Gospel Voices – obtaining your copy

Gospel Voices COVER

I have been so excited about my book being read at last, but like most things in life, the current situation has had an impact.  Delivery from the printers has been delayed and while the warehouse is open, it’s with skeleton staff.

However, we’ve found a way around this for those who have ordered the book!  In the short term we can send you a PDF copy, while we wait for business to get back to normal. Let me (or Faithbuilders) know if you’d like this option.  You may have ordered from Waterstones or elsewhere – if so, a digital receipt would be good. Either way, please get in touch with me.

See below for endorsements.

Gospel Voices COVER

“These stories will quite literally take you to heaven and back as a series of voices, some well known and others less familiar, ask the questions we tend to avoid. What is it like to feel constantly compared to your brother Jesus? Why does he roll out miracles to fix problems that he could have prevented in the first place? And what does he want from us? Surrounding the historical Jesus with a wholly believable cast of characters, from nosy neighbours to the wannabe manager who lends his donkey on Palm Sunday, this collection shows the divine at his most human.”
Prof. Carolyn Oulton, Subject Lead Creative and Professional Writing, Canterbury Christ Church University

“Caroline Greville’s engaging style draws you into well known biblical stories as she reimagines them through the eyes of human and angelic participants. The author’s attention to detail means that rather than distracting from the biblical narrative, her recount adds the colour, sound and aroma of the first century Middle Eastern life. … Expect to become part of the big story of the Bible, listening afresh to the events of the Gospels, and being changed by something you thought you knew! ‘My God isn’t a God of failure or of missed moments; he’s a God of triumph, and what he sets out to do, he accomplishes every time.’”
– Grace Turner, Senior Pastor, RiverLife Church, Bern

Corona Crisis – a personal response

‘It’s the end of the world as we know it… and I feel fine.’ The words of R.E.M. in 1987, but I don’t agree.  Firstly, it’s not ‘the end of the world’ – this time will pass, we’ll deal with the bruises to our sense of what’s right, our sense of security in this world, and move on.  Perhaps the phrase ‘as we know it’ does ring true, especially as we struggle with the prospect of living without some people – we wonder if they will be neighbours, colleagues, familiar faces from our daily routine, or, dare I say it, loved ones who are dearer to us than our own lives – those whom the planet won’t be the same without; those who, for many many years have made life worth living.  We can’t imagine life if they are not with us, we don’t want to, and yet our fears take us there.

So no, I don’t feel fine.

This virus feels unfair.  But perhaps there is a touch of heaven’s mercy in what’s happening – and please don’t stop reading.  We know that we all have to die some time, and for most of us it’s unlikely to be because of the virus.  But we are re-evaluating as individuals, taking stock of relationships and life goals, remembering that our relationships with people are what we most value in being human.  And if there is a meaning to life, a purpose in being here and a life beyond, we now have time to research it.

Why do I personally believe?  I took a step of faith as a teenager, and that faith has grown as I’ve seen many answers to prayer and even come to know God’s presence.  My commitment began just months before R.E.M.’s song release, in the summer of 1986.  And who is my God?  The God of the Bible, seen in Jesus.  I don’t do anything without considered thought, and I looked into the claims that Jesus made about himself and the historical evidence that was not written by believers.  Because, like the apostle Paul, I think that if we are wrong about him then we of all people are most to be pitied.

Some people would say, ‘If your God is real, why has he allowed this?’  Perhaps we could consider why he’s held off this long.  Could it be like a guiding parental hand, put out to prevent the small child from falling from their trike?  Could we say that when our time’s up, it’s up?  If there is life beyond, as I believe, this life builds us towards it.  As a Christian, I have trusted him with my life, and that is incredibly freeing.  I believe that a transaction has happened with him – I’ve recognized that I do bad things, that I’m far from perfect, and that I’m designed to communicate with him, to receive his help, to engage with him – what many Christians call ‘being in a relationship with him’, which may sound cliched to you, but it’s hard to find words that come close to explaining this in any other way.  I’ve entrusted my life to him, because he’s given up everything for me, and I’m going to walk with him, even when I question what he’s doing, or think I have a better idea of how he should be running things.  In reality I think I probably don’t – I don’t get to say what happens to me, whether on a small scale or large, or what happens to my nation, or even the world, but I do get to choose how I will live out each day.  Whether in kindness or anger, in looking for the good or in frustrated rebellion.  I know that I can expect to be given the answers one day, and his purposes are bigger than mine, his ways ‘far beyond anything’ that I can comprehend (Isaiah 58 v.8).  For now I need to take one day at a time – pray for my loved ones, pray for those who are ill right now, pray for him to be intervening in the lives of individuals, and playing my part in looking out for people and staying in touch, even if most of this will be done virtually.

