Horse thieves and drunkards

It’s not often you hear a preacher confess they are descended from horse thieves and drunkards: Will Graham, grandson of the late Billy Graham, made his Falkirk Stadium debut a week past Friday night under a Scottish sky that his ancestors would surely have recognised. All evening there was the threat of rain with just odd drops reminding me that I hadn’t brought my brolly.

Will alluded to his ancestors several times both on the Friday and Saturday evenings, trying to create a connection with an audience that mostly had little idea who he was. And it worked, for me at least. Anyone who can admit their heritage was messed up is likely to have a streak of humility that I find myself drawn to.

Roughly thirty years before, I went forward at one of Billy Graham’s events. Now here I was, volunteering at his grandson’s event, trained and ready to lead someone to Jesus.

Well, trained anyway. I didn’t feel at all ready.

Fact is that it felt like an overwhelming responsibility. Questions were running through my mind like:

What if I mess this up?

What if I get things in the wrong order?

If you’ve never been to an “evangelistic” event, there is usually what people used to describe as an alter call. We want to introduce people to Jesus and so they are invited to walk down to the front (called down to where the alter used to be) and led in saying a prayer of confession and repentance of sin, and acceptance of Jesus.

I don’t know how this will sound if you’ve never experienced this, but I grew up in a church attending family and can remember numerous alter call’s being made.

I said I went forward at a Billy Graham event. I actually went forward twice, one year after the other. And neither of those were the first time I’d gone forward either. At the age of twelve, at a Luis Palau event, I’d gone forward as well.

Despite saying the prayer, despite meaning every word, I didn’t receive assurance through those acts that Jesus was in my life.

In our training for the Will Graham event, we’d been given leaflets to read through with those who came forward. Fairly simple step by step questions to help people verbalise their reasons for responding.

It’s a sensible approach. People can and do get caught up in the moment and it’s worth taking some time to allow them to think through what they are doing.

As a child I had a lot of head knowledge about Jesus. I knew backwards and forwards what it all meant and I knew absolutely what I was getting into, even at age twelve, when I went forward.

What I didn’t have was the Holy Spirit. I am certain that the reason I kept going forward when alter call’s were given was that I was still looking for God’s presence in my life. I’d said the prayers, but for whatever reason, hadn’t received the gift that Jesus promised his followers.

It was only aged nineteen, after going forward yet again at an event, that I finally did recieve the Holy Spirit and finally had assurance that Jesus was in my life.

What changed? Well, I was asked to confess sin, not just in silence, but out loud. It was only after I did that, when I made myself completely vulnerable, that I experienced what I can only describe as a physical sensation of being filled by God’s spirit.

The preparation for last weekend and the experiences there have given me a lot to think about.

What am I doing with my life?

What are the most important things?

Am I living for Jesus?

I know I’ve committed to writing, but have found myself doing more reading the last couple of weeks.

I’ve consumed long articles and posts by David Robertson, from his blog at https://theweeflea.com/

Articles like this one from Tim Keller on why the UK Church needs to “Stand apart from culture or risk being ineffective”:
https://www.premierchristianity.com/Blog/Tim-Keller-s-message-to-the-UK-Church-Stand-apart-from-culture-or-risk-being-ineffective

We appear to be living in a time where society is regressing. Yet society has done so before, many times.

Despite whatever we may do to ourselves and each other, our creator is watching, hoping we will turn back to him. Jesus is often incorrectly labelled as only having taught a message of love. Yet read what Jesus actually said and you will quickly find that Jesus firstly and foremostly called people to repent of sin. That was an act of love, to call out truth to people who would mock him, who would reject him, who would go on to kill him.

Jesus went on to tell people to seek first the kingdom of God. Our society focuses on love your neighbour, but unless we love God first, our understanding of what it means to love ones neighbour has the potential to become horribly skewed.

You and I may not have ancestors who were horse thieves and drunkards, but we are living lives that will one day be judged by our creator. By his standards, not our own. I find this both reassuring and terrifying.

If you don’t believe in God, then you may as well eat drink and be merry, for what else is there to live for. But we were created. If you are willing to look closely at the world around you, there is evidence of God’s creation everywhere.

One day you and I will both stand before our creator in what God’s word says will be a day of judgement. I hope you will join me in seeking God’s kingdom now, while we still have time.

If you don’t know Jesus, but would like to, get in touch.

You can also visit the Scotland Hope website

Finally, a few clips to share with you. Someone shared part of this with me on Facebook this week:

Before The Person :: Relationship Goals (Part 1)

I really enjoyed the music of Aaron Shust on Friday night as he led us in worship. Here is his song: God of Brilliant Lights

On Saturday The Afters really did Light Up The Sky

Do you read Historical Fiction?

