I don’t know about your upbringing, but a part of mine was to be shunted off to church every Sunday, as well as other key days in the church calendar. This pattern continued up to the age of eighteen, when much to parent’s consternation, I said “no more”. This ritual meant many encounters with Catholic priests, some of whom took to the bottle to counter those long hours of humdrum loneliness, they doubtlessly had to endure. They appeared sometimes to have to fight to hold it together, during the mass, either senility was getting a hold or it was due to the demons of drink. Sometimes with the priest obviously messing up, ripples of giggles from the altar boys or others who picked up their errors were inevitable. Sometimes they were invited to come to lunch after the mass, I remember one who came didn’t seem at all worldly, maybe too immersed in spiritual matters to be concerned about major world events, the goings in world wars.
When I got to eighteen, or perhaps before I began to wonder, what was this religion thing was really about…scan the congregation and you would find many wearing fur coats, as middle class wealth abounded. I remember those drab hymns, obediently and “religiously” sung, but with a lacking of tune, and spirit, compared to the verve of Gospel singers I used to hear when I passed churches in Brixton, London. There was a theatricality about the mass and the ambiance was added to, by the burning of incense. Easter involved lining up and kissing the feet of Jesus. Then there was the strange practice of “confession”…a bit like going to a shrink, except you tell the priest all the bad things you have done…but if you make an act of contrition…all these bad things are washed away…kind of handy really, you can be bad then the slate is wiped clean.
They say “once a Catholic always a Catholic” and maybe there is an element of truth to this, there are many things you can’t get out of your system…so a creative person will infuse it into their work.
All these images have stayed with me. In my story “Gomford” The Reverend Salmon, leads a posse of villagers round a remote village, so as to sprinkle some holy water on the fresh-hold of each house, to try to exorcise a malevolence that has overcome this tight-knit village. The story begins with a young girl arriving with an ugly businessman called Gomford. The businessman is often away and so the male villagers try to take advantage of his absence by seducing the young girl…much to their surprise she agrees to the men’s desires, but leaves them feel both sexually inadequate as well as guilty for cheating on their wives.
The young girl is more than powerful foe for the righteous Reverend Salmon…who concludes the only way to break the girl’s spirit is to dunk her in the water, in the same way such types were dealt with in medieval times. My short stories are full of darkness and fear…could some of this have been caused by all those enforced visits to church and sermons that talked about “Hell” and what would happen if I didn’t follow the Lord. Of course young minds are very susceptible, which is one of my biggest gripes, maybe if religion had not been forced upon me, I might be a church goer these days.
Quite a few preachers appear in my short stories…There is Preacher Moon in Opium, a man given the task of addressing the problems of a town that has slipped into moral decline. He confronts a man called Gecko, a gangster, who much to his consternation finds a more than capable adversary. The preacher is full of pious words and menacing threats, while the gangster Gecko, is far more humane and wise and witty.
In “Cast from Hell”, a man is sent down from Hell, because he is too good. In this story I begin by describing what “Hell” is like. The “devil” is worn out and lacking in ideas and humans are doing his job for him on earth, without a need for him to intervene.
There is no doubt about it…religion rich in imagery and a great source for writers…ask Dan Brown.