Interview with Jo-Anne Berthelsen

Jo-ANne Berthelsen
  Today, we’re spending some time getting to know Jo-Anne Berthelsen, author of Soul Friend.

Jo-Anne, welcome to my website. Thank you for agreeing to an interview about your new non-fiction book, Soul Friend. First off, please tell us, what is a ‘soul friend’?

Jo-Anne:  The term ‘soul friend’ comes from Celtic Christianity around the sixth and seventh centuries in Britain and Ireland. It basically refers to a friend who cares for your soul, who is concerned about how things are between you and God. A true soul friend is prepared to walk beside you in your journey with God, listening to you, praying for you and sharing his or her godly wisdom with you when needed. Other terms I have used in the book similar to ‘soul friend’ are ‘spiritual friend’, ‘spiritual mentor’ and ‘spiritual companion’.

Shirley:    What made you decide to write this book?

Jo-Anne:  For around the past fifteen years, I have had the privilege of meeting with a very special lady, my spiritual mentor, Joy, who is now eighty-three years old. Through writing Soul Friend, I wanted to encourage others to seek out a similar spiritual friendship for themselves and/or to be prepared to provide that friendship for another.

Also, by sharing honestly about my own struggles, I hoped to encourage those going through similar situations as I have during my years of meeting with Joy. And last but not least, I wanted to honour Joy for the part she has played in my life and to enable the wisdom she has shared with me over the years to bless others.

Shirley:    How did you meet Joy?

Jo-Anne:  We met at a prayer training school, where she was the facilitator of the small group I was in. I loved the gentle, wise, insightful way she led us as a group and I wanted to learn more from her. I also saw we had several things in common. For example, we grew up in the same church denomination, we both loved music, and we both had a passion for prayer in its various shapes and forms. So when I was required to find a mentor as part of my theological college course, I immediately thought of Joy to fill that role.

Shirley:     Prior to Soul Friend, you have had five inspirational novels released. How difficult was it for you to change from writing fiction to non-fiction?

Jo-Anne:  At first it was strange, not being able to let my imagination run wild and invent twists and turns in the plot or bring in another character! But I soon discovered there were various techniques I had imbibed in my novel writing that made my non-fiction writing easier to tackle. For example, I think this helped me pace the story better, use sections of dialogue with more confidence and even dig deeper into my own character. Now I can’t decide which I prefer writing—fiction or non-fiction!

Shirley:     Jo-Anne, as a South African I’m interested in knowing how difficult it was you to get published in Australia? Do you have a number of possible publishers? Are all your books published with Wombat books?

Jo-Anne:  Here in Australia, there are very few Christian publishers and fewer still who will consider publishing novels, which is what I have always written, prior to Soul Friend. It took me around a year to find an Australian publisher for my first novel, Heléna, and in that year, I tried around six publishers here, both Christian and secular. Of the three Christian publishers around at the time, one was not interested in novels, one folded while I was still enquiring, and the third, Ark House Press, ended up as my publisher—just when I had almost given up and was beginning to try for an overseas publisher!

I stayed with Ark House for my first five novels, but have now swapped to Wombat Books, which wasn’t around when I first started. My next novel will be published again by Wombat, or rather its Christian publishing imprint, Even Before Publishing, in August this year.

Shirley:  I love the fact that you have written the book in narrative non-fiction. This is my favourite genre for writing as well. Did you ever struggle with what to share in the book and what to withhold?

Jo-Anne:  This was a huge issue for me, Shirley. I was prepared to be as vulnerable as possible about my own journey and the various struggles I have faced in recent years, without sharing things that would be unwise to share, because I wanted to help my readers as much as I could and also to write with complete integrity. But when it came to writing sections that involved other people, that was another matter!

My aim in writing my books, fiction or non-fiction, has always been to encourage my readers in some way, to build up rather than tear down. So I did not want to hurt or offend anyone with what I wrote. In one section of the book in particular, I did withhold much more than I included—to the point that one of my manuscript readers who knew my story challenged me strongly about it.

