Lay Anglicana, the unofficial voice of the laity throughout the Anglican Communion.
This is the place to share news and views from the pews.

Get involved ...

“Cross Roads” by Wm Paul Young

 cross roads


‘The Shack’, Wm Paul Young’s previous book, sold 18 million copies. He and I clearly live in different worlds but Hodder Faith have sent me his new book to review and I set about it, not quite sure what to expect (I am one of the few people who had not read ‘The Shack’). I resolved to suspend disbelief, and settled down to read the first chapter. I was gradually drawn in, first by the sheer craft of his story-telling, but also his writing.

He shares my weakness for alliteration – in the first sentence he describes the Oregon winter as ‘spitting sleet and spewing snow’, a memorable phrase. The first fifteen pages contain no dialogue, and no movement. The reader gradually realises he is inside the head of Tony Spencer, listening to the running commentary that most of us have constantly playing in our heads. Everything that Tony thinks and feels therefore seems normal and natural to us, until we are jolted out of this comfortable assumption. He decides to make a list of the people that he actually trusts, and then trust only them. He ends up with six on this list, topped by his parents. Next come Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King jr. and finally Jesus Christ. Unfortunately for Tony, the only one of these six that is alive and in a position to receive his confidences is Christ.

There are many such serendipitous juxtapositions in the book, and I do not want to spoil your pleasure in coming across them for yourself, so I think I will leave it there, except to say that I enjoyed the book and, if you are ‘old enough to start reading fairy tales again’, as C S Lewis (an author whom Paul Young loves almost as much as I do) said, then I think you will enjoy this too.

I have not been able to interview the author face to face, but he kindly agreed to answer my questions. Here is what he said:

1) It is a pleasure to share my fond memories of C S Lewis/’Jack’, and you quote my favourite remark of his (If you look for Truth, you may find comfort in the end…).Would you tell us something of your relationship with him and his books?

C.S.Lewis has for years been a favorite, not only because of his brilliance with word and pen, but because he smoked a pipe and got away with it among the evangelical crowd within which I was raised. Lewis had a deep impact on me. His rational intellect was balanced by incredible imagination and he was unafraid to explore territory that was relatively unknown among the fundamentally religious. Even now, aspects of his thinking are rigorous and challenging, but “…he’s dead, you know, and now the chap is one of us, so we can forgive a few indiscretions.” The Weight of Glory, is a stunning compilation of addresses given by Lewis in the 1940s and 1950s spanning a breadth of topics and issues that continue to be relevant today, especially the titled address, one of the most beautiful in history. Also, The Great Divorce, Fiction, and Perelandra, Science Fiction, are well worth the time spent as are many of his other works…if you get me started, we might be here for a while. I loved the idea of toying with his persona in Cross Roads, and I think you would be pleased at the result.

2) The others you mention (p18) as Tony’s mother’s favourite authors include J R Tolkien and (George) MacDonald. But Williams – would you care to tell us who this is?

Charles Williams joined the Inklings along with Lewis and Tolkien after he moved to Oxford from London at the outbreak of WW II. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength is regarded as having been inspired by William’s novels, which were supernatural thrillers set in contemporary society. Some of his works are not the easiest reads, but I very much liked The Place of the Lion, with which Lewis also was especially taken. My favorite musician, Canadian Bruce Cockburn, wrote a hit song based on this novel, Wondering Where the Lions Are, as well as using a favorite Williams blessing in the lyrics of one of his songs, “Under the Mercy” which is written under Williams’ tombstone under the word “Poet”.

3)  Do you think it is necessary or advisable to read The Shack first, or could Cross Roads be read first, as I have done: in other words do you see a link between the two?

If you have read The Shack you will grin at a few oblique references in Cross Roads, but you would not have had to read or know anything about The Shack to enjoy the new novel. You will recognize the similarity of genre, which no one has been able to identify, but that is about the only true link.

4) Do you see your writing as ministry? If so, why do you write ‘fairy stories’ rather than offer straightforward preaching and teaching? Or do you do both? (I see you went to seminary).

If you understand ministry as a verb rather than a noun, I suppose I can live with that to some degree, but not because of any intention. As for ‘story’ – I think that being around good stories helps to cultivate the imagination, whether you are listening to another who is a story, or reading or watching etc. A good story may be shocking, or odd at first glance, or completely other than the expected, but will contain the ring of truth and longing and humanity and meaning. Learning to ask questions and doing so with openness is vital, along with the permission to imagine and explore. Being comfortable with silence and friends with imagination itself. Creative arts have a way of pushing wider the space for people to enter and hear the Spirit for themselves.

5) Do you have a specific audience (readership) in mind as you write?

