I identify online as Liberal, Christian and LGBT. I was brought up in a very loving, very traditional military family at a time when the British Empire had been all but dismantled. There were a few anomalies here and there, but for all intents and purposes the Empire was a thing of the past and the vast majority of people thought it was no bad thing. Nevertheless, school assemblies throughout my childhood were still graced by stories of brave missionaries bringing God and good manners to the Heathen, Gladys Aylward being one example. Another, whose name I have sadly forgotten, paddled the African rivers risking being eaten by ferocious cannibals, or catching her death by malaria, to make decent Christians of those wilder colonials under Queen Victoria’s reign.

Today we focus less on these tales of individual bravery and foolhardiness or the folks whose lives were turned upside down; sometimes for the better but always at the expense of their own culture. Instead we focus more on the development of those countries, now independent, who try to make their own way forward in the world without the yoke of European oppression. Nowadays, as episcopal Christians, we may even feel that the yoke has shifted.

I was dismayed at the Church of England’s decision not to go ahead with “gay marriage” because I see it symptomatic of something more sinister – a drift to the “right”. Over my lifetime I have seen more and more good people turned off Christianity because of the cognitive dissonance generated by a loving and gentle Jesus Christ who is willing to love everyone equally and a church bent on enforcing rules that come through to us from the Old Testament via St Paul. The drift of individual spiritual fulfilment away from organised churches into Paganism, Buddhism, Humanism, Hinduism and even Atheism has caused the Church I grew up in to clutch at the receding straws of a wider communion. To allow gay marriage would be to lose the affiliation of Christians in countries that maintain penalties of torture, imprisonment and death for those guilty of “the sin of Sodom.” I think this is far to high a price to pay for church unity. The Church of England had a chance to stand up for modern liberal values and bring its LGBT flock home like a good shepherd; instead it threw them to the wolves.

For many “Chapter and Verse Christians”, the chapter and verses they adhere to most vociferously are not the words of Jesus himself but usually those passages from the Old Testament and Acts that reinforce hatred and division. It is my feeling that very often the verses quoted condemn the “wickedness” of others and exhort them to change or be flung into the fire. I think we should be concerned not with the wickedness of others but with our own core faith and compassion. It may surprise some of my friends to know I do often read the Bible at night. In that time, I confess, I often find some comfort in reading the Gospels and revisiting stories of Jesus that were so familiar to me as a child. It resonates with me that Jesus emphasized faith and love; that he mixed with working people and forgave sinners; that he valued the widow’s two brass coins above all the pomp and show of the wealthy; that he valued the innocence of children above the esteemed religious leaders; that he healed the sick and raised the dead on the Sabbath when it was forbidden and risked life and freedom to do so. Jesus was a rebel, a liberal, a man who loved humanity and felt his own humanity deeply. He was one who knew the Law but was more interested in interpreting his Father’s will than observing traditions laid down by the Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees. He could quote Chapter and Verse when he had to but gave free rein to his own words when he preached the Good News.

Now on the other hand, I wrestle with St Paul and find him contradictory and obsessed. It may be that I will go to Hell for it, but I really do believe that he was mentally ill. Time after time, he rambles incoherently about whether or not women should wear hats or men should be circumcized. He berates people for following the Law and berates them for NOT following the Law. To me, he reminds me of an ex-smoker having to deal with a room full of smokers lighting up. He is verbose and he has lost none of his zeal for condemnation on the road to Damascus – and yet in Paul we find some of the most quotable and common sense quotes in Christianity. It is this dichotomy I believe that has led Catholics to burn Protestants, Protestants to burn Witches, the inquisition to torture heretics, the faithful to murder and persecute both Jews and Muslims. Is this what Jesus really wanted? For us to condemn others, excuse ourselves and act like tyrants using the Bible as an excuse for the basest human behaviour?

It is for this reason that I personally cannot bring myself to quote chapter and verse; I find it to be a red flag that urges me to be cautious of those who do.

