Thursday, January 29, 2015

Look Up!

Earlier this month we joined the mad rush of traffic returning home after the Christmas/New Year holidays. The trip from Paradise Beach would take us a good 12 hours of driving, so we planned to take a break and have brunch in the historic town of Graaff-Reinet. However, when we arrived there, we found queues of cars blocking the streets outside the petrol (gas) stations and tearooms, so we decided to avoid the crowds and we drove off the beaten track to Nieu Bethesda. This tiny Karoo village, nestled in a valley, is an oasis of peace and tranquility. There are no bank or credit card facilities, petrol pumps, post office or street lights.

Attracted by the large shady trees and the strumming of a guitar, we went into the garden of "The Melting Pot".
Outside "The Melting Pot"
As we relaxed and enjoyed the glorious mix of furniture, colourful table cloths and crockery, we felt our tiredness melt away. We ordered omelettes and they were delicious- well worth the detour we had made and the extra hour or two we added to our trip.

Our table
 As we chatted, we noticed a sign in the garden saying "Toilet", We laughed and joked about going down the garden path.

Before we left, I went to the little round building which housed the toilet at the end of the garden path.

  As I walked in, I saw a sign on the floor:

The sign

 Look up? Okay.

So I looked up and saw

a ceiling of violins and bows!

I don't know what I expected to see, but certainly not musical instruments. What were they doing there?

A phone call to Belinda, the friendly owner of "The Melting Pot", soon solved the mystery. Her husband, a violinist, used to make violins and this small building had once been a storeroom. He now specialises in making bows, and the violins and bows in the ceiling were forgotten. When the room was needed for a washroom for visitors to the tea garden, the instruments were discovered and the couple decided to leave them in situ. So now they are a unique feature adding to the charm of "The Melting Pot".

I visualised the violins being used to praise God, the Creator of music and shady trees. But what else might I see if I look up?

I might see birds flying above, which remind me that I am worth more than the sparrows which are not forgotten by God (Luke 12:6) . And if I wait on the Lord, I will renew my strength and soar like an eagle (Isaiah 40:31).

I might see hills and mountains which remind me that my help comes from the Lord (Psalm 121:1-2)

I might see a rainbow reminding me of the many promises of God.

And most of all, I love looking up at the sky.  I marvel at the clouds, colors, the sun, the moon and stars which bring to mind these wonderful words:

"The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands,
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the end of the world." (Psalm 19:1-4 NIV)

What do you see when you look up?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

That Which we Call a Rose

A recent birthday present was a reusable shopping bag with my name on it.  As a sales gimmick the manufacturer had included a couple of character traits associated with the name.  According to my shopping bag, Alice is determined and successful.  I'm not surprised.  Whether my character is predicted by my name, by zodiac sign or the length of my big toe, the outcome is the same.  I am determined, persevering, hard-working . . .  I find the consistency among soothsayers remarkable.  Is there something to my name?  Has it determined my character?  Is the length of my big toe really significant to my marriage?
    Mostly, I ignore the character tags attached to my name, but when I begin a new story I spend a lot of time deciding on the perfect name for my hero/heroine. Shakespeare notwithstanding, for me, as an author, there is a great deal to a name.   Can I have a hero named Stinky?  A kick-ass heroine called Barbie?   
    Putting names to my characters is one of the most difficult, yet critical first steps when I begin a new story.  If I can't find the name that works, it's hard for me to get a handle on the character, especially the romantic hero.  For some reason, I just can't get excited about Tom, Dick and Harry, despite such models as Tom Jones, Dick Tracy and Prince Harry.
     I want the name of my hero to be memorable to my story.  Hence, no Rhett or D'Arcy in my work.  A glance at my family tree isn't much help since it shows a preponderance of Wilhelm's and Gustav's.  For me Willy and Gus work as sidekick names, but not the hero.
      Romance novels are notorious for featuring heros with unlikely names like Stud, Thorn or Blitz.   Sorry, I'm more likely to giggle than swoon when that character comes on the page. 
I want my character to have  a real name -- one a loving mother would bestow on her baby.
     Jo Beverley once gave a workshop to my local chapter where she talked about the sound of certain names and what they implied about character.  A name with lots of soft consonants like "L" or "M" might suggest weakness, whereas hard consonants like "K" or "D" denoted strength.  Of course, Jo is writing about dukes and viscounts so that opens up a whole other range of name possibilities.
        Ancestry comes into my choice of name for the hero as well,  i.e. should the name be Welsh or Scandinavian or Biblical?  I'll also check out the meanings of a name for hints of character traits that might round out my hero's personality.  I also like to check the popular baby names of the time and place where my hero was born.  Cody sounds like a western hero, whereas Devlin sounds like a regency rake.  Switch them around, and they don't ring true.
   All this  mulling over a name may seem like a waste of time, but it lets me think about my character, to delve into his background, discern his fears and desires, turn him into a real person.  In the end I hope to give him a name that reflects his personality, is memorable and unique -- and not hard to pronounce.  I hate reading a book where I stumble over the character's name at every pass!
   As to my own name, I must discount the soothsayers (or marketing gurus) and turn instead to Psalms   In Psalm 139, David declares that "God formed him in his mother's womb, that God has known his inmost being forever."  
    If I am determined, it is because God made me that way long before I was even born.  In fact, my mother had picked a different name for me.  Only when I lay in her arms, did she decide on Alice.  It's not my name that formed me, it is God who "has searched me and known me ... who knows my thoughts from afar off ... and is acquainted with all my ways."

