I missed last week, being at the BSB event, but am back on track now.
The church warden at the church I frequented in the 1980’s once told us a story of how he’d had an encounter with an angel. Said heavenly visitor had come in the guise of a bank manager, bearing a much needed and totally unexpected cheque. I’ve kept that story in mind for years, germinating – would angels really always come with “wings as drifted snow… eyes as flame” or would they be more everyday but no less welcome?
I explored the idea with a ghost who resembled a family solicitor in “Shade on a Fine Day”, but didn’t feel ready to tackle the angels until I had an odd conversation with a fellow author about angels maybe wearing leather (the vestige of that made its way into “Music in the Midst of desolation” in the form of a leather jacket which reminds someone of his old lover). Out of that came the first shoots of the story.
I’m a “by the seat of my pants” writer, developing the story as I write it, and I always start with a character, in this case Patrick Evans. Patrick arose out of one of my obsessions – WWI – and quickly turned out to construct around him an angelic set-up which ran along the lines of a military organisation. (Made sense to me; a God who created the laws of physics would surely have a sensible and efficient system for angels to work in?) Once I had the set up, under the watchful eye of commanding officer Neville, the story arc began to grow. And once the spiky, shirty and highly un-angelic Billy Byrne appeared, we were rolling!
The central thing I had to deal with was how angels feel, coming back to earth again with a mission to fulfil. Do they revert to human emotions, a depth of feeling they may well have forgotten about? Do all sorts of negative feelings flood back, like hurt and anger and jealousy? What if you’ve been sent back to do something with which you disagree, like set your old boyfriend up with a new partner? Those are the things “Music in the Midst of Desolation” explores.
As for the title, that comes from the same Laurence Binyon poem that gave us the lines, “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.” For me, it’s about hope in despair, a small piece of joy amongst the sorrow.