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Interview with Janice

You're writing stories for children which might be called 'moral stories'. How do you feel about that?
Not sure I like the word, 'moral'. Reminds me of those awful Victorian stories for children about perfect boys and girls who never did anything wrong and were held up as models of rectitude for all children to follow. I like to think that my characters are bit more realistic than that.

But your stories are all based upon the Bible? How did that come about?
I had to produce a talk for children in church at short notice and I couldn't think of a single thing to talk about! So I trawled the internet for other people's ideas and still came up with nothing. Then I thought it would be good to tell them a story to illustrate the day's Bible passage and again surfed the net to find something suitable. But I didn't like any of the stories I found. They were all a bit twee - which is often a problem with religion for children. I decided I could do better than that myself. And that's how it all started. Before long, I found myself writing a children's story every week, based on the gospel reading for that week.

So do you have to read the Bible alongside the stories?
Not at all. You can if you wish and you can even use them in church. But if you do, you probably need to spend some time working out the theme, which may not be immediately obvious. But why not read the stories just as they are? They stand alone. They may make you think, but they always end on a positive note.

Can we go back a little further? Have you always written stories? Were you one of those children who write stories for their brothers and sisters?
Afraid not! I only have one brother who is older than me. I don't think he would have taken kindly to his little sister reading him stories she had written! But I have always been enrapt by books. My favourite activity as a child was reading. And at school my top subject was English. I still read, every spare moment I have.

What about your own children? Did you write for them?
Not really. But I did tell them stories. When they were young and we went out for a long walk, I used to tell them stories on the way home to keep them going! Many a witch or a fairy or a strange character has accompanied us on homeward journeys.

Tell me about your faith. Have you always believed in God?
I grew up in a Christian home, which gave me a strong foundation. I went to church and Sunday School and always enjoyed it. So I continued to attend church after Ian and I were married and took the children along too. But I did have a spell when I didn't believe in God.

Can you tell me about that?
It started at a Lent group in the Rector's study. He handed us all a piece of paper and a pencil and asked us to write down everything we knew from our own experience about God. Not what we'd heard, or read, or been told, but just our own experience. I ended up with a blank sheet of paper and that shook me. After all those years of church going, I knew nothing about God!

What happened?
I started to think about what I considered to be basic for Christianity. It seemed like there was a baseline on which everything else was built and if that baseline was taken away, then the whole edifice of Christianity would fall. A bit like a house of cards.

What was the baseline?
It may be different for different people, but for me, it was the thought that God loves me as an individual. Not just as part of the human race and not a vague pat on the head from a distance, but really, deeply, genuinely loves me. So that started me thinking about the nature of love and I realised that I knew love from my family. They cared about how I was feeling, what I thought, what I was doing. And they were there even when I was being pretty horrible. They forgave me with no strings attached and we moved on. So it seemed to me that if that was human love, God should love me more than that. But I couldn't find any evidence of God's love.

No evidence?
Well, there might have been answers to prayer occasionally, but they might just as easily have happened anyway. And I thought, 'Why would God listen to my prayers when there are people starving or dying or in terrible circumstances? My life is pretty good. Why should God bother with me?' From there I came to think that God couldn't possibly find space to love me in that individual way that the Bible describes. So that took away my baseline and the whole lot fell down. I stopped believing in God.

But clearly that changed in some way, presumably before you started writing?
Yes, it did. A Christian friend said to me, "What do you believe in, then?" and that made me think. I realised that I believed in a kind of huge potential within myself. A potential so great, that if I could only learn to tap into it, I would be able to move mountains. From there it was a short step to giving that potential a name. I found that if I called it 'God', everything slotted into place, especially the God loving me, bit.

So you discovered the God within?
That's right. And my life changed utterly. It then became imperative to tap into that God within and suddenly I began to get unmistakable answers to prayer. Prayer became two way instead of one way. It was an amazing experience. That's when I began the radio broadcasting - 'Pause for Thought' - which was a two minute slot on local radio about God-related things. I enjoyed that, because it made God accessible to thousands of ordinary people who never went near a church. And it was after that that I felt called to be a priest and started writing for 'Redemptorist Publications'.

What was your previous occupation?
I was a physiotherapist, as was Ian, my husband. We met on a training course to teach physiotherapy and for a while, taught together at the London Hospital in Whitechapel. Then we moved into private practice in Norfolk, until I was ordained priest in 1994.

With the first band of women to be priested in the UK, I believe.
Yes, that's right. At Norwich Cathedral. It was incredibly special. After that we moved to Norwich itself where I was a curate at a big city centre parish. Then we moved here to South Norfolk, where I'm responsible for six village churches.

And you became Rural Dean in South Norfolk?
I did, for three years. Then I decided to further my education so gave up the Rural Dean post to concentrate on an MA in Pastoral Theology, which I finished this year. That involved a lot of writing which I really enjoyed. So now I've started on a novel, all the ins and outs of life in the Church of England!

Sounds interesting. Do let us know when it's finished. Can I take you back now to your family?
Ian and I have three children, Fiona, Alexander and Rebecca, all grown up now. Fiona, the eldest, has a small child of her own, Leilah, so now I'm a grandmother too. Children teach you so much. They tell it as it is and are so down to earth. It's a good check for priests!