LDV Cushman

Soul Surmise readers know how much I enjoy a good rock biography. I particularly love memoirs. Elvis Costello, Robbie Robertson, Bruce Springsteen, Mary Gauthier, Mikel Jollet and Brandi Carlile have excelled at such a genre in recent years.

Of those I would still like to see published Justin Hayward would be high on my list. As I Have shared before as a 15 year old in an English essay I unpacked why if I could be someone else it would be Justin Hayward and not George Harrison! Quite a thought for a Beatles’ fanatic!

The reason was that it seem that Hayward had all the fame but not so much of the recognition. I was pretty sure that as Justin Hayward I could walk down a street pretty much unrecognised. As George Harrison I’d be hiding away behind the gates of Friar Park!

This of course is the reason that there will be no Justin Hayward memoir. He has kept his life out of the tabloids. He has done all his talking in the music. Forty five years after I became a fan I know very little about who Justin Hayward is.

In the absence of memoirs or even biographies on Hayward or all the rest of the Moody Blues Marc Cushman’s grand epic is what we can almost happily settle for.

As it says on the cover this is Long Distance Voyagers Volume 2. Volume 1 was 800 pages and took us from the beginning through the classic, second phase of the band, Days Of Future Past to Octave. A perfect fulcrum as Mike Ponder leaves and Patrick Moraz joins.

This was a fulcrum for me too. The last Moody Blues album I bought when it came out was Octave. I paid no attention to Long Distance Voyager and The Present and only really revisited anything post 1980 in the last five years.

That was the difference in Volume 1 and 2 for me. Volume 1 I was reflecting back on records I knew and loved well. Volume 2 was me discovering the records as I read about them.

If you are on such a journey then Cushman’s style is perfect. It is more almanac than traditional biography. He takes you through the making of each album, the songs, the reception and the tour thereafter. It is full of fascinating information and reviews, maybe too many reviews. Yet, I could read and listen along. Not only to the Moody Blues records but to the solo efforts even those of Mike Pinder’s sons!

It all begins with Mike Pinder leaving and the revival in fortunes that Long Distance Voyager brought the band and ends perfectly with them almost all together, including Pinder and even Denny Laine, at the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame in 2018. 

Outside the albums and tours there are a few snippets of information. Law suits and issues with Moraz about his membership and Pinder about the sue of the name. Yet, do we know any more about the members of this band at the end of it all - not much. Information of the band’s life partners, children or whereabouts is vague. Which is of course back to why my 15 year old self rather than a Beatle.

As I bask in their overdue membership of the Hall Of Fame I glance back across the second tome of the Cushman series and see myself enjoy Strange Times and Sur La Mer more than I ever dreamed I could. I also have Justin Hayward’s solo albums View From a Hill and Moving Mountains on heavier rotation. I loved Songwriter but hadn’t given these their worth.

I am also surmising the concept of of faith in the Moody Blues. Like the rest of their private lives but throughout Long Distance Voyagers Volume 2 faith appears more often than I’d have thought. I am thinking of John Lodge and Justin Hayward’s growing up in Church structures and watching its influence throughout a wonderful long distance voyage of music and song. 

For Moody Blues fans essential! 

My Review Of Long Distance Voyagers Vol 1 HERE



I have waited four and a half decades for this book. 

In the 70s I loved Jimmy McCulloch. Oh aye, it was then other McCullough Henry who was from Portstewart. I would get to him later. When I fell in love with all things Beatles in the summer of 1976 it Wings At The Speed Of Sound and then, from Santa, Wings Over America. 

Wings were everywhere that long hot summer of ’76. Silly Love Songs and Let ‘Em In were big hits and all over the radio. Wings as a band were solid. There had been no changes in two years and wouldn’t be for two more. Jimmy McCulloch was the young guitar hero in that classic line-up. 

In my teens I needed to know the lineup of bands the way I knew the line ups of my favourite football teams. I knew McCulloch was young and had been in his teens when his then band Thunderclap Newman reached number 1 with Something In The Air. 

