If you’ve read my work then you already know I don’t do the whole bible-bashing thing. Why would I? It won’t make you like me and it certainly won’t make you change your mind. I’m a Christian but that doesn’t mean I insist you are too. I can love you for who you are, can’t I?
Instead of beating you over the head with my tambourine, isn’t it more important that you see me having pleasant interactions through my brand, avoiding loud public conversations involving character assassination or getting involved in pointless political debate on subjects I know nothing about? I’m not perfect. I express my opinion with added bile but usually on my personal pages with the few trusted friends who will straighten me out, dust me down and send me on my way.
It’s difficult being a Christian and an author because it throws up issues which other writers don’t have. I love sex and could write erotica with a good plot in a heartbeat; but I probably shouldn’t. There’s an illusion that my writing mustn’t traverse biblical boundaries or stray into anything risqué but I write about the real world which is full of exactly those kinds of situations. I’ve been part of Christian communities and believe me, there’s enough sex, violence and attitude in them to make even the most liberal of hedonists hair curl into a permed bob.
St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words.” My words and writing should be the last resort, shouldn’t they?
I joined an online Christian writers’ group thinking it would be helpful and to some extent it was. But many of them wanted to produce clean, perfectly sanitised novels with some wonderful meaning which satisfied their need for anonymous outreach. That’s cool. I wouldn’t be interested in reading them because I err on the side of realism, introspection and quirky twist plots. Good on them for their stance but I can’t write something which ends with, “We all got saved and went home for tea.” If I only got my husband into bed through intimation and innuendo, the Premier League Soccer on the TV would win every time. Sometimes in the real world you just have to rip your nightie.
One of my novels, A Trail of Lies, deals with a teenager who self-harms, has underage sex and lives in foster care. Yeah, that was never going to fly in a Christian group, was it? I agonised over that novel but it didn’t matter which way up I turned it, the story needed telling in its raw state.
Only one of my fourteen books is overtly Christian and that’s Demons on Her Shoulder. The cover graphic of the legendary Lincoln Imp who sits in the cathedral beneath him kinda gives it away. But the blurb shouldn’t leave anyone in doubt, introducing a woman who’s a Christian counsellor in an English inner city church. If you’re raising your eyebrows you perhaps don’t realise I’ve had messages from perplexed readers who didn’t know it was Christian and they could be forgiven for thinking it was a kind of Da Vinci Code play off. Maybe. They gave me good reviews though, which is awesome and said nice things - which is unusual for a Christian novel.
My other thirteen novels aren’t Christian but the common denominator is the inclusion of one Christian character. That one lonely flag flyer won’t be perfect because I’m forced to base them on my own faulty experience. They slip up and swear, they mess up and do stupid things and they step over the boundary line and fall in love with atheists and agnostics.
In A Trail of Lies, I’m actually not very nice about Christians. It’s an unusual stance for a believer, I know and I suppose God might be frowning about now. Callister’s definitely not a believer in anything other than survival and the search for acceptance but she meets a few of the wonderful tambourine banging populace who I’ve had the joy to cross paths and prayers with over the years. Her confusion and sense of being out-of-place is very much my own. It didn’t go down well with the Christian group who PM’d me long essays with biblical quotes and suggestions of penance.
I’ve been back to God and tried to hand the whole writing thing back over, deeming my inner thoughts far too unworthy to spew out on paper and be in any way blessed. You know what? He handed the whole thing back with a wink and a shove. “Get on with it, woman. You’re doing fine.”
Occasionally I have a crisis. In The New Du Rose Matriarch I wrote a whole scene where the lusty Tama Du Rose gets it on with the ex-school typist on poor Hana’s hearth rug. I wrote it and rewrote it and it just wouldn’t sit right. I published the novel and nobody complained about the sanitised peck on the cheek and rumpled rug but it felt like a blank space in an otherwise great novel. So I rewrote that section and released the realism because Hana knew what happened on her rug and so did I.
I’m not feeding the masses; I’m trying to be me. I open my mouth and my brains roll out so why would my writing be any different? Nobody needs to swing from chandeliers shackled to each other’s nose piercings but if I want the reader to believe me when I describe a crime scene, how can I not be truthful about the other stuff?
I’m a firm believer in writing about what I know. It’s why I don’t write science fiction because how many battle stations look like my dining room? I know Christians are faulty and make mistakes because I’m one of them. I fall over, get up and fall right over again. I live in a real marriage which I frequently push to boiling point through my own stupidity and have real children who take me from one end of the emotional scale to the other and somewhere in between. Perhaps it’s the cost of being real, to offend all those lovely people with shiny halos and perfect lives. I didn’t become a believer until I was thirty and maybe that’s where the difference lies. I know how it looks from the outside and it’s not the cozy bubble that insiders might believe. It’s elitist and clicky, cause-hungry and desperate for purposeful projects. I call it as I see it and if the heavenly lightning bolt is asunder, I’m hoping it gives me special powers on its way through...
As one of my children wisely said recently. “Grandma reads it and loves your books. I’d be more worried about her than the pastor’s wife. The pastor's wife won't whack your butt.”