James’s Blog: Writers Wot Have Influenced Me – Part 1 of 4

Adrian Plass.

I hadn’t been a Christian long before I fell in with bad company. And by that I mean that I started reading a lot of Adrian Plass. I read pretty much anything of his that I could get my hands on. I was a Plass junkie. I still consider The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass Aged 37 & ¾ to be one of the finest and most meaningful pieces of Christian humour ever written, while I still have fond memories of making my way through books like Cabbages for the King, View From a Bouncy Castle, Clearing Away the Rubbish and so on. When I was newly minted, starting to find my way and trying to avoid traps for young players, Plass’s insights were invaluable. He is quite excellent at coming alongside his readers and offering meaningful encouragement to those who are struggling.

However, as I aged, the path that God had led me on meant that I often found myself up to my elbows in Other People’s Problems, and – as some of you will know – that often has the amusing side-effect of bringing to the surface All Your Own Problems. I wanted to grow; to change. I didn’t want to struggle through my faith the rest of my life thinking, “Is this really as good as it gets?” I needed solutions rather than sympathy, and as a result I seemed to find myself no longer in the audience that Adrian Plass was writing for.

Despite this, his impact on me in my needy youth was such that I am always interested when I hear that he has written a new book, and will probably automatically buy anything that has the The Sacred Diary name attached to it. Furthermore, there is a very specific piece of his that still influences my attempts at writing today.

As a teenager, I once got the opportunity to hear The Great Man Himself speak. I knew that he was available to sign books, so I bought what was probably the only Adrian Plass volume that I hadn’t read at that time – a collection of short stories titled The Final Boundary. The actual encounter with The Great Man Himself was embarrassing, due to me briefly forgetting my own name, but I still have the faded paperback with ‘To James, God Bless, Adrian Plass’ written in the front.

What I like about The Final Boundary is that most of the stories avoid the thinly-veiled morality tale approach of a lot of Christian fiction. Plass is just happy to just dump a story in your lap and leave you to get on with it. I imagine that Why it Was All Right to Kill Uncle Reginald would have upset a few people in its time. Marl Pit still moves me. The Second Pint is perhaps the closest in style to one of Jesus’s own parables, and by that I mean that it should leave the reader with chills running down his spine. Maybe it was this book of stories that first planted the seed that would one day blossom into The Listening Book, but even if it wasn’t, I know that within is a tale that first opened my eyes to the possibilities of storytelling. It’s a story called Bethel, about a snail who is being hunted by a sparrow, a fat child and a French chef. Without giving anything away, I will tell you that it’s surreal, bordering on the absurd at times, and makes few concessions to the reader. After twenty years, I still can’t say for certainty what message Plass was trying to communicate, and that excites me. Something different reveals itself each time I read, though from the very first time I knew that I was reading something special. It is this story that first allowed me to see that obscurity has value; that you can write something and trust God with its message. In that way, Bethel has influenced me; it taught me to write without fear.