As a Methodist local preacher for some 30 years or so, Judy Ford often tells her congregation: “I see my role as asking questions and leaving you to think out your own answers.”
In her series of Bernie Fazakerley novels, despite having to solve a crime or two, she still aims “to encourage thoughtful consideration of questions for which there are no easy answers”.
The first of the series, Changing Scenes of Life, which Judy describes as “a story of hope and intrigue”, introduces readers to Jonah Porter, a Detective Chief Inspector invalided following an attack by an unknown assailant. The story follows his attempts to be reinstated as a serving officer. Along the way we learn about people who have been important in his life, among them Bernie Fazakerley, an eccentric Oxford don.
It is quickly apparent that the words of hymns have great significance for Jonah. As well as taking the novel’s title from the hymn Through all the changing scenes of life (StF 638), each account of his friends and family suggests the words of another hymn.
Judy points out, for example, the story of Wayne and Dean, two engineers whose development of a state of the art wheelchair will eventually help Jonah back into work. In Judy’s account of these two young men, she explores attitudes to same-sex relationships and draws upon Frederick William Faber’s hymn There’s a wideness in God’s mercy (StF 416), with its assertion that “the love of God is broader than the measure of our mind”.
Changing Scenes of Life is the most overtly Christian of the Bernie Fazakerley books, Judy says, and she admits that its audience “is likely to be restricted to those with some sympathy for Christian values”. However, throughout the series, Judy is attempting to offer a counter to “a lot of contemporary fiction that tends to avoid questions of faith so as not to offend readers in a post-Christian era. The writers forget that there might be another point of view.”
In the later books of the series, Judy is trying to widen her audience, but her main characters do still act out of a faith commitment that influences their behaviour – though “not in goody goody way!”
Judy has been creating fictional worlds in her own mind for much of her life, but it wasn’t until her family was grown and her career as an academic and NHS research manager shifted gear that she finally found the space, in 2014, to get down to the serious task of writing on a regular basis.
She combines her writing and university lecturing with an active role both as the Parochial Church Council secretary in the small village where she lives and also amongst the Methodist communities around her home in the north west of England. She moved to “the land of the Scousers” when she married and it is they who have inspired her central character.
But it seems right to suggest that the fundamental positivity that shines through as Judy talks, as well as through many of her key characters, is rooted in something else altogether. As DCI Jonah Porter observes of the hymn In heavenly love abiding (StF 736), here are positive words urging confidence in the face of difficult times:
the storm may roar without me,
my heart may low be laid;
but God is round about me,
and can I be dismayed?
It’s a question for Jonah and his friends. And it’s a question for Judy’s readers to ponder on too.
Find out more about the Bernie Fazakerley novels at Judy’s Amazon page or on Facebook.