About this blog

This is a window into the weird world of Anglicanism, as experienced on a Cathedral Close. Has anything much happened since Trollope's Barchester Chronicles? You will still see the 'canon in residence' hurrying across to choral Evensong, robes flapping, as the late bell chimes. But look carefully and you will notice he is checking the football score on his iPhone as he runs. This is also a writer's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the novelist's life. And it's a fighter's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the judo mat. Well, the agony, anyway.

Sunday, 9 August 2015


There are some questions writers get asked all the time.  
  • 'Should I have heard of you?' 
  • 'Where do you get your ideas from?'  
  • 'Have you always wanted to be a writer?' 
I tend to answer as follows: 
  • (frostily) Yes.  
  • I steal them.  
  • No, there was a brief phase when I wanted to be a ballerina.*
* But mainly 'Yes' as this picture betrays:

Having dealt with those hardy perennials of the question-and-answer session, we will now approach the tricky one: Do you base your characters on real people?  The answer to this one is 'No.' To which people generally reply, 'HA HA HA HA HA! Yeah, right.'

Readers seriously underestimate how mad novelists are.  I spend half my life in places that don't exist, in the company of people who aren't real.  I don't need to base my characters on real people.  My head teems with imaginary friends. To be honest, I have almost zero interest in writing about real people.  If I had I'd be a journalist, or a biographer. That would be terrible, as I'd then have a responsibility to get the facts right.  There's a sense in which you have to get the facts right in fiction, of course.  It has to ring true, even though it's made up.  It needs to feel real in its own terms.

In the case of my early novels, the impression of reality is compounded by the fact that I set them in readily identifiable places.  This lured people into reading them as a roman à clef and thinking that if they just knew a bit more about the circles I moved in, they'd be able to crack the code and work out who the characters were.  

With my two recent novels, Acts and Omissions and Unseen Things Above the setting is fictional, as well as the characters.  You'd think this would simplify things.  But no, people just want to know which diocese Lindchester is based on.  I feel I should do a Whistler here, and say it is based on 'a lifetime of experience.'  A lifetime of lurking in churches and cathedrals, of observing people and nature, of brooding and daydreaming.

My method in these books is to identify situations, processes and predicaments in the current church, and to abstract them from their real life settings.  I then experiment to see how they play out in my fiction laboratory (called The Diocese of Lindchester) through the medium of my fictional characters.  There is a lot of waiting and listening involved.  I am trying the whole time to take the temperature of the C of E, to read it correctly, and to resist the urge to impose on Lindchester my own views of how things should be.

We live, as they say, in interesting times in the Anglican communion.  I set out at the beginning of 2013 to blog a larky cathedral sit-com, but seem to have ended up chronicling the church in a period of upheaval and change.  Now and then it feels as though I'm sailing close to the wind on some very dark seas indeed.  Wish me Bon Voyage, as I mend my nets and swab the decks, ready to hoist sail and launch out again in January when I will start blogging Realms of Glory

A taster can be found here: http://realmsofglorylindchester.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/a-new-adventure.html 

Saturday, 27 June 2015


Last night I was at the launch of the amazing Manchester Children's Book Festival 2015 (more info here: http://www.mcbf.org.uk/?from=mmu-homepage-banner) The festival was declared open by the Creative Director of the Manchester Writing School at MMU, Dame Carol Ann Duffy.

It was one of those moments when I was overcome by astonished gratitude that I get paid to do what I'd probably do anyway, as a hobby; plus I get to do it in the same place as so many stellar colleagues.  Admittedly, this feeling alternates with a sense of panic, when I look around at people my age and realise Oh no, we are the ones in charge now!

Once we were officially declared open, it was wine and canapés and mingling.  Or networking, which is like mingling, only you can put it on your CV.  I was busy networking with my colleague Michael Symmons Roberts in a high-powered way, when our group was approached by a magician.
Well, we are a bunch of trained academics.  Scepticism and careful interrogation in the pursuit of academic rigour is our motto at all times.  We watched closely.  We knew there was a trick.  Sleights of hand.  Distractions.  We'd spot them.

The magician proceeded to astound us with impossible feats of close-up magic.  A deck of cards that turned into a perspex block in my hand.  A signed two of hearts that appeared in a sealed envelope. No!  No!  Impossible!  If you have ever seen this type of magic performed, you will understand when I say that we simply laughed in delight and disbelief.  Our considered academic conclusion was that he was using genuine magic.  There was no other explanation.  Furthermore, he would probably disappear through a portal into another dimension at the end of the evening.

'Now that's what fiction does,' I said to Michael Symmons Roberts.  'You know it's not real, and yet you believe it anyway.'

