The payment for the first month’s worth of sales of Speak Its Name came through today, so I’ve celebrated by upgrading this blog and getting rid of the adverts. Over the next week or so I’ll have a play around with the layout, too. Don’t panic if it all looks different.
I’ve had a lovely review from Gemma at The Accidental Book Reviewer. (Full disclosure: this is a paid service, and also Gemma is a friend – one of the lovely people I met through marrying into the Discworld fandom. I do not usually pay for book reviews, but this is a new venture for her and I wanted to support it.)
I’ve turned on the thingummy at Goodreads that allows you to ask me questions. I’m working my way through the defaults at the moment, but if there’s something you want to know about me, my writing or Speak Its Name, I’ll move your question to the head of the queue. (Goodreads won’t mind. It’s only a robot.) Or you can ask me here.
The picture, incidentally, is a few weeks old, and the sweet peas in it are now a good ten centimetres tall. Things move fast when you’re not watching them.
A very happy Easter to all those who have been, or still are, celebrating it today – and to those who feel like they’ve only left church to sleep since Thursday, I wish you a sit-down and a glass of wine.
I’ve been taking things a bit easier of late, and will continue to do so for the next couple of weeks (might post, might not, depending on how I feel) – but there’s an interview with me at Women & Words today if you want something to read.
Another bit from the first year’s action that went in the great Lydia takeover. Once again I note my fondness for ‘C…l…’ names. I was rather sad to ditch Milly…
Georgia came up the road at a jog, hair flapping, cheeks rosy. ‘Hi, Colette.’
‘Morning. I don’t know how you’re so energetic. It’s January, and it’s tipping it down!’
‘I’ve only been down to Clifford’s Bridge and back,’ Georgia said, as if that wasn’t half-way across the city, and then, ‘Some days I just need to run and run.’
Colette did not know what to say to that. She just nodded. ‘Have you had breakfast?’ she asked. That at least was a safe question.
‘I had phase one of breakfast before I went out. Phase two is now.’ Georgia ran a hand over her forehead, shiny with rain and sweat. ‘Drat. I meant to get some milk on the way back.’
‘Whoops,’ Colette said. She shook the last reluctant envelope into the recycling bin and turned to go back indoors. Georgia followed her upstairs to the kitchen.
The timing was unfortunate. Olly was using a tea-towel to dust off a perfectly clean bowl. Seated at the table was a rumpled looking (but oh-so-sexily rumpled!) girl with big blue eyes and dishevelled blonde hair. She was wearing what Colette recognised as Olly’s dressing gown, and, by the looks of it, not much else. She looked better than she had any right to at that time in the morning and in that garment.
Olly stared at Georgia. Georgia stared at Olly. The air grew denser, and the girl looked at Colette. Colette said, helplessly, ‘Hi. I’m Colette.’
‘Camilla. Milly.’ There was money in her voice.
Colette gestured at Georgia, who was hitching up her damp jogging bottoms. ‘Georgia. We’re Olly’s housemates.’
‘Hi. Hi.’ Camilla – Milly – smiled slowly, apparently oblivious to the thickening awkwardness.
Georgia was not going to help. Colette asked, ‘So, how do you know Olly?’
‘Oh, one of my friends dragged me along to Archery yesterday afternoon, and of course Olly was there as a member.’
‘You’re a first year?’
Georgia said, ‘Excuse me,’ and stomped off to the bathroom. Olly shrugged, but, since he was standing behind Camilla, only Colette saw.
‘Which hall are you in?’ Colette asked, having failed to think of a less boringly Freshers’ Week sort of question.
The newest, shiniest hall of all. That figured. ‘Do you like it?’
‘It’s not too bad.’
No, she must be aware of the atmosphere; she’d be talking more if she were genuinely unaffected. Desperately, Colette asked, ‘What are you studying?’
‘French and Spanish.’
French and Spanish. Colette probably knew something about French and Spanish, if only she could think of it, and if only Olly would stop gawping at her and turning progressively redder in the face. ‘Cool. I believe Stancester’s Languages School is pretty high up in the league tables.’
Camilla shrugged; the dressing gown slipped a little way down her shoulder. Colette tried not to look. ‘Yes, it’s not bad. I tried for Oxford, of course.’
‘Didn’t we all?’
Olly, contributing to the conversation at long last, said, ‘Oxbridge rejects, the lot of us. Don’t worry. There are plenty around.’
Colette was running out of small talk. She said, ‘Well, I need a shower. Stuff to do. Nice to meet you,’ and fled.
From time to time, when I can be bothered to clear the table and bring out the boxes of beads, I make jewellery. Over the past couple of years I’ve become reasonably good at it. And I’ve come to notice that I don’t just see jewellery any more.
