On Thursday, a colleague at work knocked on my door and asked if I had a minute. He sat down, and told me he had downloaded A Light Shining for his Kindle. And he had read it.
“I stayed awake until 4 a.m. to finish it,” he said. “I couldn’t put it down. I’m here to make a plea for a third novel in the series.”
I laughed. “We have to see what happens with the second one first.”
He smiled. “When I reached the part with Sarah’s speech, I lost it. I’m sitting there blubbering, and everyone else in the house is asleep, and I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it. It was terrible.” And then he proceeded to outline what Sarah had said, quoting the key phrase of the speech exactly, and the reaction of one of the characters to her speech.
This was the same colleague who liked Dancing Priest so much that he bought 20 copies and gave them to 20 senior executives from around the world. One of those executives – from India – stopped me outside my office a few weeks ago and said he had read it and that he had enjoyed it so much that he had become completely absorbed in the cycling events in the 2012 Olympics in London this summer. “I didn’t know anything about cycling until I read your book,” he said.
And then last night, I picked my oldest son up at the airport. Right out of the blue he says, “That part with the warehouse kids – I totally lost it on the plane.”
“You’re reading the book,” I said.
“I bought it for my Kindle,” he replied, “and started reading it on the plane. Good thing I had a row to myself, because it would have been embarrassing.”
And then he said, “You better not kill him off.” Suffice it to say that I know which character he’s talking about, and why. But I wouldn’t respond to his question.
I’ve read both of those scenes – Sarah’s speech and the warehouse kids – scores of times. And I still get choked up when I do. It’s almost as if I forget I wrote them. There are one or two other scenes that affect me the same way. In Dancing Priest, the scene that never fails to bring me to tears is the British Olympic team arriving in the stadium in Athens for the closing ceremonies.
I ask myself what it is about these scenes, scenes I know intimately and have lived with for close to a decade that prompts this reaction, from me as well as readers.
I think it has to do with our sense of the heroic, that something within us that reaches beyond what we’re capable of doing because something must be done, something must be said, some good and fine purpose must be achieved. One of the readers of Dancing Priest last year sent me an email, saying that the book should be required reading for teenage boys because it was about a young man’s nobility of purpose – something they get from nothing in our culture today.
I’m not going to be able to live off the royalties from these two books – longer than a day, anyway. But the reactions I hear from people reading them are royalties enough.