And he, being a poet, replied: 'Well, I'd rather watch magic than read a novel.'  I can only assume he's suffering from a fiction overdose after adapting so much Trollope for Radio 4 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03sfyzp)

For more about The Manchester Writing School and our MAs in Creative Writing and English Studies, and a variety of CPDs, look here: http://www.manchesterwritingschool.co.uk/ 

Thursday, 11 June 2015


It's arrived!  Goodness, I feel as though I'm announcing a birth.  After a long gestation and difficult delivery, both author and novel are doing well.  Here it is:

The cover features another beautiful watercolour ('Masham from the Foot of the Bank') by Ian Scott Massie.  You can see more of his work here: http://www.ianscottmassie.com/ 

I blogged this novel between Easter and Advent of 2014, and after shining it up a bit, sent the MS off to SPCK.  It's published by their new fiction imprint Marylebone House.  With a bit of luck, this will stop bookshops sticking my books in the mindfulness and bible commentary section, where no sane novel-reader will find them.

If you can't get to a bookshop, you can buy a copy here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1910674230
or from the lovely people at SPCK (if you're allergic to Amazon): http://www.spckpublishing.co.uk/shop/unseen-things-above/

I hope you enjoy it, and feel moved to write a positive review.  Bear in mind that I am a judo black belt.  If you write a bad review, I may have to hunt you down like a dog and forgive you.  I will be particularly grumpy if I see any more 1 star reviews saying 'I liked the book, but the print is very small'.  This is a 1 star review of the reader's eyesight, not of my novel.  It is a review of their personal vanity in refusing to get reading glasses.  In fact, if you look on Amazon it actually says 'Frequently bought together: Catherine Fox novel + reading glasses'.

Alternatively, get a Kindle.  With Kindle you can make the print as huge as you LIKE.  But it is a sad irony that the sort of people who are old enough to need reading glasses are also the sort of people who like the feel and smell of a real book.  They can't read a real book, but I suppose they can lie in bed sniffing it and riffling through the pages as they drift off to sleep.

To be honest, I need reading glasses; but I've opted instead to have my contact lens prescription adjusted to monovision.  This means I can very nearly read my own books without glasses.  I can also very nearly read cocktail menus in dimly lit cocktail bars.  I have strategies for overcoming this without resorting to borrowing someone else's reading glasses.  I take a picture of the menu on my phone, then enlarge it.  Or else I call out to the cocktail waiter (in a Lady Bracknell voice) 'Young man!  Would you kindly come here and read this for me?'

Oh, all right: I made that last bit up.  Just as I made up the topless cocktail waiter in Unseen Things Above.  He is not real.  I'm sorry to break it to you.  None of it is real.

That doesn't mean it's not true, though.

Sunday, 22 March 2015


On Thursday I was fortunate enough to be invited for tea in the House of Lords by my mate, the Baroness.  I took along another friend (and fellow novelist), Richard Beard.  He was in a suit and tie, because we'd been warned we wouldn't be allowed in the posh restaurant if he wasn't suitably dressed.  I was briefed that provided I didn't wear hotpants, I'd be fine.

We arrived and went through security, and were asked to wait in the waiting area for my friend to collect us. I have added the italics there so that you, the reader, will grasp the importance of that instruction. Unfortunately, Beard and I didn't hear the italics, and wandered off to look at the peers' coat pegs to see how many names we recognised. There were one or two scruffy handwritten labels, just like there always were at primary school, for the kid who joined halfway through the term.  An obliging peer showed us the former coat peg of Mrs Thatcher.  I asked if she hung her handbag there as well.  He said he didn't know, and looked at me a little strangely.

Then my friend appeared, with a security person bristling in pursuit.  He was in a tailcoat and had the manner of a cathedral steward who has just caught you unhooking a red rope and going somewhere illegal.  A cathedral steward who does not know that I am MRS DEAN, and I go where I please.  This was a lesson in humility.  I've clearly started believing my own hype.  I may be Mrs Dean in Liverpool cathedral, but in the House of Lords, I'm nobody.  I am not even a man in a suit and tie who looks as though he belongs.  I imagine this is why I got stern dressing down for wandering off, while Beard didn't.  I felt like pointing and saying 'He wandered off too!'  But nobody likes a sneak.  On the bright side, it's nice to know that despite the ravages of the passing decades, I still retain the youthful look that people in authority always recommend I remove from my face.  I haven't been told off so thoroughly since I cheeked Miss Dickenson after deliberately lobbing tennis balls onto the science block roof.

