Week-end: time slows

Creamy-white rose

The good

Attending the Clausura (closing service) for Ely Cursillo #37. While the church wasn’t packed, people-wise, it was absolutely suffused with joy. It is such a privilege to lead this… movement? group? Community.

And now, winding up and winding down. After a very hectic month, this has been a nice peaceful week. I’m slowing down physically, but this feels appropriate rather than frustrating. Things are taking longer, and that’s fine. Walking thirty-five minutes to a routine ten minute appointment is an opportunity to be out in the sunshine; work tasks are taking as long as they take and the next time they happen it won’t be me doing them. But on the other hand, things that have been hanging over me for ages and which I thought were going to take ages have been tidying themselves up with remarkably little effort. We made a list of things to do this long weekend and got ninety per cent of it done on Friday.

And my concentration seems to be improving. It’s just taking a little effort now to settle down to an activity without trying to do three other things at the same time and check my phone every five minutes.

The mixed

The weather is gorgeous, but I am getting so hot.

The difficult and perplexing

I stubbed my toe on a chair at work. It bled a little at the time, but I thought nothing of it. Now I find that I have split the nail a long way down and half of it is flapping around, or would be if I hadn’t stuck a plaster over it. I have acquired some gauze and micropore tape, with which I hope I will be able to rig up something that will allow it to breathe and heal without catching on things. We’ll see.

What’s working

Immersion in water – whether by putting my feet in a plastic box full of cold water to cool them down, or by putting my entire self into a swimming pool.


I finished Seven Ages of Paris. Depressing (and, I can’t resist saying, not enough about the buses; though I don’t think that I had known that they parked them at fifty metre intervals down the Champs-Élysées to frustrate a German aerial troop landing: much good that did anybody) and, I feel, not entirely unbiased. But also entertaining and informative, and All Gall now makes much more sense to me. (I often feel that any study of mid-twentieth century history is a process of gradually getting more and more of Flanders and Swann’s references.)

And this piece on Soul Survivor (it’s mostly not about the recent revelations of horrible stuff, which does not feel like something that I have any standing to talk about), which made me feel very much as if I’d dodged a bullet. I never went to Soul Survivor, though two of my brothers did. I can see exactly how, in my late teens, I’d have been vulnerable to getting peer pressured into having a significant pseudo faith experience. Even at the advanced age of 37 I found I had a lot of Doing Faith Wrong monsters on the loose this week.


Sewed a button back on.


Still the Giro d’Italia. My goodness, that time trial! I think, that if there had to be a dropped chain in there somewhere, this was the most satisfying way for it to work out. But all the same, argh.

Today is Licence to Queer’s Donate Another Day. I have places to be this morning (specifically, church, and not Our Lady of Smolensk) so I got ahead by watching GoldenEye last night. It’s my favourite of the Brosnan Bonds (and Brosnan is my Bond): such fun, and Natalya is great. Anyway, everyone else kicked off at ten today, and Tomorrow Never Dies starts at one, so join in if you like Bond, and chuck a tenner at Unicef.


Yesterday I gutted and scaled and filleted a fish (a sea bream, to be precise) for the first time. I failed to get some of the flesh along the top side, but I think I’d do better with a proper filleting knife. Maybe I’ll get one. Made stock from the head and bones: risotto tomorrow.

Then I put a slice of prosciutto on top, sprinkled it with breadcrumbs, parsley, and parmesan cheese, and cooked it alongside roast courgette, pepper and onion (recipe from The Hairy Dieters). It was extremely tasty.


See above. Also (for I am not on a diet, hairy or otherwise) yellow-stickered Waitrose cream buns. I am getting massively hungry at the moment.


Swimming. Pilates (this happens every week, but usually on a Tuesday, so I’ve forgotten about it by the time I get to this post. This week’s session was yesterday).


Three small deer (one fawn, and presumably two parents) on the path behind our house. Muntjacs, maybe? I’m not very good at deer.

A train in GWR livery at Cambridge station – rather a long way from home, one would have said.

In the garden

I weeded one raised bed and put in three tomato plants. The other one didn’t need so much in the way of weeding; I put runner beans in it. And I found space for five cosmos plants around the garden.

The first rose is blooming. I think this bush is my favourite, aside from its habit of trying to revert to the rootstock; it has a lovely, faintly lemonish, scent.


Time. Focus. Other people’s gardens.


