WunderKinder!

Digital Art by Morris-Henshaw after René Magritte (The Son of Man) [Le fils de l'homme]

Digital Art by Morris-Henshaw after René Magritte (The Son of Man) [Le fils de l’homme]

I never cease to be both humbled and amazed that The Holy Spirit chooses to speak directly to us.

And The Holy Spirit does talk to us.

When I speak of such things in certain company I’m subjected to ridicule and scorn; a person who talks to God might be considered a good person but, in certain quarters, a person to whom God talks is condemned as a lunatic. But, unabashed, unashamed and unapologetically, I will continue in my certainty that the Divine knows me and is sometimes in dialogue with me.

I say sometimes…

…it’s all the more likely that, while either waking or sleeping, The Holy Spirit never stops whispering into my mind’s ear. I suspect that it only feels like sometimes because more often than not I’m too wrapped up in myself to hear and heed.

I know that it is in all of us to experience this dialogue because within each and every person Our Heavenly Father has placed something deep and immeasurably precious; it’s a part of Him and it calls from within us, yearning to reconnect with its Maker. Sadly, this depth is all-too-often a hidden one.

We are regimented by society, restrained by peer-pressure, swerved by opinion and shaped by others’ expectations of us. We conform because we feel that we must; because to think or act outside of the shell which society has woven around each of us is to risk being condemned as (at best) eccentric or (at worst) antisocial. Yes, antisocial; as unwelcome and unpopular as the street preacher who feels compelled to tell the Good News each Saturday afternoon in the local High Street, and for his courage is (at best) ignored and (at worst) arrested for causing an obstruction.

And so we line up, in our shells, and conform as is expected of us because to do otherwise is too great a challenge and far too frightening a proposition. We really shouldn’t be so wrapped-up in ourselves.

I’ve seen confectionary upon the supermarket shelf, in Tescos and in dreams, which tells me all I need to know or understand (for now) of that deep and precious something hidden in all of us. Six wide by four deep – lined up in expectant and colourful rank-and-file, like commuters awaiting the 07:52 to Paddington – each looking identical to the ones either side but each filled with individual and exciting potential; we are God’s spiritual Kinder Surprise Eggs.

Layer upon layer upon layer; the protective metallic wrapping, the fragile outer shell of both light and dark, a seemingly impenetrable capsule that innocent hands pop open with ease (but my impatient fingers struggled with for an eternity) and within…

…hidden from view, denied light or air, by layer upon layer upon layer…

…the prize!

The Kinder Surprise which should really come as no surprise at all, because you suspected – no, you knew – it was in there all the time didn’t you? The surprise is in the unwrapping, and the joy comes of discovering the treasure hidden beneath the mass-produced and identical-to-the-last-and-the-next shell. Like the toy in a Kinder Egg, more often than not the treasure from deep within emerges in kit-form. Instructions need to be followed and some assembly by deft and expert hands is required.

I believe that not only the street preacher, but the commuters to Paddington, the High Street shoppers who tut as they tussle and hurry, and the pourers of scorn who need to believe (for now) that they are autonomous in a Godless world…

…and everybody else upon this beautiful sphere…

…have within them a treasure; buried deeper in some than others of course, but never beyond His reach because He placed it there.

I believe that it’s in everyone; this hidden prize, this glorious spark of potential, this little piece of God. Everyone. I can’t imagine that it’s exclusively within those who profess the Christian faith because I can’t imagine Our Heavenly Father being guilty of such discrimination, nor of Christ’s love being so conditional. Irrespective of colour, creed, gender or credo, we’re all God’s children – His kinder – whether we recognise that simple truth or not.

I speak from hard-earned personal experience when I testify that those among us who allow that which is wrapped up deep inside of us to enter into dialogue with the infinite depths of Jesus’s love can find their lives transformed in ways previously undreamt of. If that divine fragment of God was only within Christians then The Holy Spirit could never have reached me; deep could not have called to deep and I would still be a blinkered and dogmatic atheist. I’m no better or more worthy than the next chap – be they a disciple of Jesus or not – but Christ unwrapped me and assembled what lay within. If He can do all that for me, unconditionally, then He can do it for anyone… after all, I only had to ask.