When he left Wings after recording much of London Town but before its release I was as gutted as if my favourite player had transferred to another team. I followed him from Small faces to The Dukes to a very tragic early death at just 26 years of age.

McCulloch lingered warmly in my nostalgia for those Wings records but the tea time television show, The Repair Room reawakened my interested. Jimmy’s cousin Margaret Chambers brought his platinum discs to Jay Blades to be restored from a sorry state caused by a leaking roof. Jimmy was of interest again. 

Then as if my serendipity I discovered this book. Little Wing is a thoroughly research book by Paul Salley that trebles up as a photograph album and newspaper scrapbook. Jimmy’s mum it seems kept everything and that has no doubt helped Salley’s writing but also the visuals. 

That might be why it is so darn expensive BUT if you are like me and a Paul McCartney nut then this is such a brilliant side alley. I was intrigued by just how young he was playing in bands. He was like a guitar hero Osmond. It also struck me again how young he was when he died but also how much he had packed in to a life so young. Yet what a tragic loss.

I of course loved the Wings years the best. I took a new interest in Junior’s Farm which is the only time McCartney ever gives a name check in studio recordings. I went searching with more intent to the One Hand Clapping sessions to see what he added particularly to the band On the Run songs. Geoff Britten the drummer at the time called it ‘low end’. Rock power.

That classic Wings band from 74-78 gave in my opinion McCartney’s best post Beatles sound until he teamed up with Rusty Anderson, Brian Ray and Abe Laboriel Jr around the turn of the millennium. Crucial to that sound was Jimmy McCulloch.

I had no idea about all of McCulloch’s rock star friends and who he played with. Pete Townsend was a mentor early on. He played with River Daltery, Steve Marriott and John Mayall. Apparently he was even friends with David Cassidy.  

I recommend, maybe as a birthday present - Little Wing. It is a magnificent tribute to a child prodigy, gifted musician and generally friendly chap! 

Worth the wait!


Saved by A Song

Mary Gauthier has led quite a life. This book is quite the read as a result.

It begins with a police patrol car stopping Mary for drink driving and throwing her in prison. Later in the book she is in an addiction unit trying to work out how she can only maintain relationships for two years. In another place we catch on to why she ends up in such places when she visits the place in New Orleans where she was taken from her mother at birth and adopted.

Mary Gauthier has led quite a life.

Yet, this is not a book about her life as much as it is about her songs. Mary was 28 when she stopped drinking and she still hadn’t written a song yet.

In the Prologue, Gauthier quotes Bruce Springsteen, “Music is a repair shop. I’m basically a repair man.” What Saved By A Song is all about is how songs became the healing energy at the centre of her broken life.

What is unique about the book is that we get to hear about the craft of writing these songs and we also get to see a redeemed life in their writing.

Gauthier takes thirteen songs, eleven of which are hers plus John Lennon’s Mother and John Prine’s Sam Stone and as well as unpacking the art of the writing shares a harrowing but saved life.

God is all over it but not in the traditional sense. I am finding more and more of that. God is alive and well outside of the worn out structures of the traditional form of church. I saw it also in Brandi Carlile’s Broken Horses.

Gauthier sees songs, like so many musicians, as gifts that arrive from beyond - “my work is to be a receiver.” My favourite lines in the book are when she is so happy with a song that she says, “Jesus Christ himself could have come down from above to tell me the chorus needed editing, and I would have had to tell him, “I love you Lord, but I’m not touching it.” 

Maybe Mary Gauthier’s greatest artistic and healing achievement is when she worked with army veterans and their families using songwriting as catharsis. They shared their stories of Iraq and Mary sang them back. It became an astonishing record called Rifles and Rosary Beads. Two get dealt with here, that title track and the very very moving Still On The Ride. 

Saved By A Song is up there with my very favourite music memoirs. It shares what I believe about the art form and is full of Theo-musicology! 

If you are a songwriting fan then you’ll get a lot from Saved My A Song. Gauthier quotes little nuggets from other writers as she shares the secrets of her craft.

