Thérèse of Lisieux: No credit where it’s due

27 Jul

The latest edition of Premier Christianity magazine features my article on Thérèse of Lisieux, a French nun who had the quickest canonisation of anyone in the Catholic Church up to that date. (Canonisation is being declared a saint, in case you’re not up on the lingo.)

This the article that I mentioned was bumped from the magazine because of Billy Graham’s death, and then leapfrogged by my later article on Richard Wurmbrand. But Thérèse would have loved that. She was self-effacing to the point of being completely self-negating. Her ‘little way’, as she called her philosophy, was about denying every self-focussed impulse, however justified it seemed, and instead living a life of sacrificial love for others, to the greater glory of God.

I found the story of Thérèse of Lisieux challenging. The first challenge was learning how to spell her name, of course. But more seriously, her absolute denial of self makes you question your own ‘reasonable’ level of selfishness. When she was dying of a painful illness, those who didn’t know her well thought that she couldn’t be seriously unwell, because she was so uncomplaining. I am not that uncomplaining, to put it mildly.

I didn’t agree with Thérèse on everything. I think she took self-negation too far, to the extent that she thought it might be wrong for her to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation (specifically the scent of flowers). But there is undeniably something to strive towards in her determination “to appear happy, and especially to be so”, despite the worst of personal circumstances.

You can get a copy of Christianity magazine for free, but if you subscribe at the moment you get the first year at half price (making it less than twenty quid for the whole year), and you’ll be entered into a draw to win £200-worth of Christian books!

Of course, if you want to follow Thérèse’s example, you’d better hope that you don’t win the books. But don’t worry, if you do win them, you can just give them away. 😉

Advertisements

Smashwords summer sale

5 Jul

It’s now July, which means that finally the date on the calendar matches the gorgeous weather. (Yes, I’m very much a hot-weather person.) It also means that the Smashwords summer/winter sale has started!

It’s called the summer/winter sale to include readers on the other hemisphere as well. I’m not sure if I have any, but if I do – hello!

The Smashwords sale means that you can get a huge number of ebooks for 50% off, 75% off or free – and mine are free! It includes Leda (YA adventure) and my short story collections A New Year’s Trio (romance) and Office Life (and Death) (humour), as well as the single short story Running for Cover (romance). It doesn’t include Augustine: The Truth Seeker or Patrick of Ireland: The Boy Who Forgave because I don’t control their pricing.

If you haven’t read any of my work yet, or one of these is missing from your collection, go ahead and download it before the end of July. And if you already have all of these (you wonderful person!), why not point this offer out to a friend instead?

Here’s to reading on sun loungers!

What do you really believe?

4 Jun

First of all, welcome to my new subscribers who have come over from the newsletter! (And if you’re thinking, “what newsletter?”, there’s a sign-up button just over there. ➡)

My latest article for Christianity magazine is in shops now. This one is on Richard Wurmbrand, because poor Therese of Lisieux got bumped due to the death of Billy Graham. Fortunately, I can be fairly sure Therese wouldn’t mind – you’ll see what I mean when her article finally comes out.

Richard Wurmbrand, despite having a name that looks very Germanic, was actually Romanian (the “W” is soft, in fact). He is best known for having been horribly tortured and imprisoned for many years because he was a Christian pastor under the atheist communist regime, and he wouldn’t preach what he was told, report on his parishioners to the secret police and generally be a good boy. When he finally got out of the country, he exposed what was actually happening in ‘tolerant’ communist Romania.

I get the impression Wurmbrand would have been quite a difficult man (he’s dead now – died in 2001), stubborn and strong-willed – but God made excellent use of these virtues that could easily be vices. (I can’t help thinking about what the people I write about would have been like in real life – which ones you’d invite to a dinner party, and which ones you’d just send a Christmas card to.)

This article is to tie in with the 50th anniversary of the founding of Release International, which works with and for persecuted Christians around the world, and was inspired by Richard Wurmbrand. They have also brought out a 50th-anniversary edition of Wurmbrand’s book, Tortured for Christ. I suppose I should recommend that you get a copy, but I’m not going to; it’s pretty horrific in places, and things read can’t be unread. Get In God’s Underground instead. It’s also by Wurmbrand but it’s more informative and less graphic.

Wurmbrand was pretty quotable, and the title of this post refers to something he wrote:

“A man truly believes not what he recites in his creed, but only the things he is ready to die for.”

I hope never to have my beliefs tested by facing death or torture (sorry, Therese), but if it ever did come to it, I hope that I would be found to truly believe the things I say I believe. So what do you believe?

Free audiobooks!

