Book Review, Books, Christian Writer, Faith, New Author, The Word of God


Instead of my ramblings, this week on the blog I am pleased to invite a new writer friend of mine, Susan Sutherland, to guest blog about how she came to write her book. If you love Biblical fiction you will love her book ‘Leaving Bethany‘, an imagination based around the story of Martha of Bethany.


“You should write the story from Lazarus’s point of view!”

This comment was in response to me writing Leaving Bethany from Martha’s point of view rather than her brother’s. When I asked why, I was told it would be more interesting.

Let’s rewind a bit.

It was five years ago, when I can only say, I received the call to write a novel about Martha of Bethany. The over worked woman whose story Luke told us in chapter 10 of his gospel. Having only written non-fiction articles which found their way into education and nursery journals before, I found the prospect of writing fiction daunting. Just one short story, well I thought I can cope with that. Then what about a short novella? That would not take too much time surely. Before long it was the length of a novel. Then before I know it, I’m on with the sequel, with a third in a trilogy taking shape in my brain.

The message of this is to be very careful what you start, you don’t know where it will lead! The other message is to take whatever help you can get. I knew nothing about creative writing, except that I was an avid reader from being a child. The daughter of a reading mother, who I knew read my Christmas books before wrapping them and took me to the library every week. I met with poets and authors, googled “how to write a novel”, and took it all on board.


Oh, another message to take from this, is don’t take on every piece of advice. I knew the story had to be Martha’s, and not that of her brother, Lazarus. The story of Jesus’s female disciples is not often told, and I wanted to redress that imbalance. Read the gospels and Acts of the Apostles slowly and you will find them, some hidden away and others on full view.

Martha, the overworked and overwrought sister of the devout and spiritual one. That is just a cliché I want to dispel. Women in the Bible were as real and complex as women today, and how we have been throughout history. But perhaps their stories are not as often told or diminished into neatly boxed clichés. It was time to open the box and let Martha and Mary out. I hope and pray that I do them justice, and their brother Lazarus along the way too.


Martha says of meeting Jesus. “This was to be the pivotal point in my life. There was my life before that moment and now there is life after that moment.” (She may not have actually said these exact words, but these are the words I have given her.)

Leaving Bethany is the story of Martha and how she became a teacher in the new faith and worked at the heart of the group of believers who followed Jesus after his death and resurrection. But those who killed Jesus were still looking for ways to prevent his message of love from spreading, and would stop at nothing, including murder. It would not be long before persecution knocked at Martha’s gate.

To find out what happened next, you will have to read Leaving Bethany and follow Martha’s journey through danger, betrayal and finding a friend and ally in an unlikely place.

Susan Sutherland is the author of Leaving Bethany. For details on how to buy her novel go to her website

Aemilia Metella is Susan’s fictional first century female journalist who zips around the Roman world interviewing women found within the pages of the New Testament. Read her interviews on the website blog page.

Book Review, Books, CHOOSING HOPE, Christian Writer, Dealing with Fear, Faith, God in control, God's faithfulness, Grief, Healing, Seasons of life, Thankfulness, The Word of God, words of comfort


Scent of Water (Words of Comfort in Times of Grief) is a beautiful, moving, and honestly real devotional for those experiencing loss. Penelope has bravely written out of her own traumatic experience of witnessing her elderly mother’s life taken violently. And out of the subsequent deep grief response that left her numb and flailing.

The moment I read the blurb for Penelope Swithinbank’s new book Scent of Water, I knew that I wanted to read it. In her own words…

‘she found nothing that reached her dark night of the soul, nothing that let her know that God was still with her… she found it very difficult to pray or to read the bible… hugs rubbed her raw and consoling well meant cliches did not ring true… she wished there was a specific daily devotional to help her connect with God in and through the grief’

I was drawn to those words because I’ve been there. This book is a book for those who grieve, and grief comes in many forms and for many reasons. When I was at my lowest point, grieving the life I had once lived and loved, I longed for something easy to read, that would plug me into a God that I had known for years, but who at the time seemed so distant. A simple, non- demanding devotional, of maybe a single line from scripture and a word that spoke into my pain, was what I longed for. I was given books to read, great books on moving on, looking up, strengthening myself in the Lord; but they were too much, too soon. I wish now that I had had Scent of Water.

