Adrian Plass is one of today's most significant and successful Christian authors and has written over twenty books, including his latest, And Jesus Will Be Born. Known for his ability to evoke both tears and laughter for a purpose, he has been reaching the hearts of thousands for over fifteen years. He lives in Sussex with his wife, Bridget.
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In this interview with FaithfulReader.com's Marcia Ford, Adrian Plass, author of GHOSTS and THE HEART OF THE FAMILY, talks about his inspiration, his "orthodox" Christianity, "pushing the envelope" in his work and the writing that he likes best.
FR: GHOSTS is the first of your 20-plus books to be released by a U.S. publisher. Why do you think the publisher selected that book initially for release in the U.S. ---followed by THE HEART OF THE FAMILY --- rather than one of the others? What is it about those two books that resonates with American readers?
AP: Although I'm not an expert on American readers, I think that Zondervan selected GHOSTS to release first in the U.S. because they publish books that are realistic and tackle important issues. GHOSTS meets some important issues head on --- namely sex and homosexuality --- and yet it's a story about living with faith, with ordinary people wrestling with ordinary problems. I'm committed to helping people take a realistic walk with Jesus and not a pretend one. THE HEART OF THE FAMILY is a book for those who are concerned and interested in family life. It speaks to parents who are concerned with how to raise and relate to their children, which is a universal subject.
FR: What prompted you to write GHOSTS?
AP: Two main things: The first was a church reunion (here in the U.K.) where I met with other members of the church youth group I belonged to 30 years ago. It was quite emotional --- some had lost faith, some were devout believers, and the rest were at various stages in-between. Many were concerned about how the past, present and future fit together, as they felt they hadn't moved on much since days of Youth group. The second was when I spent a night in the most haunted house in England (according to the Guinness Book of World Records, that is) located in Gloucestershire. All the guests, myself included, said we weren't troubled by ghosts, but somehow when you were alone in your room, you couldn't help but wonder about them.
Overall, I've been interested in addressing bereavement and the way we deal with it. GHOSTS was the culmination of decades of wanting to write about something true of the Christian experience. And it was a very emotional book for me to write --- I was in tears while writing, imagining if my own wife had died. I started in the middle and worked my way backwards and forwards because at first I wasn't sure how it would end.
FR: One of the characters in GHOSTS --- a virgin in her 30s --- confesses that there are times when she wants to have sex with every man she meets. While some readers no doubt appreciate that level of honesty, others may not. What kind of feedback have you received about it?
AP: I've had very mixed responses --- some are horrified at the lid being taken off this topic and some are immensely relieved. I've gotten some very vicious letters and others letters of appreciation.
I do want to stress that she's saying this in a particular situation, when people are sharing what's important to them. I would never recommend that everyone splurges out in any situation. When discussing times of feeling lustful or "scurrying around," there is no way to express that delicately. I want to allow people to see that God is involved with topics like this as much as anything else.
FR: How do you respond to Christians who criticize you for including a homosexual character or, for American readers especially, Christian characters who drink and may even drink too much?
AP: I can't understand why people criticize me for including such characters. My homosexual character is non-practicing, a decision based on his faith. As far as characters who drink, that is influenced by cultural practices. Here in the UK, wine drinking is more common. I think people are entitled to enjoying a drink, but I don't support being drunk. I think the issue of drinking is kind of a red herring --- a distraction from the real issues in my books.
FR: Some of your writing contains what we euphemistically call "language." Have you had trouble getting that past the publishing gatekeepers, either in the UK or the U.S.?
AP: I have had one or two problems --- one was with a book called BROKEN WINDOWS, BROKEN LIVES, about working with children in [foster] care. I worked with children in that situation and the swearing level was appalling, so I had to include some swearing in order for it to be true. I often want to ask the people who tell me they don't like the swear word or two in my books, "What do you think of the rest of the words in the book?"
