Jeff Kelland – Championing Truth Through Fiction

Unveiling Injustice in Grace Ungiven

Jeff R. Kelland embodies a remarkable blend of intellectual rigor and creative passion. At 64, this Canadian writer and thinker has made significant contributions across multiple disciplines, showcasing a profound concern for societal well-being. With an extensive portfolio that includes essays, magazine articles, poetry, and prose, Jeff’s literary prowess is well-established. His academic credentials are equally impressive, holding a first-class honours B.A. in philosophy and German, a Master of Science in Community Health, and a groundbreaking thesis from Memorial University’s School of Medicine. Beyond writing, Jeff is an accomplished public speaker, visual artist, and veteran entertainer.

In our interview, Jeff delves into the motivations behind his novel Grace Ungiven a gripping exploration of the Catholic clerical child sexual abuse crisis. He discusses how personal experiences and extensive research shaped the narrative and characters, particularly the protagonist, Mickey Kavanaugh, whose quest for justice mirrors the real-world struggles of many abuse survivors. Jeff also reflects on the role of literature in driving social justice and activism, emphasising the power of storytelling to uncover hidden truths and foster deeper understanding.

What inspired you to delve into the sensitive topic of the Catholic clerical child sexual abuse crisis for your novel Grace Ungiven?

Initially, it was the clerical sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church and the coverup that continues to this day, as well as some personal experience I had with abuse as a boy. When the story first broke, I wrote a song in response, but this was not enough. As a non-Catholic, I was shocked to learn about the power and control the church held over followers’ lives; even before considering the untold suffering and the dysfunction at issue. A year of research and 100+ interviews with everyday Catholics verified all this and more, and I felt compelled to share what I was learning.

 Mickey Kavanaugh, the protagonist of Grace Ungiven, embarks on a quest for justice and redemption. How did you develop his character and the psychological impact of his experiences as an abuse survivor?

 Almost all characters were generated by drawing from the amalgam of the thoughts, feelings, and experiences related to me in the interviews. Without using any of what I was told directly, they were all used to triangulate, as it were, to fill out the story and create plausible characters, including their thoughts and feelings. This informed the main character, Mickey, but also the characters that come to help him bring the priest to justice; helping Mickey brings them face to face with their own issues with the church, and the interviews proved to be an extensive resource for filling out these characters.

Grace Ungiven is described as a blend of original storytelling and raw truth. How did you navigate the balance between crafting a compelling narrative and addressing the serious real-world issues it explores?

My research strongly indicated that, for the most part, it is the many patriarchal ways that church leaders exercise so much power and control over the faithful that made the ongoing abuse scandal not only possible but inevitable, and I needed to create a story and set of characters that could get all this across to my readers. The interviews were invaluable in achieving this, but so was the ongoing scandal being revealed daily in the news. After all, it is by observing how these matters play out in reality that we find these serious real-world issues, and their incorporation into the narrative is key to the readers’ enjoyment of the book and their appreciation of the real-world details the book reveals.

 Given your extensive background in writing and community health, how do you see literature contributing to conversations about social justice and activism, particularly regarding issues like child abuse?

 Writing and the arts in general are the places where our reality gains meaning, particularly things that the average person may not know or realize. They allow us to reveal what lies behind the facts and figures of this or that phenomenon in our world, and then to learn from it. Indeed, the arts have always been the best way to do this. And when the truth is especially hard to take, a well-researched and well-written book can sooth the reader, even as it informs and entertains.

 In Grace Ungiven, you incorporate elements of intrigue, romance, and crime alongside the exploration of a serious social issue. How do these narrative elements enhance the reader’s understanding and engagement with the story’s central themes?

 These elements are the nuts and bolts of our reality, and if an author hopes her/his book to be something readers will enjoy and appreciate, they must be shown in relation to the story and its subject matter. This achieves two things: it shows how the issue (s) is inextricably bound up with human life, and how it can be hidden in plain sight amid our everyday reality, which serves to justify the need for the book in terms of bringing awareness to the matter. Human life is anything but neat and tidy, and any book that purports to address a given subject in human life must reflect this.

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