Click here to see Charity's Child new Kindle version on Amazon
Speaking of being 'born again'... I didn't mean that to be an awful pun when I wrote it, but it does capture one of the themes of Charity's Child, which is set in a tiny evangelical Christian fellowship in the imaginary seaside town of Castlehaven on the Yorkshire coast. I wanted to explore what could happen in such a close-knit community of believers when an outsider arrives and unsettles everyone. Charity, aged fifteen, turns up at a prayer meeting one evening and for Joanne, a lonely young girl of the same age, it's love at first sight.
For Tom, the pastor, Charity brings trouble - an insistence on something called the 'Special Blessing', without which, she says, no one can be truly close to God. Charity's personal charisma and her enthusiasm for the 'spiritual gifts' associated with the special blessing soon become confused in the minds of many of the members of the Crabapple Christian Fellowship (or Crabbies, as they call themselves). Alan, the assistant pastor, develops a fixation on Charity which upsets Joanne, Alan's wife Louise and poor Tom, who is desperately trying to prevent his little flock from exploding into chaos.
Charity and Joanne are 'together', or so Joanne believes. Then Charity announces that she is pregnant. She refuses to name the father - in fact she assures Joanne she has not had sex with any man or boy. The father of her baby is, she claims, God Himself. God has given her His ultimate gift - His own child. Not a boy like Jesus but a girl, this time...
Joanne is sceptical, but she longs for assurance that Charity has not been unfaithful to her. The rest of the fellowship are not at all convinced. There is much speculation about who the father of Charity's child could be. Suspicion falls on Alan, and Tom wrestles with indecision and guilt - he has problems of his own.
Then Charity disappears...
As I said above, I wanted to explore what happens in a small, settled religious community when a charismatic and disruptive newcomer arrives. I made the community a Christian evangelical one, because long ago I was a member of several groups like this. I no longer share all the beliefs of evangelical Christians, but I have no axes to grind and my story should not be taken as criticism of religious faith of any kind. People are people... whatever they believe, whatever their background. If we are not careful, we distort our faith to suit our own predilections and concerns - and to soothe our fears. I believe that's part of what is going on in Charity's Child.
It was one of those books that you write without, for quite a long time, knowing how it is going to end. The revelation of who was the father came as a shock to me - one that still has me reeling.
I hope that the new e-edition will draw in some new readers. I would love to know what you think of Charity's story, either in a comment on my blog here, by email or in reviews on Amazon and similar sites. If you are a religious person (or indeed a convinced atheist), I'd be especially interested to know what you think.
Click here to see Charity's Child for Amazon Kindle (price £1.94)
Recommended age 14+