When Your Mountain Comes Crashing Down

Do you remember those troubling times when after writing your first book you are faced with the unenviable task of finding an agent and then a publisher? I heard that J. K. Rowling’s book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected 87 times. I don’t know about you, but I think I would have given up long before that.

Do you remember when you suddenly found an agent and they were actually prepared to add you–a mere nobody in the world of literature–to their long list of well-seasoned, published, and successful authors? Oh, what unbelievable joy! And then, by a miracle, it seemed you had a publisher, and not just any publisher but an ‘A’ list one at that.

me and fredYour dreams have become a reality and a bright new world is opening its golden doors to you. Your name in silver lights, your book in all the shop windows of the world. Important people, who before wouldn’t give you the time of day, suddenly are keen to chat. Success is contagious, isn’t it?

Even when standing on the top of the mountain, though, storms may come. The views are fine at first but we should not forget that the mountain is not of our making. We don’t own it. We don’t control what we stand upon.

The decision by my publisher, without warning, to pull out of the fiction market altogether brought my mountain crashing down. I was suddenly cast into the valley of despair and left alone, looking up at a crumpled mass of dreams. My journey to the top, which I had imagined was completely irreversible, was in a moment dashed to pieces.


Amidst all the confusion and the devastation, in all the pain and grief, a still small voice struggled to be heard. At first I did not want to hear words of consolation, nor of encouragement. Not from my wife. Not from my friends.

Certainly not from God.

I wanted to have my say! I was angry at God and shouted, “What the hell are you doing with my life? Is that the kind of God you really are? To build me up, to set me on the top of the pile, only to tear me down?”

After a while the anger dissipated and, before I let depression seek me out, I heard the still small voice say, “The most important journey in life is not to reach the top of the mountain, but to journey inward and find Me in the depths of your own being.”

This was a truth I knew. I had long, long ago been set free by His truth. I knew that He dwelt in me, deep in my spirit. John 15:15 declares, “If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.”

Whose mountain top was I standing on?

St. Augustine’s commentary on the Christian faith says:

St_%20Augustine%202Enter into yourself. Leave behind all noise and confusion. Look within yourself and see whether there be some sweet hidden place within where you can be free from noise and argument, where you need not be carrying on your disputes, and planning to have your own stubborn way. Hear the word in quietness that you may understand it.

My wife Linda gave me some very good advice once: ‘”Let God be God, in all your life. He knows what He is doing.”

The Great Commission? – Redeeming Mankind through Fiction

Scientists, engineers and technological inventors, and business entrepreneurs say that humanity is on the cusp of a new wave of human creativity.


Instant communications are now possible via the web bringing literally thousands of minds together from all over the planet at one moment in time, discarding the limitations of geographical locations. Embryonic concepts and ideas, when shared on the global net, can result in brave new inventions with mind-blowing rapidity. Human thought can coalesce in a way that mimics the micro-world of biology by using chip technology. These synaptic pulses, occurring every second of the day and night in the global-brain, produce millions of new ideas and fresh concepts that have never before been thought of.

Laying the disciplines of science and technology aside, the same suppositions can be transferred to literature and writing. The impact of words via the global village has never been more fertile or dynamic in its capability to influence individuals, cultures, and nations. The power of the word is here and now.


Human endeavor is forging new boundaries, breaking out of the box of tradition and orthodoxy. We are thinking differently now–not just laterally, that’s old hat–in a way that resembles six dimensions. The equivalence of string theory and quantum mechanics is being applied to the arts and humanities, not only to science.
New thinkers are ditching personal labels. I am not just a scientist, not just a physician, not just an explorer of space, but much, much more. Exclusive thinking is out and inclusivity is in.

My own fields of interest are sufficiently broad to give me a big start in this arena. As an engineer with an academic university degree, I thought differently than my colleagues. I was a renaissance man. I brought my philosophic and artistic mind to solve engineering problems and conversely I used my engineer’s mind to help with the practical aspects of my own chosen art, writing.

