#BlogTour The Girls’ Book of Priesthood by Louise Rowland

It is a pleasure to take pat in the BlogTour for The Girl’s Book of Priesthood by Louise Rowland. This book has a title, which may steer readers away from what is an entertaining, realistic and honest approach to what is simply a woman doing a job, which is ‘owned’ by men. Leaving aside faith and religion for a minute, this could apply to any career considered to be a purely man’s domain.

About the Author

Louise Rowland grew up in Bournemouth and studied English at Cambridge. She went on to work as a speechwriter, journalist and copywriter – including 11 years in Munich, Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam. She has a Masters in Novel Writing from City University, where she won the course prize. She lives in London with her husband and has two grown-up daughters. The Girls’Book of Priesthood is her first novel.

Follow @louiserowland20 @MuswellPress

Buy The Girls’ Book of Priesthood

About the book

Meticulously researched, The Girls’ Book of Priesthood is being published to coincide with the anniversary of women’s ordination in March.

‘I mean, you know, someone says “woman priest” and you think the whole grey-hair-bobbly cardigan-house-full-of-cats thing, right?’

Margot Goodwin is a young curate struggling to survive her trial year in the parish, when everything and everyone seems hell-bent on stopping her. Success would mean becoming a fully-fledged priest, something she feels profoundly called to do. Failure would not only prove her father right, but would also delight all the antis who consider women priests at best a joke, at worst, an abomination. But from the very start, Margot faces a multitude of challenges, both personal and professional, from the hostile teenage daughter of her host family, to the married parishioner she is hopelessly drawn to. Can she convince everyone – herself included – that she’s more than a lipstick-wearing, part-timer with a PhD, and realise her long-held dream of becoming a priest.

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Louise Rowland on writing The Girls’ Book of Priesthood

What inspired you to write the book? I started writing the book as part of the Novel Writing Master’s at City University. Initially, I was very keen to do something around the idea of the cuckoo in the nest’: a stranger renting a room with a dysfunctional family and the tensions that would create.

The ‘stranger’ then became a male curate (a character loosely inspired by a young trainee priest friend). That in turn opened up a whole raft of new questions. What kind of person would choose to be a priest? Where would his personal boundaries lie, living cheek by jowl with a messy family set-up? How would he be treated by the teenagers in the house –, by everyone he met in the ‘real world’?Could he ever check out and simply be himself? But it was when I decided to make the central character female that the whole book really came to life. If the role of priest is a tough call for men, try doing it if you’re young and female and likely to encounter a whole extra layer of prejudice and stereotypes (and that’s just from your colleagues).

I wanted to explore who exactly this young woman was; what motivated her; why she didn’t just go off and live a ‘normal’ life; what kind of sacrifices she’d have to make. Would she be able have a relationship without feverish prying eyes?

What research was involved in it?  I was lucky enough to be able to interview around twenty female priests around the country: some of them right at the start of their journey at theological college; some knee deep in training on the job in parishes; and one or two who had been amongst the small initial batch in the mid 90s – including a woman who had marched down Whitehall, banner aloft, like a clerical suffragette.

Did you uncover anything surprising when talking to these women? All the time. How diverse they were as people and how far they confounded the lazy stereotypes: women priests as earnest, frumpy, make-up and men-free zones – well-meaning but completely out of step with the modern world. The women I spoke to shared a razor-sharp intelligence – and most revelled in a robust gallows humour, underpinned by a very clear-eyed appreciation of just what they were letting themselves in for. And several of them were exceptionally glamorous – even in a dog collar!

This is not a ‘Christian book’ – but does it stem from some form of personal experience of the Church or religious faith? I didn’t set out to write a ‘Christian book’ in any sense. What gripped me as a writer was the potential internal conflict of a young woman who desperately wants to fulfil her profound sense of calling – but who also craves the things that most other mid-20s millennials want. A loving relationship, a sense of personal freedom, control of her own identity … fun.

My family and I are part of the congregation at a socially liberal Anglo-Catholic (ie choir, robes, female and gay priests) church in central London. As one of the current church wardens, I help out on a voluntary basis on the administrative side.St Mark’s is an entirely fictional creation – but its depiction undoubtedly draws on insider knowledge of how that whole world works, its rhythms and challenges and some of the personalities that tend to inhabit it.

Faith itself is a very private matter for me – and always been subject to constant questioning, as I think it is for many people. One of the women I interviewed talked about her branch of the Church of England as being very comfortable with ‘not knowing all the answers or having all the certainties’. I’d put myself firmly in that middle of the road camp –sometimes hesitant but still hanging-in-there. I once read an interview with David Cameron where he compared his religious belief to the radio signal in the Chilterns: it comes and goes, at times falteringly weak, at others, clearly defined. To me, that’s the perfect analogy!

(Q&A provided by Muswell Press and Louise Rowland)

Review

Although it may be a blasé and sweeping stereotypical statement – the role of women as the listener, the advice-giver and the problem-solver, is one that has always been attributed to our gender. Perhaps unwillingly when it comes to the same traits in leadership roles, and it is most certainly met with distrust in the role of leadership as it relates to religion and faith.

Revered in the role as the nun, the subservient celibate mistress of the faith and married to God, but regarded as too emotional, not level-headed enough and well let’s just say way too female to lead a flock to their salvation. Always in the supporting role and never in role of the hand of God.

At times I felt this was more about the way society perceives women in general, than just the adjustment and acknowledgement of women in priesthood.

