Tag Archives: st augustine

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!

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.

The Ten Minute Guide to Augustine

22 Jun

If you pick up a copy of the July edition of Premier Christianity Magazine, and flick towards the back, you will find my ten-minute guide to St Augustine, entitled “The Restless Heart“. With a book (currently on offer at three for a tenner at 10ofthose.com) and an article on Augustine, I now appear to be a world authority ūüėČ

Christianity Magazine is usually a good read, even when it doesn’t feature my wonderful work, and I would recommend it. Below is a graphic from their article on Christian jargon, also in the July edition. It made me laugh, and I hope it does you, too.

jargon

The Fringe Benefits of Christianity

12 Apr

As I stood gabbing in church yesterday, as I do each Sunday after the service, my thoughts turned to how very convenient and helpful it often is to be a churchgoer. What had brought it to mind was my need to get some photocopies certified by a “suitable person” in order to open what is apparently the most security-conscious ISA in the world. Suitable people, by their definition, include ministers of religion and doctors. Naturally our church has a minister of religion, and for some reason we have more healthcare professionals than the nearest hospital, so it wasn’t a problem.

I started to wonder, though, how much more difficult it would have been if I didn’t attend a church. I mean, it’s one thing if you live in a nice middle class area peopled by doctors and teachers , or your social circle is packed with civil servants and lawyers, but what if that’s not true of you, and you don’t have a church? Obviously it’s still possible – we don’t live in a society segregated by class or wealth a la In Time, but surely it most be more of a hassle? Then I got to watching the little children tearing round the church as if they owned the place, which in a sense they do, and thought that maybe my childhood would have been poorer without that, too.

So here is my list the benefits of Christianity, apart from the obvious, intrinsic ones.* Some of these will apply to other religions and / or clubs and societies; this isn’t a competition, just some of the handy things I have noticed in my many years as a practising Christian. (And yes, being a practising Christian does necessitate going to church, unless you live on a desert island or North Korea or the like. You can’t be part of the Body of Christ on your own.)

* For the avoidance of doubt, the obvious, intrinsic benefits of Christianity are the salvation of your soul, the forgiveness of your sins, a relationship with God and so on.

Signing documents

As above. Churches are supposed to be the best places in Britain for social integration, providing an opportunity for members to meet and become friends with people of different social classes or ethnic backgrounds. So if you need a doctor or teacher to sign your passport form, you’ll probably find one there, along with the obligatory minister of religion.

Making friends

It can be extremely hard to make friends in modern, western society. It’s fine at school and university, but after that opportunities are a bit more limited. You’ve got work, of course (although I work from home, so that’s out) and maybe the gym or choir or whatever else you’re into, but it can take a long time to make real friendships. You can’t do the five-year-old “let’s be friends!” thing. You’ve got to invite the other person for coffee or similar, and then actually find the time to do it, before you can move tentatively up the friendship ladder until you’re in and out of each other’s homes and laughing about shared jokes. Then, if you move home, you’ve got to do it all again.

If you go to church, you have a ready made pseudo-friendship group (well we have to be nice to each other – it’s in the Bible), and one where it’s very easy and natural to develop real friendships. Of course, some churches are friendlier than others, but they all have times when you can all meet up (Sunday services) as well as, usually, mid-week meetings of smaller groups. If you’re in a small group with someone you get on with, you’ve already had coffee together several times, and got to know a fair bit about each other, before either of you has to make the first move to arrange to do something socially. (As you can imagine, the same principle applies to dating, too. In fact, people have been known to go to church just to get a girlfriend, St Augustine included. That is not a recommendation.)

I have lived in lots of different places, in the UK and Albania, and my life would have been vastly more lonely if I hadn’t been able to find a group of people to hang around with, from the very first Sunday. I have fond memories of kafe dhe llafe (coffee and chat) after church at Guri i Themellit in Tirana, and most of the people I know in Lushnje that I’m not related to (and some that I am) are from the church Kisha e Dishepuejve – including my husband, whom I met there.

There is a problem with Christians having only or mostly Christian friends. It can give you a rather cushioned view of the world, if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor, and making friends outside church is something Christians should work at. But I would respectfully submit that a good part of the problem is not insularity, but the sheer ease of making friends within the church rather than outwith.

Freedom for kids

I haven’t been a child for a long time, so I could be wrong about this, but I can’t think of many places where kids can socialise in a large building (church, church hall, graveyard) with a number of kindly adults keeping one eye out for their welfare, but basically letting them get on with it. Most of the adults that kids have contact with are either related to them, or being paid to spend time with them. Given the kind of news stories we’ve had so much of recently, you could be forgiven for thinking that’s because everyone else is a paedophile. I just think it must be healthy for kids to have social contact with normal adults in a non-professional setting.