For human advancement, we normally rely on non-fiction literature, factual manuals, scientific treatises, and political polemics. But consider that works of fiction, although essentially different to non-fiction in targets and goals, can nevertheless have a profound effect on shaping mankind.

When you read good fiction, there is a vital empathy between writer and reader. The reason it works for only one writer and millions of readers is that the empathy can be uniquely strong. It’s like a romance. Hands touch, eyes meet, and hearts converge as one beating heart.

The reader’s intimacy with the fiction tale, with the characters, with the drama, is both private and public. The reader becomes part of the plot. His or her mind is inextricably linked at a very deep level of consciousness. Whether the action is serious or comical, solemn or trivial, life or death, it is the precious human interaction occurring at the core of the exchange process of reading and being read.

The ideas expressed in the story, the emotions felt by the characters and the reader, the human landscapes travelled through are powerful persuaders, albeit whether obvious or subliminal.

My brand phrase ‘Redeeming mankind through fiction’ now makes important sense.

My faith mission as a Christian writer is to carry out the great commission that Jesus gave his disciples to take His message, the Gospel, to every corners of the world.

I was recently given a ‘word’ from the Lord. It was simple yet profound.

“As the Holy Spirit is intimately involved in the writing of your books, so the Holy Spirit will be profoundly involved when someone reads your book. The Holy Spirit will speak to the reader’s heart and truth will be imparted.”

I have already received testimonies from people who have read ‘Light of the Wicked’ and, deeply affected by the story, have gone on to search for God and salvation. For them it has been more than just entertainment; it has been a way of coming to know a God they thought did not exist.

Christian writers have an awesome responsibility not to just create entertaining books but to share the very gospel, not by preaching at the reader but by allowing the quality of the story to bring the reader into the presence of the living God. The reader, by coming into contact with a story that reflects God’s truth and life, is entering into a heart-to-heart conversation with the Lord himself via fiction. There’s a paradoxical truth.


Craft of Writing

“Craft – an activity involving skill to produce something by hand” says my newly installed Oxford English Dictionary. The origin of the modern word ‘craft’ is to be found in the Old English word ‘craeft’ which combined the concepts of skill and strength together.

If there was companion dictionary, like the expanded translation of the Bible, then we might reach a better understanding of our topic, like this for our opening definition:

“Craft – an activity [worthwhile human endeavour] involving skill [proving one’s dexterity, competent, virtuous, masterful, graceful] to produce [make, invent, fabricate, construct, fashion, create] something [worthy, honest, valuable] by hand.

When we focus on those activities which involve hands, there is also an intrinsic underlying meaning, a deeper meaning.  For instance, if you are a shipwright, a builder of boats, then you surely are using your craft to make something that is fit for purpose.

If you are a fisherman then you need to trust your boat. The boat builder knew that when he designed and built the boat, it would need to have numerous good qualities, you could even say ‘virtues’, that the boat users would need to rely on implicitly. It would need to be watertight, buoyant, stable, robust and strong enough to weather the worst storms and most of all it needed to be safe to protect the lives of the fishermen. When Jesus said to Simon-Peter, ‘Go out into deep water and cast your nets again’, the scriptures record that the nets began to break because they were so full of fish and the boats began to sink under the load. But sink they did not, for the boat-builder had done his job well. He had built a fishing boat that would not just take a big catch, but would stand up to a miracle.


Is there a craft of writing? I believe there is but it’s not what the textbooks say it is. It’s not the kind of skill you can simply learn and then apply. Not a mere crafting of words to make them sound good when read or spoken aloud. Not just a clever way of stringing sentences together or paraphrasing speech and drama to create an interesting story. Nor is it a means to earn lots of money. You can’t serve two masters.

No, it’s much more than all these things.

The key is in the picture shown above.

Simon-Peter, Andrew, James and John were all expert fishermen. They had good solid boats in which to fish on Galilee but Jesus saw something more than just the simple dexterity of their hands. He saw a dormant skill that was in their hearts and souls, a skill that was profound and could be used in the kingdom of God.