Well the easy answer is because that is her nature. Life as a writer would be infinitely more easy if our characters were less complex. If Midge were heterosexual that would throw open a much larger readership for me for a start. Schools and Christian readers would not be taken aback by her love for another women for example. Yet she would blend unseen into the infinitely large pile of boy meets girl romances. If she were to be a lesbian on the other hand that would make her life much less complicated for her and for my novel too. There would be a ready made niche audience of lesfic fans who I suspect would be somehow much more comfortable with her sexuality. There would be fewer triggers in the story although, for me, it would be less true to life and less interesting. Midge is neither gay nor straight and that shapes her life in unexpected ways. Although she is obviously drawn to women emotionally she enjoys the company of men as likeable human beings and has a strong sex drive which is modified by the era in which she was born. There will be those readers who say she always was a lesbian and just had to discover her true self; there will be some who castigate her for marrying a man just as there will be those who condemn her for being unfaithful to Richard. So why did I write her this way? Was I trying to be trendy?

In answer to the first, my writing tends to be character driven. I believe that our characters exist in some hidden dimension of space or time waiting to speak to those who will be most attentive to their needs. Maybe some will see that as paranormal; I think it more likely that it is a product of our own psyche, our conscious beliefs and our unconscious dreams. When a character like Midge is “born” she takes over the writing of the story and leads it down paths a little different possibly from those we had planned. I could no more force Midge to be gay or straight than I could force myself to eat melted blue cheese on cornflakes! She has a voice of her own and her scenes were almost dictated to me, as distinct from scenes I wrote for other characters after in depth historical research.

Was I trying to be trendy? Absolutely not. The concept of “bisexual being trendy” is really limited in my experience to the young and famous. For most honestly bisexual individuals it is not an easy label to take on or live with. The ideas many people have about bisexuals derive from sources that have a strong agenda. I won’t go into that now, but I will reference a superb book that addresses many of the misconceptions about bisexuals. This comes from my review of Purple Prose on Goodreads:

“Bisexual is not a “one size fits all” label. Being bisexual is not about being confused, trendy, greedy or dishonest. Bi-phobia and bi-erasure are institutionalised everywhere. Bisexuals are often, but not always, monogamous. They might identify as straight or gay/lesbian their entire lives but they know they have romantic feelings towards both genders and indeed sometimes to people whose gender falls outside the binary norm. A bisexual friend once said to me “I love a person, not a gender.” For those individuals who fall into the “monosexual” category gender assumes an overwhelming significance in partner choice. For bisexuals it does not – a person is loved for more than their intimate parts, their masculinity or femininity. This should be liberating. Often it is not.”

So I was not trying to be trendy and by being honest rather than reductionist in my writing I was probably always going to limit my book’s audience but if one person reads The Wings to Fly and says “I know that girl, she is like me” or “she is like my friend” then it will have been worthwhile. Sometimes life does not fit into convenient pigeonholes and neither do heroines in fiction.

This is something writers are often asked and I find I am no exception to that. The answer will vary from author to author and also varies within genres. For example, in my short stories I often find the idea for a story arrives well before any of the characters. In my novels it is a completely different kettle of fish. In the case of The Cougar , Berenice actually appeared to me in a dream and said “Tell my story.” She had such a commanding presence that I had little choice in the matter and the following day I sat down and began to write The Cougar from scratch. This novel was my first and I was not writing to any standard genre or pattern. The Cougar is a love it or hate it novel for that reason. It doesn’t conform and is not written with anyone’s sensitivities or preferences in mind. I could have bent the story or characters to a particular style or genre but I wouldn’t really want to. Berenice wanted the story told and it was Berenice who dictated the telling of it. The Cougar was an easy book to write and seemed quite effortless at the time; its setting was a familiar one – a place I love in reality – research was serious because I like to get things right historically but it presented no problems. The hard part was the editing but the hardest of course was learning to live with all sorts of criticism, some of it harsh, much of it probably justified based on what is expected of writers when it comes to “how to write commercially”. Were there things I could have done differently? Very likely, but it is a question of weighing up what could be gained against what would be lost.

When I wrote my second novel (which at the time probably looked like being my third) it was again character driven. I had a few thoughts which gave birth to an initial storyline but, once begun, I found that the character of Midge took over as narrator for much of the time and her feelings took front seat throughout. The Wings to Fly is an historical novel and certainly required a lot of reading and research, taking nearly a whole year to write the first draft as opposed to The Cougar’s six weeks, in both cases this was followed by careful editing. The Cougar was therefore an easier project than The Wings to Fly but I am happy overall with the result. It is a longer and more complex tale and I took on board many examples of the historical fiction genre that I have enjoyed over the years. It is a more intimate telling, there are fewer factual asides, where reality creeps in it is made part of the action. Characters are, I hope, well developed and believable. There are aspects of the main character in both of these novels that I would like to elaborate on further because I am sure some readers are going to have questions about their complex personalities and lives but those are questions that will have to wait for another day.

