My interview with Bishop Tom Wright appeared in Woman Alive in early 2013, but hasn’t dated too much – but of course, in the meantime his magnum opus on Paul has been released. Writers may read the line about the writing part of his brain taking over with amazement. I do.
Simply Christian was and is a favourite of my books; it took a long time to think it through and then I finally wrote it in a week. That was where I first properly expounded the biblical theme of heaven and earth not being a long way apart but overlapping and interlocking – which I and many others find helpful, indeed exciting. Of the Everyone commentaries, writing Acts for Everyone was an amazingly vivid week, with the whole of Acts in my head and heart; it was as though all I had to do was to turn on a tap and out came the commentary. And the book about which I get more (positive!) comments than all my others put together is Surprised by Hope. I think for many people, including many long-standing Christians, it is a genuine surprise…
Dr Johnson was asked how he could write so quickly and he said it was because he’d trained himself to speak clearly. I’ve had to do a lot of speaking, often from rough notes or entirely off the cuff, and that, coupled with teaching in the Oxford tutorial system, taught me to think quickly and to formulate full sentences. Being musical helps, too; writing should be a form of composition, with a natural rhythm and flow. So though I may spend a long time preparing, making notes etc., once I sit down sentences and paragraphs just happen. Sometimes, especially when I’m tired, the writing part of the brain takes over and another part simply watches with interest to see what’s going to appear on the screen!
The first book of mine to appear was Small Faith, Great God in 1978. I understood very little about the process and didn’t know what to expect. For me it was momentous and though I got some nice reviews it was basically just another Christian paperback. I guess I always feel a bit vulnerable with a new book – you never know which bits people will like, which bits they will simply misunderstand, etc. I am trying now to complete my enormous book on St Paul and some academic colleagues are NOT going to like it, so I will wait with my hard hat on for missiles to start flying.
I hoped when I moved to St Andrews to play my guitar bit more (like I hoped to improve my golf handicap), but the big book on Paul (along with my teaching duties) was all-consuming and I hardly touched the guitar, or indeed the golf clubs…
I read all sorts of things. I often go back to C S Lewis, especially his academic works (Studies in Words, Experiment in Criticism, etc.); he writes so brilliantly even when I disagree with him. Alan Bennett’s various collected works are a delight even though I take such a different view from him on many subjects. I love poetry of all sorts and am a great fan of Micheal O’Siadhail. I normally only read novels on holiday; this last summer I read Skios by the brilliant Michael Frayn, and that stimulated me to read his earlier book Towards the End of the Morning. I often go back and dip into the various collections by Bernard Levin – again, a great writer. Sometimes before I sit down for a writing session myself I read a few paragraphs of Levin and ask myself, Now, how would he go about saying what I want to say here?
Bishop Tom Wright currently Research Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St Andrews (having been bishop of Durham for seven years).