Self-publishing a book, by Mary Redmayne
Leaning on God through the painful journey of grief
“The journey of grief can be terribly hard. So painful.”
The sudden loss of a loved one – especially one’s child or grandchild – is a bitter, protracted agony. Three years ago, my grandson died suddenly. Out of the blue. And the world, life, and the future changed for so many people.
Here in New Zealand, there are, tragically, many healthy young lives lost suddenly and unnecessarily. “We don’t learn how we should handle such a loss of a loved one or close friend. It fills our life with no warning, with a wail, disbelief, confusion, despair. With WHY?”
As a Christian, it is natural to ask that eternal question, “Why does God allows tragic things to happen?” Some people reject God at this stage, but blame did not seem to make sense to me. I found instead that turning to God for support helped me to understand how to tread the path I had ahead of me.
Finding God in nature
Early on, I felt a strong need to get away to somewhere quiet and calm where I could be with nature and ask God some serious questions. I remembered I had been given a card about The Gate, a Christian retreat near Otaki Forks, and went there as soon as possible.
While there I went on a three-kilometre bush walk that wound its way up and around the hill
“I had hoped for fresh air and exercise to lift my spirit but was rewarded with so much more.”
Nature was indeed there in abundance. Small pīwakawaka flitted about catching invisible air-borne insects and fanning their tails as they perched on punga fern trunks; fungi declared themselves from rotting logs, lighting a trail to the end of a fallen tree; and lichens and mosses of many kinds hung and clung on the shady, moist surfaces.
“As I walked, small descriptions came to mind with the differing circumstances of the route – its difficulty or slipperiness, the usefulness of a stick, reflections in puddles, and the rush of a waterfall, for instance. After the first few, analogies for the journey of grief into which I had been plunged sprang to mind shortly afterwards. They felt God-given, as did various Bible quotes which emerged from the depths of my memory.”
Recording and working with God-filled experiences
When I got back to my room at the retreat, I wrote these experiences down.
Over the following months I did much reading and decided to fill my notes out more. I believe God spoke again through this, leading me to make them into a book. My hope was to help others through similar times of grief, but actually I benefitted in many ways. It was the driver for more reading from the Bible and several Christian authors, and thereby stimulated my learning and growth in Christianity. It also led to much meditation, prayer, and thought about soul and spirit, death and grief, as well as the healing process.
Writing and publishing a book on God’s terms
The project was to self-publish a book and manage the sales and distribution. Having never written a book this was quite an undertaking, but there was no option to find a publisher -the Holy Spirit materialised its future layout in my mind, whereas publishers always choose their own layout. The parts I had notes on already were to “make up part of each left page.
On many pages, there was to be a Bible verse. Some came to me during the walk or spontaneously later on. Where that happened, I have provided them, even though some seemed difficult or challenging.”
Music was needed too, so I added an online link to a page I developed from free online recordings. The music is both Christian and secular, healing and soothing, stirring and inspirational.
On each facing page in the first half, there is a relevant photograph which I took in the NZ bush.
The second half of the journey, that of healing, opens up glimmers of hope. I acknowledge the very different journeys we take, and so have presented in the book many smaller photographs. I have offered immersive and experiential suggestions for individual and shared activities to help with the healing journey.
Challenges of self-publication
With self-publication, the content of the book is just the first part. There were many new challenges in learning how to select and set up page size, font, margin widths and how to format the content for a professional appearance. Then there was finding the right printer. It was only after the book was printed that I realised that although it follows the course of a walk in the bush and through many aspects of the journey of grief, the God-led format also lends itself well to selecting a page that speaks to you in the moment, and propping it open there for contemplation, support, or inspiration.
Help given and gratefully received from so many quarters
After much longer than I expected choosing the right printer, the printed copies finally arrived. I made the final arrangements for the book launch and sent invitations. I so much appreciated the wide support from many at my church who leapt to help, attend, and buy a copy.
Then the marketing. This must not be under-estimated. It is hard yards, but I received some very helpful suggestions at a recent writing retreat (see footnote 2).
Particularly, I am hugely grateful for a very generous grant from AWSC. This will help in several ways but especially should enable me to employ a distributor. Many shops are very reluctant (or just won’t) take on books without one, and – if they do – most only take self-published books on ‘consignment’; in other words, they don’t pay the author until the book is sold. Pricing was the main thing I should have researched better. On reflection, whatever your topic, the best options seem to be to identify audiences likely to want to hear your message, and to offer author-talks for them. In another God-incidence, just one week after this being recommended at the writing retreat, I was asked by representatives of two relevant organisations if I would contribute to their speaking programme – with the opportunity to sell copies afterwards. No-one had asked prior to this. The weekend before had prepared me to willingly accept, prior to which I would most likely have given a hesitant response. So, I am available to speak to congregations, community groups, or others. Please feel free to ask.
Let the sun shine in and know you are not alone
In conclusion, the terrible loss of a precious family member or close friend brings pain, tears, and sadness; he or she is missed so much. But with time and personal working through the challenges newly faced it is possible to open some new doors and let the sun shine in. I found spiritual nourishment and healing through quiet observation of small things going about their lives – children, birds, even ants! My life reached a pause and has now re-set looking forward (most of the time!).
Grief is both universal and intensely individual. It can feel lonely, but you are not alone.
For the two weeks after our family tragedy, a piwakawaka came and fluttered in our front garden. Occasionally, one flutters around my head. Today, one sat on the washing line outside my office, seeming to watch me as I typed this. It may seem odd, but I find it comforting.
Out of the Blue: A guide through the journey of grief is in remembrance of my beloved eldest grandchild, James — i roto i te mahara aroha : in loving memory. But it is dedicated to those searching for a way through grief, offered with blessings and the promise of God’s peace.
The book is available from Skylight in Wellington, some book shops – including the Women’s Bookshop in Ponsonby, Mrs Blackwell’s Village Bookshop in Greytown, and Christian Superstores in Christchurch, and directly from the author at Mahara.firstname.lastname@example.org . It is also available as a resource in some centres for people doing the Seasons for Growth programme. All profits donated to Life Flight Trust.
 The lines in quotes in this article are quotes/abridged parts from Out of the Blue: A guide through the journey of grief and healing, Mary Redmayne, Mahara Press, 2020, ISBN 9780473536633 d
 It has also stimulated my interest in writing as a Christian. For instance, I joined NZ Christian Writers and attended an excellent retreat they ran in late April/early May in 2021. The speakers were inspirational and helpful; the location was very special as well as affordable. It was held at Flaxmill Bay Lodge and sponsored by Big Toe Foundation.