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Jerome and the Seraph by Robina Williams

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Letter to Readers from author Robina Williams Book Club
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The Quantum Cat and the Catholic Friar
Author Interview with Robina Williams, Jerome and the Seraph
by Lisa M. Hendey

I am pleased to share the following Author Interview with Robina Williams, author of Jerome and the Seraph the Fiction Book Club Selection for September, 2005.  To read a personal letter from Ms. Williams to our Readers, click here.


Q:  Please briefly describe the plot of your book, introducing us to the major characters.

A:  The two principal characters in my book Jerome and the Seraph are a Catholic friar, Brother Jerome – lately deceased – and his pet cat. When Jerome meets up with his cat, Leo, in the afterworld, he’s shocked to find that Leo’s real name is Quant and he’s a quantum cat – and, like Schrödinger’s Cat, he’s dead and alive at the same time, so he both lives in the friary and pops up in the afterworld. It dawns on Jerome that though he had thought he was looking after the cat, in fact the cat had been looking after him. Quant shows Jerome how, by looking at something, he can shift molecules around and create a gateway to slip from one dimension to another. Jerome returns to the friary to say hello to the friends he’s left behind – almost giving them a heart attack. Meantime, the friary’s Guardian is having a spot of bother with an unwelcome visitor from his own past.

Q:  Your book has so many Catholic elements.  Could you please describe your own faith background, and how this spirituality has impacted upon your writing.

A:  I have always been a Christian. I was brought up in the UK as an Anglican – that is, the established Church of England. However, I couldn’t get past the fact that the Church of England – I am talking here about the Church of England, and not about Protestantism in general – had a very dodgy beginning with the behavior of Henry VIII. It seemed to me that the one true church must be the Roman Catholic church, and during my teenage years I decided to convert to Catholicism. I have been extremely glad that I did, and I feel truly comfortable in the Church of Rome. I don’t necessarily agree with all its doctrines and policies – or with the cardinals’ choice of Pope – but I have no doubt that the Catholic Church carries the mantle of Christ. I love the Catholic Mass and Catholic prayers, and I venerate the saints who have died for their faith down the ages. I feel that the saints are there for us, ready to help us if we will but call on them.

I have had the privilege of having friends in religious orders, and I have been struck by how happy, how contented, they seem to be. There is a lot of laughter in monasteries and friaries – I’m not talking about the silent orders, obviously – and people have fun and enjoy life, for all that their spiritual focus is on death and the next world. They both mourn and rejoice in the death of Christ, for in dying He brought us salvation and life – the only life worth living: that is, life with Him.

When I decided to write a book about an order of friars – an imaginary order, of course – I hoped to convey at least something of this sense of joy and merriment. I wanted to show my friars as contented friars, so I tried to write Jerome and the Seraph in a lighthearted way. And I wanted it to be obvious that my friars were fully appreciative of the gifts that God had given them, so I gave one of them artistic skills, so that he might capture and convey the beauties of the glorious landscape around him, and I gave another friar culinary talents, so his brothers in the friary might benefit from his interest in, and expertise in working with, the produce of the land. This latter theme, of making the most of nature’s bounty, is developed further in the book I am currently writing – the third book in my Quantum Cat series.

And yet, underlying the joyfulness is the deep seriousness of the friars’ spiritual life. I hope I have managed to convey the friars’ devotion to the Lord who died for them and to whom they have dedicated themselves.

Q:  I've read about how you were inspired, by a real life incident near your home, to write this story.  Would you please relate this to our readers?

A:  I lived for a while on a mountainside in Wales, in an old stone house close to a monastery. My house overlooked the monastery graveyard with its old, gnarled yew trees and its ancient gravestones, many of which bore old-fashioned, quaint names that are rarely used nowadays. It was a peaceful, somewhat unworldly, sort of scene, and I thought it would make a good setting for a book.

In the summer I was visited by a cat. He was obviously not a stray and was not looking for a new home; maybe he was curious to see who was living in the house, maybe he was just a friendly cat who enjoyed a bit of extra company from time to time. Whatever; he came and went as it pleased him.

I had written a thesis for a Master of Philosophy degree in English Literature. While preparing a chapter on “Perception” I read about Schrödinger’s Cat that was both dead and not-dead. What a useful character for a story, I thought. So when I decided to write a novel – previously I had been a features journalist – I found that I already had much of my material, including a religious house with its interesting and picturesque graveyard, a wooded hillside setting, and a mystery cat of uncertain origin. As my principal human characters were to be members of a religious community, I decided to make my cat, in his true form, into a seraph, who had been sent by the Lord to look after His servants.

Q::  What type of research was required to write the book?

A:  Mainly I drew on research I had already done for my postgraduate thesis. I was writing about a novelist who had originally been a painter – the English nineteenth-century author Wilkie Collins, author of The Woman in White and The Moonstone – and this led me to take a look at issues of perception. I was interested to find that the observer has a quantum effect on the object being looked, with the molecular arrangement being altered, and I met up with Schrödinger’s hypothetical cat. And Collins was very much in the Pre-Raphaelite circle – his brother, Charles, was a Pre-Raphaelite painter – so I studied Pre-Raphaelite art. So, when I came to write my book, my research was already done – I just refreshed my memory of particular paintings, as I wished to bring paintings into the plot of my story. I created Father Valentine for this purpose. On my web site is an illustrated article about the paintings featured in Jerome and the Seraph.

Q:  The book falls under the Fantasy genre, which means it may stray from official Catholic teaching related to life after death.  Where did your ideas on the afterlife come from?

