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The Inspiration Behind Mrs. Oswald Chambers

What was the inspiration behind Mrs. Oswald Chambers? asked many interviewers.

It’s a fair question.

Why would I spend two years of my life researching and writing about a woman who died in 1966?

I never met her.

Inspiration Mrs. Oswald Chambers, biography, Biddy Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, WWI novels, Snoopy, Wings, Testament of YouthI’d never heard of her until 2012.

What was it about Biddy Chambers that intrigued me so?

First inspiration: Abandoned to God

It started with David McCasland’s biography Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God.

I purchased the book figuring my husband and I should learn more about the man whose devotional we read every day.

The facts of Oswald’s life surprised us both.

Who knew he died ten years before the publication of My Utmost for His Highest?

McCasland included a short chapter at the end of the book discussing Biddy’s post-Oswald life, but the book was about Oswald.

(He told me later he made it short because Kathleen Chambers was leery of anything written about her mother).

As a (now retired) Navy wife, I’m very familiar with the strength and commitment of women who stand behind successful men.

It’s not a cliché, it’s often true. I know many of them.

(Weak women can be a downfall, too, but that’s another blog post. )

My husband and I admired Biddy’s commitment to her husband and his words and moved along in our lives until one day . . .

World War I intervened.

I work part-time for my literary agent. In January 2013, we agreed to discuss my next writing project after work at three o’clock.

At 11 o’clock, an editor from New York called looking for someone to write an inspirational World War I romance.

My agent said she’d think about the idea and consider her authors.

I stood in the office door as we shook our heads. “What sort of inspiring story could come out of World War I?”

Inspiration Mrs. Oswald Chambers, biography, Biddy Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, WWI novels, Snoopy, Wings, Testament of Youth

Snoopy as “the World War I flying ace”, flying his Sopwith Camel. (Wikipedia)

We talked about the trenches, biplanes, nurses, Testament of Youth, Wings, Snoopy and the Red Baron (Snoopy’s from our area).

I referenced one of my husband’s favorite films, Lawrence of Arabia and then I snapped my fingers.

“What about the Oswald Chambers story? He led a revival among the troops in Egypt during the war. There’s an inspirational story for you.”

“Can you write it?” she asked.

There’s only one answer to that question from your agent. “Yes.”

Research begins and inspiration deepens

Because readers have revered My Utmost for His Highest for 90 years and thus admire Oswald Chambers, I had a problem.

You can include an historic character in a novel, but you need to do thorough research.

I had to be careful about the dialogue I put in Oswald’s mouth–it must be true to his character.

So, I visited Wheaton College,  the home of the Oswald Chambers papers, and researched the World War I period of his life.

Over two days, I studied (and scanned) photographs of that time, trying to understand two key locations in the novel.

I needed to be able to picture and describe both the Bible Training College (BTC) and Zeitoun YMCA camp in Egypt.

To capture Oswald’s “voice” I gathered copies of his letters.

While there, I paid attention to Biddy because once I learned about the BTC, I knew she would play a role in the story as well.

Inspiration twist: writing the novel

The novel outlined itself when I wrote the proposal.

(The fantastic story of that day will come later).Inspiration Mrs. Oswald Chambers, biography, Biddy Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, WWI novels, Snoopy, Wings, Testament of Youth

I merely sat down and began typing. (Joke)

In writing a novel, I use the outline as the framework. I know the story, I know where it’s going, I have expectations for a chapter or scene, but I give the characters freedom to alter events.

It’s a peculiar experience; as I write and get to know my characters they sometimes do and say unexpected things.

Oswald remained true to what I knew about him throughout the book–I had to be careful with him.

But then there was Biddy.

Since no one knew much about Biddy, I felt more free while writing her dialogue.

Released from the straitjacket of history, Biddy took that freedom and ran with it.

She changed the novel.

Not the story, that remained the same, but she dragged another background character to the forefront and altered the plot in several chapters.

Just who was this Victorian woman with a strong personality?

Have you considered a biography of Biddy?

Ten months into the writing and researching of World War I (no mean feat!) and the Chambers duo, I met a member of the Oswald Chambers Publication Association.

As we sat down together, I asked, “Have you considered a biography of Biddy?”

He laughed. “No, but maybe you should write one.”

So I did.

Isn’t it curious how you stumble into things and your life changes?

(The novel, by the way, is in rewrites now that I know enough to correct several facts!)

Tweetables

How her biographer became interested in Mrs. Oswald Chambers. Click to Tweet

One biography begets another: Mr. and Mrs. Oswald Chambers. Click to Tweet

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Every month in 2017, I’ve told the stories about God’s leading and my blessed–and astonished–reactions while writing Mrs. Oswald Chambers

The newsletter comes out December 15 in which I complete the free Ebook Writing about Biddy and Oswald Chambers with the final story: In which I receive an unexpected blessing from Biddy Chambers

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2 Comments

  1. Michelle, this is great, and the first time I have read a true behind-the-scenes escription of how a needed book came to be. Thank you for this!

    Reply
  2. Michelle Ule

     /  December 8, 2017

    Thanks, Andrew. It’s so funny, I’ve been asked this question so many times I thought I had answered it . . .

    Reply

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