As writers, are we satisfied making good catches? Showing off our skills and craftsmanship so that others will applaud our artistry? Or are we like the disciples standing in the boat, willing to listen to Jesus and be obedient to him, and answer the calling of the Kingdom of God?

Our skill and craftsmanship is a God-given gift and as communicators we should always ask if our writing is fit-for-purpose and of great worth and value to the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth. Don’t settle with being a craftsman of the word, let the word craft you into being a disciple of the Lord

Noli Me Tangere

This painting is entitled ‘Noli Me Tangere’ and was painted by the Russian artist Alexander Ivanov in 1835. It depicts the moment when Mary Magdelene recognises Jesus outside the empty tomb. The Latin inscription translated is ‘Do not touch me!’ Jesus forbids her strongly to lay her hands upon him, but why?

Is there some mysterious process in action going on here, as yet unfinished, whereby Jesus’ body is undergoing change from his former humanity back to his eternal divinity? I do not think that this is the case. I think the answer to understanding this portentous moment is instead to be discovered not in Jesus, but in the state of his beloved disciples at this time.

In the darkness of night the soldiers of the Sanhedrin, with weapons drawn, came to arrest Jesus. Judas’ kiss of betrayal sparked off a violent reaction in the followers of Jesus, encamped with him at the garden of Gethsemane. The grove of olives became suddenly a place of pandemonium, as soldiers took hold of Jesus, as Peter and the other disciples tried to prevent his arrest. Other followers of Jesus, in fear of their own lives, fled. So fearful was one young man’s response that he ran away naked, leaving his clothes in the hands of a surprised soldier.

Later on, during that fateful night of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and flogging, the disciple Peter, Jesus’ most outspoken defender, vehemently denied that he ever knew the Son of God and not once, but thrice, said to his accusers, “I do not know him!”.

The disciples, almost to a man, were scattered abroad. Afraid for their own lives, they hid themselves away, whilst their Lord was brutally being beaten, broken, and finally crucified on the Roman Cross. They were all terrified.

What then happened to them? Between the time when they dispersed so easily, running away like cowards, and the moment after the resurrection, they somehow became men and women victorious in their faith.

Afterwards, they were now profoundly prepared to stand up for Jesus in the face of violent opposition. No longer did they fear for their safety or even for their own lives.

The same adversaries who had only days before crucified Jesus were now persecuting his followers.

A momentous, phenomenal, and very personal transition occurred in their hearts, one which galvanised their faith in Christ. The metamorphosis was not in Jesus, but in the disciples. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Look again at the painting above. Why did Jesus forbid Mary to touch him? It is as Mathew Henry says in his commentary of the Bible. Mary was ready, on encountering the risen Christ, to express her joy by affectionately embracing him. The original Greek translation of the passage in the Gospel of John does not use the word ‘touch’ but instead uses a far more revealing word in the context of this meeting. It is not ‘touch’ but ‘cling’ that is forcefully employed here.

Jesus says to Mary ‘Do not cling to me.’ In other words, she must not be familiar with him as she was in former times. She is not to dote upon his bodily presence, but is now to be in spiritual communion with the risen, resurrected Christ.

Of course, at this time she cannot fully comprehend his meaning, for the Holy Spirit had not yet come.

Mary was trying to cling on to her former joy in her relationship with Jesus. But soon she was going to experience a far more profound and eternal joy.

As Christians we can look upon the cross and be grateful for God’s mercy and know that we can have true salvation and be reconciled with the Father because of the staggering sacrifice that Jesus made for us, by enduring the pain of crucifixion and taking upon himself the sins of the whole world.

We need to move on from the cross and ask ourselves what is the difference between Jesus the Man and Jesus Christ, resurrected? To live the ‘resurrected life,’ we must focus all our attention on the resurrected Jesus and let go of Jesus the man, just as Mary was bidden to do.