I finally gave in and ordered three frocks from Joanie. One of them looks more like a tablecloth than I’d anticipated; one will do very nicely for the autumn; and one is fabulous and I’m wearing it now. (I don’t think I mind looking like a tablecloth, but the dress in question doesn’t fit. Yet. I think I’m just getting to the end of the phase where taking my usual size and ensuring it has a very full skirt is working. Still, only another month or so to go…)

From plant stalls outside people’s houses: two chilli pepper plants (one cayenne, one Hungarian something or other); three tomato plants (one Garnet, one Roma, one I’ve forgotten); and a honeysuckle.


Well, a filleting knife, now.

Line of the week

From Rosemary Hill’s piece Consulting the Furniture in the last London Review of Books. (It is about time I went back to Kettle’s Yard. Maybe in a couple of weeks when I am on maternity leave…

Kettle’s Yard’s particular kind of austere elegance suits Cambridge and its Puritan, parliamentary history. It could never have happened in Oxford.

This coming week

Bank holiday. A committee meeting. Some family coming to see us. And, I hope, I’ll get the study sorted.

Anything you’d like to share from this week? Any hopes for next week? Share them here!

Week-end: harrowing of/hell/of the North

Purply-blue grape hyacinths growing in grass next to a bush with bright green new growth

The good

Easter! Alleluia! I can’t help comparing with last year and seeing how much more with it I am now than I was then. Granted, every excursion outside the house demands a nap later in the day, but I am, for example, quite capable of doing the Walk of Witness followed by the Three Hours – rather than reclining on the sofa watching the liturgy on YouTube. And it was particularly good to make it to the Easter Vigil last night and find some friends who were there to support confirmation candidates from their parishes.

And this is only the beginning of a week’s holiday (not that I am going anywhere).

The mixed

It hit me this week that the bulk of the big comms projects is… done. Of the three major documents that needed revising and redesigning, one’s done and published, one’s at the printers’ now, and one’s there but for some tiny edits. Oh, there are plenty of small bits to tidy up, and the comms only accounted for half of the stuff I want to get wrapped up before I go on maternity leave, but I’m noticing that I’m transitioning into a ‘before I go on maternity leave’ mindset, and that’s a little disconcerting. It’s all coming up rather fast.

This morning, the cat ate a rose leaf, made some alarming noises, brought the rose leaf (but nothing else) back up again, and was wandering around with it caught in her fluffy tail. I have now removed it.

The difficult and perplexing

I am wobbling a bit about whether I will ever finish a book ever again. That’s something to get my head around this week.

Also missing the family somewhat – they were all here last year! – but will be seeing them all pretty soon.

Also [way TMI, so I won’t tell you].

What’s working

Naps, still.


Different books for different circumstances. Seven Ages of Paris (Alistair Horne) on the train: rather tediously blokey in parts, but I am learning more French history than the very vague outline I previously had. She Gets The Girl (Rachael Lippincott and Alyson Derrick) at lunchtime in the office: that rather tedious combination of characters who are more than usually aware of their own shortcomings but apparently incapable of acting on that knowledge. I think this is a Thing in YA, which is where this book probably wants to sit. That aside, it’s interesting to read a campus novel set in the United States and be surprised at the very different norms (how many students have cars, for example, and the assumption that having a roommate is the default).

But really this week’s book has been The Man Born To Be King (Dorothy L. Sayers), a cycle of radio plays she wrote in the early 1940s. I meant to skip straight to the plays, but ended up reading all of the introductions too. I’d read the whole lot before, at university, and revisiting it was amused to note how much it’s shaped my understanding of the Incarnation, and my thinking about the inherent corruptibility of any institution you care to name (really, it’s all I’ve been writing about ever since…). What’s particularly interesting to me is the way she talks about the work that has to go in to turn the curated collections of sayings and happenings that make up the Gospels into what the twentieth century would recognise as a coherent narrative. (Although I don’t think this is entirely missing from the Gospels themselves: I noticed a couple of Christmases back the different, but both extremely relatable, from a writerly point of view, devices that Matthew and Luke employ to get the Holy Family to where they think they ought to be.) The plays themselves feel sometimes very dated and often extremely powerful. I think Sayers makes Judas more complicated than he really needs to be; I dislike the conflation of Mary of Bethany and Mary Magdalene and the woman who was a sinner; and I’m not sure you’d do the same thing with Nicodemus today; but overall it works.

There was the usual OH DLS NO for the usual reasons. It’s fascinating, in an infuriating kind of way, how the gratuitous offensiveness seems to come from a place of affection. (I’m thinking here of the way she talks about her characterisation of Matthew – I’m not going to quote it – but Matthew comes across as one of the most likeable characters in the whole thing and I think that’s deliberate.)