The potential to live within The Holy Spirit is a gift to all mankind. We all need to talk to God and, opinions of other notwithstanding, we all need to hear Him answer. How can we help others break out of their shells, throw off the regimented trappings of secular conformity, recognise their inner-treasure and bring out that Divine spark within them? Perhaps it’s as simple a job as being unashamedly, unselfconsciously and demonstrably Christian day-in and day-out wherever you are and whoever you’re with…

…and most definitely not hiding your light under a bowl…

…or keeping your prize wrapped within its shell.

Kinder_Eggs

“Six wide by four deep – lined up in expectant and colourful rank-and-file, like commuters awaiting the 07:52 to Paddington – each looking identical to the ones either side but each filled with individual and exciting potential; we are God’s spiritual Kinder Surprise Eggs.”

Who Washes the Watchers..?

BrainwashingI’m a Christian; an unashamed follower of Jesus. He’s an intrinsic part of my daily life and – oh God! – life is beautiful when lived in Him.

To some observers this, of course, indicates the unfathomable depths of self delusion and border-line insanity to which I’ve sank in order to cope with everyday life. Perhaps it’s my certainty of Christ that annoys my detractors the most, but in their opinion a vast and ancient religious conspiracy has brainwashed me. Yes, only the other day that old chestnut – that cliché – was laid before me again;

“Religious people are deluded and you’re a victim of Christian brainwashing,” opined an acquaintance, almost as a passing aside, during an evening gathering in the pub. I think it was meant as an insult… but it’s just water off a duck’s back to me these days.

Y’see, some days even I can grow weary of hearing the same old sub-Dawkins resume blandly regurgitated by pseudo-intellectuals, probably because I know the script chapter and verse… and used to incant it myself in my pre-Jesus days. It bores me – I do hate to be bored – and, anyway, on this particular occasion I didn’t even have the opportunity to respond to my sceptical friend because immediately after stating his all-encompassing opinion his entire attention was seized by the talent show running at a barely audible volume on a television set partially obscured by the pub’s other patrons

As I continued to observe my pub-bore acquaintance, with his red-top rag newspaper tucked under his arm, his all-but unblinking and waxy eyeballs transfixed upon the pub’s television set, his cell-phone grasped in his hand poised to register via text his all-important verdict on tonight’s wannabe pop star, I asked myself;

To what degree am I brainwashed?

I never have been the type who believes the newspaper headlines without giving any thought to who wrote the lead article and what, if any, was their agenda. I’ve always preferred to ask who publishes the newspaper and where their vested interests lie.

There are those, like my mate here, that fret over who might be voted off a prime-time talent show and put their money into the pocket of a media-baron when text-voting for the next teen idol, but then fail to show up for local elections and thus have no say in which political candidate will govern their lives. It seems far better to me to question the desire to see one particular amateur singer triumph over another and I never could understand why anyone would want to give their money to a corporate media giant that plans to manufacture yet another uninspiring and ephemeral, here-today–gone-tomorrow pop star. But I do vote where it actually matters; I have always reported to the polling stations on election days and voted for the person who best represents my political views. One day I might even declare myself a candidate.

Some people know the soap-operatic name of every resident living upon Coronation Street, but have never said hello to the lonely widower who lives four doors down their own road. Odd, isn’t it, how millions of people are quite content to sit and watch television soap dramas that show them the kind of life they could be living if they weren’t sat at home watching television soap dramas…

I know so many people who love their pet dog and spoil it rotten with brand-name meaty chunks in gravy, but then do nothing to feed the destitute and homeless who remain invisible to them. We should love our pets, but we must love people more – even those who smell bad and live in a cardboard box on the same local park where we let our dogs crap.

