An interview with the internet journal Ignatius Insight, on the writing of Sophia House and other novels in The Children of the Last Days series.
Ignatius Insight: Sophia House is the sixth novel in the series. How has that series of novels evolved over time? What has surprised you or intrigued you about the development of the series over the years?
Michael O’Brien: In the late 1970s I wrote two novels, A Cry of Stone and Strangers and Sojourners, simply responding to an interior prompting to write down these stories which just kept fountaining up in my imagination. They were overtly Catholic in content, and I was young enough, naïve enough too, to think it was possible for them to be published in Canada. Over more than a decade I amassed a hefty collection of rejection letters from publishers, who usually said something like, “Loved the characters and the writing, but the reading public is no longer interested in this worldview.” Translation: no orthodox Catholic vision of reality is acceptable in the mainstream of culture. I didn’t even ponder venturing south of the border, just tucked my novels away in a box, chalking it up to experience, an exercise in writing, and no more. Years later a friend high up in the Canadian literary establishment, who was himself an agnostic, assured me with utmost conviction that the problem with my books was their Catholic vision.
Like many well-intentioned parents of our generation, my wife and I believed that child-rearing was largely a matter of finding the right method. Oh, we believed in prayer and grace well enough, and we knew there were variations in temperament that made some children a little more difficult to raise than others. But we were convinced that no child could resist the high-octane mixture of our faith, our affection, and our parenting skills.
Then the Lord gave us Ben. I will not belabor you with a long list of his crimes and misdemeanors. Only let me say that from the moment of his birth he was an utterly delightful, exhausting, exasperating, and fascinating phenomenon whom Heaven had decided to drop into our laps for the good of our souls. He was strong-willed, imaginative, utterly charming, very energetic and . . . and . . .