Candlemas reflection

Tomorrow is Candlemas, and I was asked to contribute this reflection to the Church of England’s online service on Sunday (click on the link to see it at about 9 minutes in).

When I was a baby, my parents brought me to church. Having moved into central London when I was about a year old, my mum set out to find a place of worship for our family. When she walked into the parish church, I was the only child there. She put me in slippers so that I could pad up and down the aisle during the service, and surprisingly, nobody complained. We kept going, and after a little while, another mother with another baby joined. Between the two of them, they arranged a creche, taking it in turns to hear the sermon. They each had another baby. By that time, more families had joined the church, each one seeing as they stepped in that there was something for children there. By the time I finally left that church to go to university, I was on the teaching rota for one of the three age-based Sunday school groups that met every week.

I am grateful, not just for my mother’s determination, but for the congregation that didn’t turn to scowl at a tiny slipper-footed invader of their child-free church. I don’t know why the church had no children when we arrived, but I do know that my parents brought me to church as a baby, and because of that, not only do I still belong in church, but so, perhaps, do many other people who were children at that church both then and since.

Bringing a child into God’s house may look like a small thing, but it’s an action that resounds in heaven, significant both for the child and for the people waiting to receive them. And in today’s reading, we see a picture of Mary and Joseph bringing their child, Jesus, into God’s house for the first time. Like any parents, they are hoping for welcome, blessing, comfort and, as the passage says, ‘to do for him according to the custom of the Law’. Perhaps they are not expecting their presence there to be particularly remarkable; they have come for the ceremony, just as everybody does.

But there to receive them are Simeon and Anna, whose effusive joy when they recognise the Son of God in this tiny baby matches that of the shepherds and the wise men. But instead of travelling to see the Messiah, Jesus has been brought to them in God’s house. They had to wait a long time, but they didn’t have to go anywhere. Long before the shepherds saw the angels, Simeon had been promised a glimpse of the redemption of Israel. God’s promise was fulfilled when a child was brought to the temple.

I think there’s a little echo of Candlemas whenever a child is brought to church, especially for the first time. It’s always a holy moment, and a fragile one too. As the children’s worker here, I believe that the best way to welcome children is not necessarily to have something flashy and fun in place, but to be there, to be waiting for them, to have a space that is theirs ready to be filled. I know how my own children’s lives have been enriched by their church relationships, and that some of their favourite people are not the other children they meet at church, but the adults who have time for a chat, who take an interest in their latest fascinations, who save their favourite biscuits. That’s why this pandemic has hit us so hard, because a physical space in which the youngest and oldest members of a congregation can sit together is and always has been very precious.

When I see a picture of Simeon or Anna with Jesus, I think of what they are receiving from one another: the prophets receiving the fulfillment of their hopes and prayers, and Jesus receiving a joyful welcome. In a world in which he would face rejection, there were open arms waiting for him in God’s house.

May we as parents have the faith of Mary and Joseph to bring our children into God’s house; and may we in the church welcome them with Simeon and Anna’s joy.

Folklore Friday: The story of St Edmund

The life of a saint is called a hagiography, and they are wonderful tapestries made up of myth, fairytale, hearsay and politics, with a thin gold thread of truth running through the middle. If you try to pick at the thread to pull it out and study it, the whole thing just unravels and falls apart: so it’s better to take in the story, and every now and then, the gold thread shines through the tapestry. But then, this goes for all folktales; so what better way to launch ‘Folklore Fridays’ on St Edmund’s day than to tell the tale of St Edmund?

The story begins, as so many good folktales do, with a king and a queen who lacked only one thing: a child. King Offa was praying for a son and heir when he heard God calling him to go to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage. Taking this to mean that he would receive a miraculous cure there, he set off at once, stopping only to visit friends in Saxony on the way. He enjoyed their company, and meeting their bright, talented twelve-year-old son for the first time, but he wanted to hurry to his destination. In Jerusalem he prayed at many holy sites before returning home and going in great hope to his doctors. Sadly, instead of a miraculous cure, they told him that his disease had progressed and would now surely kill him.

King Offa realised that his pilgrimage had been God’s way of giving him a son after all: not by birth, but by adoption. He sent a message to his friends in Saxony and they sent their son, Edmund, to be crowned King of Anglia on Christmas day, by which time he was 14 years old.

Edmund was a well-loved king who ruled with great wisdom and piety for one so young. His kingdom was so peaceful that he was able to spend a whole year just learning the entire psalter off by heart. One passage from Ecclesiasticus stood out to him, and he took it as his motto: ‘Have they made you a prince? Be not lifted up: be among them as one of them.’ He took this very seriously, regularly appearing to hear pleas, give alms and care for the poorest in his kingdom. So when a Danish prince was washed ashore from a shipwreck, Edmund was ready to extend the same welcome and generosity, even making Prince Lothbroc a part of his court.

