Wednesday 6 December 2023

Author Profile and Interview with Jennifer Moorcroft

Author Profile and Interview with Jennifer Moorcroft

Jennifer Moorcroft is an author who focuses on hagiography. She has published numerous volumes for the Catholic Truth Society and also has a number of other longer published works. I have read eight of her volumes and can easily recommend them. I reached out and Jennifer took some time from her schedule to answer 20 questions for the readers here at Books Reviews and More.

1. When did you know you wanted to be a writer? How are you nurturing that dream?

I’ve never thought of myself as a professional writer, making a decision to make writing a big part of my life, it just happened. My favourite spiritual writer is St Elizabeth of the Trinity, and my second published work was a small CTS booklet on her. (My first published work, if you can call it that, was a story about the return of Odysseus to Ithaca, published in a magazine at the age of 12). This sparked my desire to write a book about her. This was in the 1980s, when there was little published in English about her, so my book ‘He is my Heaven’ found a market. Completing it, I so loved the process of researching with what material I had and piecing it together that I started looking for another saint and doing the same for her. My biography of St Teresa of the Andes, ‘God is All Joy’. Was the result. After that, I never stopped writing, making sure I had a new project in mind to work on when the current one was completed, whether that was a book or an article.

2. Who were some of the biggest supporters of your writing?

Nobody, really. My parents weren’t big readers, there was hardly a book in the house – apart from mine! And they couldn’t understand my hunger for reading. I suppose I did gain confidence when, in primary school, I was always among those who were called to the front to read out their essays or stories.

3. What authors influenced your writing style and format?

I did enjoy authors who could come up with a ‘pithy’ saying, that said a lot in a few words. I suppose Jane Austen was the first of those, and I delighted in her works when I started reading them in my thirties, and could thus appreciate her wit.

G K Chesterton was a great influence on me in my teens when I was coming towards the Church. His unique style is not one to be copied, but he had the gift of saying in a phrase, a sentence, something to open one’s eyes.
I also later read Newman’s sermons, eg. ‘Plain and Parochial’. I think, subconsciously. my delight in the beauty of his English, must have seeped in.

4. Outside of your own books, what 10 books would you recommend to a reader who wants to know more about Saints?

I am a Third Order Carmelite, so my special interest is in Carmelite saints and the field of biographies of saints is rather sparse!

St Elizabeth of the Trinity, two-volume work by Joanne Mosley. 
Iain Matthew, The Impact of God (St John of the Cross)
Tessa Bielecki, Holy Daring (St Teresa of Avila)
Ida Gorres, The Hidden Face, (St Therse of Lisieux)
Bernadette Chovelon, Salt and Light (Elisabeth Leseur)
Sr Lucia of Fatima – A Pathway

A good idea is to read some of the CTS booklets on the lives of the saints until you find one that seems to ‘click’ with you. The booklets will contain books for further reading, which will introduce you to your favourite saint at a deeper, more detailed level.

5. What are some of your favourite contemporary religious authors to read?

As attested by my book, ‘A Catholic Response to the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ and because I’m a convert, I am drawn to those books that give reasons for the Catholic Faith. Patrick Madrid is one, e.g. ‘Pope Fiction’.

All of Scott Hahn’s books.

I’m very interested in reading about the Jewish roots of our Catholic faith, and all the books of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks are worth reading.

Thomas Nash, ‘The Biblical Roots of the Mass’ is about the best book I’ve read on this subject.

All of Pope Emeritus Benedict XV1’ books.

All of CS Lewis’s books.

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

The CTS asked me to do several booklets for them, on saints I hadn’t read much about before. So I obtained all the books I could on the particular saint, all the information I could. Bear in mind that biographies of saints aren’t actually thick on the ground! When writing a full-length book, I find it helpful to keep a card index on all the different characters involved, for example, and also for cross-checking times and dates. The most irritating thing is to have read something somewhere I want to include and can’t find the source! 

When I’m writing a book I get soaked in the person and spend time just thinking of what I want to write next in the text. On a coach trip back from an ecumenical service a lady said I’d had a good nap, seeing me with my eyes closed. In fact, I had been composing the next section for my CTS booklet on St Teresa of Avila in my head. That doesn’t mean that what I’ve thought about is actually what I write. But it lays the groundwork for when I sit at the keyboard, let my fingers type and my mind take over. I am ruthless about deleting passages that don’t fit and I’m really interested in any criticism or suggestion that might come my way. I ponder whether the criticism is justified, in which case I’m happy to make any changes. I never stop learning how to write!

