Would you like to help me reach more people with my e-book?

Many thanks to the 24 people (so far) who have bought copies of ‘Meadowvale: a Novel‘ on Kindle or Kobo!

If you wouldn’t mind, here are three things you can do to help me reach another twenty four people!

1. When you have finished the e-book, go to the site you bought it from (Amazon, Indigo, Kobo etc.) and rate it out of five stars. Be honest – I don’t mind!

2. If you would take the time to write a short review, this would REALLY help. When it comes to books appearing in the algorithms, the number of reviews is really important. And if you wouldn’t mind copying your review to the other sites (Amazon, Kobo, Indigo, and – if you’re a member – Goodreads – that would also really be helpful.

3. Share the link to my e-book on your own Facebook page and/or blog, with a few words about what you thought of it.

Thanks very much! I really appreciate your help!

Just a reminder of where you can get the e-book:

Amazon.ca (if you’re not in Canada, search for it in your own Amazon stores – it’s in all of them).

Indigo.ca

Kobo.com

 

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‘Meadowvale’ on Kindle

I’m pleased to announce that my novel ‘Meadowvale’, which has been featured in various versions on this blog over the past few years, is now available to purchase on Kindle.

I have been working on and off on this book for several years, so this is of course a dream come true for me.

The link to the book in the Canadian Amazon store is here.

Here it is at Amazon.com.

Here it is at Amazon.co.uk.

Please note that you can still read the first six chapters of Meadowvale for free on this blog. If you want to read more, you know what to do!

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Clive Staples Lewis, November 29th 1898 – November 22nd 1963

(Repost from last year, slightly adapted)

On this day fifty-two years ago, the great C.S. Lewis died.

Because of the assassination of President Kennedy on the same day, the death of Lewis has always been somewhat overshadowed. Far be it from me to downplay Kennedy and what he stood for, but for me, Lewis was by far the more influential man.

In the early 1990s I lent a United Church minister friend a copy of Lewis’ Mere Christianity; when he gave it back to me, he said, “Do you have any idea how much this man has influenced you?” Mere Christianity came along at just the right time for me; I was seventeen and had begun to feel the lack of a rigorous intellectual basis for my faith. In this book, Lewis gave me just that. I went on to read pretty well everything he had written, including the various editions of his letters which seem to me to contain some of the best common-sense spiritual direction I’ve ever read. I’ve parted company with Lewis on a few issues (pacifism, Conservative politics, the ordination of women), but for the most part I still consider him to be one of the most reliable guides available to a rigorous, full-orbed, common-sense Christianity.

Lewis was a fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and, later, of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and in his professional career he taught English literature. Brought up in Ireland in a conventionally religious home, he became an atheist in his teens. Later, in his late twenties and early thirties, he gradually came back to Christianity (he told the story himself in his book Surprised by Joy) and went on to become a popular writer and speaker on Christian faith. He claimed for himself Richard Baxter’s phrase ‘Mere Christianity’; although he lived and died entirely content to be a member of the Church of England (‘neither especially high, nor especially low, nor especially anything else’, as he said in his introduction to Mere Christianity), he had no interest in interdenominational controversy, preferring to serve as an apologist for the things that most Christians have in common.

Nowadays evangelicals (especially in the United States) have claimed Lewis as a defender of a rigorous Christian orthodoxy (despite the fact that he did not believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and was an enthusiastic smoker and imbiber of alcoholic beverages). Likewise, Roman Catholics have sometimes pointed out that many fans of Lewis have gone on to convert to Roman Catholicism (something he himself never did, because he believed that Roman Catholicism itself had parted company on some issues with the faith of the primitive church), and have resorted to blaming his Irish Protestant background as somehow giving him a phobia about Catholicism that made it psychologically impossible for him to convert to Rome. Lewis himself, I believe, would not have approved of these attempts to press him into the service of advancing a particular Christian tradition or denomination. I believe we should take him at his word: he was an Anglican by conviction, but was most comfortable with the label ‘Christian’.

What about his books? Well, there are many of them! In his professional discipline of literary criticism he wrote several influential books, including The Allegory of Love (on the medieval allegorical love poem), The Discarded Image (an introduction to the world view of medieval and renaissance writers), An Experiment in Criticism (in which he examines what exactly it means to take pleasure from reading a book), A Preface to Paradise Lost (in which he introduces us to one of his favourite works of literature, John Milton’s famous poem Paradise Lost), and English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, Excluding Drama (this is only a selection of his works of literary criticism).

