What’s Missing from ‘How to Cope with the Church’?

Some of you have spotted a weakness in my book How to Cope with the Church.  https://tsw.createspace.com/title/6534903

One question it does not answer is: “Why bother?”

What’s wrong with being a Christian and not going to Church?  

I also failed to offer any advice to anyone who has chosen, rightly or wrongly, to live a church-free Christian life.  I will give both these questions the full answers they deserve in my next book or possibly in an e-zine article.  Or both?  Until then here are a few points to ponder.

What about me?

Before we start pondering, I want you to know that I had a struggle to get from believing in God to going to Church.  I remember some very unhappy experiences.  I am not a naturally religious person.  I am wondering how many of my bad experiences to share in my next book.  I will need to swat up on the laws of libel.

So now here’s what to ponder.

Firstly, ask yourself why you do not go to Church.

  1. Habit?  Is it time to rethink?
  2. Practical issues?  Family, work, transport, disability?  Have you really looked at the options?  For some people these are real issues, as I do know, whilst for others they are excuses.
  3. Emotional or psychological issues?  Previous bad experiences, negative connotations, unidentified fears?  Do these things need dealing with anyway, whether you end up in Church or not?

Secondly, think about what you may be missing.

  • Teaching.  You can get that from books or the Internet.  Are you doing so?
  • Worship.  You can listen to recordings of religious music.  Is that the same as participating?
  • Interaction with other Christians.  Do you want it?  Do you need it? Perhaps you do not realise how that helps you grow spiritually.  Even if you do not get on with some of these others?  Especially them.

Thirdly, ask what God wants.  Oops!  That should have come first.

  •  Jesus never went to Church but he did go to the synagogue and the Temple.  He did tell his disciples to work together.
  • He also established the practice of sharing bread and wine.
  • There are many ways of obeying him in these things.  You do not have to follow the patterns of the organised churches.  Try a disorganised one if you like.

I will write soon about how to survive without going to Church if that is what you decide.  You could find some clues above.

No!  Not “up there”. I mean in the middle of this blog.

Finally, above all, remember that, unlikely as it may seem, God is on your side: he wants you to make it in the Christian life.  He’s helped me find a way.  He can help you, if you want.

Soap Box

 

 

 

Why are so many black people in jail?

This has been a bad year for people who care about the truth.  There was the Brexit Referendum.  Statistics and other so-called facts thrown around all over the place.  Poor old NHS!

Then the Americans had an election.  More of the same.  Lots.

More people should read my book How to Avoid Being Misled by Statistics.  And think about it.  Everything I condemn in the book has been happening.

Go to https://tsw.createspace.com/title/4767398

And now, a report has been published this week saying that there are more black people than white people in prison in the UK in proportion to their numbers in the population as a whole.  It also says that black people seem to get longer sentences.

This information is interpreted as a sign hat there is discrimination in the Police and the Courts in their treatment of black people.

Of course, I could think of some people who would happily use these figures to ‘prove’ that black people are more likely to commit crimes than are white people, because they are inherently more criminally-minded.

I think both interpretations of the figures are dangerous and are examples of jumping to conclusions – the ones you had before you started.

How can they both be wrong?

There are many factors leading up to any individual’s incarceration and why some people are more likely to find themselves inside than others.

  • Were they innocent or guilty?
  • Were they unlucky to get caught?
  • Were they well served by their legal representatives?

Then there the factors causing people to commit crimes.

  • Individual.
  • Cultural.
  • Social.
  • Economic.

In particular, poor and uneducated people are more likely to commit crimes and more likely to be caught than richer and better educated people.  Black people tend to be poor and poorly educated.  They are also more likely to be the victims of crime.

Sentencing decisions are not simple and no two cases are exactly the same.  A non-custodial sentence may not be appropriate for a repeat offender, for someone who is unlikely to cooperate with the Probation Service, or who is of no fixed abode. We need to ask whether these pheomena are race-related and why.

Until we have gone into these questions of cause and effect and the interrelatedness of the different factors, we need to be very careful about drawing conclusions, especially if they reflect badly on either the judiciary or the black population.

Don’t be misled by statistics!

A horse’s tale

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You may be aware that I have begun writing fiction, but what I am about to tell you really is true.  [I am in the company of John Cleese, Bernard Cornwell and the late Malcolm Muggeridge, to name only a few, in observing that some of the most bizarre stories in the world are actually true and outdo anything we would dare to invent].

A Little Horse.

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I have mentioned before that I am fond of animals, particularly horses.  There is a miniature Shetland pony called Bea.  Oh, yes.  If you can imagine a typical Shetland pony, try to think of one about half that size and you will not be far wrong.  About as big as a big dog.

Bea had been ill-treated and half-starved before someone came to her rescue in 2015.  She was a bag of nerves, which is most untypical of her breed and evidence of her ill-treatment.

Now for the strange part.

Her benefactor took her to the Cheshire Dogs Home at Grappenhall near Warrington.  Don’t ask me why!

