Author of priest novel suffers devastating fire

Author Martin Chamberlain


A Kiwi Catholic author has lost half of his land in the Far North in a large bush fire, just a month after publishing a novel about two Catholic priests, one of whom is an exorcist.

It took five helicopters and 25 men several hours to extinguish the fire. The blaze caught on to Mark Chamberlain’s grass and eventually burned through his land, leaving most of his orchard and irrigation system destroyed, costing him “a lot to fix and get back”.

“My major source of income was being cut in half,” he said. His house was spared, and luckily no one was hurt.

“It strikes me as ironic that nothing like that has ever happened before. I might be reading something into it, but yeah.”

The Northland-based author said he was proud of his latest work. “I thought it was bloomin’ good, I am happy with it,” he laughed, despite the trials and tribulations he’s encountered since it has been  published.

Only a Priest, a novel published in February this year, and inspired by true events, is about a young parish priest who calls for help in dealing with a problem beyond his experience and capability. A veteran priest comes out of unwanted retirement to answer the call. The story is centered around friendship, priesthood, the devil and exorcism.

Mr Chamberlain knew that, in writing this novel, he was opening himself up to the enemy, he said. “The devil is always trying to destroy and defame all the things, he’s always on our case. I just thought I’d be sweet, my faith was strong and I’ve got a good strong prayer life, but I wasn’t anticipating what’s happened”.

“You start upsetting the enemy. He will come at you. It will come at a price,” Mr Chamberlain said. In retrospect, he said that’s “the price you pay when you take [the devil] on”.

“[Writing the book was] just affecting my marriage too. Beginning to think that I wasn’t worthy of my wife. She would be better off without me, all of that sort of nonsense. Which I kind of recognised it was a thinking that comes when you’re under attack but still very real, very hard to deal with.”

He said that, during the entire 20th century, it is hard to find any books written about the devil, and “of course that’s his great victory. To make us believe he doesn’t exist. To make people think that, if they talk about it, they are going to be regarded as on the fringe, nutters”.

Mr Chamberlain said it is good to talk about love and positive things, but if you have an enemy and you ignore the fact that you do, and you never talk about it, that’s dangerous too.

The author had moments when he felt the devil would tempt him to want to lose interest in this book, not go on a book tour, not speak to anyone about it and lose his faith. “I didn’t think it was going to be this tough. But I am getting through it. The fire was the worst.”


The 68-year-old author, originally from Taranaki, said the [mainstream] media were doing a “real job on the Catholic priesthood”.

“They leave every other church alone, but they really attack us, and they attack us through our priests, and it’s so difficult to be a priest these days. I have friends who are priests, and I see the things they go through and I understand why there’s so few vocations. We have to rely on Filipinos and Indians and people from overseas who now regard New Zealand as a missionary country.

“Priesthood is a real sacrificial life of heroism these days. There’s no kudos in it. People look down on the priest almost, outside the Church. So, I wanted to write a book that celebrated priesthood; that showed it for what it is, a very, very difficult vocation in this age.”

Mr Chamberlain was inspired by the life of a priest friend of his who was a missionary, broken by Pakistan [while serving as a soldier], lost his vocation, became an alcoholic, and came back to New Zealand. He became a down and outer, actually slept under Grafton Bridge sometimes, but got his vocation back, and found his way back to the diocesan priesthood.

“I wanted to take the narrative of when he [the priest] came back to the priesthood and like the whiskey priest (the unnamed main protagonist in Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory) — a failed human being who just overcomes this terrible sense of unworthiness and disbelieves in God’s mercy, and becomes a priest again. He’s also appointed as the diocesan exorcist and he goes north to deal with a case to help a young priest who’s in his parish.

Mr Chamberlain has 16 books under his belt, including his most popular Lawrence — The Prince of Arabia — Desert Wolf, and With a Father Like Mine. He said the response to his latest addition has been “heartening”.

A book tour was meant to take place in 2021, but the pandemic threw a spanner in the works, so he is hoping to make another book tour this year and share with New Zealand what Only a Priest is about.

Mr Chamberlain attends St Joseph’s parish in Kaitaia. He resides in Kaingaroa, in the Far North.

Only a Priest is available on Amazon. Mr Chamberlains’ blog here:

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Reader Interactions


  1. Bill Moore says

    Terrific story about Mark and his book! Well done! He’s paid a heavy price for writing a positive book and supporting the priesthood; old hairy legs didn’t like it one little bit. But the battle continues, led by men of courage like Mark. Prayers for Him and all our Priests!

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