Wednesday 15 August 2018

Father John S Hogan Author Profile and Interview

Father John S Hogan Author Profile and Interview

I first encountered the writings of Father John S. Hogan by chance. After discovering books from the Catholic Truth Society. Within a couple of weeks, I had read the four books he currently has published. To date all his books are published by the Catholic Truth Society, and he is the editor of the living fruitfully series. His writing is wonderful. And though he will deny it he is a modern renaissance man, a priest, philosopher, an educator, a researcher, a student, an author and more. He took time from some of his many duties and answered some questions for the readers here at Book reviews and More. So, now in his own words Fr. John S. Hogan.

1. Father Hogan when did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you nurture that dream?

I cannot remember for definite when I wanted to be a writer, it seems as if I always wanted to write. Certainly as a child I was always scribbling – some would say I have not advanced beyond that! It was part of my nature, so that always led me to believe it was God’s gift, one I had to use for him.

2. Who were some of your biggest supporters and contributors to your early success?

My family, initially. My mother taught me to read and write before I went to school. My aunt-godmother, Brigid, was an avid reader and she encouraged me to read and explore ideas, I owe a great deal to her. I was also blessed with good English teachers who took pains to encourage me to write. I was always writing fiction, short stories and poetry, in my secondary school years and my English teacher there, Mrs Kelly, challenged me to improve upon my writing and explore ideas with greater clarity.

3. You have been blogging since 2010. What inspired you to pursue writing books?

I always wanted to write books, I suppose there is a desire in every writer to see their name in print, and not just in papers or magazines but on the covers of a book. Of course there is the element of pride in that, so I have to be careful there. Before I entered seminary the plan I had for my life was to get my PhD, lecture in English literature and write books. God intervened, but the urge to write is still there and to produce books to help people come to know their faith. There are many great Catholic writers both in fiction and non-fiction who do just that and I sense that God wants me to do my bit.

4. There was a gap in your blogging between 2016 and 2018. That gap also coincides with your publishing 4 books. What the break and reduced blogging a result for a focus on longer work for publication?

That gap in the blogging stirs my conscience. I started the blog to converse with people on the net, to explore the faith and write about the saints. Because the time I have for writing is short other projects intervened and prevented my blogging. I have a number of unfinished works, books included, and if these were ever to see the light of day I had to take time away from the blog. I hope to continue to blog, but perhaps, for now, not as much as before.

5. How do you balance the heavy workload of being a parish priest with writing both your blog and books?

This is the question! I have to juggle my time, manage it carefully. My duties as a priest must come first, but I am also aware that my writing is also meant as an act of service, so I have to take ‘stolen moments’ here and there to work on the books. I can be foolish at times and take those moments from time for sleep and recreation, which are very important if a priest is to have a balanced life and good health. Not from the time for prayer though, that must be sacrosanct.

6. What does your writing process look like? Takes us through the steps from idea to publishing?

I cannot operate in chaos. I am sometimes amused when I see writers’ desks and they look like a bomb hit them. I need order on the desk if I am going to write. After that, it is just like most writers. Research and thought comes first, then a plan (thanks to Mrs Kelly’s influence) – I try to lay out each chapter or section and decide what I will address in each one before I begin writing. Then it is simply sitting down and getting the ideas out, writing a continuous narrative. I write to the end, I do not stop and edit – that happens later. When the first draft is finished, I begin the editing process, often producing two, three or four more drafts. Information may be added along the way, or taken out. I find I can stand back from my work and be vicious when I need to – I don’t usually get sentimental. I discovered this when I was working with copy editors and proof-readers, I was happy to sacrifice my ‘darlings’ if they were superfluous to requirement.

7. Do you use a playlist when writing? Are certain books written while predominantly listing to the same music?

This is another interesting development in my writing. When I was younger I used to listen to music when I wrote - classical music, but now I work in silence. I think the silence not only helps me think and reflect; but allows me to enter into what I am writing without any distractions. It also allows me to pray as I write.

8. What current projects are you working on or are in the back burner in some stage of development?

I have a number of books on the back burner. Some are partly written and if I get time I may finish them off, if they serve a purpose. I have just finished a biography of St Thomas Becket and that will be looking for a publisher in the next few weeks.  I have a book of devotions to St Thomas due to be published by Gracewing at the end of November.

9. Your books to date include two volumes in a series on the fruit of the spirit, a biography of Saint Edmund Arrowsmith, and A Book of Martyrs, focusing on martyrs from England, Scotland, and Wales. Do you see yourself writing more books in the fruit of the Spirit series?

