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Peter Laws at the Brum Hub: What can we learn from our morbid curiosities?

Peter Laws’ fiction mostly centres around an ex-Christian minister who spends his time hanging around Christians, in scenarios that are familiar to most Christians (communion services, prayer meetings, etc) but which feature elements that are a little more unsavoury than you might expect at your average church get together. Think: serial killers, axe murders, etc.

Peter is not exactly the same as Matt Hunter, his fictional hero. He is not an ex-minister, but still a card carrying reverend, with his Christian faith still intact. However, it was somewhat unnerving welcoming him to our Brum Sputnik hub meet up, knowing that this is exactly the kind of meeting where, if this were one of his novels, we would likely be about to witness a decapitation or demonic manifestation or ritualistic murder.

In addition to this, we forgot to put on the Eventbrite that we were meeting at a private home, and so a few of the guests looked even more on edge. There aren’t many Christian meetings that I’ve started over the years in which I’ve kicked off proceedings by trying to convince everyone that, despite their fears to the contrary, we did not lure them here to kill them!

In the event, nobody died, which was a definite plus of the afternoon. We also benefited greatly from Peter’s thorough and thought provoking examination of why people are drawn to the macabre and morbid. Flitting from 9/11, the Great Plague, Charles Manson’s hair and home made coffins to HP Lovecraft, vampires, werewolves, zombies and Victorian funeral rituals, Peter provoked us to think about how to approach the horror genre with a bit more nuance than Christians have typically shown in this area and encouraged us to think about how this should affect our own art.

Peter did not present primarily as someone who revelled in the darker side of life, but as someone who was more scared by this stuff than most. He is addressing these topics in his writing to try to come to terms with some of the less pleasant (or simply bewildering) aspects of human experience. As he put it ‘I take the furniture of that which scares me and rearrange it on my own terms’, while putting forward a pretty strong case for the fact that horror can shock people into wisdom.

There was certainly pushback in the question time, but that’s what I love about Sputnik meet ups. There was no party line here, just a group of people trying to think through how their faith relates to their art and to their general experience of being a human being. What we all seemed to agree upon was that we cannot flinch from the stark horror of death in our work. Yes, one day, we will be able to proclaim with the assembled saints ‘Death, where is your sting?’ (1 Corinthians 15:55) However, in the here and now, we, as artists who are Christians, must be able to wrestle with the complexities of living in a world where death still casts a pretty ominous shadow.

Of course, this was only half the fun though. The second part of the meet up was spent sharing practice and praying for each other. Jemma Mellor gave us a glimpse of a woven sculpture she is working on, we heard new pieces from Brum based jazz pop ensemble Argle Bargle, Joanna Karselis, Barrowclough and Pythagoras the Praying Mantis and to top it off, we were treated to a typically spell binding performance by David Benjamin Blower.

And then it all got really weird and everyone’s heads started spinning round. There was this shrill whistling noise, all the lights started flickering and, I don’t know what happened to everyone else, but I woke up in a nearby field in my boxers, covered in bruises. All I can say is, don’t look under the decking in the garden, and if anyone asks, there was no Sputnik Hub at our house on 9th March. I’m sure our secret’s safe with you!