I think it’s also probably good for their self-esteem and sense of responsibility to be part of a community that goes from birth right up to old age (the oldest lady in our church is well into her nineties). The children sometimes take part in services or do a Christmas play, and are a real part of the church. Their talents are encouraged and their efforts are praised. All that probably makes it easier for someone to turn into a well-adjusted, responsible citizen later on.

Freedom from kids

The other side of it is that kids tend to disappear to Sunday school for at least part of the service, giving their parents some much-needed time off – although they do have to spend it singing and listening to a sermon, like it or not.

Music practice

And not just music practice, but tech practice, public speaking practice, childcare practice and so on. There are lots of activities to get involved with at a church, because everything in the church that isn’t done by the paid staff (usually only the minister) is done by the people who attend. Yes, some of it may be a chore, but some of it presents excellent opportunities. When else, apart from in a school, are you going to get the chance to perform on your musical instrument regularly, in a group of other musicians, even if you’re not yet of professional quality? Where will the nervous newbie to public speaking have the chance to perform readings or short talks to a fairly supportive audience? Where will you get the chance to be trained (for free) on a sound desk or projection system? There may be other places, but church is certainly one of them.

Elder care

Opportunities for socialising can be particularly difficult to come by if you’re elderly, especially if you don’t keep well or are unsteady on your legs. Church is a great place to mix with people other than your own family, but it’s also a place where people will go out of their way to help you socialise – or at least, my church is, and I assume most others do the same. People will arrange lifts to help you get to church, check up on you if you don’t show up for a while, and even visit you in hospital. Even if it’s only the pastor visiting because it’s his job, it’s a good remedy for isolation. If you’re planning to be old and infirm, it’s probably a good idea to join a church before you do so.

Understanding literature

One that’s dear to my heart, although I realise that not everyone will consider this an important fringe benefit of Christianity: a background in the Bible, gleaned from many sermons as well as private study, will help you to understand references in older literature – and there are tonnes of them! Writers like Dickens and Trollope would throw in biblical quotes and allusions without ever pointing them out or explaining them, because in those days every educated person in Britain, and most uneducated ones, had at least an acquaintance with the teachings and stories of Christianity. Even into the early twentieth century, novelists, short story writers and poets would pepper their work with Christian references, ironically or otherwise, and just expect people to keep up.

These days, when most people in the UK do not have a working knowledge of Christianity (as evidenced by this particularly egregious piece of drivel, saying both that Jesus did not exist and that his bones have been found), these references can pass by uncomprehended or even unnoticed, which robs the works of some of their richness. If you’ve spent your formative years in a church, you’re much more likely both to pick up on them and to understand the point the writer is making. Of course, that doesn’t help you at all with the fact that nineteenth-century writers also had a tendency to throw in lines in Latin or French without translating them. Sorry about that.

None of this is intended to be an advertisement, by the way. Naturally I would heartily recommend faith in Christ to anyone, but due to his being the way (to heaven), the truth (about everything) and the life (to the full) rather than for the reasons listed above. However, if you are a churchgoer, maybe these will give you reason to be even more grateful. And if you have got out of the habit – maybe you should get back into it.

Review of Augustine: The Truth Seeker

12 Jun

Danika Cooley, of the website Thinking  Kids, has kindly written a review of Augustine: The Truth Seeker, giving advice about how it would fit into a homeschooling curriculum. Specifically she identifies these subjects as ones where Augustine would fit in well:

  • Ancient History
  • The Early Church
  • Manichean Beliefs
  • The Donatists
  • The Roman Empire
  • The Fall of the Roman Empire

I don’t actually know Danika, so you can get an unbiased view of¬†Augustine¬†by reading her review. Or better still, form your own unbiased view by reading it yourself! It’s available from Christian bookshops and online (Amazon, Eden, TenofThose, Christian Focus website etc.).

Calling all truth seekers!

23 Apr

You are warmly invited to the launch of Augustine: The Truth Seeker on Thursday 1st May at 7pm in Faith Mission bookshop, Glasgow.

Augustine is being launched as part of a special prizegiving evening (which doesn’t mean they’ll be giving out prizes, it means it’s a chance to buy prizes for children to receive at upcoming church prizegivings) and there’s 15% off books on the night.

There will be drinks and nibbles, a talk about St Augustine and the book, plus a reading and the chance to chat and ask questions. The event will go on till 9pm, but feel free to drop in just for a short while if you have other committments.

I hope to see you there!

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Game of (Heavenly) Thrones

17 Mar

I was very excited a couple of days ago to receive through the post my author copies of Augustine: The Truth Seeker. It’s a brilliant feeling to hold your own book in your hand, and I have been waving a copy in the face of everyone I know, with what must be very irritating squeals of excitement.

