Monday, 9 September 2013

Guest Post | "Faith in Fiction" by David Towsey

Today it's my pleasure to host a guest post from David Towsey, whose "bloody biblical" debut I reviewed late last week. I spoke quite openly about my faith, or lack thereof, in that article, and indeed, I came away keen to know more about the author's approach to the touchy subject above.

I knew it'd be a big ask, but belief is as powerful a pivot-point as it is provocative, so I cast caution to the wind and touched base with David to see if he'd be interested in discussing his particular perspective. He took the subject seriously from word one, and came back to me with the guest post below.

What follows, then, are the thoughts of "an enthusiastic novice" on faith, and how it factors into fiction.


When Niall asked me to write a guest post about my faith and how it informed Your Brother's Blood, I was at first reluctant. To be honest, I was terrified. I imagined my blundering sentences being examined and then torn apart in great detail, counter-posts exclaiming what a terrible person I must be, and worse. Religion is a difficult subject; it's a lot of things to a lot of different people and that can make it very hard to talk and write about. It's part of the trifecta of topics that in my house were not suitable for discussion at the dinner table. 

As a writer, I'm acutely aware that when I involve religion in my work I'm going to be creating problems for some readers. But as Your Brother's Blood isn't on sale in the UK as I'm writing this post, it is obviously hard to gauge reader-response. Perhaps readers will be more inclined to focus on the zombie-esque characters than the treatment of Christianity, but I understand both may raise questions. Questions like: how did my faith inform my debut novel Your Brother's Blood?

The short answer is: it didn't. And that's because I don't have a faith. I am a kind of lethargic atheist. I grew up in a non-religious household. I did attend a Church of England primary school. For assemblies we would file into the church that was next to the school. I can remember very little except the songs. 'Dance, dance, wherever you may be...' That was a favourite. As was the one that said the word 'naked'. [I find myself singing 'He's Got the Whole World in His Hands' with alarming regularity - Niall] Some of the teachings must have sunk into my subconscious. But that's my subconscious, and I prefer to leave that alone.

Lethargic and tolerant atheism. I don't begrudge anyone their faith. In fact, I'm slightly envious of it. Part of me would very much like to be a strong believer in one of the major world religions. From the outside looking in there seems to be a great degree of security and support in faith. But I just don't feel the faith, and I don't think that's the kind of thing you can fake. There are times when I struggle to understand some of the acts that are done in the name of various religions. My failure to understand can sometimes lead to angry words or feelings, but this is not unique to religion. People do things I don't comprehend all the time.

So if I'm an atheist, why write a book that involves a future vision of Christianity? Firstly, the Bible fascinates me. I tried to read it once, cover-to-cover. I found it impossible and am in awe of anyone who has. But I approach the Bible as a writer. That is worth emphasising. I am not looking for spiritual guidance. My fascination comes from the amazing stories and characters in the text. More so, there are some fantastic turns-of-phrase. For me, it's a great resource. And I am a child of the digital age. Instead of having a paper copy of the Bible on my desk, I have bookmarked. Completely searchable, with many different versions of the Bible available, I spend hours on this site. Search the word 'flower' and there are thirty-four results. Brilliant. You can view the passages in context, or see the whole chapter, in just a single click.

Secondly, I believe that, in a challenging world like that of Your Brother's Blood, there would be many people who turned to religion for answers. This is something people have done for millennia – some might even argue it is the whole reason for organised religion. Answers for all the big questions, but also answers on how to live day-to-day. Over the course of the Walkin' Trilogy, I show how different people and communities handle the issue of the Walkin' – a kind of undead population. Your Brother's Blood focuses heavily on the town of Barkley that is fairly hard-line in its belief systems. I don't condemn Barkley for its beliefs. Despite the fact that if there is a villain in the novel then they are from Barkley, the same is true of the hero of the book. The difference is in the individual – something I think is true of all world religions and their believers.

Lastly, there is what I like to think of as the 'writers in space' argument. I write in the SF/F genre – I'll let you decide which Your Brother's Blood is – and that means approaching subjects that are unknown to me as an author. If friends of mine can write about space travel without being an astronaut, it seems odd to shy away from writing about religion as an atheist. Both demand a level of research. Both expose a writer to criticism from greater or more learned minds. It's no doubt obvious at this stage that I'm no Bible scholar. At best I'm an enthusiastic novice. At worst... 

[SPOILER] The Bible features heavily in all three of the Walkin' Trilogy books. It is an important part of the McDermott family. Some characters are happier about that than others. I like to think I treat the subject even-handedly. But I probably don't. If the books contribute to a debate on how writers approach or utilise religion then I don't think that's a bad thing. I'd like to be part of that conversation.


Thank you, David, for addressing my question so seriously and sincerely. Despite your doubts, I'm sure everyone here will agree that it's been a real pleasure having you on The Speculative Scotsman.

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