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To write a novel suggests a belief in more than the physical. It’s saying that there’s a meaning to be understood in a tale as it unfolds that is better expressed in the telling than in a set of equations. Maybe some mathematician could come up with a Maxwell-type equation which contains how the story diverges or curls back in on itself but that couldn’t convey what the characters felt. And as any author will tell you, there comes a point when it feels like the characters are dictating the story.

My novel Where’s Sailor Jack? tries to show a mental realm that humans inhabit linked to the mechanical world with some limited free will to change things, and that this realm is consistent with present-day science and modern philosophy. The prime author of all time is God who allows his creation to change the story for better or worse, although at the end of time which is also the beginning, this God decides and has decided if the events are to happen or not.

I’m informed that this would not be described as dualism, but dual aspect monism. The principal character, an engineer called Bob, wants to understand the linking mechanism and sees events as primary with time somewhat of an illusion. His view of God mirrors that of process theology, with God using his will to lure the world forward to a better future. He’s prepared to take a Job-like view of suffering that it’s presumptuous of us to ask why. His friend Richard would like to make the mental world the primary realm, but struggles with the problems suffering creates for believing in a benign God, and sometimes thinks that the mental has no agency, with God no more able to dictate outcomes than we are. We ride the roller coaster of life thinking whatever we want but unable to change anything. I think this is called anomalous monism. Both their views develop as life plays its tricks.

With Bob looking for purpose and Richard for meaning, they have a different view of St Paul. Richard thinks that Romans tries to explain too much and that if there is to be salvation, no other explanation can be given than the grace of God. Bob admires Paul’s robust intellect, while knowing that he will need to be spoken for at the last trump. They both love the prose of 1 Corinthians.

Bob’s father was called Jack. Jack enlisted in the navy at the start of the war for the duration, Bob being conceived during a Christmas 1944 shore leave. Jack’s parents trained their budgie to say “Where’s Sailor Jack?” Both men in late middle age mourn their past. The book title stands as a metaphor for the existential question they both share – where does the past go? They eventually both come round to the same view that you take the whole story with you to the grave, and if there is anything beyond, it ain’t necessarily so. The rest is their Christian hope.

WSJ - UTTLEY NEW KINDLE COVERJohn Uttley, 69, was born in Lancashire although he now lives just outside London. Where’s Sailor Jack is his first novel. Not fancying a memoir, or his family’s story, John instead recorded his Lancastrian sense of humour as well as documenting a tumultuous, exciting period of British history. History John just happened to live through. John had a successful career in the electricity industry, being there for the start of the National Grid Company, the Miners’ Strikes and the Sizewell Inquiry. He recently studied for an external Divinity degree.

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