We had a wonderful tour through Pugin's bonkers vision of medieval splendour.  Never knowingly under-embellished was his motto.  Red carpet for the Lords', green carpet for the Commons.  This colour coding means that you don't get hopelessly and terminally lost.  Unless you suffer from red-green colour blindness, of course.  We had tea in the posh tearooms.   Anchovy toast and House of Lords fruitcake (insert own joke here).  I took a sneaky illegal shot of the table, with some blatant product placement by my tea companion, whose new novel, Acts of the Assassins,* was launched on that very day.

It's a bit blurry, because I was half-expecting some ex-Marine in a tight tailcoat to appear and bollock me for taking a photo. 

After tea Beard and I went into the chamber to hear a bit of the debate.  We were about to be admitted, when a man in a tailcoat stopped me.  'Are those denim jeans, madam?  In that case, you will have to go up to the gallery.  You can't go downstairs in denim jeans.  The peers are very strict about that. They call it the Devil's Cloth.'

So we followed him upstairs, with me muttering bitterly that my denim jeans were hideously expensive and probably cost more that Beard's suit.  We were pushed for time, and only heard about five minutes of someone speaking about the importance of ensuring foreign science postgraduates didn't stay on and take low paid jobs, before it was time to leave.  We waited outside the chamber for the baroness.  Whereupon another ex military policeman in a tailcoat asked who I was was waiting for, and told me to sit down on a bench and wait.  I couldn't even wait properly.  Unlike Beard, who was all over that proper waiting thang.  He was waiting in a suit, being a man.  Or else he was invisible.  Or hiding behind me.

I did take one more illegal photo, by the way.  In a broom cupboard.  Here it is.  

You can just see my reflection there.  I feel I was part of that long subversive tradition of women being in the wrong.  In the wrong place, in the wrong clothes, with the wrong expression on their face.  Times have changed, of course.  My friend can be an active member of the House of Lords, rather than a suffragette in a broom cupboard.  I'd far rather be in the wrong as a woman in 2015 than in 1915.  But get out there and vote in the General Election, people.  There's still work to be done.

* excellent book, by the way.  Buy it here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Acts-Assassins-Richard-Beard/dp/1846558395

Sunday, 8 March 2015


While I was editing the blog of Unseen Things Above into something more closely resembling a real novel, I made a note of all the music I'd referred to in the text.  I'm just getting ahead of the game, in case the book sells schmazillions of copies and gets turned into a film, like 50 Shades (only with more chasubles).  Then the theme music is all sorted.

Here's Part 1 (of 3) of what would be on the CD.  I just said CD!  That's how old I am.  I'll add YouTube links, just to prove I'm right there at the IT cutting edge, and nearly ready to learn how to embed video clips.

And because a blog post without pictures is like tea without biscuits, I will add some pious Victorian illustrations for your greater edification.

1. 'Will you come and follow me', hymn. (aka 'The Summons') https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GHEjyGfRO7s
2. 'I came to the garden alone'. Sung here by the fabulous Mahalia Jackson: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2eSfKqMRbA
3. 'I the Lord of sea and sky', hymn (lampooned by my sons in their youth, I'm afraid: 'I the Lord of sea and sky./This song's so old, I want to die./But the bishops think it's new, what can we do?') Sung here lustily by the National Youth Choir of Scotland: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcL9S5a3weU
4. 'One more step along the world I go.' A trip down memory lane to Primary School assembly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PXV3dwaeNU

5. 'It's got to be perfect'. (Fairground Attraction.) The theme song of Neil Ferguson, who turned out to be one of my favourite characters:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8gOh0wEgLg
6.'The Sorcerer's Apprentice'.  Never mess with grown up magic, boys and girls. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T8gOh0wEgLg
7. 'God is gone up' (anthem, Finzi) Sung here by Wells cathedral choir, because Lindchester doesn't actually exist: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrs5XR9Pd7k
8. 'Di quella pira' from Verdi's Il Travatore.  Here's the divine Jonas Kaufmann, in the absence of the non-existent Freddie May:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBd87H8TGTk

9. 'If ye love me' Tallis. The Cambridge Singers (in the absence of The Dorian Singers, who likewise don't exist): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqt005j1dB0
10. Bach.  'Kyrie Gott Heiliger Geist' A bit of organ loveliness. Try to imagine the cathedral acoustic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqt005j1dB0
11. Harry Potter theme (a naughty fictional organist wove it into her post-gospel improvisation, but only in my novel.  Real organists don't do that kind of thing): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Htaj3o3JD8I
12. 'The lark in the clear air' (folk song). Sung here by 'Scotland's singing priest' Father Sydney MacEwan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iu12vcbjGHA

Part 2 coming up when I have a moment.  Bless you all.  Enjoy your Anglicanism responsibly.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Final instalment

Here you are: http://unseenthingsabove.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/chapter-31.html Enjoy!