When the Characters Call the Shots

Yesterday I did a really stupid thing

(I can say that. I’m talking about me – and trust me! It was stupid!)

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been spending long hours working on an image using Affinity Photo (a similar program to Photoshop). Every time I made a significant change, I saved it under a new name. When I closed Affinity for the day, I was asked the same question. “This file has been changed. Do you want to save it?”

I didn’t want to save it. I wanted the original file to remain untouched.

Lesson learned? (I hope) Check which program you’re working on before saying yes or no!

oooOooo

Learning from your characters

I ventured into my first attempt at a novel about twenty years ago. That is when I discovered how real my characters were. If you’re a writer, you’ll understand what I’m about to say. If you’re not, you’ll be convinced I am delusional!

I learned that my characters had their own ideas of how the story should work out.

Really! I clearly remember the first time it happened. I had sent twins out on a walk, pushing their toddler baby brother in his pushchair. As they walked down the sidewalk (pavement in S.Africa), I saw the scene play out in my mind.

Suddenly, a playground materialized on their left. No! That wasn’t my plan. Butit was okay. I would get them to just keep walking. But no! That’s when I learned that not all characters are obedient to their author. The twins certainly weren’t. They couldn’t resist the park. They turned in the gate. I was literally speaking aloud, telling them to get back to their walk.

Well, they ignored me. They put the toddler in a chair-swing and started to push him. Typically, they became distracted watching someone walk past. “Watch the kid!” I shouted at them.

But no.

They didn’t.

And said ‘kid’ fell out of the chair.

That incident opened up a whole new section of my novel that I hadn’t anticipated. It also introduced a secondary character that I had planned on, but couldn’t decide how to bring him into the story. Amazing!

That’s when I learned a major problem with writing SOTP. (See Seat of the Pants explanation.)

Novelists soon learn that their characters have their own ideas. Click To Tweet

Characters with a clear plan

My current WIP (Work in Progress), Finding Amanda, I tackled from a different angle. As I’ve already described, I now have a timeline pasted to my wall, and I have a rough idea of what happens next, right up until the end of the book. So does that mean I can tell you the entire story? Oh no.

You see, I’ve learned another lesson. My characters have the final say. Already, I’ve had several of my plans changed.

This week, I experienced a fun incident.  I knew where Mandy was traveling to. And I knew who she was going to visit. I just didn’t know what the situation would be when she arrived. As she stepped into the arrivals section of the airport, a sweet, dumpy little lady I didn’t know existed, bounced forward and introduced herself to Mandy—and to me.  It turns out she’s quite a key person in the story. Who knew? (Not me! I’m just the author.)

So it that fun, or what?

Characters who bring new ideas to the author’s plans

So now I know. I have a pretty good idea where the story’s going. But ultimately, that depends on my characters. Scary? A bit. But it’s fun too.

A visitor to my blog last week referred to the book as Finding Mandy. But, as I pointed out to her, that’s not the title. It’s Finding Amanda! You thought they were the same person? Ah well, you see, that’s the problem.

Amanda is one person.

Mandy is another.

The question is, which is the real person? And how is the one going to find the other? (Hint: She’s not schizophrenic!)

Another eye-opener for me this week was the sneaky feeling this book is not going to be a solo book. Two other characters that are closely involved with Mandy (note the shift! Not Amanda this time!) are developing their own story-lines on the side. I have a feeling they’re going to demand a book all to themselves. When will I know for sure? I guess when they tell me.

I’d love to hear from you. How do you feel about Finding Amanda developing into a series of three (or more…) books?

 

He has Plans for Our Good ~ and for My Main Character!

 

A Magazine Challenge:

On Thursday, we had a surprise visitor. She had come to ask us to take on the editorship of a local magazine. It is a beautiful magazine, usually 28 pages in full color. Although we have never tackled such an ambitious project, nor do either of us have any experience using the particular desktop publisher software they use, we are well-qualified in other ways. We have run countless church magazines down the years, but always black and white, and very straight-forward layouts. This magazine is beautifully put together and looks very professional.