I attempted The City of God but, while I think I probably do have the brain for St Augustine, I don’t have the brain for a four hundred year old translation. Can anyone recommend a newer one? I dislike Oxford World Classics for their irritating habit of filling the text with asterisks, but am otherwise open-minded.


Nothing to speak of.

Listening to

Podcasts – not usually my thing, but when I have a repetitive task I quite like having something on to occupy the other half of my brain. The Ffern podcast is a favourite; I’ve also been enjoying Maintenance Phase lately.


Messing around with stamps and embossing powder for some cards.


Darned the elbows of a pyjama top, a couple of holes in the legs of the trousers, and most of a pair of socks. (I have only really started getting holes in my pyjama trousers since we acquired a cat. Funny, that.)


Paris-Roubaix Femmes. I do have mixed feelings about filling the hole of Holy Saturday with televised sport but did it anyway. But what a race!


Pasta with vegetable-heavy (though not vegetarian) sauces: first this one, then this one.

In between writing this I’m getting bigos going for tonight. I’m not quite sure when bigos became an Easter tradition (and we didn’t have it last year, because of feeding my mostly-vegetarian family) but it is one now.


Hot cross buns, of course. I also got a Simnel cake (too tired to cook one) and had the first slice after the Vigil last night.


The blackbirds have become very vocal lately; the robins, slightly less so. On Friday there was a right old to-do on the green, with two herring gulls perched on somebody’s roof and shrieking away, a black cat a long way up a tree, but not near enough to get at the crow in the same tree, and a load of black-headed gulls watching the show.

In the garden

The tulips are most definitely blooming now; the apple trees are just beginning to come into leaf; the pear trees are doing leaves and blossom together, starting at the top. A bush that I thought was dead is also producing leaves. There is no sign of the peony, alas.

I’m enjoying seeing other people’s pictures of the progress of spring – internet friends in Japan (some resident, some visiting) sharing the cherry blossom; closer to home, many variations of daffodils, and blossom, and birds – and comparing with my garden.

There is plenty going on in my pot of herbs, though I didn’t label anything so will have to wait until it all gets bigger to find out what’s what. I don’t think the tarragon’s going to come up but the beans and the cosmos seem happy enough.


Spring! Paschal triumph, paschal joy! Friends both on and offline. Cat pictures. And the real cat.


I have ordered a maternity swimsuit.


Much as last week, I think.

Line of the week

DLS in snark mode:

Sacred personages, living in a far-off land and time, using dignified rhythms of speech, making from time to time restrained gestures symbolic of brutality. They mocked and railed on Him and smote Him, they scourged and crucified Him. Well, they were people very remote from ourselves, and no doubt it was all done in the noblest and most beautiful manner. We should not like to think otherwise.

Sunday snippet

As noted, I barely wrote anything, so you get a few lines of angst about whether I am in fact capable of writing anything…

  1. I’m very tired.
  2. It’s Holy Week.
  3. And Paris-Roubaix. I think.
  4. I am worried that I have forgotten how to finish things.
  5. [The memory of picking an apple from a tree, how you simply hold it gently and lift it and it comes away in your hand]

This coming week

Sleep. Various appointments (haircut; midwife). General life admin. Maybe test the new swimsuit when it arrives. Get the study into some sort of order so that it can become something else entirely when the time comes.

Anything you’d like to share from this week? Any hopes for next week? Share them here!

December Reflections 9: this was unexpected

detail of a wooden cross sculpture formed of overlapping narrow triangles

I didn’t expect to be elected lay director of Ely Cursillo. Certainly not this year. I’d thought, well, maybe in a year or two, when J. steps down, when I’ve got my head around things a bit better…

J. stepped down this year, not long before the AGM, and suddenly it became very clear that I should step up. Two years of irritatedly demanding of God what on earth I was meant to be doing if it wasn’t ordained ministry (wrong question, as it turned out, but that’s another story), ten years of trade union administration, all came into very sharp focus in this moment when it was obvious that somebody needed to keep this thing going, and that I was, in this moment, the only person with the skills and the confidence and the willingness to do it.

Cursillo is a funny old movement. (Well, actually it’s quite a young movement – 70 years or so.) Most Christians have never heard of it and a lot of those who have heard of it have heard genuinely offputting stories. (Yes, I know. We don’t do that any more.) But my experience – I was one of those who’d never heard of it, and initially wondered if the person who mentioned it to me meant the calculator brand – was positive and transformative. I went on my Cursillo four years ago and found that it was exactly what I needed; it was part of a period of spiritual exploration in which I discovered over and over again that God didn’t want me to be the person I thought I was meant to be; God wants me to be the person I am.

