The one thing I’ve loved about featuring writers on my blog is that it has really opened me up to an enormous range of reading. This time I encountered something completely different in the form of Recitcal Of Love, a collection of meditations written in prose poetry by Keren Dibbens-Wyatt.
As someone who doesn’t follow an organised religion, it was interesting for me to see writing influenced by prayer. For me, it was a gorgeous collection that celebrated the natural world. The depth of meaning in so many things that surround us and our place within it. Still very powerful, even if I don’t necessarily get the sacred connection.
With such a flowing, natural style and some very unusual titles for some of the pieces (thieves and butter, to name two), I wanted to find out how such lyrical writing came about. Read on to find out more.
Keren is also an artist, producing more gorgeous things related to nature.
The writing in this book is incredibly meditative and flows with a kind of music. Is this something you crafted carefully or is it something that came naturally?
All the pieces in the book began in contemplative prayer. I would be sat in silence, waiting, and sometimes the words would just come, so I wrote them down. But often during that process what came to me was a concept and I had to find words to fit to it, a bit like being given a bone and adding the tendons and flesh. There was actually very little editing or crafting once the pieces were typed up from my journals, just a bit of tweaking, making sure I was communicating the sense that had been given to me.
The hardest part was later when my editor wanted a few extra paragraphs here and there. I went back to prayer and to the heart of what each piece was saying, and tried to keep it seamless.
To be honest, this process was very much a surprise to me. I had been writing for a few years since a trip to Aylesford where I felt called to begin, so I think my voice, if you like, was already waiting to speak or sing, and God brought that out of me. I like to hope it was something of a joint effort! It is interesting that you picked up the musicality of the writing because I do find words can flow in a lyrical way, and that it can be almost like song.
The collection is eclectic and beautiful
The themes (is that the right word?) of your meditations are varied and thought-provoking, from ‘stone’ to ‘thieves’ and ‘butter.’ How did you conceive of such varied topics and was there any sense of progression for you as the book took shape?
Yes, the themes are just things that came from being sat in prayer. Most of them surprised me. If you’d told me to write a meditation on butter, it would have been a strange thing to have to work with! Each piece just came when it did as it did. Some themes did keep coming back. Light and the seashore are things I’m always being brought back to. I often paint the ocean, natural scenes and wildlife.
Most of my prayer is silent, quiet, just sitting with God companionably. There is no desire to be “productive,” but when God speaks, I listen. And often I write down what I hear or understand. I hope it is as edifying to others as it is to me. It just feels too good not to share! But no, there was no sense of progression, nor, really, of it being a book, until I felt that it would be good to put all these pieces together. There was an urge to let others read what felt like little treasures.
As someone who is not religious, I was in awe of the power of spirituality in your writing. You say at the start that you feel that your words are pouring through you from a sacred source. Is this the way all your writing comes to you?
No, and I think that’s probably for the best! It is a very intense experience in some ways and the writing reflects that. I’ve had a lot of people tell me they’ve had to take one piece at a time and savour it. That’s exactly how it’s meant to be read.
The Relic Chapel at Aylesford Priory, where Keren began her writing journey.
Most of the ideas for my writing do come to me during prayer though. You could argue that’s just because it’s when I’m quiet and letting my brain drift to other worlds, but for me it is often an idea that has spiritual or scriptural roots, or something deeply heartfelt that I want to explore with God, and feel he (I use he simply as a convenience, God is not limited by human definitions as I say in my introduction) wants to explore with me. But it can also be a lot of fun. I feel very strongly that my children’s books are a big part of what I like to think of as a ministry, and that God is happy about that. He has a great sense of humour!
What are the messages that you hope readers will take away from your book?
Really just one. That God is love. That’s it. It’s a book exploring facets of how he loves, that that love is extended to everyone. It tells of the things that break his heart and the things that mend it again. It’s about who he is, what his grace is like. I would love for people to soak in that love and come away from reading with the realisation that they are beloved and precious just as they are, that even if they don’t believe in God, they can see the universe is ultimately benevolent.
How did you go about publishing your book and what advice would you give to writers starting out?
I had other, more normal(!) books ready to go, but this one kept nagging at me. I got a rejection from the first Christian publisher I sent it to. Then I felt a nudge to send it to Paraclete Press, who said they were interested and eventually took it on and made a beautiful, tactile book. I was a complete unknown, so it was rather a pleasant surprise. They really did me proud and I’m very grateful.
Keren often comes back to nature in her work
Advice is quite another matter, because I have been writing fairly solidly for ten years now and this is my only traditionally published book at this time. I’m sure there will be more, I’ve written a follow-up to Recital, a historical novel and a great deal of children’s work. I’m trying to get an agent to help me herd it all to the right pastures!
Getting published is particularly difficult at this time. Everyone (including a lot of celebrities who were stuck at home) seems to have written a book during the lockdowns. So it’s extremely difficult for your work to catch the right eye at the right time.
Writing is an art. Publishing is a business. Anyone who finishes a piece of writing is a writer, and the most important thing is to write your books, the ones that are on your heart to create. Learn your craft, sing your song. You will make something that’s just yours. To get published is a different skill. You need resilience, tenacity, and to be flexible. Keep a look out for opportunities and never give up. But to write, do it if you love it, and do it how you love it, and chances are, someone else will love it too.
Keren Dibbens-Wyatt is a chronically-ill contemplative, writer and artist. She has a passion for prayer, poetry, story and colour. Her writing features regularly in literary journals (including Fathom, Amethyst Review, The Blue Nib) and on spiritual blogs (Contemplative Light, Godspace). She is the author of the book Recital of Love (Paraclete Press, 2020). Keren is a member of the Pastel Guild of Europe and the Redbud Writers’ Guild. Keren lives in England and suffers from M.E. which keeps her housebound and out of the trouble she would doubtless get into otherwise.
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