A New Book Idea

I had a new book idea on Saturday. And, like my third book, Easterfield, this one feels as though it's writing itself. I can't get it out of my head, and new ideas keep appearing and begging to be committed to words.

But unlike Easterfield, this isn't a book I'm going to enjoy writing. In fact, it's going to be difficult and unpleasant, and if it gets published, many readers are going to be upset and challenged by what they read. To give you some idea of why that might be, here's my proposed backliner:

Jeanette Hesketh is thrilled when her missionary son, Harley, returns home. It’s five years to the day since her husband died, and with Harley back at home in London with his mother and teenage sister her forever family feels as near to complete as it ever could this side of the veil.

But Harley hasn’t been home for long before he announces that he’s been “saved” and is forsaking his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Not only that, but he wants his mother and sister to join him in his new “born again” life and, as far as Jeanette can tell, will stop at nothing to achieve his aim.

But Jeanette won’t let Harley destroy her family or her faith, and she has a few tricks up her sleeve too.

Let the games begin.

It's going to get at the very root of what faith means to people, and the differences between Mormon doctrine and the traditional Evangelical gospel. Chapters are going to be written from alternating points of view, so that readers on both sides of the divide will get to understand exactly why that person feels as they do, what they are experiencing, and how they see their world.

Here, for example, is a section I wrote last night in McDonald's while waiting to drive my daughter home from mutual. Harley has just returned from a particularly emotionally charged meeting at Living Water church.

Mum was still out when I got back, of course. I remembered those interminably long Mormon meetings with a strange mixture of horror and gratitude. Horror because three hours is a lot of indoctrination to endure on a Sunday morning; gratitude because it meant I had a whole hour to myself before Mum got home. And, as I so often did these days, I knew how I wanted to spend that time. I needed to read the Bible.

I was halfway up the stairs before I realised that I had left my Bible under my chair at the Ichthus centre. I mentally kicked myself. Only one thing to carry with me and I had managed to forget it. But it didn’t matter, I reminded myself. I had a Bible in my old Mormon “scriptures”. I would have to make do with that.

I dug it out of the bottom drawer in my wardrobe and sprawled across the bed to read. Within the embossed leather covers alongside the Bible were three more books: the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and The Pearl of Great Price. Books I had studied. Books I knew well, and yet, now, books my soul recoiled from.

I remembered a word Dad had often used in his business as an antiques dealer – provenance. It means the history, authenticity and story behind something. The Bible’s provenance was not in any doubt; the provenance of these other books, these "Latter-day Scriptures", was entirely a matter of faith. I no longer believed them to be scripture, and thus they had no right to share a cover with God’s word, the Bible. I lay my hand across the page. I knew now what I had to do. What the Lord wanted from me.

It was Mosiah 18; one of my favourite chapters once, judging from the red pencil and yellow highlighting, margin notes, and little round patches of warped paper where tears had once fallen on what I was reading. I felt the thin paper under my fingers. I clenched my hand and the paper tore easily. I crumpled it and it ripped jaggedly, too far from the spine. Some tiny text was left on wispy edges. I tore at that too.

After that I pulled out page after page. The sound of tearing paper was quieter and more musical than I might have expected, and strangely pleasant. I could pull out ten pages at a time, but even so it took me over half an hour to remove all the offending pages from the book. And then I stared at it, ruined spine and uselessly gaping cover, and wondered why I hadn’t just thrown the whole thing out.

Because the Bible was too precious. And this Bible, as unreadable as it now was, would be a reminder to me for all time of what I had once been and what I now was. A new creation in Christ. Someone who had had the old errors torn away and was now raw and rough, but still holy.

You see what I mean? Believe me, that scene was hard to write, although not as difficult as the next chapter will be when Jeanette discovers the pages in Harley's bin.

Hopefully, by the end, all readers will have discovered that the divide is far smaller than it looks, and that there is so much ground in common that it really is possible to find tolerance, understanding and acceptance. I feel this book needs to be written, and I am finding it strangely compelling as I write, but it's not a happy experience.


  1. Yikes. I don't envy you this book. The words understanding and acceptance are kind of scary. I'll be curious to see how you define them.


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