Robert Jaggs-Fowler

Robert Jaggs-Fowler

Lamplight in the Shadows was born out of a life-long passion for books and writing, the privilege and experiences of being a rural GP for 25 years and the resultant exposure to the tapestry of interwoven complexities of many peoples’ personal lives. Inevitably, a writer draws on his own experience and the people he knows when forming a story. Combined with my own multiple and diverse interests, along with a lifelong struggle with my own sense of religious vocation, a story gradually evolved to link these many strands and the two professions of medicine and the church. That said, no one character represents any specific person in real life.

Lamplight in the Shadows links the two worlds of medicine and the church against a backdrop of human desires and relationships. It is a thinking-person’s love story, falling into the genre of an ‘intellectual romance’.

Lamplight in the Shadows explores the complex tensions between perceived duty and misplaced loyalties, passionate love, and the inner drive and yearning of priestly discernment. With a cast of characters richly drawn from rural society and religious settings, the story is one of diverse desires. I hope that the result is an intellectual romance with the occasional touch of humour.

You have had a lifelong passion for books so who are your favourite authors?

This is always a terribly difficult one to answer. How does a sweet-loving child given the free-run of a sweet-shop decide on his favourites? So many authors have one or two books that I would include in my top 100.

However, Thomas Hardy (The Woodlanders), Evelyn Waugh (Brideshead Revisited), Kazuo Ishiguro (The Remains of the Day), Ian McEwan (Amsterdam and Atonement), Umberto Eco (The Name of the Rose) and Boris Pasternak (Dr Zhivago) are probably those I would salvage for my desert island.

As reserves, I would have Louis de Bernieres (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin), Jung Chang (Wild Swans) and Alan Hollinghurst (The Swimming Pool Library).

However, it would be good to know that the collected works of Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope and Charles Dickens were bobbing around on a nearby life-raft!

Then again, I would also be delighted to see the works of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Solzhenitsyn being washed ashore!

I said it was a difficult question!

Please tell us about the character of James.

James is a gentlemanly, strongly principled, moralistic, humanitarian, intelligent, deeply thinking young man with a devout faith and a gnawing sense of being called to a religious vocation. A somewhat private individual, he has a love for solitude and peace, liking nothing more than the ability to immerse himself in a world of books, music and the countryside. He is well-read, with a great appreciation of poetry and literature. He also believes in the importance of adhering to vows and promises. The thought of being unfaithful is therefore an anathema for him. Nonetheless, for all of that, he is also lonely and isolated from real life, and in his heart remains searching for something he knows is missing from his life but that he cannot quite put his finger on.

Why did you want to combine the two worlds of medicine and church along with the complexities of relationships?

Historically speaking, it was the priests who were also the physicians, ministering to the needs of the whole person from both a physical and a spiritual perspective. Over the centuries, the two roles were gradually separated until there became two distinct professions. However, for GPs in particular, there is still the need to treat the ‘whole person’. Whilst the fields of psychiatry and psychology cater for a significant part of the non-physical aspect of a person, many people recognise an unmet spiritual need. Indeed, it is not unknown for doctors to retire and re-train as priests. Some are even dual-qualified during their main working life. So the two roles do intersect.

The imposition of a troubled marital relationship and the sudden and unexpected appearance on the scene of a powerful new love, raises all sorts of psychological and emotional angst for someone of James’ character, beliefs and standards, putting him in conflict with all that he believes. It thus allows those aspects to be explored and teased through to a solution. By doing so, I hope that the story might touch on similar difficulties that many people struggle with in various individual ways, make them raise questions about themselves, and possibly even help some people find solutions to, or the strength to solve, their own dilemmas in life.

Please give us an insight into being a rural GP for 25 years.

Living and working as a rural GP for 25 years must be one of the most privileged positions one could ever hope for. On the one hand, it can be very demanding, as one cannot live as a prominent figure within a small community and hope to avoid the constant spotlight. However, the upside is that you have the tremendous honour of being the confidant of so many people; over the years sharing their innermost secrets, their lives in general, their homes and their families, their happiness and their sadness, their successes and failures, their births and their deaths; all the time being in a role that enable you to hopefully assist, heal, influence, comfort and support them. There are very few roles in life that put someone in such a position, and it is one that I genuinely treasure as an honour and a privilege. 

Tell us about your ongoing struggle with your own sense of religious vocation.

I have a deep Christian conviction. My faith sustains my daily life and work and quietly underpins how I relate and treat all other people.

It is true to say that there has been a nagging question throughout my adult life in respect to the possibility of taking Holy Orders in the Church of England. Even now, it is not a question that has been psychologically buried, and in truth is probably the driving force that made me apply for an MA course in Theology, Spirituality and Health at Durham University. I am now in my final year and writing my dissertation on the role of the physician-priest in the 21st century.

What is next for you?

In literary terms, I hope to have my second volume of poetry published later this year or early 2016. I have also started writing my second novel – set in London, Oxford and Peru, and, yes, it does have a romantic aspect to it; but that is all I am going to tell you at present! 

In medical terms, I am slowly winding down my clinical commitment with a view to retiring from medical practice in a few years so as to devote more time to writing.

I also have in mind taking a PhD degree in order to further my exploration of the relationship of theology and medicine.

And who knows, the ‘hound of heaven’ may still yet catch me for the priesthood…


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