“For there is hope for a tree,
If it is cut down, that it will sprout again,
And that its tender shoots will not cease.
 Though its root may grow old in the earth,
And its stump may die in the ground,
 Yet at the scent of water it will bud …

Job 14 :7 – 9 NKJV*

The book takes it’s title from this scripture, and it is about hope, but maybe only flickering hope – the merest scent of water – not the deluge, not the soaking, just enough hope to keep you holding on, barely, by your fingertips. I get that.

Penelope is a woman of deep faith, with a lifetime of following and serving Jesus. But that did not make her immune to pain, doubt and despair. She wrote Scent of Water out of her own need to just hold on through the storm. And her words in it are real, the emotions expressed raw and totally relatable, and yet hope also sings from every page. Like the Psalmists of old she has not hidden how grief has made her feel: the frustration, anger, disbelief, hollowness, confusion, and sheer exhaustion. But alongside her heart cries are the gentle words of God, the reassurances, the moments of strength for the weary soul, the thankfulness. It is just so beautifully moving to read. And to return to, over and over again.

Scent of Water comes as a small, easy to hold hardback, designed to be given as a gift. It’s design and appearance are stunning, from the front cover to the lovely colour photograph plates that mark the start of each new devotional. There are 25 of these six day devotions, enough for six months. Each has it’s own theme, some based on an extract from a bible chapter or a Psalm, others following a thought through, using different scriptures, with titles such as ‘Punched in the stomach : shock and agony’ and ‘Learning to Lean : when I need to rest’. The daily scriptures and thoughts are brief and undemanding, and end with a heartfelt prayer each day.

Penelope has also added a section at the beginning of the book with devotionals for the difficult days e.g. the day of the funeral, first birthday, first anniversary, first Christmas, as well as some additional meditations at the end of the book for people to dip into as they feel able. This book is so sensitively thought out and put together. I, for one, am going to treasure my copy and am so pleased that this book is out there. I know I will be buying it and giving it as a gift for those who need help to get through their grief, gently and slowly, but in connection with a Father who knows and loves them.

Penelope Swithinbank is a chaplain at Bath Abbey, and a vicar with twenty years of experience, specialising in spiritual counselling and therapy. She also loves both undertaking and leading others on pilgrimage, both in the UK and in Europe. You can read more about her and purchase Scent of Water via her website at

Scent of Water was published by Sarah Grace Publishing on 7th July 2021 and is now widely available online and in bookstores.

*New King James Version. Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission, all rights reserved

Read more about my own writing here

Book Review, Books, Christian Writer, Faith, Medieval Fiction, New Author, Uncategorized


As a newly published author I have had the extraordinary blessing of being introduced to a whole new community of like-minded gifted writers. In fact the pandemic has helped me meet far more people than I could ever imagine as online groups have sprung up all over the place. One such group that I have become a part of is ‘FAB CHOW’. I know – makes no sense. But it was the name adopted as the group has a rather wordy title – the Association of Christian Historic and Biblical Fiction Writers – A O C H B F W, rearranged, is FAB CHOW. And it is fab to meet together, share our writing and critique one another, and champion each others achievements. So today that is what I am going to do. I want to introduce you to these great books by two authors, who, like me, are new to this publishing business. Both are very enjoyable reads, with good storylines and containing strong faith messages. I’ll leave the authors to tell you more…

MAN OF GLASS by Andrea Sarginson

As rumours of a terrible plague reach gifted young glazing apprentice Amalric’s village in East Yorkshire in 1349, he dreads its arrival and despairs of the Church’s response and his village’s rampant superstition – but even he cannot deny the ominous portents that seem to abound. When the gruesome pestilence at last comes to Warren Horesby and neighbouring Meaux Abbey, Amalric and his family are blamed. Exposed to brutal recrimination, he is horribly injured in a vicious assault. Suddenly his survival depends on the care of a shy servant girl and the improbable support of the village priest and a newly qualified doctor of physic with pioneering ideas. Can the village ever come to terms with the ravages of the pestilence? Can Amalric honour his family, fulfil his talent and help the village survive? And can he find love and happiness in the aftermath of the terrible disease.

