Category Archives: BLOG

Northern Light Cinema

Most authors welcome the opportunity to talk about their work. Not just because they might sell some more books, but because they can discuss the themes they have written about.

During the Wirksworth Festival in September I’ll be talking about The Long Road Out of Town at the town’s  Northern Lights Cinema.  BBC Radio Derby’s Andy Potter will be interviewing me, and we’ll follow this with a Q & A with the audience.

I’m very much looking forward to it – and hoping plenty of people turn up. The event is on Sunday September 22 at 2 pm.

Talking to a child about God


One of the failures of mainstream Churches in modern times is articulating its beliefs and ideas about God in a way that makes sense to ordinary people in the street. All too often people are fed cliches wrapped in abstract theological language that no longer carries the meaning it once did.  It sometimes seems as if priests, vicars, and bishops live in another world.

But Dr Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, has shown that it is possible to talk about God in simple language.  When a six-year-old Scottish girl named Lulu wrote a letter to God: “To God, How did you get invented?” her father, who is not a believer, sent it to Dr Williams, who sent the following letter in reply:

Dear Lulu,

Your dad has sent on your letter and asked if I have any answers. It’s a difficult one! But I think God might reply a bit like this –

‘Dear Lulu – Nobody invented me – but lots of people discovered me and were quite surprised. They discovered me when they looked round at the world and thought it was really beautiful or really mysterious and wondered where it came from. They discovered me when they were very very quiet on their own and felt a sort of peace and love they hadn’t expected. Then they invented ideas about me – some of them sensible and some of them not very sensible. From time to time I sent them some hints – specially in the life of Jesus – to help them get closer to what I’m really like. But there was nothing and nobody around before me to invent me. Rather like somebody who writes a story in a book, I started making up the story of the world and eventually invented human beings like you who could ask me awkward questions!’

And then he’d send you lots of love and sign off. I know he doesn’t usually write letters, so I have to do the best I can on his behalf. Lots of love from me too.

What a brilliant – and profound – response!  And from someone who is regarded as a heavyweight theologian.  It’s very much in line with the way Jesus talked. He told stories (the sower, the good Samaritan, the prodigal son) and didn’t resort to complex theological arguments.

If the Churches want to people to listen to what they have to say about human existence and its divine origin and end, then those whose job it is to talk about God could learn a lot by studying Dr Williams’ letter.

Movies can provide spiritual experiences


John Hurt in Shooting Dogs

Movies and church worship both attempt to transport a person out of their everyday experiences to another level. Both are scripted, and both use images, music, symbols, and story. And to do this, they have special buildings. In fact, in Victorian times some Catholic churches even charged admission fees. A seat at a high Mass was more expensive than a low Mass (presumably, popcorn was extra).

Despite on demand TV movie channels, the growth of internet movie downloads, and the popularity of wide screen TVs, which create a mini cinema at home, cinema going in the UK has lost none of its popularity. We clearly still love the experience of sitting with others in the darkness in the cinema.

On the other hand, church attendances continue to fall each year in all mainstream Christina denominations. For example, only around 20% of the four million Catholics in England and Wales now regularly go to Mass on Sundays.

So why are cinemas able to get people through the doors and churches can’t? Films, unlike church worship are entertainment, of course, but they can tell us something about their lives and, sometimes, about God.

It’s not going too far to say that, for some people, movies can provide a kind of spiritual experience they believe church can’t. Certain movies can inspire, broaden our vision and also get us thinking about some of the big questions.

In his excellent book Praying the Movies, Edward McNulty, a Presbyterian pastor, says that some films “help us to understand a little better what it is to be a human being and, in a few cases, even to see a little more clearly the emerging kingdom of God.”

One film in particular that seems to do this is The Shawshank Redemption. Starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins, it tells the story of a friendship between two prisoners and how each of them rediscovers hope.

The film’s enduring popularity stems from its depiction of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity and the idea that each person has the capacity to change.

Shooting Dogs, on the other hand, has an explicit religious narrative. It’s about a Catholic priest, played by John Hurt, who, like the small UN peace-keeping force, can only stand by and watch as Rwanda descends into madness and mass slaughter.

The film is not only a terrifying picture of how a country can disintegrate and neighbours turn against each other, but also a powerful portrayal of a priest living out his faith, even to death.

Movies can leave you with much to ponder. In Evan Almighty, Evan’s wife leaves him because she thinks he is crazy to be building an ark. In a roadside diner, she encounters God disguised as a waiter.

He says, “If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm, fuzzy feelings? Or does he give them opportunities to love each other?”

Movies succeed when the story to tell resonates within us and tells us something about ourselves or gives us a particular insight. By the same token, perhaps the Church fails when the story it tells doesn’t resonate with us and fails to connect with ordinary human experiences.






10 tips on writing a memoir




  1. Before you begin to write a memoir you need to understand that it’s you are not writing an account of your   whole life. A memoir only deals with selected moments from your life united by a common theme. As William Zinsser says in On Writing Well, “To write a good memoir you must become the editor of your own life, imposing on an untidy sprawl of half-remembered events a narrow shape and an organsing idea.”

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Writing a memoir is not about you

Greg revisiting the Derbyshire town he grew up in to complete his memoir The Long Road Out of Town.

Greg revisiting Wirksworth, the Derbyshire town he grew up in, to complete his memoir The Long Road Out of Town.

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