The first episode of 'Pull Up a Pew' interview for Catholic Mothers was supposed to be recorded on 13th May this year... Things didn't really work out that day, the sound system as well as the recording equipment gave up on me. My husband had an important meeting he couldn't miss, my high tech children were not available so we had to give up... man proposes and God disposes! Although that first episode never happened I have hopes for the future... in the meantime we decided to conduct the interview by correspondence and in the past few days I have had the honour of having a wonderful email exchange with Fiorella Nash: Mum, tireless pro-life campaigner and novelist to find out how she balances writing, media work and motherhood.
Today, (though not on our Catholic Mothers YouTube channel), I have the pleasure to introduce you to this wonderful woman.
Enjoy and share!
Tell us something about yourself?
I am married with four young children. I am a novelist, journalist and campaigner, specialising in pro-life feminism. This year, I have branched out a little with my writing and published my first work of detective fiction, following the exploits of Benedictine sleuth Fr Gabriel.
What inspired your interest in the pro-life movement?
Can you remember a moment or incident when you decided this was going to be your life’s work?
I can’t pretend that there was a single moment when I ‘discovered’ the pro-life movement or realised that my life was heading in that direction. It was a slower process than that. I remember hearing a White Flower Appeal at my church when I was about 14 and being appalled by the scale of the abortion tragedy. I had a strong sense already that abortion was a tragedy but I had never appreciated before then how common abortion was and what it actually involved. I became a member of SPUC soon after that and eventually became involved with student activism. I never initially imagined that I would work for the pro-life movement, I was mostly involved with left-wing social justice groups at that point, but I came to the realisation that social justice begins at home. I have always believed that pro-life campaigning should hold a central place in the struggle for justice, alongside fighting poverty and other forms of oppression.
Apologetics for Mothers
As mothers we are in contact at school and playgroups with the people who have the greatest say in the abortion debate, mothers themselves. What do you think is the best approach? Good arguments/ strategies
I don’t think there is a single strategy that works but there are a number of things to consider. I think it is important in these settings to establish friendships as it is always easier to have a difficult or controversial conversation with people you trust and have had a chance to get to know a little. I would also say, don’t be afraid to join in with the difficult conversations. Quite often, subjects such as abortion come up as part of a discussion about a particular news story that’s doing the rounds. A moment like that can offer the possibility of a much deeper conversation. I would also caution against assuming that everyone will be against you. In spite of the widespread acceptance of abortion in this country, many people are extremely concerned about abortion and are genuinely unaware of precisely what abortion involves.
I also think it is important to make it clear that you respect women and that you respect bodily integrity. I am keen to point out that, in the end, I oppose abortion because it ends a human life. I believe in freedom and equality for women, I have benefited and my daughters will continue to benefit from female emancipation, but in the end, freedom cannot be bought at the expense of human life.
People are often deeply invested in their point of view either because they or someone close to them has had an abortion. What is the best way to approach people without making them feel judged or condemned, or is that the best way?
I would never want to judge or condemn anyone – whatever they had done. I think that goes beyond the abortion debate. There is a difference between being honest about the wrongness of an act and shunning or shaming the person responsible. I don’t believe we have any right to do that. When it comes to abortion, if you have been personally touched by abortion, if a close friend or relative has had an abortion, I think it is important to acknowledge that. I always feel that there is a tendency to think that pro-life women live in some kind of a bubble, but that is simply not the case and it helps to dispense with that myth as early as possible. One of the reasons I believe in establishing friendships with others is precisely because it avoids the possibility of becoming judgemental. I am aware that women can be left in a desperately difficult situation during pregnancy, that abortion is sometimes mooted as the only option. I always start by acknowledging what might have led to the abortion and to make it clear that I am there for the person involved. Only then is it possible to start talking about the wrongness of abortion itself. Truth and compassion are not enemies.
In the UK where the abortion debate seems so niche in comparison with the United States what’s the best we can hope for?
To win! My daughter is a competitive figure skater and one of the first things she learnt was – never aim for mediocrity. Aim to get on the podium, even if you know the odds are against you. If you aren’t going to aim to win, why are you entering the competition in the first place? In the UK, we hope to do what any pro-life movement in the world hopes to do in the long run, change hearts and minds, make abortion unthinkable, build a culture of life in which both the pregnant mother and her baby are truly valued and protected. SPUC is fifty years old this year and when the Society was first founded, I doubt anyone believed the battle would be so long-drawn-out, but we must never lose hope.
You’ve often been interviewed on the radio and TV. What’s your experience?
I have a lot more experience of radio than TV, partly because it is more practical – you can be interviewed for radio over the phone without having to go to a studio, so there tend to be more opportunities there and it is my favourite medium. I like the intimacy of the radio setting. Unlike TV, where there is a certain showmanship needed to appear before the cameras, speaking on the radio is more personal. People tend to listen to the radio alone – in their cars, pottering about the kitchen – so there is more of a sense of having a personal conversation with somebody, even you are having that conversation with thousands of individuals at the same time.