Andrea Sarginson says, Man of Glass is fiction based on fact, inspired by the remains of a medieval village and Cistercian Abbey in East Yorkshire, and the history of the Black Death. I have written about what could have been. After all, who knows about the lives of people buried long ago in a village church graveyard when records were seldom kept: who made the stained-glass windows of the fourteenth century churches, how did the ordinary person with only the basic traditional healing methods react to the symptoms of the devastating pestilence, what was it like to be a doctor unable to help? Written just before the Covid pandemic, when it was unknown in England, my novel has proven to be eerily prophetic.

About the author: Andrea Sarginson trained as a midwife, operating theatre nurse, teacher, and later as an art historian with interests in art and stained glass. She lives in Greater Manchester and since 2012 has been an Authorised Lay Minister in the Manchester Diocese. She approached retirement combining both art and medicine as an associate of the Arts for Health Department at Manchester Metropolitan University. Creative writing became an interest for her when retired, developing a curiosity for the interaction between medicine, art and spirituality.

Man of Glass by Andrea Sarginson (ISBN: 9781912726189) is published by Instant Apostle, 304pp, £8.99. Available from for £7.00 incl postage.

Leaving Bethany by Susan Sutherland

“I was a bird that liked my own garden and lacked the confidence to fly away to new places. I wondered whether I would ever have the courage to leave Bethany.” 

Judea 32 AD

It is a day like any other in the sleepy village of Bethany. Martha, a young widow, meets a travelling Rabbi called Jesus. And her life changes forever.

To become a disciple of Jesus is a dangerous decision, but one Martha must make. She follows Jesus to his death and sees him comes alive again three days later. Now, she is at the heart of the group of believers around Jesus. She changes from one always ready with a plate of food for a hungry guest, to being eager to teach others the things she learned.

How can she follow Jesus in the perilous world of religious politics and Roman rule? Those who killed Jesus are now looking to stop them by any means possible, including murder. It is only a matter of time before they come for her family. Martha now faces her greatest challenge. Can she find the path to truth through danger and betrayal to save those she loves?

Susan says:  There has been much talk of late about the women who followed Jesus as his disciples. Not only providing materially and financially for him but working and learning alongside the traditional male disciples. The story of Jesus’s female disciples has for far too long been given less prominence than his male ones. An imbalance I wanted to redress. Martha of Bethany has such a compelling story, her voice cried out to be heard and I had to write it for others to read.

About the author: After running her own educational training company and writing articles that appeared in several educational journals, Susan turned her hand, and her keyboard, into writing her debut novel. Following success in flash fiction, the full-length novel, Leaving Bethany appeared. The sequel is now in process of being written with a third planned.

Visit for more information and details of how to buy Leaving Bethany.

Hope you are inspired to read them yourself!

Joy Margetts is new to blogging, and new to being published. Her debut novel ‘The Healing‘ was published by Instant Apostle on 19 March 2021. A work of historic fiction, set in mediaeval Wales against the backdrop of Cistercian abbey life, it is also a story of faith, hope and God’s redemptive power. Joy has also self- published a short novella, ‘The Beloved‘ as both a companion to ‘The Healing‘, and as an easy to read standalone story, which is available to buy on Amazon Kindle.

More information on Joy and her writing can be found here

Bearing Fruit, Book Review, Books, Christian Writer, Faith, New Author, The Word of God, Uncategorized


Beyond the Hills by Maressa Mortimer

I love books and I love reading, and one of the absolute delights of becoming a published author is making lots of new friends who are also writers. And who write great books – that they send me free copies of – and ask me to review for them! I am thrilled that my blog this week forms part of the Blog Tour for the new book by Maressa Mortimer, Beyond the Hills.