Jesus felt pain – this is very hard to dispute. He grieved when Lazarus had died and was deeply shaken as the reality of what we face as humans hit him.  But he didn’t stop there – he brought Lazarus back from the dead, which set things moving for his own arrest, mock trial and crucifixion.  Thankfully it didn’t end there – so the Bible tells us, and so my experience of him assures me.  There is so much evidence about who the historical Jesus is, that if you are even remotely intrigued, some investigation into this would be beneficial, especially if our country goes into any sort of lockdown.

How will our days be different in the short term?  We know that schools may close.  Work routines may change, or even be put on a long pause.  My university teaching will perhaps be done virtually, and the groups I run for Kent Adult Education have many retired members, so in the short term I think those are under threat.  But if we find ourselves at home more, there is fun to be had.  I plan to work hard on my current book that is not quite half-written, but may be nearly finished if this virus drags on.  We will all be finding creative outlets, old and new.  If we’re not in isolation, we can enjoy nature, and even if we are, we can feed the birds and enjoy the arrival of spring.  (Today we heard skylarks above us as we walked the dogs, though we couldn’t see them.  The sound took me beyond myself, reminding me that spiritually there is another dimension that we need to tune into more.)  Of course, we’ll enjoy extra time with family, if they live with us.  I know that for my own mental well-being I need to limit my time reading news online, and channel my fears into prayers.

This era may feel like a very long weekend or a prison sentence, depending on the outlook we choose to take.  But to not be fearful is a decision – we can replace desperation with engagement with him.  ‘Anxiety is meditation on the wrong thing,’ says Pastor Matt Brown of Sandals Church (see link).  We can get through this – and with God’s help it will be a whole lot easier.

 Please get in touch with me if you want to ask any questions or hear more.  You might like to read my book, Gospel Voices, a series of short stories based on Christian truth.

(Today I’ve also watched an amazing live stream from Rivers Crossing Community Church on 15th March, 2020. Link here.)

Books I recommend:    

Who Moved the Stone by Frank Morrison

The Evidence for the Resurrection by Norman Anderson

The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Dr Gary Habermas

 

Writing for The Upper Room

I have enjoyed reading all the comments on my posts for The Upper Room today – I feel like I’ve found many new friends!  Thank you everyone!  It’s a website I’m really going to enjoy using myself as well as writing for.

I’ll add links to my posts below.  I’ll also give you their writers’ guidelines.  I’ll share with you the encouragement they gave me, just to persuade you…

‘Just think: Over two million people in more than 100 countries will read or hear your witness.  To put that in perspective, if a preacher addressed a congregation of 2,000 new people each week for 20 years, that preacher would still not have addressed as many people as will read your contribution in The Upper Room.  It is a remarkable privilege to be able to declare the “marvelous works of the Lord” (Ps. 9:11) to so many, and we appreciate your willingness to let us use your work.’

My Upper Room devotional

My Upper Room blog post

Writers’ guidelines

Success or sell-out? My journey into print

cover for ebook small

This week sees the publication of my first book, Badger Clan.  It hasn’t been the most straightforward journey, which is why I’ve decided to write about it here.  I hope my experiences will be of use to one or two of my readers.

     The material in my memoir is mainly from 2015.  Why has it taken so long to get it out there?  I finished writing the book in 2016.  By spring 2017 I looked for an agent, and quickly signed with Anne Williams of the Kate Hordern Literary Agency.  I worked on an edit with Anne, which we were both happy with by July of that year.  This isn’t unusual – an agent will be representing many other authors and I had to fit writing around my full teaching schedule.  Submissions started during autumn 2017 (holiday time is ‘dead time’). Many publishers then asked to see the book.

Rejections included,I’m deeply jealous of all that badger action and I would have loved to give this a go, but I’m afraid I couldn’t get the kind of consensus we need to take a book on’ and ‘I really enjoyed reading this and thought it was beautiful but I’m afraid I didn’t love it enough in the end to want to take it on. I hope you find the perfect editor for this special book.’

The book, then known as The Year of the Badger, went to one or two acquisitions meetings.

A certain Mr P, editor from another well-respected publishing house said, ‘This is a really deeply lovely book. Gorgeous writing, hugely engaging, exciting and carefully crafted. The village is alive and nuanced and real in the reader’s mind.’  They were about to re-roll Badgerlands (no clues there, then) and felt unable to help due to a conflict of interests.