Since I realised that Our Lord wanted me to use my talent for writing on religious subjects, I have publishers now who will accept any idea I have and agree to publish.

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

No, I don’t play music while writing. We listen only to classical music – my husband has a profound knowledge of classical music which I love drawing from. We listen mainly to Beethoven, Mozart and Hayden in the evening, but during the day we love the silence which we are privileged to have in our Welsh home.

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

At present I’m working on a biography of Sr Lucia of Fatima, and some booklets for a friend on a project she has in Africa for abandoned and orphaned children. Earlier in the year the CTS asked me to do an up-to-date-biography on St Therese of Lisieux. I had to leave out so much I would love to have included because of the booklet format, and I would love to start on a fuller biography of her. As I said, one book in mind for when I finish the current one!

9. What advice do you wish a writer had passed on to you early in your career, which you only learned through experience?

During the lockdown I decided to republish three of my books with a non-traditional publisher, in the hopes of getting better sales through lower prices and a wider market. I also wrote two more books which I placed with another non-traditional publisher. Sales have been sluggish, with none of the sales I had hoped for from the glowing spiel I was given. I now write only for traditional publishers, whose editors will give you invaluable advice which you won’t get from non-traditional publishers. I would advise not to go down the non-traditional route, which costs a lot of money, and who always press new packages at hefty prices on you. The greatest nuisance is the number of calls and emails I get each week from non-traditional publishers, all promising the earth: but I have spent enough money there. I did publish with a non-traditional publisher because I thought the subject matter – my biography would have only a limited appeal, but I wanted to get it published anyway.

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

All of the above. One of the reasons I wrote the book on the Jehovah’s Witnesses was that they often came round to our house and engaged in discussion. Some of their beliefs blind-sided me! If I couldn’t give a response from the Catholic side at the time I would pray about it afterwards, think about what I would have like to have said. This strengthened me in my Catholic faith, gave me reasons to believe. Many Catholics said that they never engaged with the Jehovah’s Witnesses because they didn’t know what to say. In the book I give them the reasons why we, as Catholics, can’t believe their doctrines, but I also wanted to give Catholics pride in their faith and for them to embrace the beauty of it more deeply.

With our faith under attack as never before we do need the courage to say with quiet conviction what we believe and why. It may not be possible for people with busy lives to sit down and read books, and this is where the CTS booklets come in so handy - literally. We can slip them into a pocket or handbag to read while waiting for a bus, in a queue, anywhere. I know most of my booklets on saints are on eBook and presume all other CTS booklets are as well. Here are useful, well-researched booklets on almost any topic, so to do as you, the blogger, have done and read them all will truly make them a well-rounded Catholic.

I would recommend Patrick Madrid’s books for answering questions on the Catholic Faith that are often put to us, and Josh McDowell’s books for answering Biblical questions.

Above all, love and devotion for the Eucharist and Our Lady are the twin pillars of our faith, as St John Bosco saw in his vision. All our reading and writing must be grounded in prayer and love for Our Lord.

11. What of your books is your favourite and why?

I suppose the works of St Elizabeth of the Trinity. There is such depth in her writing, and I always find something new in them.

12. Have you ever considered writing fiction? If so, is it a project we might see in the near future?

I did write two (unpublished) novels, but I believe Our Lord wants me to write biographies. This gives me a head start, because I have my subject, I have my material, my task is to bring it all together in an attractive way which hopefully would encourage them to read my books.

13. Some of your books are available in electronic formats but with that comes bootleg distribution. What are your impressions of eBooks and the distribution of them through torrents and other illegal means?

I’m afraid that I’ve never heard of bootleg distribution and torrents. I’m hoping that my publishers have means installed to stop that from happening!

14. Some authors monitor torrent sites and contact them to remove their content. Do you do so or have someone do so for you?

If I understood what torrent sites are I would gladly find someone who would help me through those complexities.

15. Some of your earlier books are currently out of print, have you thought of rereleasing them as ebooks?

I don’t think any of them are out of print. The only one showing that is ‘God is all Joy’ published by the ICS, but is republished by Westwood books. I had a look on Amazon and found that lots of my books are no longer shown there, and are, in any case, mixed up with other authors. That means that I should have a website, so would be grateful for any hints on that. 

My book ‘The Simplicity of Love’ is available only as an eBook at present, as we want to bring out a 2nd Edition containing additional material not available to me at the time of writing the first edition. The CTS biographies are mostly available only as eBooks because there was a policy at one time not to commission more biographies, but I think this policy has now been changed. 