Beyond the Hills is the second book in the series of the Elabi Chronicles, fiction aimed at young adults but suitable for anyone teen and above. Walled City introduced us to Elabi, a dystopian world set sometime in the future, where society is strictly controlled, emotions are frowned upon, and faith actively prohibited. In the first book, Gax, a young man on a mission to share his faith, infiltrates the city for a time and becomes frustrated at how little he seemingly can do to make a difference. Beyond the Hills picks up from after he leaves, and shows just how much he did achieve, unknowingly, by living a different way among the people he interacted with. And by leaving behind a legacy… in the form of a few thin pages torn out of an ancient book.

I love reading, but the book I love reading the most is the Bible. I make no apologies for that. It has become more and more important to me, particularly over the last few years, to spend time in that amazing book. The Word of God, is exactly that to me. It speaks life and health and strength to me, every day. I was so thrilled then to discover that a major theme of Maressa’s  new book is the power of the Word of God to transform a person’s life.

The central character in Beyond the Hills is a girl called Macia. She appeared only as a minor character in the first book, and when we first meet her she is the perfect Elabi citizen. Her father is a council member and she is aiming for the highest class status she can achieve, through hard work and assiduously keeping the rules. She is outwardly successful in her ambitions and her future seems secure, but inwardly she is struggling. Someone she was once close to mysteriously disappeared from Elabi, and left a letter containing a bundle of thin pages from a now barred book. Macia fights the urge to read the words on those pages but something draws her to them. The more she reads, the less resistant she is to reading more, and bit by bit she finds herself longing to read those life-giving words, returning to them over and over again, memorising them, and letting them change her heart. The changes in Macia do not go unnoticed, and to give nothing away, she finds she has to cling to those words she memorised to survive the devastating consequences of choosing to follow the God they introduce her too.

I asked the author why she chose to have Macia come to faith in God through the Word of God alone, and whether she knew of anyone else who had come to faith that way? This is what she said:

I wanted Macia to be touched by the Word, without any help. I think as Christians we can easily forget how powerful the Word is, and we think it’s up to us to ‘reach the lost’, forgetting God’s Spirit working irresistibly in people’s hearts. Macia has no understanding, or desire, to know God, yet the unfamiliar words, printed on strange paper, draw her back time and again. I found it utterly fascinating, and I felt myself wondering if she would carry on reading or throw the pages away. I have heard of people becoming Christians after reading the Bible only, but I can’t remember exact names or places. In most cases, I seem to remember that those people had met missionaries handing them the books, so at least there was some outside influence. I felt it was a message of hope, a casting your bread out on the water, trusting God to bless it and make it fruitful.

I thoroughly enjoyed Beyond the Hills. It did help that I had read Walled City first, but it does stand alone as a very readable and compelling story. I loved the way Maressa wove truths of scripture into the narrative, and her insights into Macia’s thoughts and feelings. I found myself drawn into Macia’s journey with all it’s twists and turns, and rooting for both her, and her fledgling faith in God, to survive. I am looking forward to book three, and knowing Maressa, it is well and truly in the pipeline!

Maressa Mortimer is Dutch but lives in the beautiful Cotswolds, England with her husband and four (adopted) children. Her debut novel, Sapphire Beach, was published December 2019, and her first self-published novel, Walled City, came out on 5 December 2020, followed by Viking Ferry, a novella. Beyond the Hills is the second book in the Elabi Chronicles, and will be released on 18 June 2021.

Maressa is a home-schooling mum as well as a pastor’s wife, so her writing has to be done in the evening when peace and quiet descend on the house once more. She loves writing Christian fiction, as it’s a great way to explore faith in daily life. Her books can be found on her website and on Amazon in both kindle and paperback format. You can follow Maressa on both Instagram and Facebook @vicarioush.ome

Book Review, Books, Christian Writer, Faith, God in control, New Author, Uncategorized



‘Are we nearly there yet?’ For anyone who has ever transported young children on a car journey of any length those words will be alarmingly familiar. And yet put yourself in that poor child’s place for a moment. Strapped into a moving vehicle with no idea exactly where you are going, how long it will take, and what you are going to find at the other end; that is, with no control whatsoever. A child in that situation has only one option- to trust the adult driving the car – that they know where they are going, how long it will take, and what is at the other end of the journey.

