I should be going to church. Why am I not going to church? Backtrack to my childhood – a very long time ago. It’s eight o’clock and I’m marched to the bus stop with my mum, a dedicated Catholic, who, bless her, thought a convent education would keep me on the straight and narrow. She insisted I never ever miss Mass or Benediction or the ability to recite the Catechism on demand. What was she thinking? An uninterrupted programme for Sunday morning, lasting years.
Every Sunday, the parts of my brain, once carefully washed into believing hell wasn’t just a red hole in the ground you fell down once you’d clocked it – my interpretation of the devil’s home as a nine-year old – but a tangible ‘thing’ that really existed. At night, I visualised my time in that elusive city called Purgatory, a stop-over motel you stayed at before hitting the flames, if you didn’t get absolution (for those of you who don’t know what that means, it’s like the time you stole your big sister’s makeup and had to apologise profusely, if you didn’t want her to break your arm).
When I discovered I was adult (when did that happen?) and became enthralled with all things theatrical and literary, my opinions changed. Of course they did! That’s what being a grown-up means, doesn’t it? But, the echo of early indoctrination lingered, damn it and Sunday mornings was when Madam Guilt knocked on the door.
She’s a strange old woman, is guilt. She lies in wait in dark corners and shows up at just the right time, usually when I have a mouthful of buttery croissant and a mug of beautiful coffee, frothy and rich, a bit like Boris Johnson, bless him. (Does he get guilty? Politicians and priests, all a bit crazy, and all terribly guilty, don’t you think?)
How do I deal with this infestation of guilt that manifests as a malevolent old woman every Sunday morning? I turn my back and get writing. I’ve discovered the story you create can have a magical quality, capable of assuaging all sorts of guilt trips. You simply dump it in a maze of sentences and transfer Madam Guilt to the plot.
Of course, sometimes, I do actually attend Mass because I want to, not because I feel guilty. I don’t agree one jot with most of the rubbish the church puts out, but that’s religion for you, especially if you’re a woman. I do enjoy the theatrical performance that is the Mass, with the bells and whistles and men in dresses. It does give me a strange and unexpected infusion of peace, though when the church is full to capacity and I squeeze myself into a tiny corner in the back row, next to a very large man who reeks of sweat, tranquility is hard to access.
Jonty Greer, the protagonist in my new book, has his own issues with guilt. That’s what happens when you win 53 million on the lottery. Get it on Amazon (the book, not 53 million) and other jolly good online book stores, or at my publisher’s page: www.feedaread.com
Assuage your own guilt by reading it. You’ll feel better – promise!