The disciples underwent an awesome life-changing alteration when they perceived the resurrected Christ. They came to know that Jesus was not just a godly teacher, not merely the Jewish Messiah, but rather that he was, incontrovertibly…God! A truth they had not understood before when they had walked and talked with him. At Pentecost, after Jesus had ascended to the Father, the disciples all received the Holy Spirit. Their transformation from mere disciples of a Rabbi to believers in the Son Of God was complete.

Everything they had been taught from the lips of Jesus suddenly became mind-blowingly, irrefutably real. All their fears vanished, their confidence in him was made new, and their spirits were fearless.

They had become, by the grace of God, Christians… little Christs. They had been given the responsibility of taking the message to the entire world: that Jesus Christ has risen, is our Lord and Saviour, and is seated beside the Father in Heaven. They were now profoundly ‘in Christ and He in them.’

A Few Christmas Thoughts On Marketing


Would you trust a Christian?

How about a Puritan?

A Quaker then?

On cold winter mornings before I head out, I love a bowl of hot steaming porridge oats, with a dash of maple syrup.

With this in my belly, I am ready for anything the day may throw at me…well, at least until the mid-morning coffee break.

Look at the image of the Quaker man on the box. He’s adorable, trustworthy, decent, a law-abiding citizen. His smile is certainly reassuring. Admiring his rosy cheeks? Well, he could be Santa Claus.

His face says it all. Buy my products and you’ll feel as good as I look!

a pic of quaker%20oats%20man

I was in my local supermarket recently, when my keen eye spotted a bargain. I saw an offer on the shelves that was just too good to miss. A double-size box of my favourite porridge oats, with twice the usual contents, for a knock-down, give-away price of 30% below normal cost. My hand flashed out quicker than lightning. The big box was in my cart. The next day, ready for breakfast, I broke into my double-sized box of….what? I was shocked, then embarrassed at being so gullible. I trusted the Quaker man to deliver on his promise. What I got was, yes, a double-sized box, but inside it was 60% air! The actual contents came up to the level (take a look at the first picture) of the top of the wooden post.

As we head towards to the Christmas season when billions of dollars change hands, maybe we should all take a step back and reflect upon the potential of marketing and its ability to persuade us to buy products that patently don’t live up to the advertising.

Just for the sheer sake of it, I did a trawl through Bible Gateway to check if the following words and phrases ever appeared in the Bible.

Marketing, Selling, Sales Strategy, Search Engine,

Keywords, Customer Centric, Optimization.

You guessed it. None of them have a place in the Good Book. As writers, of course, we need marketing to get our message out there and reach communities, whether they be local or global. But we need to be discerning and careful to avoid the trap of believing and buying into the same secular trickery that sells anything to everyone. We should not be inveigled by the World, the Flesh and the Devil. Not be seduced to sell our sacred message by secular means.

I have often pondered this: What would I say, if God said these words to me?

”Fred, your book is great, but it will only sell one copy. The person who reads it will be changed and will become my servant and take the Gospel to millions of people all around the world, and all because he read your book. Alternatively, I can have your book sell millions of copies, you will be rich beyond your dreams, but only a few will be saved. My son, it’s your free choice.”

What do we ultimately want from writing books? Fame and fortune? Or to be walking in God’s will?

Of course, the Lord has a strategy to communicate his message to the world. Undeniably, he uses the power of the Word to get the message across to the greatest number in the most effective way. And he uses great orators to reach the lost, but persuasion is not their business. Their business is communicating the truth about the Son. The way God markets his message turns human wisdom and cleverness on its head.

When God wanted to free the Israelites from Pharaoh’s tyranny he sent a guilt-ridden, reticent, stuttering, fearful man called Moses to get the job done.

When God wanted to proclaim the coming of Jesus Christ he used an eccentric wild man, dressed in animal skins, eating locusts and honey in the desert.

When God wanted to save the world, he sent his all-powerful and eternal Son to be born naked in a stable for animals. As a human child he was vulnerable, weak, dependent and unable to live without his mother and father’s protection and care.