There’s a lot of lay influence (the spiritual director and I work as joint leaders). For me, as someone who’s comparatively well-informed for someone who hasn’t done a theology degree, but who keeps getting directed away from ordained ministry (and feeling very relieved about that), this is hugely important. Being part of a movement that values the laity and demonstrates that by putting us in decision-making positions, that encourages and helps us to develop our prayer life and our learning and to put them into action, has given me a way to be a Christian in a way that I can feel that I can give more of what I have, and not just within Cursillo itself. And that’s a privilege.

Quite apart from the administration side. (This too is a spiritual gift, I am given to understand.) Today I’ve been up and down the hill like a yo-yo, buying stamps, collecting cards, getting bank mandates signed. At home, I’ve been wrestling with LibreOffice Writer’s take on mailmerge and humouring the printer’s request to slide green tabs back and forwards. This is by no means a typical day – in fact it’s a lot of jobs I’d saved up until I had a day to do them in – but it’s one that brought it home to me why I’m doing this stuff. Because I’m good at it.

So no, I didn’t expect to be lay director only four years after hearing about Cursillo. But it makes a surprising amount of sense. Just goes to show: I’m not really the one in charge.

In This Small Spot, Caren J. Werlinger

I read this in Truro, where we were staying above a pub. I started it in bed, and finished it in the beer garden, with the gentle sound of a little river running past, and the cathedral towering up above the trees, just the other side.

And I was thinking what a pity it is that Susan Howatch, who when she was writing wrote about unconventional clergy relationships like nobody else, never got round to the Bensons.

There are a few plausible reasons why not, of course. Firstly, I’m not sure that anybody would believe in the Bensons if they appeared in a novel. They’re really quite incredible in real life. (Edward White Benson was the first Bishop of Truro – this was why they were on my mind – and later became Archbishop of Canterbury. He proposed to his wife when she was twelve. After his death she set up home with the daughter of a different Archbishop of Canterbury. All the children were as queer as their mother, in every sense. No need to bolt invented polyamory onto the facts here. But even Susan Howatch might not have got away with the Bensons.) Secondly, she writes very heterosexual books. So she was probably never going to take on the Bensons.

Anyway, I was in the mood for something that took a queer, religious, character, that took both the queerness and the religion seriously, and was prepared to delve deep into the psyche of that character.

In This Small Spot hit that, er, spot about eighty per cent of the time.

This isn’t anything like a Howatch. It doesn’t have the snobbery, the psychics, or the daddy issues. And it isn’t so tediously straight. It does have the ‘can’t do anything, got to finish this book’ thing that Howatch manages to do over and over again; which is why I had to finish it in a pub beer garden before we could see any more of Truro. And it was almost but not quite exactly what I wanted.

“Here, the true you is most often magnified, for better or for worse.”

Abbess Theodora

In a world increasingly connected to computers and machines but disconnected to self and others, Dr. Michele Stewart finds herself drowning in a life that no longer holds meaning. Searching for a deeper connection after losing her partner, Alice, she enters a contemplative monastery, living a life dedicated to prayer, to faith in things unseen. Though most of her family and friends are convinced that she has become a nun to run away from her life, she finds herself more attuned to life than she has been in years. Stripped of the things that define most people in the outside world – career, clothing, possessions – she rediscovers a long forgotten part of herself. But sooner than she expects, the outside world intrudes, forcing her to confront doubts and demons she thought she had left behind. The ultimate test of her vocation comes from the unlikeliest source when she finds herself falling in love again. As she struggles to discern where she belongs, she discovers the terrifying truth of Abbess Theodora’s warning. For better or for worse.

I don’t think I’d argue with anything in that blurb. I bought the book on the strength of it, and I wasn’t disappointed. It wouldn’t be getting its own post if I hadn’t enjoyed it. The calm rhythm of the religious life, the complex relationships between the novices, the developing tension between Sister Michele and another nun, made for an absorbing read. It wasn’t perfect, though, and there were a couple of things that left me wanting to argue.

Firstly, the pacing was a bit off, or the plot. An overuse of ‘Later, Mickey would…’ built up a suspense that was never quite delivered on. Things developed sequentially, one event leading to another, and tending to evolve from characters’ desires and personalities. This suited the setting, but there sometimes seemed to be a reluctance to commit at key points. I said above that I was looking for something that would delve deeply into a character’s psyche. I think that often it didn’t delve deeply enough.

At one point Mickey reflects that the enclosed nature of the abbey makes trivial events take on an inflated importance. Actually, I found the opposite to be true: there would have been space to take much more time to explore the personality clashes and emerging trauma that grew from and drove events.

