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Q&A: Nicholas Mosley

You are often described as a novelist of ideas. Do you recognise yourself in that description?

I prefer to say that I write about people who have ideas. And I certainly think that ideas are what differentiate us from the rest of the animal world.

For instance, Adam, the protagonist in your new novel God’s Hazard, is obsessed by the problem of free will and tries to reimagine the God of the Old Testament.

That’s right. I use Adam to put over some questions of my own. It struck me many years ago how extraordinarily unpleasant we make all our gods. And even after I became a practising Christian after the Second World War, I remained obsessed with the question why the Old Testament God is so odious – in fact, he’s one of the most unpleasant characters in fiction. I don’t feel much personal relationship with God the Father, an old man up in the sky. And in a world that is dominated by this vengeful father, free will doesn’t make much sense. But I wanted to see how the notion does make sense.

Did you conceive your memoir Paradoxes of Peace as an accompaniment to the novel? It is a very powerful record of your coming to religious faith.

I did. I went to and fro between the two books as I was writing them. As a young man, I had some rather conventional misgivings about Christianity – especially the Atonement. How did God the Father think he could make things better by getting his son to suffer the worst kind of evil? I’ve always found that hard.

What role did your father Sir Oswald Mosley play in all this? You describe his disappointment when you announced you wanted to be a novelist rather than a philosopher.

When I was a young man, I had all the usual adolescent anxieties about the meaning of life. And he, though he was in his fifties by then, still had them too. He was like a child in that respect. He was always interested and open-minded about this unfashionable thing called “the meaning of life”.

How did you reconcile the sceptical, inquiring father you knew with the public embodiment of ideological certainty?

Even though I was enormously influenced by my father when I was young, I always thought his politics were wrong, crazy. The first public speech I heard him give in the 1930s – I must have been ten or 11 – I found completely insane. It was in Hyde Park. The anti-fascists came marching down Bayswater, shouting slogans and singing anti-fascist songs, and there was a police auto-gyro hovering overhead, so no one could hear what he said anyway.

On several occasions, you describe your father’s politics as “self-destructive” and you portray him as inhabited by a malevolent force bigger than himself.

That’s exactly how I see it. Remember that after the war, he went back into politics. He went into Notting Hill to stir up feeling against the blacks. When he got up on top of a speaker van he was like someone possessed. He was in the grip of a kind of addiction and it didn’t do him any good. He really thought he was going to get elected as an independent, but when the vote came, he lost his deposit. I told him he was destroying himself. He said he’d never speak to me again. But at the end of his life I was one of the few people he wanted to talk to. I think he realised he was some sort of junkie, a rhetoric junkie. It wasn’t about power. If it had been power he was interested in, all he needed to do was stay in the Labour Party, tell a few lies and he’d have become leader.

“God’s Hazard” and “Paradoxes of Peace” by Nicholas Mosley are published by Dalkey Archive Press (both at £10.99)

Jonathan Derbyshire is Managing Editor of Prospect. He was formerly Culture Editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 18 May 2009 issue of the New Statesman, Rock bottom