Jessica Thompson is an author of culinary cozy mysteries. (She’s in the US, so the ‘cozy’ spelling is correct.) Here’s her take on the power of belief.
The Power of Belief is a wonderful concept that I employ when writing characters, especially in mysteries with “good guys” and “bad guys.”
First off, I think belief is our relationship to truth and how we have processed it and packaged it. Our grasp of truth cannot be perfect and entire, but we try to get as close as we can with what we believe.
My friend consistently mentions that our brains process information by talking about it. Thinking about it, rehashing it, replaying it, and yes, talking about it, are all ways of processing it all into beliefs.
What do you believe happened in that situation? What do you believe they were really trying to say? What do you believe about yourself or that person or thing?
That filter of belief makes all the difference. It’s the difference between passing a polygraph test and failing it, a verdict of guilty or not guilty, and the difference between a confident person and a timid one. In my stories, it’s the difference between the hero and the murderer.
It’s all belief.
I think that is a wonderful gift. That means we can choose. We can choose which person we want to be. We pick a lane and go farther and farther down that path.
I think about this a lot while I am writing characters.
My “good guys” are making selfless decisions because this is who they are choosing to be and who they believe they are. More interestingly, my “bad guys” are making decisions that may be destructive to others but are self-interested. He is doing what he believes will be good for him. In that way, he believes he is right, and those are my favorite kinds of villains.
Violet, my main character in “A Caterer’s Guide to Holidays and Homicide,” is a “good guy.” She tries to help people, she seeks justice, and she genuinely cares about the people around her. She may get caught up in her plans, her cooking, and her pursuit, but that just makes her human. The point is, she chooses to be “good” and she believes in herself and the people around her.
Without giving away any spoilers, my “bad guys” from both “A Caterer’s Guide to Holidays and Homicide” and the first book in the series, “A Caterer’s Guide to Love and Murder,” both believe they are right, too.
Didn’t they deserve what I did?
I had to do it or else they would _____.
It may have helped me, too, but I was doing it to save other people!
These are all examples of ways they have justified their actions to themselves. Right or wrong, these are the beliefs they have as a result of their choices. The twisted ways they have packaged their ideas into beliefs that work in their best interest.
After all, isn’t that what we all do?
Thank you for that, Jessica. Plenty of food for thought, there. (Oops!) No really, I mean that.
About the Author
When Jessica discovered mystery novels with recipes, she knew she had found her niche.
Now Jessica is the author of the Amazon best-selling culinary cozy mystery, A Caterer’s Guide to Love and Murder, and will be publishing her second book of the series, A Caterer’s Guide to Holidays and Homicide, on October 19, 2021. She is active in her local writing community and is a member of the Writers’ League of Texas and the Storymakers Guild. She received a bachelor’s degree in Horticulture from Brigham Young University but has always enjoyed writing and reading mysteries.
As an avid home chef and food science geek, Jessica has won cooking competitions and been featured in the online Taste of Home recipe collection. She also tends to be the go-to source for recipes, taste-testing, and food advice among her peers.
Jessica is originally from California, but now has adopted the Austin, Texas lifestyle. She enjoys living in the suburbs with her husband and young children, but also enjoys helping her parents with their nearby longhorn cattle ranch.
After a break for multiple reasons, the Power of Belief is back, and the multi-talented author and musician, Catherine Fearns, takes the theme in a new direction. Over to you, Catherine.
Miriam’s new blog series instantly leapt out at me, because ‘the power of belief’ is a major theme in my books. The characters are motivated by religious beliefs, and the readers are free to interpret my novels according to their own personal beliefs. The main concept running through the Reprobation series is the dialectic between truth and belief. The truth is only what we tell ourselves happened; there are infinite alternatives. We act based not upon the truth, but upon what we believe to be the truth. And since reality is only that which conjures itself into being, beliefs can become truths; they can act as self-fulfilling prophecies.