And then it takes an unexpected turn into melodrama.

Major spoilers follow the picture of Truro cathedral.

A pointy Victorian Gothic cathedral in grey stone, shot from below.

Mickey sustains serious injuries rescuing her love interest from a fire, a combination of events which results in both of them asking to be released from their vows. Mickey returns to medical life. Having both taken time to reflect, the two of them set up house together.

And very shortly afterwards Mickey dies.


In fairness, it didn’t strike me as a stereotypical ‘bury your gays’. There was too much of a sense of the bigger picture for that. The happy ending had already been earned and obtained; in fact, I’d have been perfectly contented had the book ended just a few chapters earlier. What we got, however, was an ambitious ending, and one that I don’t think the author managed to pull off. She didn’t quite earn Anselma/Lauren’s revelation that ‘The tragedy would have been never to have known her at all’. It might have worked, given some more space; as it was, it felt glib.

It was intensely readable, however, and I’ll be buying the sequel. I want to know more.

Briarley (Aster Glenn Gray)

Paperback copy of 'Briarley' by Aster Glenn Gray, in a rosebush.

The books that I add to my LGBTQ Christian fiction recommendations don’t usually get their own posts, but this one felt almost as if it was written especially for me. Which is not something that I thought I’d ever say about a Beauty and the Beast retelling, but here we are. (Nothing against fairy tale retellings; it’s just that I haven’t happened to read one since rereading Adèle Géras’ Egerton Hall series, over a decade ago now. I shouldn’t have got rid of my copy. Actually, it occurs to me now that The Tower Room is what introduced me to St John of the Cross, so perhaps there’s a connection after all.)

Anyway, it’s 1940, the father is a country parson and Great War veteran, the daughter is a nurse, and the beast is a dragon. The parson (his name is Edward Harper, but the narrative mostly calls him ‘the parson’) does the rose-stealing thing, but refuses to let the dragon abduct his daughter, on the grounds that a) she has her war work to be doing; b) it’s wrong to punish the daughter for the father’s misdeeds; c) if the dragon needs to be freed from his enchantment by the power of love then it’s the parson’s Christian duty; d) 1 Corinthians 13.

That’s not how you learn to love, not at all. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it does not kidnap –

One thing that I’d forgotten in all my years of not really reading retellings was that what’s interesting is not what the story does, it’s how it does it. It’s the setting; it’s the twists; it’s the characterisation. We all know where we’re going, but the journey might be surprising. In this case it was a very good surprise.

The portrayal of wartime rural England wasn’t bad at all; the enchanted house stuff was all in line with the fairy tale. More to the point, from my point of view, was that there was a real sense of theological literacy, and that was refreshing. I only put books on my recs post if they get to a point where they acknowledge the possible coexistence of Christianity and queerness within one individual, but several of them never get much beyond a superficial (and often borderline antisemitic) rebuttal of Leviticus 18 (“but prawns!!!”). This one felt much more comfortable in its arguments. It helped that one of the main characters had already done the thinking, yes, but it went beyond that. I very much got the sense of faith and/or religion as something in which these characters lived and thought. There’s a throwaway reference to David and Jonathan and a long-running, sophisticated riff on hospitality and the sin of Sodom. (Had OT scholarship got that far by 1940? I’m not sure, but it works in the book, which tends to rely on experience rather than scholarship.) There’s a committed, personal, engaged wrestling with 1 Corinthians 6. And this was true for the minor characters, too: I particularly liked the moment when one of the servants (invisible, not transfigured into household objects, in this version) responds to a “doubting Thomas” reference with, “Ma’am, I haven’t spear wounds you can probe.” Ownership of scripture isn’t restricted to the clergy here. This inhabiting of a common religious inheritance never felt heavy-handed or out of character, but it was always taken seriously.

One thing that was missing was the immersion in the Prayer Book and the Authorized Version, such as you’d find in Streatfeild or Sayers or other mid twentieth century British authors writing about this sort of milieu. This didn’t bother me on the first read (straight through, last night) but struck me when I was thinking about it this morning. The 1 Corinthians 13 bit, for example: really it should have been ‘Charity kidnappeth not.’ But that would have rather undermined the lovely quibble on the different sorts of love (of course the enchantment is picky about the sort of love required to break it) and so I’ll let it off.

Other nitpicks: there was a moment towards the end of the book that didn’t quite sit right with me, but I don’t want to spoil it so I won’t talk about it. Only one out-of-place Americanism (a “gotten”) tripped me up. There was a cricketing detail that felt slightly off, but may well have been plausible for the mid nineteenth century; I have no idea. Finally I was a bit worried about the parson’s poor neglected parishioners, but he did at least feel bad about neglecting his duty (unlike some fictional clergy we could mention), and had a reasonable excuse.