If you are fan of Mary Gauthier and particular songs I Drink, Mercy Now, Our Lady Of The Shooting Stars, Goodbye and Oh Soul then you’ll love the inside story even more.




The Raptures

Jan Carson lived in our QUB Chaplaincy community at Derryvolgie Hall. Jan often talked about being a novelist. I spent a lot of time around an array of artists and know how difficult it is to make it.

Jan certainly had the desire. For sure she has worked hard at it. The Raptures is her third novel among a clatter of other books and the first thing I surmise is that she must surely have become one of our very best literary writers. 

Her writing has this ability to lilt along, all conversational. The writing seems to have been easy but is thoroughly crafted. She has this way of putting words on a page that you can actually hear them. That lilt in Ballylack, where The Raptures is set, has a very definite rural country Antrim accent!

On top of this seeming writers ease she can throw original metaphors, catch you out with laugh out loud funnies in places that you don’t expect and create very authentic ordinary people in very ordinary places that feel very very familiar. 

Now, Jan does fancy herself as a magic realist. She blames it on a year long preaching series on Revelation in her Church when she was about 8! In The Raptures that cooky part come out in children visiting our main protagonist Hannah Adger after they have died. They appear in her bath, her bedroom, when she is on the toilet! 

The children dying is the central story of the book, which is neither light or humorous but somehow without eradicating the sadness and sorrow never becomes too heavy. Carson has empathy.

The deaths start as a mystery as one by one the children in the same Primary School class pass away. The book is almost a mystery that turns thriller. Yet, it all happens in this rural village, the interactions of which are more the point of the book than the whodunnit and what’ll happen next.

Jan Carson has some issues with growing up in a Protestant village and particularly in a conservative evangelical home. The role of women in home, church and society gets a constant poking.

With the village I think she does a good job of showing the positives and the negatives. A community where everyone knows everyone can stand together when tragedies like this one happen. On the other side a community that knows each other too well can be fractious and judgementally gossipy. As for Maganda a Philippino wife…

It’s Maganda’s son Ben or Bayani, as is his real name, who nails the issue of Ballylack and any other small parochial place or narrow Church group. “You’re afraid of anything that’s different. You’re afraid of things changing. You’re afraid of everything staying the same. You’re afraid of upsetting people around you by drawing attention to yourself. You’re afraid of being honest about what you’re really like. Basically, you’re afraid of yourselves.” I wonder how long Jan Carson has had that paragraph welling up inside of her.

Fear is very much a root of the problem in the evangelical Christian psyche. Even with the best intentions of withdrawal from life and those people and things that might be spiritually dangerous can lead to arrogance, hypocrisy, exclusivity and a lack of love while over indulging in damning everything outside yourselves. Hannah’s dad’s feuds with her loving Granda Pete is the best illustration here. 

I utterly resonated with the scene when Pastor Bill was in the hospital ward with Hannah and wants to use a pastoral prayer as a conduit to preach to everyone else in the ward. This is not what a pastoral prayer is for. It is an abuse of ministry. So I love the line - "Sinead McConville Nil by Mouth gives him the finger and then adding insult to injury, swiftly crosses herself”. LOL!

Yet, Jan knows there is some good in there. I find Hannah’s honest wrestling with faith and God and prayer a good thing. I am obviously not against church leaders praying for Hannah. There are moments though where I think the prayer ministry can become a circus rather than a compassionate focus on the one being prayed for. 

Which is when Hannah’s mother, like all women in Ballylack submissive to their husbands until now, stands up to her husband and throws the great Belfast healer out of the house to simply be with her daughter in what might be her time of dying. Indeed, does God heal when a sense of justice and love has won and the circus of religion has had their tables turned over? 

It is a fascinating twist to the seemingly constant suspicion of belief and prayer that a miracle does happen. At the end of the book, having exposed many of the short falls of narrow faith communities, the cynical secular are also exposed. When the crisis management officer assigned to the village during the tragedy is summing up he has a major issue - the ‘miracle’ word. 

“He keeps the details loose and thin. He’s been told to stick to medical terms - full recovery, cured, prognosis - avoid all mention of holy shenanigans.” 