This made the other courtiers jealous. One in particular, a chief huntsman named Bern, thought it was unacceptable to give this potentially untrustworthy foreigner a place of high rank. One day, Bern took Lothbroc out hunting and murdered him in the forest.

Edmund was heartbroken and furious in equal measure. To show the huntsman what Lothbroc’s experience must have been like, he ordered that Bern should be placed in a boat with neither oars nor provisions and set adrift to be at the mercy of the sea and of strangers.

Bern managed to wash up on just the shore that Lothbroc had left, where he met Lothbroc’s brothers, Hubba and Hinguar, who wanted to know what had become of Lothbroc. To save himself, Bern confessed that their brother had been murdered – but named Edmund as the murderer.

At that point, most of Denmark got into boats and rowed across to Anglia with their teeth gnashing. The Viking invasion was huge and catastrophic. Edmund was in grave danger, but remembering to ‘be among them as one of them’, he chose to fight with his people instead of hiding or escaping.

Once, besieged in Framlingham castle, Edmund came up with a clever ruse. Both armies, inside and outside the castle, were starving. Edmund took his last ox and his last bale of wheat, fed the latter to the former, and sent the poor creature out of the gate. The ravenous Danes fell on it and tore it apart, but discovering wheat still in its stomach, they decided that the Angles must have much more food to spare than they did, so they packed up and left.

Small battles were won like this, but Edmund was losing the war. Hubba and Hinguar worked out where he was, and cornered him – where exactly is highly contentious, but the version I’ll tell you is that it was in Hoxne. Edmund hid underneath Goldbrook bridge, and when Hubba and Hinguar ran over the top, he thought he was safe. Unfortunately, a newlywed couple was standing on the bridge, staring romantically into the water below.

‘What a beautiful night, my love! See how the moon glints gold on the water!’

Hearing this, Hubba turned and came back to the bridge to witness the golden gleam of the moon on Edmund’s spurs. As they dragged him out from under the bridge, Edmund lost his cool momentarily and cursed any newlywed couple to cross the bridge from then on. There are still some that won’t risk it.

Hubba and Hinguar dragged King Edmund into the woods and tied him to a tree. Regaining his composure, he remembered his motto once again.

‘Do not make my people suffer any more. Kill me now, but only if I die in the place of all of them so that the war ceases. Jesus, help me to die for my people like you did!’

His mention of Jesus, and acceptance of his death as an honourable martyrdom, enraged the pagan brothers. Shouting at him to renounce his faith, they shot Edmund with every single arrow in their quivers. Then, as he still refused and continued to pray, they beheaded him and threw the head into the woods.

Later on, Edmund’s followers came to find and bury his body. They found his body easily enough – it was still tied to the tree – but what about the head? In their grief, they called out ‘Where are you, our friend and king?’ And an eerie, howling voice replied, ‘Here! Here! Here!’

They followed the noise for about a mile, and there they found Headmund (as my daughter insists on calling him at this point in the story) being guarded by a wolf. The creature sat, a paw on either side of the king’s head, howling with a very human voice: ‘Here! Here! Here!’

That is, of course, not the end of Edmund’s hagiography. Hagiographies tend to be like icebergs, with the saint’s life being the tip and the events after their death making up the most important part. But it’s a good place to stop. Perhaps I can cover part two on the next Folklore Friday?


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!


  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!

What I’m Up To Wednesday: Our Book Is Here!

There is nothing much more exciting than opening a big box and finding shiny, new copies of your own writing: picking up and feeling the weight of your own book for the first time.


But this one isn’t my own book!  At least, it isn’t all my own.  The plot, the characters and lots of the writing come from my brilliant Snail Tales colleague Chip, who created a storytelling stage show and asked me to help him write the ‘book of the show’.  Some of the characterisation came from the stars of that show, which I went to see in Cambridge: L-J Richardson as Knut and Olivia Balzano as Ethelred.  Many of the stories within the book and the show come, not from Chip, but from children who have taken part in Snail Tales workshops.  And the illustrations, of course, come from Dave Hingley.  I didn’t know he was going to draw a cartoon version of me…

So, this is not just my celebration.  It’s been lots of fun to work as part of a team and part of a wider project again.  It’s also been a real challenge to find a way to make an interactive storytelling show into a readable book without losing its essence.  Plenty of extra material went in, but best of all are the blank pages, waiting to be filled out by young storytellers.  This is a book which will not be complete until YOU have read it!

To preorder from Amazon, click here and please leave a review once you’ve enjoyed the book!

What I’m up to Wednesday: Dragons and Hats

Now that I’ve got the hang of Poetry Mondays, I’m hoping to use the occasional Wednesday to share what I’ve been up to, whether writing, storytelling or wearing one of my various other hats.

Speaking of hats, I wore several at an Easter Parade in Caldecote on Palm Sunday, telling journey stories as we made our way from the park to the social club.  Since there was a hat competition at the end of the event, I made sure to wear a different hat to suit each story – and the final tale of the Road to Emmaus used two hats to swap between the characters of Mr and Mrs Cleopas.  Even Zach had a hat!

