Sunday, May 16, 2010
A lot more than I realize, I’m sure! At times, I deliberately choose to have my characters go through things I have experienced or give them the same occupation and interests as I have. For example, the main character in my first two novels is a pianist, as am I – and strangely enough, she even loves the same music that I love! But those who know me very well assure me that other parts of me have also crept into my writing – ways I relate to God, for example, how I respond in certain situations, even some phrases I use often! I don’t want to be too self-indulgent in my writing, but I do want to write with integrity – and that happens best, I feel, when I have actually experienced or at least seen at close range what I am writing about.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
One day about five years ago during a trip to Turkey to visit a friend I have mentored for years who works with a church there, we chatted and laughed and shared from our hearts about the things of God for almost five hours as we swam together in the beautiful, blue Mediterranean Sea at Oludeniz. Not a bad setting for a mentoring session!
Sounds delightful. When did you first discover that you were a writer?
I always enjoyed writing English essays during school and university and secretly would love to have been a writer, but in our family the ‘done thing’ was to become a teacher. Over the years, I talked so much about writing a novel ‘one day’ that eventually, in despair, one of our daughters bought me a pile of books about writing and also made a bookmark for me with a picture of a steaming cup of coffee on it and the words ‘Write your own!’ Finally, around six years ago, as I was reading my Bible one morning in a little Turkish village during the same visit I mentioned above, God clearly challenged me through some words in Isaiah 42 to come home and start writing. Around fifteen months later, I finished my first novel – and that was the moment I realized that maybe after all I could be a writer!
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
I love reading good novels by a wide variety of authors – Dorothy Sayers, Ellis Peters, Jane Austen, Maeve Binchy, Rosamund Pilcher, John Grisham, Paulo Coelho, Jeffrey Archer, Khaled Hosseini and many others too numerous to mention. I love all of Madeleine L’Engle’s writing and am just discovering Annie Dillard. I love autobiographies like Mandela’s Long Walk To Freedom and Jung Chang’s Wild Swans. And I read lots of books about writing and also books that will help me grow as a Christian, especially in the area of prayer, meditation and spirituality in general.
What other books have you written, whether published or not?
My first novel, Helena, was published by Ark House Press in early 2007 and its sequel All the Days of My Life (which is also a ‘stand-alone’ novel) in 2008. Then in September 2009, Ark House released my third novel, Laura. They also have the manuscript of my fourth novel Jenna, which will be released next month. Then I have completed a fifth, Helena’s Legacy and am currently writing a sixth, titled The Inheritance.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
I think it’s easier now than when our three children were young, but each day I take time somewhere in my schedule to focus on God and acknowledge his loving presence all around me and in me. Then I read a portion of Scripture and pray for whatever the day holds. So it’s from that safe place of knowing and hearing God and being aware of how completely loved and accepted I am, that I can move out and do what God has for me to do. But I have to say that I also consciously refuse to become too busy and overcommitted these days. I know I need space and quietness, if I am going to write and speak well for God.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
I would say obtaining a degree in theology at the age of forty-nine, after three hugely hectic years of fulltime study, ministry and running a family. But having my first novel published two and a half years ago at the age of fifty-nine runs a close second!
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
I would say a magnificent tiger! Many years ago, I believe God gave me a picture of me as a tiger, prowling up and down in a small circus cage, frantic to be released. Then in the picture, the cage door was flung open – and the tiger bounded out and was off. After listening to my complaints about the things that were holding me back in my life, which was what I felt the picture represented, my dear mentor at the time looked straight at me and said: ‘No! You are holding yourself back!’ And she was right. Consequently, God has taken me on a journey of getting rid of self-doubt and moving on in his strength into all he has for me.
What is your favorite food?
A freshly baked Turkish pide, filled with spinach and feta cheese and consumed while overlooking the Mediterranean Sea at sunset, is hard to beat!
What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
Handling direct speech well in my novels was a big problem for me at first, as was making my characters more ‘rounded’ and ‘real’, rather than slightly ‘one-dimensional’ and too good to be true! These problems are connected, I feel, as it took some time for me to allow my characters to speak in ways that revealed who they really were in their hearts, flaws and all. While I am definitely still learning and developing as a novelist, I think that just relaxing more in how I write has helped my characters become more real and believable. And I guess that has come with more writing experience and greater confidence in myself as a writer.
What advice would you give to an author just starting out?
I think it’s important to pray and ask God if he truly is calling us to write and then, if so, to move on from there, believing God will guide and enable, and believing in ourselves. I would also encourage new authors to read lots about writing, attend writing conferences or undertake a writing course. I would suggest they write and write all sorts of things, from short stories to letters to blogs – anything that helps them fine hone their writing style. Then when their novel or literary work is complete and well edited, I would encourage them to keep submitting it to publishers and not give up! And through it all, I would remind them to work on three key qualities I believe every writer needs – self-discipline, patience and humility – in bucketloads!
Tell us about the featured book.
Laura was inspired by the life of a friend of mine who is blind. It follows the journey of a girl who becomes blind at two years of age and battles considerable prejudice in her growing up years, as she seeks to attend normal school and be treated the same as anyone else. With the help of family and friends and with great courage and determination, Laura manages to prove that those with perceived ‘disabilities’ can achieve their dreams and develop their gifts to the full, as well as contribute amazingly to society. The novel also explores the internal struggles Laura faces, particularly those of rejection and of doubting God’s love, and how, again with the help of good friends, she manages to come to a place of greater peace in her life.
Please give us the first page of the book.
Margaret Harding had sensed for weeks that something was wrong. Now, glancing out of the window at Laura and the boys playing in the nearby paddock, she was sure of it. Icy fingers of fear gripped her deep inside. She gasped, as Laura again tripped over and fell flat on her face, in the midst of a valiant effort to keep up with her brothers.
Soon the little girl was on her feet, slightly shocked, but apparently none the worse for wear. She struggled on a few more steps, before stumbling yet again over some obstacle hidden from view in the grass. This time she let out a despairing howl of rage and stayed put, rubbing her eyes hard with her small fists.
Now Jamie had stopped and come back for her, bless him. He could never resist her plaintive cries. Margaret watched him brush his little sister down carefully, take her hand and determinedly begin leading her towards the house.
"Mum! Mum! Laura’s gone and fallen over again! She’s so clumsy – she never looks where she’s going."
Margaret picked her daughter up and comforted her. Yet it was more in an attempt to comfort herself, she knew, that she held her close and patted her.
Having safely delivered Laura into his mother’s care, Jamie shot off to rejoin his brothers in their latest escapade. Margaret had no worries about the boys – they were sensible and could look after themselves. It was her daughter, now held tightly in her arms, who caused her to lie awake at nights, tense with anxiety, trying to tell herself that everything was fine, yet knowing in her heart it was not. Not at all.
How can readers find you on the Internet?
My website: http://www.jo-anneberthelsen.com/
My weekly blog: http://www.jo-anneberthelsen.wordpress.com/
My Facebook profile: www.facebook.com/joanne.berthelsen
My novels are available for purchase via my website or via the publishers’ website, http://www.arkhousepress.com/ .
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