What I mean is something like this. I’m going to cheat slightly and use a pair of earrings that I made myself, because it feels a bit off to take someone else’s work and say ‘I could do that’ – though my point is that I could do that… Anyway, I happen to have a photo of these earrings. Just imagine that I’m looking at them on a market stall or something.
I look at these, and I think, ‘ooh, earrings’, and I see something like ‘red + amber; long’, but I also see the component parts and how they were put together. I see that five beads have been threaded on a length of wire (not a headpin, though the photo almost gives that impression) and that a loop has been made with round-nosed pliers to attach the commercially made earwires. I see what works (it’s a fabulous colour scheme) and what doesn’t (the long beads don’t quite match). And this isn’t a conscious action; it all happens in about a second as I look at the earrings. Every pair of earrings I look at now, I see how it’s done, and I can’t stop seeing how it’s done.
That doesn’t mean that I can’t admire the craftsmanship, or the choice of beads, or the way the wearer has put them together with that rather fabulous shawl. Indeed, it makes me more likely to appreciate a really good piece of work, when I see how something’s done and know that I would find it very difficult to do something as good.
Something similar has happened to the way I read. I still read, and I still love reading, but there’s a part of my brain that won’t shut up any more. These days I always see how it’s done. I’m always aware that someone, somewhere, has put these words on the page in this particular way, has given a character this attribute rather than this one, has made choices (consciously or unconsciously) that I might not have done. I’m aware of the piece itself, but also of the work that has gone into making it be this way, not that.
The hours I’ve spent reading my own work, moving scenes, paragraphs, phrases or words from one place to another, deleting duplications, have got me into the habit of doing the same with other people’s. I talk to other authors as equals – in my head, at least.
Why didn’t you, I ask, put all that ‘what happened to the minor characters’ stuff in an epilogue, or cut it altogether, and keep the reader interested until your big twist? Or, But did anyone actually talk about ‘choral evensong’ in the forties? Shouldn’t it just be ‘evensong’? Or, I don’t believe for one moment that this character would have said this thing in this way. I don’t believe she’d even have thought this thing in this way. But also – lest this seem one long display of nitpicking – That’s good, or, You magnificent bastard, I can’t believe you pulled that off, or, sometimes, simply, Wow.
Of course, writing a book was not the only cause of this (apart from anything else, I would hope the English Literature degree had something to do with it), but it’s a big one. A very big one. I don’t altogether regret this change in process, which is just as well. I can’t give it back now.
I got an ebook reader for Christmas, which is great, because it means I’ve been able to read heavy books on the train. One of them is Diarmaid McCulloch’s Christianity: the first three thousand years, which I am enjoying far more than I expected. It’s much more nuanced than the accompanying TV series, which had me muttering, ‘no, affirming the humanity of Christ is not actually heretical’, and is hilariously bitchy in places and very interesting throughout. At least, if you find deeply-felt squabbles over apparently trivial differences with appalling results interesting, which I do. I’ve given up apologising for Those Christians Over There and whatever they’ve done now, but I do feel that it’s worth knowing how they got there, and how I got here, and what we still have in common. And getting to very different places using the same map has been a feature of Christianity since, oh, the book of Acts.
In that spirit – here’s the AngthMURC/Cathsoc committee meeting that happens between chapters 2 and 3 of the first section of Speak Its Name. All the inter-denominational schism and bitchiness that the heart could desire.
‘Hmph!’ Sophie said, when Peter had finished reading out Jake’s email. ‘Well, it’s a pity, but I can’t say I’m surprised.’
There was just about space for the six of them around the kitchen table at 27 Alma Road. Georgia was in fact at the sink, frantically washing up mugs so that due hospitality could be offered. Sophie, Tim and Kasia, the operative half of the Cathsoc committee, were squashed onto the bench on one side; Becky, still in her pyjamas, crunched toast opposite them; Peter sat on the wobbly chair, at the end that wasn’t against the wall, and spread ancient AngthMURC paperwork across the vinyl tablecloth.
‘I don’t suppose we could compromise?’ Kasia said.
‘How do you mean?’ Georgia asked.
‘Well, of course we can’t sign their Statement – have you read the thing? – but could we perhaps suggest the Creed instead?’
‘No,’ Becky said, blinking over very strong coffee. ‘Sorry – that was a bit abrupt. I didn’t mean to be rude. What I mean is, of course you could, but I wouldn’t sign it. Wouldn’t sign anything. I’d still come, but I couldn’t be involved in the organising if that was the condition. Same with most of the Friends, I would think.’
Olly wandered into the kitchen in his dressing gown, said, ‘Oh, God. Christians. Shouldn’t you all be at church?’
‘Colette’s gone,’ Becky said.
‘Hmph. Vicarious holiness, eh?’ He wandered out again.
