Diana Guthrie reports….
Bedford’s Central Library was the venue for this year’s CLIS Annual Lecture: a fascinating two-hander by Tony Collins, Publishing Director for Monarch Books and Lion Fiction, and Penelope Wilcock, established author of poetry and fiction, including The Hawk and the Dove series. Their theme was Christian fiction, seen from both the publisher’s and the author’s point of view.
Tony kicked off with a run-down on Christian fiction production in the UK, which is surprisingly different from Christian fiction production in the United States. This is because much Christian fiction comes from the pens of evangelicals, who are the Christian mainstream in the US, but who feel far more marginalised in the UK, and this is reflected not only in the publication of Christian fiction, but in the writing of it too.
Fiction in general is overwhelmingly popular – people like a good story, and they are prepared to suspend their prejudices when reading or hearing one. So a persuasive argument wrapped in a good story is likely to be better received than the reasoned argument alone. There are still dangers however in trying to put forward an argument forcefully; Tony instanced two very popular modern secular writers, some of whose later novels he feels descend into unappealing (anti-Christian) propaganda.
What makes fiction Christian? Firstly, it should be written by a Christian, and secondly, it should have a thread of redemption running through it, affirming the best things in life: goodness, truth, forgiveness, a spirit of service. When Tony considers publishing a novel, he is looking for writing that promotes these qualities, but without an overtly Christian agenda.
Penelope spoke about the process of writing Christian fiction; she felt that it can’t help putting out a message – all stories do. She agreed with Tony that humans are moved by stories, as they wouldn’t be by doctrine. And stories have the added advantage of being able to present a debate without having to present a logical ending. Dogmatism has no place in Christian fiction (rambling monologues being a particular turn-off).
Key to a good novel is authenticity, with the author getting inside a character or a situation, and the reader finishing the novel feeling moved to compassion.