They took her in and the staff and volunteers have been looking after her.  She has made good progress physically and mentally but she has been diagnosed this year with a disease called Cushings, which is treatable with drugs.  These cost money.  There are also costs of the farrier.  Although she does not wear horseshoes, her feet need attention.  Then there are her teeth.  Yes, there are such people as horse-dentists.  The thing is that, due to the dogs’ home’s constitution, they are unable to spend the charity’s money on a pony – only on dogs, as you might expect.

This is where you come in.  Sponsors are needed specifically for Bea.  To become a sponsor, you need to donate fifteen ponds.  You know you can manage it.

Do not give me any money [I do not believe I just wrote that] – contact the Cheshire Dogs’ Home, 225 Knutsford Road, Grappenhall, Warrington, Cheshire, WA4 3JZ tel. 0844 5041212 or go to www.dogshome.net

The website does not mention Bea for the reason I tried to explain above, but you can contact them through it.  Go on – what’s stopping you?

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What has Donald Trump got to do with historical fiction?

Donald Trump’s election has been one of the most divisive events in recent times.  It has engendered fear in some, whilst others voted for Trump out of fear.

As I am a Briton, you may say I am out of order commenting on American politics, but we are all going to be affected by whatever happens next in the USA and you may notice  that there are similarities with the Brexit vote, as Nigel Farage has so rightly commented.  (I never thought I would write “Nigel Farage” and “rightly” in the same sentence).

  • The unexpected.
  • The people who thought they were being ignored.
  • The deep divisions and anger.
  • Fear.
  • Immigration.
  • The rejection of ‘expert’ opinion.
  • You could possibly find a few more.

What can historical fiction writers contribute?

The long view.

British politics in the 17th and 18th Centuries were dominated by the fear of Roman Catholicism, especially as it was seen as an instrument of our enemies, France, Spain, Rome.  That was a major factor in the hostility towards the Stuarts and fear of their supporters, the Jacobites.

Notice that in the end we in Britain got over it.  By the 20th Century nobody asked you if you were a Protestant or a Catholic.  Nowadays we cooperate on lots of things.  I have joined with Roman Catholics in several Christian activities. That which unites us is greater than that which divides us.  All right, I admit it is taking Northern Ireland a bit longer to get with the programme, but it is happening even there.  Let us hope our fears of Islam can go the same way.

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I remember words of wisdom from a Scot, David Steele, when he was the Leader of the Liberal Party, “The trouble with the English is that they never remember, and the trouble with the Irish is that they never forget”.  Let us learn the right lessons from the past, and not just keep old hatreds alive.

Soap Box

What can we mere novelists do?

Tell the truth!  But tell it, not like a history textbook, but as if we were there.  Make it real.  Maybe that can help us get over our divisions and mutual suspicions a bit quicker this time.  In his novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell imagined a government controlling the way history was taught so as to prevent people discovering embarrassing or inconvenient truths.  It has been known in some countries.  We writers have a responsibility.

Finally, I would like to remind Americans, including Donald Trump,  that there was a time when immigration was strongly encouraged.  It was called The Slave Trade.  (Not a thing we in Britain can be proud of either).

 

 

 

The Dorset Book Detective – Interview

Hannah, aka The Dorset Book Detective, has just been kind enough to interview me by e-mail for her blog.  I thought the questions were very good.  I hope some people will like the answers.  Here is the interview, showing her questions and my answers in case you are interested.

  1. Tell me about how the books you write. Why do you have such a passion for crime fiction in particular?

I am working on a story about an accountant who is looking into some financial goings-on and that leads on into investigating a murder.  I hope this will be the beginning of a series, Accounting for Murder.  This first one should be out by Easter.

  • Money is often the motive for all sorts of crimes and an accountant’s skills are often very similar to a detective’s.
  • I am trying to make him a fairly ordinary man whom readers will be able to relate to. It is set in Cardiff, a place where I lived for several years.  Like me, he is an Englishman who loves Wales and the Welsh.  We both love animals too.

I have always had an enquiring mind.  Also, crime fiction has to have a structure.  The murder.  The investigation.  The solution.  Some other fiction writers can ramble a bit.  I think I would, if I did not have that structure to help me.  Within that, there is plenty of scope for variety and innovation.

2. What was the first crime fiction novel you read and how did it draw you into seeking out more books of this genre?

Probably an early Dick Francis one.  I love horses, although I do not follow racing.  I have now read most of his works.  I like the combination of mystery and thriller as well as the background detail.

  1. What is your career background and how did you get into writing full time?

I worked as an accountant in local government for most of my career.  Before you all go to sleep or leave this site, let me say that, although everyone thinks accountancy is boring, most people like talking about money, and it was a good preparation for writing crime fiction.

  • For years, I did a lot of auditing, investigating wrongdoing as well as sorting out mistakes, which made a change from making them.
  • I spent most of my later career dealing with insurances. That involved looking into claims against the Council, most of which were… dubious.  If they had all been genuine, you should have seen someone fall on the pavement every time you looked out of the window.
  • I have always done a lot of writing: reports, memos, letters. We accountants do use words as well as numbers.
  • For the last few years, I have been self-employed, meeting a lot of people in business, which has taught me a lot.
  • It was to help grow my business that I started a blog and then wrote a few non-fiction books. I enjoyed that a lot and discovered self-publishing.  Some people enjoyed my writing.  That made me think writing fiction might be possible.

4. Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

I am not sure.  Perhaps my readers will spot some that I was not aware of.

5. What books/ authors do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

I am sure everything you read affects your writing in some way.  These are the ones whose influence I am most conscious of.

  • Val McDermid explains a lot about the psychology of murder, but I have enjoyed some of her earlier works which were more basic whodunits.
  • Ruth Rendell, especially in her Reg Wexford stories, makes her hero credible and normal. Not all detectives have to have damaged personalities and dysfunctional relationships.  I also love some of Wexford’s passing observations about life and how things have changed.
  • Reginald Hill, apart from writing great stories, has a marvellous way with words. He writes most eruditely, but his characters speak in earthy Yorkshire or Cumbrian.  There is humour in the way he expresses himself, without detracting from the seriousness of the story.  He also evokes the feeling of the places where his stories are set.
  • Speaking of words, PG Wodehouse could really use them and could create lots of plot strands, which he would bring together brilliantly in the end. A must-read for any writer.
  • Most recently, I have been enjoying some of the works of Peter James. His knowledge of police procedures and of the location, Brighton, is great.  His hero is another normal person, although one with an issue in his private life.
  • Finally, all crime writers owe a huge debt to Arthur Conan Doyle. Everything can be traced back to him.

Well, I hope there’s enough writers, but I know I am missing a lot out.  I do not claim to bear comparison with any of these, but have learnt something from each of them.

Apart from novels and stuff on the Internet, I read the Bible quite a lot, for many reasons.  As a writer, I commend it, because:

  • It is full of great stories and also contains some memorable quotes.
  • Reading different versions shows how you can say the same thing in different ways.
  • It is interesting to see how Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell the same story but with different styles and emphases and they all include and exclude different bits.

6. If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Any of the above.  However, I would be too in awe of them to collaborate much.  Perhaps writers are better on their own anyway.  You need to be yourself.  Great writing is seldom achieved by committees.  Meeting any of them would be a privilege.

7. Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

  • I hope Accounting for Murder will become a series. I have several ideas for more stories involving the same hero and his family.
  • I am likely to produce another non-fiction book next year, either about business or something to do with faith. Perhaps Things the Devil Doesn’t Want You to Know or A Sceptical Look at Atheism.

8. Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year/ early in 2017?

I have received several suggestions but I would like to wait until I have read the books in question.  I would not want to say anything rash.

9. Do you have anything to add?

There are four things I want to say.

  • My faith affects all my writing, and probably most things I do, but I try not to ram it down your throat. It is part of who I am.
  • I chose to make my hero an accountant because I would be writing about something I know and because I think it is time for another amateur detective. There seem to be so many police detectives around.
  • I also write historical crime fiction under a pseudonym. Let me know if the Dorset Detectives are interested in that.  I could do an interview in my other name.
  • If anyone has not got enough of me, there’s more at johnharveymurray.co.uk and for my professional life, see www.jhmriskmanagementservices.co.uk

Want to know more about The Dorset Book Detective?  Go to https://dorsetbookdetective.wordpress.com

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What do you remember on 5th November?

Although it might seem a bit pointless, or at best a bit of harmless fun, celebrating the 5th of November has become a part of our British way of life.  Here’s why I think it is worth it.  Read this article I wrote a few years ago.  It is at least as relevant now as it was then.

http://ezinearticles.com/?Why-Celebrate-a-Failed-Terrorist?&id=8749994

Have fun tonight.  Don’t catch fire!

What kind of crime-fiction writer am I?

Some people say that there are two kinds of crime-fiction writer:

  1. mystery writers
  2. thriller writers

What’s the difference?

  1. Mystery novels are also called ‘whodunits’ as the main interest is in working out who did the crime or possibly in seeing how the detective goes about working it out.  The purest form of mystery is rather like a crossword puzzle or a game of chess: cerebral and dispassionate.  They are often slow-moving.
  2. Thrillers are emotional.  They involve violence, suspense, tension and shocks.  You might know who did the crime, or who is going to do it, but are interested in the chase.  They are usually fast-paced.

 

JHM Claims

Which do I prefer?

  • I think the distinction is a bit artificial.  A lot of crime-fiction stories contain elements of both.  There is something of a spectrum.  Some are undoubtedly nearer one end than the other but few are at either extremity.
  • On the whole, I tend to prefer the ones that contain an intellectual puzzle to the all-action adventures with little mystery in them.
  • However, it depends on my mood and on the quality of the particular writer.

What of my own crime-fiction writing?

  • My first novel will be largely a ‘whodunit’ but there will be plenty of action, violence, suspense, and probably shocks along the way.
  • I hope it will arouse your emotions at times as well as your intellect.
  • You will have to decide for yourself whether it should be classed as a thriller, a mystery-thriller or just a mystery with a few thrills.  In the end the reader is my judge.

Some people have other ways of classifying crime-fiction novels.  I will say something about those in another blog soon.

Whatever you call it, I hope you like it. 

 

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