Thanks to cyberspace I am able to join Clive Clapson (better known as Authonomy’s Fr Ambrose) in the passenger seat of his venerable Ford Fiesta “Speiraig” at Stirling services in Scotland to talk about his wonderful book The Holy Innocents.
Me: It’s wonderful to be able to talk to you, Clive. I believe that your book The Holy Innocents was quite popular on Authonomy. Can you sum up the plot in a few short sentences for the benefit of those who have not read it?
Clive: Fr. Ambrose is a Priest who just doesn’t fit into the modern Church. Through the manoeuvring of his Bishop, he loses his parish and finds himself blundering around in a world he doesn’t understand. Living in his car, he continues his ministry, and gathers around himself a rather oddball flock.
Me: Had you done any writing (other than sermon preparation) before you came up with The Holy Innocents?
Clive: I wrote poems, hymns, short stories, and a memoir before writing The Holy Innocents. Fr. Ambrose emerged from an unpublished short story I wrote almost 20 years ago.
Me: Who is your favourite character in the book and did you base any of them on real people?
Clive: All the characters are fictional, of course, but a few share some of the characteristics of people I’ve come across in 33 years of ministry. Among the characters in the book, I’m particularly fond of Fr. Ambrose, Agatha and Dave.
Me: Other than the Bible and the Ford Fiesta owner’s manual what are your favourite books?
Clive: “Brideshead Revisited” by Evelyn Waugh and “The Power and the Glory” by Graham Greene
Me: What are the main similarities and differences between yourself and the character of Fr Ambrose?
Clive: He’s much more otherworldly, holy, brave, and benign than I am. I’m very shy and private – something of a handicap in ministry.
Me: What do you consider to be your greatest achievement and your biggest failure in your ministry?
Clive: My biggest achievement has been to keep my faith – no mean achievement, I can tell you! My biggest disappointment has been my failure to significantly increase the congregations where I’ve ministered – but adverse demographics have played their part there too.
Me: I know what the scriptures say concerning idolatry but who do you most admire?
Clive: The Victorian Anglo-Catholic slum Priests: Lowder, Mackonochie, Dolling et al.
Me: Some of the characters in The Holy Innocents – Dave the sacristan in particular – use rather colourful language. How do you as a clergyman feel about putting these words in character’s mouths as I’m sure you would not use such words yourself.
Clive: I drew these characters from life. They’re the sort of people I come across all the time in my present parish, located in a very tough urban neighbourhood in Scotland. Having them sound like cantankerous Boy Scouts would have been ludicrous. I saw no purpose in tidying them up. Besides, I wanted to depict a vivid contrast between Fr. Ambrose’s world and that of the “real world”. Both are alien to each other. Yet Fr. Ambrose is able to be a means by which God acts in that profane place. There are no no-go areas for God. Christ himself descended into Hell to redeem the lost souls. Fr. Ambrose too is redeeming lost souls in their own hell-on-earth.
Me: Had you wanted to be a priest from childhood or did life events push you in that direction?
Clive: Both. Vocation – whether to ministry in particular or to discipleship in general – needs to be affirmed every day.
Me: What has been your greatest challenge in terms of your life and ministry?
Clive: See above!!!
Me: What advice would you give to people who are starting out as authors?
Clive: Write. It may take years before any of it sees the light of day, but keep at it. Read. Learn how great writers write. Have heart. Be more than technically proficient. Have courage. Like any artist, the writer needs courage to put his/her work out there to face possible rejection.
Me: To be honest I am not so keen on the new cover design for The Holy Innocents? What happened to Bradley Wind’s wonderful cover design that you used on Authonomy?
Clive: Sorry you’re not so keen on it. I’m grateful to Bradley for the design he provided for “The Holy Innocents” on Authonomy. However, for publication I chose a number of options provided me by my cousin, a highly thought-of professional graphics artist based in Germany. The final choice was mine.
Me: Have you encountered any criticism from the Church as a result of writing The Holy Innocents?
Clive: Not yet! I’m waiting.
Me: Do you plan to self publish or bring The Holy Innocents out in paperback format? I would certainly buy a copy.
Clive: Thank you! As you know, the Kindle edition is now available from Amazon. I’m now working on the proofs for a paperback edition that I hope will be available soon, also through Amazon. I’m still open to approaches from mainline publishers, though…..
Me: Do you have any last words of encouragement and/or comfort for my blog readers? Please be aware that people of other faiths may read this.
Clive: Don’t give up hope. Even in the very gritty place in which I live and minister, there is still beauty, kindness and love – if you open your eyes to see.
Me: Well thank you very much for your time, Clive. You can download The Holy Innocents from the Kindle store.