Jari Moate is a member at St. Mark’s Baptist Church in Bristol. In 2011, he was the main organizer of Bristol’s first ever Festival of Literature, and he’s also an author; his novel Paradise Now brings together x-factor culture, Islamic Terrorism, and an unexpected experience of the Holy Spirit, all set in a version of urban Bristol just one beat away from reality.
Writing fiction like this is a very different form of mission to the activities usually described on this blog, so when I’d read the book I wanted to ask Jari a few questions.
In the story, video artist Elektra pays the rent by working in a call centre for The Company who produce The One Game and the Be Somebody makeover range. While her face is picked to represent The Company, far away in the war torn Middle East trainee terrorist Tariq finds a blood stained copy of the Gospels in a dead soldier’s pocket. As you read, you assume their paths will eventually, and dramatically, collide.
What made Jari think of drawing together the themes of reality gameshow culture and the religious extremism that leads to acts of terrorism?
“It’s all about the brand name: Be Somebody. The core of that ambition that drives someone to get their 15 minutes of fame, it’s the same drive that motivates the terrorist. We try to create ourselves into something that stands out. If 9:11 did nothing else it dominated the TV networks, and that was its aim. 9:11 won the x-factor already.”
There are characters in Paradise Now who are perhaps immune from the drive to Be Somebody – one is the boy preacher Smith Whistledown, who the main character, Elektra, hears preaching in a small corrugated iron chapel when the Holy Spirit floods in and changes her life. Jari sees him as being driven by the message rather than his own desire to prove himself.
The other is a character imported from the 18th Century – in this story, the poet and engraver William Blake is an eccentric art college technician who’s into lots of new age practices, but also has a prophetic role. I suggested to Jari that this character, and that of Blake’s wife, Kitty, have a rather ambiguous role in the story. Kitty is loving, generous character who is a substitute mother for Elektra, but who eventually, surprisingly, betrays her.
“I’ve met people in the New Age World who are quite evangelical and invasive” says Jari. “Kitty Blake actually wants a bit of power. She doesn’t want her protégée experiencing things in a Christian church, so she does something she wouldn’t normally do.”
Jari warns, however, against reading a sermon into this story. “Fiction is not about positing an argument, it’s about the characters. Sometimes Christian readers miss this and that’s why Christian Fiction doesn’t exist in powerful form in this country.”
“I want to ask the WEBA audience to stand by writers, and work with artists” he goes on. “We want to truly express how we are in the world. Hold fire on the judgement.”
If you’re looking for a last minute Christmas Present, Paradise Now is a vivid and gripping story that will appeal to many readers across the belief spectrum. If you have a relative with an art college or visual arts background, I’d suggest it might be the perfect gift.
Paradise Now is available on the general fiction shelves, and can be found in Waterstones, Foyles, and at www.amazon.co.uk.
Jari is now working on a book about an AWOL solder, and making plans for next year’s Bristol Festival of Literature.