Christianity has been a constant presence in my life, but I have always been a spectator on the side-lines rather than a genuine participant. I attended a Church of England school where we prayed and sang hymns, every day, from the age of four through eighteen. I can still recall in their entirety countless hymns and prayers all these years later. My grandfather was the warden of an eleventh century Norman church in the Lake District, and I spent my weekends and school holidays running in and out of the gravestones and pews and messing about on the organ. I attended Christ Church college, established by Cardinal Wolsey, functioning as Oxford’s cathedral, and with religion at its heart. I gravitated towards the religious topics for my history degree – the European Reformation, the architecture of Wren, the writings of Bede. I married into the Greek Orthodox church, where religion is very much something you ‘do’ – Easter, Christmas, saints’ days – they are all as important for the family, the food and the ritual as for the belief. I adore exploring churches, listening to religious music, even reading religious texts. I’ve read the Bible many times.
And yet I remain an atheist. No, that would imply believing in something. I’m an agnostic. I was never moved. Why? Billions of people practise a religion today, base their lives around it, draw comfort from it, kill for it, believe in it. I’m the one in the minority.
I have had ‘spiritual’ experiences in my life, sure. The births of my children, for example. The times I experimented with drugs as a student. And nowadays when I go to a heavy metal concert, yeah, I get it. But God? I can’t get past the notion that if God exists, he’s kind of a bad guy.
In the Reprobation series, Detective Inspector Darren Swift is a confirmed atheist, an eternal cynic, who is gradually drawn towards the supernatural, towards a possible world beyond our own, by the realisation that people act based on their beliefs.
Sister Helen Hope is a nun who breaks her vows, loses her Christian faith, but then gains another sort of faith.
As for the criminals and victims in the books, I’m not giving away any spoilers, because what they believe would give it away! But every crime in my books has a double interpretation, depending on the reader.
And as for what happens to Mikko Kristensen, the devil-worshipping death metal guitarist – well, you’ll have to wait for book four, which I have almost finished writing!
Recently I have been trying to work all this out. It’s no good saying ‘religion is bollocks’ when many of the world’s conflicts and injustices are based on religion. It’s important to understand how and why people believe, because it will help us to be more tolerant. And to understand why people believe in dangerous things like conspiracy theories. Climate change denial, anti-vax campaigns, populism – these are the movements that will bring about the apocalypse far quicker than the Second Coming.
Stephen Hawking famously said that ‘if we discover a theory of everything, then we would truly know the mind of God.’ Many scientists are religious, and even those who are not acknowledge that religion is unfalsifiable.
Recently I’ve been trying to work all this out. I have been reading a lot of Rene Girard. In fact, I had to stop underlining passages in ‘Things Hidden Since The Foundation Of The World’ because I was underlining the whole book. I’ve been reading about synchronicity, about esotericism, about Judaism, Islam, Eastern religions. I’m learning about the function of religion, how if God didn’t exist humanity would have created him anyway. And perhaps I’m approaching the beginnings of a faith of my own; no sudden revelation, no thunderbolts from heaven, but perhaps an acceptance of the presence of magic and mystery in the world.
Ok, I’ll give you a clue about Mikko Kristensen. He’s one of my most popular characters, a nihilistic Norwegian death metal musician who covers himself in blasphemous tattoos and screams songs about Satan. But why is he so obsessed with Satan? In ‘Lamb Of God’, he decides to try Pascal’s wager. The philosopher Pascal posited that rational beings bet with their lives whether God exists or not. It’s safer to believe. So Mikko tries Moore’s paradox: he tries to believe in something that he knows is not true. What happens? You’ll have to wait for ‘Lamb Of God’.
I was looking forward to reading an extract from my novel, but not so much to tackling questions. In fact I was sure I’d mess that part up. I was ready to say, “I haven’t done your question justice, but I’d be happy to answer it properly on social media.”
In the event, there were no such problems and I managed to answer fairly well. But there was a different problem. There were several questions that I didn’t get to answer, many of which I didn’t even have a chance to see.
So, I’m opening this post up for the questions that weren’t answered, and for questions that weren’t asked before. Ask, in the comments below, about Style and the Solitary. Ask about me as an author, or as a person. With time to consider my responses, I’m likely provide a more satisfactory answer, anyway. I’ll reply to the comments or write one or more separate posts in response if the question warrants it.
What you should know about Style and the Solitary
It’s a murder mystery
It’s set in Jerusalem
It includes a romance
One character has social anxiety
One character is a new immigrant from France
It involves the power of belief
And many thanks to all those who attended the event and those who tried but failed.
