A Writer’s Journey – The Story So Far

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As many of my readers are also writers, I thought it might be fun to share with you a little bit about my writing journey…I hope it will prompt you to think about your own journey, and encourage some of you to share some of your own stories, or writing goals, in the comments section below.

Childhood days

I composed my first poem, entitled ‘snow’ when I was just four years old. I’m sure it wasn’t a masterpiece, but my mum eagerly jotted down my ramblings onto a scrap of paper, and for many years, kept it, folded up inside her wooden writing bureau. I’m pretty sure my love of story began even earlier than this, but because I have something tangible to look back to, I often mark this poem as the beginning of my writing journey.

How about you? When did your writing journey begin?

My love of creative writing grew steadily throughout my childhood. I didn’t think too deeply about it at the time; it was just something I loved to do. I loved writing stories, and keeping journals, and did so on a regular basis. Looking back now, it’s clear that I had all the hallmarks of an aspiring writer. I wonder if you can relate to some of these too?:

  • My favourite subject, hands-down, was always English. I managed to get straight A’s in both Literature and Language, largely because writing essays – organising my thoughts and observations on paper – was never a chore;
  • I was a voracious reader – I was the type of kid that strained my eyes, trying to read in the dark, long after my mum had tucked me in and turned out the bedside lamp;
  • I had this nerdy little notebook in which I scribbled down any unfamiliar words that I came across, and then actually enjoyed looking up their meaning in the dictionary afterwards;
  • I used to day-dream a lot, especially on car journeys with the radio on, making up romantic stories in my head;
  • Speaking up, was often a real fear of mine – but expressing my thoughts on paper came easily;
  • My friends and I started a Writing Club when we were around 13. We would brainstorm all kinds of titles, and then write poems or compositions and read them out to each other;
  • I once got a lecture, from my exasperated father, whilst on a family holiday. It went something like this: “We didn’t bring you all the way out here just to sit inside and read. Why don’t you just go out and DO something!” (Ha! I thought this was terribly unfair at the time. As far as I was concerned, I WAS doing something. But looking back, I kind of understand.)

losing the plot…

I was an 18 year old ‘junior technician’ working at an insurance firm in the City. One day, as I sat daydreaming out of the office window, it dawned on me. I was not cut out for this. I looked around at all the ambitious brokers in their suits and brogues, cutting deals on the telephone, and realised that I was a complete fish out of water. I mean, who was I trying to kid? If truth be told, I was a hopeless technician. I was far more interested in thinking up silly limericks, than trying to apply my mind to anything remotely mathematical or ‘technical.’ All of a sudden, I knew EXACTLY what I wanted to do with my life… and it certainly wasn’t this. I wanted to be creative. I wanted to write books! (If I had told my 18 year-old-self that I’d still be trying to reach that goal at the ripe old age of 45, I wonder if I would have just given up there and then?)

Soon after, I handed my notice in…and landed up working in a clothes shop! I soon discovered that you can’t just decide one day that you’re going to quit your day job to become a writer. Life doesn’t work like that. So, writing became a hobby. I was delighted to learn that many successful writers held down day jobs, and made time to write in their spare time.

I went through several more years like this, working in various admin jobs, all the while sensing that I’d never really found my niche.

I bought dozens of books on how to write, particularly on how to write for children. I spent the next few years filling notebooks, with dozens of kids poems, stories and odds and ends. I had ideas for chapter books buzzing round my head. I had countless stories and picture book ideas saved on my computer.

And then one day, I decided to take the plunge and send off my first manuscript… After all, what good were all of these poems and stories stuck away in a file somewhere?

Rejection

I took my first rejection letter with a pinch of salt. It was par for the course. Part of the deal. No biggie. But six months later, after a parry of generic similar sounding let-downs, it all began to get rather discouraging. But still, I kept going.

THE AUTHOR WHO NEARLY GOT PUBLISHED

Then one amazingly normal day, quite out of the blue, the phone rang. I was a young stay-at-home mum at the time. Lydia, my four year old daughter, who loved to answer the telephone, announced (rather nonchalantly) “mummy, a lady wants to talk to you about your book!”

Wait… What?! Mouth wide open. Are you kidding me?

I shot to the phone, quite a’quiver, and discovered that it was indeed an ACTUAL real-life editor, wanting to talk to me about my book! She said she loved it! But, she wanted me to make a ton of changes and resubmit it.

I absolutely agreed to do whatever she asked. I mean, crikey, this was my big breakthrough moment! I set to work, rewriting the story, taking on board all her suggestions and dutifully resubmitted the manuscript. And then… I nervously waited.

A week went past. No news. No sweat. I mean, Editors are busy people.

A fortnight later, I was still avidly checking my inbox a gazillion times a day, but still… Nothing. Not even an acknowledgement.

A month came and went…. Not a bean, Josephine. By this time, I had the total jitters. What should I do? Would I be seen as an annoying novice nuisance, if I chased this up?

Almost six weeks later, I finally plucked up the courage to email the publisher, to see where I stood. A few days later I finally got my answer. The editor who had been working on my submission, had suddenly left the company and the project had been dropped. I honestly felt like the bottom had fallen out of my world. This was the pits. I would be known hereafter as the author who almost got published.

