Tim Bairstow on:
THE SHADOW OF YOUR WINGS
Regret is at the heart of this novel, the regret that comes from living a lie. In writing this book, I wanted to explore what the consequences of following the church’s teaching on sexuality actually would be and it was this crushing sense of regret and futility that stood out the most as the story developed.
Jack Lowden, the central character in the book, is in some ways delusional and yet his love for Felix is very, very real. In a sense, it is the only real thing in Jack’s life from that fateful day in the winter of 1995 when Jack first sees the man who is soon to become everything to him. He is old now, but the aching need for love and for sexual fulfilment haven’t gone away; why should they? These things do not wither automatically with age as some in Jack’s position must sincerely hope that they will. The old need love, physical love even, just as much as the young.
Jack is not a ‘bad man’ and I hope that his character comes across as one to be pitied rather than condemned. Jack has at least tried to live according to his vows, even though he hasn’t always succeeded, and it is that very sincere effort that ultimately destroys him. That is the tragedy of Jack; he’s genuine but has been warped by trying to live as he has been led to believe God requires of him. Less admirable, perhaps, are the other ways in which the clergy in the book respond to the injunction that celibacy for homosexuals is mandatory. Suffice it to say that some scenes have the capacity even to make me wince as I re-read them but they are not in any way exaggerated.
Felix, of course, finds reality. That’s not to say that Felix is some perfect person. He’s far from that and, in his own way, is every bit as flawed as Jack at the start. Reality for Felix arrives in an unlikely form; the person of the renegade bursar, Jonas Carter. He’s the outsider, the one beyond the pale in many ways. Thus, he has a choice: to stick within the rules or to go a long, long way out on a limb. It has always struck me as odd, given how the Christian faith began, that the church is so keen to turn on those who break the rules. The founder of the faith broke every rule in the book, after all, every single one! ‘The Shadow of Your Wings’ ultimately contrasts the fate of the rule breakers with the fate of the rule keepers and asks the question: which side do you want to be on?
On last word: many people have asked me if The Society of the Incarnation is ‘based’ on anywhere in particular. This is usually with a nod and a wink, since they think they’ve spotted the place that the Society is supposed to be. The answer, however, is that no, it is not based on anywhere. There are very few Anglican religious orders for men and I do know all of them to some extent. Hence, the fictional place that is The Society of the Incarnation may well contain some echoes of all of those real places; they’re not deliberate as such but it would be hard for them not to crop up. If you spot any of them, enjoy the insider knowledge, but remember: such things are limited to the physical environment only. The people and the events are the product solely of my own fevered imagination; I promise!