The Story Behind Yesterday’s Savior

In the mid-1990s I wrote a number of science fiction short stories that mainly dealt with ideas like the role of humans in the universe, first encounters between humans and aliens, and time travel paradoxes. These stories had various narrative perspectives and no strict structure, as I never intended anyone else but me to read them. Then, in the late 1990s, I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula again for the first time since my teenage years and was fascinated by the way Stoker uses his characters’ journals to narrate the tale. It seemed to make everything so factual, so real. I knew I had to write my next short story in this style.

Around the same time, several news stories broke about cover-ups within the Catholic church concerning sex scandals involving the clergy. It seemed that the Catholic church had been prepared to go to great lengths to hush up such scandals so that the world at large knew absolutely nothing about them for a long time. Even though I’m not religious myself in any way or form, I was thoroughly disgusted by the cynicism and hypocrisy of the so-called moral leaders of a global organisation. I then began wondering: If they were prepared to go to such lengths to conceal scandals that would one day be forgotten anyway, what would they be prepared to do to protect their very existence?

This question and the desire to write an epistolary narrative led to a short story consisting entirely of correspondence. There were only four protagonists in the short version of Yesterday’s Savior. I won’t go into detail about the plot, as I don’t want to give away any spoilers for the novel. Suffice to say that apart from the Dyson and di Galassini characters, one other thing from the short story remains in the final version of the novel: the language. The euphemistic, cynical language of di Galassini actually comes from a very real, sinister source. Living in Germany, I’ve visited the Plötzensee Memorial in Berlin, where around 3,000 opponents of the Nazi regime were executed, and Dachau concentration camp near Munich in Bavaria, where over 30,000 people were murdered. Both of these places are now museums and both of them display original letters from Nazi leaders to the commandants of the institutions instructing them how to deal with their captives. Contrary to popular belief, the orders from above do not contain the words “exterminate” or “kill”. Instead, they use phrases such as “the final solution” and “special treatment”. Reading the original German letters by people like Heinrich Himmler was quite a chilling experience and left a lasting impression on me. This is why I chose to use a similar style of language for Cardinal di Galassini, who will stop at nothing to protect his totalitarian regime, but shies away from expressing his ruthlessness in so many words.

I have been asked if the names of the characters in Yesterday’s Savior have any meaning or relevance. The names of the main priest characters are David, Thomas (Tom), Simon and Peter, all of which are names from the Bible, of course. Like his biblical namesake, the novel’s hero, David, must fight against a huge and powerful opponent. Cardinal Galassini’s name is based on Paul’s “Epistle to the Galatians”, which has had such a profound influence on the history of Christianity. The Italian version “di Galassini” has a more profane origin, however: I saw it written on the side of a truck in Italy. Cardinal Goodfellowe’s name might confuse you a little, but this is intentional. Finally, it has been pointed out to me that Rachel actually means “ewe”. After reading the book, you may realise why this is fitting, but I don’t want to give you any spoilers. Her name, by the way, is also from the Bible, but I didn’t know what it meant at the time of writing: that was just a happy coincidence.

Yesterday’s Savior was a very long time in the making. After writing the short story, I initially left it at that, literally for years. Then, after receiving my master’s degree in English literature, I felt I had a novel in me, and decided to use the short story as a basis for this. It took me a while to figure out where I wanted to go with it, then I had to do some research on the Bible, the historical Jesus, and also do some serious geography revision. As this would be my first novel, the writing process was quite lengthy: I had to learn when to give up an idea that didn’t work (no matter how much I wanted it to), and to leave a finished chapter alone at some point.

All in all, the writing process was a very satisfying experience. Yes, it was frustrating at times but I nevertheless enjoyed it so much that I’m now putting the finishing touches to my second novel, First We Dream.

Keith Bliss, 23rd April 2017