Bedford’s central library was the venue for this year’s Christians in Library and Information Services’ (CLIS) annual lecture.
This was a fascinating two-hander by Tony Collins, publishing director for Monarch Books and Lion Fiction, and Penelope Wilcock, established author of poetry and fiction including ‘The Hawk and the Dove’ series. Their theme was Christian fiction, seen from both the publisher’s and the author’s point of view.
Mr Collins kicked off with a run-down on Christian fiction production in the UK, which is different from the US because much US Christian fiction comes from the pens of evangelicals.
Fiction in general is overwhelmingly popular; people like a good story and are prepared to suspend their prejudices when reading or hearing one. So a persuasive argument wrapped in a good story is likely to be better received than the reasoned argument alone.
There are still dangers, however, in trying to put forward an argument forcefully. Mr Collins instanced two very popular modern secular writers, some of whose later novels he feels descend into unappealing (anti-Christian) propaganda.
According to Mr Collins, Christian fiction should be written by a Christian and should have a thread of redemption running through it, affirming the best things in life — goodness, truth, forgiveness and a spirit of service. When he considers publishing a novel, he is looking for writing that promotes these qualities, but without an overtly Christian agenda.
Ms Wilcock spoke about the process of writing Christian fiction and said she felt it could not help putting out a message, as all stories do.
She agreed with Mr Collins that humans are moved by stories in a way they would not be by doctrine. She added that stories have the advantage of being able to present a debate without having to present a logical ending, and that dogmatism has no place in Christian fiction, with rambling monologues being a particular turn-off.
Ms Wilcock said that authenticity was key to a good novel, with the author getting inside a character or a situation and the reader finishing the novel feeling moved to compassion.
There was an opportunity for questions. One person asked how much it would take for a book to become profitable; Mr Collins said that selling 5000 copies would be regarded as a success.
Pic (l to r): Margaret Keeling, Tony Collins and Penelope Wilcock