When God wanted to reconcile us to him, he allowed his Son be crucified, killed on a cross of wood, dying as a common criminal rejected and alone.

I wonder what the top marketing gurus and the best advertising companies would have come up with, if God had asked them to create a package to ‘sell salvation to sinners?’

They might have come up with a great sales strategy and a winning message to achieve customer optimization, perhaps throwing in an unforgettable slogan, an amusing jingle too… yet somehow, like the Quaker box of porridge oats I bought, I think it would fallen short, been so much air and less substance. I think their sales plan would have missed the target, somehow betrayed the truth, don’t you?

Waiting on the Lord


Isaiah 40 v 28-31

Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? There is no searching of his understanding. 

He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.  

Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall:  

But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. 

These verses describe a truth which is at first not apparent. The speaker asks us if we know that the Lord never faints and never grows weary.

He has an abundance of strength and power which he gives to the weary, to the weak, to the powerless.

Without these free gifts young men, who are full of vitality and natural strength, shall utterly fail.

Have we not been in these places? Places where we are weary and prepared to give up and give in to life’s pressures, where we are afflicted and powerless to defend ourselves against the evil one, where our faith fails us in the moment of personal crisis and despair, and then we feel hopeless. The speaker says we can call upon a faithful God who will rescue us in times of trouble. He has an abundance of strength, He fulfills our hopes, He stands firm when our faith in Him falters, and He snatches us out of the storm with His outstretched arm.

We could be forgiven for missing the nugget of gold hidden in verse 31 that is at first unseen, buried just below the surface. We have to dig a little, to discover how we are to renew our strength, to mount up on wings as eagles, to run like Olympians, to walk a hundred marathons and not faint from exhaustion.

In this passage there is a little word that holds a wonderful secret. “Wait.”

The speaker exhorts us to wait upon the Lord. In the original Hebrew, the word wait inherently has, within its meaning, a sense of meditation. Go to your private place, meditate upon the Lord. Think about Him, quietly, passively even, and wait. Ponder thoughtfully on the Lord’s wonderful nature; His love, His grace, His mercy, His forgiveness, His eternal limitless power that created all things, including us.

In the Hebrew, wait is a picture word. Many words in the Bible had powerful, visual meanings that have today become abstract and one-dimensional, so much so that when we read them, they have only a shadow of their former power. In the days of Isaiah (eighth century B.C), a person listening to the prophet speak would have heard the word and seen a picture in his mind’s eye. It would have resonated strongly with day-to-day experiences.

This is one such example.

Today, wait means, well…waiting for something to turn up, sticking around for something to happen. It even has a negative connotation. “Wait here and someone will see you soon…and wait…and wait…” Waiting implies impatience leading to frustration, anger, and even rage.

But in verse 31, God Himself asks us to wait. He has a perfect purpose in mind. The outcome for those who wait upon the Lord is mind-blowing, miraculous. The picture hidden in this word is the interweaving of the strands of a rope. What does this mean? It speaks of intimate communion, the intertwining of God’s Holy Spirit with us. Amazing! Our fragile and frail, weary and hopelessly weak strands are made strong when the Holy Spirit combines His unfailing, unbreakable strength with our own.

Ecclesiastes 4:12 says this: “And a threefold cord is not easily broken.”

What have we done to be worthy of this blessing?

Nothing! Except this, taken Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour.

It is by God’s grace and Jesus’s sacrifice upon the cross that we are re-united with the Lord.

The dynamic of verse 31 is an act of unreserved, unconditional commingling of God with us. Emmanuel.

The Craft of Writing

The dictionary defines ‘craft’ by making references to skill, dexterity, cunning, and even deceit. Of course, it is normally associated with a deft manual skill to produce a thing of value or beauty. Trying to decide exactly what is the good and acceptable product of a skilled craftsman we then descend rapidly into the shadowy realms of subjectivity.  One man’s meat is another man’s poison and all that.

