A little story for you by Portland Jones

I am a writer and I’m about to publish my next book. I decided to update the bit about the author that usually goes at the end of the book. I am in a writers’ group on Facebook so I posted my new bit about me and asked for feedback.

This bio was fairly straightforward. It was about me and how I came to be writing. I explained how my stroke meant I had to give up the job I had done for the past twenty-five years. I said how that had given me the time to write. (I can take a break whenever I like so it fits in well with my newfound need to sleep often and avoid overload.)

I included this sentence about how and what I write.

“Portland blends personal experience, including her pagan lifestyle, with a hint of the paranormal to create tales that draw you in.”

This was led to an exchange with a fellow writer that I have to confess rather startled me.

A N Other – “I was all in until I got to the part about a pagan lifestyle. Not my kind of book but the description is appealing as a whole.”

Wanting to check that the response meant what I thought it did I sent this in reply –

Me – “thank you for the feedback, and taking the time to give it. I’m glad you think well of my bio. Is it the genre that doesn’t appeal?”

A N Other – “No, the genre is fine. …. It’s the religion or lack of that I find hard to read about, that’s all. It makes me feel like I am participating in some way.”

Not wishing to start a debate on this topic in an inappropriate venue I responded somewhat tongue in cheek as follows –

Me – “that’s cool, though reading a book that I have written about witches is no different from reading a book that anyone else has written about witches. Just the information is more accurate lol”

Now, I had a long hard thought about this. It may be that she misunderstood what I was writing as she also said that she preferred nonfiction over other genres. But even if this was the case, her statement threw up some questions.

  • Why did I feel the need to say that I was pagan when talking about my writing?

I make no secret of my pagan lifestyle, yet it isn’t the first thing I say to people when I meet them. However, when you read the advice on writing the bit about the author, it says to let readers know who you are – some people share where they live, that they have children or enjoy walking their dog on the beach on Sunday mornings. For me being pagan is an integral part of me. It’s who I am.

On reflection I have removed this bit. Readers don’t need to know this about me – it should make no difference to their enjoyment (or otherwise) of my book.

  • Why would someone consider my beliefs to be a ‘lack of’ religion?

I know I don’t belong to one of the major religions. I describe what I feel as my belief system, rather than my religion. Yet I felt that this term was meant as a slight. Am I wrong or am I reading too much into it?

And the last question:

  • Does reading about another religion mean that you are participating in it?

I think this is probably the most worrying aspect. How to we understand other people’s beliefs without reading about them? How do we encourage tolerance and community if we don’t want to learn?

I suppose many of us will have taken part in Christian ceremonies in one way or another over our life time – nativity plays, harvest festivals, assemblies in school, weddings and funerals as we get older. Has this weakened our beliefs? Contaminated them? Or has it led to a greater understanding of our own?

My simple request for feedback in my writer’s group certainly gave me a lot of food for thought that I wasn’t expecting. There’s always something that challenges you, makes you think, and gives you an insight into other people. I think it’s a good thing.

Portland Jones – disabilities liaison for Pagan Federation Midlands