I must admit, for several months, I wondered what God was doing. Rather than rejoicing at how close I’d come, I wallowed in disappointment. I concluded that God must want me to stop writing altogether. Maybe it was the wrong time. Maybe this writing thing was becoming too much of a distraction from the things that really matter. It was a very confusing and difficult time.

GIFTS ARE FOR GIVING!

A few years went by, before I picked up my pen again. Life was hectic. I had four young children. I barely had time to think, let alone write. Yet often, when I picked up a novel, or read a story book to my kids, there was this huge pang within me. I felt like I’d missed the boat. I knew I should be writing. I just felt like I’d lost my way.

I began to pray about it all. Was my writing a God-given gift, or an earthly distraction? If God wanted me to lay it all down, then why did I still want to do it so much? What if I got to heaven one day, and He asked me why I had buried my talent?

And then I thought about the verse which says: “freely you have received, freely give.”

What if I was putting so much emphasis on the final destination, i.e. getting a book published, that I’d forgotten to enjoy the journey? What if, during the waiting period, however long it might be, I tried to use my passion to bless others?

A BLOG IS BORN

And so in Jan 2016, having absolutely no blogging experience whatsoever, I set up this blog and wrote my first post. I had no grand designs. No great plan. My motto was, and still is, that if by sharing a few thoughts, I managed to encourage just one person, then it would have been worth it. And if nobody ever read my blog, well, at least it was a place to practice the craft.

the journey continues

Since starting this blog, I’ve had a small degree of success within the Christian Publication market. I’ve finally managed to break into print (albeit, the very first time I got published, they managed to spell my surname wrong!) I’ve written around 10 short devotional stories for Keys For Kids Ministries, and had an article published in Creation Illustrated Magazine.

My first published Devotional Story!

I’ve also had a ton of rejections and some pretty low moments too.

But I’m learning that perseverance and patience pay off eventually. I’m also learning that getting published is not the be all and end all of life. Writing, like all creative pursuits, is meant to be enjoyable, not an endless source of frustration. I would never tell a painter to stop painting just because they never sold any of their art. So wherever you’re at on your journey, keep going. Don’t you dare give up! Keep writing. Keep being brave and sharing your stories. Keep learning. Keep connecting with other writers. And most of all, don’t forget to enjoy the journey!

Braised Red Cabbage

Boxing Day leftovers would simply not be complete in our house, without a goodly portion of Mum’s Red Cabbage.

This is one of those wonderful old family recipes, that has added that special touch to the Christmas table, for as long as I can remember. It pairs beautifully with Turkey and all the trimmings, particularly Chipolatas or Sausage-meat stuffing. It’s not a difficult dish to make AT ALL. But it does take a bit of time to do it right.

It’s so worth it though. I always make mine in advance, normally on Christmas Eve, whilst listening to my favourite Christmas Album, of course…. (It’s A Wonderful Christmas, by Michael W Smith, in case you were wondering).

It can then be cooled and refrigerated in an airtight container overnight. And then on Christmas day, it can be whipped out, and really easily reheated on the hob.

1. Start by finely slicing 1 red cabbage.

2. Melt 2oz butter in a large lidded pan. Add in the sliced cabbage, plus 1-2 finely chopped dessert apples (I used Pink Lady)

3. Saute the cabbage and apple in the butter for 25-30 mins, moving continuously, until the cabbage has softened.

Now, this may sound laborious, but it’s THE single-most important instruction. Cabbage, being a rather fibrous vegetable, takes a while to soften, and it will turn a horrible murky colour if it catches and browns.

Follow this step, and in turn you will be rewarded with a dish that is gloriously vibrant in colour. The apples will turn a gorgeous pink, infused with the colour of the cabbage, and the dish will end up glossy and sumptuous.

4. Add in 1/4 pint of beef stock, 1 generous tablespoon of Golden Syrup and 2 fl oz of Vinegar (I used Balsamic, but Red or White Wine Vinegar work well too). Stir everything well, bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 40 mins. Check and stir every 10 mins or so.

Tangy, sweet , and slightly al dente – this dish is the perfect accompaniment to all that rich Christmas Meat. It goes brilliantly well with sliced Ham!

So if you’re in the supermarket, and you spy a Red Cabbage hanging around, grab one and give this dish a try. It might become a festive favourite in your family too!

If you enjoyed this post, you might like to read about the time I burnt the Turkey…https://everydayencounters.blog/2018/12/28/redeeming-christmas/

Somerset Chicken with Braised Leeks

This is a really simple family meal that always goes down a treat! It’s got the tastiest sauce – the kids lick their plates!

I call it Somerset Chicken, due to its killer ingredient, which gives it a very moreish sweet flavour – Apple Cider!

Here’s the instructions:

  1. Gently stir fry some chopped chicken, plus one small onion in some olive oil. (I used Chicken Thigh fillets, as they tend to be very flavoursome and succulent, plus some leftover Roast Chicken I needed to use up). Season generously.