My co-drinker at the bar, like most of his friends accompanying him tonight, is quick to applaud the courage of the erudite and outspoken atheists who write books, appear on television shows, make documentaries and endlessly flog their one-trick cash-cow, but he is (perhaps wilfully) oblivious to the staggering courage shown by the Apostles way back when or by those who place themselves in discomfort or peril to work in Jesus’s name today.

The suffering of untold millions in miserable and far away lands are, according to many gathered in this pub, some other county’s problem and clearly somehow self-inflicted. But, to be fair, I have seen them make appropriately sympathetic sounds each and every annual Red Nose Day whilst dropping a fiver into the collection bucket… job done for another year.

How many people question nothing and never need to think too hard because all of life is laid out in a secularly-minded, unchallenging, Western-culture-centric media buffet for them to browse and consume? In living an egocentric life void of social conscience, replete with skew-whiff priorities and a staggeringly inept grasp of what really matters in life – work, television shows, pub, bed – is it actually they who are brainwashed?

Probably, I think. I can testify that as an atheist I was blind to the world about me and concerned only with my own little corner of it. I couldn’t see the bigger picture, though often fooled myself into thinking I could. I almost certainly fooled other people into thinking I could too, most often by regurgitating clever stuff that I’d read or seen on telly. Blind leading blind. The deluded deluding others. In my experience Christians are thinkers whereas many vocal and fashionable atheists only think they’re thinkers.

So, am I brainwashed now that I am part of a large body of people who try to joyously live their lives with a Christ-centric worldview, with all the abstract thought, leaps of imagination and leaps of faith Christianity requires? No. If anything, finding Jesus freed me from the Westernised social conditioning that saturates us all from birth. It wasn’t my brain that got washed, but my soul was definitely plunged into crystal-clear waters and cleansed. I once was lost but now am found… was blind, but now I see.

It is, of course, an absolute nonsense to airily dismiss the entire two billion people on this blessed planet who follow the Christian Faith as brainwashed, and having witnessed the pub-bore’s descent into an hypnotised state at the flick of a television switch, and having considered his swingeing and blinkered read-it-in-an-‘God Delusion’-type-of-book-bought-from-a-supermarket statement concerning Christian brainwashing, I suspect that quite the opposite is true; the constant bombardment of bland and uninspiring messages that saturate our lives through the popular media is robbing too many people of their ability to disengage from the material world, think in an abstract manner and make those leaps of imagination and faith that metaphysical thinking requires.

Brainwashed is a lazy word when used in the context that my pub-bore brandished it; a sound-bite attack upon my worldview by a fool attempting to make me feel foolish. But it’s true to say that we’re all surrounded by a social conditioning, and bombarded daily with fatuous rubbish, which has turned many of us into something far less magnificent and wonderful than our Creator intended us to be.

I thank God, then, that my eyes were opened and that I’m no longer living in a soap bubble; the convenient and compartmentalised selfishness of work, telly, pub and then bed. I am occupied with the much bigger human picture; a picture held within the divine frame of my Christian faith.

But what struck me most last night as I surveyed those that surround me – not just the pub bore but many others there gathered, most of whom I know personally – is how at odds my faith-based thinking is with their worldview. Certainly here, in a real pub in the real world with real people and seemingly very far away from Sunday mornings and congregations of like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ, I’m the one with funny ideas of an invisible beardy magic guy in the sky that don’t fit the norm. I’m Christian and therefore counter-culture. Christianity as counter-culture rather than popular-culture seems profoundly wrong to me now. I know the world would be a simply heavenly place if everyone loved Jesus and gave living by His teachings a fair try.

But, yesterday evening, even if I had felt inclined to engage this all-knowing armchair expert in a lengthy and good-humoured discussion concerning matters pertaining to spirituality, faith and pretty much everything else I’ve mentioned above… it simply wouldn’t have been possible; the turning on of the television set had seen him tune-out and disengage from his surroundings – and the throngs of living, breathing, honest-go-God wholly alive and real people about him – entirely.

It was almost as if he’d been brainwashed.

A Very Personal Giveaway…

GIVEN on Kindle

The Kindle Edition of “GIVEN…”

God, the Devil, an atheist… and his Very Personal Apocalypse!

