Today we welcome guest blogger author Mel Menzies author of the novel Time to Shine.
I had the privilege, recently, of hearing David Coffey, the main speaker at Keswick in Devon, following which I was given a five minute slot to respond. Now with a string of credits to his name, David was once my pastor, and was hugely instrumental in encouraging my writing career. On the morning in question, which happened to be World Book Day, David had been speaking about Philip’s meeting with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). Two of his four points struck me as highly relevant.
Philip, he said, was opportunistic. In other words, he grabbed the moment. But also, far from wading in in a Bible-bashing manner, he was creative in his approach.
Yes, I thought. Isn’t that exactly my aim!
My earliest books, published in the 1980’s, were testimony: my own, and that of others. Commissions from Lion Publishing and Hodder & Stoughton followed, one of which reached No. 4 in the Sunday Times Bestseller List. My God-given commission, from the start, was to ‘comfort others with the comfort I had received’. (2 Cor 1:4 paraphrased). Given that I’d had a fifteen year unequally yoked marriage, divorce and near bankruptcy, a daughter who developed a thirteen year heroin addiction, reformed and was drug free for five years, then died as a result of a single morphine tablet dropped into her drink at a BBQ, I had plenty of God’s comfort to share.
‘Don’t hide your light under a bushel, it’s not your light to hide,’ I was told by David Coffey and Edward England when I resorted to the natural shrinking violet state encouraged in a culture of ‘children should be seen but not heard’.
Fifteen years later my writing career ended, temporarily, when the necessity of earning a living arose. For the next fourteen years I had the pleasure of working for Jubilate Hymns, with people like Michael Baughen, Michael Saward, Noel Tredinnick and others. Delightful though it was, on retirement I couldn’t wait to get back to writing.
Only – this time it was to be different. I distinctly heard God speak to me again. And though his original message to me was to remain intact, he was now turning me to fiction. Like Philip, I was to be both opportunistic and creative in my approach.
‘Entertain your readers,’ said the Lord, ‘and they will absorb truths they might otherwise resist.’
Isn’t this what Jesus did? He told stories. Parables. Because he knew they – rather than a didactic approach – would stick in people’s minds. Where preaching a sermon might incite resistance – even anger among non-believers – a story about people like ourselves resonates. So a ‘who do they think they are telling me what to do?’ or ‘hypocrites, they should practise what they preach’ reaction is replaced with an ‘mmm, sounds a bit like my life’ response.
With unchurched parents and sibs, my yearning had always been to reach out to non-believers; to those who would never deign to pick up one of my books of testimony. Which is why, in obedience to the Lord, I’ve begun a series of novels. Emulating Jodi Picoult’s style, they examine various moral circumstances: a broken marriage and the courage to discern and use one’s gifts in Time to Shine; a dark secret in a family where adoption seems rife, with a message that we should none of us be tethered to the expectations of others, in Chosen or Cheated? It’s no mistake that the protagonist of all these stories, counsellor, Evie Adams, is so named. She’s a flawed heroin – as are we.
Enough to say that I received a phone call on the evening of World Book Day, telling me that the bookstall at Keswick in Devon had sold out of Time to Shine. My hope is that the Christians who bought those books will pass them on to unbelieving friends; that questions will be raised; and curiosity aroused. That stories might be the gateway to the God’s Kingdom.
Like Susan Howatch’s Starbridge series, the Evie Adams books are set in Exeter’s Cathedral Green (and other parts of Devon and the UK). Chosen or Cheated is due for publication soon.
© Mel Menzies Aka Merrilyn Williams