I have just been reading George Orwell’s little manifesto entitled ‘Why I Write,’ which he published in 1946, the year I was born. Orwell was undoubtedly a craftsman, knew his craft well, and was literate and articulate enough to write succinctly about it. In the early part of the book, he lists what he believes to be the four main reasons, or motives, why a person would want to seriously write.

  1. Egoism
  2. Aesthetic
  3. Historical
  4. Political

The first motive is probably the strongest driver, if we are honest enough to admit to it. It is the desire to be seen to be clever, to be talked about, to be on the New York Times Best Seller List and even to be remembered after our death, though we won’t be around to bask in the glory.

Becoming a writer is an odd desire in many ways. What I mean is, if you want to be a painter, a carpenter, an engineer, a dentist or a doctor, it is assumed you will have to be trained and fully learn your craft before you can produce or do anything really good.

To become a writer is somehow different from all the other professions, in that you can go to university to study English literature and attend creative writing courses run by eminent successful writers. In the UK, I imagine hundreds do just this, and I guess in the USA it probably numbers in the thousands. But somehow it doesn’t quite work out in the same way as for the people who study diligently to become craftsmen in other disciplines. In my doctor’s office, I see on the wall his credentials proudly displayed–the Medical Certificate, which says he can practice as a GP. I look at that and trust him implicitly.

If writers had consulting rooms, like doctors, and I saw on the wall the University degrees in literature, philosophy, history and the like, would I assume that the holder of these prestigious awards was a great writer? We all know the answer to this question. It’s a simple, unvarnished ‘no’.

The craft of writing can be taught. The craft of learning to become a writer can be learnt, but it doesn’t guarantee that the student will be a great or even a good writer. But why doesn’t it?

Returning to George Orwell and his little essay ‘Why I write,’ he says this about considering what makes a good writer: “…it has to do with the writer’s early development; his subject matter will be determined by the age he lives in, by his acquired emotional attitudes, his temperament, his maturity and not forgetting the all-important motives, listed above.”

From the point of view given in the paragraphs above it is clear that learning the craft of writing is not enough. We can partition this activity as the objective study of writing. All the rest is established in the subjective department of the writer. This latter realm cannot be taught. It is indeterminate, unique, special, incalculable, complex, mystical, beautiful, tangible yet ephemeral, and at some precious moment even eternal.

It is the human psyche which holds the secret. What pours out onto the ‘tabular rasa’ is a miracle at times. Where does it come from? It comes from the life within. It can be good, bad and ugly, but when it is truly creative and inspired, it shows. And more importantly readers know it too. It becomes a shared experience par excellence. It binds us together in unity. It applauds the human race. It raises us out of the mire and places us firmly on the mountain top. Hallelujah!

PS – For some other writers’ views see :

  1. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King
  2. Ernest Hemingway on Writing, by Larry W. Phillips
  3. On Writing: Rethinking Conventional Wisdom about the Craft, by David Jauss

Learning to Become a Writer Can Be a Very Rocky Road!

Do we modern civilized westerners really know what it is to travel along a rocky road?

I have just finished reading a book called The Friar of Carcassonne. It is a terrible tale of religious persecution and the horrors of the Catholic Church Inquisition in 13th century Languedoc, a region of southern France, and the famed land of the Cathars.

One very common feature of medieval life was that if you wanted to get from Rome to Paris or Paris to Carcassonne, your choices of transport were few. Horse and cart, riding a horse or donkey, or going by Shanks’s pony–in other words, foot-slogging weariness for hundreds of miles. And the highways and byways were either hard, rocky, dusty roads in summer or icy, frozen lanes and quagmires in winter. Both descriptions could be understood to be a rocky road.

Can I seriously liken my journey in becoming a writer to a rocky road experience? Honestly, I don’t think I can. Sitting in a comfortable study, shelves full of reference books to consult with and now in these, our marvelous times, having a window onto everything through the screen of my PC. A good wife to provide cups of coffee and hand-made sandwiches at my request, a safe environment outside should I want a breather, and even a tender mattress to lie upon should I get overworked and need a nap.