From midnight Pacific Standard Time (which is 8am GMT in the UK) on 29th December 2012, and for a limited time only, the Kindleedition of my debut novel GIVEN – A Very Personal Apocalypse is FREE to download from Amazon.

There are, of course, an avalanche of free Kindle books appearing on Amazon every day, but this is one you really shouldn’t miss. Usually retailing at $2.99, the pseudo-fictional GIVEN – A Very Personal Apocalypse is a mind-bending full-length novel for the mature and discerning reader.

This is labelled a ‘Christian’ book, but this understates its breadth and depth. There are dilemmas, lessons and morals for both the spiritually and secular minded people within these pages. This is without a single preachy word, it’s a fable not a sermon.

- Birdg33k, Amazon.com

It’s a ferocious, bold, urgent and unapologetically forthright work told from the single fixed-perspective of a narrator who barely leaves his room. There’s a sense of helplessness throughout the story, like being in the eye of a storm; the narrator has little option but to hide away in his bolt-hole and pray while everything about him is torn to pieces by (perhaps supernatural) forces beyond his control. This isn’t just a book, it’s true modern literature…

Oliver, Goodreads.com

FInd out more at its Amazon product page: at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk

And you don’t need to own a Kindle device to enjoy Kindle books from Amazon; free reader aps for various devices are available from Amazon here.

Why not grab yourself a copy? Happy New Year!

If Music be the Food of Love…

If_Music_be_the_Food_of_LoveIt was about four years ago when a close friend of mine, named Ray, took quite a fancy to a girl. Besotted, I think, is the adjective we’re looking for here. And why not? She was pretty and intelligent and outgoing and… oh, you know; all those wonderful things that make a young fool’s giddy heart beat faster and mouth turn dry.

But, alas, the young lady in question showed Ray little more than indifference.

Now, the thing is; this girl was really into her music. I don’t mean she was a groupie, or fanatically followed any particular band; I mean to say that she loved to play instruments. She was, I dare say, quite the musician.

But Ray knew nothing about music or the making thereof. In fact he was still under the impression that those black and white things at the front of a piano were called teeth. He was an exceptional bricklayer though.

Ray, always a resourceful fellow and ever a dreamer, decided that he must better himself if he was to hit it off with the girl of his dreams…

He therefore decided upon the bold move of taking an intensive private course of piano lessons. Then, he reasoned, when next bumping into this musical girl, he could fluently converse in the mysterious language of the musicians; he could talk to her of semi-quavers, C-sharps and the fact the Every Good Boy Deserves Favour.

He found a private tutor and learned how to make his meaty and callused bricky’s fingers dance over those things that he now understood were called keys. He also invested as much money as he did time in buying books on music, musicians and other music-related things, which he then pored over day and night. He devoured all the information he could from scores of books, while zealously practicing the keyboard from books of scores. He was, after all, a man with a mission; Ray was doing all of this to win the girl he adored, and what greater motivation could Ray have to succeed?

Six weeks and eighteen very expensive and extremely intensive lessons later…

…Ray was hopelessly in love with his music teacher.

And the feelings were entirely mutual, I must add.

The girl for whom he had gone to so much time, expense and trouble – for whom he had devoted himself to the Herculean effort of mastering the piano in such a startlingly short time, for whom he had learnt a whole new lexicon and developed very a genuine interest in this Liberacean pursuit – was all but forgotten! She never got a chat to him about treble clefs, countermelodies, nocturenes or the Baroque movement of 1600ad to 1750ad because…

…Ray was busy making beautiful music with an entirely different woman.

There’s probably a moral to this story…

…and I suspect that it’s this; despite our kack-handed endeavours to achieve what we feel we want and acquire what we think we need, God knows what’s best for us.

Bound to Overflow

It is my privilage to count among my friends many people who work tirelessly, and without worldly reward or recognition, to assist the poor and suffering in less privileged countries. They travel to parts of the globe where many dare not go, and walk upon mournful ground where others fear to tread. They step far out of their comfort zones to bring a little succour to those in desperate need. Most of them are Christian, and they do what they do because Jesus asks them to.

