I first came into contact with Opus Dei when a doctor in my parish began holding monthly social gatherings for parishioners at his home. One day he invited a priest of Opus Dei to give a talk. I seem to recall, that the talk wasn’t received too well with many of the liberal Catholics at the meeting. But I found the idea of finding holiness in everyday life and ordinary work fascinating.
I was then a journalist on the Daily Express in Manchester editing and laying out the feature pages, which included the City pages, the Leader page and the William Hickey gossip pages. My working hours were from four or five in the evening until around three a.m. the following morning. If I went straight home and to bed I would often have difficulty getting to sleep. I would find myself looking at the ceiling and redesigning pages and rewriting headlines in my head.
Several times a week when we finished work we would drive to the Press Club in Albert Square for a couple of pints of beer. This would mean getting to bed about four in the morning and rising about lunch time. After lunch I would try to do some writing. Then it was time to go to the office again.
I decided I would like to know more about Opus Dei and finding holiness in work and everyday life. The doctor who had organised the meeting was not a member of Opus Dei but used to go to the monthly evenings of recollection at Greygarth Hall, the Manchester centre of Opus Dei. He said the next time he was going he would take me with him. But he was unable to make it in the next few months so I took myself off to Greygarth for an evening of recollection.
Recollection, I discovered, consisted in a priest giving two meditations followed by Benediction. Afterwards there were tea, cakes, and biscuits. After that evening of recollection what impressed me very much was not what had been said during the meditations but the happiness and cheerfulness of the people I met and chatted to over tea and biscuits. That was the reason I continued attending over the next few months.
One person I seemed to get on particularly well with was a student from the Basque country of Spain who I think was doing a doctorate in electrical engineering. One day he asked how my writing was going and I told him about a play I had just started working on. He looked a little puzzled because the previous time we spoke I had told him about a novel I was writing whose central character was a northern detective called John Marne whose ankle had been crushed by a thieves’ get-away car so he would always walk with a limp.
When he asked what had happened to the John Marne novel I explained that I had decided it wasn’t working, that it was no good and that I would be better doing a play. He then produced a copy of The Way — the book for meditations written by St Josemaría Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei — which is now a best selling spiritual classic. He showed me Point 42 which says, “Why those variations in your character? When are you going to apply your will to something? Drop that craze for laying corner stones, and finish at least one of your projects.”
The point really went home. I kept thinking about it and realised that of my many unfinished writing projects the detective novel was the nearest to completion. So I sat down and finished it.
I sent it off convinced that it wasn’t good enough, and it was immediately accepted. This led to two other novels and a biography and about eight plays for BBC Saturday Theatre. Many times when I was three quarters through writing them, I wanted to start something else and had to struggle to put the finishing touches to each particular project.
Since then I have met many writers who, when they were three quarters through what they were working on, would decide it was no good. And I would repeat the point in The Way and get them to finish it. A good friend of mine had been commissioned by the BBC to write a television play. One day he rang me to say he couldn’t finish it. It wasn’t working, it wasn’t good. He was going to send the BBC their money back. I took him for a pint and persuaded him to keep the money and finish his play. He did and it was broadcast without need for a rewrite.
I think it only fair to say that the point in St Josemaria’s The Way has not only helped me but also many of my friends and fellow writers.