  What about you?  Does your name reflect your character?  As writers do you agonize over choosing the perfect name for your hero?  
 Alice Valdal lives in beautiful British Columbia, Canada.  She is stuck in her current wip, but she has finished an intricate lace-knit scarf that has garnered lots of compliments..  Visit her at or at!/alice.valdal.5

Published Books.


Monday, January 26, 2015

The Frog in my Handbag aka Writing for Eternal Impact

It all started when the zip on my handbag broke. I left it in the lounge overnight, and was in traffic the next day when I discovered the stowaway. There's nothing quite like reaching for lipgloss and pulling out a frog. There may, or may not have been a bit of screaming involved. It took every scrap of self-control to keep driving until it was safe to pull over and evict my new friend. Ugh. On that same day, I nearly lost my purse because I couldn't zip my bag closed.

What does this have to do with writing, I hear you ask? Apart from the fact that all good prose involves frogs, one of the chief things that I pester Jesus for, is for Him to write Eternity through me.

I love to leave my reader chuckling, satisfied and keen to read more of my writing. I also want to have stirred a hunger for Eternity inside of them, a curiosity about this God who loves them.

One simple way of achieving this is to lace our writing with, what I call - Holy Spirit bombs. These are the revelations, the spiritual lessons that God gives you through living normal life that are profoundly simple, yet carry His anointing to shift the heart and spirit of your reader.

Jesus spoke to me about my bag and I wove it into my novel Finding Mia. When ones carries a load that you're not meant to (say, a cheating husband who leaves you), over time something breaks which allows things into your life that you would never normally allow in (being wooed by a smooth-talking kidnapper who is acutallly after your children). It also allows things to be stolen from you (common sense, in this case!) But when your life is hidden in Christ, He doesn't replace the zip on your life, He becomes the zip through which certain things are allowed and other things are simply not.

So as you go through your day and the odd bizarre thing happens to you, ask Jesus what it's all about. You can rest assured that most of what you go through is never meant for you personally at all, but is there to become grist for your mill and food for your reader.

Seen through His eyes, even a frog in a handbag becomes meaningful!

Sunday, January 25, 2015


Coming Up This Week


Dianne Wilson


Alice Valdal: That Which we Call a Rose


Jayne E. Self


Ruth Ann Dell

Friday Devotion


New Releases

Lisa Harris' romantic suspense set in Georgia, USA, Hidden Agenda, Book 3 in her Southern Crimes series, is a January 2015 release from Revell.