I also frequently encounter people who question the validity of international charity. “Why should we take care of some other country’s poor?” They ask. “We have our own needy and own causes here to give our money to. Let their governments and their leaders sort out their problems. Charity begins at home; blood is thicker than water!”

Blood and water; didn’t both pour from Christ’s wounds as he died for us all?

Today ‘charity’ is a word strongly associated with giving but, although giving is an act of charity, what charity actually means is love.

Love doesn’t recognise national boundaries or borders; we’re all God’s children regardless to country of birth or shade of skin, and this entire world is the home He made for us to share.

We refer to the seven billion beating hearts upon God’s good Earth as the human race, but perhaps it’s a fallacy to think of ourselves in terms of a race (or, worse still; races). We are the human family for whom Jesus spilled his blood, and we are loved unconditionally by Our Heavenly Father. There should be no ‘them and us’ in family, there should only be ‘we’. And we, as He instructed, should love one another indiscriminately.

It is unconditional love that drives my friends abroad.

“Love without boundaries or borders. Love without limits or reservations. Love brings Heaven down to Earth; love will always win,” to paraphrase my friend Dil who, with gentleness, humility and Jesus at his shoulder, does stuff like this; Touch 1000 Lives

Blood might indeed be thicker than water, but the work of Dil and a great many other unsung heroes proves that love is thicker than blood.

Blinded

When I look at my life it’s often impossible to see the big picture – I just recall fragments from the past. These scattered fragments I see are snapshots of the mournful and difficult times. They are multitude. They are too many. At times I think far too many than is fair[1].

It becomes difficult to focus on anything but the past pain, loss and sorrow during self-indulgent, self-pitying, poor me… poor me… pour me another drink days. Innumerable tiny islands of grief float upon a life that seems as dark and vast as any disconsolate sea.

But these fragments aren’t imagined islands; they’re nothing so grand. They are, however, moth holes in thick, black fabric which, when held up to the window of life, obscures the light almost in totality. What little illumination that remains is forced to shine through the damage inflicted by a thousand tiny insect-incisor nibbles; accentuating them, exaggerating them, making them seem much bigger than they have any right to be.

I try not to dwell upon the past, but sometimes it’s very difficult. I fear that one day that black drape will envelope me entirely.

Online and in the world at large I’ve been all-but a recluse these past few months because – despite my best efforts in faith – I’ve spent too much time staring at the illuminated moth holes that are shotgun-peppered throughout the pitch-black blind. In doing so I have succumbed to my old fear of men and suffered a terrible and lengthy bout of my indigestion of the brain. I’ve ignored obligations, let friends down, missed deadlines, spurned all company, been thoroughly unproductive and utterly unreliable.

I’ve also entirely failed to appreciate the bleedin’ obvious until the Holy Spirit showed me this truth in a dream earlier today;

That black blind is a drape of my own tailoring.

And as I hold it up to the window of my life the brilliance it obscures is the Light of Christ.

Mea culpa.

I need to tear down the curtain, throw open the window once more and let the light shine in. It is an irrational fear of the past that too often brings me to my knees…

…but at least today I will remember to pray while I’m down there.


[1] My pseudo-fictional “GIVEN – A Very Personal Apocalypse” covers the subject with – some say – far too much candour and detail. I’d love you to buy, borrow or steal a copy. Amazon – ISBN: 1475164866 and ASIN: B007Q296GE

Released Today in Paperback and on Kindle…

It’s out.

GIVEN – A Very Personal Apocalypse, my debut novel, is published today.

The story takes the form of diary entries made during the early part of 2010; first person and present tense throughout. Over twenty-one days the narrative charts the complete mental and spiritual collapse of an ex-atheist who, at least at the beginning of the story, is referring to himself as a Christian… perhaps hypocritically and for his own personal agenda.

