My Name Ain’t Gabriel

When my Dad joined the merchant navy (in the brief time before deciding that stockbroking was the way forwards) he was told that there were three subjects that must never be discussed in the officers’ mess: religion, politics and sex. If you don’t want to upset people then this is generally sage advice wherever the conversation happens to be taking place. Obviously I endeavour to ignore sage advice whenever possible on principle. And, indeed, the above rule is why I was very often shushed at any dinner party my parents threw for clients back in the day (although admittedly this was more because I wanted to talk to them about religion and politics rather than sex – even I am not quite that odd).

The point is that religion is a tricky subject. People get upset much more quickly when talking about religion than they do discussing, say, Hungry Hippos (although I guess it depends on how competitive you are at games). It’s therefore not my intention to go into great detail about religion on my blog, nor do I plan to respond to reviews (be they good or bad) for the simple reason that I find blogging about my animals and my love for strange headgear more entertaining.

But I’m going to make a bit of an exception with this post because I’ve seen – a couple of times now – reviewers state that Gabriel’s religious views in The Ninth Circle are clearly my own. When I talk to people about the book they often expect this to be the case as well. This week I spoke to a book club about The Ninth Circle. I’ve never done this before and I thoroughly enjoyed it. They were a lovely bunch of people who asked me some very intelligent and thoughtful questions about the book. I did, however, get the impression that some of them expected Gabriel Antaeus to walk through the door rather than me. Hopefully by the end of the session they realised that we are two entirely separate people – after all, at no point during the evening did I attempt to attack anyone, or suggest we engage in group prayer (that I can recall).

But – for the record – I am not Gabriel.

Gabriel is a fictional character that I made up and just because the book is told in first person does not mean that I’m simply writing down everything that I believe. It’s probably unavoidable that a little bit of the author seeps into the character, but it’s something I actively try to avoid even to the extent of deliberately distancing myself from my characters (this is another reason why I generally prefer to write male protagonists).

Gabriel is a fiercely religious man, but I do not believe in God. I’m not an atheist, but I am an agnostic. In its attitudes towards women, slavery, gay people, working on the Sabbath etc, I think much of what the Old Testament says is utter – utter – nonsense. That’s not to say that there isn’t a lot of good in the Bible too. But I would never blindly accept every word it says even if, much of the time, Gabriel does.

My name is not Gabriel, chaps. When I write about his faith I’m not writing about my faith, but imagining his. The first thing they always told us in creative writing classes at school was “write about what you know.” I’m afraid I would have to dismiss this completely. Where’s the fun in that? I might even go so far as to say “write about what you don’t know.” I don’t believe that I need to be religious to write about a religious character. Much in the same way that I don’t think I need to cut off my own hand before I can appreciate that it will hurt. Surely you can conceive of these things using your imagination alone.

It’s not that I would ever be offended by people mistakenly believing me to be religious. Far from it. Nor do I get offended when people see my name and automatically assume I’m a bloke. It’s not insulting; it’s just that it isn’t true. But considering what an odd character Gabriel is, it concerns me a little that people sometimes think I am him. It should be a common sense thing, really, and I’m sure most people don’t believe it. Otherwise no one would talk to me at the author parties (or at family get togethers, for that matter). But for those people who do suspect that I am Gabriel, I guess you’re just gonna have to take my word for the fact that I’m not. Honest.

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