An Interview with the Author of “The Holy Innocents”
Me: Welcome, Clive.
Cl: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Me: You’re a Priest in the Scottish Episcopal Church?
Cl: That’s right. Before coming to Dundee, where I am now, I served in Aberdeen and the Highlands.
Me: But you’re not Scottish?
Cl: No, afraid not. I’m English by birth, but grew up in Canada. I say that I’m English by birth, Canadian by adoption, and Scotch by absorption.
Me: How long have you been in the ordained ministry?
Cl: Thirty-three years. I served in Canada, the USA, and England before settling in Scotland.
Me: Why did you write “The Holy Innocents”?
Cl: My voices told me to.
Me: How long did it take you to write?
Cl: The idea came to me in a short story I wrote about 15 years ago, but I didn’t develop it until a few months ago when I began writing the book.
Me: What is “The Holy Innocents” about?
Cl: It’s the story of a Priest whose whole world is turned upside down when his sister dies and his bishop wangles his departure from his parish. Suddenly the Priest has to confront a world he doesn’t understand with the only thing he does understand: the loving and saving purpose of God revealed in the only way the Priest knows how.
Me: Isn’t your main character – Fr. Ambrose – unbelievable silly and naive?
Cl: Well, yes. He’s an innocent suddenly thrust into the world as it is, where he seems to be an idiot. But there’s something so loving, well-meaning, and even noble about him that he attracts misfits. Like Don Quixote, perhaps. Fr. Ambrose fits into the long tradition of God’s ‘holy fools’. Somehow, God uses him to change the lives of others.
Me: This sounds like a Christian book.
Cl: It is and it isn’t. There’s nothing Disneyesque about it. I’ve realistically presented the gritty world Fr. Ambrose finds himself in. Some Christian readers might find the vulgarity and bad language in some sections of the book disconcerting. Being careful not to ridicule the Gospel itself, I also lampoon a number of modern Christian attitudes and trends. However, if Christian and other readers persevere they may find (I hope) a message of redemption.
Me: What genre would you say the book best fits into?
Cl: It’s fiction, but not nearly clever or beautiful enough to be literary fiction. It has aspects of a thriller too, but not enough to sit it squarely in that genre either. It’s humorous and satirical, but has some serious underlying messages and themes. Readers will have to make up their own minds.
Another Interview with the Author of “The Holy Innocents”
Me: Welcome back, Clive.
Cl: Thank you for asking me back. Not everyone does!
Me: Why’s that?
Cl: I’m not very good with chit chat.
Me: Isn’t that something of a handicap in a clergyman?
Cl: It is these days. We do like to chat.
Me: Why do you think that is?
Cl: I suppose it reflects a certain failure of nerve. Chatting helps us skirt controversy. It avoids dealing with serious issues about which we seem to have less certainty these days. Also, chatting gives us the feeling we’re actually doing something, when we really don’t appear to know what to do.
Me: Fr. Ambrose, your protagonist in “The Holy Innocents”, doesn’t seem to have much time for chat either.
Cl: No, he doesn’t.
Me: How much is he a reflection of you?
Cl: Not that much. He’s alot more benign and holy than I am. He’s the sort of Priest I might like to be, but am not nearly so dedicated, brave or foolish to have become. Besides, I never had Agatha by my side.
Me: In the book, Agatha is Fr. Ambrose’s sister – a very formidable spinster.
Cl: That’s right. She has acted as his housekeeper, secretary and general minder throughout his career.
Me: She seems neither benign nor holy. Agatha has some of the wittiest and most cutting comments in the book.
Cl: Yes, there is something a bit malignant about her, isn’t there? But you have to see it from her point of view. She’s been deeply hurt by changes in the Church to which she’s given her life, a Church that has seemed to steadily devalue everything she believes it stood for. And she’s witnessed her faithful brother becoming increasingly isolated.
Me: Is she bitter?
Cl: To some extent. She hasn’t got much time for all the nonsense and pomposity in Church circles. There are quite a few people like her in the Church these days, muttering darkly on the sidelines.
Me: Would you say that, in the beginning of the story, Agatha overshadows Fr. Ambrose?
Cl: Yes and no. She dominates their household, and this overspills into their congregation’s life. However, without her care and protection, Fr. Ambrose would probably not have developed into the rather “otherworldly” character he is. He relies on her – perhaps too much. One of the themes of the book is how Fr. Ambrose learns to cope in his new surroundings without her.