The attack comes one perfectly normal evening, when what initially feels like a minor episode of angst begins to snowball into a crushing avalanche of inexplicable fear and dread. Something is coming… something is going to happen… and I can’t possibly be a good thing… can it?

The ravenous days and weeks that follow prove to be a very personal apocalypse.

From inside the head of a jaded and misanthropic man comes the tale of a journey through a personal Hell; a story of despair, hope, love, loss, confusion, dreams, visions, insight, loathing, fear, doubt,  faith, reconciliation, salvation,  liars, serpents, truth, light, fasting, prayer, madness, delusion, illumination, guilt, anguish, the Devil, Jesus (and) God.

It’s an autobiographical novel, based a true events. My story. My testimony. Warts an’ all.

Given is available now in paperback and on Kindle from the following vendors;

The paerback's coverThe Trade Paperback: You can currently purchase the Trade Paperback from The Pipit Books CreateSpace Store, Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk

Links:

Pipit Books

Amazon.com

Amazon.co.uk

 

 

The Limited Edition coverThe Limited Edition: featuring an alternate cover, and also signed & numbered by the author, is available exclusively from the given website’s how to buy page. This edition is limited to strictly twenty-one copies worldwide.

Links:

The Given Website

 

 

 

The Kindle coverThe Kindle Edition: is the second outing this novel has as an ebook. This 2nd Edition is the complete, unabridged novel and includes some material omitted from the previous release.

Link:

The Kindle Edition is FREE to download this weekend only from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Here’s  a once-only opportunity to grab the complete full-length book for free, but also a great chance for previous readers of “GIVEN…” to upgrade their beta copy at no cost for the fully polished article. If you don’t own a Kindle, Amazon provide several free Kindle Reader apps for various devices; check out their site.

GIVEN 2 – A Very Social Purgatory is in the works. Stay tuned!

I’ve Got “GIVEN…” Covered… again.

Or should that be recovered?

You can’t, some people are wont to insist, judge a book by it cover. But, casting clichés to one side, I find that more often than not I do. Well, more accurately, when I’m browsing titles in my local bookstore a well-designed and original book cover is far more likely to entice me into picking it up, flipping it over and reading the blurb than any uninspiring and generic one. How many bland, uninspiring book covers did you see during your last visit to a book store or – heaven forbid – supermarket? Most of the ones I saw yesterday were all too horribly formulaic; name at the top in big letters, book title at the bottom in bigger letters and an insipid image (stormy sky / gurning celeb / mysterious landscape) sandwiched between the two.

I put a lot of thought into what the cover of “Given…” should look like. I wanted to design something that goes as much against the grain as I dare without coming up with a design too freakishly different as to alienate a potential reader…

But what I actually ended up designing instead was a one-sheet movie poster from straight out of the early 1960s. I’m like that. That’s what I’m like.

The Trade Paperback – click for a closer look.

The Trade Paperback Cover is inspired by the simple visual style used by Saul Bass on some of his most famous work. You’ve seen Bass’s designs on posters for Alfred Hitchcock’s films and the like, and I’ve always loved his clean style. I then took his clean style and grunged it up to make this tattered poster for a movie nobody saw.

The figure featured shamelessly quotes Dali’s Saint Anthony.

The paperback will be available from The Pipit Bookstore and from Amazon from tomorrow (Friday 27th July 2012)

The Limited Edition cover.

The Limited Edition – click for a closer look.

The Limited Edition Cover revisits the original design for the now-retired first edition Kindle release, and then pushes the battered and neglected motif to the limit.

This ravaged tome, riddled with decay and mould, is yellowed not just by age, but by the acid content of its very fabric. Here is a diary which, like it’s author, appears to be upon the very cusp of disintegration. Here is an edition of the novel with a cover as tainted and ichorous as the atmosphere which permeates throughout the book’s narrative.

Only twenty-one copies of this paperback have been produced. This version of the novel will be available exclusively from the official GIVEN website as from tomorrow; further information will be posted shortly at www.given.ws.

GIVEN on Kindle

The Kindle 2nd Edition – click for a closer look.

