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Sierra Simone on writing a book about beauty and forbidden romance

Sierra Simone on writing a book about beauty and forbidden romance

It started with the lavender.

I’d known for a while that Saint—the third full-length installment of my forbidden romance Priest series—would be about Aiden Bell, a bisexual millionaire turned monk…who also happened to be the brother of the hero of the first book.

But before I could truly wrap my head around the shape of Aiden’s story, I needed to know how I wanted the book to feel. Would it feel cloistered and contained? Sunny and expansive? I combed through images of monasteries both in the United States and in Europe, searching for inspiration.

And the moment I saw Sénanque Abbey, with its warm stone walls and rows of lavender and shop full of jars of honey, I knew I’d found it. I knew I wanted Aiden and Elijah’s story to feel like a bright day under a blue sky, with sweet lavender and buzzing bees and high, scudding clouds. I wanted the kind of story where you could close the book and imagine the characters living happily ever after with fields of lavender nearby.

I wanted Saint, ultimately, to be a book about beauty. About the beauty of a holy life, about the beauty of desire. The Priest series, in all its taboo glory, has always been about the beautiful tension between the sacred and the profane, the spiritual and the carnal. About what parts of human life are labeled with which word, and why.

With Saint, I knew this tension would take on a new meaning, because Aiden Bell is a queer man of faith, vowed in a church that dogmatically rejects his validity.

It would have been easy, I think, to lean away from brightness and joy with that starting place. It would have been easy to give Aiden adversity after adversity, to pit him against Catholic stridency…but I wasn’t interested in that story. As a queer person myself, and as a former Catholic with lots of affection for her old church, I wanted to write a different kind of romance.  One in which a character is given the freedom to stitch together sex and a holy life, queerness and faith, on their own terms. In which evocative rituals and gorgeous spaces and moments alone with God aren’t denied to people on the basis of exclusionary theology.

It is the greatest privilege of writing fiction that authors can help imagine the world they’d like to live in, and so I imagined that world in Saint. A world where the sacred and the profane aren’t pitted against each other, but where the soul and the body are celebrated as part of being a fully incarnated human. Where the church can make room for an angsty, bisexual monk—and where an angsty, bisexual monk can have moments of dizzying, lavender-scented joy with his older brother’s best friend.

Saint is, of course, ultimately a forbidden romance. But what makes the forbidden so compelling in Saint is that Aiden has permission to be fully himself—eager, emotional, unapologetically bisexual—and it’s this permission that makes Aiden and Elijah’s romance all the sweeter.

(That, and all the lavender honey, of course.)

The latest book in the The Priest Collection – Saint was published 11 October 2022 in paperback, priced £8.99 and is available to buy here.

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