What can I say on this subject?

My second thought took me back to a summer morning twenty-five years ago. Slipping out of the English Lakes holiday cottage at five a.m., I was bound for Scafell Pike, England’s highest mountain. I had planned the trip many months before, pored over the ordnance survey maps to find the best way up to the summit while avoiding any obvious hazards and dangers en-route. I had planned it well. Made a list of all the equipment I needed, and not just needed for the climb, but also in case of emergency, accident, or injury. I wrote a route map and planned to give a copy to a responsible person who knew where I was going and what time I was expected to return and who also would know what to do in the unlikely event I didn’t come back at the appointed time.

The night before my intrepid adventure, I checked my equipment against the list. I made doubly sure that everything was in good order especially my handy fell walkers compass. Triple checked that I had enough food and drink. Had I packed a whistle to raise the alarm and a camera to record the good bits and a pair of binoculars to see what was up ahead?

It was a great day out. All was well. I got to the summit late morning, and there was no one else about. Most importantly, I got back safely and on time, so thankfully the mountain rescue folks weren’t needed.

For sake of argument, disregard the comfortable study and the peripheral luxuries that often accompany the writer’s life. Consider the following circumstances in comparison. If a writer starts out his or her journey in a lackadaisical fashion, then only failure can be the result. If I had started out on the climb up Scafell Pike without proper planning or management or the right equipment then perhaps I might not have returned. I might have encountered many pitfalls on the way for which I had made no contingency plans and thus suffered the consequences.

To avoid the rocky road, the apprentice writer must plan ahead carefully.

A daily timetable is a very good idea. Work out which part of the day is the most creative and productive for you. Don’t fall for the ‘you must get up at dawn to be a serious writer’ jab. If you are a nocturnal creature, write at night. But remember most bad novels were written just after a good lunch.

If you must, put a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door, so you can concentrate while you are being productive.

Make sure your ‘climbing’ materials are all in good working condition and you have all of the necessities.

Here’s a last tip. A trio of guys, Dibell, Scott Card, & Turco, wrote a book called How to Write a Million and it has helped me a lot over my years as a writer. Check it out!

How have you overcome ‘rocky road’ experiences as a writer? In life?

From Stone Tablet to E-book


“There’s always room at the top,” said Daniel Webster. But who exactly he was addressing in his famous quote is up for discussion, seeing that he was a thorough-going elitist and excelled at being at the top.

However, it is true that there is always room at the top for those who set their sights on lofty peaks even if they come from lowly beginnings. For example, just look at the history of the Presidents of the USA including the present incumbent in the White House.

And there’s always a demand for talented, gifted writers, with relevant things to say.

These are challenging times for publishers, even perhaps the hardest times ever for traditional publishers. Remarkably it is only one generation ago that books and publishing had not really undergone significant change since the time of Caxton.

We, however, are already living in future-shock!

Nowadays it is fair to ask who or what is a publisher.

In times gone by, the publishing world was dominated by the big boys. The likes of Oxford University Press, Doubleday, Hodder Stoughton, Penguin Books, Faber and Faber, and Thomas Nelson to name but a few.

Now it is more likely to be ‘johndoepublishing.com’.

In the 19th century a whole new era in publishing began. A series of technical developments, in the book trade as in other industries, dramatically raised output and lowered costs. Stereotyping, the iron press, the application of steam power, mechanical typecasting and typesetting, new methods of reproducing illustrations—these inventions, developed through the century and often resisted by the printer, amounted to a revolution in book production.

Today a brave new world technological revolution has transformed the industry. We are on the verge of such dramatic and irreversible change that could effectively mean the demise of the printed, hold-in-your-hand, paper book.

Ray Bradbury’s book, Fahrenheit 451, depicted a society where books were systematically burned. In our society we simply don’t need them (printed books that is) anymore. We may see the end of the printed book in our own lifetime. Like Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984 we may need to search furtively in the backstreets and alleys of proletariat towns to find copies of old decaying books.

