What a mystery! We give birth to our stories - conceived in what impenetrable realms? - and they fly off into the world, a few hundred words, flapping black and white. If we are very very lucky some may return to us as full-grown books, in full-colour, to perch on many strangers' shelves! What a miracle! What gorgeous plumage!
The Shepherd Girl of Bethlehem, a skinny fledgling, left the nest over two and a half years ago. It was picked up and lovingly fostered by Lion-Hudson, gloriously dressed by Alan Marks, and has just come home to me. Meanwhile whole flocks are touching down in parts of the world I've never seen! (Perhaps you can tell by my excessive use of exclamation marks that this is my first book. But does publication ever get ordinary for anyone? I think I shall always dance giddily around coloured proofs just arrived in the post!)
I can't remember a thing about the birth of this story, except that I was working on something else at the time. It simply emerged, unbidden on the page, as certain rare stories are wont to do. An unplanned birth. (What name do we give to that inner door that swings open of its own accord, and allows a story to slip right through in one piece? Is there a word for those infrequent births where all the midwife does is: CATCH! And then clean up a bit? Blessed is the word that comes to mind.)
In any case, when anything arrives like that it gives me cause to wonder. It feels less like something which I have made, and more like something which I have been given. And it is only now, now that I am done working on it, hoping for it, worrying about it and waiting on it, that I can sit back and receive the gift. A couple of things strike me.
First, a lovely coincidence - that the story which has birthed me into the world as an author should be a story of a birth, a sacred birth, and not a story of giraffes or buttons or noodle-pie. (Which is not to say I have anything against giraffes, buttons or noodle-pie, separately or together. Far from it!) It is simply a kind of soft knock on the head for me, or to the heart, reminding me that this business of being an author is really a sacred undertaking, something we do for the soul of the child, and for our own. (Which is not to say that giraffes, buttons and noodle-pie can't enrich the soul. Far from it!)
Second, The Shepherd Girl of Bethlehem is a very simple story of a young girl who goes on an unexpected quest and ends up at the manger. Her eagerness and curiosity impel her. Light beckons her. As in all true quests, she must have courage and a willingness to break the rules - or at least bend them. She must leave her familiar world and travel through darkness, uncertain of her destination. Angels come into it, as they do. And the treasure she finds is not of the physical world, but spiritual, something precious which she keeps within herself.
That's another knock to my heart - to be reminded of that quest and what it demands of us, and that there is always help from beyond. Are there ever too many reminders? I am always grateful for them. The child I once was would have liked the reminder of The Shepherd Girl. She needed to know that she could pursue the mysteries that beckoned to her. She would have loved the illustrations! So rich, so full of tenderness and nobility, deeply infused with light! The light she follows is the Light of Christ, the name of Light most familiar to me and closest to my heart. But the name of the Light is not the issue, just that we hike up our skirts and, against whatever odds, go after it.
Third, although our words are born through many hours of solitude, the creation of the book involves a huge collaboration. Like the angels, seen and unseen, who help the shepherd girl with her quest, there are many individuals whom we may never meet, whose names we may never know, who make the BOOK actually happen. I thank you all.
And now I must return to the mysteries of noodle-pie. Meanwhile, may we all be awakened in whatever darkness, by our own beckoning Light, and follow! Exclamation mark.
Published by Lion-Hudson
Posts by Alan Marks
Many thanks to Carey Morning and Alan Marks for this wonderful guest post!