A Dark Nativity is a novel that traces a young woman’s descent into madness and violence in the worlds of international aid and diplomacy. It introduces the disturbed and disturbing figure of The Rev'd Natalie Cross, a troubled and wounded Anglican priest, tipped to become an early woman bishop, whose background in foreign aid in Sudan and the Middle-East draws her into the sinister world of peace-process politics, where she loses her liberty and very nearly her life. But Natalie is made of battle-hardened stuff and starts a fight-back of pitiless vengeance.
A psychological thriller, A Dark Nativity reclaims the nativity narrative back from the safe and cosy images of shepherds and stars and swaddling clothes and re-sets it in one woman’s experiences of the horrors of oppression and violence in today’s middle-east and Sudan, set against cynical intelligence manipulators in London. As in the original scriptures, it’s about fear and fragility, about violence and cruelty, but it’s also about a triumphant hope and a light and love that emerge even from that darkness. Despite its shock value, it's a story of redemption and sets up a two sequels to form a trilogy.
The tide of refugees had risen gradually during the afternoon. I heard Kurdish as well as regular Syrian Arabic. The border guards were a mixture of Lebanese police and military and were meant to defer to our UNHCR bibs, but they kept directing families of all ages into the holding pens, high flat-wired fenced areas about the size of English suburban gardens, complete with a shed at the bottom end, where shamefully there was a single chemical latrine, some emergency medical gear such as stretchers, as well as a metal chest of flares and, we always suspected, mustard gas.
Sarah had started to warn the men as the air grew more still towards evening that the first pens were growing too crowded. Sarah was always firmer than me. I may have burnished the image in the intervening years, but I picture her now standing, brace-legged in high-waisted khaki trousers, her field phone sticking above her blue bib like a badge of authority, leaning slightly into a captain on her walking stick and telling him what to do with a question.
Three decades ago, I defamed a knight of the realm in The Observer. We spent some expensive time taking counsel in chambers, where it was decided that we should settle out of court and apologise.
“But it’s true!” I wailed, meaning my story, which was now to be withdrawn as a lie.
My editor fixed me with a doleful stare. “George,” he said, “there’s your truth, there’s my truth and there…
When I took my novel A Dark Nativity to a publisher of religious fiction, I wasn’t expecting a rapturous reception – as I say in the promotional video here, the genre is dominated by cute cathedral-close yarns, bonkers magic realism or conspiracy theories about an evil Church. I wanted to tell it as it is, with real people doing ordinary (as well as extraordinary and downright sinful) things.
I like to think of Jesus saying to his disciples (who, in modern lingo, we might call his mates): “I was born in a stable, me”. It could have been a sort of Aramaic version of Monty Python’s Yorkshiremen sketch – a bunch of horny-handed northern Judean proles getting competitive about their relative hardships: “Luxury! I was born in a bloody Roman helmet at bottom of t’aqueduct.”
These people are helping to fund A Dark Nativity.