Adrian Plass has been one of the most successful authors in the UK Christian book market for many years, from the first sales of The Sacred Diary through to Bacon Sandwiches and Salvation, which came out in 2007. Currently, he has more books in the pipeline, plus a DVD, and is working on a book that will be an exchange of letters between him and Jeff Lucas. But he fell into writing almost by accident.
'I had a stress illness (or something) back in the eighties and had to stop working with children in care. I was invited to write a book about my involvement with the TVS epilogue programme, Company, and as I had nothing better to do, I had a go. Sales went almost into double figures... '
And then he wrote The Sacred Diary, and had a success on his hands – 'No-one was more surprised than me when it took off in such a big way.' Why does he think it was so popular? ' It was just me sifting through piles of rubbish, some of them mine and some belonging to the church, looking for a good reason to go on following Jesus. Would the truth really set me free? That was the question. What I didn't understand was that a host of other people were asking themselves exactly the same question.'
And what has kept him going since? 'If a committee had been established twenty years ago to discuss the kind of lifestyle that I would most enjoy it would have come up with exactly what I do now. Writing can be a pain in every part of the body, but sometimes it flies and simply could not be more exciting. Then there's money, of course. It's my job, and it has kept us well for two decades. Some of the marvellous letters and e-mails I get are very sustaining as well. I am very privileged and fortunate, and I know it.'
The easiest book he ever wrote, says Adrian, was The Visit: ' I dictated it in one sitting to my wife and hardly changed a word afterwards' and three books were very hard: 'One was The Unlocking, a book about facing fear. Facing my own fears and inadequacies in the course of writing this book nearly tore my insides out, but I was pleased with the result. The second was a book called A Smile on the Face of God, a biography about an Anglican priest. Getting inside someone else's mind and writing truthfully about their experiences was extremely challenging. My brain still hurts when I think about it. The third was Jesus Safe Tender and Extreme, a sort of summing up of my faith so far.'
'My favourite book of my own is Ghosts, a book described by one American reader as 'Lust provoking trash.' Proud as I am of such a splendid label, I have to warn prospective readers that their lust is unlikely to be significantly provoked ...It is the story of a group of friends, once members of the same Church Youth Group, who spend a weekend together in 'The most haunted house in England'. I loved every moment of writing this book, and I hope all those who do not have a lust problem, and every one of those who do, will get a copy and read it.'
Adrian has written three books that have been linked to the work of major charities, with the third one, Fountains in the dust, on the work of Toybox, due to be published by Authentic later in the year. How hard are these books to write, and how does he cope with the way they make him feel?
'The three books Bridget and I have written, about trips to Bangladesh, Zambia and Latin America, are in one sense not difficult to write because the people and places that we encounter on our trips are so vivid, beautiful, ugly, dramatic, despairing and uplifting that there is no lack of material or inspiration. They are rewarding to write because the object of the exercise is much simpler than usual: we want people to understand how much help is needed and what they can do about it. The feelings engendered in us by recalling such things are harrowing, but also essential as a fuel for passionate and lively descriptions and explanations. We try to make the books as reader friendly as possible, bearing in mind that Third World stuff can often be as guilt-inducing as it is boring. We don't want people to feel guilty, we want them to feel that they can be part of a solution to the problems that they read about.'
So what inspires him? 'Everything. I mean it. Everything from Monday morning to curved reflective surfaces.'