Donna Fletcher Crow's murder mystery set in England, A Newly Crimsoned Reliquary, book 4 the Monastery Murders series, available in print in January 2015.


Upcoming Releases

Lisa Harris' romantic suspense set in Paris, France, Taken, will be a February 2015 release from Love Inspired Suspense.

Narelle Atkins' contemporary romance set in Australia, Winning Over the Heiress, will be a February 2015 release from Love Inspired Heartsong Presents.

Valerie Comer's contemporary romance set in the US, Dandelions for Dinner, Book 4 in the Farm Fresh Romance series, releases independently in spring 2015.

Narelle Atkins' contemporary romance set in Australia, Seaside Proposal, will be a May 2015 release from Love Inspired Heartsong Presents.

Sandra Orchard’s romantic mystery set in Niagara, Canada, Desperate Measures, Book 3 in her Port Aster’s Secrets series, will be a June 2015 release from Revell.

To find more International Christian Fiction books, please visit our 2013 - 2015 Book Releases page and Backlist Titles.

Friday, January 23, 2015

DEVOTION ~ How to Slay a Giant

"He reached into his bag and took out a stone, which he slung at Goliath. It hit him on the forehead and broke his skull, and Goliath fell face downward on the ground." 1 Samuel 17:49 GNB

Over a thousand years before the birth of Christ, a young boy by the name of David volunteered to fight a nine-foot giant. He tried on King Saul's suit of armor and then rejected it. He looked at the monarch's massive sword and shield. They were too big, too heavy, and he wasn't used to them. So he tackled the problem with the only tools he knew.

He selected five smooth stones from the riverbed and put them in his pouch. He placed one in his sling. The pebbles were only small, yet the chosen one became a mighty weapon. I’m sure David took careful aim with his sling. He knew it was a matter of life and death that he hit his target.

David didn't do anything unusual. He used his sling frequently to protect his sheep. He just did what he was used to doing. He used the tools he was used to. He did the very best he could. And he left the outcome up to God.

Some years ago, I read an article in the magazine, and I decided to offer my opinion. I had never written to an editor in that way before, but I do send off emails many times each day. So I used the tools I knew well. I selected my words with care. I polished the letter until it was the best I could do, taking careful aim at the market. Then I hit "Send".

It wasn’t a novel. It wasn’t even an article. It was just a short e-mail. But a few months later I received a phone call from a lady who lived on the other side of S.Africa. My short email had impacted the lives of at least one couple. I'd hit my target, and it felt good.

As writers, after we've chosen our market and have something to aim for, we need to use our tools, i.e. our words and our computers, in the way we're used to doing. Once we've done the very best we can, we  must take careful aim at a specific market and then let our words fly. As long as we've done the best we can, the results are in the Lord’s hands.

The pen is mightier than the sword. Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Richelieu

OVER TO YOU: What giant can you see ahead of you that you want to overcome this year? How are you going to go about it? 

SHIRLEY CORDER lives on the coast in South Africa with her husband, Rob. Her book, Strength Renewed: Meditations for your Journey through Breast Cancer contains 90 meditations based on her time in the cancer valley.

Sign up here to receive a short devotional message from Shirley in your inbox once a week.

Please visit Shirley through, where she encourages writers, or at, where she encourages those in the cancer valley. You can also meet with her on Twitter or FaceBook 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Yukon - The Perfect Setting

The beginning of my first novel, One Smooth Stone takes place on the Yukon River near Dawson City. It's the perfect setting for the story, which has  characters with rough edges and hard noses, characters tough enough to live in the north.

Yukon. The word conjures images of winter, of dog teams and ice fog, of high mountains and glacier fed lakes and fast flowing rivers. It is all that, but much more. It is a place of 24 hour daylight that produces massive cabbages and broccoli, a place where gold is traded in the stores, a place where people work three jobs in the summertime and still manage to make time for each other. 

But the true magic of the Yukon can only be experienced in the winter. It is in those long winter months that bonds of deep friendship are forged. It is while sitting by a roaring wood stove that stories are shared and copious amounts of coffee and tea are drunk. And it is on days when a stranger arrives at your door in the morning and becomes a best friend by that night that you realize living there is worth it.

