As an author, I hope that my writings will educate as well as entertain, that they will reach and move people in ways that perhaps even I cannot anticipate. Of course, I realize that not all of my future novels will meet this kind of self-imposed 'test' if you will, but nevertheless, this is something I am conscious of when I write certain books. For example, my next novel which will soon go out on submission to publishers and whose working title is Unusual Steps is really a dark comedy, and was written with no particular lesson or objective in mind. In other words, its goal is to entertain.
Not so with A Son Called Gabriel. With this novel, I was as determined to educate readers about what it's like for a young boy who discovers to his horror that he's growing up gay in a very conservative culture as I was to entertain them with humor and wit. Some lofty-minded authors will undoubtedly scoff and say the author should have no such goal in mind, that he or she should care only about the goal of creating high art. That, too, is also fine, a worthy objective. But, frankly, I don't give a damn if they think this is the only goal in writing quality fiction. I care passionately only that my work is accessible to people who love to read, that they can relate to the story, and where possible, that they can learn something no matter how small in the process of reading it.
I am very happy to report that I appear to have been successful in this mission with 'Gabriel.' Many people have said at readings or they've emailed to say how glad they are that I have written about this complex subject within the context of a novel. Such conversations and emails brighten my day, make me so very joyful that this was my first novel to get published.
Recently, I received an email from a woman who wrote to express her feelings after she'd read 'Gabriel.' I was very moved by her words and wish to share them with you. After I'd read the email, I closed my eyes and said to myself, "This is why I wrote this book."
Here it is:
My name is Rita-Anne. I just finished reading "A Son Called Gabriel". I purchased the book, only having read the inside page and being drawn to it because it is set in Northern Ireland.
By about pages 8/9, I realized that he was gay. That's when I read the reviews on the back cover!
While I have many friends who are either gay, lesbian or transgendered, I found this book gave me a greater understanding of the internal turmoil they experienced as children/young adults.
Having been to Northern Ireland too many times to count (my best friend lives in Belfast), I completely understood the social elements, the familial conflicts and the time frame in which the book is set. And while I laughed a number of times throughout the book, I must confess I cried shamelessly when Gabriel hits his breaking point.
That said, I am sorry the book is finished because I now feel a sense of loss. In addition, I am sorry I didn't get a chance to meet you while you did the signings in the North Wales and Philadelphia areas last month.
Thank you, Mr McNicholl, for writing such a tender, wonderful and insightful novel.
All the best,
It's me who thanks you, Rita-Anne.
[technorati: Northern Ireland, fiction writing, Belfast, writers]