Here is Part Two of the Author’s Questionnaire I began yesterday. I hope you enjoy it and also encouraged to join me at the Virtual Launch on November 04th at 06.30pm:
You can pre-order the book at all good booksellers, but CH Books is sponsoring the launch. Pre-order here:
6. The Gospel of Eve has been compared to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History meets A.N. Wilson’s Unguarded Hours. Were you inspired by particular books or authors during the writing process?
Unlike many, I do enjoy Tartt’s almost Dickensian narrative excesses, and the college settings of both The Secret History and Unguarded Hours receive important ‘hat-tips’ in The Gospel of Eve. Wilson’s capacity to hold comedy and pathos, sometimes in a single sentence, also provides a backcloth for my work. However, I am also a huge fan of detective fiction and Eco’s The Name of the Rose sits benignly in the background, along with P.D James and Dorothy L. Sayers. I adore John Le Carre’s taut style as well as the picaresque comedy of Anthony Burgess’s Earthly Powers. The careful reader will find nods to their work in The Gospel of Eve.
7. The book follows Catherine Bolton’s obsession for possessing rare books. As a collector yourself, have you made any interesting discoveries? Are there any particular books in your own collection that are of personal value?
I’m never going to be in Kitty’s league, either in terms of the books she finds or her levels of obsession! I’m usually on the lookout for curios or copies of books I’ve loved for years. I’ve come across one or two wonders from time to time, but they’re not the sort of things which are going to set that many people’s pulses racing. I do have one or two books which, in financial terms, are quite valuable, but the rare books I truly love are curiosities – early Penguin First Editions, especially the Green Crime novels. I do have some lovely Christie, Sayers and Marsh First Editions, including some hilariously over-the-top Book Club versions with lurid covers. These are books which bring a smile to my face.
8. The Gospel of Eve explores human vulnerability and our need to be liked and accepted by our peers. Why do you think we become so much more open and vulnerable to risk when we are in the company of those we find glamorous or fascinating?
It is a curious phenomenon. One thing I am sure about is that humans are mysteries to each other. I think that in the gap between who others are and how we see them, all sorts of strange and fascinating things emerge. One looks across at another person and projects onto them all of the things we want or fear or hate. We see glamour or celebrity or talent or beauty, and we want what we see or we are repelled by it. We want other people to complete us or fulfil us and then we pour our vulnerabilities or our hopes into the space we see. In The Gospel of Eve, I guess a number of characters confuse talent or good looks for goodness and virtue, partly because they struggle to see beyond the surface. Or don’t want to. Or perhaps because they’re not prepared to really wrestle with who they are. It’s the sort of thing that can happen to us at any age, although when I was young I had a talent for it. It’s very much the sort of thing which can be exploited by the wicked or unscrupulous, and, oh, how they exploit it!
9. What aspects of your own life inspired this book?
I think The Gospel of Eve especially channels a mood or an emotional theme from my youth. That mood is one in which the urge to belong to a group (which is also the urge to exclude, I think) can lead you to bully or mistrust people who are not anywhere near as bad or threatening or intimidating as they seem. One of the things with which I struggled when I was young, especially as a young and secretly anxious LGBT+ person, was the desire to be part of a group so that I could hide aspects of myself which scared me; at the same time, I wanted to occupy a ‘special’ place in that group.
Of course, The Gospel of Eve channels other aspects of my life, though in a distinctively fictional direction! For example, like Kitty I am a priest, of course, as well as a scholar. I also come from a rural background. However, I am nowhere near as academically able as Kitty, or as successful at concealing my emotional temperature. Equally, unlike her I am immensely proud of my family and background.
1 What is your favourite passage in the book and why?
I do love the Common Room scene, early in the book, where we witness the reason why Kitty is so fascinated with Evie. It’s a bit of an outrageous scene, deliberately comedic, but not without heart, I hope. I love it precisely because we see and understand why Evie’s composure and power is both intellectually and emotionally compelling for Kitty: For, as Evie coolly handles the sexist and boorish behaviour of a male seminarian, we witness Kitty’s inner response. We get to join the dots, becoming both more sympathetic to Kitty’s emerging obsessions and yet troubled by them. Of course, I’m also pleased with some of the closing scenes where the truths behind the characters’ obsessions are fully unveiled. I hope those scenes are quietly terrifying, without ever being tasteless. One of the reasons I think The Gospel of Eve is, ultimately, a fun read is that it holds some its bleaker elements in check against the picaresque.