If you were hoping to catch up on the latest events from the Diocese of Lindchester, I'm afraid you've missed your chance. You will now have to wait until August, when Acts and Omissions will be published by SPCK. (They will also be reissuing Angels and Men, by the way.) I've left Chapter 1 here to tantalise any new readers who have only just found out that yes, finally Catherine Fox has written a new novel.
Anyway, for those who can't be doing with novels about sinister fairies, take heart, the sequel to Acts and Omissions begins this Easter. I will be blogging Unseen Things Above in weekly instalments. You will be the first to know about it. Especially if you follow me on Twitter @FictionFox.
That's it from Lindchester for a while. I'm now in the midst of editing the whole year's worth of instalments into something that more closely resembles an actual novel. At the end of the the month I will submit this to SPCK, so that they can get it ready for publication this coming August.
This means that I will be removing Acts and Omissions from this blog, everyone. You have till the end of January to enjoy it in this form, and then you must wait for the published version (real paper book for Luddites, eBook for those who prefer to read electronically.)
It's been a fun year of writing. We will be back in Lindchester at Easter to see what they've all been up to. By which time they will be in the midst of trying to appoint a replacement for Paul Henderson. And I understand that the senior lay clerk, who is a tenor, will be retiring. Which will create another vacancy for an aspiring young tenor to apply to...
When the Linden bursts its
banks, the ancient city of Lindchester is safe.
It rises from the sky-filled fields like an English Mont St Michel. Even when the river keeps to its meanders the
place has an island feel to it. It is
landlocked, though, as far from any coast as it is possible to be in Britain. There are no motorways near. Tourists never Visit Historic Lindchester
because they are passing; they have to go there on purpose. Once upon a time the city lay on a busy
coaching route, as the Georgian inns of the Lower Town attest. But when the stagecoach was superseded it was
twenty years before the railway came to Lindchester, and the city has never
shaken off that backwater heritage.
escape the attentions of town planners, who focus their ruinous zeal on more
important places. Places like Lindford,
county town and seat of local government, its once-beating heart now concretised
by 60s improvement. Lindford still has
its attractions. People must head there
if they are looking for nightlife and shopping malls, for the Crown Court and council
offices and someone to lambast about wheelie bins. Lindford is where you will find A & E and
multi-screen cinemas, trains to London and signs saying The North, The
What does Lindchester have to offer? It is the sort of place where you take your
American visitors and bored grandchildren to mess about on the river and get
punt poles tangled in the willows. You
can visit the History of Lindchester Museum, with its 1970s model Vikings and merchants
in dusty periwigs. You can explore the
cobbled streets, or climb the very steps John Wesley was tumbled down by a mob
when he tried to preach here. This is
where you finally find a present for someone impossible to please—in the
specialist coffee merchant’s, or the antiquarian bookdealer’s. Afterwards you can treat yourself to Earl
Grey and homemade scones in a teashop with beaded doilies over the milk jugs,
just like Grandma used to have.
But above all, on the summit of the island, Lindchester
boasts a medieval cathedral. It is so
perfect it looks like a film set, or a toy Cathedral Close. You expect giant hands to reach down and move
the canons in and out of their houses, lift off the cathedral roof and post the
choristers into their stalls then shake the spire to make the matins bell
It is New Year’s Eve, 2012. Light is fading. Before long the residents of the Close will
be partying. Not the bishop and his wife:
they are away in their little bolt hole in the Peak District. He is a lovely, lovely man, but we can have a
naughtier time without him, because he is an Evangelical. We can drink more than we ought, tell cruder
jokes, be cattier about our colleagues when Mary Poppins isn’t at the
party. At midnight we will reel out into
the Close and assemble in front of the cathedral’s West doors around the giant
Christmas tree, and wait for Great William to tremble the air as he tolls out
twelve ponderous strokes. Rockets from
the Lower Town will streak the sky. We
will cheer and champagne corks will fly—or rather, the corks of special offer
cava, because these days canons aren’t made of money—and we will busk our way
through Auld Lang Syne, not quite knowing the words.
But that is still hours off. Let’s while away the time somewhere else in
the region. The Diocese of Lindchester
is not large, squashed as it is between Lichfield to the south and Chester to
the north; so don’t worry, we will not be travelling far. Tonight I want to take you to an ordinary parish
and introduce you to its priest, someone who toils away fairly unglamorously on
the coal face of the C of E, and seldom breathes the rarefied air of the Close,
except when he’s buying books or candles in the cathedral bookshop, or
attending an ordination service.
Come with me. We will launch ourselves on the wings of
imagination from the cathedral’s spire, swoop down over the city to where the
Lower Town peters out into water meadows.
Do admire the river below, if you can still glimpse it in the dusk. There’s the lake—an oxbow lake! that one
feature of Second Form geography we have retained, when everything useful has
long since vanished—where herons stalk and shopping trolleys languish. We are heading southeast, towards Lindford,
over fields striped with ancient ridge and furrow; cows and pigs, rape and
wheat; this is gentle midlands countryside, with hedges not dry stone walls,
punctuated by mature trees. Soon these
hedges will look like smiles with the teeth punched out. We don’t need to weep for the ashes quite yet,
but they are going the way England’s elms went forty years earlier. Our children’s children will never see their
again: that’s the dreary politeness of 1930s suburbia, the dormitory village of
Renfold. This is where I am taking
you. You will notice that they like
their Christmas lights in Renfold.
Twinkling Santas clamber over roofs like burglars. Blue icicles dangle from eaves. In every garden the magnolias and cherry
trees are festooned with lights. We are
coming in to land now. We circle a brick
church, make a pass over the detached house next door just to be sure: yes,
this is the one. St John’s Vicarage.