We have both produced many brochures, leaflets, adverts, and of course, I make all my own book covers. We also have a fair knowledge of Word and I do a lot of editing in my daily writing responsibilities. So yes, it sounded good. It would be a learning curve for us both, but what’s new? Our lives seem to be seasoned with learning curves! We were fairly confident we would manage the task, and we would certainly enjoy the work.

However, we have learned things seldom turn out to be as simple as they first sound, especially when computers are concerned. There were a few things we needed to be sure of, and we agreed to pray about it. No commitment. We would pray, and I would find out more of what was involved from the person best equipped to tell me—the current editor.

The following day, I went to see the editor, and she gave me a quick run-through of what it involves. She assured me that she would give us both all the training we needed, and would be there for us if we needed help. Sounded good? Yes, it did. Until I saw how much work was involved.

God’s Plans for Our Lives

As you possibly know, I am currently working on two book-length projects. I have a completed draft of a non-fiction book: Reflections for Pastor’s Wives. That is currently on hold as I work on a novel, Finding Amanda, which you can read about here.

Both of these are projects I’m excited about, and I know God plans to have them published. I believe He will use both in different ways to build His Kingdom. In addition to this, I run about six Facebook groups and help my husband who is establishing a new and exciting online-ministry that is already reaching people with God’s Word across the world. (See more here.)  And of course, I blog weekly.

We know these are part of God’s plan for our lives. Would we be able to continue with all of these and give them as much time as we currently do? It soon became apparent we wouldn’t. Something would have to give.

I also have a hobby of card-making, which at the moment is on hold because the only time I have to do them is in the evening, and by then I am too tired to be bothered. Plus of course, thanks to the restricting pandemic that affects us all, I have no market to sell them.  (I don’t make them to make money, but I do need to cover my costs so I can keep myself in supplies.) I would have to give that up completely if we accepted the magazine task.

So we prayed.

What were God’s plans for us?

I also chatted to two friends who know me well and are aware of my ability to over-commit. They agreed to pray for our decision, but both were wary about whether we would be able to continue with the work we’re doing for the Lord if we were to take this on.

That night, we went to bed aware that we needed to make a decision the next day. If we were going to say, “No”, the organization needed time to look for another editorial team. We awoke the next morning, totally convinced we had to say,  “Thank you, but no. This isn’t part of the Lord’s plans for us.”

He has Plans for Our Good ~ and for My Main Character! Click To Tweet

And we knew this was not part of those plans.  We’d no sooner passed on the news than we had a sense of tremendous peace.

Now I faced the responsibility of getting on with my novel. I am committed to completing Finding Amanda during the month of April, during Camp NaNo for those of you who know about this global writing challenge. (You can read more about it here.)

Plans? Or No Plans?

Writers generally fall into one of two categories. You have the Planners and the Pansters. The Planners like to plan out every detail of their story before they start to write. Pansters write by the Seat of the Pants, hence their strange title. They may know their main characters, then they just start to write. In ways only writers can understand, the characters take over and the story unfolds. Recently, a third category has been identified: the Planster. As you can figure out, this is a combination of the other two.

I have always written Seat of the Pants until now. But this novel, I could see most of the plan before I started to write. So I sat down and created a time-line on my computer which I have printed out and stuck to the wall next to my working space. Within a short time, I had planned out the entire book, and I felt excited about fleshing out the storyline, as the characters showed me how they were going to achieve the various points.(Seat of the Pants!) Here it is, if you haven’t read about it yet.

There were a few gaps that I didn’t know how they were going to work out, but I was confident I would come up with a plan, or perhaps I should say my characters would.

Last night, the same day we had turned down the magazine offer, I spent the night working on my novel in my sleep. I wasn’t really dreaming, I was planning. Yet I was asleep. As the night progressed, I saw more and more of the plans coming together. By the time I awoke, I couldn’t wait to make notes before I forgot key elements. And so, just like that, I had the missing gaps all filled. Now I just need to give the plans to Amanda and the other key characters and let them run with it.

Living and Writing According to the Lord’s Plans

That’s when I realized how exciting it is to write for the Lord. Where the Panster creates plans for her story, and the Panster leaves that up to the characters, I have now become a Planster! And by committing the novel to the Lord, I am assured that where I may not know everything that’s going to come together in the story, the Lord does.