11 May

Throughout the merrie month of May, my novelised biographies of St Patrick and Augustine of Hippo are available from Christian Audio for half price. That’s three hours of educational entertainment for $4.98 (which is about £3.68 in real money).

But better yet, if you take out a free trial membership (cancel within 30 days or you’ll be charged for the following month – you know the drill), you can get them for FREE! If there’s one thing better than a good book, it’s a free good book.

You can also give them as gifts apparently, although I’ve never done that, so I don’t know how it works. Worth investigating if you have a tween/teen/person who’s interested in late Roman, Irish, North African or church history on your birthday present list.

Happy listening!

Europe’s Forgotten Hero

25 Apr

Statue of Skanderbeg in Tirana

I’ve got an article in the May edition of History Today magazine. This is exciting because it’s a new ‘market’ for me, but also because the article is about Skanderbeg – someone I think more people should have heard of.

It’s easy to assume that Albania’s national hero, a medieval warlord, was always an obscure figure. Albania is a small country, after all, and has often being under foreign domination to boot. The genesis of this article came about when I visited the National History Museum in Tirana and saw a display of old books about Skanderbeg – not in Albanian, but in Italian, German, English, French… Clearly, there had been a time when Skanderbeg (or Skenderbeu in Albanian) was a lot better known. So, years later, when I found out 2018 was the ‘Year of Skanderbeg’, I finally looked into it, and wrote the article.

If you’re interested in Skanderbeg, and want to know about the sources I used, use the ‘Get in touch’ form on the right. Otherwise, simply rush out and buy the magazine. It will be in shops shortly, if it’s not already, and it’s the edition with the bright blue cover and a picture of a very creepy looking mermaid with oversized ears. You can also read the article online.

I’ve got a couple of articles coming up in Christianity Magazine, too, so I’ll blog about them in due course. In the meantime, I need to get on with the work in progress, The Sarcophagus Scroll, which is getting tantalisingly close to the magic 50,000 words at which you can indisputably call it a novel. Better not leave it at 50,000 words, though, since we still don’t know whodunnit or why 😉

 

Read an Ebook Week 2018

5 Mar

March 4th to 10th is Read an Ebook Week, so all my ebooks are free on Smashwords.

The books included are:

That doesn’t include Patrick of Ireland: The Boy Who Forgave or Augustine: The Truth Seeker because they are from a different publisher – but if you really want them, you can probably stretch to six quid, right? If not, petition your local library to stock them, if it doesn’t already.

See Paris and Diet

1 Mar

The other weekend, hubbie and I went to Paris for the first time, to celebrate our wedding anniversary. Paris in the springtime is supposed to be very romantic. Of course, we are still in the Never Ending Winter® so it wasn’t really like that, but despite the gloves and big coats, we had a good time. Here are a collection of impressions and musings about Paris, for you to be enlightened by or disagree with, interspersed with random photos of Paris Metro signs, because I just really liked them. (My husband didn’t. In one of the photos you can see him hiding his face in embarrassment at my touristy snapping.)

You can get surprisingly far with schoolgirl French

In fact, I topped up my half-forgotten French with a quick Memrise course, but even so, I was astonished how much of it I was able to use. I had heard that people in Paris just take one sniffy look at you trying to speak French and then reply in English, and there were a couple of those, but mostly people were perfectly happy, even pleased, that I was trying to speak their language. And at least two people we dealt with didn’t actually speak English. Yes, even in Paris.

Paris is not as lovely as I had hoped

Probably most of the top tourist destinations are over-hyped (except Rome – Rome is amazing), but it was still a bit of a disappointment to find at the end of the trip that I didn’t really like Paris. I was disappointed in the city and also kind of disappointed in myself because I really wanted to like it. But…

  • it was pretty dirty and smelly;
  • lots of people were rude and pushy – literally, in the context of public transport;
  • waiting staff take your drinks when you’re not finished. Just because I’ve asked for the wine list, that doesn’t mean I’ve finished with my champagne. It’s called planning;
  • waiting staff make you move seats for no reason at all. Seriously, in an empty cafe they will come up and tell you that you must move one chair to the left, or you must sit facing your date instead of beside him. In one case my coffee ended up all over the floor because of an unnecessary move and I was fumingIf I’m in Paris again and asked to move, I may just say ‘non’ and see what they do about it.

It’s not all waiters, waitresses and shop staff who are condescending and pushy, but enough to leave a bad taste in the mouth. I should say, though, that most of the time we received decent, friendly service. Just keep a firm hold on your drink.