Me: In a few words, how would you describe Agatha?
Cl: Agatha is both worldly and devout, and has been badly bruised by both the world and the Church. She’s acerbic and doesn’t suffer fools gladly.
Me: Other protagonists in “The Holy Innocents” include Dave the Sacristan, who’s a foul-mouthed hard case, Bill the transgendered truck driver, and Bill’s girlfriend Maggie. Can you briefly tell us about them?
Cl: During the course of the story, Dave goes from being a mere thug to a kind of St. Peter character. He’s tough, he’s rough, and he is fiercely loyal to his friends. Dave becomes Fr. Ambrose’s right hand man, and the effects of grace slowly begin to become evident. Bill the transgendered truck driver is based on a very strange encounter I once had with someone seeking to follow God’s call. Maggie is my strongest female character besides Agatha. Maggie is a victim who becomes empowered through Fr. Ambrose’s influence. She’s something of a St. Mary Magdalene figure.
Me: Quite an interesting and odd assortment!
Cl: They reflect the sort of world that I encounter all the time in my parish work – a world totally different from Church life. It is ugly, tragic, profane, violent, and hopeless. I’ve drawn it as accurately as I can. It’s a place Fr. Ambrose would not have found himself in before he was cut loose from his congregation by the Bishop. It’s exactly the place where the Gospel needs to be heard, but often isn’t. “The Holy Innocents” describes what might happen if it were.
Yet Another Interview with the Author of “The Holy Innocents”
Me: Clive, I would like to discuss with you today the antagonists in “The Holy Innocents”.
Cl: Oh goody: the baddies!
Me: It sounds like you enjoyed creating them.
Cl: I suppose I did. When one’s life is so wrapped up in niceness, it’s perversely liberating to see the world through wicked eyes.
Me: There are a number of antagonists in the book. Which of them is the most wicked?
Cl: Freddy, the gangster who’s chasing Dave the Sacristan. Freddy is more than just a violent thug – he’s actually an organiser and planner of evil. He delights in being wicked, bullying the weak, and corrupting the innocent. Freddy cares for no-one but himself. Even his girlfriend – basically a good person who cares about him – is someone he just uses.
Me: The Bishop is also an antagonist.
Cl: Yes he is, but he’s not purely evil like Freddy. The Bishop is sincere, wants to do the right thing as he sees it, and in some ways he’s even likeable.
Me: Tell us more about him.
Cl: James Gladstone Butternut III is a high-flying Church careerist, a social climber, and a publicity-seeker. He is clever and gifted, but perhaps not as much as he believes he is. The Bishop thinks very highly of himself and is bored by the trivialities – as he sees it – of his office. He has little time for Church traditionalists – even fairly harmless ones like Fr. Ambrose – and he wants to advance a more “with-it” agenda.
Me: Is he like any Bishops you know?
Cl: This is a work of fiction.
Me: The Bishop contrasts quite sharply with his Archdeacon, even though both of them are on the same side.
Cl: Yes, that’s true. The Archdeacon is a social climber too, but he’s a lazy dunderhead of a man. He’s far less capable and hard-working than the Bishop. The Archdeacon is someone completely given over to his leisure pursuits. He sees his Sunday duties as an opportunity to rest up for a week filled with golf. His archdiaconal duties are a distraction.
Me: Is the Archdeacon like anyone you know?
Cl: Again, this is a work of fiction. However, I can say that I was once given a parish profile to consider that listed among its attractions that it would be a suitable appointment for a Priest with a serious hobby!
Me: You have a number of strong female characters in “The Holy Innocents”, but the two that are clergy are among the antagonists. Would you care to comment?
Cl: There are a number of women in ministry that I trained with and have worked with who are very capable, well-meaning people, labouring often unnoticed. It has been my observation over thirty years that the women clergy who tend to have high profiles at the forefront include a high proportion of strident ideologues. They are impatient for change. Perhaps if I were them, I would be the same – and maybe just as unlikeable as my two women clergy protagonists.
Me: You’ll get letters and comments.
Cl: I bet I will. In “The Holy Innocents” there are no “sacred cows” beyond satire.
The blog accompanying the book can be accessed at: http://drivenshrive.blogspot.com