Turning to his more specifically ‘Christian’ works, in The Screwtape Letters Lewis gave us an imaginary series of letters from a senior to a junior demon on the art of temptation; along the way, as Lewis intended, we get some penetrating insights into practical, unpretentious, daily holiness. Miracles and The Problem of Pain are intellectual defences of Christian truth (the first examining the question of whether miracles are possible, the second dealing with the issue of evil and the goodness of God). Reflections on the Psalms is a series of meditations on the issues raised by the psalms (including an excellent chapter on the ‘cursing’ psalms), while Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer gives us accurate guidance on what a life of prayer is really all about. In the ‘Narnia’ stories and the Space Trilogy, Lewis baptizes our imagination, using the genre of fairy story and science fiction to present Christian truth in a fresh and compelling way. And in Mere Christianity he presents his case for the truth of Christianity and a good explanation of its central ideas.

These are just a few of his books; there are many websites that give exhaustive lists.

This website by Lewis’ publishers is of course focussed on trying to sell books – Lewis’ own books, collections of his writings published since his death, and many of the books that have been since written about him. Personally, I like Into the Wardrobe better; it isn’t trying to sell me anything, but includes a biography, a collection of papers, articles, and archives, and some excellent links.

Since his death Lewis has become almost a cult figure, especially in the U.S., and the number of books and articles about him continues to grow. He himself was uncomfortable with the trappings of fame, and I believe he would have been horrified with the growth of the C.S. Lewis ‘industry’ today. It seems to me that the best way to observe the  anniversary of his death is to go back to his books, read them again (or perhaps for the first time), ponder what he had to say, and pray that his work will lead us closer to Christ, as he would have wanted.

Rest in peace and rise in glory, Jack. And thank you.

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Happy 450th birthday, Will Shakspear

During his lifetime William Shakespeare spelled his last name in a variety of ways; I’m rather fond of ‘Shakspear’ myself.

Will Shakspear was born 450 years ago this year. He was baptized on April 26th 1564; the actual date of his birth is not known, but baptism at the age of three days would have been a fair assumption, hence the convention of celebrating his birthday on April 23rd (which, 52 years later, was the date of his death).

Personally I would have no problem calling Shakspear the greatest writer in the English language. His plays, of course, were meant to be seen, not read, and I’m sure millions of English schoolchildren, like me, have struggled with them as printed texts but been thrilled by them as they are brought alive on the stage. One of the things I’m proud of is that we gave our children the chance to see Shakspear live before they read him. It appears to have worked; they all seem to enjoy him.

Will Shakspear does not need my praise. I’m reminded of the story of a man who was walking through an art gallery making disparaging comments about the paintings. Finally the exasperated curator said, “Sir, the paintings are not on trial – you are!” By all the standards we possess, Shakspear was at least ‘a’ great writer – I would say, ‘the’ great writer, the one who formed our language, captured our imagination, and gave us a compelling vision, not of humanity as it should be, but of humanity as it actually is, in all its nobility and wickedness. And he did it with that deliciously outrageous sense of humour that has given us not only tragic characters like Lear and Macbeth, or villains like Richard III, or pedants like Polonius and Jaques, but also wonderful comic figures like Sir Toby Belch, or Sir John Falstaff, or Robin Goodfellow (otherwise known as Puck), or Nick Bottom with his donkey’s head.

Thank you, Master Shakspear. You did your job well, and we can all enjoy the benefits of it, if we want to. A very happy 450th birthday to you, sir.

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There aren’t enough songs about just ‘being’ in love

A few years ago at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, I heard David Francey say that there are lots of songs about falling in love, and there are lots of songs about falling out of love, but there aren’t many songs about just being in love – the joys and the heartaches, the ups and the downs of it. I think he’s right; I can’t think of many love songs that celebrate long-term marriages (Stan Rogers’ ‘Lies‘ is one that comes to mind, and it’s one of my favourites). And I think this is a shame.

Musicians aren’t the only ones who neglect this theme. TV writers also seem to believe that stable long-term relationships make for boring TV. At the end of Downton Abbey season three, when Matthew Crawley was killed off due to actor Dan Stevens wanting to leave the show, I read that creator Julian Fellowes had expressed an opinion that a happy marriage didn’t make for particularly exciting television. It seemed that, having brought Matthew and Mary through a long and tortuous route to finally getting married, he was happy to kill Matthew off so that once again Mary could be ‘on the market’, making for enjoyable tension and uncertainty on the show.

Sunday was the season seven finale of ‘Heartland‘, and we have the same scenario, with long-time couple Ty and Amy (whose relationship has been the central story line of Heartland from the end of the first season, and who have been engaged for a season and a half) once again running into speed bumps, and not getting married as perhaps the majority of fans would have liked to have seen. I’ve even heard the view expressed that Ty and Amy’s marriage would have meant the end of Heartland, because ‘where would the show go after that’? What? Would Ty and Amy really stop growing and learning after their wedding day?