The food was amazing

Whatever we may have disliked about the weekend, the food was definitely the bit we liked best. From a seriously stuffed bagel, eaten at a grubby outdoor table, to a cosy little restaurant (Un Air de Famille – strongly recommended), to the various chocolate shops peppered around central Paris, we scoffed with abandon. The coffee was also uniformly good. I discovered that the way I take my coffee (with a splash of milk) is called noisette  in Paris (maybe the rest of France too), which saved time. The length of the coffee varied from barely more than espresso to proper coffee-cupful, but the quality was unfailing. A place with good coffee and good food can’t be all bad 🙂

But now I’m back in Glasgow, where we’re no slouch at metro signs ourselves (okay, it’s the subway, but you know what I mean), so here’s a lovely picture of Cessnock Underground. And my husband thinks I’m weird…

Cessnock Underground Station

Three little-known signs of dyslexia

2 Feb

Here’s my latest piece for the Dyslexia Scotland blog, about the signs of dyslexia you might not be aware of.

A Life less ordinary

child-daydreaming

When I was in primary school, my new teacher asked everyone in the class to tell him something they thought he should know about them. I remember that I wrote something along the lines of, “If I’m staring into space, don’t stop me – I’m thinking up stories or imagining.” That’s not very surprising for someone who went on to be an author, but I didn’t realise at the time that it was probably a sign of dyslexia, too. I wasn’t identified for many years after that, but a tendency to daydream or ‘zone out’ is more common for dyslexics. Often, we don’t even realise we’re doing it, and can completely lose track of time!

There are other things that can be signs of dyslexia that people wouldn’t normally think of. Most people know that dyslexia affects reading and writing, but there are signs that have nothing to do with…

View original post 247 more words

Love Your Local Library

1 Feb

Library books

This is less a blog post, more a public service announcement – or at least, a readers’ and writers’ service announcement. I’m sure most writers will know* about the Public Lending Right (PLR), but I get the impression that a lot of readers don’t. Some people perhaps feel guilty if they borrow a book from the library instead of buying it, even if, like me, buying all the books you read in a year would consume most of your annual income.

You can stop feeling guilty! Writers get paid when you borrow their books from libraries. Now, there are a list of exceptions and exclusions (you have to register; it’s only in some countries; private libraries don’t count; you have to reach a threshold; there’s a cap on how much you can get) but I don’t want to go into them and obscure the major point: writers get paid when you borrow their books from libraries!

The Public Lending Right Act came into force in 1979, after a lot of lobbying by writers’ groups, securing a small payment each time a copy of an author’s book is borrowed. Fair enough, it’s not much. In fact, I think it’s about 7p per loan at the moment. But every little helps when you’re a starving artist, and it’s not as if royalties from sales are particularly high either.

So please, stop feeling guilty if you get your fix at the library rather than the bookshop. You are supporting the writer. (If you’d like to support a writer who’s not stocked by your local library, you can request that the library get their books in.) And please, please, keep using libraries and borrowing books. Not only are you making it more likely libraries will stay open to benefit future generations of readers, you’re also helping authors like me. 😃

(Feel free to share this with fellow bibliophiles.)

*If you’re a published author and you don’t know about the scheme, here’s some information on how to register for PLR payments.

The Scandalous Mothers of the Messiah

19 Dec

It’s Christmas time (just about) so for your delectation, ladies and gentlemen, here is a little essay I composed about Jesus’ genealogy. (No yawning at the back!) It was inspired by something in Companions on the Bethlehem Road, a book of meditations and poetry that I read every Advent. The author, Rachel Boulding, mentioned that all of the women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy were gentiles, which is quite striking, but when you look into it further, their stories were more scandalous than striking.

I originally wrote this piece for the Dangerous Woman series, which had published my piece on Arsinoe (Cleopatra’s sister), but they decided against this one – possibly because I sent it much too close to Christmas. But when you’ve got your own blog, you don’t need any notice at all to get a post up in time for Christmas.

Given the frequency with which I post, I imagine this will be my last post for the year. So merry Christmas, and have a great 2018 when it comes!

Scandalous Mothers of the Messiah

Rahab and the Spies

The very first words of the New Testament are “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham.” The verses that follow give a list of Jesus’ ancestors going back over a thousand years. You may have heard them recited if you have ever attended a traditional Christmas service – “Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob” and so on, until it’s time for the next carol.

These days, genealogy is a hot topic, with celebrities and ordinary people keen to find out about the long-forgotten ancestors that made them who they are today. However, unless you’re a real fan, you could be forgiven for simply letting the names in Matthew chapter one wash over you as you wait for the ‘real’ story. But there is a story within the genealogy, and it has to do with the five women who are named alongside the 41 generations of men.

