Interview with Jo-Anne Berthelsen, author of 'Swansong'

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Interview with Jo-Anne Berthelsen, author of 'Swansong'
Interview with Jo-Anne Berthelsen, author of Swansong

The words we speak to each other have real impact. They can bring love and acceptance, but they can also hurt and destroy.

In her new book Swansong, Jo-Anne Berthelsen encourages us to make our interactions with others as positive as we can through God’s strength. Combining her own experiences with biblical  teaching, Jo-Anne shares how twelve words including empathy, affirmation and forgiveness can be used to build up those around us.

By being more intentional about the way we speak on a daily basis, Jo-Anne shows how we can create our own unique legacy of life-giving words that reveals God’s heart to those around us.

Jo-Anne, can you tell us a little about yourself?

I live in Sydney, Australia, and, over the past 18 years, have written seven novels featuring key faith themes and three works of non-fiction – Soul Friend, Becoming Me and Swansong. I hold degrees in Arts and Theology and diplomas in Education and Ministry and have worked as a high-school teacher, editor and secretary, as well as in local church ministry. I love encouraging others in life in general and in their writing journeys and frequently speak at church and community groups. I also enjoy playing the piano, crossword puzzles, reading, and interacting with our adult children and grandchildren.

Why did you decide to write Swansong?

I decided to write Swansong to encourage us all to think carefully about the words we speak and write daily so that, when we reach the time of our own swansong or final farewell, we may be at peace, knowing we have done our best to leave behind our own unique legacy of life-giving words that will continue to minister God’s heart to others. In the process, I also hope to remind readers to reflect on how God’s words have shaped their own lives, along with the words others have shared with them, and how this can then impact the words they in turn speak to others.

Who have you written this book for?

I envisage my readers will primarily be Christian men and women of any age, either new to or mature in their faith, but also hope the title and chapter headings will interest non-Christian readers. In order therefore to make this book as accessible as possible to a wide readership, I have chosen to include many personal, relevant examples from my own life and others’, as well as reflection questions at the end of each chapter to encourage readers from whatever background to apply what they have read to their own life situations.

Can you tell me about the significance of the title?

The term ‘swansong’ comes from an old belief based in folklore that the swan sings one last, beautiful song before it dies. We use it now to refer to a person’s final public performance or action which will hopefully be their crowning achievement and leave a lasting, positive impression on others. However, the sub-title of Swansong – Start creating your legacy of life-giving words today – endeavours to point out that we are not to wait until our later years to think about how we interact with others but rather begin now to speak and write words that aim to encourage and build up.

You say that words have the power to build up or tear down, and you encourage the reader to use words wisely. Why is this so important to you?

In my own life, as well as in the lives of family members and others I have ministered to, I have often seen and experienced firsthand the damage or, conversely, the positive difference words can make. I saw this particularly clearly during my years as a high school teacher, office secretary in a front-desk position, and local church minister where I interacted with others in a public environment and where I had power because of my position to encourage or discourage others easily. Then as a writer and speaker during the past 18 years, I have witnessed even more clearly the impact the words I speak in a public context and those I put out there via my books can have. All this has reinforced to me the truth of Proverbs 12:18: ‘The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.’   

You have chosen twelve words to look at. How did you settle on these, and is there one that has particular resonance for you?

I chose my twelve categories of words after much prayer and reflection, during which I concluded that, for me, these particular ones have the greatest power to give life to others and enable them to become all God purposed them to be. As for the one that resonates with me the most – that is indeed a hard question to answer because I can see such value and richness in them all! If I must choose, however, I would probably say ‘Words of encouragement’ because such words have so often enabled me to persevere in my own life and keep me going in my writing and speaking journey to this day.

What one bit of advice can you give to help us make our words count for good?

I believe it is so important to learn to tame our tongues (James 3), truly listen to and care about others, all the while listening to God for the right words to say in a given situation rather than rushing in with our own. That’s a lot of advice in one sentence!

One reviewer says that this book ‘presents the essence of the good news of the gospel we have to share and live out in this world.’ This is a lovely description of your book. Can you unpack a little what this means?

The gospel or good news we are called to share with others is a gospel of utter love and grace – ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16). This is the good news Jesus came to share with us, epitomising in the process empathy, encouragement, affirmation, challenge, forgiveness, comfort, peace, mercy, wisdom, insight, humility and, above all, love – all of which I discuss in Swansong. Today as followers of Jesus, we are called to speak and act in the same way as we share the good news of God’s wonderful love and grace with others.

What was the most challenging element of writing the book?

While writing a large part of Swansong¸ I was trying to support a family member facing a very difficult situation in life. As a result, I found I had to work doubly hard to stay focused and keep going. However, that turned out to be a blessing in the end as it forced me to think carefully about everything I wrote and, even more importantly, to take to heart all the wonderful words of Scripture I included in the book, allowing them to comfort and minister to me personally along the way.

And what was the most rewarding element of writing this book?

One morning while still grappling with the concept of this book, I attended a retreat day at our church. As I laid the whole question of whether to write yet another book – my tenth - before God, out of the blue, the word ‘swansong’ came strongly and clearly to mind, along with a possible sub-title. From that point on, I knew this book was God’s idea. As a result, it has been an amazing journey to sense God’s guiding hand on me throughout and God’s joy as Swansong came into being – and found a home with Authentic Media UK, my first overseas publisher!

Have you learnt anything new/ been reminded afresh about your own personal journey with God while writing this book?

It was wonderful to be reminded afresh in the process of writing Swansong of the many instances when God’s word or the thoughtful, godly words of others made a such a positive impact on my own life and helped me grow in God. This caused me to realise all over again how blessed I am to belong to such a loving God and to be so thankful for God’s patient, ongoing kindness towards me throughout my life.

What do you hope readers will most get out of reading this book?

I hope they will sense God’s Spirit drawing them closer, revealing more of Jesus to them, the very Word made flesh (John 1) and that they will indeed hear Jesus’ own gentle voice speaking encouraging words deep into their hearts as they read. I hope they will be strengthened to speak and write all the words of empathy, mercy, wisdom, forgiveness, comfort and so much more that God has uniquely equipped them to express. And finally, I hope when they reach the time of their own swansong, they will be at peace, knowing they have done their best to create their own legacy of life-giving words that will continue ministering to others.

In one sentence, how would you describe Swansong?

Swansong is a gentle challenge to consider carefully how God’s words and the words of others have impacted us and how the words we in turn speak and write can best honour God and build others up.

Is there anything we can pray for you?

Thank you so much for asking – this is the most important question of all! I would love you to pray that God will indeed use Swansong to challenge and encourage many and that God would open many doors for me as I endeavour to promote the book to the best of my ability in person here in Australia and online. I would also love you to pray that God will sustain my energy levels as I do and for the wellbeing of family members during this time.  


 Jo-Anne Berthelsen

Authentic Media

Authentic Media is a UK Christian publishing house committed to delivering quality Christian books, music and film to help people on their journey of faith. They are based in Milton Keynes.

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