Not Sure Where They Are Going

–              Oh, there’s a café!  Can we stop?  I’m gasping for a cuppa.

–              No. We’ve only just set off.

–              We haven’t. We left ages ago.  We’ve been going for hours.

–              One hour, 31 minutes, actually. And I’m not stopping. We were late enough leaving as it is.

–              Well, that wasn’t my fault. It was you, suddenly deciding that you had to check all the tyre pressures and stuff.

–              I only did that because you were still packing!

–              Yeah, right.

–              Anyway, we’re not stopping. There’s a roundabout coming up. Which way do we go?

–              What? Oh flip, hang on…

–              Which way?

–              I don’t know – hold on – um – where are we…

–              Where are we? You’re supposed to know. You’ve got the map.

–              Slow down, will you, I need to check the road signs.

–              I can’t slow down.  There’s cars right behind me! Right then! OK…

–              What are you doing?

–              What does it look like? I’m going round and round the roundabout, like flipping Zebedee, until you tell me which way to go. Look at the map, will you? Or shall I pick an exit at random?

–              All right, keep your hair on. OK, we go that way.

–              Which way?

–              Left.

–              Yes, but which left?

–              That one! The next one!

–              You sure?

–              Yes!

–              Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful. They must think we’re absolute nutters, going round three times.

–              OK, OK, calm down. We go left at the crossroads coming up. See, sorted.


–              Where are you going?

–              Left.  You said turn left.

–              No, no, I meant the other – I meant right. Oh, whoops, sorry…

–              Oh, priceless! I don’t know why on earth you’re navigating when you can’t even tell left from right.

–              OK, I’ve said I’m sorry! All right! Just turn round. It’s no big deal.

–              No. There’s nowhere to turn round. You look at the map. This road’s got to go somewhere.

–              You could’ve turned round there, in that driveway.

–              There’s someone right behind me! I’m not turning round.  Use the map, won’t you? Find another route.

–              You never turn round.  I don’t know why you won’t do it.  Is it some sort of macho male pride thing?  Like never admitting you’re wrong or saying sorry?  Remember Jackie’s wedding last year?  We drove ten miles out of our way because you wouldn’t turn round.

–              It was only seven miles. And you were the one who got us lost in the first place.

–              Yeah, it’s always my fault, isn’t it?  Why don’t you navigate and I’ll drive?

–              Because we’d still be stuck behind that farm tractor, getting covered in bits of straw, that’s why.

–              That’s not fair! I drive perfectly well and I’m quite capable of overtaking tractors.

–              Are you joking?  You don’t even know where fifth gear is. Anyway, you’re navigating.  Get on with it!

–              Fine! OK … I think we’re all right. If we keep going it joins the main road.

–              Good. OK. How far, then?

–              I dunno. Half an inch?

–              Oh, heaven grant me patience!


–              Where’s the main road?  We should have joined it by now, I think.

–              It was that underpass, wasn’t it? I knew it!

–              Oh, no, was it? But there wasn’t a way on to it … I don’t get it…

–              It’s the map – look at the map!  If there’s lines there, then they don’t join and it’s just a bridge … oh, I’ll show you later! We haven’t got time for lessons in basic map reading now. There’s a village coming up. Try to find us a way back on to the main road, for heaven’s sake.

–              OK, hang on, I need to turn the map around…

–              Not again…

–              Someone ought to invent a map that rotates.

–              They have! It’s called a sat-nav and I wish I’d got one right now, instead of a dyslexic illiterate who can’t tell north from south!

–              Left at the junction.

–              What! Are you sure? But that’s east and we need to go west.

–              Left!

–              Right!

–              No, left!

–              I meant all right, OK, OK? I’m turning left. This has better be right…

–              Well, it’s left.

–              Ha ha, very funny.


–              See! The main road! Told you so, oh ye of little faith.

–              Good. About time too.

–              How about a thank-you?

–              What! You got us lost in the first place!  That’s half an hour wasted, wandering around the wilds of the countryside.

–              Yeah, all right. They were pretty villages, though.

–              This isn’t a scenic tour. I want to get there today, not next week.

–              I know, I know!