Publishing is about to take a leap into the future. The word out on the streets is change or die. Those who are always looking into the past are often blind to the present.

We can now read books on our laptops, iPads, and cell phones. It is so convenient. I can sit on train and carry a thousand books on my Kindle and access, read, interrogate, highlight, or listen to any of them within seconds.

Public libraries will one day no longer have books on shelves; instead, there will be terminals where we can ‘plug’ in and download any and every book ever written into our own personal private mini-chip. No matter what your point of view is, such a prospect is mind-blowingly amazing.

But where does all that leave publishing?

We have gone from the stone tablet to wax impressions, from papyrus to parchment, from paper to the e-book. It is difficult to predict the future of the printed book, but publishing and publishers will remain. They will, I am sure, change to meet the demands and the fashions of the times we live in. The ability to adapt is, after all, the difference between commercial success and bankruptcy.

To end my blog here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:

“Although electronic books, or e-books, had limited success in the early years, and readers were resistant at the outset, the demand for books in this format has grown dramatically, primarily because of the popularity of e-reader devices and as the number of available titles in this format has increased. Another important factor in the increasing popularity of the e-reader is its continuous diversification. Many e-readers now support basic operating systems, which facilitate email and other simple functions. The  i-pad is the most obvious example of this trend, but even mobile phones can host e-reading software now.” 

I love the touch, the smell, the sound of turning a page in the candlelight when I am reading a real book in bed, but the future is at hand.

In the not too distant future, our children’s children may well ask, “Grandma what was a book?”

But writers will always be needed…

Won’t they?

And of course there will always be room at the e-Top.

What is your view of the changing publishing industry?

Keep Doggedly at It – Writing That Is!


 Isaac Asimov at work                                         


Samuel Johnson, the 18th Century Englishman who penned the first dictionary of the English language said this of writing.

“A man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it.”

There is a lot of wisdom in this statement. I believe the main thing which separates successful writers from would-be is that most people who think they can write don’t have the stomach for it. Just like any other enterprise of worth it involves hours and hours of hard work.

On the radio this week I heard the story of two 12-year-olds, swimming hopefuls both of them outstanding athletes. The young boy said it was his dream to swim for Great Britain in the Olympics in 2012. The young girl said she had the same dream. The boy talked a lot about winning a gold medal. The girl got stuck into training. Five years later the young girl, now 17, has been picked for the GB team and she has a good chance of getting a medal. What about the boy? Well he’s still talking about winning, but he hasn’t even got a spectator ticket for the event. He dropped out of training long ago.

Here’s a quote from the Novelist Doris Lessing, “I don’t know much about creative writing programs. But they’re not telling the truth if they don’t teach, one, that writing is hard work, and, two, that you have to give up a great deal of life, your personal life, to be a writer.”

“The only difference between a writer and someone who wants to be a writer is discipline” Ayelet Waldman.

Bah humbug! Discipline, the bane of all who want to be a success overnight, can’t I just have it all without the discipline, the work, and the misery?

We all know the answer to that question. Lee Iaccoca said “The discipline of writing something down is the first step towards making it happen.”

Ernest Hemingway used to get up at dawn and write until lunch time then enjoyed his afternoons not writing. CS Lewis had a daily schedule which he kept to and that meant writing 4 hours in the morning and 4 hours in the afternoon. Jean Plaidy wrote 5000 words before lunch. Graham Greene did only 500 words a day, but look at the output. Isaac Asimov awoke each morning at 6 AM and worked well into the night, sometimes churning out entire books in a matter of days, amazing, but not for me.

Whatever your plan is just keep to it, doggedly, and then one day you’ll walk past a book shop with your own creation smiling proudly in the window.

I love this from Harlan Ellison “People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing. That you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones about and come down in the morning with a story. But it isn’t like that. You sit in the back with a typewriter and you work. That’s all there is to it.”

I leave you with this quote from your own John Adams, which is good advice to any writer.

“Let us dare to read, think, speak and write.”

How do you maintain discipline in your writing life?

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