The Poppy Denby Investigates series is not Christian Fiction – and was never meant to be. Some of the characters use mild swearwords, some of them have sex (although not explicit) and some of them are gay – so not what you would expect to find in so-called ‘Christian’ fiction. There are however more than a few traces of faith. Poppy is the daughter of Methodist ministers but is struggling to reconcile her own faith to the exciting new life she is leading in the Big City. She also struggles to reconcile the notion of a God of love with the horrors of the First World War. While other characters – such as the photographer Daniel – have given up on God because of it.
Yet Poppy still holds onto her faith. You will occasionally see her praying to God in difficulties and expressing her confusion and doubts. Other characters, such as Rollo and Aunt Dot, feel judged by the more puritanical expressions of Christianity and Poppy herself wonders at times if it is really a ‘sin’ to drink alcohol, wear make-up and go to jazz clubs. Delilah is a completely secular character who has never given faith a second thought – and probably never will. Then there are characters like Elizabeth who despite enduring endless hardship and disappointment still manages to hold onto the faith which sustains her. Still other characters are Jewish, and although I haven’t written one in yet, there will be Muslim characters in future books too …
For me this is an authentic cross-section of society. Faith – or the lack of it – is part and parcel of the fabric of everyday life; and that’s what I want to show in my books. But the faith of the characters is NOT the point of the story; it is simply part of their characterisation. These are historical mysteries that can be enjoyed by people of faith and no faith and everything in between.
The struggle with faith and the reassessment of the church in society and individual lives was characteristic of the 1920s as a whole so I feel historically justified in dealing with that in these books. The role of the institutional church in promoting militarism was brought into question and many Christians espoused pacifism, while others considered it their Christian duty to defend their country. The adversarial narrative between faith and science was also, sadly, gaining ground in this period and is something I will be alluding to in future books.
But for now I will give the last word to Wilfred Owen who, in 1917, so poignantly struggled to hold onto his own faith in the trenches of the Western Front:
Since we believe not otherwise can kind fires burn;
Now ever suns smile true on child, or field, or fruit.
For God’s invincible spring our love is made afraid;
Therefore, not loath, we lie out here; therefore were born,
For love of God seems dying.
To-night, His frost will fasten on this mud and us,
Shrivelling many hands and puckering foreheads crisp.
The burying-party, picks and shovels in their shaking grasp,
Pause over half-known faces. All their eyes are ice,
But nothing happens.
(From ‘Exposure’, Wilfred Owen, 1917 – as read by Poppy in The Jazz Files)