The Yukon teaches you to be flexible. Someone may drop by for coffee at ten in the morning and still be there for supper two days later. When it’s sixty-five below there’s not much incentive to leave a warm house. Daily routines are important but when a neighbour needs help to winterize his house or get enough wood cut to last through till spring, that becomes priority number one. When he shows up with a canoe in the back of his truck and says, “the swans are back,” there’s no discussion - you drop what you're doing and head to the lake. Nature takes precedence over almost everything.

And nature always wins. We learned that the day my husband’s boss knocked on our door to ask if our truck would start so they could go to work. It was colder than sixty-five below. We knew that because we couldn’t see the mercury in our thermometer, which read that far down. The guys dug out a coffee can, stuffed it with toilet paper and diesel fuel and lit it on fire before putting it under the oil pan of the truck. Then they covered the hood with a tarp and came back inside, had another cup of coffee and waited.

They tried to start that old Chevy three times. Three times they came back in for more coffee. The fourth time the motor started and I shook my head as they got into the vehicle and pulled out of the driveway. Then they pulled back in. And pulled out again, and back, in and out, in and out. They were laughing as they came back into the cabin. The drive train was frozen solid. They could go back and forth but could not get out of the driveway. Winter won that day, and would win on many more.

Like the day I watched as the sun traveled across the valley toward our cabin. I’d been watching it make that slow trek for weeks and thought that day, finally, it would beam through our windows. But no. It stopped at the edge of our front yard. I almost cried. But a true Yukoner isn’t beaten down by a little darkness. She goes out and finds the sun. The next day I strapped on my cross-country skis and made my way across the valley, meeting the sun half way. I stood for a long time with my face lifted toward it, my eyes closed, my skin soaking it in. When I opened my eyes again I shivered, not with the cold, but with the thrill of the vast wilderness I was part of.

Yukon. It conjures up many images, each one whispering, “North. It’s where you belong.”
Marcia Lee Laycock is the author of three novels and three devotional books. Find her on the web:Website, Amazon , twitter, Pinterest

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Does it pay to be royal?

In honor of this writer’s recent honeymoon across the Pond to Great Britain and the visit of two British royals, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (AKA William and Kate), to the USA, I thought we’d take a gander at an area of interest to me – how do royals make their money? 

Between my research and a recent Yahoo News article, I’ve compiled the following information, specifically regarding the Queen, the Prince of Wales and his two sons. First, in regard to Princes William and Harry, when their mother “Princess Diana passed away she left a trust for both her sons amounting to £10 millon, or about $15.6 million each. 
“The brothers each received their share on their 30th birthday but were allowed to live off of the investment income (which Forbes estimates at $450,000 per year) until then. On top of the lump sum of cash they received a cache of dresses, documents (like original handwritten lyrics to Elton John’s Candle in the Wind) and jewels that the Princess had owned.
London at night across from Parliament and Big Ben
“The Duchy of Cornwall - A great amount of the couple’s money comes from William’s father, Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales. He generally pays for their staff and the official costs of being a royal. Last year, Prince Charles made £19.5 million, or over $30 million, from his portfolio of properties referred to as ‘The Duchy of Cornwall.’ 

“The Duchy of Cornwall was acquired by Edward III in 1337 and is always handed down to the eldest son of the reigning British monarch. The Duchy comes with both an investment portfolio and about 205 square miles of land and properties. The current value of the Duchy is £763 million, or about $1.2 billion. 

“The Prince cannot do whatever he wishes with the Duchy - it is managed and run on his behalf, but he receives all net profit from it. Though the Duchy is not taxed, Prince Charles voluntarily paid income tax on his profits. While it’s unclear exactly how much of the Duchy’s profits are handed to Will and Kate - it’s at least enough to keep a staff of 12 aides and an active travel schedule.

