2014 Best of the Best Winner - with Graham Insley
Graham Insley has been entering the FaithWriters Writing Challenge for a couple years now, with a variety of writing styles and several placements in the Editor's Choice including two (back to back!) in the top spot. And now, his powerful "A Horse's Rear End" has been awarded the top honor - 2014's Best of the Best. Join Interviewer Joanne Sher as she talks to Graham about FaithWriters, his winning entry, the benefits of a challenge buddy, and his love of his Aussie home.
JOANNE SHER: First of all, Graham, congratulations! Can you tell me what your reaction was when you learned that you took the Best of the Best crown this year?
GRAHAM INSLEY: I jumped up and down, squealed like a little kid, told my wife and couldn't sit still for ten minutes. I think I checked the email from you three times to make sure I didn't misunderstand what I read and then went on the web; just to make sure you didn't get it wrong.
JOANNE: Sounds like you were, to put it mildly, surprised. Your winning entry was a superb piece that explored supposition and the problems of only getting part of the story - and the danger of gossip masquerading as prayer requests. What was your inspiration for this piece? Have you been in the position you describe in this piece before?
GRAHAM: I've seen this sort of stuff happen in nearly every church I've been in. If we're honest, I think we all have.
People are always jumping to conclusions about other people, mishearing what is really said or just plain stuck in their own misunderstandings. I believe that as Christians we have a responsibility to step out beyond that and to give everyone a fair go.
Because of a checkered past, I have been the victim of this sort of stuff. I've no doubt been guilty of it too. But I don't think that's the main inspiration here. Rather I think it was just listening to what God had to say to me when I started to write.
I know that sounds rather "Oh, yeah; obvious, dude." But it's true. I struggle, like everyone else, to hear what God is saying to me; but sometimes, and writing this article was one of those times, the writing takes on a life of its own and I know I'm just the pen and someone else is the real author.
JOANNE: So true - I know I've had that type of writing experience before, and I'm sure we're not the only ones. You've been at FaithWriters for a couple years now, and have entered the Writing Challenge pretty regularly for the last year and a half or so. What is it about the Challenge that keeps you coming back? How has it helped you improve your craft and grow as a writer?
GRAHAM: I've been a dabbler for many years when it comes to writing -- but my poetry and stories were very unskillful and rather rough and ready. When I started to enter the Challenge I found a regular nudge to keep writing and a readymade topic just waiting for me to jump into. Even when I don't feel inspired, I commit to try and enter because it exercises my writing skills, helps keep my brain healthy and is good for me spiritually.
But the real thing about the Challenge is the opportunity for improvement and growth. I stopped entering for a while because I was intensely disappointed about not getting enough constructive feedback -- which in the beginning, for me, was the most important reason to enter. But then I got a Challenge Buddy, Dave Walker, and everything changed. Of course, folk like Shann, Jan and some others left masterful feedback, and adding that to Dave's input was just a powerhouse of learning opportunities.
To be honest, every single person who left a constructive comment on one of my entries deserves a share in this award. Especially Dave and my wife Giovanna.
I want to encourage everyone to leave constructive feedback on Challenge entries, and for writers to embrace it so they can learn from it. That's the main benefit of the Challenge and the real opportunity to grow as a writer. That's what helps to make BoB winners.
JOANNE: I agree - constructive feedback can be so incredibly helpful. I hope folks take your call seriously. Is there one particular challenge entry that you'd call your favorite? One that perhaps flowed effortlessly or means a lot to you personally?
GRAHAM:Oh, that's easy. This one will be my all time favorite for awhile. But actually there are two others that really hold dear to me. "More than a Name" and "Watch ya Doing". was not a true story: I have both of my legs, but I loved telling the story and enjoyed the moral of it; it's actually a moral that has got me through many tight spots in life.
"Watch ya Doing" is a true story; I wasn't actually making a planter box, but it is a typical conversation with my grandson Emmanuel.
JOANNE: Those are both powerful - and very different - pieces. Have you always loved writing, or is it something that came to you later? What is your favorite genre to write in?
GRAHAM: I can't honestly say that I have always loved writing. I've dabbled in it since my mid teens, but there have also been years when I didn't touch a pen. It is only really since I got serious about my relationship with God that the desire to write has become a constant; and hence my love for it has grown.
My favorite genre is probably still poetry, but spiritual warfare (some would call it fantasy, but I'm not so sure) comes a very close second. I'd really like to write a Frank Peretti style novel.
JOANNE: Well, I hope you give that novel a try (you know, Page Turner for next year will be fiction! I know you live in Australia. To those of us "on the other side of the world," it sounds exotic and fun and mysterious. What do YOU think of it? How about your thoughts on us Americans?
GRAHAM: I live in a very beautiful part of the world; as long as you keep away from the crocodiles, stinging jelly fish, snakes, centipedes, white tailed rats and spiders. We even have flies out here that could near carry away a small cat; or at least drive it and other beasts crazy. lol. Actually, my very first Challenge entry "Grab the Billy" tells that story.
But seriously, I think any country you haven't visited sounds exotic and mysterious.
Australia is awesome, but the Grand Canyon sounds awesome too.
I must be honest though, I've never really had a desire to go to America. But then again, my wife would tell you I don't really want to go to any other country. I'm not big on international travel. No particular reason, it just doesn't appeal to me. I actually have lots of American friends, but I'd rather they visit me.
JOANNE: Well, I hope some of them do come visit. :)Personally, I would love to see Australia. Tell us a bit about your family. Are they supportive of your writing?
GRAHAM: My wife, Giovanna, is the greatest. She doesn't throw flowers at me or rave over what I write, which I wouldn't like anyway, but she never complains or picks things to pieces. She will always point out, in a very positive way, one or two points which need attention and she is a very good editor from that point of view.
Our kids are all grown up; two boys and two girls. We have 12 grandchildren who are also starting to grow up. I married Giovanna in 2000 and she already had the kids, but they are mine as far as I'm concerned. But I've got to tell you, it's a mad family. Man, they are a crazy, fun loving, affectionate bunch of Italian loonies and I am blessed beyond words.
JOANNE: Italian loonies, eh? Sounds like lots of fun! What are your hopes and dreams for the future, both personally and professionally?
To serve Dad. I've had riches and I've lost them. I've had more infamy than fame, but I have no desire for either any more. I just want to do what I see my Father doing; and that requires every ounce of effort and time that I have.
JOANNE: Absolutely - I would like to think all of us have that same desire. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
GRAHAM: I'd like to reiterate one point and add one.
Every person that has left a constructive comment on anything I've ever written deserves a share in this honor. In fact, Giovanna and Dave Walker probably deserve more of it than I do.
And my last comment is to anyone who desires to become a good writer. Join FaithWriters.
JOANNE: I couldn't agree more. Thanks again, Graham, for sharing your life and thoughts with us. Another huge congratulations to you, and praying the best for you in your life and writing journey!
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