I was on Facebook recently when one special post caught my eye. I thought, this would be perfect for my Power of Belief series. Fortunately the post’s author allowed me to use her post. It was Jennifer Gilmour.
The post speaks for itself, so I’m copying it here before adding anything else.
This photo just came up in my memories. A production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with my tutors and fellow students. It was way back when I was at Hull College studying Acting.
Here’s a story for you.
At the time I didn’t believe in myself, my mum had instilled in me that I needed a fall back plan because it’s unlikely that this career path would work out for me. It wasn’t just my mum though, but the school system and others around me.
I applied for a gap year in Youthwork and decided not to apply for anything in Acting. I was absolutely gutted when I received some pretty awesome grades from my diploma in Acting. However, I thought to myself that I would carry on with what I had decided and maybe come back to it. I went on to study youthwork at the University of Chester. I found myself doing acting within this, being a part of acting groups and I worked with young people with drama.
My life went in a different direction as most know. I fell into an abusive relationship for several years and I felt my life was on hold. I didn’t progress in myself or with any kind of career.
However, the last several years of building myself back up after fleeing that abusive relationship has given me an appreciation for life. The last two years have been a big game changer for me and I believe in myself. I’ve made sure I take advantage of my freedom and really worked on my self development.
I’ve taken away the negative support in my life, those who said I couldn’t make it or achieve it. In anything I have chosen, I have not stuck to a ‘normal’ job or typical ‘career path’ that the school system encourages. I’m not saying that those paths are wrong or bad but it simply wasn’t right for me. If my creativity had of been encouraged who knows where I would be? If someone had have told me they believed in me, motivated me and backed me- where would I be?
I may not be the actor I wanted to be in my childhood and teens but those experiences have helped me today. Those skills have been put into practice when I speak at events in the UK or happen to appear in the news or on a documentary. They appear in events I host or interviews I facilitate.
That experience wasn’t a waste of time because it only made me certain of who I was meant to be.
If I could go back in time and give myself a message it would be “Believe in yourself and surprise those who don’t believe you can do it”.
I’ve surprised myself in the last two years and I hope it’s turned the heads of those who said I couldn’t do it.
I certainly don’t have a typical day at work in my self-employment. I’m never bored and there’s a different sense of achievement when something works. My hope is that my children see that there are options and that I pass on the message that dreams can be goals.
So my message to you this evening is, whatever has happened in your life… it’s not a waste! It can equip you with what you need to make it happen. Believe in yourself because that’s the number one person you need to convince. If you can’t do that, I’m waving a flag with your name on it and I will personally cheer you on.
Isn’t that amazing? Jennifer’s former tutors thought so, too. They wrote some moving comments, which you can see in this post.
There’s plenty more that I could say about Jennifer, but I’ll let you find out more via the links:
Look who’s back on the blog, today. It’s friend and author, Jo Fenton. I knew she went running, but how did it begin and why was belief involved? Here, she explains.
Thank you for having me on your blog today, Miriam.
When I was at school, I was unable to run. I would get ridiculously out of breath, and be coughing for the next 2 days. After 2 attempts at cross-country, my doctor provided me with a sick note that lasted me to the end of my school days, and psychologically for the next 25 years!
Then somewhere in my early 40s, I saw an article about exercise induced asthma. I realised this might be the cause of my inability to run, but did nothing about it at that point. I still believed I wasn’t a runner.
Two years later, in 2015, I came across another article. This one was about Couch to 5k, the incredible program that gets people who can’t run at all to be able to run a full 5000 metres.
On the strength of this, I went along to my GP, a fabulous lady, who provided me with an inhaler, a peak flow meter, a diary, and the encouragement to go for it. Next day, on the way to my writing group, I stopped off at a running shop, had my gait analysed, and bought my first pair of running shoes!
The next morning, 15 minutes after using my inhaler for the first time, I did run 1 of the first week of the program. Running for 1 minute, then walking for a minute and a half, on repeat for a total of twenty minutes. It was a struggle, but I was hugely impressed that I could run that far without the coughing and breathlessness that had previously accompanied any running attempts.
