Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Jots and Tittles

Ten years ago this week, my first children’s book, Donovon’s Rainbow, was published. The publisher distributed the book to all of their Vineyard Bookshops worldwide. However, if I wanted it in other bookshops, I was responsible for the distribution. So I duly got on the phone and started doing the rounds.

I got in touch with a bookshop attached to a large church in Cape Town. They requested a review copy. When I phoned them a week later to ask if they wanted to order it, they tersely told me that they would not stock anything that was unbiblical. Shocked, I asked what they meant. Donovon is the fictionalised ‘back story’ of the dove who finds dry land for Noah. Although my starting point was the bible story the rest of the tale was obviously made up. I mean, it wasn’t as if the dove kept a journal of his travels to pass on to future generations.

But this was not acceptable to the managers of this shop. According to them I was ‘distorting the bible’ and leading people into deception. A specific example they cited was that in my story Donovon, who at first refuses to get onto the Ark because he doesn’t approve of the Creator’s plan to destroy the earth, is rescued from the waves after crying out for help. He says that he’s sorry and begs for a second chance. Noah then sends Terence the Tiger overboard to rescue Donovon. This was the ultimate sin, according to these managers, because the door of the Ark should have been firmly closed and no one given a second chance. This, in their opinion, is what happens to us when we die and we have not made a ‘decision for Christ’ beforehand.

Now, as I come from a Baptist background, I understood the theology behind what they were saying. However, did it really matter in this case? Couldn’t they look beyond those details and see the greater truth of the story? Apparently not. I can’t tell you how upset I was at being labelled a heretic. (Little did I know at the time I would have to get used to it!). After a bucket-load of tears and agonised prayers, I was no clearer as to why it had all happened.

That evening I received a phone call from a woman who ran a ministry to adults who had been sexually abused as children. She said she was calling to tell me that my little book had ‘set someone free’. In the story there is a Bird of Paradise called Pumla who is kept in a cage in the depths of the Ark. The evil Ronald Raven tries to convince Donovon that this is evidence that the Creator and his captain Noah are not trying to save them but to imprison them all. However, what Donovon doesn’t notice is that the door to Pumla’s cage is open and she remains there by choice because she is too scared to fly.

My friend, a Christian, read this story to her support group that afternoon. One woman was so touched that she had a massive emotional and spiritual breakthrough and, in my friend’s words, was ‘set free’. I asked my friend where she held her support group. You could have knocked me down with a feather when she named the very church to which the bookshop that had condemned me as a heretic that very morning was attached.

How much freedom writers should have in interpreting bible stories is a controversial issue. I’m coming up against it again with my new series of picture books based on the childhood of King David. But whether I am really a heretic or this is just a matter of jots and tittles, I know one thing: the truth will set people free.

Formerly a journalist, Fiona Veitch Smith is a writer of books, theatre plays and screenplays. Her first adult novel, The Peace Garden, is a romantic thriller set in England and South Africa. It is available as an e-book. Her Young David children’s picture book series is available online from her website and in selected bookshops in the UK. She also writes devotional material for CWR. She is a member of the British Society of Authors and her full list of published books, including ghostwritten works, can be seen here. She lives with her husband, daughter and two dogs in Newcastle upon Tyne where she lectures in media and scriptwriting at the local universities.


  1. isn't that just wild? amazing how people get their knickers in a knot....

  2. As with any story, whether specifically biblical fiction or 'merely' biblically-based fiction, we, the writers, need to be in prayer about how various things are portrayed. And then we have to trust that God will use these stories for His glory. So glad to hear someone was set free through your children's book!

  3. Wow, sometimes you just can't predict what will offend people. I'm glad the woman was able to read your story, and I'm sure your book has helped many others. Thanks for sharing :)

  4. More recently, a bookshop owner would not stock David and the Hairy Beast (inspired by the story of David protecting the sheep from the lion and bear)because in my version the 'beast' isn't killed just scared away. The guy said it was 'unbiblical'. When I pointed out that I didn't think it was appropriate to show an animal being killed in a book aimed at under 7s, he said his customers would not 'tolerate' a book that distorted the Word of God in that way. Incredible!

  5. Thanks for sharing what happened, Fiona. I love the irony at the end. I too, have come across those types of sellers, particularly with a Christian fantasy adventure series for young adults I wrote. It's certainly a business in which we come across every possible attitude.

  6. Interesting, Fiona! Sounds like this bookshop owner would have a LOT of trouble with Veggie Tales! Also--I'm sure David scared some beasts away as well as killing others. It could well have been a nearly daily occurrence! Just because it isn't recorded doesn't mean it didn't happen.

    Although I'd hesitate to add half a dozen wives to the Apostle John--there's a limit to that artistic freedom in the name of story!

  7. It seems everyone's a heretic in someone's eyes, these days!

  8. I remember Loren Cunningham saying that God had told him to work with a group of Catholics in an inner-city mission. He said to God: 'But Lord, I don't believe everything they teach!' Then God said to him: 'Don't worry Loren, I don't believe everything you teach either, but I'm still prepared to work with you.' :)

  9. Love the story about Loren Cunningham! Oh amen and amen! Fiona, are you from South Africa, or have you lived here? If so, please email me at shirley(at)shirleycorder(dot)com. Thx.