A mystery one might call it and that is what Jan named at the 4 Corners Festival as one of her biggest frustrations with the modern church.

There is so much more in this book. There are Carson loves throughout - a wee bit of Casualty here, a smidgen of Poirot there, the influence of Flannery O’Connor and Anna Burns everywhere and a beautiful Bob Dylan throwaway - “5 believers” - obviously!

I haven’t even got to the dead kids who remain in another Ballylack repeating the divisions and fractions of their parents! 

Which might lead us to some nihilist hopelessness but do not let it because the book’s first and last lines are paraphrases of a Lyra McKee quote - “It won’t always be like this. It’s going to get better.”


Mellencamp Rees

Paul Rees account of the life of John Mellencamp didn’t paint over the warts. On every page we hear about Mellencamp’s hard headedness and belligerent behaviour towards his friends and bandmates. You wonder why any of his band ever stayed around. Yet, though there was a trail of members leaving, they are usually after decades of Mellencamp’s authoritarian anger.

You also find yourself wondering how Mellencamp made it at all. His early efforts at writing songs and making records don’t seem to be a genius being unlucky when it doesn’t happen immediately so much as a very average songwriter being lucky enough to get another chance.

Somewhere out of the Indiana blue this 30 year old making his fifth record hits a rich vein of form and takes off into the rock star stratosphere. Jack and Diane, Hurts So Good, Pink Houses, Small Town, Rain On The Scarecrow and Paper on Fire. Song after song. In the end we are the lucky ones that he got the chances. 

Into his 40s and Mellencamp has enough success to keep himself in the mix but the muse just doesn’t seem to be right. He takes up painting and not just for fun. Today, he might be as good at the painting as the writing.

Now, this is where it all got very interesting. I last got excited about John Mellencamp when I played Peaceful World up loud in brand new high end 4x4 that the car rental company gave me for the two days that our minibus was broken down in Cape Town.

Paul Rees and John Mellencamp suggest, I now believe rightly that Mellencamp found his musical identity in his 50s. Perhaps with Freedom Road but particularly with Life, Death, Love and Freedom John Mellencamp discovered himself as an Americana songwriting troubadour in the same tradition as Dylan, Cash and Guthrie.

Helping him do this was T-Bone Burnett who was able to gain Mellencamp’s respect and pastorally deal with his artistically highly strung disposition. Life, Death, Love and Freedom followed by No Better Than were eureka albums in Mellencamp discovering his place and finding his very best work would take place in his 50s and 60s. 

Rees’ book is like the evolution of an artist whose best work might even be in his 70s. He has a new record coming out called Strictly One-Eyed Jack, three songs on which Bruce Springsteen guests on. I feel lucky that we all get to hear it. 


Best selling classic books


I blogged: 

On the back cover there is quotation of Adrienne Rich “without tenderness we are in hell”. Damian’s words tend to be all about
keeping us out of hell and nudging us in other directions.




Co- writer Austen Ivery will be a speaker at 4 Corners Festival 2022. I blogged:

He is speaking into the new polarisation all over the world, particular evident in recent events in America, but his words should be heeded in the midst of our own eccentric fundamentalisms and deep divide.




This one could have been higher but I haven't finished it yet. A tough memoir in which my friend Amy takes the scars of her abusive relationship on an Alaskan road trip with Joy “Mothertrucker” Wiebe, traversing the most dangerous road in America...



I blogged:

Like a holy ghost Lynette seeks the letting go of the fears that keep our characters and our wee country static.




I blogged:

Confining himself to one building, big as it might be, Amor Towles has done a great job to give us 462 pages over 31 years. He has filled a book with genres -  part history, part political, part philosophical, part romance, part espionage.




The second on the Thursday Murder Club series...I blogged:

More than not disappointing. The Man Who Died Twice has all the wonderful familiar characters of Osman’s debut but the second thriller is a step up again. If Spielberg thought he had a blockbusting movie when he bought the rights to The Thursday Murder Club I hope he included the sequel in the contract.




