In this episode, Donita Bundy and Alison Joy interview Belinda Pollard, author of crime novels, light memoir, devotionals and non-fiction. She is also founder of Gracewriters. Belinda shares what she learned from revising and republishing both a devotional book, MEET THE REAL JESUS, and her first crime novel, POISON BAY.
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In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, writing coach, accredited editor with qualifications in theology, writing and publishing blogger at smallbluedog.com, and Gracewriters founder
- Donita Bundy, writing teacher, preacher and author of the Armour of Light urban fantasy series
- Alison Joy, romance author, former early childhood teacher and mother of 4 adult children
Topics covered in this episode:
- How Belinda got into writing.
- The different reasons for revising a devotional and a novel, and why more authors are doing it.
- One-page-at-a-time revision vs a more organic process.
- Tips for others doing revisions.
- Why Belinda founded Gracewriters in the first place.
Find Belinda Pollard online:
Belinda’s author website: https://belindapollard.com/
Belinda’s tips for writers: https://smallbluedog.com/
Find information and buy links for all of Belinda’s current books at: https://belindapollard.com/my-recent-books
Or click each cover below:
Please use the sharing buttons at top and bottom of this post to share on social media or directly with Christian writers you know.
Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters Podcast – Christian Writers Changing Popular Culture. Hit subscribe on your favourite podcast player so you never miss an episode and find show notes, useful links and a full transcript at gracewriters.com.
Donita Bundy: Today on the podcast, mystery novelist, non-fiction author and Gracewriters founder, Belinda Pollard, on publishing second editions of our books.
I’m Donita Bundy. For the past 20 years, I’ve been using my theology degree to underpin my preaching and more recently, to inspire my urban-fantasy series, Armour of Light. You can find out more about me, my books, book covers and blog at donitabundy.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Young. I’m a former early childhood educator with four adult children. Aside from writing, my other passion is photography and as part of the media team at my local church, I have the privilege of capturing God moments, both big and small.
I write contemporary romance under the pen name, Alison Joy, and you can find out more about my books at alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Belinda Pollard writes multiple genres, including the Wild Crimes mystery Thriller series requiring arduous research in the best tourist destinations.
An accredited book editor and former journalist, she blogs writing tips at smallbluedog.com, co-hosts the Gracewriters podcast, and presents workshops at libraries and online. Her writing prizes include a Varuna Fellowship.
Welcome to the other side of the podcast couch, Belinda.
Belinda Pollard: Thank you, Donita. It’s a bit scary but we’ll cope.
Donita Bundy: We won’t hurt too much!
Alison Joy: Okay, Belinda, I know you know how this works. This is our rapid-fire five so our listeners can learn a little bit more about you.
Are you ready?
Belinda Pollard: I’m ready!
Alison Joy: Okay. Who is your target audience?
Belinda Pollard: Because I write a bunch of things, I guess I have a bunch of target audiences but if I had to sum them up, it would probably be people who are curious about faith.
Alison Joy: I like that.
What is your main genre?
Belinda Pollard: Again, multiple genres. I write mystery-thriller novels, light memoir, devotionals and resources for writers.
Alison Joy: Very good! You’re a very busy lady.
Do you have an optimum time for writing?
Belinda Pollard: Probably, mostly when I’m supposed to be doing something else. But generally I’m better in the afternoon or the evening. I tried doing that 5am Writer’s Club thing and every word was like blood from a stone. It was so hard.
Alison Joy: Where is your favourite place to write?
Belinda Pollard: In a beautiful location or a picnic table or on holidays somewhere; that’s my favourite place but mostly I end up writing here in my home office.
Alison Joy: Okay. And can you tell us, briefly, how you got into writing in the first place?
Belinda Pollard: I learnt to read when I was very young over my mother’s shoulder because she read stories with all the voices. So, if I can recommend that to parents out there, that’s a great way to teach your kids to read!
But I just loved words from early on. I always enjoyed stories and writing, and writing for school assignments, from very young.
Donita Bundy: So, you loved words and reading from any early start, but how did that lead into writing professionally?