How do you prepare for media interviews?
I do as much background research as possible, which will include extensive reading and usually discussions with experts in the field and other members of the team at SPUC. I will usually alert friends via social media or personal messages to pray as I always feel more at ease if I know there are people praying when I go on air.
Have you had any real successes?
It is difficult to gauge how successful an appearance is, though my brief Woman’s Hour appearance generated a lot of feedback. I was happy with how it went because I was able to get a couple of points across in spite of the undisguised hostility of the presenter and the fact that she declared beforehand that a minority opinion like mine only required 4 minutes of airtime.
Have you experienced some real disasters?
Hahaha, now that would be telling! I have never had a complete and utter meltdown, but then I don’t think many people ever do. I have had occasions where I have felt very disappointed and upset afterwards because I have felt that I did not get my points across well or focus enough, particularly when I first started. The first speech I ever gave – ten days after starting the job – was an unmitigated disaster, but fortunately it was not recorded!
When the odds are stacked against you can any good come of such appearances?
A resounding YES to that, but I would qualify that by saying that one has to pick the right outlets. We are not media tarts, if you’ll forgive the expression, and no one is obliged to say yes to every media request. If there is a situation where the environment is going to be so hostile and the odds so stacked against you that there is no way you will ever be able to get your point across, it may be more constructive to decline. I have certainly had occasions where I would have declined if I had known that my opponent was going to be an aggressive, condescending bully and the promised ‘lively, light-hearted discussion’ a vicious slanging match.
Spreading the good news on social media
The space for discussion of abortion online is becoming ever more restricted. Pro life websites have been banned in France. What’s the current situation in the UK?
I am not aware of any pro-life sites being banned in the UK and in many ways, the rise of social media has invigorated pro-life debate. The media no longer has complete control over what stories are broadcast and which opinions are permitted airtime. Social media levels the playing field, allowing pro-life campaigners to get their message across more effectively. It has also made it much easier for groups and individuals to network and exchange ideas with organisations all around the world.
Mother’s groups and websites are very active on facebook/mumsnet etc. It’s not unheard of that people considering abortion practically put the decision to an online poll. Can and should we get involved and how?
When a woman is openly discussing the possibility of having an abortion, I think it is important to be the person who offers an alternative. I have heard women who regret their abortions say that if just one person had suggested an alternative or said ‘you don’t have to do this’ they would not have had the abortion. Go gently, maybe post the number of a helpline they could talk to. They may not pick up the phone, but at least you will know that you gave life a chance. The thing to avoid in a situation like that is getting into slanging matches or coming across as preachy. I once read a rant written by a woman instructing a post-abortive woman to ‘learn to save sex for marriage in future’ and the woman turned out to be married. All it did was to make the pro-life intervener look ridiculous and to provoke a venomous exchange from other posters. As with all online interaction, the first rule is: remember that you are dealing with another person here, imagine that you are interacting with them face-to-face before you post your comment.
Bringing up a pro-life family
What do you do in the home to pass on the pro-life message?
I answer all my children’s questions on life, marriage and sexuality as openly as possible, whilst keeping my answers age-appropriate. The most important piece of advice I ever received about building a pro-life ethos in your home is to avoid harsh words and criticism. I once read an article by a mum who talked about the damage done by parents who talk negatively about other people in front of their children and how it breeds a culture of fear and shame in a home. More than anything else, I try to build trust and respect within the family unit and to keep channels of communication open. I want my children to know that every family member is welcome and that, whatever they do, whatever mistakes they make in life, they are loved, the home will always be a place of safety for them and we can always try to work things out together.
Fiorella and her Novels
Click on the image to buy her books
Which books inspired you to write your own Catholic fiction?
I never set out to write Catholic fiction, but I have wanted to be a writer since I was a child and there have been too many influences on my writing to count. I once joked to a journalist that I would ‘like to be Evelyn Waugh’ but a friend told me that my books are so dark in places that I come across as much more a disciple of Graham Greene! If I were to name my two biggest inspirations, I would probably say Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and Solzhenitsyn, both as a man and as a writer. I remember reading Ivan Denisovich when I was at school and being completely overwhelmed by how vivid it was. I kept thinking how amazing it would be to be able to write like that.
Are you setting out to write a really good Catholic novel or a good novel that happens to be Catholic?
Definitely the latter. First and foremost, I am a novelist not a propagandist or a theologian, nor do I write for an exclusively Catholic audience. However, I very much believe that if one lives and writes within the Catholic moral universe, the Faith will be very much present in the story.
What genre do you think serves your purpose best and why?
My novels are mostly historical fiction, simply because I have an interest in history and in reconstructing the past. I am very interested in how we are influenced by past events and how the lives of ordinary people are changed by being alive at a particularly cataclysmic moment, such as the outbreak of war or the height of the Mediterranean slave trade.
Are there any genres you would like to try in future?
I have been challenged to write a comedy – and that really would be a challenge! Who knows, maybe I will pluck up the courage to try one day…