Maggie Hamand’s third novel, Virgin and Child, was published by Barbican Press on 2 April 2020.
Maggie kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Virgin and Child.
It’s a Vatican thriller with a difference, as it explores serious issues of sexuality and gender within the Catholic Church, wrapped up in a gripping narrative. It concerns a new Irish Pope Patrick, a possibly miraculous pregnancy, and the challenges he faces as the cardinals turn against him and try to remove him from office. I’ve always thought that at its best a thriller enables readers to engage with serious issues while still turning the page to find out what happens next.
2. What inspired the book?
It was inspired by my dual training as a scientist and in religious studies. I have always felt a tension between science and faith, and this book is a way of working out that tension. The book is really a culmination of all the different things I’ve done in my life – it probably doesn’t look it, but in fact it’s a deeply personal book.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
I can’t really plan. I did start with a rough idea of where the story would go, but I didn’t know how it would end – writing the novel was a way of finding out for myself what would happen in the rather extraordinary circumstances I had in mind. I had no idea where to start with this novel, and in fact I started by writing fragments of my main character’s childhood, to try to find out who he was and why he believed what he did. The original beginning was scrapped altogether and I wrote a whole new opening.
4. Having been through the publishing process, is there anything about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?
I think the most surprising thing was the considerable input of my editor, which has definitely made the book so much stronger. The book took a long time to write and there was a long delay between signing the contract and the book coming out, which was hard to endure. When I started writing I never thought it would be a whole decade till the book finally came out!
5. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
I love gardening, walking, and singing. Planting things in the garden and watching them grow, often over a long time, is one of the most satisfying things there is. I go for walks every day, and I sing in a local choir, which is a great joy. Doing something physical is a great contrast to all the mental work you do when writing a novel, which of course is very sedentary – hours spent at the desk are not good for the body!
6. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
It would have to be War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. There is everything in it – romance, tragedy, philosophy, action, birth, death, and a huge cast of characters. I first read it when I was sixteen and it was a mind-blowing experience. I’ve read it right through three times so far and each time I’ve discovered many new things in it. I’m sure I will read it again if I live long enough!
7. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
I’ve often been told that I write about ‘masculine’ topics and my main characters are all men, and agents and publishers have said this makes things difficult in terms of publishing my work. The question I’ve never been asked is why did I not choose to write under a male nom de plume or just using my initials? And the answer is that I don’t know – sometimes I wish I had! But I also refuse to be put into that publishing straightjacket. Why should women always have to write about women and men about men? We are all human, after all, and in these gender-neutral times, maybe it’s time to stop dividing books into rigid categories of ‘men’s’ and ‘women’s’ fiction.
About the Book
What happens when everything you know is thrown into doubt? And you’re the Pope? The recently elected Irish Pope Patrick has plans for his future Church. Then he is attacked in St Peter’s Square. Cardinals turn against him. Shocking revelations threaten his traditional status and his faith. In this novel where nothing is as it seems, Catholicism and modern morality are held in tension. Pope Patrick has to face challenges and make choices he could never have imagined.
About the Author
London-based Maggie Hamand is a novelist, journalist, and non-fiction author. Maggie brings her acumen as a journalist and as founding publisher of acclaimed independent The Maia Press to the PR campaign for this book. Maggie is author of the Amazon best-selling Creative Writing For Dummies, and her first novel, The Resurrection of the Body, was published to critical acclaim and has been optioned for film and television.