–              Well, at least we’re on the right road now. So, no problemo… Straight on for – how long?

–              Hang on, um, I’ll have to add up all the little blue numbers…7, 19, 25 … um … 41, 48,  54… 54!

–              54 what?

–              I dunno! Kilometres? Or is it miles…er…

–              Great!  Kilometres or miles?  It does make a difference, you know!

–              Hold on, there’s a key … kilometres! Yes, kilometres!

–              Fine!  OK – not too far. It should only take about forty minutes.


–              Come on! Come on!! Typical flat-capped Sunday morning drivers, driving like it’s a hearse… hurry up, won’t you?

–              He’s doing sixty. What’s the problem?

–              He’s not. He’s only doing fifty-six, actually.

–              Oh, stop correcting me! I really wish you’d stop doing that!

–              Come on, for heaven’s sake, it’s a straight road. Why are you dithering about like this?  Are you taking your granny for a picnic? Get a move on! Right…

–              What are you doing?

–              Isn’t it obvious?

–              Oh, shi…take mushrooms. Oh, that was close.

–              Nah – there was miles of room.

–              Are you kidding?  You nearly hit that lorry!  You’re a maniac! There was a double white line – you’re not supposed to overtake.

–              It was perfectly safe. Stop making such a fuss. Anyway, at least we can get going now and make up for some of that lost time. We might even get to use fifth gear – look – that’s where it is.

–              Yeah, ha ha, very funny.

–              OK, now we’re moving…

–              Um, can we stop soon? I need the bathroom and I’d love a cup of tea.


–              What was that? That flash? Oh, that’s peachy, that is.  Did you see that?

–              What?

–              Money-grabbing thieving highwaymen! Swine! That camera got me! I was doing fifty-four, that’s all!

–              Well, it is a fifty.

–              What! Why didn’t you say so?

–              What, tell you you’re driving too fast? I wouldn’t dare.

–              Now I’ll have to go on one of those farcical stupid waste-of-time speed awareness courses. Oh, that’s all I need…

–              Humph. It’s probably about time you did anyway.

–              Oh, stop looking so smug. You drive over the limit, too.

–              I thought I couldn’t find fifth gear?

–              You’ve always got an answer, haven’t you? Right…

–              What are you doing?

–              Stopping.

–              Why?

–              You said you wanted to stop.

–              In a café, not in lay-by! I meant a tea and bathroom stop!

–              Well, there’s a hedge, isn’t there?

–              Don’t be so horrible. I’m not going behind a hedge. I meant at a café or services or something and you know it.

–              Yeah, all right, we’ll stop at the next one. Anyway, get out.

–              What?

–              Get out.

–              Get out?

–              Yes. We’ll swop. I’ll navigate and you can drive.

–              Oh! Oh – I thought you were going to abandon me!

–              What on earth? Don’t be such a drama queen! Of course I’m not. But I’ll navigate the rest of the way. I’m not going to risk another ten-mile detour through the depths of the countryside.


–              Turn left. Then left at the T-junction.

–              Right. I mean, OK.

–              And it’s about half a mile, on the left. Where’s the booking stuff?

–              In my bag.

–              OK, I’ll get it. If I can find it – it’s like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag in here. What have you got in here? Camera, apples, flask, torch, can-opener, string, diary, notebook  …Good lord…  Why have you brought the address book?

–              I thought I might send a postcard to someone.

–              I can’t see the booking form. Where is it?  You’ve got everything in here except the kitchen sink, but no form. Don’t tell me you’ve left it behind!

–              OK – I won’t tell you…

–              Have you?

–              No, of course not! It’s in there. In an envelope thingy. A blue thingy.

–              Oh, a blue thingy.  I should have known. Of course, it’s obvious. You mean this, don’t you? This plastic wallet.

–              Yes, that. It’s in there. See – I hadn’t forgotten it. You just couldn’t find it.

–              Well, of course not. Not in this mess of stuff and string and goodness knows what. Anyway, here it is.

–              Hey, isn’t that the place? That sign up ahead? But it’s on the right – you said it was on the left. Did you get your left and right mixed up?