Finally, my agent phoned one evening to tell me she’d received a ‘yes’.  ‘Go and celebrate with your family,’ she said.  Something inside me made me hold back from cracking open the champagne; just as well it did.  Despite everything progressing nicely over the weeks that followed, information on where the pictures would go, how many books would be printed and how the book would be marketed, I took another, less positive call a few weeks later.  I remember it well.  It was during my youngest daughter’s birthday tea, February 2018.  The publishing house was having a financial crisis and having to pull out on all new writers.  They told Anne we could be in touch again towards the end of the summer, when, hopefully, their finances would be back on track.

I fought back the tears, lit the candles on the cake and carried it through to the table as if nothing had happened.  My little girl had no idea of the news that felt devastating.  Yet I had much to celebrate too, sang out ‘Happy Birthday’ with the rest of them and sat back, very aware of my blessings. Perhaps, with hindsight, it was the best time to have received the news.

There is a whole lot of waiting for publishers, even without the ‘please get back to us’ scenario.  It helped me to have other writing projects on the go, and to be taking the long view.  We let the summer pass and Anne emailed the publisher in question, then tarried a while but they didn’t respond.  She felt this was signal enough that we’d reached closure with them, and gave me permission to do what I’d been longing to: publish as an indie via KDP.  I had a busy teaching term and wanted to make my own tweaks now that the book was mine again (I had also been through a PhD viva with it and needed to process advice given there).  My goal was to get the book out early in the new year. I contacted Alexi Francis, a name I’d come across through an anthology series we’d both written for, and then Twitter, and asked her to create my cover.  I suggested pen and ink, a design different to the known badger narratives’ covers out there, and said ‘I can imagine some blue in it, with perhaps a night sky and some winter trees.  I do love your Havergate Hare painting.  I think something quite simple with strong, dark colours to make it eye-catching.’  She met the brief and has far exceeded my hopes.  Would a publishing house have given me something I like this much?  They would have been hard pushed to.

So here we are! Annie, my eldest daughter, is now in her second year at university; she was taking her GCSEs in the book, which gives you some idea of how much time has passed.

The route to publication was nothing like I expected, but I’ve learnt a lot on the way.  Enrol on any MA Creative Writing course and you are led to believe that traditional publishing is the most respectable way into print.  How many well-written books are in hiding right now, abandoned with a misplaced sense of shame?  How many writers have given up their calling?  I have been told by many people that my book should be out there, not least my PhD supervisor, Scarlett Thomas, my agent and the publisher who wanted my book, but shall remain nameless: ‘So sorry to excite and deflate like this. But it is a reflection of the life of a small publisher rather than on the book itself, as Caroline writes very well.’  And that is the bottom line – the publishing industry is not in great shape, for publishers, small or large, are not committing to new writers as they did a decade ago. Their bubble may have burst, but as new writers our hopes should not.

I feel my book is as good as any publishing house would have made it.  What I do appreciate is that it is now MY book, not tailored to their whims, but my own.

The would-be published author is made to feel small in the 21st century; like they really need a mainstream publishing house behind them.  Yet I am now actually feeling very excited about launching out without support. I have been interested to discover, too, that self-publishing has the potential to be more lucrative.  A friend told me once she would be receiving ten pence per copy of hardback book sold.  This isn’t outlandish.  A writer will receive perhaps 10% per sale. This doesn’t sound so bad?  It isn’t based on the cover price but rather the price the publisher sells it at.  This could be half the cover price.  Wholesalers can then demand large discounts etc. etc.  The printing cost for my book will be £4.52.  If I sell at £9.99 the royalty on each copy will be £1.47.  I’m yet to see how this pans out, but so far I’m not complaining.

Despite all this, I’m saving the best bit till last.  You see, if I’d like to be known for any writing, it’s my current project.  In 2018 I wrote for a Christian anthology that was published at Christmas (Merry Christmas, Everyone, The Association of Christian Writers).  This unexpectedly kickstarted a new project in me and it has felt like a tremendous release; not that I didn’t enjoy writing Badger Clan, but my new book has been prompted by my own spiritual journey and not someone (who became my PhD supervisor) inviting me to write a book.  My faith grew as I wrote the badger book, and through the rocky road to publication, too.  I sometimes wonder that if Christians always have it easy, what use are we to anyone else?  I can share from my experiences and hopefully be an encouragement to others to see their projects through to a rightful conclusion.

I still expect to write some nature pieces in the future, but I’m not tied into this because it’s what my publisher expects of me.