Game of Thrones

I was going to write a post telling you about the book, and how you can get hold of it. (This is still something of a mystery – I have my copies but no bookshop seems to yet. Can’t be long now.) However, I have been watching a lot¬†of the HBO series¬†Game of Thrones recently – all three seasons in just over a week in fact, because we got a short-term Sky Entertainment pass. And I noticed some interesting similarities with my own work. Therefore, instead of telling you all about how wonderful¬†Augustine: The Truth Seeker is, let me tell you why it’s just like Game of Thrones – but with a PG certificate instead of an 18.

  • It’s about an ambitious young man from a semi-noble, but not monied, provincial background trying to make it in the big cities of the empire. Remind you of Littlefinger?
  • Barbarian hordes start invading from the north and east.
  • Some people hold to the old gods, some to the new, and there are weird mystery religious from foreign lands with a worrying hold over believers.
  • Pretenders to the throne keep cropping up, and at one point in the book there are three monarchs, including a King (ok, emperor) in the North who comes south to try and take the whole lot.
  • Crossing a narrow sea was quite a big deal in both Game of Thrones and Augustine’s time. Especially when you did it with an army.
  • Family members scheme to undermine each other’s power base. (I’m thinking of City Prefect Symmachus and Bishop Ambrose – and just about any of the Lannisters, Barathaons and Greyjoys.)
  • Both have an emphasis on mothers who wish they had more influence over their wayward sons (Monica with Augustine, Catelyn Stark with Rob and Bran, and of course Cersei with Joffrey).
  • There’s a lot of celibacy, in the Night’s Watch and various religious orders of George R. R. Martin’s world, and in Augustine’s Monastry in the Garden. There’s also a lot of the opposite, when Augustine was a younger man – and everywhere in Game of Thrones.
  • Illegitimate sons who are dear to their fathers have an important role to play.
  • People drop like flies. Don’t get too attached to the characters in¬†Game of Thrones¬†or¬†Augustine.

Of course, I’m being a bit facetious. It’s not just the lack of dragons in¬†Augustine that distinguishes it from Game of Thrones;¬†there are far more fundamental differences, the key one being that in Augustine’s world there¬†is¬†a truth that can be discovered, and the one who sits on the heavenly throne turns out to matter a great deal more than the earthly game of thrones. There’s also a lot less nudity and swearing of course, although there is some violence and “mild sexual references”. It’s aimed at the 12 to 14 age group, or mature ten-year-olds, so nothing too graphic.

So there you have it: Augustine: The Truth Seeker, the PG Game of Thrones. I await the phonecall from HBO about TV adaptation rights.

Read an E-Book Week 2014

3 Mar

REAW 2014This is Read an E-Book Week, and therefore you should probably read an e-book. Preferably one of mine. This is an especially good time to try out my electronic offerings because my short story collections are free on Smashwords all this week, using the code RW100.

I had thought that my first post of this month would be about the release of my new book Augustine: The Truth Seeker. However, Augustine  is a little late (possibly held up by bad weather on the Mediterranean Рyou know how these Ancient Roman sea journeys can be) so download a short story or two to keep you going until then. I will be sure to inform the whole world when I do finally have my shiny new book in my possession.

Cloudy, Chance of Rage

29 Jun

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Without wanting to give away too much about my age, I remember computers before Windows. If you don’t remember that, it’s hard to even imagine it. I know that there are all sorts of interfaces now, and many people are critical of Windows as an inferior system, but whenever people complain about I wish I could sit them down in front of a black screen with a green flashing > and say to them, “Go on, make it work. Oh, you don’t know the commands? TOUGH!”

Now, I’m not in the pay of Microsoft, and I don’t know a huge amount about computers. I just “mmm” vaguely when people talk about the superiority of Linux, because I really wouldn’t know (although I’m very much not a fan of Apple, albeit for reasons that generally don’t have much to do with their software). The point I’m trying to make, though, is how amazing the modern interface is. You click on the wordprocessing icon with your mouse, the word processor opens on your screen, you click somewhere in the text and start typing. Let’s break that down a little:

You use your mouse to move an arrow that¬†isn’t really there (it’s just different pixels on the screen changing colour giving the impression of movement). You use it to click on an icon that is also just some differently coloured pixels on a screen. From this your computer is able to tell which program you are trying to open, even if you moved that icon halfway across the screen only seconds before. When you open the menu (which conveniently has little words like “open” instead of requiring you to input the computing commands you don’t know) and request a file it will trawl its digital depths to retrieve reams of data which it then presents on-screen in the form of a typed document. But it’s not a typed document, it’s lots of incomprehensible binary data just pretending to be a sheet of paper and some ink. Then, when you move your non-existent cursor over the imaginary document it is able to tell where amongst the words that are not really there you have selected, and when you type it updates its confusing string of data in such a way that more pictures of typed letters appear on the screen exactly where you want them.¬†

I do it every day – I’m doing it now – but when I stop to think about it, it’s still amazing.