‘I doubt Fellowship would go for the Creed,’ Peter said, as the door shut. ‘They would say it’s too woolly. Anyway – which one? Half the Evangelicals I know don’t believe that Jesus descended into Hell, which excludes the Apostles’, and if we use the Nicene then we’ll start filioque all over again.’
‘Ah,’ Kasia sighed, ‘those were the days. Proper schism, none of your modern namby pamby stuff! Do we even have any Orthodox who’d want to be involved?’
‘You never know,’ Georgia said, peeling off the rubber gloves. ‘So are we going to write a tactful email to Jake Warner telling him to take a long walk off a short pier?’
‘Why are you all looking at me?’ Peter asked, with an injured air. ‘OK, OK, I’ll write it. And I’ll email the rest of Fellowship, too, letting them know it’s still happening. Together with an annotated copy of the Statement of Belief, explaining why it’s exclusive bullshit?’
‘No,’ Georgia said, apparently before she realised he was joking.
‘It’d be handy to have,’ Sophie mused. ‘We could make hundreds of copies and hand them out at the Freshers’ Squash. Poach a few members from Fellowship…’
‘Which reminds me,’ Tim said, ‘I still owe you lot my three pounds fifty for this year. I assume you’ve still got me listed as a member, since I’m still getting AngthMURC emails.’
‘You are. And I’m still getting Cathsoc ones,’ Georgia told him. ‘Fair exchange, no robbery.’
‘Remind me,’ Becky said, ‘why the Statement is exclusive bullshit? I always get stuck on the fact that they make you sign the bugger.’
‘Penal substitution, and sola scriptura.’ Kasia ticked them off on her fingers.
‘Oh, Lord,’ Peter said. ‘OK. Penal substitution is the theory – which some Evos will try to make you believe is held by all Christians, but which really, really isn’t – that humanity is so fucked up that God (who in this version of events is omnipotent, omniscient and benevolent, but apparently really unimaginative) has to torture somebody horribly to make it all better.’
‘That somebody being Jesus,’ Tim put in, helpfully.
‘See me looking blank,’ Becky said. ‘Don’t take it personally. It may never make sense to me; Quakers aren’t really big on sin.’
‘I vaguely recall Father Steven explaining it all using There is a green hill far away,’ Peter said, ‘but I can’t remember how.’
‘That’s really helpful.’ Georgia was getting impatient.
‘And what was the other thing?’ Becky asked.
‘Oh, sola scriptura. The Bible alone – as a means to determine God’s will, I mean. They mean,’ Kasia corrected herself. ‘Leaving out of it tradition and reason.’
‘And experience,’ Georgia added.
‘Leaving the poor old Wesleyan quadrilateral wobbling on one leg, and causing alarm and despondency through the Church Rational,’ Peter said.
‘What about the Spirit?’ Becky asked, and laughed bitterly when nobody answered.
It was pointed out to me the other day that I have a Goodreads author profile. Since at that point I didn’t belong to Goodreads I was rather surprised. I can only assume that it picked me up from Amazon.
I have since rectified the omission and filled in my profile. I’m still finding my way around Goodreads, but am beginning to get to grips with it. If you’re on there do come and follow me, ask me questions, or whatever.
A couple of weeks ago I was in the pub with some people from the internet. They have not yet turned out to be axe murderers. Many of them, in fact, were extremely helpful in the matter of getting my book out into the world. And one of them asked me about the next book.
So I explained the basic concept of the next book. I’m not quite ready to put this on the internet, but suffice it to say that it does not involve church politics, university, the South West, or angst related to sexual orientation. What I’m trying to say is, it’s quite a long way from Speak Its Name. Except…
‘So it’s still about people sorting their heads out, then,’ she said.
‘I don’t think I know how to write about anything else,’ I said.
I’m trying to write an About The Author blurb for Amazon and elsewhere. ‘Kathleen Jowitt writes books about people sorting their heads out’ doesn’t seem like a bad way to start.
I’m assuming for the purposes of this post that your church is one that wants to make bisexuals feel welcome, that perhaps already has some sort of ‘LGBT’ outreach or ministry, that’s wondering where all the bisexuals are, that’s thinking that perhaps it doesn’t have any.
If that’s not the case, some sort of LGBT outreach would be a good start. And if you are starting from scratch, here’s how to include bisexuals in that.
The tl;dr version:
See us. Let us know you’ve seen us. Believe us when we tell you who we are. Or, if you can’t see us at the moment, let us know that it’s safe to be visible.
Don’t make assumptions.
Understand that you almost certainly have bisexuals in the congregation already. Who knows – they might even have got married in your church. Yes, even if your church doesn’t do same-sex marriages.