This is a short book – 165 pages in the paperback edition. I would have loved to read more of the parson’s backstory, but at the same time it felt like exactly the right length; we knew as much as we needed to. And it meant that I could finish it at a reasonable hour and might read it all over again tonight; who knows?

Anyway, if you like my stuff and you like dragons you’ll probably like this one. Very much recommended.


The Real World: a bisexual book, as it turns out

'The Real World' with two pin badges, one reading 'EMBRACE THE POWER OF "AND"' and the other, 'ASSUME NOTHING'

If you’d asked me, say two years ago, what I was writing about, I would have said, Marriage. And academia. And the Church of England. I might have been clever and summed it up as Institutions. Then I might have added, Impossible choices. And Disillusionment. Six months further on, Vocation. And it is true. The Real World is about all of those things.

What I didn’t quite appreciate until a couple of my beta readers remarked on it was how very much it is a bisexual book. I suppose I shouldn’t have been quite so surprised: two things I knew all along were that Colette, the point of view character, is bisexual, and we spend the whole novel inside her head. And this appears to be one of those things where personal experience does help, because it didn’t take too much work to make it feel right. (Unlike some other things in the book.)

It isn’t really about bisexuality – not as a theme, anyway – but there’s plenty of it in there.

There’s the Invisible Bisexual Blogger, who shows up (in this book, anyway) only in the chapter headings. In an early draft she came to Lydia’s birthday party, but I was introducing too many characters there as it was. She serves the same purpose as she did in the first book, where she was in the main narrative rather than the chapter headings: to demonstrate that there are plenty of LGBTQ Christians hiding in plain sight (and possibly feeling somewhat ambivalent about that fact).

There’s the correlation between bisexuality and depression (which is a statistic I myself resemble, yes). There’s the second-guessing and the self-questioning.

There’s the scene with the celebrity ex-vicar. I regret to say that this is only slightly exaggerated from something that I witnessed in real life. I needed that scene in order to explore one possible future for Lydia and Colette. I didn’t have to make the speaker as biphobic as the real one was, didn’t have to push it that bit further to provoke a minor walkout. But it felt truthful. That sense of never being quite sure whether a putatively LGBTQ space is in fact just LG, whether the welcome that has just been extended to you might be withdrawn when you can’t produce a gold star, that’s something I’m very familiar with. It works in the trajectory of the book, too. This is a point where sources of support are dropping away from Colette, and she’s becoming increasingly isolated; this space that’s a source of support for Lydia turns out not to work for Colette at all.

And then, on the flip side of that, there’s the spontaneous little gathering outside the meeting, where the angry bi people come together to rant. My experience of the bi community, online and offline, has been similar: that wonderful holiday from having to explain yourself.

I didn’t set out to write a bi novel. That happened without my knowing. I didn’t have to wrestle with it, the way I had to wrestle with vocation (in and out of the writing). Actually, those aren’t so very far apart. I have a post to write about my experience of vocation as a queerness, but that’s for another day. If someone asked me today what The Real World is about, maybe I’d say, Institutions. And identity.

Badges in the photo above came from Biscuit (‘Embrace the power of ‘And’) and Uncharted Worlds (‘Assume nothing’).

Relatable: writing the real world, and The Real World


Last week I told my faithful beta reader Sam that I would have something ready for him to read fairly shortly, and gave him the blurb (at least, as far as I could remember it off the top of my head).

He said,

Well, there’s a story I can relate to! Not the being a lesbian part, or the doing the PhD, or wanting to talk to a dead person… just the real world being a bit of a confusing mess! And that seems like it might be the joy of the story. Personally, I can’t relate to anything you just said in that blurb other than the real world being a crazy place, but I do feel I can relate to the whole thing still. So something’s right with it all!

And this strikes, albeit at something of an angle, at something that has been worrying me a little bit about my book. It’s something that worries me a little bit about every book that I write: what if X reads Y and thinks it’s about them?

I don’t mean the deliberate things. I borrowed the wheelchair conga line in the last book knowing exactly what I was doing. (I still have very fond memories of that party!) This time round I emailed somebody to ask, ‘Do you mind if I appropriate your church’s backstory?’ I don’t mean things like that. I mean the occasions when I go, ‘hang on, that thing happened! to X! I wasn’t thinking about X when I wrote it! oh shit! what if they think it’s about them and then they hate me?’