I blogged:

Where The Crawdads Sing is something else. After a slow thirty pages or so Delia Owens, in her debut novel at 70 years of age, charms us and grabs our attention. With the most beautiful of fictional characters and gorgeousness of geographical locations we find ourselves captives to a page turner.



3. WINN COLLIERS - A BURNING IN MY BONES; The Authorised Biography of Eugene Peterson

I blogged:

For most of my 33 years ordained I have felt a little odd, eccentric, black sheep. I thought I was alone. That there was someone else out there like me was consoling in itself but that it happened to be Eugene Peterson made it utterly joyful. I was close to tearful during paragraphs.

Winn has done an amazing job with Eugene’s life. For those who somehow don’t know Eugene Peterson, he was a pastor, author and college Professor. He is perhaps most famous for his paraphrase/translation of the Bible that became known as The Message.




                SUE DIVIN - GUARD YOUR HEART

I could not separate them. Both books out of Derry. Kerri's a memoir dealing with her own trauma of the Troubles and the healing of environmental space and place, Sue's a novel about how a younger generation seem trapped in the decisions an older generation are making for them. 


I blogged about THIN PLACES:

Thin Places is no tome but it has so much going on that it is difficult to do it justice. It is a deep soul trawler eeking out life wisdom from the darkness and whatever flickers of light.  Like Colum McCann’s Apeirogon there’s a lot of threads weaving the brilliance.



I blogged about GUARD YOUR HEART:

Within the Romeo and Juliet template Divin tells her tale with dramatic ebb and flow. It is believable on all levels. Even when it might seems that she has stretched to contrive, as in Aiden and Iona are both born on the day of the Good Friday Agreement, VAR would always give her the benefit of the doubt. The characters are authentic, the psycho-geography of Derry/Londonderry/Doire works a treat. 








Starting Over

I found this a fascinating book. It is an interesting layout. Ken Sharp never gives opinion or commentary but merely allows the major players in the historical piece. You therefore get the stories and quotes from all the session players, producer and engineers and anyone else professionally involved in the making of and publicising of the record.

The downside of this is that sometimes we get the same information from a range of players but over all if you are thinking that there could not be enough for a book out of one record then you will be proven wrong. I found myself caught into it; maybe not gripping but intriguing.

The mood of the sessions really comes through. The players, all major session men of the time, are all like kids in a sweetie shop when they find out that they are playing with a Beatle; the Beatle who had been in hiding! They are all fans. They are all a little in awe. They all find Lennon in great mood and friendly form. He seems to want to be one of the lads, excited to be back in the studio and keen to enjoy every minute. 

Double Fantasy, the record in the works and therefore under scrutiny was of course supposed to be a conversation between lovers, John and Yoko’s songs track listed turn about.

For those of us who have followed Lennon’s career and read the other biographies, particularly the sensationalist critiques like Albert Goldman, there is an interesting take on the state of the Lennon’s marriage and nothing but love, love, love comes through here. Interviewers who spent as much as three week with them did not believe they could be bluffing them; these were two forty-somethings very much in love.

There are a few things that I learned too. Now being a hammer dulcimer fan through the work of Rich Mullins and more recently Eric Angus Whyte I was fascinated to learn that there was one on Watching The Wheels.

Even more fascinating is that the hammer dulcimer player, Matthew Cunningham was a street musician as they couldn’t find a session player in all of New York. That Cunningham didn’t seem to know Lennon and only picked up who he’d played for a while later is even more interesting.

The Cheap Trick saga is also a drama worth having teased out. What they would have brought to the whole record is worth some trajectory but why there version of I’m Losing You wasn’t used is also dramatic intrigue. Rick Nielsen sending Lennon a guitar as a gift is also a lovely little crum!

In the main I found myself reaching for the album again and again, listening for the little bits of instrumental or vocal or lyric info. It allows you to reach into the minutiae and there are lovely things to find. This and the Stripped Naked edition of the record have certainly placed this higher in my favourite Lennon albums.