For many of us life feels a bit like that at the moment. Uncertainties surround us on every side. How long is this pandemic going to last? What are the easing of restrictions going to mean for us and our loved ones? Is everyday life coming out of this going to look very different? What about vaccines and variants, and foreign travel, and homeworking, and schooling, and exams, and church? The questions are endless.

It is into this world of uncertainty that a great new book by Jocelyn-Anne Harvey comes, with such a timely message. ‘Not Knowing But Still Going’ is an exploration of the story of Noah’s Ark, from the perspective of those who travelled in it, the women in particular. If ever a journey was uncertain and an outcome unknown, it was the voyage of the Ark.

Jocelyn- Anne does a marvellous job of getting us to imagine what life pre-flood, life on the Ark, and life post- flood might have been like, by fictionalising parts of the story, including giving those nameless wives names of their own. I love the cover of this book, it is beautifully designed, but what really caught my attention was the strategically placed washing line! I love that, because in reality the Ark was much more than a floating zoo, or an escape ship, it was those women’s domestic world, their home, for over a year. In that Ark they had to cook and prepare food, for themselves as well as the animals, they had to make comfortable places to sleep and rest, and they would have had to do the washing! Although it probably wouldn’t have been hung outside to dry! How did they cope? Not just with the enormous job of keeping them all fed and cared for (animals included), and living with the in- laws in close proximity in the most strict of lockdown bubbles! But also with the realisation of what the flood meant to mankind. How would it have felt to know that they were the only survivors, and that life, and even the earth itself was going to look very different when they emerged from the Ark? And they were going to be responsible for repopulating the earth, and with only each other to rely on? They had no control over any of this, and no real idea of what any of it was going to look like.

I love animals, but I could not imagine being shut in with a whole menagerie for all that time. In a sense Jocelyn-Anne creates a veritable menagerie of complimentary ideas with her writing. Alongside the fiction and the imaginings there is a wealth of wisdom. Her knowledge of scripture is evident and she uses it very well. She also applies things that she has learnt from her own life experiences and these add real weight to the book (I’d have liked more of these – some stories left me hanging!). It is also rich in other well researched detail about the geography of the earth pre- and post flood, the construction of the ark, changes in weather and diet after the flood. Some things take you by surprise- like getting up in the night and stepping on an escaped snake in the dark would! And others require you to examine your pre-conceived ideas and think more deeply on these things. You may find you struggle with some points of theology or supposition, but it certainly does make you question and go back to the Bible, and that is a very good thing.

The book is divided up into chapters that follow the story of the flood, tackling such subjects as: working with what you know, not pleasing people but leaning into God, being content in the waiting, sensing when new windows are opening, and the importance of family. Ultimately Jocelyn- Anne shows us how it is possible to keep going without knowing, trusting God to know what He is doing, and living the way He would want us to do, amidst the uncertainty. It is aimed primarily at women, and the author does celebrate particularly the way God sees and honours women, which I appreciated greatly. Throughout the book, the author challenges the reader to think and apply things to their own life and experience. I particularly loved that each chapter ends with a really helpful prayer, and some questions as an aid to thinking more. The book even provides blank pages for journaling, if you can bear to write on the pages of a pristine new book!

This is a great debut book from an imaginative and obviously well- read writer. If anything, I found it almost too rich. I read it through fairly quickly so that I could review it as part of Jocelyn- Anne’s blog tour, but I know I am going to have to go back to it, and re-read certain parts again. And maybe, just maybe, bring myself to write something on those empty journaling pages!

Not Knowing But Still Going by Jocelyn- Anne Harvey was published by Instant Apostle on 21st April 2021 and is available from all good bookshops or from a variety of online shops including: FoylesWaterstonesAslan EdenAmazon  Amazon US and The Book Depository (this has worldwide free shipping).

Jocelyn-Anne loves the Lord, learning and literature. She has a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Chichester, and her flash fiction has been published. Having taken the leap from her senior HR role in the UK Government, Jocelyn-Anne can identify with those walking through uncertain times, and she is passionate about supporting others through theirs and helping them develop. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her in a coffee shop with friends, exploring coastal paths or trying out recipes.