The audience for The Shack was my children, six between the ages of 19 and 32. I made the first 15 copies at the local print store for them, and a few extra for Kim, my wife, and friends. I had no idea that anyone else would ever care to read what I wrote and I never intended to be or become a published author. Cross Roads is really no different, except that my number of friends have increased a bit. I write mostly for myself, to explore and share with those I love.

6) How do you write – regular hours or as the mood takes you? At a desk or table? Do you edit as you go along, or do you write in a stream of consciousness, and only go back to make changes later? Any tips for budding writers?

I have no rituals about writing. As I think about it, I don’t have many generally. I am not one of those dedicated writers who is disciplined and writes a certain amount each day. I admire such people but I am not cut from the same cloth. For me the process is probably as close to being pregnant that I, as a male, will ever get. Kim (my wife) and I have six children, so I am quite familiar with the process. A seed is planted and begins to grow, an idea attaching itself to the wall of the soul somewhere invisible and largely unfelt, that begins to grow until it starts penetrating the consciousness. Sometimes it is a joy and other times morning sickness, but it keeps interrupting the routines of life, communicating its presence. Then it starts to kick, again a joy at times, an irritant and uncomfortable at others. When the timing is right it emerges to take on a life of its own, its own person. I know the metaphor fails at some points but it is still pretty good. The pain of the delivery of a child is much more significant than the birth of a story, but both are wondrous events.

Desk or table…depends where I am. More stream of consciousness although not afraid to stop and edit either. Tips? Not much advice. That would assume I actually know something about the subject and am qualified to pass along requisite gems of wisdom. I am very much a novice and my experience hardly mirrors anything typical. Publishing is radically changing, of that I am certain. Good works that touch the hearts of human beings will always find their place. If I am to offer anything, it would be this: as best you are able, do not confuse the production of work (even art) with your own value, worth, security, purpose and significance. Anything you put a sense of identity into that can be taken away from you, it is only a matter of time. Write as a gift and give without expectation, if you are able. If you cannot, then our work and art will become the landscape in which God tears down our idols to build what is eternal and true.

7) Is writing a hobby or a compulsion?

Not disciplined enough for a hobby, but not exactly a compulsion either. For me it’s timing, which really is not mine (it happens inside a relationship with God, and inside the grace of one day), and more like trusting that the river of creativity will be there when it is time. Somewhat of a mystery.

8) If you could choose six other people to spend eternity with (apart from your family), who would you choose?

I would choose six people that are currently in my life now, inside the ordinary and everyday. You see, I know these people and not just an imagination of them. I am assuming that I couldn’t choose Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who I plan on spending eternity with anyway.

9) If you could give just one piece of advice to your six children, what would it be?

Learn to laugh at yourself. Another piece: don’t apologize, ask for forgiveness. When you do you give the ‘other’ the power where apology is only an announcement within which you can keep the power yourself.

10) Do you know the game ‘essences’ – the idea is to express someone’s essence as an object… Could you tell me, as a way of understanding your essence, what you would be if you were a:

– Flower – currently rose, with less thorns than I used to have, but still to be handled with care, and a flower who’s scent is rich and strong as it is crushed

– Car (or truck or…) – My car is a 2008 Honda Accord – dependable, doesn’t break down, not many repairs needed, has some gadgets but not so many as becomes confusing, blends into the crowd of cars, not one to draw attention to itself but will be there when needed.

– Boat – definitely a sail boat, I like being driven by the wind, exploring new places, grace that quietly sneaks up on you.

– Something to wear – something like a blanket (I like to hug), but not wool (that scratches and itches). Not a tie person, much too binding, or suit person, much too binding, for sure a bluejeans person.

– Work of literature – short story (I’m only 5’6″), but a really good short story. 🙂


‘Cross Roads’ was published on Thursday (22 November) and you can read all publishing details on the Amazon page.

4 comments on this post:

Phil Groom said...

… but please don’t buy it from Amazon: support your local Christian bookshop instead, if for no other reason than that they’ll be paying their fair share of UK taxes 🙂

Find your nearest Christian bookshop here: UK Christian Bookshops Directory

Lay Anglicana said...

Yes, Phil, well said! Amazon is a very tempting place to send people because you can read inside the book and so on…(but point taken)

24 November 2012 20:11
24 November 2012 17:57

[…] with the author as part of this post. Sadly, this has not been possible, however please check out this post, which does feature an interview.  Rate this:Share this:MoreEmailPrint Pin ItDiggSHARE on […]

17 December 2012 11:30
Kathryn Price said...

I didn’t care about any of the humans in The Shack, and haven’t troubled to reread it, but there were moments when the writing was lovely – in his answers to the questions here there were some lovely bits too! Perhaps I do want to get this book after all.

17 December 2012 17:49

Leave a Reply

We rely on donations to keep this website running.