The next novel was something of a magnum opus. It took more than a year to write, then another year of rewriting before I was happy with it, finishing finally halfway through 2001. I pretty much worked only on this, with only a few short stories making appearances in this time.
Mary clocks in at almost 124000 words. It is huge. In its original form it reached 150000, but some judicious editing and rewriting helped knock that down. It tells the tale of Mary and the former police officer who looks after her. Mary is, in fact, the reincarnation or re-coming or whatever of Mary, mother of God. And the story tells the tale from her odd birth, through to her giving birth to the new Messiah. There is, however, some one out to stop this from happening – the wife of a televangelist who thinks she is doing God’s work, but her God is not quite who she thinks it is. There are also three wise men and a Swedish guy who helps save the day.
This story is a theme I have visited a few times – the second coming. A long short story or short novella called II followed the death of a new Messiah in Adelaide, a story I was quite proud of at the time I wrote it (end of high school), but now reads rather stereotypically. A few short stories have also been done, and even an essay. But this tale, I think, captures it best. It has some very overt religious themes… which, it must be said, some religious friends who have read it were offended by. How dare an atheist examine religion like this, and write about Christ! Oh well – offending people could mean it would sell, and make a really bad film.
This was entered in two novel writing competitions (including one which cost me $50), and forwarded to a number of agents (either 6 or 10). All passed. I guess. I only heard back from 5. It was then submitted to a number of publishers, including quite a few that I would not normally consider, but only because of the subject material. I heard nothing from 5 of them, received form rejections from another 6, received a detailed rejection from 1, and received an encouraging letter from another. Over the course of 2 years, it was rejected 19 times (21 if you count the competitions). And yet I still don’t think it is that bad. Mary is another in a long line of whiny teenagers I have created, but her police officer charge, Jason, is not too bad. His former partner (in both senses of the word) is well written, I think, with realistic motivations. The evil woman and the good guy Swede are two-dimensional ciphers. However, the best characters are the three wise men. I probably gave them too much page space, but I liked all of them.
I still think there’s a market for this, and one day I may try again to get this out there.
The room at the back of the Church was not what Mary would have expected for a place of worship. It looked like a school class-room. The mis-matched seats were all set up in a circle, interspersed with bean bags and two couches. Against one wall was a large screen television set up in front of three old sofas, two lounge chairs that matched none of these with a few more gaps that were obviously designed to fit in some of the chairs set into the circle. The teenage girl approached tentatively. She was very late and had waited outside until she saw that the people in the circle – twenty-one of them; she had counted them five times – had stood up and were gathering around a small kitchen-like set-up behind a door near the television.
It was Dave who first noticed her. “Mary!” he cried, running across and grabbing her in an embrace before she could react. And then he was leading her towards a beaming group of people. “Everyone, this is the girl I was telling you about: Mary. Mary, this is everyone.”
“Sorry I’m late,” she stammered. “Got held up at home.”
Dave smiled at her and she could see that it was genuine… and infectious. “That’s all right. You just missed the opening prayer and a bit of a discussion. But we’re all about to grab a cup of tea and watch the movies I rented this afternoon.” He was talking at a hundred miles an hour and she saw some of the others snicker at him, but it was friendly and light-hearted; he actually seemed to be genuinely liked amongst this group of people.
“So grab a cuppa and come sit over with us,” a girl to his left offered, taking her gently out of his grip and leading her into the kitchen while the sounds of chairs being moved behind her reached her ears. “I’m Imogen, but everyone here calls me Immy,” she said once they were alone.
“Mary.” She was barely starting to relax; she felt all too much like an outsider.
“I know.” She smiled and it was warm and inviting. “Dave’s told us all about you. But I gather you’ve only spoken to him once?” Mary nodded and she laughed a little. “He’s like that. Talks and talks… or maybe you hadn’t noticed.”
“I did.” Mary finally giggled a little.
“So, let me get this straight – you’re new here in town and you’re interested in old buildings.” She was not mocking her, but seemed to be genuinely interested. And so Mary merely nodded. “Good. I hope you enjoy our company.”
“Thank-you.” Mary felt the smile widen across her face.
“And what religious persuasion are you?” Imogen asked innocently as she poured her own cup of coffee.
Mary stared at the cup she held in her hands. “I’m not,” she muttered. “Sorry.”
Imogen just gazed back at her. “Really?”
“Really.” She was starting to feel uncomfortable again. Although not the third degree, to her own scared mind it was too close. She was feeling the outsider again… “Look, maybe I should go. I don’t really belong and…”
“No, I’m sorry.” The expression on Imogen’s face softened. “I don’t mean to pry. But I’d like to know one day why you feel that way.”
Mary stared and felt her smile drop quickly. Too quickly. “A relative of mine was killed by a religious cult.”
“I’m sorry.” And the tone of voice was genuine. “Forget it. It’s your life. I really shouldn’t have pried.”
Rejection total: 48 + 19 = 67