It’s usually something that was quite an obvious way to take the story, something that was quite easy to write. It hits me when most of the plot’s nailed down and I can’t easily take it out.

The thing is, whatever Y is, it probably also happened to several other people.

One’s early twenties are a confusing, difficult time. It’s the combination of having to deal with money, large amounts of money, or the lack of large amounts of money when one needs them to survive, and coming to understand that one’s parents are human and have human failings and are mortal and will eventually die, and wondering what on earth one’s going to do with the rest of one’s life, and encountering failure, and learning how to deal with serious relationships, and, and, and…

For some people it happens earlier; for some, it happens later. Personally, I spent the year after I turned 21 letting go of what I thought I was meant to be doing, and 22-23 just about clinging on to what remained. There are whole chunks of time that I just can’t remember at all. (This is a little irritating, because some of them would have made good material for this!) I look back at diary entries from that period and think, goodness, I really should have talked to somebody about that. And of course some people have more going on, more to deal with, than others.

But it’s very likely that what I’m writing about is going to match up with somebody’s history more closely than I’d intended. And on the one hand that’s good – as Sam points out, I’m trying to write things that people can relate to! And on the other I am hoping and trying not to inflict needless hurt.

Which brings me on to something that was originally going to be a separate blog post, but what the hell.

Yesterday the House of Bishops released some ‘pastoral’ guidance responding to the fact that opposite-sex civil partnerships are now possible in the UK.

It didn’t say much that we didn’t already know, but it said it in a spectacularly insensitive fashion, which has inevitably and deservedly been reported as ‘sex only for opposite-sex marriage, say bishops’. And there are a lot of LGBT+ Anglicans who are feeling pretty hurt and angry, and a lot of allies who are being very vocal too. It hurts. I have dodged a load of bullets and it still hurts. I can only imagine what it’s like for people who are right in the firing line.

Meanwhile, lit Twitter was talking about American Dirt, which I don’t think I shall bother reading. I was particularly struck by this piece, which actually predates the current kerfuffle, but which got linked to illustrate the point that books about marginalised people don’t need to be trauma porn to be important. Life isn’t, and literature doesn’t have to be, wall-to-wall misery for immigrants, for queer people, for anyone. And the message that you’re doomed to unhappiness simply because of who you are is… not one that I would wish to endorse.

This is a balance that I’m trying to strike.

One of the major points of conflict in The Real World is the fact that ordained ministers in the Church of England are not allowed to marry someone of the same sex. This is a source of grief and pain in the real world; it’s destroying relationships and distorting lives. I have done my best to work with this and still write a book in which the richness and beauty and joy and delight of queer relationships can be discerned.

Whether I have succeeded… is the wrong question. Whether I will have succeeded, we’ll find out. It still needs work. I’m still filling in holes in the text, even as Sam looks at what I’ve done so far (‘seventeen pages of red marks’, he says). It is a way off being finished; a long way off being as good as I can get it; further away still from being as good as it can be.

(And then sometimes I think that all I’ve done is written a less posh, more liturgically accurate, Four Weddings and a Funeral. But that’s another story.)

December Reflections 6: angel


Nobody gets angels right, particularly around Christmas. No six year old in glittery tulle wings, not this vision in her plastic farthingale, not even Michael Sheen’s Aziraphale, manages to convey the sheer awesomeness of a creature whose first words are very often, ‘Do not be afraid’. Which implies that they are, in fact, something to be afraid of.

Which is something that has been said many times before by many other people. So I won’t labour the point further, or mutter for very long about how the belief that angels are what our deceased loved ones become misses some important points about what it is to be human. (In fact, that’s the thing about all the portrayals of angels I mentioned in the first paragraph: they’re very, very, human.)

Angels in disguise are another matter, of course. If I ever met any, they were carrying umbrellas. (Incidentally, I read somewhere that P. L. Travers thought of Mary Poppins – her Mary Poppins, the mystical, supernatural being of the later books, not Disney’s instrument of 1950s conformity – as one of the archangels. Which makes sense. Benevolent, but still terrifying.)

Angels bring news, instructions. Sometimes you see them in stained glass windows or nativity sets carrying neat little banners saying Gloria in excelsis Deo or Peace on earth, goodwill to all. I’ve been listening out for messages this year. Some of them I haven’t liked at all. Others have not been exactly clear. I have learned over and over again that I am not as good at communicating as I think I am, that I operate on assumptions that turn out to be incorrect. I am trying to keep on listening.

Early in the year, I demanded a neon sign. The next neon sign that I saw read:

Started at the bottom.

Now you’re here.

Which is certainly true as far as it goes. The question is, where exactly is here?