Do you read Historical Fiction?

If so, you might be interested in The Historical Novel Society Conference. They are hosting the conference at the Westerwood Hotel, near Glasgow in Scotland, from 24th – 26th August 2018.

Keynote speakers include
ALISON WEIR
SARAH DUNANT
ROBIN ELLIS

There are quite a number of other Speakers, panellists and workshop leaders including someone I can actually claim to know: MARGARET SKEA, the author of Katharina: Deliverance, a novel of the wife of Martin Luther, a book that is now on my to read list!

Margaret’s website is: https://margaretskea.com/

Thanks to Montvalent and Pixabay for the photo above.

Uphill most of the way

I started a new contract last week and now have a longer walk to work after the train gets into Waverley Station in Edinburgh. It’s not actually uphill all the way, but first thing in the morning those steps were quite daunting the first week. At the end of my second week I’ve managed to take a few two at a time. Maybe in a few more weeks I won’t be out of breath at the top…

I sent out my first ever proper mailing email last week and am planning to do the same again today. If you didn’t receive an email, that’s either because you haven’t signed up using my new process using the link at the top of the page:

(Don’t try clicking here, go to the menu at the top of the page!)

…or because you did sign up and your email client/provider is shunting my emails into your spam or junk folder. Please do check! If you do find emails from me and you want to stop them being flagged as spam, add my email to your email clients address book.

I had set what I thought was a reasonable stretch target of 1000 words a day for this week. I failed miserably. I managed an hour and a half, but ended up getting bogged down in editing, moving scenes about.

It didn’t help that I’m meeting friends on the train and I’d rather catch up with them than write. Also that I’m conscious that friends are emailing and I’m not managing to respond. Or that starting a new contract always takes it out of me for the first few weeks.

By mid week I was disillusioned and tired.

I think I need to admit that I’m not done with the adjusting I started last month. There are too many interactions between characters in the scenes I’ve written to allow me to move on until I’ve got it all in order. Hopefully then I can move from editing mode back into writing mode and begin to make real progress.

So, my commitment for next week is simply to spend an hour each day getting what I’ve written in it’s logical order so I can start to continue the story. Fallen Warriors Season Two will make progress!

Drowning in Privacy

As those who signed up to my newsletter in the last year will know, I haven’t actually sent out any emails! (Apart from an initial welcome letter on signing up.) Partly because I’ve not felt that I’ve had anything to say, but also because I’d made life difficult for myself asking people to sign up to different things and in different ways.

I’ve collected email addresses from people I’ve asked to review books, signed up at author events and also who’ve signed up through this website. As you might be aware, the new GDPR regulations come into force tomorrow and I’ve had to finally face up to the fact that I need to simplify the whole idea of a mailing list. Time to get my head out of the sand!

I’ve added a privacy policy which you can now access from the menu and which can be read here.

I’ve modified my sign-up page to comply with GDPR regulations. It should now be clear that I use MailChimp to both store email addresses and send out emails.

I’ve created a new page where sample chapters of my novels can be downloaded here: http://www.dragonlake.co.uk/sample-chapters/

I’m conscious that there are still changes I need to make as I’ve noticed things on this website which are now out of date. If you spot anything, do let me know!

Picture of Ostrich used with thanks from: https://pixabay.com/en/ostrich-bird-africa-south-africa-171313/

Threading the needle

A few years ago, or more, I attempted to climb The Cobbler, a corbett sized mountain near Loch Lomond. We went as a family and we only made it half way, our kids running out of steam near some large boulders where we rested while others in our party continued on.

Ever since then, I’ve wanted to try again.

Photo’s of the three peaks that make up the Cobbler’s ridge are quite stunning and the description of ascending to the final peak sounded like quite a challenge. On Saturday I finally made it!

Walkhighlands has an easy route mapped out on their site here. We set off from the car park at 9:30 on a glorious day. By the time our climb levelled off to the plateau where you get your first glimpse of the peak I’d had to strip down to my t-shirt.

The Cobbler is finally visible

The path is fairly flat for the next couple of miles, but as we reached those boulders where I’d had to wait before, I realised that for a young child, that ridge that looked so exciting to me, might have looked somewhat terrifying…

The Walkhighlands route takes an easier route round the back of the mountain, but the friends I was with wanted to save time and head straight up the front. It was a scramble, but I quite enjoy that.

I confess that once I was on the ridge, I didn’t think to take many more photos, and those I took had members of our party and public and I’m now a bit wary of publishing them without permision.

I took a bunch of business cards advertising my novels and gave them out on the way up to people we met. I hadn’t known the Cobbler is actually Ben Arthur. Just for the day I renamed it as Ben Author…

I don’t have a head for heights and in places, I just had to focus on the ground in front and not think about the sheer drop just a couple of feet away.