–              OK, smart-arse! So I made a mistake. Be careful, watch that gatepost! Careful – you – oh – I don’t believe you just did that. Oh, that’s the icing on the cake, that is. There goes my no-claims bonus.

–              Oops! Sorry! It’s not my fault anyway. Your car’s too wide. And it was only a tiny bump.

–              A tiny bump!  Heaven grant me patience!

–              Amen to that…

–              Of all the careless, slap-dash, half-blind idiots… I don’t know how you ever got through your driving test…

–              Ssshhh!

–              What?

–              Ssshhh! Hello?

–              Hello! Welcome to the Grace Abounding Christian Conference! Do you have your booking confirmation?

–              Yes, here it is.

–              Thank-you! Did you have a pleasant journey?

–              Yes, it was – pretty straightforward, actually.

–              Oh, yes, it was wonderful, best journey I’ve ever had…

–              Ssshhh! Sorry, um, he’s had a bad day… don’t mind him…

–              OK. Well, here’s your id cards and free lanyards, and here’s your map and programme, and the guide and list of speakers. You’re on Beige seventeen, right next to the Big Top. You’ve got a couple of hours before the evening praise and worship session, so you’ve got plenty of time to put up your tent and get settled in.

–              Right. Thanks.

–              And here’s a voucher for a free coffee or tea at the Fair Trade café, and a £5 book token for the bookshop, and the opening times for the supermarket, and also a 10% discount voucher for the South American craft stand…

–              OK, ta.

–              There you go! That’s everything. And we hope that you will have a blessed week here at Grace Abounding!

–              Well, she was nice, wasn’t she?

–              Yeah, if you say so. Pull over.

–              Why?

–              I want to see what damage you’ve done.

–              All right! I’ve said I’m sorry! I’ll pay for it – OK?

–              That’s not the point. OK, it’s not so bad. I don’t think you actually hit the gatepost, just the hedge. Right, swop over. I’ll drive. I don’t trust you over these potholes.

–              I was going really slowly!

–              Oh, for heaven’s sake, swop! Get out!

–              All right then!

–              Right.  Yes, you’re all right. You just hit the hedge.

–              See!

–              Anyway, while we’re stopped, let’s have a dekko.

–              Huh?

–              The programme, you ninny.  Let’s have a look, while we’re here.

–              OK. Right, here you are.

–              Hmm.  ‘Fifty ways to share your faith’ with J. Ernest Throckmorton.  J. Ernest Throckmorton? What sort of name is that?  Sounds like a….

–              You can’t think of anything funny, can you?

–              Shut up!  Right… ‘How to stay married and not kill each other’…

–              What?

–              Joking!  OK, how about this – ‘Naked and loving it’…

–              Huh?  Really?

–              No, don’t get too excited.  It says ‘a word by word exe – er – exejeesisis thingy of the story of Adam and Eve.

–              Exejeesisis?

–              I dunno… dunno what that is…

–              Hey, we should go to that one!

–              Which one?

–              That one. Tomorrow morning!  Look…look, you twit. See. ‘Lost?  Let the Almighty help you find direction in your life’!

–              Hah! Yes, brilliant!  But it would take more than the Almighty to help you find the right direction…

–              Well, at least we got here!

–              Eventually. OK, come on, you nutcake, let’s go and see if we can find Beige seventeen or whatever it’s called…

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Christian Thrills from The Gardener’s Daughter

I’ve just galloped through ‘The Gardener’s Daughter’ by K. A. Hitchens.  It is a fast-paced thriller, with an intricate plot and subplots, high-quality writing and a neatly satisfying ending.  The characters Zavier and Boody are particularly delightful. There is a chilling depiction of the Holiday Camp ‘from hell’ which made me shudder.  It opens one’s eyes to the dangers and horrors of working in the underpaid service industry in this country, and what can happen to cash-paid, illegal immigrants, no matter how hard they work.

Read it if you enjoy Frank Peretti but aren’t too keen on the American right-wing evangelical Christian viewpoint.  Read if if you enjoy the ‘Poppy Denby Investigates’ series by Fiona Veitch Smith. Read it if you want an exciting adventure and detective story with a Christian worldview that isn’t preachy or obvious.

gardeners daughter

Spoiler alert!