Christian writers will always be on the edge --- we are trying to affect and touch people, which has a risky edge of offending. Sometimes we do go too far over the edge, but I would rather be sticking out my neck than hiding in the ghetto producing stuff that has already been written a thousand times and doesn't make any impact.
FR: Most of your writing, with the exception of GHOSTS, is humorous. How does your sense of humor help you come to terms with living the Christian life --- and getting along with other Christians?
AP: My most successful book, THE SACRED DIARY OF ADRIAN PLAS,came out of immense pain from the church; and humor was a way to deal with it. I'll never be as unhappy enough to write such a funny book --- I received letters from lots of people saying how it freed to them to be themselves with God.
Humor is always benvolently subversive --- it leaves us leaning back in our chair, laughing, and realizing how silly we are, and God laughs with us. We take ourselves too seriously.
FR: You've written essays, humor, fiction, nonfiction and even a Bible commentary. What kind of writing do you prefer?
AP: I enjoy it all --- I really do --- but if I had to pick, I would probably say I prefer writing about the Bible. I really enjoy reflecting and commenting on issues in the Bible and Gospels in particular. I enjoy writing about Jesus.
I am doing just that in my upcoming book with Zondervan --- JESUS: SAFE, TENDER, EXTREME (releasing in spring of '05). I look at the issue of living with Jesus everyday --- through, up, behind, above. At what it means and how you respond. It's something we failing Christians really need --- the encouragement to be stars of everyday Christianity, which is really important to God.
FR: Tell us about your work with World Vision and how it has impacted your life.
AP: My wife Bridget and I got involved because of an ad on TV --- we took the one child sponsorship option. Then we were asked to visit Bangladesh, so we went and visited our sponsor child there, and were impressed by World Vision's mission. So we've done tours, and written various things including COLOURS OF SURVIVAL(Zondervan, 2000). In July we're going to Zambia to look at their AIDS work. We're very happy to be linked to, and support, a useful Jesus-like organization, one that respond to needs.
FR: You've called yourself "the most orthodox Christian I ever met." People who see you as a religious satirist no doubt have a difficult time reconciling those two aspects of who you are. How do you reconcile the two?
AP: Why even reconcile them? I am an orthodox Christian --- I read the Bible and follow it. If you look at the New Testament, being an orthodox Christian means sometimes being rude to important people, kicking people out of temple courtyards, speaking up when otherwise everything inside you says to be quiet. Theologically, I'm boringly orthodox. Though I will confess, I am provocative.
I think people have a hard time dealing that I don't support organizations and movements when they do silly things and label it Christianity.
FR: You started out as an actor, and you've written in a variety of genres. What are your thoughts about writing the screenplay for GHOSTS yourself? What's the status of the movie based on GHOSTS?
AP: I know that I don't know enough about screenwriting to write the screenplay. I would love to give some input, but I'm happy to let an expert write it. They are about to produce the script for it and are sending out a prospectus in order to raise the budget. So it's all go as far as we know.
FR: What kind of books do you read for pleasure?
AP: I read an enormously wide range of books --- lately it's "Dylan Thomas Visits America" --- and I find it fascinating that some of the most beautiful combinations of words come from the most messed-up people. My other favorites include Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, and I'm always interested in Oscar Wilde and Philip Yancey.
FR: What are you working on now, and when can readers expect to see it?
AP: JESUS: SAFE, TENDER, EXTREME is coming in the spring of 2005 in both the U.S.and the U.K. It's a book about Jesus --- but the way I write things don't drop themselves into neat categories so I have to do a lot of clipping and editing --- but I'm really excited about it. It will be of real assistance to people who feel their Christian walk is a bit of a struggle --- it will be something they can read and be encouraged by: the reality of walking with Jesus.
Click here now to buy GHOSTS: The Story of a Reunion from Christianbook.com.
Click here now to buy THE HEART OF THE FAMILY: Laughter and Tears from a Real Family from Christianbook.com.
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