However, all this not-really-there-ness has a downside. You can lose a paper document, of course. You can rip it, spill coffee on it, accidentally set fire to it. The ink may even fade over time until it’s impossible to read. But it won’t disappear in a puff of smoke. That’s exactly what can happen to digital files, though, and it happened to me today.

Now before anyone starts to wag a finger at me and talk about backing things up, I did, and that was what caused the problem. I backed up the completed manuscript of my children’s biography of St Augustine in a cloud-based storage facility. That takes¬†not-really-there-ness to a whole new level. I can open files on my computer now, that not only aren’t really words on paper, but aren’t even complicated data on my computer pretending to be words, because they’re not on my computer at all,¬†they’re only hovering there in an insubstantial, wraith-like way, while the actual data is on a server far, far away. Too far away to kick when it manages to eat the last hour of work you’ve produced.

All was not lost, however, as I eventually managed to restore a “conflicted” file that turned out to be the proper file, but there was much ranting and raging up to that point. It makes you feel so helpless. I searched for different versions of the file, I searched for words that I knew were only in the completed version, but the computer kept telling me it did not exist. It also makes you question your sanity.¬†“But I saw it!” I kept saying to the computer. “It was there! I typed it! I¬†did!” If it hadn’t been for the presence of a friend who saw the finished version, I might have started to doubt it myself. After all, there’s no evidence, no inky marks on your thumb, no impression of the words on a writing surface or another piece of paper. There’s just the computer telling you that the collection of data you spent hours tapping away at does not exist. And if it says so, it’s right, because these things only exist by the grace of the computer. I may have made this point before, but digital documents¬†are not real.¬†It takes you right back to that feeling of helplessness facing the flashing green > without the proper commands.

At some point in the next six months, that errant electronic manuscript will become a real, paper-and-ink book, and then it will be a lot harder to make it vanish. Until then, perhaps I should just try the form of paper-based storage known as printing.

The Consolations of Growing Up

23 Oct

Last week I unwisely finished reading The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman shortly after watching the end of Peter Pan (2003) on TV. Both of them have bittersweet endings involving the hero or heroine growing up and leaving behind friends or family who are unable to join them – either because they are ghosts (in the case of The Graveyard Book) or because they are Peter Pan, and have vowed never to grow up. Both of them left me in tears – although, to be fair to myself, I had been working rather hard, feeling stressed and staying up too late, which can make anything seem worth crying about.

Absorbed in quick succession these works can leave you feeling that “to grow up is such a barbarous business”, that growing older is not just a tragedy but also some kind of failure, as if every year you allow to slip by is a betrayal of the happiness of your youth. For me personally it doesn’t help that I’m approaching a milestone. Not that this is your average milestone, mind you. I’m not turning thirty or having a child or anything, but I will soon be older than Alexander the Great ever was. That probably means nothing to you but I’ve idolised him since I was 17, and now that I’m about to outlive him (barring accident), it’s impossible not to notice that he achieved more with his life by this point than I have.

Fortunately, I have an excellent antidote to all this morose calendar-watching. I am currently studying the life of St Augustine, another towering figure from antiquity who, like Alexander, suffers a lot of misunderstanding and bad press. Unlike Alexander, though, Augustine spent quite a lot of his youth faffing around, getting into trouble and wondering what it all means. It wasn’t until he was about the age that Alexander died (incidentally also about the same age that Jesus died – a strangely significant age, apparently) that he surrendered to God, pulled himself together, and made something of his hitherto pointless life. He went on to write some of the greatest works of Christian literature and to use his remarkable rhetorical powers trying to bring unity to the church and godliness to people’s lives. He lived to be 75.

Most of us don’t achieve that much with our early lives. Although there are always exceptions, like Alexander the Great, Pitt the Younger and Premiership footballers, most of us are just getting started by the time we’re thirty – which is fine, because there’s a lot of life still to come. In fact, much as we may look back with fondness on the “blue remembered hills” of our childhoods, we tend to get better at almost everything with age. Adults are more skillful than kids. I find I can knit better than I could as a child, translating Latin has mysteriously become easier (although it’s still extremely hard), and don’t even get me started on child actors or (shudder) children singing.

In fact, it’s not even clear if the sadness in Peter Pan is that Wendy must grow up, or that Peter never will. Their separation is caused by the combination of those two factors, not by one or the other. So I will be sad to overtake Alexander and leave him behind me, eternally youthful, but perhaps more for his sake than mine. After all, getting older might sometimes be pants, but it’s better than the alternative.