And that’s the last thing I shared with Rob. How real this Scripture is. The Lord has plans for me. But more than that, He has plans for Amanda! Plans that will bless His people as they read the novel. I have never thought of this before! Do you find this exciting? Or far-fetched?

When you hand something over to the Lord—it becomes His challenge. And He will come up with plans way beyond any that you may think of on your own.

Question for you:

Are you a writer? Which of the three categories do you fall into?

If you’re not a writer, how do you live your life? Is your life guided by goals and plans and lists? Or do you live by the seat of your pants? Please answer in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!

 

He is Not Here for He is Risen

The Empty Tomb

Years ago, my husband and I visited the garden tomb outside Jerusalem. We went first as part of our official tour, but then we had a few days to ourselves to explore and we didn’t hesitate. We went back to the garden and spent time on our own sitting absorbing the quiet, beauty, and spiritual awareness that seemed to soak into our bodies. I could see there was a person in the rock-cut tomb, so I sat a distance away, wanting to visit alone.

After the man had left, I made my way to the tomb which was unearthed in 1867 and believed by many to have been the place where my Savior’s body was laid after He was crucified.

Inside the Tomb

I walked through the entrance, past a heavy varnished door that stood ajar. I didn’t pay any attention to it, although I saw there was some sort of notice attached to it at eye level.

The area where the body would have laid is railed off to prevent vandals or even over-zealous worshipers from doing any harm. I experienced the presence of the Lord in such a real sense as I stood in awe that I wondered how anyone could ever doubt this was the true final resting place of the Savior.

After soaking in all the tomb had to offer, and spending some time in silent prayer and worship, I turned to leave. Only then, did I pay attention to the large notice nailed to the door. In bold carved words were the words,

HE IS NOT HERE

FOR HE IS RISEN

The hair on my arms stood up. I was glad I hadn’t seen it before entering the tomb as the words struck me so much more. He really really had risen. No doubt.

Facing me, as I exited past the massive door, I saw a huge round-hewn disc, an example of the boulder that would have been used to seal the tomb with Jesus’ body inside.

And this brings me to the thought I want to leave with you today.

As a child, I was taught how the angels rolled away the stone so that Jesus could come out. As I grew in my Christian faith, I realized: Jesus didn’t need the stone to be removed. He didn’t walk out. He arose! If He could conquer death, He certainly wouldn’t be stuck inside by a mere boulder.

No—the boulder was not removed for Jesus. It was removed for the disciples. For Mary. For us.

It was rolled away so that we could see inside! That we may not doubt, but believe.

He is not here for He is risen!

Every blessing to you as you celebrate the death and amazing resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We may be in lockdown—but Jesus is not. May you experience His presence in an amazing way this Holy Easter time.

Please take your time and watch this short video clip as often as you want to. Try and imagine the atmosphere visitors can feel as they stand in this incredible burial place. And soak in the message burned into the door:

He is not here —FOR HE IS RISEN. 

Hallelujah!

Can I hear an amen from you? 

Have you been to Jerusalem? Have you seen this sight for yourself? If not, take a look at this site which describes it in far better detail than I ever could.

 

Meet Amanda, the Minister’s Wife

Last week, I said I would be introducing you to the main character of my upcoming novel.

Introducing . . .

Amanda – also known as Mandy…

Amanda

Amanda Kirkpatrick

… wins a number of awards during her spell at college where she is majoring in art. During her final year, she receives urgent news from a friend that her dearly-loved sister, Deidre, has been involved in a tragic water-skiing accident. She races to her sister’s side in ICU where it soon becomes apparent that, outside of a huge miracle, her sister is not going to recover.

Where are their parents? The parents that appear to have been responsible for the accident? They haven’t even contacted her, nor are they visiting their critically-injured daughter.

Mandy, as she is known by her friends, settles down for a twenty-hour vigil by her sister’s side. She prays fervently to the God her sister believes in, telling Him that if He heals her sister, she will believe in Him too and will commit her life to Him. She can’t help but be impressed by Owen Douglas, the newly-ordained assistant pastor from her sister’s church. Does he really visit all the patients every day? She can’t help wondering what a nice guy like this is doing throwing his life away to serve a God who allows accidents like Deirdre’s to happen.

