Post-apocalyptic paranormal romantic fantasy
Blog of the Week 18th March 2019
First published on the Baptist Times Website
My first novel, Strand of Faith, very nearly didn’t get written. Like many people I have a busy life – I’m the wife of a Baptist minister, mother of two and I work as an accountant. The idea started in my head with a dream (very Narnia and C.S. Lewis, I know) and for a long while it stayed there. The trouble was, the idea kept growing and the characters started to develop and, in the end, I found that I needed to write them down.
As I did so, the story expanded. One book became a series of four and the dream became a scene at the end of the first book. The titles changed, too. I went from Choices and Consequences to Strand of Faith, Thread of Hope, Weave of Love and Cloth of Grace. You can probably see the influence of 1 Corinthians 13:13.
Having written it down, again I very nearly left it there, despite the fact that my family and friends loved it. But that seemed a waste of effort, so off it went to agents. They came back saying ‘…it’s a good story…well written…really enjoyed reading it…but just not our thing’.
I couldn’t blame them; the series is very definitely cross genre. It has a Christian message, but it’s not really predominantly Christian fiction. I like to describe it as some of the characters are Christians and this affects the way they live and behave and sometimes they explain the reasons for their behaviour. It’s set in an imaginary future which makes it fantasy; some of the characters have unusual abilities which makes it paranormal; there’s a love story which makes it romance; it’s about characters finding their place in the world which makes it coming of age; there’s intrigue and mystery and secrets. There are broken people finding healing and purpose through their faith in God. I don’t think there’s a genre that covers all that!
So, instead of leaving it to gather dust, I’ve gone with self-publishing and set up my own publishing business, Isbin Books. It’s been a steep learning curve but Strand of Faith is now out there, getting new readers and excellent reviews. You can buy it on Amazon and other eBook retailers and in bookshops (though your local bookstore may have to order it in).
One of the things I wanted to do was to create a world that had Christian foundations but was attractive to non-Christian readers. Strand of Faith is set in a monastery but the Abbot of the monastery is also the ruler of a territory that stretches much further than just the monastery. It’s probably not typical of most people’s perception of a monastery either. Although it comes from my imagination I drew on historical examples; it’s a double monastery with both monks and nuns, and it has an associated group of lay people, all of whom work, relax and eat together, even if they live separately. On top of that, it runs both a college and a hospital, supports an orphanage and works with refugees in the town that surrounds it.
There’s a snowball fight scene in the middle of the monastery that I did think was purely my imagination; turns out it’s not. I have it on good authority that monks and nuns really do have snowball fights.
Denominationally? Well, it’s not specific, but it’s definitely got some Baptist leanings because I’ve spent my life within the Baptist tradition. The sharp eyed might spot a nod towards the Baptist Assembly in a scene towards the end of Strand of Faith. The really sharp eyed might spot the influence of Graham Kendrick’s song Beauty for brokenness, hope for despair. Certainly that song affected not only the creation of my world, but also the characters and their journeys, not just in Strand of Faith but through the whole series.
There’s some other Baptist connections too. I first met my cover artist, the very talented Oliver Pengilley, at Baptist Assembly, where he was painting live. And I write under a pen name, using the surname Bonner. That was my grandfather’s pseudonym when he needed one, and he chose it because he admired Carey Bonner (bit of Baptist history here) who was President of the Baptist Union from 1931-1932.
Strand of Faith is selling very well as Christian Fantasy, hitting #1 in Amazon’s bestseller and hot new release listings. And it’s selling like hot cakes (well, we’re in Lancashire so like hot meat and potato pie) around our church community. I’d love it to go mainstream, to have a non-Christian readership who enjoy the characters and story, almost without realising that they are absorbing the Christian message in passing, just as my heroine, Leonie, does when she comes to live at the monastery.