2. Add some flour (approx 1 heaped tbsp) to act as a thickener for the sauce, which is made from cider and stock.

3. Add half a pint of Dry Cider and half pint of chicken stock, plus some dried Rosemary or Thyme. Stir well. Season again.

That’s the prep done – couldn’t be simpler!

Optional Variation

Sometimes I jazz things up by adding some bacon lardons at stage 1 – this works really well as the salty bacon offsets the sweet cider beautifully – just use less seasoning, to avoid things getting too salty!

4. Cook for 1 1/2 hours in a crock pot or lidded casserole dish at 180 degrees. Check half way through to ensure sauce has not reduced too much. Add a little more water if needed.

Braised Leeks

My mum taught me how to prepare these leeks – they’re brilliant! Really tasty, and a great accompaniment to so many dishes, particularly chicken dishes, or Sausage n Mash!

  1. Gently saute 2 chopped leeks in 1 tbsp butter. Season.
  2. When leeks are soft and glossy, add approx 30ml boiling water, just enough to shallowly cover bottom of pan.
  1. Add a few handfuls of Frozen Peas. If you like, add a little Rosemary or Tarragon. Bring to boil, then turn down low and simmer in a lidded frying pan for 5-6 minutes with lid partly ajar to allow excess liquid to reduce.

Serve both dishes with some creamy, mashed potato.

Super satisfying, especially with a glass of leftover cider!

Bangin’ Salmon!

This Salmon dish was one of those really fortunate experiments that turned out right first time! It’s seriously tasty, and an absolute doddle to make. It’s become a fast favourite of mine for occasions when I’m entertaining, as it can be prepared in advance, and it’s soooo easy to make, that it frees you up to concentrate on catching up with your friends! Also, it’s pretty healthy, so you don’t need to feel too guilty about having dessert!

I’ve named it ‘Bangin’ Salmon’ – as this seems to be my three teenage kids’ new word for anything that’s ‘cool’, ‘fab’ or in any way ‘good!’ (And because ‘Serendipitous Salmon’ just doesn’t have quite the same ring…)

Anyway, here’s how I made it:

Step 1:

Place some Salmon Fillets in a foil lined tray. Season generously and add some finely chopped red onions, red peppers and Vine/Cherry Tomatoes.

Step 2 – Glaze

My glaze consisted of:

  • a chunk of finely chopped fresh ginger,
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Soy Sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons Sweet Chili Sauce
  • 1 tablespoon or so of freshly squeezed lime juice

I made this up really quickly in a dish.

Step 3

Pour the glaze all over the Salmon, and pocket the salmon loosely in foil, adding some fresh coriander, if you like it.

Looks pretty, too!

Cook for about 25-30 mins on a moderate heat (I cooked mine in a fan oven at 180 degrees). You’ll know everything’s ready when the fish turns pale and flakes easily, and the tomatoes are close to bursting. And the smell of all that yummy glaze will make your mouth water.

Serve with new potatoes, broccoli, or a crisp green salad, and of course a glass of Pinot Grigio! And be sure to spoon over some of that glaze – delicious!

Delicious Home-made Tomato Soup

Our family have all been really poorly this week. When you need a bit of a pick-me-up, this homemade tomato soup is like sunshine in a bowl.

It’s zingy, tangy, sweet and savoury, bursting with the vibrant flavour of roasted Vine Ripened Tomatoes.

I constantly find myself marveling at the abundant array of foods that God has provided for us! And in my humble opinion, tomatoes are up there with the best.

Tomatoes are a great source of antioxidants, which promote heart health.

Some people say that God gives us visible clues about the nutritional benefits of foods. I don’t know how true that is, but cross-section a tomato and you find a sort of four-chambered interior!

They are also choc-full of Vitamin C, Potassium, Vitamin K and Folate.

And best of all, they’re absolutely yummy. So what are you waiting for?

Step 1

Place a selection of fresh tomatoes, preferably Vine-Ripened into a roasting tray. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Oven roast at approx 180 degrees for 20 mins.

Step 2

Chop an onion and 2-3 stalks of celery. Saute in a swig of olive oil until softening. Add one chopped clove garlic and some grated fresh ginger, for extra depth.

Step 3

Add a tin of chopped tomatoes. Fill up the empty tin with water a few times to get all the juice that’s stuck to the sides, and add the water to the pan to form a stock. Add a vegetable stock cube and a generous teaspoon or two of sugar.

Step Four

Bring to the boil and then turn down heat to a simmer. Add in 2-3 handfuls of red lentils. These provide a lovely, chunky thickness to the soup, and the added bonus is, they’re good for you! Add a little more seasoning. Cover and simmer for approx 20 mins, being careful to stir every so often so the lentils don’t stick to bottom of the pan. Add more water if stock is getting too thick.

Step 5

By now your roasted tomatoes should be cooked literally to bursting point.

The red lentils should have softened too. Add the roasted tomatoes into the soup and blitz everything up with a hand blender, (or crush with a masher if you don’t have one).

Add a squeeze of lemon if you have any. Season to taste. Add some torn basil leaves…and dive on in! You’ll be back for more!

Absolutely beautiful with a hunk of bread and cheese!