Where is God?

Deirdre does not regain consciousness. Owen steps forward and helps Mandy through the horrible days that follow. Her parents barely make it to the memorial service and Mandy realises she is now alone in the world—with no parents or a sister.

Fast forward several years, and Mandy commits herself to God despite His failure to heal her sister.  Her painting continues to draw accolades, and her dream is to become a full-time artist.

She falls in love with Owen and they marry.  She settles into her new life as Owen’s wife in a congregation where their predecessor was a widower, and so the ladies in the church are used to covering all the tasks where female leadership is required. The congregation loves their new minister’s wife, and they are happy to let her spend her days painting and producing beautiful landscapes that sell well. Life couldn’t get better.

The family grows

Then the children come along, and her time is mostly taken up with nappies and feeds, walks, and games. Her art is pushed to one side, but she knows this is just for a season, and she dedicates her life to her growing family. Once they are at school, she will be able to take up her painting once more.

Then comes the move that changes everything.

New Standards for Amanda

The next congregation had been led in the past by a dedicated minister and an equally-dedicated minister’s wife. They expect nothing less from Owen, and from Amanda, as they all call her. They have a list of roles they expect from their minister and wife.

Where her husband rolls up his sleeves and throws himself into the work of the demanding congregation, Mandy sinks under the pressure. Her children start to play up, and Owen doesn’t understand. He’s far too busy and can’t understand why his wife, whom he also now calls Amanda, can’t at least make an effort to meet the congregation’s demands. He wants her to realise she’s no longer free to be an artist. She is a minister’s wife, as well as being responsible for the children’s upbringing. There is no time to pursue her youthful hobby of painting.

It’s all too much

Eventually, it all gets too much for the would-be artist, and she comes to the point she just wants out. Out of the church. Out of the ministry. And yes, even out of her marriage.

Afraid she is going to make a wrong decision, Amanda follows the advice of a friend and decides to take a sabbatical. She takes off, leaving her husband to cope with the children as well as his ministry. Before she leaves, her friend gives her a copy of a book to study while she is away, saying that this would help her understand and solve her problems.

She leaves a note for her husband and suggests he gets a copy of the book himself and see if they can together sort things out. She promises to keep in touch but asks him not to try and follow her.

Questions for Amanda

Will Owen look for her? Will he get the book? When will he be able to read it when he’s now learning firsthand what Amanda’s life was like? How will he cope with the children, the curious congregation, and his packed schedule which he can no longer cover? How will the congregation react to the news that they have a runaway minister’s wife? Will either of them ever learn about their motivational gifts? And will Amanda—or Mandy—ever be able to return to Owen after her break?

As if the whole situation isn’t bad enough, a mysterious virus that originated in China lands in South Africa. Mandy’s sabbatical seems destined to be a lot longer than anticipated. What will the future hold for the Douglas family, and for the members of the Ranak United Church?

Question for you:

Last week, I asked for suggestions re a name for this book. I am mulling over the idea,

Finding Mandy

~ the Runaway Pastor’s Wife ~

What do you think? Owen now calls his wife Amanda, as does the congregation. The story covers the search for her true identity—that of Mandy. Please make a comment below and let me know what you think.

Interview with Allyson Koekhoven, South African Editor

Meet the editor

We’ve just come to the end of a series of interviews covering all the authors of our thirteen books contained in In All Things.  Each of us undertook to get our own proofreaders etc, but when I received the books, after checking them for consistency and making corrections where needed, I sent them out to a number of volunteers from our Christian Writers of Southern Africa (CWOSA) group for final edits. That’s when I discovered the editor, Allyson Koekhoven!

