Christine Dillon was born in Australia but grew up in Asia. She now works in Taiwan as a Bible storyteller. Her book Telling the Gospel Through Story was voted 2013 Outreach Magazine Resource of the Year in Evangelism, and continues to inspire innovative and engaging Bible storytelling. Believing in the beauty and power of story prompted her jump into fiction. She loves reading, and keeps sane by cycling and swimming.
Janet: Welcome, Christine. Let’s start with some fun facts about you: Chocolate or vanilla? Coffee or tea? What’s your favourite season?
Christine: Vanilla. Tea. Any but winter.
Janet: As a Canadian, I’m curious what your winters are like, but I guess that’s another conversation! Tell us something you appreciate about where you live.
Christine: The incredibly generosity and friendliness of Taiwanese people.
Janet: Is there a particular song or Scripture verse that’s made a big difference for you?
Christine: 1 Corinthians 1:27-29 – God chooses the weak to shame the strong … so that no one can boast before him. If you feel weak then you qualify to be used. Grow close to Jesus and learn to rely on his spirit and you will be used (but probably not in the way you’d expect).
Janet: “Not the way you’d expect” – that’s practically a given! Your website says you didn’t intend to be a writer. What got you started?
Christine: I wrote my non-fiction to save myself having to answer every question one by one. I wanted to share what God had taught me and writing it down was the best use of my time. For Telling the Gospel Through Story we also set up a Bible storytelling website (www.storyingthescriptures.com) and that has become a ministry in itself with 7 languages and growing.
Janet: Congratulations on the release of your first novel, Grace in Strange Disguise, in October 2017. Was moving from non-fiction to fiction easier than you’d thought, or harder?
Christine: Much, much harder. Part of my life is facilitating seminars and so non-fiction is relatively easy. It took me nearly five years to write two practice novels and then plan, draft and edit (? 30 times) the final novel. I chose Biblical for the practice novels because I am a Bible storyteller and I thought it might be less of a jump. There were so many times that I thought, “It’s ready” and then a professional would show me it wasn’t.
Janet: We’ll have a full description of Grace in Strange Disguise at the end of this interview, but would you give us a few hints now?
Christine: It’s an Australian story about a physiotherapist who has a ‘golden’ life. And she expects to because her father has always preached ‘trust Jesus and you’ll be blessed.’ But what happens when ‘golden’ disappears? How do you make sense of it? Where is God in such times and what is he doing?
Janet: You’re tackling some very real issues in this novel. Readers may not face the same situation as Esther, but struggles are part of life, and God doesn’t always work the way we want Him to. What do you hope readers will take away from Esther’s story?
Christine: That God can be trusted. If he allows us to go through tough times it is not because he doesn’t care or has gone to sleep. It is part of his sovereign plan.
I also want to challenge us to know our Bibles and be able to stand against the lies that our world tells.
Janet: We do need to knowing our Bibles! Because you’re a Bible storyteller, I wonder… is Esther’s name significant?
Christine: I don’t even remember why that name was chosen. But actually when I think about it there are some similarities to Queen Esther. Both had to stand up and show courage in front of strong men.
Janet: Where did the story idea come from?
Christine: I was having a ministry half day of prayer in about 2007 and suddenly two ideas for novels dropped into my head – titles, main idea and setting. I was horrified because I knew writing fiction would be incredibly difficult and doubted I could ever do it. But I wrote the ideas down in the back of my prayer diary and said, “Lord, if those ideas were from you, you’ll have to make yourself clearer and give me all the resources I need.”
Over the next years, two non-fiction books were traditionally published. The pressure to start writing fiction just grew, until in 2013 I gave in.
Janet: When God’s in it, we need to do it. Congratulations on persevering! Do you have a favourite character?
Christine: This is a bit like asking ‘which child do you love most?’ I like Esther once she’s matured a bit. But there are lots of minor characters I like. The two men, Rob and Paul – because they are like so many non-Christian Australians I’ve shared the good news with. I love the ‘mentor’ character, Joy for her wisdom and courage. And Gina, because she is like some of the best friends I’ve had.
Janet: What was the best part of the story to write?
Christine: I enjoyed writing Joy’s story although it was tough to edit because it was long. I also loved writing all the dialogue between Esther and her skeptical medical specialist and other patients.
Janet: You’ve lived in so many interesting places, it must have been hard to choose a setting for your novel. What made you decide on Australia?
Christine: I think the initial ideas had this one set in Australia and the other in New Zealand. It wasn’t really a deliberate decision.
Janet: Is there another novel in the works?
Christine: One of my editors said, “This isn’t one book this is one and a half.” It was only 5 months before publication and I didn’t think I had the energy to cut off one third of the book and write a new ending. But she was right and with God’s help it got done.
So at the moment I see two more in this series.
Then there is another idea that was given in that initial prayer time and then the two practice novels could be rewritten. I don’t want to see any further ahead than that!
Janet: That’s enough of a to-do list for now! How do you juggle writing with your other work?
Christine: With great difficulty! Like many people in paid Christian ministry I struggle to know where work ends and what time can be used for writing. My non-fiction was written in intense bursts in my free time. At the moment, I’m trying to carve out one three hour block in a week. It often takes me the first hour to ‘get in the swing’.
Janet: Do you have any advice for beginning writers?
Christine: Find experienced writers and LISTEN to them. There were so many times when I thought my writing was better than it was. It hurt to listen to some of the feedback and I nearly gave up several times but they were right.
There are also excellent craft books out there. Find a community of writers and ask for their best recommendations.
Janet: Thanks so much for taking time to chat, Christine, and all the best!
Grace in Strange Disguise, by Christine Dillon
Physiotherapist Esther Macdonald is living the Australian dream, and it doesn’t surprise her.
After all, her father has always said, “Follow Jesus and be blessed.” But at twenty-eight, her world shatters. Everyone assures her God will come through for her, but what happens when he doesn’t? Has she offended God? Is her faith too small? So many conflicting explanations.
Will finding the truth cost her the people closest to her heart?
For more about Christine Dillon, her books and ministry, visit http://www.storytellerchristine.com