DB - To Be Here Someday

While running an amazing arts programme at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, my friend Ken Heffner would book some amazing bands. He usually succeeded in getting the band to do an interview with students in the afternoon of gigs. His last question to the artist every single time was, “What are you hoping from your audience tonight?”

Ken realised that rock music was not just about the band but also about the audience. A live experience of rock music has to have a synergy between those on the stage and those in the pub/theatre/stadium.

Away from the stage, how many times have we heard a songwriter say that as soon as a song is released it belongs to the listener. Songs are like babies that you let go into the world…

I say all of this because Deacon Blue’s unique book To Be Here Some Day gives the audience their place. In this rock biography the editor Paul English gives one part of the book to the band and the other half to the fans.

Fans were invited to send their own stories and photographs of their relationships with Deacon Blue. For some that is a gig or a moment that they met the band or how a song of the band helped them through a difficult time in their lives. For many it is a lifetime of connection. English gives the audience its place.

In the other half English lets the band tell their story without commentary. I do not deny that this was my favourite half. It was everything I want from a memoir. I learned more about the band and their work and the rollercoaster ride of forming, becoming famous, breaking up and in Deacon Blue’s case… beyond.

It took me back to remember how extraordinarily mature and brilliant Raintown is as a debut record. In my Top 5 of all time. I understood better the different sound on When The World Knows Your Name. I fell in love with Fellow Hoodlums, “an album about the afterlife” all over again and finally declared Your Swaying Arms as my favourite Deacon Blue song (well after Dignity, maybe my favourite of all time). I even took more time to investigate Whatever You Say, Say Nothing and the lost album called Sleeper.

I was fascinated by the 1994 break up, understood the reasons but became aware of the later regret. Even more extraordinary is that when Deacon Blue made up they refused to be a hits band but have released four quality new records that take as much space in their 2021 set list as the first four. That is unique. Quite the artistic feat.

Hearing the band’s anecdotes about life in Deacon Blue as well as the recordings and the concerts, there is a wonderful sense of the band next door. The pages dedicated to the sad passing of original guitarist Graeme Kelling are personal, sorrowful and beautiful.

If their mentor Bruce Springsteen attempts to break down the distance between the star and the fan, then Deacon Blue actually achieve it, probably helped by America never opening up to them. You do feel that it could be you on the stage and them in the crowd.

What we have in the end is the memoir of a rock band family. We are back to my friend Ken. I am not sure what Deacon Blue hoped for from their fans but what they got was special, even for rock music anorak fandom. 

If you want to know what is special about different gigs then a band can tell you some of what went on, on a particular night, BUT there are hundreds of other stories, moments and memories out there in that crowd. To Be Here Someday is a beautifully put together mix of interview, testimony, and photographs that gives us it all.

For Deacon Blue fans - Essential.

PAUL McCARTNEY - THE LYRICS; 1956 To The Present

The Lyrics

By the sounds of it, we are not getting a Paul McCartney memoir. The Lyrics is as close as we’ll get and in many ways this does give us a good deal of autobiography along with McCartney’s habits and secrets of songwriting.

To draw out our bass playing Beatle we have to give thanks to Paul Muldoon, the revered Irish poet, who has written songs himself with The Handsome Family and Warren Zevon. Over 5 years he met with McCartney and eked out all kinds of insights about a wide range of songs… and the songwriter’s life.

On the songwriting front I learned a lot. Loved that for him songs are little journeys where he wonders where it will go. They are almost like little puzzles and he found the re-visiting them equally exploratory. I had a new appreciation for his word play and the deeper thinking below a seemingly surface meaninglessness.

I came to give more weight to And I Love Her and the Lennon ridiculed Maxwell’s Silver Hammer. I listened to so many songs that I had not considered for many years including Arrow Through Me and Too Much Rain and heard Warm and Beautiful more poignantly when I was reminded that he re-arranged it for Linda’s memorial service.

I love how the return to the times of these songs draws McCartney out on his family, how he talks so personally about his wives Linda and Nancy. A highlight is to hear him speak so fondly about his 60’s girlfriend Jane Asher and her family. It seems he might have missed Mrs Asher more than her daughter!