I gradually built up through the program to complete the 30 minutes of running solidly. In itself this was a huge achievement, but being somewhat on the slow side, I only managed to run 3km in this time. I had another 3 weeks left until I was due to run the Race For Life, and I was determined to run the whole way. I kept building up, and on the day, I ran the full 5km without stopping or walking. I was so proud of myself.
I’ve since then run several 10km races (a few without stopping, and many more using the jeffing technique (a mixture of running and walking). I’ve also done a half marathon, and hope to repeat the experience this coming September.
Running has totally changed my life. I’m still slow, but I’ve made loads of friends, joined a fabulous running group called the Prestwich Plodders, and I have recently completed my Leadership in Running Fitness with England Athletics.
My GP and the Couch to 5k program inspired me with the belief that I could become a runner, and I will be forever grateful for that.
Oh, well done, Jo! (But don’t tell my husband about this.)
Author bio: Jo Fenton grew up in Hertfordshire, UK. She devoured books from an early age, particularly enjoying adventure books, school stories and fantasy. She wanted to be a scientist from aged six after being given a wonderful book titled “Science Can Be Fun”. At eleven, she discovered Agatha Christie and Georgette Heyer, and now has an eclectic and much loved book collection cluttering her home office.
Jo combines an exciting career in Clinical Research with an equally exciting but very different career as a writer of psychological thrillers.
When not working, she runs (very slowly), hikes, and chats to lots of people. She lives in Manchester with her husband, youngest son, a Corgi, two hamsters and a tankful of tropical fish. She is an active and enthusiastic member of two writing groups and a reading group.
I’m delighted to welcome Alison Knight to the blog today. Alison is an author, a creative writing teacher, an editor and much more. Here’s her story.
WHAT MY PARENTS TAUGHT ME
They say that our early years influence our adult beliefs. I’m grateful that an important lesson I learned from my parents was that I could achieve anything in my life, so long as I was prepared to work for it. Some things would come easy, others would take a lot of hard work. But the belief that it was possible was the important thing.
That belief has helped me throughout my life and continues to do so. I instilled it in my children and grandchildren. It has helped me create a good life in which I am happy and fulfilled. It hasn’t always been easy, but believing it helped me to keep going in the darkest of times.
I BELIEVED I WOULD BE A WRITER
I always wanted to be a writer, but it wasn’t something careers advisors would encourage for a girl from a working class background in London in the 1970s. So I took a business and secretarial course and embarked on a career as a legal executive. I got married, had children, and got bogged down by the everyday pressures of family, mortgage payments and work. I still dreamed of writing though, and took evening classes, joined writing groups and kept trying to write the perfect novel.
LEARNING MY CRAFT
I’d decided at age twenty-five that I would be published by the time I was thirty. I now wonder whether some omnipotent spirit had been listening at the time and decided I needed to learn some hard lessons first. Either that, or said spirit had misheard me, because it actually took me thirty years to get my first book into print!
When I kept getting rejections, I realised I needed to learn more about the craft of writing. In my forties, I went to university for the first time. I was a part-time student. My children were still at home and I was still working full-time. It was a struggle, but I loved it and I learned an enormous amount about both myself and the craft of writing. At the age of fifty-four, I had a first class degree and an MA in Creative Writing and within a year I got my first three book deal.
THE BOOK I WAS BORN TO WRITE
Even though I had many disappointments along the way, I couldn’t give up. I knew that there was one story that I simply had to write – about what happened to my family in the late 1960s. It was a tragedy that affected so many, but I knew that I was the only one who could tell it. I see my years of struggle and study, and my first three books as my apprenticeship. They helped me to gain confidence as a writer, to find my voice so that I could write the book I was born to write.
Writing MINE, my family’s story, took years. I wrote it, sent it out, got rejected, rewrote it, and sent it out again. I had so many rejections. I couldn’t give up but I didn’t know what to do next.
ENCOURAGEMENT FROM AN UNEXPECTED SOURCE
By some quirk of fate, I ended up working alongside a woman called Bryony Evens who had once worked for an agent. Her claim to fame was that she picked up Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone from a slush pile and persuaded her boss to represent JK Rowling. If you want to hear her talking about it on YouTube, see this link. Her belief in that story changed the world!
