Winner!

Congratulations to Jenni S, who won the giveaway and will receive signed copies of both Advent books – mine and Lucy’s!

Jenni, please use the link to contact me from my homepage or the email address under your comment on the last blog, to send me your address so that I can post your prize!

Everyone else – there is still a chance to win both books, over on Lucy’s blog today and for the next few days, plus another chat between the two of us – this time about our own Advent family traditions. Go and have a read!

GIVEAWAY and How To Write an Advent Book – Two Ways!

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

  1. 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.
  2. Once you have done that, or if you’re already a member of the list, leave a comment here on this blog.
  3. 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!

Poetry Mondays: See

While putting the finishing touches to my own 2019 Advent book, it has been a joy to pick up my copy of Malcolm Guite’s wonderful Waiting on the Word and begin again the daily readings of poetry, elucidated by the thoughts of a great poet.

The first few poems in the book have to do with looking; in particular George Herbert’s The Glance and Christina Rossetti’s beautiful Advent Sunday, with its chiastic structure full of reflected looks, mirrors and eyes.

This reminded me of the following poem that I wrote a few years ago (one from the Drawn From Words booklet) which seems especially appropriate, given that the working title of the book I’m completing at the moment is Image of the Invisible.

See

Now we see only
through a prism, and dimly:
one day, face to face.

Prisms fracture light.
One true beam is divided
into slits and stripes

diverse directions
turning and intersecting
broken in spectrum.

In this web of light
image of the hidden God
catch me in your truth.

Poetry Monday: Armistice Sonnets

All four of the sonnets I wrote for the centenary of the end of World War 1 have now been filmed, and here they are in order. They also exist as a single video on YouTube.

You are welcome to show the videos in churches and at any event commemorating the armistice. If you would like the full text to read yourself, you can get it by joining my mailing list by clicking here.

 

Armistice Sonnet I: Sacrifice

I know it isn’t Monday, but there’s a bit of poetry on the blog today because, as you may have noticed from the change of name, I’m doing a new thing. Do watch the video, but don’t forget to read on below!

We filmed this in Thorpe Morieux church, and I’m grateful to Steve Day for his beautiful photograph of the East window there which we used for the final shot.

Yes, the observant reader may have noticed that my blog URL has changed. We’re now at amyscottrobinson.com, no longer a fiddly WordPress address involving ‘AmyStoryteller’.

My new, grown-up author name, Amy Scott Robinson, brings together the three very different books I’ve been writing this year, my storytelling and performance background and my poetry too. There will be more about all of that on this blog, but also in a brand new shiny newsletter that will go out to my mailing list and will include otherwise-unseen pieces of writing, special offers when books start appearing, and a summary of news and my scribblings from wherever they’ve appeared online. I’ll be sending these updates no more than once a week. Let’s face it, it will probably be less than once a week.

Anyway, if you sign up this month, you will receive a PDF of four sonnets which I was asked to write for the centenary of the end of the first world war, 11th November 1918. These will be performed in one of our churches here (Hitcham) on the 11th, but I’m also going to be releasing videos of each sonnet over the month of October for others to use, if they wish, as part of their own events. The above video is the first one.

Signing up to the newsletter is different to following this blog by e-mail, which only updates you when I post here. If you’d like to sign up, click this link and put your details in. You’ll get an e-mail with the PDF of this and the other three sonnets.

 

Poetry Mondays: Golden Wedding

It’s the season of wedding anniversaries! Ours today, which we share with several friends, and many more to celebrate over the summer.

We’re only at Lace (13 years) and very grateful for every year. I love celebrating with people who have reached the Silver, Ruby, Gold and Diamond milestones. Here’s a poem I wrote as a gift for the golden wedding of a fellow writer and her husband; it’s a sonnet in the style of John Donne.

I see myself reflected in your eyes,
and in my gaze, I know you are reflected
and so with every glance, the image flies
from each to each, and thus we are connected.
In every look, our miniatures are given
in fair exchange, until we both possess
a thousand pictures, paired and interwoven,
shared and cherished for our happiness.
And if we ever should, one day, grow old –
absurd and far-off though that day may be –
well then, our images shall turn to gold
as Autumn’s smiling gaze transforms a tree.