The descriptions I’d read of the actual peak didn’t do it justice. I literally had to squeeze myself through a hole in a boulder like rock that sits extended out of the cliff. The “wide” ledge at the other side slopes downwards to emptiness that makes me freeze just thinking about it.

How do I get up there?

Fortunately there were several people making their way back as I made my way out onto the ledge who each offered encouragement. Crouching low, I made my way along the ledge to where weather seems to have carved a gap in the boulder and I could lift myself up, finally, onto the summit.

It felt good. But mostly it was just terrifying.

I knew that going back would be harder. Climbing is something we do instinctively. Lowering myself down is never as easy, and I’ve never had to do so with such a drop only short feet away.

Enter my guardian angel for the day: a man who climbed up just after me and talked me down off that boulder. I’m not sure if I’d still be there today if he hadn’t…

Thank you RM!

The roof of the world, well, Ben Arthur anyway…

Transitioning to what…?

After over three months of daily posts I’ve quickly allowed this blog to lie fallow.

Over the summer and autumn I’ve been writing the sequel to Fallen Warriors, but also trying to establish myself as a publisher with limited success.

It’s become very clear that many bookshops, perhaps most, are only willing to buy books from larger distributors, unless an author is locally based and so has a connection to the community.

I’ve been putting off my application to distributors, probably giving in to a fear of the unknown, that I don’t know exactly what they are looking for and probably only have one shot at getting the application right.

It’s a catch 22 for indie authors that we may be unable to sell to bookstores unless a distributor will take us on, but we may be unable to sell to the distributor unless we can show bookshops are buying from us.

As you can see from my Where to Buy page, I’ve had some success placing my novels with smaller bookshops and individual bookshops within larger chains.

I think I need to bite that bullet and send off my application(s) to the key distributors. Hopefully one or more will be interested in working with me, but if not, then I can stop worrying and use this website to sell directly to bookshops and to readers.

Which brings me to a question that I’m not yet ready to answer… What do I want to use this website for?

If I’m selling to trade (bookshops and distributors), then it makes sense to tone back the blog, perhaps move it to a back page or even remove it and show a more professional front.

But I think this website will always be aimed more at readers and certainly I’m directing everyone that I meet to this website, so it makes sense to use it as a follow up to those first contacts.

I’ll try not to leave it as long until my next post!

On the Air

Thanks to Dave Mitchell and Revival FM for hosting me this morning on their Mid Morning Hour show as I gave a plug for our upcoming Meet the Author event!

If you’re in or near Cumbernauld and would like to meet myself, Wendy H Jones and Caroline Johnston, we’ll be at Cumbernauld Library on 16th September from 2-4pm. Book your free ticket now!

Find out more about my novel Fallen Warriors in Dave’s interview which is available here: http://podcast.canstream.co.uk/revivalfm/index.php?id=5526

Boosting a flatlining Facebook event

It’s almost two weeks until my first Meet the Author event!

Cumbernauld Library and Culture North Lanarkshire have set up a Facebook event page and a page on the CultureNL website to advertise the event and ask people to sign up for free so they have an idea of numbers.

At the beginning of this week only four people had signed up and the Facebook page was only showing myself going and a grand total of 55 people having viewed the event after it had been live for two weeks…

I often feel there is too much to do and not enough hours in the day, but today was the day for doing something about this!

Part of the reason I’d been hesitant about promoting the Facebook event is that I’ve been stung in the past by facebook limiting me from contacting people when I’ve been trying to promote my novels. Facebook, understandably, want us to pay to advertise.

But, I hadn’t realised how easy it is to simply invite friends. I just needed to click on the Share drop down and select Invite friends…

I still had to scroll down through my friends and tick those that are local and I thought would be interested, but ten minutes later I’d invited 100 people. That was a good start. Within half an hour, four people had responded which was encouraging.

Then I paid to boost the event, setting the location within the minimum 17Km distance from Cumbernauld and targetting people with relevant keywords like “Thriller Novel” and “Crime Fiction” and “Young Adult Fiction”

I set the budget at £20 for seven days. Not a huge amount, but, then, I don’t have a huge marketing budget.

Depending on take up for the event I may run a shorter ad just before the event or continue it into next week.

I’m looking forward to hearing more from Wendy H Jones and Caroline Johnston. It would be great to see you there as well!

What next after completing my 100X100 challenge?

A major reason for challenging myself into writing 100 words a day for 100 days was to get myself into a daily habit of writing.