Bryony was one of the first people to read my manuscript of MINE. She gave me some valuable advice and told me it was a good book. Given her history, I was very happy to believe her! It still took several years to get the final version of MINE published, but her encouragement – added to the beliefs that my parents instilled in me – kept me going.
MY STORY IS TOLD
In 2020, Darkstroke Books published MINE on what would have been my mother’s 90th birthday. After a lifetime of striving for this moment, it finally happened. I had believed I could do it. I needed to do it. I wanted the world to see what I saw, to know the people I knew. I believe I have done them justice. I believe they would be proud of me.
BUT WHAT NEXT?
That belief that I could do anything so long as I am prepared to work for it has kept me strong in many dark times and enabled me to achieve so much in my life. I now believe that I’m not destined to be sitting on my laurels in the next phase of my life because I have a lot more stories to tell. They may not be as personal or as powerful as the events depicted in MINE, but rather they are stories that explore the human condition in all its glory. I want to make people laugh and cry, to challenge the reader to put themselves in my characters’ shoes. My next book, THE LEGACY, was inspired by a scene in MINE and explores how two people respond to an unexpected inheritance. Is it a blessing or a curse? It will be published by Darkstroke Books on 4th May 2021 if you’d like to find out!
Thank you, Miriam, for letting me talk about my belief here. As you said in your recent post, belief can give you confidence, which is a powerful tool that helps us in so many ways.
ALISON KNIGHT, AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY
Alison has been a legal executive, a registered childminder, a professional fund-raiser and a teacher. She has travelled the world – from spending a year as an exchange student in the US in the 1970s and trekking the Great Wall of China to celebrate her fortieth year and lots of other interesting places in between.
In her mid-forties Alison went to university part-time and gained a first-class degree in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and an MA in the same subject from Oxford Brookes University, both while still working full-time. Her first book was published a year after she completed her master’s degree.
Her first novel with Darkstroke Books, Mine, is a domestic drama set in 1960s London based on real events in her family. She is the only person who can tell this particular story. Exploring themes of class, ambition and sexual politics, Mine shows how ordinary people can make choices that lead them into extraordinary situations.
Her next book, The Legacy, is a drama set in 1960s London, exploring how we don’t always get what we want and how we shouldn’t count our chickens before they’re hatched.
Alison teaches creative and life-writing, runs workshops and retreats with Imagine Creative Writing Workshops as well as working as a freelance editor. She is a member of the Society of Authors and the Romantic Novelists’ Association. She lives in Somerset, within sight of Glastonbury Tor.
Yes, this week, I’m going to tell a story of my own, partly to show that this series doesn’t have to be about writing and you don’t have to be “a writer” to join in. The story doesn’t even have to be true; it can be one you made up, or one you read or watched on a screen.
For A-level, I took Pure Maths, Applied Maths and Music. I spent two years studying those subjects, but the teachers didn’t instil in me any belief in my abilities. There was one girl who was brilliant at Maths and always going to get straight As, and others who were clever. I was mediocre and mostly ignored. In Music lessons, I was the only pupil. I struggled with that and never shined in the lessons. My homework, in all subjects, suffered from my lack of self-confidence.
My father, who was a Maths teacher, wanted to help me. He was disappointed when I refused his help, but it didn’t seem right that he should do my homework for me. However, when lessons and homework finished and we were given time to revise before the final exams, I let him go through the whole syllabus with me, and that made all the difference. Suddenly, it all became clear and I knew that I could do this stuff.
I ended up doing extremely well in the exams, surprising myself and everyone else except for my father – or so he said. He hadn’t helped with Music, but I think that extra confidence spilled over into that subject. Also, I was conscious that the teacher wouldn’t see what I’d written in this external exam. This made me feel free to express my thoughts, uninhibited by her potential comments.
Belief produced results that took me to university, where I didn’t excel, but I did have a good time, meeting some lovely people with whom I’m still in contact.
Miriam Drori survived growing up in the UK and now enjoys her life in Israel (although she misses the UK and is looking forward to being able to visit again). Following careers in computer programming and technical writing, she now writes mostly fiction. Her next novel, Style and the Solitary, launches on 26th April.
Miriam is passionate about raising awareness of social anxiety. Not all her writing includes it, but she never fails to mention it in her bio and elsewhere.
