I just made a pretty big mistake, and I reckon the Pope is going to be jolly pissed off.

And funnily enough it comes the day after I recently read Neil Gaiman’s advice for graduates. “Make mistakes,” he advises. “Make lots of mistakes. Because if you’re making mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something.”

I wonder if his advice to me would be the same if he heard what I just did.

If I could have anything in the world, it would be a career writing compelling fiction (and buckets of cash!) so naturally I’m doing all sorts of things trying to make that happen. Mostly misguided and confused things, but while I’m fumbling around blindly in this murky industry I’m at least giving it a jolly good punt!

My most recent endeavor is called The Foible (oh God, I just realized the irony!), which consists of a collection of short stories and parables aimed at reflecting the key message of the Bible; love a lot, be true, have faith, keep donkeys, etc. Of course, my stories take place in wildly more relevant settings (in my opinion, which qualifies as at least partly valid because I’m the writer).

I just wrote a piece called “God Turned Up Uninvited”. Anyone who has read it knows it’s not very Catholic Church friendly. Through the mind of Mickey, a young boy disenchanted with the futility of church practice, we explore the foibles of faith and belief. “I never caress magical jewelry while uttering incantations,” Mickey tells the reader. “I’m a terrible Christian.”

When God turns up Mickey is less than thrilled. “What do you want?” he snaps.

The story goes on to relate embarrassing and uncomfortable anecdotes from Mickey’s childhood at the clutch of the church, with his devout mother’s constant disappointment every bit as predictable as the ticking of a metronome.

When I finished writing the story, I gave it to three friends who I knew would be honest. The agnostic hippie said it totally rocks. The Jew said, in very few words, that it’s awesome.

The Catholic hated it.

This is a phenomenon known in this industry as foreshadowing.

Because when they had finished with it, I entered it into a memoir competition I had noted a few months earlier, before I even knew I was going to write this story down.

I clicked submit.

Feeling very pleased with myself and taking great pleasure in the ball of pride swelling in my abdomen, I poured myself a glass of cheap white plonk and sat back, grinning at the glare of the computer screen.

Then I spotted something. The website for the publishing house hosting the competition was still up. What had suddenly captured my confused attention was the company logo.

It was a fish. Not a scaly, slippery fish with glassy eyes and miserable gaping mouth, but one of those simple stick figure Jesus fish you see on bumper stickers all up and down the American Bible belt. Ah. Christians, then. But perhaps I was in luck, maybe they were the tolerant, open-minded liberal Anglican type.

With a stirring sense of unease, I looked up the location of this particular publishing house—and dropped my glass of plonk. They’re based in Ireland.

Jesus fish + Ireland = …

Oh Holy Blasphemous Christ, they’re Catholics! And as if that wasn’t enough, I remembered with sudden horror that just before clicking submit I’d checked the option for a full critique of the piece! What was I thinking? I never do that! What in God’s name had possessed me to pay extra for a critique now?

I couldn’t have just made the mistake of sending an anti-church story to a Catholic publishing house, I had to force them to really read it, and demand that they tell me, in the harsh and brutally honest style publishing companies adopt, exactly what they thought of it. They aren’t going to just reject it, I’ve given them the option to thoroughly murder it! Needless to say, for the foreseeable future I won’t be carrying umbrellas or brass keys attached to a kite string, or any other objects that can conduct massive bolts of electromagnetic charge.

So, Neil Gaiman, you who hope I make many mistakes this year – looks like I won’t be disappointing you! I think this giant blooper counts a whole lot towards my track record of terrible mistakes, and my reward will be plenty of teeth gnashing and tense wailing while I wait for the Catholic publishing house to tell me just what they think of my true story about how a young boy was failed by his church.



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