Women don’t usually appear in Jewish genealogies; they are lists of fathers and sons. (Have a look at Ezra chapter seven in the Old Testament, for example.) So who are Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba, Ruth and Mary, and what are they doing in this patrilineal list? The answer reveals that bold women crop up in the most unexpected of places, even in candlelit carol services.

Let’s start with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Her story is well known, and acted out by five-year-olds each year: a simple girl who graciously accepted her part in God’s plan to save the world. Young, humble and virginal, she seems like a threat to no one. And yet, her decision took enormous courage. Jewish law said that if a girl was engaged to be married but was found not to be a virgin (and most people would take pregnancy as proof of that), she should be stoned to death. If Joseph had not accepted her child as his own, Mary faced not only shame, but possibly death. Her decision was dangerous – and world-changing.

Then there is Ruth, a foreigner who loved her Hebrew mother-in-law so much that she followed her back to Israel after they were both widowed. Hard-working and faithful, she seems like the perfect moral exemplar to feature in a list of the Messiah’s ancestors – until you look a little more closely at the story of her second marriage.

Ruth put on perfume and her best clothes, and crept into a room full of men in the middle of the night to propose marriage to one of them, slipping away home before first light. There’s nothing strictly wrong with any of that but, as in the case of Mary, it certainly looks bad. Ruth was already an outsider because of her ethnic origin, but she risked her reputation in the town that had become her home in order to provide a future not only for herself, but for the mother-in-law she loved. Once again, if her husband-to-be had been less honourable, things could have ended badly.

But this list isn’t about honourable men protecting women who take risks. Bathsheba earns her place because of King David’s far-from-honourable behaviour. Her name isn’t given in the list. The text says, “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife”, but that brief account glosses over the fact that David and Bathsheba had already had a child together, conceived while Bathsheba still was Uriah’s wife.

It’s debatable how much choice Bathsheba had in the matter – if a woman is summoned by a libidinous king, and doesn’t want to have an affair, who can she appeal to? But however that meeting went, there’s no question that David committed adultery with Bathsheba (again, a capital offence) and then had Bathsheba’s husband killed to cover it up. None of this is mentioned in the genealogy, but Matthew’s original Jewish readers would have known all about it.

They would have known, too, about Rahab – or ‘Rahab the harlot’ as she is traditionally known. She also seems to have had a business producing cloth out of flax, but that’s not the profession she is remembered for. So much of ancient history is just hints and guesses, and we don’t know whether prostitution was acceptable in her society, or if she would have been an outcast, but of course it was not at all acceptable for women in Jewish culture.

She enters the story of Jesus’ genealogy because she took in the Hebrew men who came to spy on Jericho before attacking it; hers was a house where, naturally, strange men coming and going wouldn’t have raised suspicions. She then transferred her allegiance to the invaders, believing that God, and history, were on their side. She hid the two spies from the authorities, presumably at the risk of her own life, and bargained with them for the safety of her family. She then married a husband from the conquering Hebrew tribes (quite possibly one of the men she had protected) and became an ancestor of Jesus.

Tamar was also caught in prostitution, although the circumstances were very different. She had been married to two brothers, one after the other, but was still childless upon their deaths. Her father-in-law, Judah (the brother of Joseph, he of technicoloured dreamcoat fame) still had a third son. According to custom the remaining son should have married Tamar once he reached an appropriate age, but years went by and it was clear that Judah did not intend to give his final son to Tamar.

So Tamar took matters into her own hands. Disguising herself as a veiled prostitute, she waited on a road she knew her father-in-law would take, and he partook of her services. The ‘shrine prostitute’ kept Judah’s personal seal as a guarantee that he would send payment, but when he kept his promise, he was told there was no shrine prostitute in the area. Tamar fell pregnant and Judah, with breath-taking double standards, ordered her to be killed; but when she produced her sexual partner’s personal seal, he was forced to admit, “she is more righteous than I.” So Tamar was left to live in peace as a single mother.

What is the purpose of including these five names, attached to stories that range from the unseemly to the utterly scandalous, in a list of the ancestors of Jesus? Plenty of scholars have commented on the fact that all these women (with the exception of Mary) were gentiles – non-Jews. They emphasise the fact that the Messiah came for the sake of the whole world, since gentiles were even included in his lineage. But it’s more than that; other men on the list married foreign wives. These women are not merely included as foreigners, but also as women, and as individuals.

These are women who took risks. They are women who, by choice or by compulsion, found themselves outside the bounds of societal acceptance, but did not quail. Their place at the very start of the Christmas story challenges the sanitised, nativity-play version of the incarnation. Instead, these women point to a Messiah who would not turn away from the unacceptable, the foreign and flawed, the sinned-against and the most scandalous sinners; because these women are who he came from – but they are also who he came for.