(Forgive these strange conceits.  It’s sometimes fun
to go all metaphysical like Donne.)

 

(Postscript: apparently the appropriate gift for a 46th anniversary is poetry. I’ll be keeping my eye out for that one!)

 

What I’m Up To Wednesday: How do you defeat your dragons?

On Saturday I took a break from my intense writing schedule and visited Norton and then Caldecote with some new stories.

In Caldecote, the theme was  ‘How do you defeat your dragons?’ and the storytelling tent was set out with some fantastic talking points, story excerpts and even a seven-headed dragon chalkboard for people to add their real-life dragons and how they can be beaten.

Louisa Freya is becoming an old favourite now, but I was also able to tell Thakane for the first time. This tale of the Bosotho people features in the book of folktales I’ve been writing, and is great fun to tell with lots of repetition and a rhythmic song. Between Louisa Freya’s seven-headed dragon, Thakane’s glow-in-the-dark dragon and the monster Zoblak, we came up with all sorts of ways to defeat our toothy adversaries.

I also had the chance to read a couple of stories from the new book, and to sign some copies of The First King Of England.

Now it’s back to the desk to finish the first draft of Very Important Project number two in my year of three books, preferably before the children finish school for the summer. Will I make it? Keep following me here to find out!

Poetry Mondays: fun with first lines

As part of the writers’ retreat at Scargill, some of us got together to have a mini workshop, using lines from Brian Bilston’s very funny Index of First Lines to create our own poems.

This was my attempt. Why not click on the link above to see the original poem (and hilarious ensuing thread) on Twitter, and then have a go yourself?

Page 19 of a nonexistent book

Whither the hair tongs? I have seen them not,
and whence this irritating coffee pot
without its lid? Wherefore that single sock?
Wherewith this hand towel, whereunto this clock?
What has befallen this bedraggled blouse?
Why did we ever think of moving house?

What I’m Up To Wednesdays: Scargill House

I’m cutting it fine, but it’s still just about Wednesday, so time for a quick update! I spent the weekend on writers’ retreat at Scargill House in Yorkshire.

Retreat: (re-treat) to treat one’s self again. This was, I think, my fifth time at the ACW writers’ weekend – I’m losing count.

I tell a bedtime story to the group on both evenings of the weekend, but usually I get to relax for the rest of the programme. This time, however, Adrian Plass interviewed me about folktales as part of the Saturday morning sessions. It went by in a bit of a blur and I hope I said a few things that made sense: I do remember talking about the history of folktales, Cinderella in particular; whether or not there are only seven plots; and how I’ve chosen and retold the fifteen stories that are going into my new book.

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Storytelling at Scargill. Thanks for the photo, Lucy Mills!

The rest of the far-too-quick time was spent making new friends, talking to old ones, photographing owls, writing some bits and pieces for my book of Advent devotionals, making a small clay pot and enjoying the sunshine.

Now that I’m home, fighting Scargill withdrawal symptoms, it’s on with the Advent book – and fuelled by the weekend’s inspiration, I’m spending this week writing about God as creator and artist.

 

Poetry Monday: Path

I’m off to Scargill House in Yorkshire this week, for an annual writers’ retreat led by Adrian and Bridget Plass. This poem was written for them, and the metaphor in it is one they often use: a narrow path of grace between the mountains of law and the swamp of licence.

You can find this poem beautifully illustrated by Sharon Kulesa in Drawn From Words. Along with Mandy Baker Johnson, we put this little book together after a creative Lent challenge in 2016. You can see and buy the book here.

Path

On one side, the path of law, a trail
through thirsty rocks, where all who try shall fail
and lose their lives beneath the glowering eye
of desert sun. That way I surely die.

The other side’s inviting: not so harsh,
but leads to sinking sand and muddy marsh
and haunted castles, entered willingly,
then locked. Who takes that path is never free.

The night comes closer. I must make my choice.
But then, what blessed relief – the shepherd’s voice!
His torch is all that shows me to my place:
this narrow beam, the flickering path of grace.