How will I seek publication for my latest book?  At this stage, I really don’t know.  (When it’s finished I may feel clearer).  But it’s felt more fulfilling than anything to write, and I hope its outworking will do something quite profound; if it can bring greater understanding of the book that’s the most precious to me in the world, and point to the one who changes lives and transforms, then it will be a job well done.  I like the thought of writing something with eternal consequences.   Now that would be success in my mind.

 

thumb nail book cover

Good Friday reflection

This is the one day of the year that makes sense of the rest for me.  That says, there is hope, don’t give in, worse has been endured, your pain is understood, someone has been along and absorbed it all already, scooped up the fall-out and is offering a hand, saying, come on, it’s this way, I’ve been there already and I can lift you out.

It’s not that the world is any less troubled since that first Good Friday.  There’s so pexels-photo-433142.jpegmuch in the world that doesn’t make sense, that seems unfair, that I could take issue with. But I can’t point a finger at a god who doesn’t care because he isn’t there.  Instead I can reach out a hand to God who has walked amongst us, has taken the worst we can throw at him; he has the marks on his hands to prove it.  This is Jesus, not some remote deity who set galaxies spinning and sat back to watch.  It’s Jesus who said, I’ll deal with their brokenness and humanity, I’ll take my share of that – I’ll take their share, too.  I’ll take the hatred, the insults, the suffering, the isolation, the unfair load of worldly grot and I’ll bear it.  I’ll bear it until every last insult has been hurled, every once-sparkling promise broken, every sad violation committed, every injustice dealt and I’ll bear it up to my Father.  I’m big enough to take it.  Then they won’t be able to say I don’t care, I don’t understand, I don’t know how it feels, that I’m distant, unloving, unfair.  They will see my arms stretched wide in welcome, acceptance that comes no bigger…  I’ll die for it, for them.  I’ll clear the blocked passages between them and heaven, let them know they’ll always have a home, not just when their days are done but now, in amongst it all.  This is my refuge: it’s a cloak spread wide above their heads in the rain, that’s wide enough for all humanity as each responds and shares saying, come inside, we’ve a place to shelter.  It’s a canopy that will stretch over the whole earth, each place and person I spoke into being, forgiveness draped over the whole show, nothing, no one beyond its reach.  It says, it is finished.  But my work for them is never done, they will call on me and I will be there.  I’m there already.  They only have to ask.

Kids home, still writing

Coping strategies for a guilt free, child-happy, writing-is-happening time…

The Secret to Being Both a Successful Writer and a Mother: Have Just One Kid. (Article by Lauren Sandler, The Atlantic, 2013).Well that’s me out then. I have four.  And we still have three full weeks of the summer holidays to run. Don’t get me wrong, I am enjoying my children’s company. But let’s be honest, it is relentless.

‘Six weeks holiday, six whole weeks!’

‘No it’s not, it’s seven!’

‘I thought it was eight.’

So went the conversation in our house when school broke. Part of me always shares in their euphoria, but another part goes into mild panic. How to be the devoted and attentive mum whilst not letting this time that I also need for my writing disappear? It’s not all bad, I have finished an edit and begun preparations for next term. But I know I won’t get these weeks back and I can be as guilty of wasting time as the rest of them.

My nine-year-old wants me to know of her every thought, which though endearing can be slightly wearing. She defines exuberance. This, of course, blesses me no end but is not without its challenges. My eighteen-year-old wants to talk through the complete range of her potential A level results and the pros and cons of adjustment and clearing, almost daily. My son wants to take things apart and reassemble them, and all four children have an opinion on everything. Tolstoy is said to have written in his diary ‘Family happiness completely absorbs me, and it’s impossible to do anything’. I get where he’s coming from but I have been driven to find some slightly more inspirational comment.

There is sound advice to be had, however.

E.B. White, writer of Charlotte’s Web and co-writer of The Elements of Style has been here, too.  I can relate to what he calls ‘the carnival that is going on all around me’. He tells us, ‘the members of my household never pay the slightest attention to my being a writing man — they make all the noise and fuss they want to.’ Does this sound familiar? He continues, ‘If I get sick of it, I have places I can go. A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.’ I think he’s right. There’s a lot to be said for grabbing the unexpected five minutes that come our way, wherever we happen to be.

I have taken White’s advice and am developing the ability to work with noise around me. My tactic is to write the essence of the thought that’s hovering in my brain, jotting down the key words and then fine-tuning it during a moment of quiet. I surface before the family when I can, often by 6 a.m., and this gives me my two or three most productive hours of the day. It’s when my thinking is at its sharpest and I spot most of the faults in my work from the day before.