I was extremely tired after editing the final draft of Fallen Warriors and for over two months had been spending all my time proof reading and formatting. I had fallen out of the habit of daily creative writing. This challenge seemed like a great way to force myself back into that habit and to that extent, it has worked.

However, I’ve noticed that writing this blog has taken up time that I could have been working on the sequel and I can’t have that continuing. So, I’m now considering switching to a weekly blog post that will be linked to my mailing list, with maybe the occasional mid week post if there’s something urgent to share.

I’ll still be writing, it just won’t be visible immediately.

Kick-Starting Your Blog

Do you struggle to regularly post to your blog? Would you like to blog more consistently?

If so, setting yourself a challenge to write and publish 100 words a day for 100 days may be helpful.

Today is my last day working towards this challenge. When I hit 100 words on the counter (and press the Publish button) I’ll officially have completed my challenge to write 100 words a day for 100 days.

It’s not easy. 100 words a day doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you’re trying to come up with a brand new post every single day, one that will be interesting to your readers, it requires a lot of discipline (you really need to follow the B.I.S method… 😉 )

[Editor’s note: you’ve reached 112 words!]

On the other hand, it has been easy. 100 words is a tiny amount. Unless you’re writing poetry or ultra flash fiction where you have to carefully consider every single word. I knew I could write 100 words a day as I’ve done it before while writing the first draft of Fallen Warriors.

Perhaps it seems too easy. Not worth your while? Consider the traditional newspaper columnist who has a limited space. They will have been given a topic to write on, each and every day. Maybe some of those columns are longer than 100 words: 200, 300, but regardless, they will be unable to go over as there is only so much space on a page.

Now, I’ve not limited myself to only writing 100 words. My longest post–10 ways to fail at publishing and marketing your book–came in at 2,172 words. My goal was to discipline myself to regularly publish, not to keep within a word count.

You could take this challenge further and try publishing exactly 100 words for 100 days, but I would recommend being clear about why you would want to achieve that.

You must have a theme

I probably have had too many themes over the last 100 days. I wanted to break down the 100 posts into ten categories in the hope I would find it easier to find topics to keep posting on. Having pre-thought themes has helped. Those have been churning away at the back of my mind throughout the last three months.

Yet I think I would have done better sticking to one theme and building on that throughout the challenge. I’ve seen wild fluctuations in views for each post as I’m targetting a different readership with each one.

Know your target audience

The most popular posts on this challenge have been writing related where I’ve offered useful information to fellow writers:

1. Making sense of chaos with Scrivener 501 page views
2. Amazon Academy The Detail 136 page views
3. 10 ways to fail at publishing and marketing your book 78 page views

Ultimately though, I want to find readers who will want to buy my novels and when I get round to completing them, my other books.

But, if that is my aim, then probably a daily blog is not the way to go. I’m seeing limited success with my limited marketing efforts and increasing marketing is more likely to result in increased sales than continuing a regular blog that few readers are finding. It wouldn’t make sense to focus on advertising this blog so I can find readers for it, when what I want to do is sell novels.

Spend time planning in advance

One hundred days is a long time to commit to a new project. As I’ve posted before, I haven’t always managed to write 100 words towards this blog each day. What I have managed to do is publish at least 100 words each day. I’ve done that by trying to plan out in advance what I wanted to write and by building up a buffer of scheduled posts.

Set a specific time to write

I’ve found over the hundred days that when I know in advance when I will be writing and stick to that, keeping my commitment is a lot easier.

Schedule in rest days and holidays

I originally planned to write two posts each Saturday so I wouldn’t have to blog on a Sunday. I wasn’t able to keep to that every week and sometimes ended up writing on a Sunday.

But, I believe that we need time off each week to recover, to be renewed, to allow our creative reserves to be refilled. I would encourage you to plan in time off each week for those reasons.

Also, be aware of the time of year you are planning to take on your 100 day challenge. I took mine over the summer and had a full week away at one point and a long weekend afterwards. It really helps during those times if you can switch off completely, but in order to do that, you will need to have a sufficiently full buffer of posts ready to publish.

Choose your pictures

It’s generally accepted that people are more likely to write a blog or online article that is presented with a relevant image.

I’ve not managed to be as consistent with that as I’d have liked, but I’ve started to become more comfortable using sites like Pixabay that offer a selection of free searchable images. Just type in the theme of your blog post or relevant keywords and you’ll get a range of images that might be suitable to use. Like the one at the top of this page. I searched on keyword: kick and ended up selecting this photo by nuzree. I edited the photo to add some text and then set it as a Featured Image which means it is automatically displayed when sharing your post to certain social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Final word

If you want to kick-start your blog, then taking up the 100 words a day for 100 days challenge may be helpful. Why not give it a go and let me know how you get on.