Belinda Pollard: My first degree was in journalism and it’s one of those strange things, I’d been praying with my parents about what to do because I wanted to actually be a photographer. I wanted to be a commercial photographer. And I discovered that to travel to the Art College was going to be at least three or four hours out of every day because of where it was in relation to where I lived.
So, I thought, “That’s not going to be any good,” and my mother and I were having a great discussion and looking through the forms where you apply to different courses and I said, “Here’s this one for journalism,” and she said, “Well, you always wrote good compositions at school,” and so, I put that one down.
And that’s what I ended up in and the first year of journalism study I thought, “What on earth am I doing here?” Because they were talking about it as though you had to be this really hard-bitten person who could go and be drinking all night with the local politicians and dragging these desperate stories out of them and these types of things.
And then we started radio in the second year and I thought, “Ah, this is what I really like,” and so, I ended up going into radio and television journalism, initially, and later some freelancing for print, as well.
I just loved the pulling together of different aspects of story. Like the written story and the visual story and all of those different aspects of it.
I’d been a journalist for quite a few years and I’d done PR and then I went into this Theology Degree, came out of it and got offered a job by someone who had been a student earlier in my time at that college, doing book editing. And I thought, “What’s book editing? I don’t know if I really want to do that.”
But anyway, she mentored me into it and I found it really satisfying, obviously, because I’m still doing it now over 20 years later. And then I got into writing devotionals for Scripture Union which is a British publisher of devotional series. It was an interesting unfolding.
Donita Bundy: So, what led to the leap from a lot of non-fiction, quite a varied form of non-fiction, what led to the leap into your fiction writing, the crime thriller?
Belinda Pollard: Fiction has kind of been a bit of a guilty pleasure for me, forever.
I love stories and I love reading them. I love watching fiction on television. I love writing fiction. But I wouldn’t let myself do it and I felt very experienced and capable, I guess, in non-fiction. I felt like I had enough skills in that to know how to cope with various genres of non-fiction. I didn’t feel that I knew what I was doing with fiction. It was just fun. It was fun!
I wanted to write fiction for fun and I thought that if I spent all the time to write a novel, and this was a reasonable concern considering how long it does take me to write a novel, as it turns out, but I felt like it would be a waste of time. That I should be writing my Bible devotionals. That was more worthy – like going to a prayer meeting instead of a rave, or something. That was pretty much the comparison, in a way, between the two writing functions.
Writing devotionals was very hard work but very nourishing spiritually because you have to really engage with the text if you’re going to write a devotional for someone else to read; the Bible text, I mean.
I think, probably, like a lot of things in life, I overthought it. So, I wouldn’t let myself write fiction for a long time and I wasn’t sure if I could do it because none of us know if we can do it, do we, until we do it. We think, maybe we can’t do it and we can’t tell until we’ve got a full book there that maybe we can do it!
So, it was like being in a washing machine and being tumbled all around but I really love writing fiction.
Donita Bundy: Congratulations, Belinda, on releasing Venom Reef. That’s the second book in the series.
Can you give us a little bit more information about the books and where you think the series might be heading?
Belinda Pollard: That’s an interesting question!
I love creating crime situations in these amazing natural locations and so, the series is about people who are fighting bad guys but also fighting the elements and doing it all in places that are fabulous.
So, Poison Bay was set in Fiordland National Park down the bottom of New Zealand which has these amazing mountains that just go up and down like letter V’s upside down.
It has extraordinary weather. It rains so much that basically the whole mountainside comes down and winds so strong that they were blowing people off the track. Summer blizzards and this kind of stuff and of course I thought, “This landscape would make a good murder weapon!” But that was kind of the origins of the series germinating and so, it turned into what’s almost a locked-room mystery where there’s a group of people together out there with these people that they haven’t seen since high school.
Two of them are journalists but then the same two journalists come back in Venom Reef which is set on the Great Barrier Reef on a fictional island. There’s a research station there as well as a very posh resort and they are researching how to use the different kinds of venom from the reef creatures for healing purposes for humans – and nature starts to turn on them a bit. And it’s not quite clear, initially, whether this is a natural occurrence or an unnatural occurrence and I’ll leave you to guess which it is.
Donita Bundy: Recently, you made the decision to do revisions on two of your books, namely, Meet the real Jesus, one of the Bible devotions that you wrote years ago, and Poison Bay, your first novel. What triggered these decisions?
Belinda Pollard: Well, with Meet the real Jesus, it was a stand-alone devotional book that they used at missions, and things like that, as a giveaway. A companion to this Closer to God series of devotionals that they were publishing every quarter that I used to write for, and they wanted this stand-alone book. So, it was in print for, I don’t know, they went through multiple print runs and, by the way, that doesn’t make you rich when you’re writing devotionals! Not at all.
But it was in print for quite a number of years but then they discontinued Closer to God, the series, and so, the rights reverted to me. Initially, I was just going to give it a quick run over and self-publish it. Get it back out there so that people could use it if they wanted it.
But then I started looking at it and really getting into it and I thought, “You know what, I think I need to thoroughly revise this and rethink it and just let the text confront me again.
And I’m a different person 20 years later. I’ve had a lot more experiences in life. For example, the woman with the flow of blood is one of the stories and when I wrote it in 2001, I didn’t have a chronic illness and now I do. And so, my way of seeing her situation and how Jesus ministered to her and ‘saw’ her, is different and it’s got extra layers to it.
The format of it had been done to match the quarterly series and now it didn’t need to. It was released from that. I could kind of re-create it.
Donita Bundy: What about Poison Bay, the fiction, your first in the series, that hadn’t been released quite so long, had it?
Belinda Pollard: No. It was released in 2014. So, it’s a fair distance in time and I would never have thought that I would publish a new edition of a novel.
The second novel in the series was finally written and I’d had it to beta readers and got feedback and I was getting close to publishing it.
I had won a freebie session at a conference, 15 minutes with this book marketing guru and I wanted to ask him, “How can I set up Venom Reef, get it out into the world solidly so that it can keep ticking over” because I’m a slow writer. I don’t manage to put out a new novel every year or every three months like some writers are doing. And he said, “Promote the first book.”
Like, the sky peeled back, and I thought, “What! What on earth are you talking about?” But that’s what he said and each time I release a new one, particularly because I’m a slow writer, promote the first book.
Now, I love Poison Bay but I also have grown as a writer since 2014 and there are things about it that I felt that I would like to develop further. But I’d kind of kept pushing that aside thinking, “Don’t worry about it. That book’s in the past. Leave it in the past, move on to the next thing.”
This information from the marketing guru turned that on its head and I thought, “Can I? Can I do this?” and then I discovered that there were a bunch of other writers doing the same thing.
When I’d published Poison Bay in 2014, it was the very best book that I could write at that time but I knew that I could see things in it now that I would like to change and that I could, maybe, do better.
A friend of mine said to me when I said I wanted to improve my dialogue and characterisation, she sent me to this course that she had done, an online course. For those interested it’s Dean Wesley Smith, Depth in Writing, and I signed up for that course. It was reasonably expensive because I did the one where he gives you feedback on your weekly assignments.
I’d been trying to people-please back when I wrote the book the first time round.
I’d get all of this input, I’d be reading all these blogs and looking at all this stuff because you’re trying to learn how to write a novel on the fly. There’s all these different conflicting opinions and my natural inclination is to really write into the characters and then I got concerned that I was taking too long for the story to start, too long for anyone to die (because this a crime novel).
What I learnt from that course with Dean Wesley Smith was that my desire to take people deeper before things actually start happening was valid and I didn’t have to do the “start in the middle of this great dramatic scene” thing that I felt that I had to do.
It had been really messing me up as I was trying to write the book the first time around, and it was so freeing. In fact, one of the exercises that I did with that course is now the second scene in the new version of Poison Bay.
It feels more authentically me now. I always loved the story but I really wanted to strengthen it if it was going to be the one that I was constantly promoting each time I released a new one in the series.