I am series editor for CTS’s Living Fruitfully series, so I do plan to write at least one more booklet for it.

10. Are there other saints you would like to be a hagiographer for? Are there specific saints you would love to write about?

There are many saints I would love to be biographer for! As I mentioned I have been working on a biography of Thomas Becket and I have a great desire to make him better known at this time: given his own struggles, I believe he is a saint for our times. I hope a publisher will share my enthusiasm there. I also aim to do more work on St Edmund Arrowsmith. I feel a certain call to share the stories of the martyrs, so perhaps I will delve more into the lives of some of them.

11. Which authors have influenced and shaped your style as a hagiographer?

I am cautious about the term hagiographer as, in recent times, it has a certain ring to it. I love to read the lives of the saints, but I tend to be drawn more to the writing and method of historians when it comes to exploring and writing about the saints. I have great admiration for Eamon Duffy, professor of the History of Christianity at Cambridge – he has a meticulous approach to research which I admire. I also like the historian John Guy – in his work he brings history to life, a similar approach to the lives of the saints would be good – we need to be wary of a pious approach to men and women who were flesh and blood and had to deal with many of the struggles we must face.  There are many others, like a magpie I read and learn from all sorts of writers, novelists included. I like Sigrid Undset, her biography of St Catherine of Siena is a masterpiece, and her gift as a novelist helped her conjure up Catherine’s times with extraordinary vivacity. Marcelle Auclair’s biography of St Teresa of Avila is just as good, again she immerses the reader in 16th century Spain. I try to bring that sense to my books, I want the reader to find themselves in the middle of the period surrounded by the people of the time and then encounter the subject of the book, be it a saint or other figure. I have tried to do this in my biography of Thomas Becket. I suppose it is the literary version of waking up to find a crowd standing around you!

12. Do you have any plans to make a foray into the realm of fiction, or do you see your efforts remaining focused on non-fiction?

I have not ruled it out. There is always the worry that a priest writing fiction is taking time from other tasks, literary included, that might be of greater benefit to the faith. But the Lord composed fiction to teach his disciples, so I can see my way past that worry. So, in this regard, I have a few ideas in my head. Time will tell.

13. If you could only recommend 10 books to a reader looking to be a well-rounded and whole person what books would you suggest?

I presume the Bible is a given. There are so many, but here is a selection:

The Complete Works of Shakespeare, quite apart from the sheer brilliance of the man and his plays, in his work Shakespeare offers extraordinary insights into the human person.

The Divine Comedy by Dante Aligheri. One of the masterpieces of world literature, Dante’s epic, I think, draws us to explore the meaning of life and like Shakespeare offers us insights into the human person, our weaknesses and the means to overcome them.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. I am a Tolkien fan, but I think his novel should be required reading. We didn’t study it in university, our professors did not see it as high literature at all, and yet it is a work of genius. Tolkien reminds us of the values that make for good living and teaches us that we need to face life and its challenges with courage and humility.

The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton. I love Chesterton, his sheer brilliance, verve, wit, insight and magnanimity are extraordinary in an age of peevishness and ideology. Any book, or every book, of his should be on the list of those who want to grow as human beings and as Christians. I particularly like Chesterton’s chivalry, his challenge for all of us to jump right into life and live it and our faith with gusto. This book is excellent because it explores who we are and who Christ is, and how both are related.

The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. With all the talk about love today, we need to listen to a sane voice who can teach us clarity and understanding.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. This is one of my favourite novels. Far from being a horror story, this is a book that warns us of the dangers of trying to claim for ourselves what is not ours.  I see it as a novel about original sin.

The Reform of Renewal by Fr Benedict Groeschel. A timely book that reminds us that, if we are tempted to believe that reform begins with structures, we need to remember it has to begin with us – with our becoming better people and better Christians.

The Autobiography of St Teresa of Avila, written by herself. As a Secular Order Carmelite I would be expected to put this on the list, however, it is an insightful book. It is about one woman’s struggle with faith and prayer while being a primer on how to engage in conversation with God. St Edith Stein, having read it, said, “This is the truth”; I think that is enough of a recommendation.

Fr Damien’s Letters, the collected letters of St Damien of Molokai. St Damien’s congregation has just retranslated and published the saint’s letters describing his life and ministry among the lepers. The teaching of this holy man provides sufficient food for thought for those who want to grow in charity.