Allyson has been a member of our group for a while, but up until then I hadn’t realized she is actually a member of the Professional Editors’ Guild. What a find! She did several excellent edits for me, picking up on a number of issues that had slipped through all the other pairs of eyes that had already been over the books. read more

Meet Shirley Corder, Author of 7 African Animals

This entry is part 4 of the series In All Things

7 African Animals Author Interview

Over the next three months, I’m going to be looking at the authors who compiled the thirteen one-week books that make up the boxed set, In All Things ~ 13 Weeks of Devotions from Africa. I plan to interview all the authors and give you some insight into the background to their books, the motivation behind the themes they chose, and their general experiences of the project. 

I’m starting with the first book in the box. This happens to be my own, 7 African Animals, and what they teach us about God. Because this is my book, I obviously won’t do this in the form of an interview, but I’ll try to cover the same issues.

read more

Dunk and Enjoy! Buttermilk Rusks from South AFrica

This recipe is for buttermilk rusks, one of the snacks you were offered if you attended the launch party for our newly released boxed set of devotional books, In All things. Click here to order the boxed set. A LIMITED EDITION of 13 books for only $0.99. 


Background to the creation of rusks:

The South African karringmelk (buttermilk) rusk can be compared to American biscotti, but they are, in fact, only distant cousins.

The S.African rusk evolved from early Cape settlement and from the pioneers making their laborious and dangerous trip  inland from the coast via ox-wagons. They are extremely hard, almost inedible unless dipped (or dunked) in hot coffee, or as in our case at the In All Things launch party, Rooibos Tea.  (Learn about Rooibos tea over at Anna Jensen’s blog by clicking on the link.)

Enjoy a karringmelk (buttermilk) rusk - almost inedible until dunked! Then it's wonderful! Click To Tweet

Photo copyright Kyle Ueckermann. Recipe copyright Hanlie Morrison.

The best way to wake up in the morning - to a cup of steaming coffee or tea and a S.African rusk (or beskuit). Click To Tweet

So now let’s make rusks!

Sorry the ingredients are metric, but that’s our method of measurement in SA.(See Conversion  Table here.)

Ingredients:

3kg self-raising flour
2 x 500g butter
2 x 500ml buttermilk
8 eggs (beaten well)
1 desert-spoon baking powder
2.5 cups sugar
2 teaspoon salt

Method:

Mix self-raising flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl.
Melt butter and sugar together slowly (body temperature ONLY).
Add buttermilk.
Pour the melted mixture into flour mixture.
Add beaten eggs.
Knead well.

Press into oven pans about 1.5cm high.

“Cut” into rusks about width and length of adult middle finger by pushing a long flat object (eg. ruler or egg lifter) into the dough to separate the dough. Do not try to cut with a knife – the dough will just drag.

Bake for around 1 hour in a 165 degree Celsius preheated oven. Stick a toothpick in and if it comes out clean, they’re ready. If not and the rusks are browning, cover with foil and bake longer.

Once baked, remove and break into separate biscuits along pressed lines.

Place back into the oven pan, stacking biscuits loosely and dry overnight in a 70 degree Celsius oven.

Make sure to wedge something in the oven door that will keep the oven open fractionally—about a centimeter—so that there is airflow to dry the rusks slowly.

How to eat a rusk:

Once rusks are ready, grab a cup of coffee (or rooibos tea – follow this link to read more),  dunk and enjoy! There’s a knack to dunking. Dip the rusk too long and it’ll break off in your hot drink. Too short and you could just break a tooth! Dip twice before  popping the end into your mouth. And keep a teaspoon handy to fish out any errant pieces that bob to the surface of your drink.

“The accepted and correct way to eat a rusk is to dip it in a cup of tea or coffee. (Anyone who tells you otherwise, does not deserve to eat them.) Click To Tweet

 

Curried Mince and Vetkoek – yummy South African recipe.

This recipe is for the curried mince that we offered inside vetkoek as one of the snacks you were offered if you attended the launch party for our newly released boxed set of devotional books, In All things. Click here to order the boxed set. A LIMITED EDITION of 13 books for only $0.99. **LINK

Background to Vetkoek:

Vetkoek (literally Fat Cake, referring to the method of frying in oil) is a delightful, typically South African snack. This traditional pastry both in Afrikaans and Zulu culture (where it is called Amagwinya), is basically made from flour, water, sugar and salt formed into small balls and deep-fried until golden brown.