In the end, however, I worked long and hard to convey enough of the situation and how I felt about it, without maligning anyone else. I hope I succeeded. Also, I took great care overall to include only those things that my spiritual mentor Joy was happy to include. This book is, after all, about my shared spiritual journey with her.

Shirley:     I see the book was published in October 2012. That was the same date my devotional book for those in the cancer valley, Strength Renewed, was released. How are you finding the post-publication phase? Do you find it easy to promote your book?

Jo-Anne:  Soul Friend is my sixth book to be published, so by now I am fairly used to the post-publication phase. However, since this is my first non-fiction work to be published, I have had to think about different ways to promote this book and other possible markets.

There are some aspects of promotion I love. I am very blessed in that I am used to speaking in both Christian and secular settings and across a variety of church denominations. I was part of a local church ministry team prior to becoming an author and speaker and was privileged to speak often in that role. Also, I believe my high school teaching experience has helped greatly.

So I love speaking, but I still have to work at finding all the speaking engagements I can, as well as at all the other aspects of promotion, such as having a good internet presence, doing book signings in stores and searching out new ways of keeping my books visible out there in the market.

It can be exhausting and also difficult to balance with ongoing writing, but I do what I can and my publisher endeavours to help as much as possible, as well. However, I also have a little prayer team who pray for me wherever I speak or sell my books, which is a wonderful gift to me.

Shirley:     Do you know yet how Soul Friend is being received?

Jo-Anne:  While it seems to be selling quite well in the bookstores (for Australia!), what warms my heart the most is the feedback I have received from some readers who have shared how easily they related to many of the issues I cover in Soul Friend and how much the book has ministered to them. That is like gold to me and confirmation that I included the things God wanted me to include in the book.

I am always delighted to pass these comments on to my lovely mentor Joy to encourage her at age eighty-three and show her she is still ministering to others through the many interactions we had that are now in my book.

Shirley:    That’s wonderful. Well I really wish you all the best. I pray that Soul Friend will go from strength to strength, and that many lives are transformed as a result. Thank you so much, Joanne, for sharing your time with us in this way.

Jo-Anne: Thanks so much for inviting me to share with you.

Shirley:     You can visit Jo-Anne at:




Why Write Nonfiction Instead of Fiction? by Terry Whalin

Bok Proposals that SellQuestion: Everyone says it is easier for an unpublished writer to break in with nonfiction vs. fiction? Is it only easier to break in with nonfiction if you have speaking engagements that will result in sales? I’ve always thought, “Who would buy my nonfiction? I’m a nobody without a degree, without a famous husband or friends and without an enthralling life.” But everyone says it’s easier to break in with nonfiction so I thought they meant that even if I’m a nobody, if I can speak to a “felt need” I can sell books. read more

More from Cec Murphey






Welcome back for Part II of this interview.


SC: Cec, I remember reading about the dreadful fire that swept through your house a few years ago. How had God prepared you for this? Has this experience, or any other crisis in your life, influenced your writing?


CM: In 2007, fire destroyed our house and our son-in-law died before he could get out. As I waited for the fire trucks, the first words that tumbled out of my mouth were, “Who am I to think that I should be immune?” And I was at peace.

Within an hour, my best friend arrived and hugged me. “God has been preparing me for this,” I said. Again, those weren’t words I’d pondered; they came spontaneously. God had prepared me.

For example, one time in Kenya, I was beaten by a group of young men, who tried to kill me. Another time, armed robbers broke into our isolated house. God delivered me both times. More than ever before, I became aware of God’s faithfulness to comfort and to encourage.

When I face hardships, here’s what I say: “I serve a God of presence and not a God of protection.” God is with me always. Sometimes we walk through storms and tragedies, but the Lord is at our side.


SC: I know you are a highly prolific writer. Do you stick to one book or subject at a time? Or do you work on several different projects?

CM: That’s not easy to answer. When I’m writing for others, I send them a partial manuscript for their corrections or changes. While I wait, I work on something else.

Currently, I’m at work on my own projects and I usually stay with one until I finish a full draft. Once I complete the draft, I leave it, work on something else, and return later to polish it.