The core of the story is a retelling of the ‘Prodigal Son’ and Ava initially comes across as a bit of a brat. I disliked the way she stole the money and walked out in a teenage strop, and didn’t do the obvious, grown-up thing  – going back, saying sorry. And her selfish, self-centered actions had a huge cost to her family and friends – destroying part of their life’s work, almost burning to death her father’s most trusted associate .  But that is the point of the story. And by the end, she has changed. I had to forgive her, of course!




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Feeling tense?  Need a flashback?

Do you know the difference between the past tense and the past perfect tense? It’s fairly common for novice writers to slip between tenses without realising it, so that the reader gets the odd impression that he’s stepped back in time, then forward to the present, then back again. So knowing the difference is important.

Here is my simple explanation, before we delve into flashbacks. Most writing is in the past tense e.g. ‘Diana stared with amazement as the squirming puma rolled across the savanna’. Oddly, even though it is in the past tense, the reader has the sense of immediacy, of the action happening now.  The only writer I’ve come across to use the present tense significantly is Damon Runyon e.g. ‘So I stare at the puma on Broadway but then I run straight into Harry the Horse’.  (But I’ve just come across another example, ‘All the Light We Cannot See’ by Anthony Doerr) The past perfect is like a doubled past:  in the past someone remembers or discusses something that happened even further back, and almost always has a ‘had’ in it e.g. ‘Diana told us that when she was in Africa she had stared with amazement at a squirming puma’.

The past perfect is what you need when you put a flashback in. However, the difficulty occurs when the flashback becomes an extended sequence. Most writers will smoothly guide the reader from past perfect into past so that the flashback becomes something experienced now.  E.g. ‘Diana remembered when she had stared with amazement at a puma. George had mocked her expression. She turned and shot him in the foot with her hunting rifle, then walked brazenly into the savanna and shot the puma.’

But when to make the switch? How many verbs or phrases or sentences in? I thought it would be easy to hunt through a few novels and find some examples of how the experts do it.  It was strangely difficult:  most of the places I found with flashbacks were just too complex and subtle:  interlaced with present emotions and events, or barely a sentence long.

But here’s one: from the ‘Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Royce:-

After the map present, they had taken an outing every day. She accompanied him to the crematorium with roses for Elizabeth, and afterwards they stopped for tea at Hope Cove…

This slips from past perfect with ‘they had taken an outing’ to past with ‘she accompanied him’. It’s interesting how soon the switch is made. I would have made it later, would you? But it’s even more interesting how few novels, even the brilliant, complex ones with interlaced sections of present and past events, use flashbacks like this.

I think maybe extended flashbacks aren’t that good an idea? Some advice is to reduce all flashbacks to a single sentence.  So that they are written as a short, simple memory from the point of view of a character.  Or just write in time, forwards, with no retrospectives to the past.  Like most novels.   What do you think?

I’ve been thinking about this because in one of my novels I have three main characters, separated for a long period of time, but with significant events happening during that period. So I have, in the present, the father searching for his son and travelling south, then I have the distant past (after he meets an old friend) and we get the history of what has happened to that friend (several chapters, covering many years and a key part of the plot) and then the narrative thread has to jump to the son’s experiences over the last few weeks, before all three join up. Long, unavoidable flashbacks. Interleaving the events so that it is all ‘now’ just won’t work. Aaargghhhh…






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L is for Leviathan with a Fish-hook

Interesting to hear about another good-sounding a Christian Fiction book. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m going to put it on the list.

Just another Christian woman...

I’d like to mention another work from a fellow member of the Association of Christian WritersLeviathan with a Fish-hook, by S L Russell.  I’m afraid I haven’t read it yet, but it has been added to my Christian Fiction TBR pile. It’s part 1 of a trilogy and has had great reviews.

One of the things that comes across in reading the feedback, is that Russell has mastered the combination really great writing with a realistic Christian storyline.
It’s hard to get that right!

Here’ the blurb…

When Eileen meets Christopher, a young man with a mental illness living rough in the woods near her home, her quiet life is shaken.