Adding to that particular sentiment is the attitude of her friend Clarissa, who seems to be trying to squeeze Margot into the role society expects her to inhabit, instead of supporting her attempt to win over the patriarchal religious institution and the attitude of both the members of her church, her family and the leaders of said institution.

What resonated with me was the notion that the flock believes the priest belongs to them in some way. A special in-the-flesh messenger straight to God, which automatically means they can infringe on privacy and try to dictate attitudes, clothes and behaviour. Perhaps more so when the vicar/priest is a woman. They forget the person is doing a job and because faith is all encompassing and a 24/7 job, it leaves no room for self-thought or even just the occasional stint as a free person.

I think perhaps the expectation of this book is one of a preachy heavy-handed attempt to look at our existent or non-existent relationships with faith, and the difficulty society has in accepting women as leaders of faith and religion. The latter is true, but Rowland is clear on the notion that this isn’t in any way supposed to be a book about Christians or Christianity, and it isn’t.

It is a story of a woman trying to combine her career choice, and the opposition she faces in a job made-up by men, ruled by men and where the rules are set in stone by men. At the same time she is a normal woman, who wants to have a relationship within the confines of those strict rules, and is trying to navigate the difficult stormy waters of her own emotions and the expectations of her family.

In a way it reads like a sleuth come rom-com with a hefty portion emotional turmoil and political side-stepping thrown in for free, and let’s not forget the sanctimonious attitude of the church towards enlightenment and progression. Just as DNA changes and evolves to withstand and survive environmental changes, so must society and the people within it.

This book has a title, which may steer readers away from what is an entertaining, realistic and honest approach to what is simply a woman doing a job, which is ‘owned’ by men. Leaving aside faith and religion for a minute, this could apply to any career considered to be a purely man’s domain.

Rowland surprised me with this subtle and realistic portrayal of Margot. It has the charm of Father Brown combined with a contemporary voice. It is also a reminder of humanity, of simplicity and of kindness, and yet it is also a wake-up call to chisel away at the archaic systems still at the helm of our ships. It’s time for diversity and equality to infiltrate the crumblings walls of years of patriarchal oppression and automated obedience.

Buy The Girls’ Book of Priesthood at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

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History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

history-of-wolvesWhilst I do agree that History of Wolves deserves a place on the bookshelf of literary fiction you should take a look at, and indeed it is quite a remarkable read. However I did feel as if it lacked a certain purpose, moral of the story and perhaps even direction.

What I mean by that is the many unanswered questions the reader still has about Madeleine, also known as Linda and/or Maddie throughout the book. By the way, the fact her name isn’t a constant factor is indicative of her lack of identity. Is the reader supposed to ponder her guilt or lack of it? Or is it about the neglect she suffers or the loneliness she experiences?

Then there is the whole situation with Lily, and perhaps to a certain degree also with Patra. The flutterings of curiosity and sexuality combined with the colourful imagination of Linda. Is the pity and concern she feels for Lily also in part jealousy and a need to be something less than invisible to her peers and the people around her.

The relationship between her and Paul is sometimes sibling-like and then at other times Linda becomes the pseudo parent. Although the reader gets the impression that her parents are never really bothered where she is and what she is doing, she passes on the things she has learnt from her father to the child in her charge.

Fridlund circles around the topic of paedophilia in an interesting way. You get the vulnerable victim, the predator and the possible scenario, and yet the author also levels out the blame by introducing the awakening sexuality of the possible victims and the positions they want to escape from. So, despite the fact the ‘alleged’ predator is actually one who is thinking of it and tempted, Fridlund makes him the victim at the same time. Of course, this is a double edged sword and leads us into the murky waters of victim-blaming.

I think some of the most interesting passages are the events on the day of the traumatic event. As a reader I began to question what her intentions were and whether her decisions could all be excused by innocence, inexperience and age. In fact, and that is my only problem with the book, I wondered what exactly the author was trying to say. What exactly does she want to leave the reader with? There are so many paths and moral questions, that Linda often seems to slip into the cracks in between all of them. I guess that is the biggest statement of all, how disposable, forgettable and unimportant Madeleine-Linda is and most importantly feels in the grand scheme of things.

As I said, it is definitely worth the read. The more a book gets me waffling and thinking, the more I think the author has done their job.

Buy History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund at Amazon Uk or go to Goodreads for any other retailer.

Lamentation by C.J. Sansom

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Once again Sansom offers up a read of epic proportions with this nearly 650 page long mystery set in the era of Henry VIII during the last year of his life.

Shardlake will do anything for Queen Catherine Parr, almost to the point of obsession. He endangers his friends and family in the attempt to keep her from harm. Danger to the point of near death.

The author melds the details of the complicated religious setting, which prevailed during this time in history, with the story and the characters. The cry of or the mere murmur of the word heresy is enough to make any person fear for their life. Some people use the label to decry and remove their enemies.Unfortunately Shardlake tends to be target for many, because of his past interactions and current loyalties.

Sansom stays as close to fact as possible to give it an air of authenticity and has added an afterthought or notes to explain where liberties were taken to aid the tale.

I do think the story could have been a little shorter and still have given the reader the same kind of read and content. Then again detailed and drawn out tends to be kind of a trait of this particular author.

Sansom ends the book in a way, which suggests we will be seeing Shardlake again. The next time will probably be in the midst of trouble for his new employer, a person destined to create controversy and be at the centre of many a plot.

It will be interesting to see where Sansom takes Shardlake outside of the realms of Henry the VIII’s tyranny.