I honestly can’t understand why TV writers take this view. Do they really think there are no enjoyable story lines to be found in the joys and vicissitudes of a lasting marriage? Well, if that’s really how they feel, I have five words for them: For Better and for Worse. This much loved comic strip by Lynn Johnston ran for 29 years and took its readers through the story of the lives of John and Ellie Patterson and their kids. In the earliest story lines, John and Ellie were a young married couple; later they had their children, and we followed the ups and downs of their lives together, told with humour and honesty in a way that kept people coming back for more. And I haven’t heard that the strip’s popularity suffered at all for it being about a stable long-term marriage!

Seriously, do writers and musicians and TV producers really believe that there are no interesting story lines in long-term relationships? Do they really believe that there’s no drama in showing couples and families facing the challenges that make long-term relationships so difficult, and coming through them successfully (or, sometimes, less successfully)? Where does this come from? Is it, perhaps, the notorious instability of show-business relationships?

Years ago, author Larry Christensen said that marriage is like pioneering, in that true pioneers experience two things: hope and difficulty. Marriage as pioneering? Now there’s an interesting thought! Perhaps it’s time for writers and musicians and TV producers to take on a new challenge; how about exploring the possibilities of portraying long-term love – what David Francey referred to as ‘just being in love’ – with all its hope and difficulty? How about it, creative artists? Are you up for it?

Old Fashioned Communication Methods

I suppose that most people who like to read keep books in their bathrooms. I know, I know, you’re not supposed to, but we all do it.

I’ve usually got three or four books sitting beside the ‘Throne’, and invariably, one of them is a book of letters by C.S. Lewis. I have the three volumes of Lewis’ collected letters, each one a big fat book, and I just leave one in the bathroom all the time, slowly working my way through it until I’m finished, when I replace it with the next one. After about two years, I start at the beginning again.

Lewis’ letters never fail to satisfy me, even after all these years of readings. There is literary criticism, offered up on an individual basis to friends or students; there is controversy with friends over theology or literary matters; there is ‘spiritual direction’, for want of a better term, offered to people who had read his books and had written for his advice; there are countless thank you letters to American admirers who sent him ‘care packages’ of food during the bad days of rationing during and immediately after the Second World War. Usually, Lewis wrote briefly, although there are long letters in the collections as well. Always, he wrote clearly and with what a friend of mine used to call ‘sanctified common sense’. Through his letters, Lewis has become one of my most reliable spiritual guides.

I am grateful, then, that these letters were preserved, written by hand (in later life, a very reluctant and arthritic hand) with an old fashioned nib pen, dipped manually into a bottle of ink in the old way. They have been painstakingly collected from many different sources and edited and compiled by Walter Hooper.

But where will future generations of such letters be found? Who actually sits down and writes a letter nowadays – I mean ‘writes’, with a pen, on real paper, and then seals it in an envelope and sends it through the mail? Who even bothers to type up a letter to send by mail? The vast majority of us just send an email. And I know what they say, that in cyberspace things last forever, but I don’t think that’s the case. I regularly clean out my inbox and delete emails I don’t need to keep. If I had been one of Lewis’ correspondents, would I have kept every email he sent me, right from the beginning? Probably not.

Well, like it or not, we can’t turn the clock back. But reflecting on this has made me wonder whether it would not be good for my soul to get the old pen and paper out from time to time and write a good old fashioned letter, one you have to put in an envelope and buy a stamp for. I have a fountain pen and I like to write with it (not a dip pen like Lewis used, but an ink pen nonetheless, that you can change the cartridges in, or even install a reservoir and fill from an ink bottle). And I remember a few years ago, when a good friend of mine died, and another very good friend wrote me a letter of sympathy; she took out pen and paper and wrote me an old fashioned letter, beginning with the line, ‘This subject somehow seemed too important for something as trivial as an email’.

I’m also wondering about the phone. My Dad and Mum are elderly and my Mum barely has time to keep up with emails; I find myself picking up the phone now and calling her almost every day. My brother, and a couple of my other old friends, stare at emails all day long at work and don’t like sitting down at a computer again when they get home. One of my new year’s resolutions is going to be to pick up the phone more and have more conversations with those I love who are far away from me, using the old fashioned methods.

Email is a wonderful tool and I enjoy the simplicity and the immediacy of it, but some people are slipping through the cracks, and some good things are being lost. Time to think about how to address that problem.