Sunday, 28 June 2015

We Have a Gospel to Proclaim by Clare Weiner

In a recent thread on the ACW Facebook site, some us shared our thoughts on Mslexia magazine (‘for women who write’) and in a wider context, the sense of gloom, re-named better ‘bleak’ which appears in so many contemporary novels. Although we reminded ourselves that bleakness is not a new departure for fiction, inhabiting for example Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and the Greek tragedies. we seemed to feel this post-modern bleakness is different.

Initially, I began writing a piece (without a clear idea if I’d send it off or where to) describing what I feel browsing in bookshop today (and for a number of years). This piece began to get quite long, as I cited the various apparent essentials for a current novel, and the desperate and overwhelming amount of ‘visceral’ - now termed more often ‘physicality’ thought necessary. Especially in scenes of sex or violence, this also hovers around at all times. Though examples exist about anything: say, the way person eats a sandwich, or slurps their tea, the scent of a full nappy, what happens behind the lavatory door. And of course terminal illness, mental breakdown, and living with disability: all in extra-stark realism.

However, it proved a catalogue of complaints, which is not what was intended. Should we carp at the writing of others, people may conclude this is merely in order to talk up our own work. Like a not-so-good preacher who loudly condemns the Pharisees in order to make Jesus more attractive. Positivity is best.

And then it came at last to at least two of us: the problem is that within these earnest, bleak, novels there is nowhere a sign of hope. We, the readers, must conclude that the human race is all utterly depraved, lonely, loveless, and unloving, and there is no hope for it. The curtain should indeed be rung down on it sooner rather than later. Yet the writers keep writing, becoming prize-winning or acclaimed, selling books. Presumably, they do actually want to live, even without hope?

Not to talk my writing up by contrast, I turned a corner from what I had been working on when I realised that I should inject discernable hope into the novel I’d been working on. Without making everything into a 1950s, cosy, ‘Ladybird Book’, story, I would write about both sides of the secular/Christian (or secular/faith, indeed) divide, have my central characters from a secular and a faith-based upbringing, and give weight to each side. I’d not paint the Christian Family as either perfect or totally imperfect and destructively pious. Nor the secular as wrong in every way. I wanted to proclaim the hope side of life, something which Christians have, even though their lives may be flawed (always a problem!). And even to slip in bit of faith knowledge while not preaching, indeed while demonstrating how Christians can get it wrong. And what they do about it.

It has stuck me with a problem, though. Family stories aren’t fashionable.  Crime, mystery, yes. Not family.

So you see, here I am writing a blog post … and wondering whether or not it is right to continue with novel number 3. Which though a family study again, will surprise and disturb, even without being over-physicality-based, and definitely still including hope.

About the Author

Clare Weiner, (as Mari Howard), writes contemporary, family-based fiction exploring change, diversity, and reconciliation, using her background in social sciences and religion. Think Joanna Trollope or JoJo Moyes, though influences include Kamila Shamsie and Khalid Hosseini, and like them she observes and critiques her own cultural traditions, the clashes and the outcomes. Clare believes in writing 'crossover' which gives a balanced view of today's Christians living closely alongside convinced secularists and diversities of beliefs.

She has 3 grown children, no grandkids, 3 cats and a long-suffering husband, was born a Londoner, studied in Newcastle, and now lives in Oxford. To escape the compulsion of writing, she is also a painter, likes gardening, spending time with friends (& retail therapy), and helps organise her church walking and Exploring Spirituality groups. She is passionate to try and put across, in fictional form, the essence of the real lives of believers - often messy and confused, but always predicated on the hope we have in Christ, whatever our circumstances.


  1. This is a very interesting post, Clare. I don't think you should be put off by fashion from writing the story you have started. At a recent meeting of a local ACW group we concluded that in fiction (as in life) without God there is no hope. Sue

  2. Hi Clare. I have just finished writing a book about family issues. It is a true story and has some very bleak bits of reality in it, as most families do. But I think it is full of hope, forgiveness, redemption, healing and of all that it is to be on this human journey as a Christian. It is due to be published and on the shelves next month. Thank you for your blog. share very similar interests to those you mention. Dawn

    1. Hi Dawn: do you have a webpage? Your work sounds interesting.

  3. This resonates with me, Clare. I suppose we should keep a weather eye on what is going on in the great world of current fiction, but I am sure we should write about the things that we feel directed to, and deal with the issues you raise in our own way, backed up by constant prayer! A thoughtful post - thank you.

  4. I suppose, though, that even in bleak stories such as 'Macbeth' for instance (currently teaching it to GCSE students!) there is a sense of hope, in that the one who offends against society by killing a king has to receive justice. Also, a very very bleak novel - 'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy - has a thread of positivity in it through its portrayal of loving relationships and loyalty. I still think most readers want something that points to a resolution and it's a brave novelist (or rare?) who writes a completely bleak scenario with no sense of resolution or justice or humanity at the end. Or maybe I just haven't read those books!!

  5. My comment I made above referred to a meeting, before which I had read JK Rowling's "A Casual Vacancy". Sue

  6. I think family stories are needed - in fact it seems that people are genuinely interested in the lives of others, maybe because of the lack of hope and dissatisfaction with their own life. I recently read The Rosemary Tree, no crime, drama or mystery, I loved being drawn into the lives and families I met there. Keep writing :)

  7. You are spot on, Clare. I remember a writer I met many years ago talking about wanting to write 'healing stories' and that has always stayed with me. That's why I read women like Joanna Trollope, Anne Tyler, Jane Gardam, Kate Atkinson, Deborah Moggach and Barbara Trapido - I find more hope in their novels than in those of men like Ian McEwan or Julian Barnes (the wonderful exception is Jon MacGregor, who significantly is a Christian and writes deeply redemptively). Having said this, bleakness is also part of life and there is plenty of it in the Bible - read Judges 19 for example, totally 'physical' and very bleak. And I disagree that family stories are out of fashion; there are many on the shelves and a continuing demand for them.