I was a reluctant non-fiction writer so how was I ever going to write a novel? It was not something I ever thought about.
One day in about 2006 or 2007, I was having a half day of prayer. While I was praying, two ideas for novels dropped in to my head. I was horrified. “Lord, the last thing I want to do is write novels. I don’t have time for such things. Writing non-fiction was hard enough but I know fiction would be much harder.”
I didn’t want to write, but I still wrote down the two ideas and the two titles that came to mind in the back of my notebook. I reasoned that if the idea truly was from God, then it was his job not only to push me to do it but to give me the ability.
Meanwhile, I continued with life and ministry and dealing with the publishing of 1-2-1 Discipleship (2009) and later, “Telling the Gospel Through Story” (2012). However, the ideas for the novel wouldn’t go away and in fact, over the years, kept increasing in urgency.
Finally – Time to write a novel
In 2012, I was staying with a friend in the Philippines and reading something from her bookshelf. It was Francine River’s biblical set of novels called Sons of Encouragement. Again, crystal clear the idea was in my head, “That’s how you write a novel. You’re a Bible storyteller, go and write a biblical novel as practice.” So I sat down and did the research for a novel on Samuel. I loved the research and the thinking/planning stages but the actual writing was hard work.
In a novel you have to think through motivations and ask questions like:
* Why does Samuel who had seen Eli’s bad example of parenting end up with two terrible sons of his own? Was it bad parenting or something else?
* How does King Saul end up with such a godly son?
* What was Samuel’s daily ministry like? What did it involve?
In 2013, I wrote a second biblical novel. I always thought of it as ‘practicing for the real thing’. It was supposed to be a novel on Abraham but ended up being a novel on Jacob and in three parts. First, Jacob interviewing his grandfather (when you do the timelines you discover he would have been 15 when Abraham died), Jacob’s main part of his life and then the Joseph story from Jacob’s point of view. That is, not knowing what had happened to his son and then hearing the story from Joseph much later in his life.
Time to stop practicing and write the real novel
At that point, I knew I needed help. I googled on the internet ‘planning novels’ and found something called the ‘Snowflake Method.’ This seemed to suit me because it was 10 logical steps. I was working full-time at a Bible College for the year (mentoring students), but I managed to write a few hours every week. The ninth step was to work out all the chapters and decide from whose point of view they’d be written.
The push to write was like an urgent pressure in my heart. I started to write, but had to quit after about 1/3 of the chapters because I couldn’t do it on top of my other work.
It wasn’t until February 2014 that I could start again. I finished the first draft six weeks later. The whole process was exhausting, especially trying to fit writing into the spare moments of my life.
Time to edit the novel
Since April 2014 (so another two and a half years), I have had several bursts of editing each year. In between, I let the novel sit. It seems to need these times where you let it stew and I can take a break. At each stage, something or someone, has come along to show me the next stage and how to improve things.
For example, I entered the manuscript into a competition. The reason for entering competitions is not really to win. Rather, it is to gain feedback and learn from it. This first competition I entered, not only promised feedback but also a mentor if you reached the final.
I was delighted to reach the final and be assigned a mentor. He encouraged me not to give up and gave me practical hints how to improve the manuscript. The eventual result for that competition is here.
Since then, I’ve entered several other competitions. I haven’t reached a final again, but each time I receive feedback and it keeps improving the book.