Monday, October 12, 2009

Building My Religion - October 2009

My latest book is the Inspector Starrett Mystery, Family Life. That’s the second of the Donegal Mysteries. The first of The Starrett trilogy, The Dust of Death, starts of with a crucifixion in a Donegal church. So that I wouldn’t upset any of the other many churches in Ramelton I invented the Second Federation Church as being the church where the remains of local master carpenter, James Moore, were discovered.

Once I’d made that decision I started to consider my fictitious church and what faith it would celebrate. Again, so that I wouldn’t offend anyone I needed the congregation of The Second Federation Church to practice a faith that had no similarities to any of the other churches, particularly in a town whose nickname was the Holy See, and, at one point boasted fourteen churches. So I considered what would be a good religion to be part of? I wondered what religion you could be involved in that you’d be proud of.

I’ve always been impressed by congregations who go out of their way to help each other. You know on one hand you can pray to a long-haired, white-bearded man, dressed in white sheets who wanders around above the clouds to, say, come and plough your land, or, even, to help you build a barn, or, on the other hand, you can invite a few members of your congregation around, supply them with food and drink, and invite them to help you with your chosen task. Now because the man in white has been very elusive for the past couple of centuries and because on previous occasions you will most likely have gone to the aid of your fellow congregation members, seeking nothing more than food and drink in return, there is a very good chance that they will heed your request and turn up en mass to help you with your chore.

I know, I know, this is all drastically simplistic but, since an incident in my youth, I’ve always been fine with a simplistic approach to things. When I was young (pre-teens) my mother and father bought me a junior carpentry set. My father was a carpenter and I aspired to be the same. Anyway I got my new carpentry set with all it’s shiny new tools and I futtered around for absolutely ages (weeks possibly months) trying to figure out how to build a wooden chair just like the ones at our dinner table. I was going for the full Monty: legs, seat, back, and strengthening & stabilising supports. The problem was that all of my efforts would end up in a collapsed heap on the floor. My father would continue to encourage me by asking me how I was getting on with my chosen task and I’d always say I was still working on the creation of the perfect chair. Time passed, as it does, and still not a chair in sight and eventually, perhaps with a degree of gentle frustration, my father came in one day from work and on discovering his heir still hadn’t mastered the design and construction of a chair, he took three pieces of wood and he nailed them together in something similar to the shape of a “n”, creating a very primitive, yet functional, two legs and seat. He said, “There’s your chair and, until as such times as you can master better, this will suffice.” Don’t you see his well made point was: ‘at least you have your basic chair and now perhaps you can start to perfect it.’ Or, if I wanted to paraphrase it even further, ‘you’ve got to learn to creep before you can learn to walk.’

So my lesson well learnt, and better taught, I proceeded to consider building my religion.

Personally speaking I’ve always felt that religion should be like a family. For me it’s always been about family life; caring for, protecting and encouraging your family members. If we could only learn to love and look after our families behind our closed doors then once we pass over the front doorstep we’ll be much better equipped to deal with life and with people. But don’t you see as humans we generally seem to be in conflict with things and people, rather than to go along with the greatness of things; this not a criticism because this fundamental flaw seems to be built in to most of us. So, a family type support structure, as in what you’d ideally like from your family, had to be a vital ingredient for my religion

In my religion music would also have to be very important. The healing quality of music should never ever be underestimated.

When I was growing up in Magherafelt I remember going to prayer meetings in a wee hall (and in the summer in the marquee) and being totally turned on by the gospel singing. You know there’s that wonderful sound that’s created by the blend of all the male and female voices and magic is created when their unique harmony creates a third voice. I remember the very first time I experienced this chills-down-the-spine sensation like it was yesterday. I even remember turning and looking around the congregation to see where this new voice had come from.

That was my first major “musical” experience.

The second would have been the soulful sound of the voices of the great singers around the Irish Ballrooms and clubs at that time; Billy Brown, Paddy Shaw, Billy Williamson and Paul DeVieto always sounded wonderful and inspirational to me. Then on the recording front I discovered the works of Ray Charles and Otis Redding, both life-changing events for me.

This unquestionable and unquenchable thirst was heightened when I was working with Van Morrison and we went up to the Shetland Islands to hear the chanters in the churches. I don’t know if you’ve ever witnessed this chanting but the sound of a burly Scottish gentleman chanting his lines in a foreign language (to my ears) for the congregation to offer a reply in their sweet soulful harmonies was just unbelievable; truly another hairs on the back of your neck on full alert experience.

These are the times I’ve experienced the true greatness of men and women and they’ve all been connected by music.

So, when considering the foundations of the Second Federation Church there was always music running through my head and as some of you may know the music that makes the connection with me is the music of the Beatles, Jackson Browne, Bob Dylan, Jennifer Warnes, Karen Carpenter, Neil Diamond and Van Morrison, etc etc.

The cent dropped and everything else fell into place easily for me one Saturday night when Catherine and I were in our house in Ramelton. The Town Band was heralding the triumphant return of the local football team. There was as much excitement as if Wayne Rooney had scored a double hat-trick for Manchester United. The Town Band was playing Neil Diamond’s infectious Sweet Caroline. It was just such a joyous sweet sound and they were delivering it with such passion, vibrancy and in a transparent, feel-good manner. They were, to a boy and girl, all beaming from ear to ear in such evident pleasure at the music they were creating as they danced along Ramelton’s streets.

I was so inspired by them that I immediately made them the cornerstone of the Second Federation Church’s music; I based the church choir on the Ramelton Town Band. From there it was a series of very small steps to Van’s Have I told You Lately That I Love You; Dylan’s Forever Young; Listen by Christy Moore; Here Comes The Sun by George Harrison; You Inspire Me by Nick Lowe; In The Neighbourhood by Tom Waits and then two really big ones for me, Graham Nash’s Teach Your Children, the perfect song for a family and an even better one for the church, and Jackson Browne’s The Only Child with Jackson’s unselfish vital lyric, based around the theme of taking good care of each other, becoming the overlying theme of the First Federation Church.

Yes, Take Good Care of Each Other, I mean, is there really anything more important we can do in our lives?

And now, the bit before I go.

This time I’ve been reading and thoroughly enjoying The Coroner by M.R. Hall; Nine Dragons from the master, Michael Connelly, and the sad, yet realistic and funny Last Shop Standing by Graham Jones.

I’ve been watching the DVD version of the first series of mesmerizing Fringe.

And listening to the re-mastered complete collection of Beatles’s CDs, which are all unbelievably amazing. In fact as Beatle Paul recently said, “listening to these versions of the albums is just like being back in the room with the Beatles.” and he should know he was there.

Cheers for now,