To Raise The Fallen. A collection of writings and letters from the Irish Jesuit and martyr of charity, Fr Willie Doyle. He was an extraordinary man and priest whose love of God and neighbour brought him onto the battlefields of World War I, risking his life to care for the men in his care and ensuring that they had the Last Sacraments before they died. A man of astonishing love and courage.

14. What were some of your favorite books and authors when you were younger?

There were so many, and I have forgotten most of them. When I was a child I loved adventure books, so there were many of those. Enid Blyton was a staple. I didn’t reach much of Roald Dahl. As a child I ventured into books for older people, so as soon as I was allowed I was reading Agatha Christie. I adored history and then of course there were the usual classics.

15. Who are some of your favorite authors or books now?

There are quite a few. As I said earlier, I love Tolkien and Chesterton. I also like my crime novels, recently I have been delving into Dorothy Sayers and Josephine Tey and I find it hard to pass any of their novels when I find them in a bookstore. I also like C.J. Sansom – his Shardlake series is very good.  I also like Daphne du Maurier – her short stories are second to none.  In terms of religious works, I find Fr Benedict Groeshel’s works worth reading time and time again, as are the works of Fulton Sheen, George Weigel and Scott Hahn. Of course the writings of the saints are always rewarding: St Teresa of Avila, St Therese, St Augustine, St Anthony of Padua – I love his sermons, they are rich, not just in Scripture and learning, but evocative and as well as nourishing. I also love St Damien of Molokai, though not a writer, his letters, now published again by his congregation, are fine pieces of writing, giving us a glimpse into his life among the lepers. I think he is an ‘author’ worth getting to know.

16. If you had to pick 10 books about saints for a reader which books would be on your list?

I could recommend so many, but here are eleven:

Marcelle Auclair, St Teresa of Avila
St Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul
Blessed Marie-Eugene Grialou, Under The Torrent of His Love (one of the best books on St Therese)
Sigrid Undset, Catherine of Siena
John Guy, Thomas Becket
George Weigel, Witness to Hope (St John Paul II)
Evelyn Waugh, Edmund Campion
R.W. Chambers, Thomas More
Gordon Brook-Shepherd, The Last Habsburg (Though a secular, purely historical biography of Blessed Karl of Austria, it is a fine piece of work in which even the non-religious historian cannot escape recognising the holiness of this man).
Jan de Volder, The Spirit of Fr Damien (St Damien of Molokai)
Franςois Trochu, The Curé of Ars

17. You wear many hats, priest, author, blogger, founder of the Fraternity of St Genesius, a co-host of EWTN's series Forgotten Heritage, chaplain and spiritual director. How do you balance it all?

I have no idea, to be honest. I deal with what I have to deal with now, get the work done and make sure I keep myself organised, so I don’t meet myself on the way back.

18. In many ways you are a modern renaissance man, a priest, philosopher, an educator, a researcher, a student, an author and more. Very few people today are as well rounded as you are to what do you attribute this?

I don’t know how to answer this question. I don’t see myself in that description at all. I am just a priest trying to fulfil the duties I have been given and use what strengths God has given me to carry out those duties to the best of my ability.

19. If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have 10 books to read again and again, what books would you want with you?

Can I presume the Bible is a given and already on the island as is the Missal and Divine Office?

John Haslett & Cameron M. Smith, Wilderness Survival for Dummies
St John of the Cross, Collected Works
St Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul
JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
John Guy, Thomas Becket
Fr Willie Doyle, To Raise the Fallen
St Damien of Molokai, Fr Damien’s Letters
Butler’s Lives of the Saints (can the collected volumes count as one book?)
Martin Gilbert, Churchill
G.K Chesterton, The Collected Father Brown

20. What advice would you give to young aspiring authors and artists particularly those looking to have their art reflect their faith?

Pray. Read widely. Listen. Reflect. Look at the great masters, take note of what the teachers say. Pray. Then write and write, or draw and paint. Be open to correction, try and find a distance from your work so it may improve. Above all, consecrate it to God and his service. Do not be afraid of rejection, what you do is not for them, it’s for God.

Father Hogan has given us a lot to think about. I know that I have added about 10 books to my wish list from this interview. And will also read anything else he publishes. If you have not read any of his books I highly recommend them.

Books by John S. Hogan:
Edmund Arrowsmith (Saints of the Isles)
A Book of Martyrs: Devotions to the Martyrs of England, Scotland and Wales
Devotions to St Thomas Becket

Books in the Living Fruitfully Series:

Author profile and interview with father John S. Hogan

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