Wonder the Baby Dragon had an outing for St George’s day, telling dragon and monster stories at Hardwick Primary school.  They all enjoyed joining in with the story of Louisa Freya the Dragon Slayer, and hearing about how one of their classmates had cunningly escaped from a dragon island by solving a riddle, but I suspect the highlight was the one where I make this face:


It’s a story for which I’m very grateful to Steve Stickley of the Footprints Theatre Company: I learned it mainly because after hearing his telling of it, my own children pestered me for daily retellings for months.  Unlike Steve, though, I never tell the ending: the children make it up as part of the workshop.

It’s become a bit of a fascinating experiment.  You see, the story begins like a sort of reverse Cinderella: three sisters and a mean Mama who aren’t at all nice towards the only son in the family.  When a child-eating monster captures the sisters, and I hand the story over to the children, it’s not at all clear to them who is the ‘baddy’ – I mean, what’s worse?  A monster or an unpleasant sibling?  Although some choose to rescue the girls, or have them escape, several groups have found a perfectly satisfying ending in letting the nasty sisters get gobbled up.

You can tell which children have a grounding in traditional tales: it’s the ones who spot that there are two problems in the story, the monster and the family, and try to solve both in their ending.  They also tend to use information from the first part of the story in the way they solve the problems.  Interestingly, bits from whichever other stories I’ve told find their way in there, too.

It’s also a great illustration of the freedom of imagination that storytelling produces.  Without images, each child pictures the monster differently, and this shows in their solutions: for some, it’s a small enough monster to trap inside a pot, while for others, it’s such a big monster that the boy can prop open its mouth, climb inside and pull his sisters up through the throat.

I now know over a hundred great ways for the story to finish, including the 40 or so I picked up last week – and isn’t that what sharing stories is all about?


Every year round about now, I start to see posts all over social media discussing and debating the issue of Halloween: what to do about it, whether to embrace it, what its roots really are and whether it’s a bit of fun or a terrible problem for society in general (or for teenagers, children, the elderly, people with special needs, people with allergies and so on, specifically.)

This year, we’ll be celebrating All Hallow’s Eve with a LightCraft party.  Children from our four churches will gather to play games, make light-related crafts, carve hearts and pictures into pumpkins, and hear that Jesus is the light of the world who has defeated darkness.

That’s on Sunday, so we might also go meet-and-treating on the night itself.  Meet-and-treating is a fun way to turn around the traditional tricks and scares while still being generous: we go out to find trick-or-treaters and hand over a treat.  This year we’ll probably give away glow-stick bracelets along with this explanation printed onto cards: it’s one that I wrote several years ago, and you are welcome to print copies yourself if it’s useful.

Nobody really knows where the festival of Halloween originated. The name comes from All Hallow’s Eve, marking a time in the Christian church when we remember saints and loved ones who have died, but the traditions that take place come from much earlier pre-Christian times. In fact if you look at almost any culture in any time, you’ll find that as the nights get longer, a festival takes place which involves light, intended to ward off darkness and evil. That’s where Jack-O-Lanterns come from, for example. It’s humanity’s way of dealing with darkness, death and the things that frighten us as we go into the long winter.
In our family, we remember at Halloween that Jesus said “I am the light of the world”. He has already conquered darkness and death by dying and rising again. This year, we’re giving out Glo-sticks to light your way and to remind you that Jesus has beaten the darkness!
We hope you enjoy your treats, and have a safe and fun Halloween!

Many hats

I’ve always had a thing for hats – literal or metaphorical.


I’ve never had a short answer to the question, “So, what do you do?”

Even my tagline has three different occupations – writer, storyteller, ventriloquist.  But it’s not that simple, because I’m not the sort of writer that sits down and writes a novel.  My current to-do list is urging me to complete five different writing tasks for various clients and purposes, and that’s before you count the writing I do towards my own performances, or consider the writing I might do to use in an assembly or family service as children’s worker.  It’s also before you count the times that I do attempt to write a novel, or a resource book, or a poem.

Nor am I a storyteller with a single repertoire.  Although a large amount of my telling is biblical, and that is reflected in the books I’ve published so far, my work with schools tends to be traditional tales and my most recent storytelling project was local history.

As a ventriloquist, things are a bit more straightforward, but even there I have three distinct voices and characters apart from my own.  Evidence that I’m making a career out of splitting myself into as many parts as possible.

So I tend to answer that “What do you do?” question by saying that I juggle hats.  Or that I wear too many of them.

This new site and blog is an attempt to stack some hats together.  In fact, I nearly gave it ‘Hatstacking’ as a title, but then I reflected that it would be likely to get no visitors apart from a handful of confused milliners.

I don’t know whether it will work, or even last (I don’t have a great track record with new blogs) but I hope you will stick around and find out with me.  I do have some ideas and even a vague sort of a thing which could be called a plan if you really pummel it into shape.  So, wait and see?