Book Title: A Particular Friendship
Author: Paul Van der Spiegel
Publisher: Perceptions Press
Cover Artist: Paul Van der Speigel
Release Date: November 28, 2021
Genre: Contemporary M/M Romance
Tropes: Boy meets boy, loses boy, gets boy back again
Themes: Religion and being gay, coming out as an older man
Heat Rating: 3 flames
Length: 62 000 words/ 225 pages
It is a standalone book and does not end on a cliffhanger.
Tom Morton is a gay Catholic priest whose lover comes back into his life leading to a confrontation with a powerful bishop.
The story has two timelines. In the odd-numbered chapters we meet Tom, an isolated fifty-year old parish priest of St. James’ Church, a Jesuit-built church in a northern English town. Tom is an in-the-closet gay man in an increasingly intolerant Catholic Church, an organisation that defines homosexuality as inherently disordered with traditionalist elements blaming incidents of child sex abuse on an underground ‘pink mafia’. Antony, the only man Tom has ever fallen in love with, the man he abandoned thirty-years earlier, arrives in church to ask Tom to provide the Sacrament of the Sick to his dying mother.
In the second timeline, the even numbered chapters, we see Tom from childhood through to his ordination as a priest. As Tom grows into adolescence the confusion begins: he has experiences with girls, as well as burgeoning romantic and sexual feelings for his friend, Antony. After they sleep together for the first time, as the pressure to conform to a heterosexual society reaches fever-pitch, Tom abandons his lover and flees to the Church. At Ash Burrow seminary, Tom finds acceptance, a masculine culture, and other gay men like himself.
The novel has three sections. The first section describes Tom meeting Antony again after decades apart, the rekindling of their relationship, and how history repeats itself with Tom siding with the Church against his love. In the second timeline, we see Tom’s childhood, and the repercussions of the tragic car accident that kills his father and brother.
The second section describes Toms emotional collapse and the deterioration of his mental health until he reaches the point where he is actively suicidal. In contrast, we see Tom’s teenage-self approaching life with a sense of potential. The section ends with Tom coming out to his congregation and informing them that he is HIV positive and has been for twenty years.
In the third section, Tom is sacked, and St. James church is closed and put up for sale. Tom is also dealing with the scars of a violent sexual assault suffered whilst he was a seminarian at Ash Burrow – the perpetrator, Derek Worrell, is now the Bishop of Preston. In the second timeline, we see Tom’s life at the seminary, his romances, his appreciation of the structure of the Church, and the horrific incident that changes his life forever.
The story reaches its close with a group of gay Catholic priests standing with Tom against the bishop and the diocese. Antony proposes to Tom in a crowded railway station, and they prepare to begin their lives together.
Excerpt from ‘A Particular Friendship’
Tom read the gospel according to John.
‘When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts, he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So, he made a whip out of cords and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”’
‘Jesus was a man of action,’ Tom told his congregation, ‘a person who would take risks. Jesus did not stop to do a risk assessment, fill the forms in, or consult a firm of speciality solicitors. Instead, he acted out of a deep conviction, the conviction that love is God, that love is central to our lives, that crowding our lives with the busyness of business leaves no room for goodness. Jesus felt fear, just like us, but he did what he knew God wanted him to do.’
After the blessing and dismissal, the Arundel children, Sophie and Danny, led the way from the altar to the church entrance, brother and sister dressed in matching black cassocks and white surplices. Standing on the tiled steps, Tom shook the hands of his parishioners, blessed proffered rosaries and crucifixes on chains, waved goodbye to the choir, thanked visitors for coming.
On his way back to the sacristy, Tom found Mike Arundel waiting by the Lady Altar as his children snuffed out the candles and tidied up.
‘Hello, Mike,’ Tom said, as he strode past.
‘Father Morton,’ Mike Arundel replied.
‘See you, Father Thomas,’ Sophie said, as she hung her cassock on a hanger in the wall cupboard and disappeared into the church.