Inside is Dominic
Todd. He is seeing the New Year in with
an old friend, Dr Jane Rossiter. I hope
you will suspend judgment on Father Dominic.
I am very fond of him, but I’m aware you will not be meeting him at his
best. Go on in. That’s his cassock hanging on a peg, and that
pompom hat there is called a biretta.
(Insiders will know from this that Dominic is no Evangelical.) Go straight past the study and the downstairs
loo (which every vicarage must have). You
will find them in his sitting room.
rubbish!He is not gay.’Jane put her hand
over her glass.‘I’ve had enough.You can always put a spoon in the neck.’
‘Put a spoon in
myARSE!’ Dominic cried in horror. ‘You do not spoon 1989 Veuve Clicquot!’
Jane gave in. ‘Paul Henderson is not gay,’ she repeated.
‘Yes he is.’
‘Oh, you think
everyone is gay.’
‘Do not. I so don’t.’
Jane recited a
list of those prominent churchmen and politicians who, from time to time, had
strayed into the cross-hairs of Dominic’s gaydar. One by one Dominic re-certified them
gay. A couple of them he had no
recollection of ever identifying before.
Perhaps Jane was testing him?
That would be like her, the cow.
‘Anyway, everyone knows Paul Henderson is gay.’
they do!’ said Jane. ‘Except HIS WIFE.’
‘Even back in
Cambridge we all knew,’ said Dominic.
‘In Lightfoot we kept a list of closet queers and Paul Henderson was right
at the top.’
Dominic was. He couldn’t remember. But Jane was annoying him. ‘Poor, poor Paul! He is so far back in the closet he's in Narnia!
Always winter and never Christmas,’ he mourned. ‘I actually pity him, you know. No, really.’
Narnia before Aslan came and melted the snow,’ said Jane.
Dominic. He was a great shrieker. He sounded like duchess with mice in her
pantry. ‘You can’t say that, Jane! Aslan is Jesus! Every time you say that, an innocent Evangelical
said, ‘ you’re only saying it because you hate him.’
‘I do not hate him.’ Dominic took a prim sip of champagne. ‘One does not hate ones bishop. He is my Father in God. And anyway,’—yes,
they had reached the and anyway stage
of drunkenness, I’m afraid—‘You only think he’s not gay because you’re still in
love with him.’
Jane sat back
and tilted her head, giving this accusation proper academic scrutiny, for she
was a university lecturer. Was Dominic
right? Was she? Still in love with Paul Henderson? She turned the notion this way and that.
While Jane is
pondering, I will provide a bit of helpful background information. Many years before, when she was an earnest
young woman in her mid-twenties and God still seemed like a viable proposition,
Jane Rossiter had begun training for the Anglican ministry. She spent two whole years at Latimer Hall
Theological College in Cambridge. Paul
Henderson was also there, with his young wife Susanna, being great with
child. The Hendersons lived out, but
Paul had a study next door to Jane’s college room on G Staircase. They prayed together in Staircase Prayers,
they attended lectures together.
Together they waded through Wenham’s Elements
of New Testament Greek, in which blaspheming lepers threw stones into the
sea, or carried trees to James in the clean temple. And yes, back then Jane was more than half in
love with Paul Henderson. But as belief
gave way to doubt, she needed ever more urgently to escape from the
clean-limbed heartiness of Latimer to the loucheness of Lightfoot House, where
the liberal catholics trained for ordination.
The Lightfoot students rather pitied the boorish Evangelicals, metaphorically
tapping fag ash on them from their far greater aesthetic and cultural
height. This was where Jane got to know
But that will
have to do for now. Jane has reached her
considered conclusion: ‘Bollocks I am.’
I think we’d
better leave them to it. They are not
far from shouting aggressively how much they really really fucking love one
another, and conking out, so we may as well speed on fiction’s wings back to
Lindchester Cathedral Close. An almost full
moon hangs picturesquely in the sky above the spire. Wind stirs the branches of the Christmas
tree, making the lights dance. The
lights are white. They are tasteful,
because this is the Close, not Renfold.
All around in the historic houses we can see windows—round ones, arched
ones, tall narrow ones—with pretty trees glowing. It is like a huge Advent calendar.
Down in the
Lower Town there is some vulgar roistering. You can probably hear the shouts. Sirens tear the night. A rocket goes off prematurely. It is five to midnight. And now the big door of the canon precentor’s
house opens and people spill out. Next
comes a troupe of lay clerks from Vicars’ Hall.
Stragglers from other houses join the throng and stand shivering on the
West front. The precentor carries a
jingling box of champagne flutes, his wife and sons have the cava. Here comes the canon chancellor, Mr Happy,
and here’s the Dean, Marion Randall—yes, a woman dean! In deepest Lindchester!—with
her supercilious wine merchant husband.
‘Where’s Freddie?’ Where’s Freddie,
where’s Freddie? goes up the cry. Yoo
Freddie woke with a
lurch. What the fuck? He was up on the palace roof still. Oh man.
What time was it? The first boom
of Great William rocked the air. He
scrambled to his feet. Out of sight
below the corks began to pop. He heard everyone
cheering. He’d missed it. His last New Year in Lindchester, and he’d
Should Auld Acquaintance be forgot?
But just then:
how silently, how silently! A flock of red
Chinese lanterns floated up from some hidden garden and over the cathedral. Freddie watched them in wonder. They trailed wishes behind them. Prayers.
Resolutions. This year everything will be different. I will be a better person. Let it be all right. Off and away they sailed into the night,
carried by the wind.
And the days of Auld Lang Syne.
as Amadeus, the cathedral cat, Freddie made his way back over the bishop’s roof
to the window he’d left open.