It’s usually served hot with curried mince but is also delicious with butter, cheese and jam (jelly).

For the recipe to make vetkoek, follow this link.

You haven't lived until you've tasted traditional South African Vetkoek and Curried Mince! Click To Tweet

To make curried mince:

Ingredients:

  • Beef Mince (If you’re in the US, you probably call it ground beef) – Buy mince with a low percentage of fat.2 You can also use pork mince (ground pork) or half/half.
  • Vegetables – including potatoes, onions, celery, carrots, fresh tomatoes, chopped into 1cm pieces. Optional addition of frozen petit pois (tiny peas).
  • Additions – Tomato Puree, Chutney, a pinch of sugar, and salt, beef stock which you can make with a stock cube and a cup of boiling water
  • Oil – to brown the meat.
  • Spices –  a selection including mustard seeds, fennel seeds, all spice, turmeric, and ground coriander. Finally, curry powder depending on your taste. It shouldn’t be over spicy, but should have a clear curry flavour.

Method:

  • Fry the spices then add the curried mince and let it brown. Keep stirring until the mince is brown and crumbly.
  • Add the onions and celery and fry until the onion softens.
  • Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, chutney and sugar and salt.
  • Once the tomatoes soften, add the carrots, potatoes and stock.
  • Put on the lid and allow to simmer until the mix is cooked through and juicy.
  • If there is too much liquid, allow it to boil without the lid for a few minutes.
  • Finally add the frozen peas and stir well.

Serving:

Split your vetkoek in half and fill with the curried mince. A small amount of chutney adds to the delicious flavour. Pick it up and take a large bite! Yummy!!!

Sink your teeth into this wonderful South African treat - Vetkoek and Curried Mince! Click To Tweet

(Thanks to https://www.foodleclub.com/ for the basic recipe and images for this meal.)

Alternative option

This mince mixture can also be used as a curried mince served with yellow rice.

To make the yellow rice:

Cook rice in water and salt as normal, adding a generous amount of turmeric powder and a handful of raisins.

Serve the curry and rice with

  • a small salad comprising chopped onion, tomato, cucumber and green pepper.
  • banana sliced into rings
  • desiccated coconut sprinkled on top (optional).

[stextbox id=’alert’]Have you ever enjoyed vetkoek? If not, will you try them now? Easy to make and delicious  to the taste![/stextbox] Leave a comment below.

Don’t forget to order your copy of the brand new book, In All Things!

Get Your Copy

13 Books on Preorder, the Launch Party, In All Things!

This entry is part 3 of the series In All Things

Updated since the launch party!

Last post I shared with you how ten authors of Christian Writers of Southern Africa, (CWOSA), took up my challenge to create a boxed set of 13  devotional books. Here’s some news about our amazing launch!

I now have very exciting news to share! ‘In All Things – 13 devotions from Africa’ reached #1 on Amazon in the New Releases: Spiritual Devotions category. What an exciting moment to see our boxed set boasting its little orange ribbon.

read more

A Mother’s Heart – 7-Day devotions for mothers of all generations

This entry is part 2 of the series 7-Day Readings
[stextbox id=’alert’]To stop the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 in South Africa, a National lock-down is currently in place. For more see: National Covid-19 website[/stextbox]

A BOOK FOR MOTHERS OF ALL GENERATIONS

Mothering isn’t easy, but it can be fun.

Being a mother isn’t for sissies.

No one knows that better than Shirley Corder who is mother to three now-grown children, plus their married partners and six grandchildren. She is all an RN who spent many years nursing children of all ages with all sorts of mothers.

In these seven short stories, Shirley shares some life-lessons drawn from her own life as a mother that will draw you closer to God, and to your children.

A Mother's Grace includes 7 reflections to draw you closer to God, based on the personal experiences of this mother and grandmother. Click To Tweet

Chapters include

  • I’m Listening!
  • Out of Sight
  • Teacher Knows Best
  • And others.

Click on this link or on the image above to purchase.

Series:

A Mother’s Heart is the second in a growing series of 7- day devotional reading books.

Also available 

Contact Shirley:

Email: writetoinspire@shirleycorder.com

Amazon Author Page: