Thursday, 28 August 2014

What the Archbishop Was Doing While I Was Speaking

At the recent Catholic Digital Media Conference, Laura and I were asked to present a workshop on blogging.

We arrived early (at the D'Arcy Room!) so we could compare notes before speaking. The minutes ticked by quickly and soon our audience was filing through the door. While everyone found seats, I took one last glance at my notes before looking up. And there was Archbishop Julian Porteous.

I’d already met Archbishop Porteous. He confirmed Sophie several years ago. More recently, he'd sat almost next to me in the auditorium earlier that day. Yes, I’d tucked my feet under my seat so he could shuffle past me to an empty seat on the other side of my neighbour.

And now Archbishop Porteous was sitting in the centre of the D’Arcy Room, a smile on his face, his eyes twinkling. Leaning towards us, he looked like a man who couldn’t wait to hear all about our experiences of blogging. Blogging was important. We were important. For the duration of the workshop, the archbishop gave us his full attention. I don’t think he looked away even once while we were speaking.

Laura and I spoke. The words flowed. We answered questions. We smiled. We even laughed. And everyone laughed with us. I really enjoyed the session. I hope our audience did too.

And do you know what I attribute the good feeling of the workshop to? I can’t speak for Laura, but when it was my turn to speak, it was the archbishop who made a difference to my words.

I once read about an experiment which involved a professor who was known for his dull lectures. His students had given up. They barely listened while the professor droned on and on.Then one day, it was suggested the students model good listening. They sat forward on their seats, looking as if they were eager to catch every word. They made eye contact with the professor. They didn’t fidget or look bored. And do you know what happened? The professor came alive. He started to believe that what he was saying was indeed interesting. A wave of energy passed through the room and his words started flowing with passion. After a while the students stopped pretending to be interested. They really were engrossed in the lecture.

I don't know if our audience learnt anything useful from my part of the presentation, but I learnt something: The speaker may seem to be important, and indeed it’s a great honour to be asked to present a session, but really, she doesn't work on her own. The audience contributes to a speaker's success. Without Archbishop Porteous and a room full of kind people, who were obviously prepared to listen, I never would have been able to speak. My words would have lacked passion. They would have gradually died away, and I’d have returned home convinced I was the most boring speaker on earth.

After our workshop, I had books and notes to gather before heading to the auditorium to hear the next speaker on the program. Most of the delegates were already seated. As I crept up the stairs, looking for an empty seat, I noticed Archbishop Porteous sitting at the end of a row. As I passed by, he reached out and grasped my arm. He looked me in the eye and whispered, “Thank you!” There was real warmth and gratitude in those words.

But it's me who should be doing the thanking:

Archbishop Julian Porteous, you made me feel as if every word I spoke was of great importance. That was so encouraging. Thank you!

Would you like to know exactly what I said at the blogging workshop? I'll post my notes next time!

And please feel welcome to join me on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page. We've been chatting about books and beautiful pictures!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

The Problem of Talking Too Much

talking by Len Matthews,  (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

I have a runaway tongue. There is no doubt, that given the opportunity, I know how to talk. Just introduce one of my favourite subjects and I am unstoppable.

Many years ago when I was much younger, whenever I came home from a social function, I’d replay all that evening’s conversations in my head. Round and round they’d go like an ever-revolving record. I said this, and then I said that… I always ended up wishing I’d said less. If I hadn’t said so much, I wouldn’t be wondering: “What is everyone thinking about me?” They were probably not thinking about me at all, but my young insecure self didn’t consider that.

 Of course I always vowed not to talk as much next time I got together with friends. Yes, I’d leave the speaking to others. I planned to listen carefully, nod my head in agreement, smile and generally keep quiet. That way I wouldn’t dominate the conversation. I wouldn’t say anything foolish and wonder what everyone was saying about me later. Of course I always failed.

Those days are long gone but I’m still talking. Sometimes I have a good excuse to open my mouth. Recently, I was invited to speak at the Catholic Digital Media Conference in Sydney. I co-presented a blogging workshop. My fellow speaker was Laura from the blog Catholic Cravings.

Laura is different from me in nearly every way. She is tall and I am short. She is young and pretty and I am much older. She is a single student, aware of all the latest news about Catholic issues, and I am a stay-at-home mother who often doesn’t know what’s going on in the bigger world. And our blogs and writing styles are very different as well. And I like that. I think our workshop was potentially richer because of these differences. They show we don’t all have to be the same. There is room for everyone in the blogosphere. We all have our unique way of sharing our Catholic faith.

The time for our workshop arrived. Laura very capably opened the session, and then handed over to me. Now I did remember to pass the baton back to my co-presenter every now and then, but I fear I always took far too long. You see, there was so much to say and I forgot to look at the clock, and dear Laura must have been wondering if she’d ever get a word in.

And so I came home thinking about how I’d talked too much. But unlike my more youthful self, I didn’t keep replaying the session in my head, cringing at my every word. I know I only spoke because I was passionate about the subject. I don’t regret my actual words. I didn’t beat myself up over it. I have learnt that doesn’t really help. But I do feel I should have stepped back and given more time to Laura.

Why do we think what we have to say is so important? Why do we feel we have to say it? I’ve been mulling these thoughts over. Sometimes other people have even better things to say than us, and it’s good to remember that.

When the conference came to a close, Laura gave me a big hug as we said goodbye. And I left Mary MacKillop Place feeling I’d known her forever, instead of only a few hours. She said it was good to meet me. It was great to work together. Yes, she is a very gracious woman.

Laura has written her own post about the CDMC. It’s totally different to mine. And that’s good. I’ve just filled a post talking about myself again. Laura didn’t do that. She actually wrote something interesting.

I’m going to stop talking now. I’m going to let you go. Please hop over to Laura’s blog and listen to her instead.

You can also find me on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page. You could stop by and say hello. I'd like that!

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Discoveries: Collaborating with Other Bloggers

MOD Police Search Dog by UK Ministry of Defence, (CC BY-NC 2.0)

A few weeks ago, I discovered an unexpected message in my inbox. I read it a few times before saying, “Hey girls, I’ve been invited to the Catholic Digital Media Conference. And I’ve been asked to speak about blogging!”

My daughters looked up from their computers and grinned. I grinned too.

I wasn’t altogether sure the message hadn’t been sent to the wrong person. Why me? Did I actually have anything worth saying? And how did the conference organiser find my blog?

A few exchanged emails later, I began to believe I was actually going to speak at a conference. No, a mistake hadn’t been made. I was off to the CDMC.

“Do you want to come with me?” I asked my daughter Imogen. “You’re a blogger too. You might enjoy it. We could have a couple of days away together.”

Imogen thought this was a great idea, and soon we were searching online for suitable accommodation.

“North Sydney… I‘m sure that’s where Mary MacKillop Place is,” I said, as I opened my computer. “Perhaps we could stay there.” A few minutes later, I discovered there were exactly two available rooms left for the required night. “Shall I book them?” Imogen nodded.

So I clicked the booking button and entered all our details. Then I said, “Perhaps I should have checked exactly where the conference is before reserving our rooms. Oh well, I don’t suppose it can be too far away. They are both in North Sydney.”

Maybe you know what I’m about to say next. I did discover the CDMC wasn’t very far from Mary MacKillop Place. In fact it was absolutely no distance away at all. It was at Mary MacKillop Place! Some discoveries are unexpectedly perfect.

So Imogen and I went to the conference and I met the organiser who’d invited me to come along.

“How did you find me and my blog?” I asked.

“I did some googling,” he replied, “and I found a Catholic blog roll. I scrolled through it looking for Aussie blogs and discovered yours.”

I suppose he visited my blog and checked it out before issuing the invitation. Actually I know he read some of my posts. He mentioned one from three years ago.

I joined that Catholic blog roll a few years ago when I was a brand new blogger. I’d created my blog and written a few posts (after realising that’s what bloggers are supposed to do!) Then I sat back and shouted, “Here I am world! Come and read my posts!” But of course, no one came. Why would they? No one knew my blog existed.

What I needed was Bob Blogosphere. He could have interviewed me and then written a wonderful article about my blog for the Blogosphere News. People would have flocked to Sue Elvis Writes, I’m sure. But as that was never going to happen, I had to find another way to announce to the world that my blog had arrived. So I joined a few blog rolls instead.

What is a blog roll? It’s a list of blogs, together with their web addresses. Some blog rolls invite bloggers to add their links to it. As long you fulfil a basic requirement, you can belong. Of course, you have to have a Catholic blog if you want to be added to a Catholic blog roll. And there’s not much point putting your blog on a homeschooling roll if you don’t homeschool. 

Do you have a new blog? Would you like to be discovered? Then connect with other bloggers by joining a blog roll. You never know where it might lead. It could take you all the way to a Catholic Digital Media Conference. You too could be thinking, “Has he made a mistake? Does he really want ME to speak? How does he even know my blog exists?”

But as exciting as being asked to speak sounds, I discovered that wasn’t the most important thing about being invited to the conference. I soon found out that I didn’t have nearly as much to offer other people, as they had to offer me. I came back from a very inspiring conference with my head buzzing with ideas.

On the first day of the CDMC we heard the word collaboration. I discovered we can do good things by ourselves, but we can do great things when we collaborate with others, sharing our talents and learning from each other.

What do you think? Do you collaborate? Have you been given the opportunity to be involved with amazing things all because of other people? I'd love to hear your stories!

You can also find me on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook Page. I'd love to see you there!

Image: I wonder what this police dog has just discovered.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

CDMC: Being a Resourceful Woman

The tomb of St Mary MacKillop can be found inside this chapel.

Do you have a daughter who organises you? I have four of them. (I did have five but one left home.) I really don’t have to think for myself. I just do as I’m told and everything works out perfectly. And so it was Imogen who battled with the automatic ticket machines, found the right railway platforms for all the right trains, and then led me through the streets of North Sydney until we arrived at Mary MacKillop Place, for this week's Catholic Digital Media Conference. All I had to do was follow in her wake, clutching my luggage.

 I was really proud of how little luggage I took. Usually I can’t go anywhere without packing the kitchen sink, ‘just in case’. But this time I travelled light: Just the essentials and nothing else. And I did it all by myself, no daughters’ help required. 

When bedtime rolled around at the end of the first very full and enjoyable conference day, I pulled on my pyjamas, and grabbed a towel and my toothbrush, before heading to Imogen’s room.  I poked my head around her door and said, “I’ve come for some toothpaste.”

“You didn’t pack toothpaste?”

“No, I thought I’d use yours. I’m travelling light.”

“But I haven’t got any. I thought I’d share yours."

We had not even a tiny squeeze of toothpaste between us.

“Well, that serves me right,” I grinned.

Immy raised her eyebrows: “Huh?”

“I stole the electric toothbrush out of our bathroom without telling Dad. He has the toothpaste and I have the toothbrush!” (Of course Andy had his own toothbrush head but it was useless without the electric base.)

So what did Imogen and I do? Did we just suffer dirty teeth for two days? Oh no, we couldn’t do that. Being the resourceful woman I am, I considered our options. I looked at our available resources. What else was in my toiletries bag? There was soap and shampoo and foaming face wash.

“Foaming face wash!” I said. “That'll do.” 

I squeezed a little of the gel onto my brush, pressed the button and soon I was foaming at the mouth. Just for a few seconds I wondered if the face wash was one of those 'do not take internally' products. But I continued foaming away and  hoped for the best. And as I'm still here to write this post, I feel it's safe to conclude it's perfectly okay to use face wash to clean one's teeth. (If you can stand the taste.)

Last night Imogen and I arrived back from a thoroughly inspiring conference. After we’d eaten dinner, we unpacked our bags. I reunited the electric toothbrush with the tube of toothpaste. I looked at them sitting next to each other on the edge of the ensuite sink. Somehow they looked so right together. I guess some things aren’t meant to be separated. And that's why I'm taking my husband Andy with me, next time I visit Mary MacKillop Place.

So what did I learn from this year's conference? Over the course of the two day event, I heard these words quite a few times: use what you have. I've already done that: I used foaming face wash to clean my teeth. Am I resourceful? Can I be a resourceful blogger? There are a lot of ideas circulating in my head. Would you like to hear them? Perhaps I can share more about the CDMC another day.

Alma Cottage where St Mary MacKillop died, 8th August 1909

PS: If you get a chance to stay at Mary MacKillop Place, do go! It’s the best place I’ve ever stayed. I was treated so royally, I felt like the Queen. (Hey, do you remember that story?) Just don’t forget to take your toothpaste. 

I did post a few CDMC things on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page. If you haven't visited my page recently, why don't you hop on over and take a look? I'd love to see you there!

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Feet Flying, Arms Pumping

Gina, at Someday (hopefully) They'll Be Saints, included one of my stories in her current fitness post series. I wrote about how exercise is helping me deal with the 'trauma' of getting older.

My story begins...
I woke up one morning with an urge to run like the wind. I wanted to put my body into top gear and feel it come alive.
Many years ago, my husband Andy and I ran kilometre after kilometre, every evening after work. I remember rhythmically pounding along the footpaths, my feet flying, my arms pumping, my hair lifting in the breeze, thinking I could run forever.  It was a wonderful, exhilarating feeling.
And I wanted to feel that way again. But it had been years since those running days. Of course I was a lot older. Could I still run?....  Read More
 You might like to check out the other guest fitness posts too. They are all so different and very interesting!

Friday, 15 August 2014

Now Available: The Angels of Abbey Creek!

This morning when I opened my mail I found this message from a friend in the USA:

Sue, your book just arrived in the mail today. It looks really good!

My book? What book? I rubbed my sleepy eyes for a moment, trying to make sense of the words. Surely my friend hadn’t bought a copy of my children’s novel, The Angels of Abbey Creek. As far as I was aware this book hadn’t yet been released for sale.

Over the past month, we’ve been fine-tuning the formatting of the book. The fourth proof version arrived last Wednesday and finally we are happy with the way it looks. But I hadn’t clicked that final button which sends the book out into the public arena where it can be purchased. Or so I thought.

It turns out my friend does indeed have a copy of my book. My heart skipped a beat when I realised that. Does she have the final version? I hope she didn’t buy one with the wrong blurb on the cover or one with the misaligned image or one with the poor quality printing… No, I am hoping she got the good version.

So I sold one copy of my children’s story The Angels of Abbey Creek without even realising it was available for sale. I guess now there's no reason not to tell everyone about my book. It’s there in the Lulu shop waiting to be ordered. It will soon also be available through Amazon, and we’re hoping to produce an ebook version too.

Will you like it? It depends! Shall I tell you something about it? How did I come to write it?

Several years ago, a friend suggested I try writing a children’s story. “Oh no, I can’t write fiction,” I protested. But the idea stayed with me, and one day I thought it wouldn’t hurt to attempt a little story, an experiment perhaps.

What do children like to read about? Other children? And what did I know about children? Well, I have a few of my own, so I used them for inspiration. It wasn’t long before I had a completed story called Sunday. I faxed it off to Father James Tierney, friend and author of the Bush Boys books, to see what he thought. Now Father and I often share our writings. We like reading each other's stories and swapping ideas and suggestions. It wasn’t long before the phone rang. It was Father: “I liked your story. Write some more!”

Six weeks later I had written the first draft copy of the book. I sent it to a few friends who said nice things about it and made me feel good. Then the manuscript sat on my computer for a long time while I wondered what to do next.

Then one day I decided to ask award-winning Catholic author and editor, Ellen Gable, to edit it for me. Ellen was very encouraging. She suggested a few minor changes to several stories and told me she thought it was worthy of being published. You can imagine my smile when I received her feedback. Ariana M. Krause drew some illustrations. My husband Andy and daughter Imogen formatted the book for me. And now the book has been published.

Here’s the official book description:

In Australia, where Christmas is in summer and dads like to play cricket, is a small town. Not far from this town, along a narrow, winding road, is the village of Abbey Creek. And on the edge of this village, nestled among the shady gum trees, is a sprawling brick house. This is the home of the Angel family: Mum, Dad, Edward, Kate, Joe, Celeste, Lizzie and Annie.

And this is the story of their very adventurous year!

It’s a year full of happy days and magic moments, of camping in the bush and perfect beach holidays, of feast days and birthdays and even a First Holy Communion. The year has exciting days and disastrous moments, with racing bushfires, naughty birds and scurrying mice. And it’s full of surprises. The biggest surprise of all happens on Christmas Day!

The Angels of Abbey Creek contains 22 individual adventurous stories which fit together to tell the tale of one exciting year!

A First Holy Communion? Oh yes! Catholic children know all about First Holy Communion Days. Catholic? Is it a Catholic book?

The Angels of Abbey Creek isn’t a religious book but it does contain all those Catholic details that form part of any Catholic child’s life. I was tempted to leave all those details out. I bet you know why. A more mainstream book would certainly appeal to more people. I might sell more copies. But that isn’t really the point, is it? Sometimes we have to do what we feel is right, rather than what is popular.

And so I have written a Catholic story for Catholic children and I’m glad about that. I hope my young readers enjoy finding out the Angels go to Mass just like they do. Maybe they will smile when they hear about Annie’s misadventures at the Passion Play. Will they say, “We like to earn straws during Advent too!”? No doubt they will all have Godparents who are joined to them forever by invisible bonds.

Of course Catholic children do regular things too like go on perfect beach holidays, prepare for bushfires (regular if you live in Australia!), have accidents, cry over pets, lose teeth, have all kinds of adventures…

I have tried to write with gentle humour. If you share my sense of fun, you might smile when you're reading the stories out aloud. Reading out aloud? Oh yes, I think the stories are perfect for sharing. But a fluent reader should enjoy my book too. I have kept the language fairly simple. We chose the 6-8 age group for the book description, though I think children a little younger and a little older will enjoy it too. I'm old and I enjoyed it. Of course, I'm the author so I suppose that doesn't count!

This afternoon I was thinking about the message I received at the beginning of today.

“I’ve sold one copy of my book,” I said to my daughters. “Does that make me an author?”

“You already were an author, Mum.”

I guess I was. But I’ve never been the author of a children’s book before. That’s very exciting. At least it is for me.

The Angels of Abbey Creek is currently available from Lulu. Please stay tuned for an update about Amazon and an ebook version!

Friday, 8 August 2014

Bob Blogosphere Rolls His Eyes

Do you remember what happened in my last Bob story, The Finger of God Points at Bob Blogosphere? Bob has been invited to a Catholic wedding. He wants me to give him lessons on the Catholic Faith to make sure his 'performance' at the wedding is perfect...

The door opens revealing the most famous man in the Blogosphere. He looks up and down the corridor, but the only person he can see is his secretary. He pulls me into his office while the coast is clear, and as I sail over the threshold, I hear Bob Blogosphere say, “Strictly no interruptions, Miss Bell… an important interview.”

 “You’re going to interview me?” I smile.

“Of course not,” says Bob, settling himself into his leather swivel chair. “Why would I want to do that?”

“So you can write an article about my blog for the Blogosphere News. You said something about an interview to Miss Bell…”

Bob waves my words away. “I had to say something. I don’t want Miss Bell knowing I‘m having a lesson about the Catholic Faith. What if she told someone?” He shudders. “What would people say?”

“Why would they say anything? Lots of people want to know about the Catholic Faith.”

“They do?” Bob sits back and scratches his perfectly buzz cut head. “Why would they want to do that? Surely they’re not all going to Catholic weddings?”

“They’re searching for the Truth, Bob.”

The Truth? He frowns. Is that important?

“Perhaps we’d better get started. Your cousin’s (or was that your niece’s) wedding isn’t far away. If you want to look like you know what you’re doing, you’ll have to listen carefully. It's a bit complicated.”

