My friend and fellow author Lucy Rycroft has brought out an Advent book this year too! We thought it would be fun to interview each other about our books and run giveaways from our blogs. So meet Lucy, author of Redeeming Advent, check out the rules for winning BOTH of our books below – and don’t forget to head over to her blog on November 18th for another chance to win, and to read about how the two of us observe Advent with our own families.
What was the initial inspiration for your Advent devotional?
Amy: Goodness, isn’t it hard to trace a book right back to the beginning?!
I think it was listening to the priest and poet Malcolm Guite (I am a huge fan!) giving a talk about the Advent Antiphons, these ancient chants that, since the sixth century, have marked every day of the week before Christmas. Each one names the coming Christ using a name from the Old Testament such as ‘Key of David’ or ‘Root of Jesse’. He spoke about how they link us, imaginatively, to the needs and longings of people as they waited for the Messiah.
It started me musing on all these different ways to see God, and then some musings I had already had about metaphors for God in the Psalms suddenly looked really appropriate for an Advent devotional; and then I thought, ‘How many more examples are there?’
Lucy: Oh gosh, Amy, I’m going to sound super un-spiritual next to all that. Thanks very much. Mine was inspired by the fact I’m not very good at sticking to Advent devotionals, but wanted to use Advent to draw closer to Jesus. So I wrote a series of blog posts – ‘Random Advent’, and they were, indeed, random. It took a lot of polishing and editing to make them into a book.
What input, if any, did you have from your publisher about the direction of your book?
Amy: After I had proposed the book, the publisher (BRF) wanted to make sure that it wasn’t going to contain large amounts of my own poetry or be far too academic; basically, they wanted to be sure that it would fit in with their other Advent books, given that they produce one every year and that their readers have certain expectations.
I think that my proposal may have been a little overexcited about the potentials of metaphor and poetry! But apart from that, and apart from the given basic shape of a BRF Advent book, I wasn’t given too much direction and I really felt I had the freedom to explore what I’d set out to do.
Lucy: I too, had a publisher (Chris Hayes at Gilead) who gave me a lot of freedom, especially (I guess) since the devotional had already been drafted on my blog. He was very encouraging of the direction I was already going in, but his one bit of wise advice was to now try and make it flow together as one coherent Advent journey. This bit is so important with any seasonal devotional guide – but, given that my original blog posts were stand-alone, needed to be made clear to me.
Can you share a little about the writing process? What felt easy, and what was more of a challenge?
Amy: There was one chapter – the one about God as creator, looking at God as a potter and a weaver and a musician and so on – that was gloriously easy to write. In fact I wrote it first, and included some of it with the final version of the proposal. Perhaps it was so easy because, as a creative, I had plenty to draw on; it also contained some of my first ideas for the book, so it had been percolating for a long time.
Then there was that moment when you’ve got all your initial thoughts out onto paper, everything you were most excited about, and you realise that it doesn’t look quite as much as it was in your head, and you realise that the rest is going to be hard graft and research!
But by far the hardest chapter to write was the very first one. I left it until the end and I changed the subject of it about three times. I had long theological conversations with my husband about it, and researching it felt like entering a rabbit warren. I find it so difficult to start a book in a way that introduces it properly and sets it up for what’s to come.
Lucy: Yes, I can relate to that. You don’t want readers to pick it up, read a couple of paragraphs, then go, “I’m not bothering with that”. As a writer, that thought brings so much pressure!
Because my devotional started life as a series of Advent blogs, it was literally a case of writing for an hour or two each evening, ready to publish the following day. I made myself do it, and it became my own spiritual discipline for Advent. I would take something that had happened that day, or something I’d been thinking about, and write what God might be teaching me through it – so I found this initial drafting fairly easy.
But when I was going back over everything to turn it into a book, I found that some of the devotionals – understandably – were rushed and didn’t really take the reader smoothly from point to point. One particularly challenging devotion, which my editor picked up, was Day 2. I talk about suffering, and how it can draw us to Christ – but there’s a fine line between making this point and being dismissive of people’s suffering. It took ages to get the nuance right.
What makes your Advent devotional unique?
Amy: I hope that my perspective as a poet and storyteller makes Image of the Invisible unique. I would love it if, amongst all the images, every reader was able to find at least one new way to look at the character of God, and relate to God in a way that’s different for them.
Lucy: My hope is that Redeeming Advent is so rooted in the everyday chaos of December that those who might never have picked up a devotional before would be able to easily read and follow it.
As a parent, how do you balance writing time with caring for your family?
Amy: I’m very fortunate that both my children go to school. At the height of writing a book, I get in from the school run at about 9:15 and effectively superglue myself to my desk until it’s time to pick them up! I’m also very cheered by an interview with J K Rowling in which she is asked how she looked after a baby and wrote a book, and her answer is that she simply didn’t do any housework for four years…!
Lucy: I think we can all say a big ‘Amen’ to that one! Like you, I work through the school day, and at 3pm I magically turn into Mum again! Traditionally, I’ve worked a lot of evenings too, once our kids are in bed, but now that they’re all in school I’m trying to limit myself to daytime working. I would write all the time if I could – but I have a husband and friends who’d also like to see me from time to time…
How can readers get hold of your Advent devotional?
Amy: It’s available at BRF or from your local Christian bookstore (or you could use the ISBN number to order it from any local bookstore and raise its profile there.)
Lucy: You can get mine direct from Gilead – or Eden, Wordery, Amazon or anywhere which sells books. Like Amy, I’d love to see people supporting their local bookshops by buying it from there!
How to WIN BOTH BOOKS
- If you haven’t already, sign up to my mailing list. You’ll even get a bonus Advent treat just for signing up now. Go on, click here.
- Once you have done that, or if you’re already a member of the list, leave a comment here on this blog.
- On Monday the 4th November after 8pm I will use a random number generator to choose a winner who will receive a package of BOTH Advent books, signed by the authors!