A significant relationship pattern among my friends is bisexual Christian woman + straight atheist man. That’s what mine looks like. In fact – let’s take that a little further. My husband goes to church almost as much as I do, and the potential for hilarious misunderstandings is endless. Quite often people come to the conclusion that he’s Roman Catholic – a Polish middle name and a habit of coming to the communion rail for a blessing rather than to receive will do that. They see us sitting side by side in the choir, and they assume that we’re a straight Christian couple.
But he’s not Christian. And I’m not straight.
The moral of this story is: don’t make assumptions about people’s sexuality based on their relationships.
Similarly, don’t make assumptions about people’s relationships based on their sexuality. For me, when I say that I identify as bisexual, I’m talking about potential: what might have been, what might still be. For most married bisexuals, our sexual identity just doubles the pool of people with whom we’re not committing adultery.
None of which is to say that there aren’t other models of relationships that are valid. Christians can be celibate; Christians can be polyamorous. A bisexual might have committed to only pursuing relationships with people of the opposite gender. A bisexual in a different-gender relationship might not want to get married because they know that if they’d fallen in love with someone different, they wouldn’t be able to.
Speaking for myself, I got married when I was 23, and I wouldn’t do it again. Not because of any difficulties in our relationship (except for that incident the other week where I laughed when he dropped his pizza…) but because I’ve come to find society’s insistence on marriage as the highest expression of human relationships damaging and verging on the idolatrous. But that’s just me, and I don’t speak for all bisexuals, not even all Christian ones. Don’t make assumptions based on me, or on anyone else.
Include bisexuality. Explicitly.
I went to a church where we once sang Over The Rainbow under a rainbow flag. It still took me years to come out, because I wasn’t sure that I was queer enough to ‘count’. I came out to the rector, who was fantastic. I was never out to the congregation at large. It would probably have been fine, but I didn’t know. I wasn’t sure that people would accept me as a bisexual. I wasn’t sure that they’d believe me: they’d seen me get married to a man, after all. And so, for five years in a church that I loved, that was fantastic in all other respects, I was never quite myself.
It’s very reassuring to know that my church would accept me if I were to turn up with a partner of the same gender, but that doesn’t tell me that it sees and accepts me as I am now. So talk about bisexuality. Show that you understand that some people are attracted to more than one gender. Show that you understand what that means.
Remember that bisexuality exists. Don’t assume that people with same-sex partners are the only ones who have problems with, or in, the Church. Don’t use ‘LGBT’ if you just mean ‘lesbian and gay’. Don’t include the B and the T in the acronym in the top line of your sermon or newsletter article and then talk about ‘gay people’ all the way through the rest of it. It’s lazy and it doesn’t make us feel included; it shows that you haven’t actually thought through the distinctive experience of bisexuals – let alone trans people. (That’s a post of its own, and I’m not the person to write it.) Similarly, assuming that bisexuality is included on the basis of the ‘everyone’s bisexual really’ meme erases the experiences of those who do identify as bisexual, and of those who explicitly don’t.
Understand that bisexuals are likely to have specific pastoral issues.
There is a statistic floating around that says that bisexuals are more likely to have mental health problems than either gay people or straight people. I resemble that statistic. And I am not remotely surprised.
Whatever our relationship might look like, we’re always half in and half out of the closet – or we’re having to work very hard swimming against the tide of other people’s assumptions. We’re always aware that there’s a side of us that people are choosing not to see. We feel guilty, as if we’re hiding something, but we fear that if we are explicit about our identity then people will accuse us of attention-seeking. Sometimes we worry that we are attention-seeking, but if we try to settle into the role that society has assigned to us we’re always aware that there’s something else, something that we must acknowledge or be damned.
The Christian life calls us to a sexuality that’s pretty much the opposite of the promiscuity that popular culture ascribes to bisexuals. The more we try to live out our Christianity, the more our sexual identity is erased. Monogamy is mistaken for monosexuality, and we disappear into the gap between straight and gay. Being invisible is not healthy, spiritually speaking, and if your vocation is to care for your congregation, then you need to care for both halves of us.
Then, if you are at all interested in feminism, Golden Age detective fiction or Shakespeare (not to mention the Church, Taylor Swift or Movember), wander around the rest of Quite Irregular. It’s one of my favourite blogs and I’m delighted to appear there.
Not such a frequently asked question as some of the others – people are too polite, I think – but thank you, yes, sales are going reasonably well. I have not yet made the cost of the ISBNs. (Well, I have if you assume that I’m going to write another four books and can divide the £149 by five, but that’s some years off…)
I have, however, made more than the cost of making this blog advertisement free. And, since I doubt that WordPress is showing you anything nearly as interesting as this Dutch tram stand, with Grumpy Cat on Planet Hype, or a sweet and innocent looking poison frog, I shall do this as soon as the first month’s worth of payment comes to me at the end of March. Make the most of One Weird Trick to pick up Hot Singles In Your Area, or whatever you’re getting, in the meantime.