I will keep my ears open. And my eyes.

A metrical version of the Magnificat, to an appropriate tune for the day

My soul proclaims God’s mighty glory
and my spirit shall rejoice
in God who saves me and exalts me,
who makes the poor his choice.
God’s bounteous blessings fall upon me
from now and through all years:
the mighty one has raised me upward:
God is holy, and God hears!

So take comfort, who suffer; this good news is for you:
Your trials will be changed to triumphs, and you will receive your due;
So take comfort, who suffer, and claim your rightful place:
God loves you, and has chosen you, of all the human race.

God stands with those deprived of power,
and God’s power will win the day;
He gives the hungry food in plenty
and he sends the rich away.
He empties thrones, and lifts the humble,
brings confusion to the proud;
He remembers those who are downtrodden,
and has saved us, as he vowed:

So take comfort, who suffer; this good news is for you:
Your trials will be changed to triumphs, and you will receive your due;
So take comfort, who suffer, and claim your rightful place:
God loves you, and has chosen you, of all the human race.



After Luke 1 46-55, obviously. You’re welcome to use this in church if you think you can get away with it.

Happy May Day, everyone!

#indiechallenge – 119: my life as a bisexual Christian (Jaime Sommers)


The blurb

As a bisexual Christian woman, happily and faithfully married to a man, a mother of three children and with a blossoming ministry as a preacher, Jaime Sommers had always felt as if her true self did not really exist in the eyes of the Church. She could find neither theology nor pastoral support for a person who felt the need for physical closeness with both sexes in order to feel well or ‘whole’.

Following a brief, isolated incident in which Jaime kissed another woman, the full extent of the Church’s inability to acknowledge or understand her identity became apparent. The disciplinary process to which she was subjected led to her suffering depression and anxiety and feelings of isolation.

Jaime’s powerful and emotive story reveals the failure of the Church – and of large parts of wider culture and society – to recognise and support the experience and needs of those who identify as the silent ‘B’ in LGBT.

The publisher

Darton Longman Todd is an independent Christian publisher, specialising in books for the awkward squad. (I’m paraphrasing their ‘About‘ page there. I am myself a proud member of the awkward squad and have an essay in Our Witness, published by DLT.)

The bookshop

I bought this in Gay’s The Word, a long-established independent London bookshop (not far from my office, to the great detriment of my bank balance).

The bingo card

There are quite a few squares that this one could be filed under. ‘A book from your TBR’. ‘Biography’. ‘Marginalised people’. ‘Non-fiction’. ‘LGBTQIA’. Even ‘A debut’. I’m going to see what else I end up reading before I decide where to put this.

My thoughts

The ‘119’ of the title refers to the 119 words granted to the subject of bisexuality in the Church of England House of Bishops’ Issues in Human Sexuality. Those are 119 words that I’ve ranted about myself before now, and this book resonated. The early parts, dealing with Sommers’ childhood, adolescence and university years, felt a little incoherent and self-conscious, but when Sommers begins to address the crisis that forms the greater part of the book all that falls away, and she recounts the events with an honesty and clarity that roused my anger and kept me reading. Because yes, this is what it feels like:

It was very clear that they had absolutely no idea what to do with me. I wasn’t gay, but I wasn’t wholly straight. My marriage was not in trouble and my husband was supportive of my sexuality. I did not fit a single box they sought to put me in. In short, I was an inconvenience – and a major one at that.

I don’t experience bisexuality in quite the same way that Sommers seems to – for me, it’s more like a dormant but undeniable sense of possibility, the knowledge that, regardless of the gender of my current partner, my next one (if there is a next one) could be of any gender. But the consciousness of all that being erased, looked past, ignored, because one looks like a straight married person – I recognised all that. And realised how very fortunate I’ve been not to have come up against the Church’s misunderstanding of it in such a destructive manner.

In some ways, ‘119’ feels like a slightly irrelevant title. This book challenges Issues in Human Sexuality, yes, but it’s much more than that; it’s a personal account of how the system failed an individual; it’s representative of the failure of a whole system to recognise and provide for a whole group of people within it. Having said that,  the title does highlight how criminally inadequate the current thinking is.

… what is missing in the bisexual Christian’s life is the ability to hold a bisexual identity – and a clear sense of personal identity is imperative to mental health. Bisexuality is largely invisible in church publications and doctrinal debate and support for bisexual issues are missing in our churches and faith communities. It is as if we don’t really exist, that we are just a figment of our own imagination.

People forget about us, particularly when we can be slotted neatly into the ‘married’ box. I’m glad this book exists, because it must go some way towards stopping people forgetting.