Tomorrow marks the fourth anniversary of I Am Not Gog’s publication. There are two churches in Lydia’s story. Four years after publishing it, I have only just realised myself that their two appearances in the novel both happen to separately precede events that lead to the death of innocent men, each of which in turn precipitates great upheaval in Lydia’s life. This was not done consciously, I’m sure. The two church scenes developed completely independent of each other. The story called for their existence and their natural place within it. As writer’s often say, writing fiction is sometimes like excavating dinosaur skeletons. You’re often discovering the story, rather than designing it. It turns out that I’m still discovering this one.
I don’t know whether the way this turned out is something to do with my subconscious as a Christian, or providence, or just coincidence, or any mixture of those things. I do like that it turned out that way, regardless, because it adds a bit more symmetry, rhythm, structure, and resonance.
The first of the two churches is St Simeon's, which is sort of based on two churches in Hinckley. The churchyard was fully inspired by the churchyard of the Anglican St Mary’s in the centre of town (which I used to attend and is pictured above), but, because it has to be a Roman Catholic church, the building would be more modern like St Peter’s on Leicester Road. It matters not, because the building isn’t described at all in the novel. It is called St Simeon’s after St Simeon the Holy Fool, because, at this point in the story, Lydia is about to do something very foolish indeed.
St Gerard’s church in Cleethorpes is a complete invention, named after St Gerard Majella, patron saint of expectant mothers, because Lydia is then with child. There is another saint of that patronage, but his first name, Raymond (Nonnatus), is too unexpected for a saint’s name and would distract the reader.
I was very aware of many other aspects in which the two deaths echoed each other, but I just missed the church connection. At both church locations, most of the action takes place in the churchyard, reflecting Lydia’s status as an outsider. At both, she says a prayer. After each of these prayers, events initiate a path that leads to the death of innocent men, echoing the death of the supremely innocent Jesus Christ, a death which brings humanity's salvation.
Both of the two men’s deaths in the novel bring about great upheaval, compelling Lydia to move in a direction where she will ultimately find her own salvation, across the Jordan (Humber), in the Promised Land on the other side (wherever she ends up). I guess the churches and the prayers represent what Joshua says when he tries to explain his poem in the country park (the Israelites' wilderness): ‘It’s about God being with us on the road to freedom and giving us what we need to get there.’