coming to terms with the amazing, God-inspired events that unfolded during my time at my inaugural Omega Conference.

Narelle Atkins introducing Carolyn Miller and her workshop
The first of many amazing things happened in a workshop with author Carolyn Miller on Saturday afternoon. Carolyn asked us to think about our work in progress, which in my case, is a completed first draft of a middle-grade adventure novel. She asked us to write a synopsis in 25 words, then 10 words, and finally just one single word. The first two were easy for me as I’d been through this process before, but one word? That was more of a challenge. I pondered for a while and realised that the journey that my protagonist goes on centres on one quality: courage. I’d never pin-pointed that before so clearly and I was excited about what that would mean for my story.

Carolyn then asked us to think about a Bible verse that was related to our story. In an instant, the words, “Fear not, for I am with you!” jumped into my head along with the 80s worship song that I grew up singing. My young protagonist, Fernando, goes on a dangerous adventure in the wilderness, so the lyrics about walking through water and not drowning, and walking through fire and not being burned were such a good fit. Once again I was excited about the revelation. I tucked these epiphanies inside my heart and thanked God for his goodness. My novel was becoming so much clearer with all that He was revealing to me and I could see how this was going to strengthen my story in profound ways.

That evening, I spent some time in my room reading the Bible. I searched for my story verse and read it through new eyes:

“But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
 I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
 and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
  and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.” Isaiah 43:1-3a ESV

In bed that night I was still contemplating the verse and thinking about how it related to my book. It was stunning to me that more than three years after the original idea and a year after I finished the first draft, I was only just realising what the book was actually about.

Three years ago, all I knew for sure – and I wasn’t even sure how I knew – was that the main character’s name was Fernando, he lived in an underground bunker with his papa, and he would have to go on a dangerous journey to save Papa’s life. Now, thanks to God’s grace and the Omega Conference, I knew the spiritual heart of my story.

“I have called you by name, you are mine…”

Sleep settled over me like the soft cotton blanket on my bed and the last thing I remember thinking was a question: I wonder what Fernando’s name means?

The next morning, I woke early and instantly remembered my question. I’d named Fernando three years ago, right at the very start of the creative process and yet I’d never looked up the meaning of his name. I grabbed my phone and googled ‘baby name meanings’.

That’s when I started to cry.

Staring at the screen, the complete goodness and graciousness of God was revealed to me in an instant. My heart was overflowing with thankfulness and awe and wonder at this God we serve. It was without a doubt, the most affirming, humbling and uplifting experience of my writing career. What was revealed proved to me without doubt that God intends for me to write. That this story matters. That Fernando’s story must be told and that I am the one to tell it. That three years ago God himself planted this book, this story, this character in my heart.

So what does Fernando mean?

Prepared to journey.

Isn’t God amazing?! Thank you, Omega Conference. Words really can change the world!

Karen’s book, ‘Small and Big’ was not only CALEB prize runner up, but also named a 2016 CBCA Notable Book for Early Readers. To learn more of the delightful inspiration behind this book go to her website:


  1. Wow, Karen--thanks so much for sharing your amazing Omega Conference experience and to Jenny for sharing it with us! I love it when God kind of 'ambushes' us like this and blows our minds with insight after insight. I will watch out for Fernando's adventures which I'm sure will be published soon. Sounds like just the sort of book our grandson would like.

    1. Jo-Anne, I'm unsure if Karen has become a member yet or is able to see this, but I've emailed her your comment. Thanks for commenting!

    2. Jo-Anne anyone can read this blog just send her the link.

    3. Thanks, Jo-Anne. It was such an amazing series of events. I can imagine God waiting with delightful anticipation for the 3 years to pass when I would finally realise the meaning of Fernando's name :)

  2. Congratulations on your CALEB win, Karen! Thank you for sharing your story with us. I too was challenged by Carolyn's suggestion that we bring our story down to just one word. I'm encouraged and blessed by your story.

    Jenny, thank you so much for all the work you did before and during the Omega Writers Conference, and thank you for sharing Karen's story with us today.

    1. Hi Iola, I've emailed your comment to Karen. And yes, such a challenge to bring our story down to one word. I'm still working on that one with my stories.

  3. Beautiful story. Thanks, Karen and Jenny, for sharing this journey with us. The Omega weekend was full of gifts as God quietly poured out his kindness on us. Moments such as these are ours to treasure.

  4. Wow ... Karen. Just wow. I think we sat next to each other for Margie's Saturday session. And I do apologise that I didn't introduce myself. Bad me.

    What a story. I'm excited to read Fernando's story when it's done. God's going to take you on a journey as you write it and like Fernando be prepared to go on that journey. There may be times you go kicking and screaming when the words don't come, but You're right where he wants you to be.

    And congratulations on your CALEB prize.

    Thanks Jenny for sharing this post with us all.

  5. Hello again Karen, what a great affirmation of your writing and well done with your win and all the best with your teaching, family and writing. Hello from Victoria, Lorraine M

  6. How beautIful! Thank you for sharing this God story with us. May you continue to be ‘prepared to jourbeu’ In your writing. 😀

  7. Thanks, everyone, for sharing my joy! I'm hanging onto the Omega Conference experience tight as life/family/work all conspires against me and seems to whittle away my writing time. Fernando's story needs to be told, however, and I'm committed to seeing it through...eventually :D

  8. Karen, congrats on your CALEB success and thanks for sharing your inspiring conference story with us. I really enjoyed Carolyn’s workshop. :)


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