Eileen is a Christian trying to live by her faith. Tentatively she befriends Christopher and gains his trust, but as his story unfolds she finds herself increasingly drawn into his life of fearful visions and spiritual…

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Classic Adrian

The Shadow Doctor by Adrian Plass

Wonderful Adrian has written another novel, and it’s brilliant. Enjoyable, full of wisdom and insight, great concept, compelling characters.

Thanks to a revealing posthumous letter from his honest and fascinating Grandmother, Jack meets the Shadow Doctor:  a tantalising and mysterious man who asks Jack to join him. Despite doubts about what his role is, who the ‘Doc’ is, what his secret agenda might be, Jack joins Doc in various encounters with troubled strangers. Along the way they share whisky marmalade, Indian takeaways, odd conversations and intriguing discussions about the frustrations and liberations of Christianity, until Jack oversteps the protective boundaries that the Doc has put around himself.

If you enjoy thinking outside the standard Christian box, if you enjoy mind-stretching concepts, or jokes about centipedes (worth reading for this gem alone) then you will enjoy this book. Highly recommended.  As good, if not better, than his short stories (The Visit, The Final Boundary, Father to the Man).

shadow doctor

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The Passing of Time

How do you show the passage of long periods of time when not much happens?

‘Several months passed’ – dull, dull, dull

‘Ralph grew almost overnight, it seemed. One year he was an earnest boy, the next year he was eighteen and had grown into a slender young man, as tall as his father’ –  a bit obvious

A lovely example from ‘Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy’ by Rummer Godden:

‘Another year was rounded, and nothing anyone could write or say, thought Lise, could tell the whole meaning of each succeeding year, of its unfolding; what is a day to day miracle….’

Note how the passing of time is shown in terms of the thoughts and feelings of a character.

The best ever is a wonderful line from Annie Lamott in ‘Bird by Bird’ (which is a great, encouraging book about writing):

‘Six years later the memory of the raw fish cubes continued to haunt her’

One of mine:

‘In the meantime, Felde would resign himself to an obscure life. The years would pass, marked by the rhythm of seedtime and harvest, summer and winter. Eight years with their small triumphs and celebrations:  the horses trained and sold, the birth of another son, the autumn feasts, Kianne’s marriage to the blacksmith.  Eight years of the daily struggle of life:  the weakening and shrinking flocks, the soil becoming poorer and poorer, the taxation, the people lost to illness or taken to prison and forced labour, the increasing resentment…..’

To be honest, I’m not sure about this. I can no longer tell whether it is pretentious or beautiful. Comments?



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The Diary of a (Trying to be Holy) Mum By Fiona Lloyd

This tackles the question – how are we holy?  Where do we find God in the mess of a complex, busy life?   If you enjoyed ‘Helen Sloane’s Diary’ you’d enjoy this, even more if you are a parent of school-age children. It was cheerful, real, easy to read, honest, and funny – even if the ‘Dad-jokes’ made me groan!  It reminded me of happy and stressful times as a mum and Christian, a scary numbers of years ago, and what life was like trying to juggle everything!

It was interesting that it has an old-fashioned feel – I doubt that these days an average family could afford to have a four-bedroom house, and a parent staying at home to look after the children, on one teacher’s salary. Which is a sad indictment of society.  I was fortunate enough to be able to take 8 years off work when I had children, and then go back part-time:  it is a shame that not everyone has that choice any more.

Anyway, politics aside, I recommend this book to Christian parents. And as companion reads:  some books I found very helpful when I was in the same situation:  ‘Patterns not padlocks’ by Angela Ashwin; ‘Plate-spinning’ and ‘The Art of Imperfect Parenting’ both by Sheila Bridge. (Btw:  Sheila has an excellent blog: at Live Life Loved: Sheila’s Feelgood Blog)

diary of a holyd mum


Spoiler alert!


The resolution (when Becky gets the opportunity to do something for God by going to Guatemala) made me think – what about all the subtle but vital work she was already doing for God? She was growing as a disciple, befriending people, talking to people about her beliefs, bringing up three children in the faith, supporting her husband and church, having amazing conversations with people. Isn’t this as equally important as mission trips to third-world countries? A good point for discussion, perhaps?


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