Surprised By Agape – A Work of Heart

There’s a joke I often see on social media that goes ‘an atheist, a vegan and a CrossFitter walk into a bar. I only know because they told everyone within two minutes’ and it always gives me a little chuckle.

This article is going to open by me proving it true.

No, I’m not a vegan (I have too much of a weakness for bacon sandwiches) and no I’m not a CrossFitter (see bacon sandwiches). What I am is an atheist and I have been for the majority of my adult life and I therefore approached Surprised by Agape by Justin Wiggins with a small amount of trepidation. I do not avoid books with religious themes, in fact I push myself to read a lot of books (both fact and fiction) that convey the themes and the stories that are pertinent to differing world religions in the very firm belief that knowledge and understanding is how we will all find a way of getting on better with each other on this planet of ours. I was however a little worried, as this was a memoir of the author’s personal journey to faith, that I would feel preached at, informed that the road the author was on was one I should follow too. I picked up the book though as I had seen the reviews from previous readers and there were certain parts that intrigued me.

(The rest of this article may contain spoilers -if there is such a thing in a non-fiction book- so just a warning for any readers going forward)

Justin begins the book with a very open and honest account of his struggles with mental health and the depression that nearly led to suicide. Luckily, Justin was pulled back from the brink of that tragic event but the road to recovery, as he documents, is not an easy one. I think anyone who has ever suffered with depression or suicidal thoughts will be able to appreciate the journey Justin has been on (and indeed is still on) and will know the value of finding something to focus on during that period. I myself have been there when the world felt as though it would be a better place without me in it and I too was lucky that a split second decision changed the outcome of the day. I found my focus in reestablishing my creativity and, just under a year later, the birth of my daughter. These are the things I look to whenever that voice comes to me again. For Justin, his focus and the aim of his recovery was the discovery and the growing certainty of his faith. Where this part of the book could have run the risk of becoming preachy it is instead presented with such heart and such a focus on his own self that it is instead inspiring. It is truly a joy to read that from such a bleak period of his life he was able to find a focus for his recovery. You read the passage and you cannot help but be grateful, whether a believer or not, that there was something there for him to hold onto.

For me, Justin’s way of presenting his faith in the Christian God is such a healthy one. He does not insist that all should follow, instead he uses the power of his faith to embrace all. Not only has it given him power to love his own life but to also seek out new experiences and friendships and to appreciate the world as a whole including the different ways people live in it.

The second part of the book was something I was not expecting. I knew that the book would focus on the author C.S.Lewis who, quite famously, returned to Christianity and weaved the mythology into his stories. I had imagined that Lewis would be used as a comparison to Justin’s journey, instead I was faced with a selection of detailed and insightful essays into Lewis himself, his life and his works. Whilst I have enjoyed the Narnia series, I have not read anything else by Lewis but, having read Justin’s book, I now have a lot more of his works on my to read list. The analysis of the retelling of the creation myth, Perelandra, was fantastically done and I will definitely be bumping the trilogy it features in to the top of my list.

I have certainly walked away from Justin’s book with a wealth of education on a writer I had known purely as ‘the one who wrote about Narnia’. I think for anyone with an interest in Lewis or the Inklings in general would do well to include this book in their studies as it is well researched with an strong bibliography of sources for further reading.

Again, as with Justin’s own story, Lewis’ struggles with faith and his ultimate reconnection with religion, are never presented with any condescension. Instead they allow you to better understand the man and the motivations behind his literary works.

I did not hesitate to give this book five stars when I formally reviewed it. It is heartwarming, insightful and full of such understanding that it would be well received in any circle. I certainly felt welcomed to the text as a reader with a different world view and at no point was left uncomfortable by the content. This, to me, is the mark of a truly accomplished writer when dealing with such a polarising subject as religion.

I certainly look forward to seeing more from Justin, non-fiction and fiction alike.

Check it out and see for yourself – Here

 

A Necessary Leave of Absence

Hello!! Yes I am still alive and finally back to work.

I decided at the beginning of the summer holidays in the UK that I would reduce the amount of content and original writing I was working on for a few weeks. This quickly turned into the whole six weeks and on reflection it was a break that was very necessary.

I didn’t stop writing entirely, instead I turned my hand to fan fiction and indulged in the luxury of being able to write for the pure fun of it. I realised during this time that I had been working on my original writing rather than enjoying it and I was falling out of love with it. I was creating content for various sites including this one, struggling to find a way to market Dust and Glitter, alongside writing a novel and short stories. Quite frankly, I burnt out.

I have taken some time during my break to reevaluate my writing and I’m definitely back in the driver’s seat but I will be structuring my time a little differently, I want to love this again and so I need to find a good balance.

I will continue to produce content on here but things will start to look a little different- hopefully it will all work. Watch this space for more to come.

Speed Writing – Buadhach

Well today’s WIP Wednesday was indeed a very quick WIP. I don’t think I’ve ever worked on or finished a piece of fiction so quickly.

I’m participating in the annual literary exhibition at our local museum and this year we are writing pieces inspired by artefacts in the museum. I had my piece finished weeks ago, a fun little piece about a time travelling clock. We needed to keep the piece short, two sides of A4 in standard type. Easily done. Except the formatting was different to what I was expecting. Rather than standard novel text, the paragraphs were being spaced meaning my story went over more than two pages. I could cut it but the piece was already very short and I had no words that I could stand to lose.

So, with less than twenty-four hours, I had to pull a story from the ether to replace it. I couldn’t use any of my banked stories as they didn’t relate to a museum object. Luckily I happen to work in said museum and know it well so I managed to pull a few objects to mind. An ancient blade called itself to mind again and again so I gave it over to the muse and let my fingers meet the keys.

