The following interview was given by David Torkington to answer frequently asked questions about his Trilogy and how it came to be written:
Q. Forgive me for saying so, but you don’t give the impression of being a particularly religious person, so I can’t help wondering why the theme of prayer, more particularly mystical prayer, is the main recurrent theme in all your writings?
A. Well it’s a long story, but the short of it is this – I was written off as either stupid or bone idle at school, because nobody understood dyslexia in those days. As nobody understood what was wrong with me I turned to God in the hope that he might. The school I attended had it’s own spiritual director, who gave classes on prayer every Monday evening. I joined with a number of others.
Once first enthusiasm petered out the majority gave up prayer to concentrate on more important things like passing exams to secure their academic future, but I didn’t. I hung on like grim death, not because I was a particularly pious youth, but because I was particularly needy. I knew I’d never pass the exams and so, as the sort of academic future open to others was closed to me, I simply had nowhere else to go. I hung on to prayer as my only hope. Eventually light shafted into the darkness leaving me in no doubt that there was someone there. It was what I experienced there that determined the direction that my life has taken ever since.
Q. What did happen to you in prayer that had such a decisive influence on the rest of your life?
A. It’s very difficult to describe, because it is in many ways an incommunicable experience. But if you read “The Prophet” and “The Mystic” you’ll find descriptions of what I experienced and the best explanations I can of how mystical prayer develops for the person who perseveres come what may. (The extract from “The Prophet” on this web-site gives a brief but graphic description of the sort of mystical experience in question).
Q. What made you decide to write for others about mystical prayer?
A. Well my experiences enabled me to see clearly that Christianity is, contrary to what I had been led to believe, a mysticism. In other words it is primarily a religion that is meant to teach people how to experience the self-same otherworldly love that animated Jesus Christ and enabled him to become such a perfect and loveable human being.
I felt I wanted to do all I could, making use of what I had received, in such a way that others could come to see and then experience what I had experienced. I suppose I saw it as my contribution to try to return Christianity to what it was originally meant to be. From early Christian times to the present day converts only partially weaned from a Greco-Roman stoicism have subtly misrepresented the message of the Gospel. They have so emphasized the moral at the expense of the mystical that Christianity often seems little more than a pious humanism. (Read the extract from “Dear Susanna”, where this theme is developed more fully)
Q. Why did you decide to use the novel as a means of communicating the ideas that obviously mean so much to you?
A. Well I didn’t, at least to begin with. The written word is not usually the preferred means of communication of a dyslexic, but the spoken word often is, at least it was in my case. The law of compensation ensured that what I initially found difficult to do with the written word I could do with the spoken word, and usually do it far better than my peers. However when, after my talks, people were encouraged to ask for the personal help that I was unable to give in the time available, I compiled a series of notes for them to take away. When a friend encouraged me to publish them to reach a wider audience I complied, but decided to use the novel form to make them available to as wide a readership as possible.
Q. How much of the Trilogy is fact and how much is fiction
A. That’s difficult to answer. In general I’d have to say that though it’s mainly fiction it’s nevertheless full of fact. Let me explain what I mean. The main character Peter Calvay is entirely based on my own brother Peter. He had already been accepted as a prospective Cistercian monk when he slipped and fell down the escalator leading to the metro on his way to his final examination at the Sorbonne.
He was killed instantly. (Read the extract from “A New Beginning” which is based on this tragic event). For the purposes of the book I transferred him in my imagination to the Outer Hebrides, where I imagined he’d been living the life of a hermit ever since. Then I imagined a priest called James Robertson, who was in need of spiritual guidance, going to visit him. The conversations between the two comprise the essence of the first book. (An example of these conversations can be read in the extract from “The Hermit”).
Though the overall story in “The Prophet” is fictitious it nevertheless contains many real events that my bother Peter experienced and real people, whom he met during his time in Paris whilst studying at the Sorbonne. His travels in Italy also involved visiting real places and meeting real people, some of who are mentioned in the book. The final book in the Trilogy – “The Mystic” begins with my mothers’ funeral in Didsbury in 1977, where Peter once again meets James Robertson and explains to him the inner meaning of the “Mystic Way”.
Q. So Peter Calvay’s real name is, I assume, Peter Torkington?
A. Yes that’s right and the parents, whose marriage is used, as an analogy to explain the mystic way, are of course my parents. In the book it is Peter, who heard the story of his father’s love for his mother, that prompted this analogy but in real life it was me. It was this incident that gave me the idea of how best to present the mystical theology that dominates the final book in the Trilogy. (The incident referred to is recounted in summary form in the extract from “The Mystic”).