A:  I can only answer this question in relation to Jerome and the Seraph, which is a work of fiction. Although it is a story about imaginary people and imaginary events, I can only write convincingly about things I know about. As I wanted to write about Jerome’s life in the afterworld, and I have no idea what happens after death, I decided to make his afterlife pretty much a continuation of his life on earth: Jerome’s unfortunate accident in the friary cemetery merely had the effect of transferring him to the beyond-the-grave branch of his religious Order. Since he remained in his Order, still wearing his habit and looking much the same as he had before his death – if a bit transparent at times – this gave me scope for running the afterworld and the present-day world concurrently and enabled me to have Jerome popping back to the earthly friary from his ethereal friary. So, to some extent, as far as this book is concerned, my ideas on the afterlife owe something to literary necessity.

As I was positing the idea of two worlds existing simultaneously, I decided to bring a third world – the ancient, classical world – into this continuous present. I am very aware that the early Christian world owed much, in its artistic representations, to classical art and literature, and as the Greek and Roman civilizations are of interest to me, I incorporated classical characters into my story. Since, as Isaac Watts said in the great, and well-known, hymn O God, our help in ages past, “A thousand ages in thy sight are like an evening gone,” I decided to set my story in an eternal present, for time is one of the four dimensions in our human world – maybe it doesn’t exist outside of our world. As I wished to write about both present-day life in the friary and Jerome’s existence after his early, unexpected, and initially unwelcome, death, and to interwine the two, I decided, for my narrative purposes, to ignore ‘time’ as an orderly sequence of events, and to have today’s world and the classical world running simultaneously with the ‘afterworld,’ and any other worlds for that matter, with one supreme Lord Creator above all other deities: the almighty Father, whom Jerome worshiped in his aspect as Christ.

Q:  Who is your intended audience for this story?

A:  I write for readers who are interested in religion. I quite appreciate that humanists feel that they can live intellectually satisfying lives, but for me personally spiritual belief matters. God is at the centre of my life. I find it hard to envisage life – or a life – without a divine center. And I believe that children should be brought up in a family unit oriented toward worship of the divine Creator, veneration of the saints and angels, and respect for all the Lord’s creatures. While I feel that my books may appeal primarily to members of the Catholic family, I very much hope that other readers will enjoy the books, too.

Q:  I loved the way in which you were able to weave the Arts, poetry and painting, into your work.  Was this a goal of the book?  Why did you feel this was important?

A:  Thank you. Yes, it was my intention from the start to weave together various arts – for I feel that life is a network of associations and interactions. Nothing exists in isolation, and one form of art complements another – and all art and craft is, I think, an act of worship (conscious or otherwise) of the Lord who created all things. To my mind, a work produced by a poet, a painter or a sculptor striving to do his best, and taking pride in what he does, is a work of tribute to the Lord who gave him his gift of artistry or craftsmanship. And likewise with domestic skills: a wife and mother who produces wholesome and tasty meals for her family with the harvest of nature is, I think, endeavoring to use to the full the culinary talents with which she has been gifted.

I am of the opinion that everyone has skills of one sort or another; sometimes quite surprising people, and surprising skills. I wanted to show that even in a friary – which is, after all, but a microcosm of society – there are skills to be made the most of. So, Father Valentine trained as an artist before entering his Order, and is able to use his talents for the benefit of his community – painting pictures for them, designing cards and book covers; and Brother Ignatius was a chef by profession – and his meals most certainly add to the friars’ quality of life.

Q:  What character in the book is most closely related to you, as an individual?

A:  That’s a difficult one, Lisa. You’re quite right to imply that the book must be autobiographical to some extent, for I think that one can only write about what one knows. So, although I wasn’t aware of it at the time of writing, I suppose that some aspect (or aspects) of my own character must be reflected in the characters in the book. I think that maybe I share Brother Jerome’s simple outlook on life. Jerome lives an accepting, rather than a questioning, life. He loves his Lord and wishes to follow Him as His servant. He is not too bothered about the finer points of Church doctrine, for he is not academically minded. It is enough for him that his Lord lived and died for him, and he is happy to devote his own life to his Lord. Although I did not set out to portray myself as one of the characters, maybe, in some respects, I am most closely related to Brother Jerome.

Q:  Is there any message or theme you hope to convey in your writing?

A:  Yes, I hope to convey to readers the message that one must never give up hope. Father Fidelis, having finally mended his ways, is in despair that his errant past is about to be exposed. However, as he glumly sits with his head in his hands, wondering how on earth he is going to get out of this pickle, he realizes that the golden Cross shining on the cover of his missal is a signal to him that help – divine help – is available. Help is always available to us, if we will but ask for it; the Lord and His angels are a constant source of assistance and protection. With a confident heart Fidelis goes along to the chapel to lay his troubles at his Lord’s feet.

Q:  I know that there is a sequel to this story.  Could you share with us any information on Angelos and any other projects you've got in the works?

A:  Angelos is currently being printed, and the paperback will be out in fall 2005 through Twilight Times Books. It is a direct sequel to Jerome and the Seraph – we see, right at the beginning, in what manner Fidelis’s problems are solved – but I believe that Angelos can also be read as a stand-alone book. We make the acquaintance of the friary’s new Guardian, and watch his spiritual struggle, for he arrives with some burdensome baggage; we see Jerome enjoying more exhilarating adventures in the afterworld with his feline companion; and finally we see the quantum cat in his true seraphic form, when Quant unites the two parallel storylines.

I hope that readers who enjoy Jerome and the Seraph will order Angelos when it is out in paperback in the fall. I am part-way through the third book in my Quantum Cat series and I already have a plot for the fourth book.

I should like to thank you, Lisa, for offering me the opportunity to take part in this Author Interview. You have posed some profound and thought-provoking questions. I hope that your readers are interested to read my answers.

For more information on Jerome and the Seraph visit Amazon.

Related Articles:

Letter to Readers from author Robina Williams Book Club
Additional Catholic Book Spotlights