Buadhach was the result. A story of a warrior and her blade.

I don’t know if it’s any good but I’ve sent it in all the same. Here’s hoping speed in this case was my friend rather than my enemy.

Trivia Tuesday – Alone Amongst the Stars

When I was considering which story to focus on for this week’s Trivia Tuesday it wasn’t too much of a leap to look at Alone Amongst the Stars- one of the longer science fiction pieces from Dust and Glitter – especially in light of the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landing.

I have always been fascinated by space, especially the prospect of us one day exploring other worlds in our solar system. The thought that humans might land on Mars during my lifetime (or if not in mine then in my daughter’s) is awesome. I want to be like the people who sat glued to screens in 1969 watching Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins head to the moon on a mission that was crazy and dangerous and oh so exciting. I want to sit and watch the intrepid human beings that will leave Earth and head to Mars, the pioneers of our future. I want to hold my breath as they blast off from the launch site. I want to watch broadcasts from the journey and hear about what they’re learning. I want to feel the anxiety and adrenaline as they make that final descent and then step out onto an alien world. I’d never be brave enough to go myself so I have to live vicariously through those who are.

I read an article a while ago that suggested that whilst the moon landing needed the fighter pilots and the dare devils, the mission to Mars will need people of a different ilk. They will need to be people that can cope with solitude, in cramped spaces, with boredom. They will face long months of space travel with only those travelling with them for company and they will probably never get to come back to Earth. There are studies being undertaken as to what sort of people can cope with the conditions a mission to Mars will entail and this will then be the formula upon which those in charge will choose who heads to the red planet. The idea being that these people will be as close to the perfect pioneer as possible but, as with everything, there is margin for error and in that I found the plot for Alone Amongst the Stars.

I wanted the crew of the Bowie (yes I went there) to be as diverse as possible when I created them (not easy to do in under 10,000 words when you have a lot of people to include) as it is my hope that whoever we send represents as many walks of life as possible. Names and nationalities were deliberate throughout and I had wanted to go deeper into some of their back stories but again the word restriction made it difficult. I’m hoping perhaps to revisit it one day and turn the story into a novella where I can give much more of a history to all the crew members.

Being set in space I could have had any number of things go wrong for the crew, solar flares, ship malfunctions, alien attack but I always find the scariest stories revolve around one single entity- a person. We are by far the most dangerous and frightening thing in the universe- for every great act of brilliance we always have a similarly great act of destruction. It was therefore obvious to me that the greatest threat to the ship would be one of the crew but that the resilience of the others would pull them through.

There is certainly scope for further stories for the crew of the Bowie and I am certain I will write them at some point- I still need to find out myself if they ever get to Mars.

rocket nasa liftoff royalty free
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Dust and Glitter is Two Months Old

On May 24th 2019, Dust and Glitter, my debut short story collection was released upon the world. This is it, I thought, this is my moment. My time to shine. I wasn’t expecting to hit the bestseller list by any means but I was hoping for a few sales and some of the feedback that came with that. For everything I did expect though, there were a hundred things I wasn’t and they have thrown me completely for a loop.

I had thought the hard work was over when I submitted the final manuscript but I swear I have worked harder for the book than I ever worked on it. It is my constant motivation, my load to carry. Everything I do as Elizabeth Montague (and even somewhat in my personal life) is done in the view of how can this help Dust and Glitter find its place and gain the readers it deserves. It is something that has worn me down, made me doubt, made me want to give in. I have felt crushed under the weight of the book I have created. I have felt out of control and out of my depth. I’ve begged, pleaded, cried over how I can achieve all I need to achieve. I have fallen dramatically out of love with it.

I could so easily have given up, even after only two months the temptation has been there. Dust and Glitter has almost reduced me to nothing more than the first part of its name.

I have always said Dust and Glitter is about life, about the bad and the good. Boy have I seen the dust. I have felt like dust but then, as I wrote myself in its pages, along comes the glitter. I have had to search for it. Strive for it. I’ve had to seek out those tiny shining moments in the storm that has been the last two months.

This week an interview I completed just after the book’s release was finally published in the local paper. It was a wonderful piece about the creative progress, the meaning of the book and about me as an author. I was really surprised to see it, least not because I only found out it was being featured when the day job tagged me in a Facebook post about it. Their pride in me, so publicly displayed, and then the response I began to receive from friends and customers was overwhelming. I don’t know if it will lead to more sales but it’s nice to be known. For people to see what I have done. This is my glitter moment for the month, the part I’m going to hold onto because the journey is not yet over and the road is still bumpy.

I have to remind myself every day that I have done more than so many in just getting the book to publication and I need to enjoy the ride.

If you would like to read the article from the Bishops Stortford Independent (our amazing local paper) you can do so here

Exciting News – Tempest

Some exciting news received yesterday in camp Montague, my short science fiction story, Beginning…Capital B, has been accepted for publication in Tempest- the new science fiction and fantasy anthology from Clarendon House Publications. The story is a reworking of the Christian creation myth and I really enjoyed putting it together so I hope people enjoy reading it.

Publication date tbc so watch this space.

Tempest

WIP Wednesday- Fun in the Fandom

So this week has been all about writing indulgence and I have loved working on my fanfic. I’ve luckily found myself in a very accepting and responsive fandom which makes writing the story even more fun.

Having the pressure of writing original fiction taken off has certainly settled me down. I was very much on the cusp of chucking the whole writing thing in but I had the realisation that I was working for the wrong reasons and I needed to learn to write for me again.

I’ve not totally abandoned original fiction, in fact I’ve been working on a piece for our annual writing exhibit as well as plotting some short stories for coming anthologies.

For the main though I’m having a lot of fun with my borrowed characters and stretching my wings in the fandom world again.