Monday, 12 October 2020

‘The Gospel of Eve’ Q & A Part One ...

The Gospel of Eve - Q & A Part One

Hannah, who is handling the PR for my debut novel The Gospel of Eve, invited me to answer a few questions about the novel’s genesis, themes and characters.
This is Part One of two.
I hope you enjoy the read!
1.    Why did you write The Gospel of Eve?

The novel rather walked out towards me and said, ‘Shall we?’ I mean, I’d been thinking about writing a novel for a while, and as part of my planning I’d made a lot of notes about characters and plot lines; it was when I settled on its location in a theological college that it came alive. The location animated the plot and the characters found their shape, though as ever with these things, then the characters started answering back and sent me along quite unanticipated routes. I’m also profoundly grateful for conversations with my friends Daisy Black, a medievalist, and (the late) Michael Powell, Head Librarian at Chetham’s Library, who brought the strange and beautiful power of medieval Christianity to life.

2.    What is it about the historic church’s more taboo spiritual practices that fascinates you and led you to want to explore them in your novel?
As I’ve jokingly said in various places, The Gospel of Eve is about my three favourite subjects: sex, death and religion. These three things, ultimately, come down to the same thing: All are about losing oneself and self-emptying. So, insofar as I am fascinated by the church’s historic taboos, my fascination lies in what makes religion so strange, compelling and, at times, so very powerful: its alertness to the troubling lines between the holy and the unholy, and its need to police and regulate them.  
3.    How would you describe your writing style?

Perhaps as ‘a poet wrestling with the challenge of being a thriller writer, or a thriller writer trying to control her inner poet’. As a poet I’m always tempted to go for the striking or the disconcerting phrase; like all poets, I want to achieve a certain kind of intense wrestling with language itself. However, what one aims for in poetry, usually works less well in prose, certainly in the story-driven kind of prose that is found in The Gospel of Eve. I suspect some will want to code my approach to writing as ‘traditional’. That’s okay, if by it one means that I actually want the reader to enjoy a cracking read, with a lively, immersive and believable narrative. I want it to be a novel in which things happen, which sweeps the reader up with pleasure as much as challenge.

4.    Why did you select a Theological College as the setting for your novel?

Well, firstly, it’s a setting I know well, so in one sense it offered a safe place for me to explore the challenging stuff found in The Gospel of Eve. Of course, residential theological colleges and seminaries are also ripe for intense emotion and obsession, as well as farce. Comedy runs close to tragedy and vice versa in a seminarian’s life. Seminaries are, as a rule, small and insular places, especially a place like my fictional Littlemore College. In a sense, the theological college becomes a character in the narrative: it is an over-heated, isolated focus for some barely controlled human passions.

5.    What was the most challenging part of writing this book?

         I think it lay in trying to balance a thriller-like pace with plausible character development and, crucially, handling a whole load of stuff about the Medieval and theology in a genuinely entertaining and engaging way. It’s so tempting to indulge in a load of exposition for exposition’s sake. Perhaps that’s the academic or the teacher in me. I want to get a baseline level of  knowledge over so that the reader/student can begin to think confidently for themselves. As a novelist, however, I want the story to breathe. This means trying to ensure that the ‘information’ doesn’t get in the way of the entertainment but, rather, adds in unexpected and crucial layers of meaning and story.

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