In my creative writing class at Lancaster University years ago, our tutor said to us: Once written and completed, your work is A Thing on the Table. The world can make what it likes of it. It doesn’t belong to you any more.”
More recently, novelist Susan Hill, speaking at a local author event, mentioned her first great literary success, The Woman in Black. She said, I have never known a story grow legs and run away from me like that one did.
What a lovely image for the independent life a novel takes on, once completed and out in the world. The ultimate value of a novel lies in the responses of those who read it. JK Rowling said that the whole “fairy tale” of what had happened to her was only because we had read her story and loved it.
My new novel, A Passionate Spirit, had many different sources of inspiration. But one of them was my conversation with a retired clergyman, John, who told me a story which I then used in my novel.
He described an incident which took place during his ministry as parish priest. A spiritual healer had risen to prominence in his parish. She’d healed many in the local community and had attracted national media attention. Soon John’s church could no longer ignore this, as several in his congregation, including the churchwarden, claimed to have been healed by her, and believed in her miraculous powers. John recounted to me the tale of one dramatic afternoon, when he met and questioned this healer, along with his churchwarden, and another local clergyman. Later, I went back to the work-in-progress, and my character Natasha emerged, together with a key scene in the novel, based on John’s story.
A Passionate Spirit has some Christian characters (young priest Theo and his wife Zoe); and, to my mind, a strong Christian message. But there’s no guarantee my readers will choose to see that.
In my novel, eventually Zoe meets a huge spiritual challenge head-on, with her fledgling Christian faith; and I show her praying, using the Lord’s Prayer and the words of Psalm 23. She also cites the character of Jesus in her headlong confrontation with evil. Vital help for Zoe comes from her friend Alice, who isn’t Christian, and who was the first person to discern the menace represented by Natasha.
I don’t believe we can expect every Christian to have spiritual discernment. Having experienced a number of spiritual healers myself in the past I’ve become more alert to ‘false prophets’ and the ‘trees that do not bear good fruit’; and that has influenced my story.
A Passionate Spirit is now truly A Thing Upon the Table. I trust and respect that the readers will make what they like of it. And of course I only have the chance to find out if I get feedback from reviews…