Kathleen Jowitt is back on the site today, revealing an excerpt of her upcoming contemporary f/f litfic novel The Real World, which releases on November 2nd! Here’s the story:
Colette is trying to finish her PhD and trying not to think about what happens next. Her girlfriend wants to get married – but she also wants to become a vicar, and she can’t do both. Her ex-girlfriend never wanted to get married, but apparently she does now. Her supervisor is more interested in his TV career than in what she’s up to, and, of the two people she could talk to about any of this, one’s two hundred miles away, and the other one’s dead.
The Real World.
And here’s the excerpt!
‘So,’ Lydia said when Rowan had left and they were standing out on the pavement, ‘since you brought up the subject of whatever God has lined up for us in 2017, bring it on, I thought I should let you know. I’ve decided.’
Colette had been expecting this, but it still landed hard. She took a breath in. ‘You’re going to do it. You’re going to do the whole “become a vicar” thing.’
Lydia smiled, and then tamed the smile. ‘I’m going to see how far I get, at least.’
‘OK,’ Colette said, very carefully. ‘So tell me what happens next.’
‘I talk to Marcus.’
Colette tucked her hand into Lydia’s elbow, with an obscure sense of having yielded ground. ‘Haven’t you been talking to him for the last year?’
Lydia nodded, smiling once again. ‘Yes. I mean, I follow up on that conversation we had before Christmas. I tell him that he’s right, it’s time to go for it.’
That seemed logical enough. ‘And then what does Marcus do about it?’
‘He passes me on to the DDO, who’ll probably give me another very long reading list.’
They turned right at the bottom of the hill to walk north-east along the riverbank. The water glittered in the thin sunlight. There was nothing between them and the breeze now. ‘Remind me who the DDO is?’
‘Diocesan Director of Ordinands. And then, if I’ve successfully jumped through all the hoops in between, they send me on a BAP.’
‘That’s the residential thing with all the interviews,’ Colette said triumphantly. ‘I remember Peter doing it.’ Twice. She added, ‘I don’t remember what it stands for, though.’
‘Bishop’s Advisory Panel.’
‘Nothing to do with bread products, then.’
‘In one sense.’ Lydia’s voice was brittle. ‘In another, it has everything to do with them.’
‘I suppose it does.’
They walked on in silence for a little while. Colette allowed herself to think that if it all went to plan and Lydia ended up in a vicarage then at least that would solve the problem of rent. Underneath that she was aware of mingled exhilaration and apprehension, and was not sure whether they belonged to herself or to Lydia.
‘If I get through that, then there’s three years of theological college, then there’s a curacy.’ Colette knew all this, but she let Lydia run through it once again. ‘One year as a deacon, then two as a priest. On the ground, serving people, loving people.’
‘Six years, then.’ It felt like a lifetime.
‘The next few months will be like what I’ve just done, but more so, going deeper. Talking more. Then I get to the BAP and it’s going to be hell.’
Colette nodded. ‘I told you the same thing when I started my PhD.’ She meant it as a warning, and she suspected that Lydia knew this. It was all very well to talk about following your passion (she had never used those words herself, but plenty of other people had used them on her behalf), but the cost had been more than she had anticipated; more, perhaps, than she had had at her disposal.
Lydia said, ‘And you were right.’ Her tone was gracefully neutral.
Colette considered how best to put it into words. ‘I said that, and I didn’t know what hell was like. Now I do.’
Lydia elaborated: ‘It might or might not be hell, and I have to do it either way.’
‘I know.’ She bit her lip. ‘I wish you didn’t.’
‘I think that’s how I would have felt about your PhD, if I’d known what it was going to be like for you.’
Colette tried not to let her surprise show. Lydia had never been anything other than supportive, up until now. ‘Fair’s fair, then?’ She raised her eyebrows.
‘I’ve been enjoying it up to now. I still am. It’s just… all got real. And the further I get into it, the more of myself I invest. And what if I’m wrong? What if they don’t want me? What if I’m not wrong and they still don’t want me?’
‘What indeed?’ It was probably not the most helpful response.
Lydia answered her own question. ‘I suppose I just keep on at the council until I work out what else to do.’
She found herself wishing that they had talked about it before. It was not really Lydia’s fault that they had not: Colette had, out of a combination of delicacy and cowardice, evaded the subject except insofar as it affected their lives on an immediate and practical level. ‘And what about me? Doesn’t my presence in your life throw a very large spanner into the works before you’ve even started?’
‘Marcus says no.’ Lydia did not sound convinced. ‘They’ll see past you.’
Colette said, with all the sarcasm that she could muster, ‘How gracious of them. I can hear Peter singing Like a mighty tortoise moves the Church of God at this very minute. Have you talked to him about it?’
‘Kind of. Bits of it.’ Lydia frowned. ‘He sort of gets it, and he sort of doesn’t.’
Colette wished that she had been more specific. ‘Because he’s already got through the process? Or because you’re gay, and he’s not?’
‘Yes. He gets the deep-down existential worry about, you know, who are you, if it turns out that you aren’t who you thought you were.’
‘Well, I would hope so,’ Colette said, remembering the fallout from the first time Peter had gone for selection, and been turned down.
