There are lots of books, commentaries, and even novels about the Book of Revelation so why did you want to write this one?
NP: Well there are a number of reasons. First, it’s a really exciting book – one of the most radical, incendiary books of the Bible. And it has a huge amount to say to us today.
Second, because Revelation has had a huge impact on popular culture. Phrases or images from it pepper the English language – pearly gates, Armageddon, millennium, number of the beast, apocalypse. It pops up in film titles and song lyrics. We sing “Jerusalem” at cricket matches! It has also had a massive influence on political movements. Not to mention being directly responsible for logarithms, reggae music and cornflakes.
But the third, and main, reason is that the only people who seem to write about Revelation are either academics or nutters. Or nutty academics. And the result is that most Christians are a bit scared of this book. They think that they won’t understand it, or that it won’t be of any relevance to them. So I wanted to write a book that people might understand and might even enjoy reading.
What’s different about Revelation Road?
NP: The main difference is that this is a journey. It’s not a commentary on Revelation, it’s an exploration of the landscape – literally, in fact, because it’s partly a travel book. I went on a journey through the seven cities and then on to Patmos. It’s also a journey through history. I look at the history of John’s day, when it was written, and the history of how it has been interpreted through the centuries.
Revelation Road does read a bit like a travelogue with some really detailed ‘word pictures’ in the text. Did you feel as though you were exploring the book as a traveller/tourist?
NP: It is a travelogue! I wanted to write a travel book. I wanted to write about the places – especially Patmos. We should approach the Bible as explorers anyway. A good traveller takes their time, learns a bit of the language, looks around, picks up something of the culture. That’s a pretty good approach to studying the Bible as well. So the book is a travel book in every sense.
How did the time you spent on Patmos influence your writing - i.e. did you change your views at all as a result of being there?
NP: Patmos is a very weird place. No wonder John went all visionary. It’s got two main towns and the rest is mainly rock and dust and this amazing 32 33 blue sky. It still has the air of a wilderness isle. But it was exploring the archaeology of the isle that changed things.
I stayed right near the Citadel – the only remains on the island which date from John’s day. Patmos was not an abandoned ‘prison’ isle when John went there. It had at least three temples, it had a port, it had people. Revelation was not written in prison, it was part of its culture.
I learned so many interesting and illuminating facts from reading the book but what impacted you most as you were writing?
NP: We make a huge amount of assumptions about the book which are not in the text. For example, there’s no real evidence that John was imprisoned. He never claims that in the book. And he was certainly not sent to the isle by the emperor. All that tradition dates from much later. But the main thing was the subversive nature of the book.
Revelation is the most vehemently anti-imperial tract. In Revelation the Roman Empire is attacked the whole time – it appears as a blood-soakedblinged-up prostitute, a multi-headed ravenous beast. It’s not a complementary portrait! This is why Revelation is such a powerful book among oppressed and marginalised people. Because it reveals the bestial nature of power.
There are many historical source references in the book so how long did it take you to research it before you began writing?
NP: A long time! This was, in many ways, the hardest book I’ve ever written. I guess I started researching it eight or nine years ago. I still feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface.
You’re at great pains to say throughout your book to say that Revelation should not be read as a literal piece, but you also assert that there’s no hidden ‘message’ to uncover either. So what’s it for and what relevance does Revelation have for us today?
NP: I’m not saying there isn’t a message to uncover. What I’m against is the idea that it is some kind of code to crack, which, if deciphered, tells us the date of ‘the end’. Over the centuries hundreds of groups and people have ‘deciphered’ the book and worked out the exact timing of the end of the world. All these groups have one thing in common: they have all been wrong. All of them!
It’s because they misunderstand the nature of the writing. Revelation is more like a poem than anything else. It’s not a timetable. But its key message is of vital importance to us. Because John’s vision presents us with a choice. We can either serve God or serve the empire. We can either live in Jerusalem or in Babylon. But you can’t do both. You have to make a choice. That was relevant then and it’s relevant now. The empires and their false gods might have changed, but the challenge remains.
What made you decide to become a writer and when did you start writing as a profession?
NP: I became a full-time freelance in 1996. And still nobody’s heard of me... But looking back, I can see that it started at school. I used to make little books and sell them to my schoolmates for 2p. So I was either going to be a writer or a publisher. I chose the path of virtue. I started trying to write when I left university in 1982, working on the kitchen table with a Remington ‘Noiseless’ typewriter. Which was, actually, very loud.
When and where do you write?
NP: Funnily enough these days I still work best at the kitchen table. With a laptop held together with gaffer tape. As for ‘when’, most writers never quite switch off. But I work best in the mornings and evenings. Afternoons I tend to stand and stare into space. I’m quite good at that.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers in ‘pitching’ their books?
NP: First, make sure that it’s the type of subject the publisher publishes. Don’t send them a children’s book, if they don’t publish for children. Second, make sure you’ve got a new approach or something new to say. You have to offer something original.
I know you are a great lover of bookshops but which bookshop give you that ‘wow’ factor and why?
NP: Bookshops that show the proprietor love books and which reflect an unquenchable enthusiasm for books and reading. And bookshops which offer something extra. I recently went into a pub in Falmouth which has a bookshop in it. Which is probably my definition of heaven.
February 26th, 2015 - Posted & Written by Together Magazine