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 CatholicMom.com Fiction Book Club
Selection for September, 2005. To read a personal letter from Ms.
Williams to our CatholicMom.com Readers,
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.
Your book has so many Catholic elements. Could you please describe your
own faith background, and how this spirituality has impacted upon your
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
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
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
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
www.robinawilliams.com 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
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
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
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
Letter to Readers from author Robina Williams
CatholicMom.com Book Club
Additional Catholic Book Spotlights