Sex, Saints and Sin

These are some of the topics which will form a lively discussion between two very different writers at the Ex Libris Port Fairy Festival of Words next weekend.
At the age of 80, retired philosophy academic John Watt, is coming all the way from Perth in WA to talk about his first novel, Crooked Vows released in June this year. He will be talking to writer, director and performer Ailsa Piper who is opening the festival with a performance on Friday evening.

Both writers grew up in the Catholic faith and are well qualified to discuss sin. John Watt entered a seminary when he was just 14 years old, but two years later decided the priesthood was not for him. Ailsa Piper walked 1300 km across Spain with a swag full of her friends' sins, a trip which resulted in her first much acclaimed book, Sinning Across Spain, published in 2012.

John has had three books published on philosophy and co-authored a book with his late wife called The Whitefella Problem, but this is his first work of fiction.
He explains: "I was inspired to write it by all the clerical child abuse scandals which continue to come up."

The story centres on Thomas a trainee priest who is just about to takes his vows when he is involved in a plane crash. Only Thomas and a young woman called Jane survive the crash which occurs on a remote part of the coast of WA. The two set out to find civilisation, but only Thomas survives and has by then lost all memory of the trauma he has undergone. Now it's up to pragmatic Scottish psychiatrist, Dr MacPherson, to unravel the mystery which is firmly locked in Thomas's mind.

"Of course a lot of the book is autobiographical," says John, "I based MacPherson on my father who was from Edinburgh."

John makes good use of his knowledge of Catholicism and the WA landscape in the book. There are beautiful descriptions of the desolate, but spectacular coast and clever use of a well known book about saints. Thomas has kept the book which attributes a different saint to each day and he continues to read it while he is on his terrifying journey.

Kirsty Hawkes, Festival Coordinator, said: "I loved this book. It's a real page turner and a fascinating account of someone's struggle with their religious beliefs. This could have been trite, but in John's hands it is compassionate and entertaining. He gives us a glimpse into a strange and stifling world making it just a little bit easier for us to comprehend."

Crooked Vows is published by Wild Dingo Press, a small publishing company with a social conscience, based in Melbourne and founded in 2010. Wild Dingo aims to produce books which shed light on social issues.

John is now working on a second novel which looks at the Anglican Church.

John is appearing with Ailsa Piper at 11.15 on Sunday morning.