“How hard can it be?”

I don’t answer. Bob is about to find out.  “Now the first thing you’ll notice as you come into the church is the holy water font near the door. Stop and dip the fingers of your right hand into this water, and then make the sign of the cross… like this.”

“I can’t do that,” protests Bob folding his arms in front of him. “What will people think?”

“I suppose they’ll think you belong to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

“Oh I don’t belong to them.” Bob shakes his head firmly. “I belong to the Blogosphere News… or rather, it belongs to me. I don’t belong to anyone.”

I sigh. “As you’re walking down the aisle to the front of the church, look for the tabernacle. It should be directly behind the altar.” I reach into my bag and pull out a few photos. “This is what it might look like.”

Bob peers at the photos I have placed on the desk in front of him. He brings them close to his eyes and then moves them far away. Does Bob need glasses? Should I ask him? Perhaps not.

“Then when you’ve located the tabernacle, genuflect towards it.”


“Yes, bend your knee. It’s a sign of reverence.”

“Reverence? What’s so special about the tabernacle?”

“It’s where Jesus is.”

“No! Everyone knows if Jesus is anywhere, He's in Heaven. How can He be in the church at the same time? How could He even fit into the tabernacle?”

I sigh again. This is going to be a very long lesson.

“Transubstantiation, Bob,” I begin. “During a special part of the Mass, the priest turns bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus. They still look like bread and wine. But they’re not.  At Communion time the people receive the Body, and maybe the Blood too. And then afterwards the extra consecrated bread or hosts are placed in the tabernacle... They’re still Jesus … So Jesus is in the tabernacle.”

Bob rolls his eyes. “Do you expect me to believe a priest can turn a piece of bread into God?”

“Well, the priest can’t do it on his own,” I admit. “But he has a special power given to him by God.”

"A piece of bread cannot become God, ” repeats Bob.

“You don’t think God could do that?”


“But God can do anything He wants, Bob. He’s not like you or me.”

“Not like me? I can do anything I want."

“You can’t change bread into the Body of Jesus, Bob.”

“I wouldn’t want to. That’s a ridiculous thing to do.” Bob taps his paperweight against his desk a few times and then he says, ”Even if God could do it, why would He want to? It doesn’t make sense.”

“Love…  He does it because He loves us…”

“I know all about love,” says Bob, dropping the paperweight and glancing at the dozens of awards on his office wall. “Everyone loves me. I have millions of fans. I don’t need God to do something crazy like change bread into Himself for me.”

I look deep into Bob’s eyes. “I know it’s a lot to take in.” I reach out and touch his arm.  “I understand just how you feel.”

He leans forward. “You do? You don’t believe either?”

“No, Bob, I do believe but I didn’t believe for a long time. I thought it was crazy too. But faith grows… with time.”

Bob yanks his arm free of my fingers. “Talking of time, will this take much longer?” He’s looking at his watch. “I have to get to the gym.” He runs his fingers over his tight right bicep and smiles.

I quickly dive into my bag again and then thrust a booklet under Bob’s nose: The Mass Explained. “Why don’t you read this, Bob and if you have any questions, give me a call.” Then I add, “Oh and don’t sit in the front pew. If you sit further back in the church you can copy what everyone else is doing.”

“Not sit in the front pew?” Bob shoots to his feet. “Of course I have to sit in the front pew. I’m Bob Blogosphere. That’s where I belong.”

The most famous man in the blogosphere is striding towards the door, so I rise to my feet. “One last thing, Bob… about that interview…”

Like usual Bob turns a deaf ear towards my words. He pushes me over the threshold of his office saying, “Watch out for the wedding photos. I’m going to look magnificent!”

Before I know it, I’m back outside the Blogosphere News Building. As I stroll back to my blog, I wonder…

  • Will Bob ignore my advice and sit in the front pew at the wedding?
  • Will he remember what to do?
  • Will he appear cool and collected?
  • Will he ever be interested in the Truth?
  • And will he ever believe a priest is able to turn bread into Jesus?

Please stay tuned to find out!