My blog today showcasing my friend and amazing writer, Liz Carter, whose recently published collection of stories and poems, Treasures in Dark Places, has already become a great success.
1. You were born with a serious lung disease weren’t you, Liz. How do you think that has impacted your life?
It’s not known whether I was born with it or developed it as a baby when I caught severe pneumonia. It’s made a huge impact — as a child I was sickly, often off school for prolonged periods, struggling to get the grades I was predicted. I saw myself as weak and useless, perpetuated by the words of peers and teachers as the years went on. As it’s a degenerative disease it has progressed over the years, narrowing my life more and more, so that nowadays I’m often housebound with acute infections and in hospital fairly regularly.
2. How has it helped you in your writing?
I’ve learned that writing is incredibly cathartic and helps me to work through some of the emotional stuff that’s attached to living with long term chronic illness. One of the things I find so helpful about Scripture is the fact that so much of it is written with stark honesty — many of the Psalms, for example, are written out of a place of great need and sadness, yet somehow in the writing of them it’s obvious that God turns the writers’ eyes to himself and his great love.
3. ‘Treasure in the Dark Places’ was written during the first big lockdown following the pandemic in March. Where did the idea come from?
I’d actually planned to work on another book I’d been writing before lockdown. When I received the letter advising me to shield, I’d thought it would give me a chance to get stuck into this book. But somehow the words were not flowing and my mental health was taking more of a kicking than I’d thought it would. A friend suggested I simply write for joy and see what happened, and another couple of friends suggested I compile some of the stories and poems I’d shared on my blog into a book. As I started to get these together I found fresh material birthing and taking shape, writing for joy but also writing out of the raw pain I was struggling with and wanting to help others going through similar kinds of struggles.
4. Where did the idea for the title come from?
I’ve always loved Isaiah 45:3:
I will give you the treasures of darkness
so that you may know that it is I, the Lord,
and riches hidden in secret places,
the God of Israel, who call you by your name.
These words speak deeply to me of a God who is with us in our own darkness. Not only is he beside us, but he also gives us untold riches within the struggle and the pain. It’s my experience that in some of the worst of times, physically and emotionally, I’ve found that God draws me closer to his heart and lays open this profound treasure. I wanted the contents of this book to reflect something of this treasure we find in the darkest corners, and inspire readers towards hope but also towards a sense of great anticipation as we dig for this treasure together.
5. It’s a collection of stories and poems and your last book was based more on your own personal experiences of life. How do you think the books both differ and yet complement each other?
My first book, Catching Contentment: How to be Holy Satisfied (IVP, 2018) was an exploration of Paul’s assertion in Philippians 4 that he had found the secret of contentment in all circumstances. I drew in some of my own life experience and that of others. It’s a book of teaching but also a book of deep sharing and reflection.
Treasure in Dark Places is an anthology of poems and stories, a book to be dipped into and used in private and public devotions and liturgy. It’s a book to lead to hope and spark joy in its raw emotion and re-imaginings of encounters with Jesus. While the two are very different in style, they both lead us to turn towards God for hope and peace we cannot comprehend.
6. Have you written poetry before and published it?
I’ve been writing poetry for years now. I’ve shared a few on my blog and social media, and there were one or two introductory poems in my first book, but this is my first foray into properly publishing poetry. It’s a little scary as poetry comes from such an intensely personal place, but the response has been overwhelmingly positive and so I’m grateful that God is using it to touch the lives of others.
7. Have you a favourite poem in the collection?
That’s a very difficult question because all of them come from a place of encounter with God in different forms. I think my favourite might be ‘Lost and Found’ in the Summer section, a poem built around the experience of online church during the pandemic. It focuses not so much on what was lost but on what we discovered, the excitement of radical inclusion for those on the margins who were never included in church before, the relief of being able to join with my church family even when housebound.
8. The stories are a retelling of Bible stories, and in the case of ‘Bread of Life’, placed in modern times. Have the retelling of them helped you to appreciate the stories in the Bible better?
I loved writing the stories and found that they led me into a new place of encounter with Jesus. When I was writing ‘Untouchable,’ the story about the woman with the long-term bleeding, I found myself almost in tears as I imagined the power of Jesus touching this woman with a chronic illness, and her response to him. I actually want to write a load more of these kinds of stories, so watch this space!
9. Do you think they will help others to understand them better and relate to them better?
I hope so — people have already said that the stories have drawn them in to the biblical accounts in a new and vivid way, and that’s my hope for them — that readers will encounter Jesus in a fresh way.
10. Have you a favourite story in the collection?
I very much enjoyed writing ‘The Wise One’, in the Winter section, a slightly surreal story about a modern-day disabled woman journeying with the wise ones in the Bible to see the infant Jesus. I found myself reflecting on Jesus’ humility, creativity, presence and beauty as I wrote.
11. Your friend, Caroline was your illustrator with her beautiful pen and ink sketches. Why did you decide to illustrate the book with these?
Caroline is such an amazing artist. I really wanted to include images right from the start to bring some of the words to life – I love how God gives talents in such different ways and how the bringing together of different forms of creativity can create something even more beautiful.
12. The book has been an almost instant success even in these difficult times, what do you put this down to?
I think that people need words that are honest in these difficult and painful times. I think that we all need to lament, to remember that we are allowed to weep when times get tough. I was shielding over almost five months earlier this year, living in my room, unable to even touch or hug my family, and in this time lament became even more important for me as I poured out my sadness and frailty before a God who understands. My prayer is this book will draw you closer to God even when you are hurting, and resonate with you in your struggles.
13. Anything else you’d like to add?
I’ve also just brought out an advent devotional, with short, bite-sized reflections for those who are struggling this year and need some glimpses of hope over advent. Advent Treasure offers bible readings, reflections and prayers for each day of December as you wait for the joy of Christmas to break through.