Both The Cougar and The Wings to Fly are available in paperback and ebook format and may be read for free on Kindle Unlimited.

Now the dust is beginning to settle after the most vicious US election campaign I think I have ever witnessed, I wanted to put a few words to paper to lay this particular ghost. You’re right, I am British so Mr Trump is not my President and Mrs Clinton would not have been my President either but the world has watched in horror as this whole Greek tragedy unveiled before our eyes and now in the shadow of Hillary’s dignified concession speech (in which she wore purple to express unity) we have hoards of frightened people protesting against the winner. Why on earth should that be so? The reason is fear.

Here we see parallels of the 1930s where a group of ordinary people felt marginalised and chose to ignore the rights of minorities in casting their vote for a strong alpha male who they thought would act in their best interest. It is better to have the alpha male on your side than to be against him, right? (That assumes that the alpha male is on anyone’s side other than his own of course). Many people also voted for him out of disillusionment. He was the non-politician (rubbish, anyone in big business is a politician). I have friends who wanted to vote Democrat for Bernie and chose to punish Hillary Clinton by voting for Trump. They believed the toxic drip feed from Breitbart and Wikileaks – pseudo-news networks with an agenda – and now they are, some of them, regretting that protest vote. Now they have sent their message to the Democrats, depriving Bernie as well as Hillary of any future part in US politics. It is called cutting your nose off to spite your face and believing the likes of Julian Assange? Incredible!

Time will only tell if Mr Trump is the bogeyman so many people believe him to be or just a privileged man who went along for the ride and deprived America of something truly historic, its first woman President. My investment in this? I live in a part of Lincolnshire that is rich in aviation traditions. I live within one mile of an active air base surrounded by several others. An air blast over Lincoln Cathedral is something I wouldn’t even have time to think about – one puff of smoke and everything I know and love will be gone. On election night when it became apparent Hillary was not doing well, I lay in bed shaking at the thought of this bumptious man set loose with nuclear codes and a macho foreign policy agenda. I can now only pray that my fears are not grounded.

Spare a thought for those in minorities who do feel threatened; for immigrants, both legal and otherwise, who fear deportation, for the LGBT community who now feel under threat as never before, for women who have been raped or otherwise harmed by sexual predators; spare a thought for LGBT Christians who squirm under that gloated “God, Faith and Country” rhetoric that the victors spout. This President is not godly, nor is persecution for belief, gender, race or sexual orientation. It is not what Jesus Christ stood for and these statements that claim God for a hateful political agenda always fill me with absolute disgust.

Our horizons are diminished by the election of hateful politicians, but we are responsible for their election – by voting, not voting, tactical voting, protest voting – the decisions are made democratically and the consequences are borne by everyone. To quote British Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron:

“We cannot allow hateful politicians to keep on winning” and “Liberal values of moderation, freedom, respect for the rule of law, openness and concern for one another can no longer be taken for granted. Never in my lifetime have those liberal values been so under threat, and never have they been more relevant and necessary.”

Only time will tell but civil disorder in the streets of the USA will not change a thing. Let’s be clear, the only way to change anything is at the ballot box and it is time to stop voting against people and start voting for policies.

Last night I gave in to temptation and decided to run a Goodreads Giveaway on The Cougar. I like the way the physical book has turned out and being aware that there are lots of dinosaurs like me who like the feel of a real book in their hands, I thought a draw might publicise the thing. So we now have a Kindle edition (which is on KDP Prime and free to borrow for Prime members) and a paperback that looks and feels good. We shall see how it goes.

I gave in to the temptation of trying the matte finish out this week too. Today another copy of The Cougar came, this time with a cover in the said matte finish. It feels really nice, but loses depth and becomes very two dimensional. While a plain graphic style cover might look much more elegant in matte, I prefer the depth of colour and the 3D aspect that gloss gives my western hemlock forest image so it will be back to gloss finish any time soon.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Cougar by Lisa Marie Gabriel

The Cougar

by Lisa Marie Gabriel

Giveaway ends February 12, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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