By then, I’ve had new thoughts and revise the manuscript at least once more before I do what I call my final polish.

I want to add that I work quickly and I seem to have no problems switching from one project to another.
SC: Do you write magazine articles today, or do you only do book-length manuscripts?
CM: These days, I write articles only by request.

There are two reasons. First, I like writing books because I can expand my thoughts and don’t have to stop at 800 or 1,200 words. Second, I believe articles are great training opportunities for newer writers. The magazine market is shrinking and we established writers need to get out of the way to make room for emerging writers.
SC: Apart from your heavy writing schedule, you teach at writing conferences, run mentoring classes, and often speak at churches or other venues. How do you prevent yourself from burning out?
CM: I have an enormous amount of energy; I’m highly self-disciplined; and I’m fast at everything I do. Those are three things that keep me going. A fourth would be that I truly love what I do. People give me money for having fun!

I try to be away from home no more than one week a month. When away, I like to combine it with a writers conference, preaching at a church, and speaking at Celebrate Recovery meetings, and any other groups who invite me.

I’m fairly extroverted so I think of it this way. If I stay at my desk and work hard for three weeks, God rewards me and lets me interact with people.

One more thing: When I finish a writing project, I reward myself with half a day to read, watch TV, play in the garden, go to lunch with a friend—or a combination.
SC: What are you working on at present?

CM: I’ve barely completed a manuscript that will come out this fall called Making Sense When Life Doesn’t. I did a book on male sexual abuse that came out last year called When a Man You Love Was Abused. I sent a proposal for a second book with the title, Not Quite Healed. The editor likes it and I hope to receive a contract soon. I’m already researching and outlining that book.

I write gift books for Harvest House Publishers. Three are in print; two more will be out within the next year. Last week I proposed one (as yet untitled) on the secrets of long-term marriage (Shirley and I have been married 56 years), and another on the stages of marriage.
SC: How do you relax? Do you have any non-writing interests? I know you do a lot of running, for example. Do you think about your writing when you run?


CM: I’m a confirmed runner. I’m on the street between 4:30 and 5:00 every morning and run 30 miles a week. I love running in the dark. There are few distractions and I have a strong sense of God’s presence.

Unless I’m struggling with something specific in my writing, I don’t think about my projects. For me, the unconscious part of my mind and heart work so that when I sit before my computer, new thoughts come to me or I instantly know a better way to write a paragraph.

I usually leave my computer around 4:00 in the afternoon and play in the yard. I’m an avid gardener, have what they call a green thumb, and I spend about an hour a day pulling weeds and planting flowers.

I’m a fast, avid reader and finish at least one book a week.

I spend the evening with Shirley. This is our time together and I rarely allow anything to interrupt me after 6:00 in the evening.


SC: One last question. You obviously don’t want to be inundated with emails. What is the best way readers can get in contact with you?

CM: The best way is to go to my Website: I read every email. If people care enough to contact me, I want to respond to them.

I also have two blogs that I update twice weekly:—a blog about male sexual abuse.— a blog to help writers learn the craft.
SM: Cec, thank you again for being prepared to give of your time in this way. Thank you for all you do to encourage Christian writers. The Lord bless you in all your endeavours.



Award-winning writer Cecil (Cec) Murphey is the author or co-author of more than 120 books, including the NY Times bestseller 90 Minutes in Heaven (with Don Piper) and Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story (with Dr. Ben Carson).

Recent publications include Getting to Heaven: Departing Instructions for Your Life Now (2011); When a Man You Love Was Abused and Knowing God, Knowing Myself, both 2010 releases. He is also the author of When God Turned off the Lights, When Someone You Love Has Cancer, and Christmas Miracles, all 2009 releases.



Meet Cecil Murphey

FCWC Cec Award-winning writer Cecil (Cec) Murphey is the author or co-author of over 120 books, including the NY Times bestseller 90 Minutes in Heaven(with Don Piper) and Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story (with Dr. Ben Carson).Recent publications include Getting to Heaven: Departing Instructions for Your Life Now (2011); When a Man You Love Was Abused and Knowing God, Knowing Myself, both 2010 releases. He is also the author of When God Turned off the Lights, When Someone You Love Has Cancer, and Christmas Miracles, all 2009 releases.