16. What were some of your favourite authors in your teen years who helped shape you?

I discovered GK Chesterton when we had a book of his works as set reading in my first year at the Grammar school. Although his unique style of writing is not for copying, he always had a phrase and sentence that made you stop and think. He was a great influence on me as I made my way into the Catholic Church. (I think I mentioned that earlier). 

The film ‘The Robe’ made a great impression on me and I devoured the book by Lloyd Douglas. However, rereading it not so long ago, I would give the proviso that his depiction of the Early Church is seen from a Protestant point of view. Anyway, this gave me a great interest in Roman and Greek history. I devoured anything I could get my hands on, including novels, and when I couldn’t find any more novels started writing them for myself – never for publication. But this was honing my writing skills. Also, it began my journey to the Catholic Church, so I read all I could on the subject, both for and against. The best book I read was ‘The Spirit of Catholicism’ by Karl Adam. Apart from that it was the ‘What Katy Did’ series, Enid Blyton, Little Women, Black Beauty, etc. I remember that Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ fixed my social outlook – on the humanity of everyone: ‘If I should prick, do I not bleed…’.

17. What are some of your favourite books and authors now?

I have great respect for Jewish thinkers – all books by Rabbi Jonthan Sacks are to be recommended. I’m reading one at present.

All books by Scott Hahn.

All books by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Apart from reading around the subject of whatever book I’m writing, I relax with a detective story, currently LJ Ross. For something gentler, I do like Amish books, despite many of their beliefs and practices being far from Catholic ones. But they live true Christian life of simplicity from which we can all learn and adapt.

18. I once had a university professor state that the true goal of a university education should be to teach one to learn how to think. What would you state should be the goal of higher education and why?

I despair when students nowadays in so many universities seem only to imbibe left-wing propaganda on so many areas and completely dismiss any other points of view other than their own, even without examining the points of view of the other side of a discussion. When I wrote my book on St Dominic, I was struck by the fact that the students at the universities had to argue on both sides – as exampled by St Thomas Aquinas. It doesn’t mean succumbing to relativism, where ‘it may be true for you’, and truth can be what a person says it is. As Catholics, we should have examined our own faith and made a mature decision that it is the truth revealed to us from God the Father through his Son Jesus, who is Truth.

Apart from that, I feel students should leave university as well-rounded people, willing and open to others, having skills to use for the benefit of their country.

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?

The Bible
Letters of St Elizabeth of the Trinity
Letters & autobiography of St Therese of Lisieux
Writings of St Teresa of Los Andes
Writings of Elisabeth Leseur
These are my favourite authors, and could I have paper and writing materials as well?? Then I would be able to continue writing about them!
Complete works of Shakespeare.

20. What advice would you give to young aspiring authors and artists?

Be true to yourselves, happy to learn from others, but finding your own particular voice and area of expertise.

Don’t be put off by rejection. If you are given advice as to why your work was rejected, then take it seriously.

As I said above, I wrote two novels which I never submitted to a publisher, but despite all the hours I spent on them I looked as honing my skills as a writer and not as a waste of time. I had fun writing them, but Our Lord was gently showing me what he actually wanted to write about. In all my books I want to show a different face of the Catholic Church, which is usually depicted in negative terms in the secular media. I want to show the beauty of holiness which blossoms in the lives of men and women who love their Church, are on fire with the love of Christ and how attractive that is.

For Catholics, unless writing a specifically Catholic work, wear your Catholicism lightly. CS Lewis and Tolkien show how Christian values can be lightly but firmly embedded in their works without, as secularists say, ‘pushing it down their throats’. (I’m sorry to say it, but others are pushing their doctrines through people’s throats more vigorously than Catholics!)

Jennifer shared a lot of information with us. Some great advice and some deep insight.  I greatly appreciate the time she took to engage with us her readers. If you have not given her works a try, I can easily recommend them and encourage you to pick a few up and give them a read.

Books by Jennifer Moorcroft:
A Catholic Response to the Jehovah's Witnesses
Saint Therese of Lisieux and Her Sisters 
When Silence Speaks. The Life and Spirituality of Elisabeth Leseur
The Hidden Light: A Life of Saint Dominic
He is My Heaven: The Life of Elizabeth of the Trinity
God Is All Joy: The Life of St. Teresa of the Andes

In the CTS Great Saints Series:

St Thérèse of Lisieux: Transformation into Love - Jennifer Moorcroft - CTS Biographies

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