Today, I’m delighted that author Paula R. C. Readman has come to visit. Her story is one of perseverence against all odds. I am in awe.
The power to be able to change the direction of your life has always been strong in me. I guess it started in school after reading Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem The Brook. The poem spoke to me about the certainty of changes as the brook makes its journey down the valley as it heads towards the river. The line that’s repeated throughout the poem is ‘Men may come and men may go, but I shall go on forever.’
To me, the poem talks about the driving force of the brook to remain on course with its aim to reach the river, its final destination, no matter what obstacles stand in its way. Like the brook, we all have to deal with barriers that stop us from following our dreams. Mine was the lack of a good education and my dyslexia. I was diagnosed in my junior school but it wasn’t followed up in my senior school. Thus I was labelled slow of learning, which I found very frustrating.
I’ve always had a deep love of books and spent my teenage years at the weekends in a library near to where I lived. I would spend all day reading books on different subjects until closing time. With the help of a librarian assistant who filled in a form for me I was able to take books home to read during the week until my next visit.
At sixteen while travelling to work, I would read novels on the bus. Whenever I got stuck on a word I couldn’t pronounce I would look it up in a small dictionary I carried, to know what the meaning was, so I could try to understand the context in which it was being used. I knew my lack of an education was holding me back, plus I felt deeply embarrassed, too. Being titled slow of learning at school haunted me while I sought work and limited my expectations of life.
By the time I was in my thirties, life had thrown me a few spanners and stopped me from following my dream to be an artist. I failed to get into college, unable to pass the English entry exam to do an art course. Art was the only subject I managed to shine in at school. I loved drawing. My parents’ marriage had broken up when I was in my teens, so they weren’t very encouraging. On the whole I was expected to be self-sufficient, so I became my own driving force wanting to better myself.
I worked mainly in low paying jobs, so money has always been tight for me. My first marriage broke down and I was left supporting myself and a young son while paying off a mortgage and loans. This didn’t leave me much time to think about my dream of being an artist. It was only when I met my second husband, Russell, that I could once again follow my creative heart.
One day at work with my fortieth birthday looming, I decided to become a writer instead of being an artist, to tackle my fear of writing head on. I decided if third world children could learn from books then so could I.
I set myself a challenge to have something published by the time I hit fifty. First I started with non-fiction and wrote several articles connected to my family history. Then I wrote a short story which I showed my work colleague, Lisa Moulds. She told me she wanted to know more about the character. This led me to write a novel.
The novel suffered thirty-five rejections so I set it aside, deciding I needed to work on my writing skills. So for years, I focused on writing short stories and tried to get published that way. I felt I needed to build a body of published work. I wrote a second novel and tried to get that one published too, but once again, more rejections. Slowly, my short stories were beginning to be published which helped build my confidence. Then in 2012, I won the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival & Writing Magazine Short Crime Story competition. My winning story Roofscapes became my inspiration for my third novel. This suffered thirty-seven rejections but I wasn’t willing to give up. With the help of an online friend, Kim Martins, I spent eight months working with her and learnt how to edit. I submitted it to Darkstroke who accepted it. In 2020 I had three books published, and this year I’m pleased to be able to say the first novel I wrote has been accepted for publication. I guess the power of belief is still flowing strong in me.
Paula R. C. Readman is married, has a son and lives in Essex, England, with two cats. After leaving school with no qualifications, she spent her working life mainly in low paying jobs. In 1998, with no understanding of English grammar, she decided to beat her dyslexia, by setting herself a challenge to become a published author. She taught herself ‘How to Write’ from books her husband purchased from eBay. After making the 250th purchase, Russell told her ‘Just get on with the writing.’ Since 2010 she has mainly been published in anthologies in Britain, Australia and America and won several writing competitions. In 2020 she had her first crime novella The Funeral Birds published by Demain Publishing, a single collection of short stories Days Pass Like A Shadow published by Bridge House Publishing. Her first crime novel Stone Angels was published by Darkstroke, who will now be publishing Seeking the Dark, May 2021.
Next week’s post in this series will be from… me. I want to show you that belief doesn’t have to be connected to writing! These posts don’t even have to be about true stories, although next week’s will be.
If you want to take part, do let me know via Contact above or social media.