Alison Joy: So, Belinda, was it a process of sitting down with the book and a Word Doc and going through page by page, sentence by sentence or was it less systematic and more organic, your revisions?
Belinda Pollard: Probably more organic. Well, particularly with Meet the real Jesus, that one was more straightforward and more of a sit down and go through it but I did also get some input from beta readers as I did it because I find that useful. I can be a bit blinkered and not really see what’s there on the page.
With Poison Bay, it was more of a round and round kind of thing. I was looking for the different elements that needed to be enriched and then working on my skills. So, doing another class or exercises or thinking about stuff and then going back through it. And I got one beta reader, well, two really, two beta readers on the second edition of Poison Bay.
Alison Joy: If any of our listeners were thinking of doing a revision, would you suggest a minimum time frame between publication and revising?
Belinda Pollard: I think it’s a bit hard to know exactly how long that should be for different people.
Alison Joy: So, what would you say were the biggest challenges you faced during your revision and was it the same for both books?
Belinda Pollard: They’re such different projects but I think probably one of the biggest challenges is knowing when you are finished.
But that’s a problem when we’re writing in the first place, as well. It’s knowing how long to keep meddling with it.
I’ve found that a deadline helped with that. So, my mother had a significant birthday last year and she said, “If you can get Meet the real Jesus finished, I will give it to my guests at my birthday party. So, that gave me a deadline and I got it done.
With Poison Bay, I’ve been round and round the garden with it trying to get it out but also wanting to be working on Venom Reef at the same time. And I did actually find that was quite useful to be working on the two of them at once because I’m learning things as I do it and improving the writing of both and also making them more of a series. Making the characters match better, the two continuing characters, match better across the series.
Also, obviously, you’ve got to entrust it to God and when we’re writing as Gracewriters, there’s all these different things we’re trying to please but ultimately we’re wanting to please God and to bring glory to Him and to submit it to Him so that He can use it however He wants to use it – which might not be how I expect and it might not be with selling millions of copies and riding around in a stretch limousine! It might be quite different what His goal is.
So, the entrusting it really helps.
Donita Bundy: Belinda, you were explaining that process, especially for Poison Bay, as being quite, like you were saying, round and round and you would be going to different patches and doing different things. I’m just wondering if you felt convicted or encouraged at a later stage to do another revision of another fiction, do you think that this process has taught you the way you would do it in the future or would you say that it would still be that same kind of going from here to there and then back again?
Have you created a process through this learning or is it always going to be that organic flow from all over the place?
Belinda Pollard: I think it might be more organic because each time the book is different and the things it needs are different because you’re at a different phase in your writing career and there’s different things that you’re struggling with.
We’re never going to perfect. There’s always going to be things that we’re trying to learn and trying to do better, book by book.
I don’t see myself doing another fiction revision! That doesn’t mean it will never happen. Never say never, but I was wanting to get the series anchored well – because it’s a massive amount of work. Once you’re working on a revision, you’re not working on new material and we do need to be getting some new material out.
So, I’d probably be very reluctant to do another fiction revision. I think this might, hopefully, be the only one I do! I’ll definitely do non-fiction revisions, though. That’s just par for the course as things change.
Donita Bundy: Belinda, would you have advice for people considering a revision of their work?
Belinda Pollard: Well, a couple of things.
One is that you can update the cover at any time and that is not a new edition. You don’t need a new ISBN. So, sometimes people hold off on that but you can do that.
If you’re considering a revision of fiction. If it’s a stand-alone, I would maybe consider carefully if you need to do that because it is a lot of work and would you be better to write new work? But if it’s a series, it can be worth doing that and bringing it up to date.
Sometimes people have been writing a series for quite a number of years and they now find that the books are just flowing better, their skills are so much stronger. So, you might have just published book 7 but you might decide to go back and just do a bit of a tidy up of book 1 because book 1 is what introduces people to your series. So, that’s a possibility.
If you don’t have the computer documents anymore, one of the things that you can do is get the spine cut off and have it scanned and that can make it a bit easier. If you’ve got a print copy still available, that can make it a bit easier than having to type it all in.