The Kindle Edition is the complete and unabridged 140000+ word novel, but perfectly formatted for the Kindle. This is the second edition of the book and features new content omitted from the previous version.

Usually priced at $2.99, this edition will be free to download and own from Amazon during this weekend only. If you own the 1st Edition, here’s a chance to get a free upgrade. If you’ve never read “GIVEN..,” here’s your one chance to grab a copy for free!

GIVEN – A Very Personal Apocalypse will be published tomorrow (Friday 27th July 2012). Updates will be posted here, on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook later.

Slave to the Rhythm.

"GIVEN..." by Morris-Henshaw - various pre-beat paperback proofs.Seventy-six-or-so days ago I groggily slurred g’ morning to some chap in a DHL uniform who’d been knocking repeatedly and loudly upon my front door for the best part of five minutes. Despite the earliness of the hour and the magnitude of my abominable hang-over, this annoyingly cheerful and impeccably mannered gentleman would not leave me in peace until I’d let him give me something. He was most insistent that I accept the bounty he’d brought to my door and asked for my autograph; I had to relent if only so I could return to my malodorous bedchamber and get on with enjoying the surreal and terrifying dreams that frequently follow my nights of excess.

Some hours later, as I drearily plodded about my kitchen cursing not only the lack of decent coffee in my pantry but also the nauseating gaiety of the assembled bird life in my garden, I spotted the ignored and anonymous brown package upon the counter. My clumsy nicotine-stained and trembling fingers scrabbled at the parcel tape and, after some few minutes of fumbling the package was torn open and the contents hit the kitchen floor with a thud.

It was quite a hefty thud; a six inches by nine inches by more than one inch-think thud. A perfect-bound, full-colour-artwork-covered and 456-crisp-white-pages-of-text kind of thud. The hardcopy proof of my novel, “GIVEN – A Very Personal Apocalypse”, had arrived considerably earlier than expected and was now lying ignominiously upon my kitchen floor, at my very feet.

Despite its unceremonious unveiling, and even where it lay upon toast-crumb strewn lino, the paperback looked to be a thing of rare beauty. I heard the cacophony of birds beyond my patio doors fall silent… and then in unison gasp in awe.

I retreated to my lounge, turned off my phone, grabbed a highlighter pen, curled up in my armchair and began to read…

I expected to have finished reading “Given…” from cover-to-cover, interruptions notwithstanding, by that day’s end. I expected the proof to be faultless and perfect, and I eagerly anticipated giving the go-ahead for publication of the paperback edition by bedtime while sipping at my customary milky cuppa tea. I had, after all, read and re-read the entire novel from cover-to-cover over-and-over-and-over again ad nauseam in various different incarnations; on my PC screen, on my Kindle device, and in printed manuscript on A4 paper. I was confident that all glitches, typos, and Attic-esque Bugs (as detailed in my previous post) had been purged entirely from the text, and so proofing the hardcopy was really just a case of one last thorough read-through to assure myself that the work was as good… as perfect… as I could possibly, humanly make it.

It was then that I discovered the rhythm. This was something I’d hitherto not even suspected existed in my text, but there it was; rippling and undulating behind the words I’d spent so long stitching together into paragraphs, pages and chapters; a rhythm… a tempo..? A heartbeat!

I’ve been writing, more for pleasure than gain, since my early teens. I’ve written on many different subjects under numerous noms-de-plume for countless publications – large and small (and miniscule) – over the past thirty years and seeing one’s work in print is always a thrill, but never before have I noticed this rhythm in my writing… or in any other author’s writing, come to think of it. Perhaps what I could perceive as a living pulse wasn’t something that lay behind the text at all, but just the pounding headache in my ale-addled skull.

I cast my eyes over my bookshelf and plucked from the ranks of battered and much-loved paperbacks a number of my most favourite novels. From a few shelves down I also selected some very good but less-cherished writings bound in the near-mint covers of works less-often resisted. I read a few chapters from each of the works of my elders and betters (some of whom you might never have heard of), and there I noticed the rhythm – aye, that all-but subconscious heartbeat – binding together the prose within my tatty ragamuffin favourites.

