I might not have been able to read it in time for the blog tour, but I must say that The Girl’s Book of Priesthood by Louise Rowland – published in March by Muswell Press, available in paperback and for kindle – looks just wonderful, and was an immediate addition to my “must read” list.
‘I mean, you know, someone says “woman priest” and you think the whole grey-hair-bobbly-cardigan-house-full-of-cats thing, right?’
Margot Goodwin is a young curate struggling to survive her trial year in the parish, when everything and everyone seems hell-bent on stopping her. Success would mean becoming a fully-fledged priest, something she feels profoundly called to do. Failure would not only prove her father right, but would also delight all the antis who consider women priests at best a joke, at worst, an abomination.
But from the very start, Margot faces a multitude of challenges, both personal and professional, from the hostile teenage daughter of her host family, to the married parishioner she is hopelessly drawn to. Can she convince everyone – herself included – that she’s more than a lipstick-wearing, part-timer with a PhD, and realise her long-held dream of becoming a priest.
Meticulously researched, The Girls’ Book of Priesthood was published to coincide with the anniversary of women’s ordination in March.
I’m delighted to welcome author Louise Rowland as my guest on Being Anne, to tell us more about taking on the mother of all man’s worlds…
How does it feel to be a young female priest in 2018? An Instagramming, online-shopping, Beyoncé-loving millennial, entering a millenia-old uber-conservative institution… possibly the oldest boys’ club of them all?
When I decided to write a novel about a young woman curate, I knew this wasn’t something I could just conjure from thin air. I needed to go out and talk to some female priests face to face. I needed to hear who they were, what they felt – and what had driven them to take on one of the most challenging roles there is.
Right from the start, it was very clear this was a story ripe for the telling. These were intelligent, articulate twenty-somethings just like all other intelligent, articulate twenty-somethings. They loved partying, clothes, having fun, having relationships, running towards adventure with open arms. Yet unlike their peers, they had chosen to take on a profession – a world – in which sparky, feisty, ambitious young women remain very much an anomaly.
I felt really fortunate to share in these very personal accounts. The boot-camp application process that would deter most of us at the first hurdle. The emotional strip-search of theological college. The challenge to find a training post in a parish when so many still, in 2018, are hostile to the idea of women priests.
And that’s before you even get started on the 24/7 nature of the job itself, where priests can run the gamut from comforting a grieving family in a hospice to doing the minutes for the meeting about the roof repairs – all within the same morning.
Everyone is watching you, assessing you, acting like they own a part of you. Some, inevitably, if you are a female curate, are also willing you to fail.
How do these women cope? Brave and determined, they draw deeply on their sense of vocation. Many of them weaponise a gallows sense of humour, with telling anecdotes such as walking into a dry cleaner’s and being taken for a kiss-o-gram. Some talked about adopting multiple selves to protect their sense of who they were: a different persona depending on whether you’re dealing with the doughty head of the Parochial Church Council or the parishioner whose wife has walked out on him, taking their three kids with her.
And relationships? This is a unique institution playing by very different, ancient rules. It’s a joke amongst the clergy that the Church is always at least 50 years out of the step with the world outside. Any curate, but especially the female version, needs to hold their private life very close. Facebook is not your friend. Be seen to transgress the boundaries and there’s trouble ahead – as my character Margot finds out.
Times are changing, slowly. Sarah Mullally takes over as the new Bishop of London in May – one of the highest offices in the Church of England. Around fifty percent of new entrants applying to train as priests are now female. And, as the drive for equality gathers momentum worldwide, the Church of England has its own equivalent in #MindtheGap.
But, for those called to enter it, this is, for now, still very much a man’s world.
Thank you Louise – just fascinating, and I wish you every success with the book – and thank you too to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to be part of the tour and for all her support. Here are the details of all the other great bloggers taking part in the tour:
About the author
Louise Rowland grew up in Bournemouth and studied English at Cambridge. She went on to work as a speechwriter, journalist and copywriter – including 11 years in Munich, Frankfurt, Paris and Amsterdam. She has a Masters in Novel Writing from City University, where she won the course prize. She lives in London with her husband and has two grown-up daughters. The Girls’ Book of Priesthood is her first novel.