My tenth novel “Grand Uncle Bertie” has just been published by Austin Macauley.
The synopsis of the novel is: Granduncle Bertie is the story of a frightened but determined man’s struggles to live a life that has value for him and others in the face of death. It is set in contemporary Wandsworth, London.
Sarah, a gay, free-spirited artist in her late twenties, accepts the assignment from her granduncle, Bertie Smithson, to write his memoir.
In her first interview, Sarah discovers that Bertie has a morbid premonition of his own death brought about by his father’s remonstrations against God during his fatal illness. During his mother’s funeral, Bertie reveals his own agnosticism, and his brother’s partner tells him that the fear of death can be overcome by a combination of faith, a deeply satisfying vocation, and meaningful family relationships. Bertie has none of these. With the death of his mother, Bertie must also become the patriarch of the family.
Bertie and his wife, Jo, move into his parents larger, memory-filled home. During a holiday in Seaford, Bertie is shocked by the sudden death of a close relative. This reinforces his own fears that his life may be cut short. Bertie turns to his Catholic wife, Jo, for solace but Jo tells him that for his faith to be real, he must develop it himself.
Later, Bertie is shocked to discover that Jo had an affair with another man. He confronts Jo who confesses her ‘dreadful sin’ in agony. Bertie weighs the alternatives and forgives her.
Confronted with a series of family misadventures, including an incipient affair, theft, and selfishness, Bertie learns that a patriarch must be a disciplinarian as well as a wise leader.
Bertie is unable to relieve his younger brother Jason’s depression. When Jason commits suicide, Bertie fails to understand Jason’s death.
Sarah recalls Heather, Bertie’s granddaughter, who dies of leukaemia in spite of a stem cell transplant. Bertie wishes he could have given up his life to save her.
There is an argument between Bertie and Jo about whether their youngest, Elizabeth, should have an abortion as a result of a failed liaison, Bertie accompanies his daughter to the clinic.
In chance meetings with the ‘Professor’, a black mystic-philosopher, Bertie is introduced to the idea of a ‘fourth dimension’, a spiritual universe which parallels the matter-space universe.
Later, Bertie, in his struggle to find faith, discovers the Jewish concept of Emunah, a commitment to God. In debates with a Catholic priest, he acknowledges the role of the devil in human tragedies.
Determined to start a meaningful second career as a writer of children’s books, Bertie overcomes obstacles and enjoys success with Sarah as a writer-artist team. He learns that Sarah is gay. Despite her fears, Bertie accepts her.
Bertie discovers Hindu concepts of an infinite universe. He tries to reconcile the events of his life, concluding that life comes from God in the form of a spirit.
Enrolling on the Alpha Course, Bertie experiences awareness, completeness and asylum that never leaves him. With Jo, he discovers the delight of teaching year four Sunday school. He learns that he has an incurable brain cancer and dies in his sleep, surrounded by family and friends.
When I first drafted Granduncle Bertie, the narrator was the protagonist, and one literary agent told me that the story lacked tension. In order to increase the temperature of the narration, I re-wrote it to make Sarah, a young woman with a different view of life the co-narrator. This allows for disagreements and different interpretations of events.