‘How are you finding things at St. Pat’s, Danny?’ Tom asked. ‘I went there myself, a long time ago.’
‘Everyone seems really nice. Mister Cooper is strict though.’
‘I went to school with your headmaster. He was in the year above me.’
‘It’s a big change, going to high school.’
‘Do you see your sister around school much?’
‘What subjects do you like best?’
‘I like music and drama.’
‘What about sports, football and rugby?’
‘I don’t like football.’
‘I didn’t like it either at school. I was useless. I like watching it now though.’
‘My dad takes me to watch Bussell Athletic.’
‘That sounds fun.’
‘I’ve got to go… my dad will be waiting.’
‘Hi five, Danny.’
The boy slapped the priest’s hand and then he was gone.
‘Go and sit with your sister in the car,’ Tom heard Mike Arundel tell his son.
‘Father Morton,’ Mike Arundel said, as he stepped into the sacristy, ‘keep your hands off my boy.’
‘I beg your pardon?’ Tom said.
‘You heard me.’
There was a loud knock at the front door of the rectory and Tom, still stunned, walked from the sacristy into his home. Opening the door, he found a dishevelled woman with a supermarket carrier bag in her hands.
‘Hello, Father Morton. I’m sorry to trouble you. I’ve had nothing to eat for two days. Can I come in?’
Tom fought the compulsion to tell the stranger to piss off, to tell her that now was not a good time. In fact, it was an incredibly bad time. He bit back his anger. Then, he did what he was supposed to do and invited the woman in.
‘Come in, please. Would you like some food?’
‘Thank you, Father. I thought you were going to tell me to fuck off there, for a minute.’
‘No, not at all. Sorry, I was having a senior moment. The kitchen is this way. Please follow me.’
As his guest took her seat at the table, Tom brought out a slice of Joan Bird’s ‘Friday fish-day’ pie from the fridge.
‘I’ll warm this up for you. Would you like a tea or a coffee with that? Let me plug that phone in for you.’
‘Can I use your bathroom, please? I promise I won’t rob nothing.’
‘There isn’t anything worth stealing, I’m afraid, not unless you like religious books. The bathroom is upstairs, first door on the left.’
Tom warmed the pie in the microwave and put some frozen green beans into boiling water on the stove.
‘You’re welcome to have a shower whilst you’re here, if you like. There is a lock on the door so needn’t worry about your privacy,’ he said, as his visitor returned.
‘Are you saying I smell?’
‘Gosh no. I would never say that. I was just…’
‘I’m messing with you. I’m Rosie.’
‘Hi, Rosie,’ Tom said, extending his hand, ‘I’m Tom.’
‘You’re a good priest, Father Morton. I can tell. Not like some of the others.’
‘That’s kind of you. Funnily enough, I’ve just had a rather unpleasant conversation with a parent who told me in no uncertain terms that I am not allowed to clap hands with his son.’
‘The bad apples spoil it…’ Rosie said, dissolving into a coughing fit, holding her sleeve to her mouth.
‘Are you okay?’ Tom said, concerned. ‘Can I get you anything?’
‘No, I’m fine,’ Rosie said, fishing a fistful of paper napkins from her pocket and wiping her mouth.
‘I think your food is ready.’
Tom watched as Rosie devoured the food, finishing her plate in a matter of minutes.
About the Author
I am the author of the Queer Testament series (Trans Deus – about a trans woman Christ, 7 Minutes – about coming out at the point of death, Parably Not – an illuminated book in the tradition of William Blake, and A Particular Friendship- a story about a gay Catholic priest who finds himself in conflict with his sexuality and his Church). My stories are about the intersection of faith and sexuality. I am a Will Blake obsessive and I’m working on new material based on his themes of sex and gender fluidity, revelation and rebellion. I love reading (Alan Garner, Alan Moore, Susan Cooper, Ballard, and PK Dick especially). I live in Manchester, England.
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