When my youngest is full-on I can still use my lap-top and research themes, read articles and think about my classes. I can also read with chaos all around me, but it’s the creative work that’s often put on hold. I could work in the hut in the garden, but I prefer to save this for when there is a particular deadline. I like to read in there and let the kids join me if they want to (and they do).

There is much to be said for encouraging some early independence. ‘Read your book’, ‘Walk the dog’, ‘Make X a birthday card’, ‘You’ve got one hour to fill on your own, then I’m going to take you out.’ These are all phrases I trot out on a daily basis. It’s still a slog at times though, so please send me yours too.

At the end of the day, I want my kids to remember vibrant, happy summer holidays with a mum who was around for them. And if my writing features in anyone’s memory, then that will be a bonus.

Coping strategies

Making time. What is your best time of day, early morning or late at night? Attempt to surface while the rest of the household sleep, or stay up into the night. Once you’ve had a successful writing time at this hour you’ll do it again. Like me, Toni Morrison has found early mornings to be most useful. In The Paris Review she says, “Writing before dawn began as a necessity–I had small children when I first began to write and I needed to use the time before they said, Mama–and that was always around five in the morning.” (The Art of Fiction, no, 134).

Read. If you can’t find the space to write you can always do this. Stephen King says “I am always chilled and astonished by the would-be writers who ask me for advice and admit, quite blithely, that they ‘don’t have time to read.’ This is like a guy starting up Mount Everest saying that he didn’t have time to buy any rope or pitons.”

Be realistic. Give yourself a modest, child-accommodating daily word count that you can easily reach. Then congratulate yourself and go and have fun!

 

 

How I found my literary agent

So I have a literary agent: Anne Williams of the Kate Hordern Literary Agency. How did that happen, I have been asked. Isn’t that really hard?

I know I am incredibly lucky. I also know that I have worked incredibly hard, though that doesn’t automatically entitle me to anything. My badger book has been on the go for a couple of years. I have lived and breathed it through that time; it’s a part of me and I am still writing notes on my badger encounters. It has also had that ‘time in the drawer’ that’s always recommended, though, in my case, more through accident than design. Months ago I had a literary agent chase me, which I sat on for a bit, but that’s another story. When I was ready he was about to change agencies, and then went off the boil. That’s okay – I think now I wasn’t right for him. You want an agent to be so certain about your work, and I don’t think he could have been about mine. Anne, on the other hand, said she knew straight away. She was lightning-quick with her responses and left the other agents way behind. Oh yes, the other agents. I had drawn up a shortlist of five with some input from a knowledgeable friend, and over the course of a couple of days wrote to them all.

So how did I find out about Anne? I searched for agents interested in new nature writing and a few names came up. I read her wishlist and then knew she was worth pursuing. She mentioned two of my favourite nature writers whose work I had recently put on a uni module and taught. My heart then started to beat a little faster. To the top of my list she went. Just to be absolutely certain, I read what articles I could about her, any interviews or related blogs that I could find before approaching her by email.

Anne was quick to request the full manuscript. While she was reading I heard from the other four, and three of them wanted the rest soon after. There was one very enthusiastic young agent from CB who totally charmed me, and an agent representing many UK nature writers who told me she would read, but there would be a delay as she was very busy.

Anne came back with a positive email in just under three weeks, having read the complete manuscript. We arranged to talk on the phone, when she sounded me out more fully and said she’d like to offer me representation. I was thrilled.

Since then we have met in London and chatted about the book in detail. I have also written to those agents and told them the news. That was a scary moment, but I feel sure I am in the best possible hands. I know some people would have chased the other agents and stirred things up, but I had already heard from my first choice. I guess if I was unsure about her I could have stalled for time, but all of this feels quite underhand and wasn’t needed anyway.

I know that this is just the beginning and the hard work begins here. Hearing the news has brought renewed energy though – I have already got back to the manuscript and the ideas are firing.

If you are reading this and wanting to find an agent, be encouraged. Write what you love, and let the first draft be wholly for yourself, you don’t need an audience in mind at all. Then, when you’ve been through your work several times, have run home for it, edited and lost sleep, ask yourself if it’s as good as it possibly can be. That is the point when you need to look for your agent. Good luck!

‘I began to realize how important it was to be an enthusiast in life… if you are interested in something, no matter what it is, go at it at full speed ahead. Embrace it with both arms, hug it, love it and above all become passionate about it. Lukewarm is no good. Hot is no good either. White hot and passionate is the only thing to be.’ Roald Dahl, My Uncle Oswald.