SC: Cec, welcome to my blog to encourage writers. Thank you so much for giving up your time to answer these questions.

CM: Shirley, it’s nice to connect with you again, even if it’s via the Internet instead of in person.
SC: I’m always grateful for the Internet. I have made so many contacts as a result. So tell me, Cec, how did you start out as a writer?

CM: I started in 1971, a year after I graduated from seminary. The late Charlie Shed offered a 10-week course on how to write for publication. I took the course and he felt I had talent.

I wrote only articles for at least three years. It was excellent preparation before I tried to write books. I learned how to start and finish a piece and how to keep the middle moving. Articles don’t pay much, but they provide excellent training.

SC: What is the toughest test you face as a writer?

CM: My toughest test is to keep writing the next sentence, because I want to hit the delete key. I constantly think, This is garbage and everybody will know it.

Several times my wife, Shirley, has said, “Because you think about it all the time, you assume everyone knows it. But they haven’t read it the way you write it.”

SC: Can you share with us three things you wish you’d known when you started out?

CM: 1. I wish I had been able to accept rejections objectively. Like any serious author, I throw myself into everything I write. It hurt deeply when I received rejections. (One day I received seven in the same mail delivery.) In time, I realized that rejections are part of the job description.

       2. I wish I had realized there is no place to stop improving. I assumed that once I became a good, well-published writer I could relax. I work harder at the craft now than I did in my early days.

       3. I wish I had not compared myself with other writers. When I did, they always seemed better or more successful than I was.

SC: What advice would you give an aspiring author?

CM: First, learn the craft. I can’t say that strongly enough or often enough.

Second, don’t try to be like other writers. Don’t imitate them. I see so much fiction that reads as if they all had the same ghost writer.

Each of us has a unique voice and to imitate someone else says to God, “You didn’t make me good enough.”

When people read me, they may not like my style or topic, but no one ever tells me that I write like someone else.

SC: Before you began your full-time writing career, you served as a pastor and a missionary. How did those experiences influence you as a writer?

CM: Those past experiences shaped my life and I draw on them constantly to illustrate lessons I’ve learned. Everything that happens to a writer becomes raw material for our reflection and eventually our writing.

I often say of my ministry in Kenya and of my pastoral work, “They brought out the best in me; they brought out the worst in me. But in the process, I learned to lean more fully on God.”

SC: You have helped a number of well-known celebrities to write about their experiences. Could you mention a couple?

CM: I can narrow it down to two, and not because they are the most successful, but the relationship was deeper.

First was Ben Carson for whom I wrote Gifted Hands in 1990 and a year later, Think Big. Both books are still in print with combined sales of about 6 million copies in English.

We’re now in our second generation of readers. I smile when a middle-aged woman says to me, “I read your book when I was in high school and now my son is reading it.”

The other is Don Piper, one of the nicest people with whom I’ve worked. 90 Minutes in Heaven has sold about 5 million copies in English. Besides making money for both of us, that book (and three that followed) have brought me name recognition and provided many unexpected writing opportunities. I’m now able to write more of my own books on issues about which I’m passionate.

SC: For many years you have given back to emerging writers. I speak from personal experience. Can you give us the background to this?

CM: About a year after I began to sell my writing, I asked two professional writers—whom I knew well—for help. Both declined and I was disappointed, even though I understood how busy they were. As a result of their unwillingness to help, I made a double commitment to God. I promised God I wouldn’t stop learning the craft and that I would do whatever I could to help other writers.

I’ve honored my promise and God has blessed me financially. All my royalties now go into a non-profit account to provide scholarships for emerging writers. I feel so grateful to have a small part in the career of other authors.

This interview continues here.

You can also visit Cec at his Website:
He also has two blogs that he updates twice weekly:—a blog about male sexual abuse.— a blog to help writers learn the craft.