But if you were traditionally published, do be alert to the fact that the edits will belong to the publisher. So, be a little bit sensitive about using those and just check what your contractual possibilities might be.
Alison Joy: Belinda, years ago you crafted the Gracewriters slogan, Christian Writers Changing Popular Culture. Can you give us some insight as to how you developed it?
Belinda Pollard: I had a strong sense that there are a lot of people out there that writers can reach but not all of them will read a Christian book. And thinking about how Jesus used stories, all the time, in His teaching. We call them parables but they’re stories. And how story can get past a lot of the barriers that we put up against understanding a new concept or becoming open to a spiritual truth.
So, I had this sense that writing fiction, even for the mainstream, could have a lot of possibilities. Maybe, gracenotes could be woven in.
I saw, looking around at the representation of Christians in fiction, and in that I include books and television shows and movies. The Christian is always the lunatic or the serial killer, aren’t they?
You can almost guarantee that if a character appears, particularly in crime which I write crime, particularly if a character appears in crime and they’re praying, they’re going to be the bad guy. And while this may be some of us, it’s not all of us! And I just thought, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could have Christians shown a bit differently. If we could have the Christian worldview portrayed a little bit differently. If we could just gently open people’s minds.”
As I said, I write for people who are curious about faith and I just love the concept of being able to create a bit of curiosity about faith. Helping people to think about things a little bit differently than they have done.
I was looking for someone to give me permission to write that way. And looking for someone who could teach me how to write that way. As the saying goes, the one who has the vision gets the job.
One day it dawned on me that maybe what I needed to do was to start trying to draw together some other Christian writers who had similar visions. They’re not always the same because some of us write for Christian audiences, some of us write non-fiction, not fiction. There’s all different kinds of people drawing together around this and it’s just been so exciting to see it happen and to see the way that God is working in it.
And I’ve had things like with my first novel, Poison Bay, a women who was a nurse in an emergency department in a country town in Australia, she got a copy of my book and she said to me later, and this is one of the best pieces of feedback I’ve ever had, she said, “This was perfect because I couldn’t give a Christian book to my workmates but I could give this book to my workmates and it opened up possibilities for conversation.” That’s kind of proof of concept and it made me very excited that it would work.
So, that’s how it got underway. Just wanted to have this different possibility for opening people’s minds up, a little bit, to who Christians are, who we believe in and why it matters.
Donita Bundy: Well, we just want to thank you for opening the door and being that one to lead the charge and that enabling us to follow along in the wake in the Gracewriters community. So, thank you for being obedient to that call and stepping out there and following through with the vision.
Belinda, how can our listeners find out more about you or get in touch?
Donita Bundy: Well, thank you very much, Belinda, for your time this morning and, as we said, being brave enough to jump onto the other side of the interview couch!
There were some really good tips and advice there for people who are considering revising a previously published work.
How about I pray for you and our Gracewriters?
Belinda Pollard: Thank you.
Donita Bundy: Heavenly Father, we thank you that each of us are on a journey. We are on a path that is laid before us and we thank you that whilst each of us is on a different journey, we are heading to the same location.
We thank you for the experiences that you have given Belinda and she so freely and generously shared with us. We thank you that through her trial and error, she’s been able to, not only rework her work, but she’s been able to make it stronger and teach us along the way.
We pray, Lord, for all of those people who are listening who might be feeling that it’s something that they need to do or something that they would like to do and hear that it’s a long and not an easy process, but we pray that if it’s something that needs to be done, that you would be encouraging and prompting and challenging those of us who need to do it, to do it.
So, we thank you for this morning’s talk with Belinda. We pray that you continue to bless her in her writing, in her teaching, in her editing and all the other hats that she wears. We thank you, too, that you have called her into this ministry of Gracewriters and the blessing that she is, and Gracewriters is, to many of us.
We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Belinda Pollard: Amen. Thank you. Thank you very much.
Donita Bundy: Thank you, Belinda Pollard, for joining us today on the Gracewriters podcast.
Thank you, Alison Joy. I’m Donita Bundy and we’ll see you next time on the Gracewriters podcast.
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