Lydia nodded. ‘Yes. More than I hope I ever will, though I think he might be beginning to forget what that feels like. Because of course that is who he is. But… OK, he knows that I might be turned down for the wrong reasons, and he’s very ready to get angry about it on my behalf, but I don’t think he quite understands how much it’s been weighing me down even up to this point. How often I’ve said to myself that I won’t do it after all because of that.’
‘Well, yes, but the whole process…?’
‘Oh, yes, that.’ Lydia laughed. ‘He knows about that.’
‘And the… wanting to do it at all?’ Which was, Colette thought, the hardest thing of all to understand. She took her hand back, suddenly needing space.
Lydia nodded. ‘He wouldn’t have gone through the whole thing twice if he didn’t, would he?’
Children’s shrieks and laughter drifted across the river from the public gardens. ‘Where did it start?’ Colette asked, hurrying to get the words out before she lost her nerve. ‘When did you know?’
Lydia met Colette’s eye, and glanced away again. ‘The answer to that one changes every time I talk to Marcus.’
‘As far back as your church in Hastings?’
A self-deprecating smile. ‘Looking back that far, I can see it coming. Well, there was Sunday school, and holiday club, and the band. But no, that obviously wasn’t going to go anywhere. I was a bit too female.’
‘What about when you were a hall officer for Fellowship? Same thing?’
‘Yes, same thing. Still too female. And too gay.’ Lydia hesitated. ‘I think that I really began to understand when Becky died.’
Colette was silent: shocked, and impatient with herself for being shocked.
After a little while, Lydia said quietly, ‘There was nothing I could do. Nothing that anybody could do. Nothing that I could say to make anything better. Nothing that I could say that wouldn’t have been offensively trite. And yet there we all were, having to live in that house where she wasn’t any more. You and Will and Georgia, all devastated in your own different ways. And all I could do was to be there. Which in itself sounds offensively trite, now.’
‘You were there,’ Colette said, low, not entirely trusting herself.
Lydia glanced at her, judging, Colette supposed, how much further it was safe to go. ‘I think that up until that point I’d always thought, you know, it wasn’t as bad as all that, you could pray harder and things would look better. That God would give you strength. But when Becky… well, that was when I realised that no, it was exactly as awful as it looked, and I was still called to be there. At the foot of the cross, you know? I was more use to you than I was to Will or Georgia, I expect, but at least I was some use to somebody.’
Colette was not sure that she could bear much more of this line of thinking. She returned to the present. ‘What does it feel like?’ she asked.
‘Sometimes it feels like restlessness, like I know I’m not doing what I’m meant to be doing.’ She broke into a smile. ‘And sometimes it’s like this certainty at the back of my mind that this is what I’m going to do next, and when I’m not thinking about it then that’s what I think I’m going to do. Like, if I get asked the where-do-you-see-yourself-in-five-years question, then the answer that first comes to mind is well of course I’ll be a minister.’
‘The way your parents assume that of course you’re going to university, and so you do, too?’
‘Your parents, maybe. But yes, a bit like that. But more –’ She broke off, thought for a moment, and continued: ‘Did you ever have a moment of revelation, when it occurred to you that no straight person would worry as much as you were worrying about whether they might be queer?’
‘Oh. Yes. About three weeks after I started going out with Jess, actually.’ After two terms’ worth of a miserable crush on the Head Boy followed by the world-expanding experience of that unlikely relationship, it had been a liberating realisation for her. Judging by Lydia’s face, her feelings were more mixed. ‘So is that what it’s like?’
‘I think that’s what’s going on. Like, if God wasn’t calling me – to something,’ she added hastily – ‘then I wouldn’t spend so much time thinking about whether or not I was being called. Unless it’s, what’s it called when you think so much about something that you keep seeing it everywhere?’
‘Yes. That. But it doesn’t feel… I mean, it does feel…’ She shook her head. ‘Well, I did turn out to be gay. And so I think there probably is something going on, and it feels just as huge and important and impossible.’ Her face changed. ‘And then I think about it and I remember all the reasons why it might not be going to happen, and there’s this immense sadness about the whole thing. And – this is going to sound weird –’
‘It doesn’t feel like it’s all my sadness. Because I’m not sad at all, really. I like my job and I love you and I have a church where I feel like myself, and things are honestly really good. It’s like someone’s sad on my behalf, and sometimes I can hardly bear it.’
Colette looked behind them, then ahead, and put her right hand into Lydia’s pocket to take her left one. ‘And yet you keep going with it.’
Lydia’s expression was heartbreakingly earnest. ‘Of course I do. Because it’s an active kind of sadness; it’s quite close to anger; it keeps bubbling up through the cracks, and I know that if the answer is no then it’ll find something else to do, but I’ve got to follow it as far as it’s… navigable, I suppose.’ She laughed. ‘Good grief. What a tortured metaphor.’
‘I think I get the idea.’
‘And then, sometimes, when I think, yes, this is going to happen, I just get this amazing sense of peace, of rightness. The first time I spoke to Benjy about it. The time I admitted to Felicity that yes, she was onto something.’ She paused for a moment. ‘And today.’
Kathleen Jowitt writes contemporary literary fiction exploring themes of identity, redemption, integrity, and politics. Her work has been shortlisted for the Exeter Novel Prize and the Selfies Award, and her debut novel, Speak Its Name, was the first ever self-published book to receive a Betty Trask Award. She lives in Ely, UK.