Contrary to popular opinion, the vast majority of Will and Kate’s money is not coming from the British people - but some of it is. The Queen is granted £37.9 million, or just under $60 million, each year by Parliament to maintain and perform the duties of her role. With that money the Queen funded a $5.3 million renovation of Kensington Palace’s Apartment 1A, where Will and Kate reside. She also gifted the couple Anmer Hall, a mansion in Norfolk, England which will also undergo a pricey renovation. 

Buckingham Palace in London
Prince William is the first royal in the line of succession to ever hold a civilian contract - in August of 2014, the 32-year old joined the East Anglian Air Ambulance as a helicopter pilot. The job services ill or hurt citizens stuck in remote parts of England. His current salary is £40,000 pounds before taxes, or about $62,000 a year. Most of his earnings, however, will go to an undisclosed charity.”

Further investigation into royal monies took me to the official website of the British monarchy, which brought up that the Queen has three sources of funding - the Sovereign Grant, the Privy Purse and her personal wealth and income.

“On April 1, 2012, the arrangements for the funding of The Queen’s Official Duties changed. The new system of funding, referred to as the ‘Sovereign Grant’, replaces the Civil List and the three Grants-in-Aid (for Royal Travel, Communications and Information, and the Maintenance of the Royal Palaces) with a single, consolidated annual grant. The Sovereign Grant is designed to be a more permanent arrangement than the old Civil List system, which was reign-specific. Funding for the Sovereign Grant comes from a percentage of the profits of the Crown Estate revenue (initially set at 15%). 

“Privy Purse and the Duchy of Lancaster is a historical term used to describe income from the Duchy of Lancaster, which is used to meet both official and private expenditure by The Queen. The Duchy of Lancaster is a portfolio of land, property and assets held in trust for the Sovereign in his/her role as Sovereign. It is administered separately from the Crown Estates. Its main purpose is to provide an independent source of income, and is used mainly to pay for official expenditure not met by the Civil List (primarily to meet expenses incurred by other members of the Royal Family).

This is the closest I got to any British royalty while in the UK :)
“The Queen’s personal income, derived from her personal investment portfolio and private estates, is used to meet her private expenses. The Queen owns the Balmoral and Sandringham Estates, which were both inherited from her father. Estimates of The Queen’s wealth often mistakenly include items which are held by her as Sovereign on behalf of the nation and are not her private property. These include the official Royal residences, the majority of art treasures from the Royal Collection and the Crown Jewels. The Queen cannot sell these – they must pass to her successor as Sovereign.

“And the Queen pays taxes as does the Prince of Wales, but it is done voluntarily. In 1992, The Queen volunteered to pay income tax and capital gains tax, and since 1993 her personal income has been taxable as for any other taxpayer. The Queen has always been subject to Value Added Tax and pays local rates. 

“Up until March 31, 2012, the Civil List was the amount of money provided by the Government to meet the official expenses of The Queen’s Household, so that The Queen could carry out her role as Head of State and Head of the Commonwealth. The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh were - and remain still - the only members of the Royal Family to receive an annual parliamentary allowance.

“In 1760, George III reached an agreement with the Government over the Crown Estate. The Crown Lands would be managed on behalf of the Government and the surplus revenue would go to the Treasury. In return, the King would receive a fixed annual payment, which until 31 March 2012 was called the Civil List. About 70 per cent of the Civil List expenditure went on staff salaries. It also contributed towards meeting the costs of official functions such as garden parties, receptions and official entertainment during State Visits. The Queen entertains almost 50,000 people each year. 

“Grant-in-Aid - Each year the Royal Family carries out almost 3,000 official engagements around the United Kingdom and overseas. Up until March 31, 2012, the Royal Household received annual funding to meet the costs of official travel through the Department for Transport.”

Were you curious about royal finances like me? Do you have any other pressing questions regarding royals? Thanks for reading!

Morgan Tarpley is an award-winning newspaper reporter and photographer in Louisiana. She is also a historical novelist currently seeking representation. Besides writing and traveling to over a dozen countries, her interests include acting in her local theater, photography, and singing. She resides in Louisiana with her husband of two months. :)

For more information about Morgan, visit her website ( and blog ( You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Goodreads.