Being me, I was intrigued by his utterances on the spiritual. McCartney’s thumbs up positiveness and general goodness comes from his family more than his Catholic upbringing. To be ordinary working class but the very best kind of that seems the Sermon on the McCartney house. That he succeeds is a good deal of the key to why as a very very rich superstar he is still loved by all apart from snobby music critics. 

As a Beatle fan who has read everything ever written about the band, together or apart, then the revelations are fewer and further between but hearing McCartney tell the familiar in his own words refreshes it all and adds little pieces.

This is all put in the most beautiful of books with photos pertaining to the very moment that every song was cast and photos of the song lyrics too. All in all when I am listening to Paul McCartney whose music I go back to so very often this will be my new resource for what so many of his great songs are about. I feel there are hours of fun and insights on reading The Lyrics over and over. 


Girlfriend In A Coma

As I say in BBC NI's Read All About Book Week Series - WATCH IT HERE    I was slow to the loving of books. 

First it was Football Annuals and later books about The Beatles and Bob Dylan. I was around 30 when I moved to Dublin and due to lots of time on the DART I started reading novels. None of them were very memorable.

Enter David Dark. David and I met at Greenhill YMCA in Co Down and then a year later at Greenbelt. We discovered we'd actually likely met at the previous Greenbelt. We became firm friends sharing our love for music and faith and the interaction of the two. \

David was also an avid reader. He always had a book in his hand. Always. 

I'd been to South Africa to visit Janice who was there for 9 months. I found Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood in a charity shop in Durban. David was a fan so I read it. I enjoyed it but knew I was missing stuff. Back in Dublin, David and I were having coffee in Bewleys. He asked me what I read in South Africa. I said Wise Blood and he opened it up to me.

David then took me to a book shop in Bray where he put Douglas Coupland's Life After God in my hand. That might have been my conversion moment. Coupland had this spiritual layer that caught my soul. Next up was Coupland's Girlfriend In A Coma and I was off and running...


The novel that I have enjoyed the most, reflected on the most and quoted most in my sermons is Douglas Coupland’s Girlfriend In A Coma from 1998. 

Growing up in West Vancouver Coupland says he little annoyed that his parents were so distant from any religion that he didn’t even have a choice to reject God. He suggests he has been trying to make up a belief system ever since.

I love books that give me insight into he times I live in and inspire me to live life in all its fulness. What Coupland creates in Girlfriend In A Coma is a fascinating social critique and full of prophetic hopefulness. 

This is a novel about the ills of modern society, the healing and redeeming of such and the saving of souls. Briefly Karen falls into a coma in her high school year. Before doing so she has an apocalyptic vision of the future. She tells her boyfriend, 

"It was just us, with our meaningless lives. Then I looked up close...and you all seemed normal, but your eyes were without souls". 

Karen becomes the girlfriend in the coma and misses seventeen years of her life before coming out of it. Though the book deals with the changes from the world she fell asleep in, in 1981, to the world she wakened up again in in 1998 (she misses out on Princess Diana entirely), it is about the lives of her friends and the fufilment of Karen's vision, when they become the only people left on planet earth. 

Another old friend who died in his early teens, Jared, appears as a friendly ghost, who reveals to them their "deep down inside" ills and redeems them. It is then he says that they can get the world back but only if they decide too. "You're going to have to lead another life soon; a different life.

"In your old life you had nothing to live for. Now you do. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Go clear the land for a new culture...If you are not spending every waking moment of your life radically rethinking the nature of the world - if you're not plotting every moment boiling the carcass of the old order - then you're wasting your day."

What inspirational words. "If you're not spending every waking moment of your life radically rethinking the nature of the world...then you're wasting your day." 

Those words make me want to rush out the door and go change the world? I want to rethinking the nature of things? I want to boil the carcass of the old order? These are words of rebuke, in that I feel as I read them that indeed I have been wasting my day, and yet the rebuke comes with a motivating sense of encouragement to just go and stop wasting anymore time. 

If I could inspire as much every Sunday morning I would be a very happy minister!