I then turned my attention to the other works, the well-written and well-told tales by different authors – the ones I’d thoroughly enjoyed reading, but somehow never truly loved – and try as I might I couldn’t find that oddly organic da-dum da-dum da-dum upon any of the thousands of pages. There’s nothing wrong with these other works of course – some by very famous writers – and novels such as these wouldn’t grace my library if they were inferior or paltry works by any measure, but…

…I dunno. P’raps it’s just me.

Another rotten instant coffee saw me revisiting my paperback. Da-dum da-dum da-dum; it is there. This rhythmic beat varied in speed as the narrative peak-and-troughed through spiritual turmoil. I was reading through this book, page after page, with the critical eye of a dissatisfied author surveying his own work so perhaps that’s why an ECG machine in my head had been unexpectedly switched on…

…and then the arrhythmia kicked in.

The heartbeat within the book started to trip, skip, stumble. In places the prose became somehow clumsy; a bump in the road, here a splinter in the wood there. And another, and another. My highlighter pen danced across page after page, zeroing in on sentences – or sometimes just single words – that upset the da-dum da-dum da-dum of the work. Every other page, it seemed, needed key-hole surgical attention.

I cross-referenced the paperback with my A4 manuscript to find that this previously unnoticed beat was there too, but the arrhythmia most definitely wasn’t. Likewise with the Word document on my monitor; no splinters in the smooth finish of the polished pages.

How can this be? After some quiet reflection – and prayer, of course, because a perplexed Christian can always seek solutions in the Holy Spirit – the answer dawned on me…

…the reason is book-shaped!

A novel – even when entirely completed – if still a digital file viewed upon a monitor screen is somehow still a ghost; the intangible nature of back-lit text on a cathode ray tube (I have an old monitor) lacks a certain life. An A4 manuscript – a telephone directory-thick bundle of inky double-spaced Courier text – has more substance than a Word doc but is still in some all-but inexpressible way, not really real. A book is only truly brought to life when it is produced and presented as a book; card covers, lettered spine, perfect-bound pages an’ all. The work only becomes solid when it’s been made tangible and tactile, words, paragraphs, pages and chapters locked together and made immutable as a whole entity. Manuscripts and Word docs are just liquid stages of a mixing process that only the binding of the book – into the shape and form in which your readers will experience it – can make set concrete-solid.

Yes, the reason for my proof copy’s arrhythmia was book-shaped; it was all about the dimensions of the page, the size of the text upon that page and most, most importantly the turning of each page.

The turning of the pages; an involuntarily action by the reader as natural as their heartbeat and as easy as breathing, most of the time a reader engrossed in as good book won’t even notice that they’ve turned the page because the text will bridge that otherwise empty moment if the text’s rhythm… that heartbeat… is a healthy one.

The worst books I’ve ever read have had me constantly aware that I’m just reading a book. The better books – even the very good books – still have me consciously turning the pages. But the great books, the truly satisfying and engrossing reads, have me oblivious to not only the fact that I’m having to turn pages but also to the awareness that I’m actually reading at all!

Seventy-six-or-so days of very minor tweaks; monosyllabic made polysyllabic here, a vestigial word culled there, a chapter break inserted thither and a paragraph moved to yon…

…the manuscript was reworked, and all changes were then (probably needlessly) ‘ported over to the Kindle 2nd Edition.

My novel is ready. As ready as I can make it.

Should you ever read it in paperback I hope that you remain oblivious to not only the fact that you’re having to turn pages but also to the awareness that you’re actually reading at all. I don’t want you to appreciate the hard work that’s gone into telling my story because I ask you only to appreciate the story itself.

GIVEN – A Very Personal Apocalypse is released in paperback and re-released on Kindle tomorrow (Friday 27th July, 2012). It’s a book about God and the Devil and a wretched chap named Morris who once didn’t believe in either until… well, perhaps you’ll read it and find out.