TWL Chats with Neil Cullan McKinlay - Author of From Mason To Minister: Through the Lattice

Neil Cullan McKinlay is the author of From Mason To Minister: Through the Lattice. Born to Scottish parents Neil came into the world in 1956 on the northern shore of Lake Ontario. When Neil was three his mother and father took the “high road” to the southern bank of Loch Lomond, Scotland where he grew up. With Scottish accent well-rehearsed he moved back to Canada just before his twenty-first birthday. Sick of shoveling snow he then migrated to sunny Australia some thirteen years later. Neil is married and has three married daughters. He is a Presbyterian minister and a part time Army Chaplain.

Please visit his “Snow On the Ben” website:

Or his “Snow Off the Ben” Blog:

Welcome to The Writer's Life, Neil. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

A: I’m now in my mid-fifties and have been married to Dorothy for thirty years. I have one grandchild, a grandson, and another about to be born. I have a varied background, e.g., I once was a marine plumber, a domestic plumber, a railway pipefitter, and then a Presbyterian Minister and an Army Chaplain. I have lived for many years in Scotland, then Canada, then mainland Australia, then Tasmania, then mainland Australia again. Dorothy and I have raised three daughters who are all now married. Therefore I have a wide resource of life-experience material to dip into to assist me in my writing endeavors.

My own mother used to coax me to write when I was growing up. Then for years I would write song lyrics to tunes I would strum on my guitar. However, it was probably only within the last ten years or so that I seriously considered myself as an aspiring writer. I was asked by an editor of a writer’s magazine in Australia if I’d like to contribute every month to his magazine, which I did and still do. Also, not long after starting that I began giving my congregation in Tasmania copies of my sermons. Writing tends to be more formal than speaking, but in my writings I have tried to blend my speaking voice with my writing voice.

Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

A: My From Mason To Minister: Through the Lattice is a memoir of sorts. It records my journey into Freemasonry as part of my serious quest to find God and the meaning of life. Believe it or not, I thought that God was hiding and perhaps could be found in the Lodge, what, with all their supposed secrets.

There are also elements of a travelogue in my book as I relate illustrative incidents from Scotland, Canada, and Australia (including Tasmania). So my book is a geographical, philosophical, and theological journey. But most of all it is a spiritual journey that ends with God. It is in three parts, viz., Pre-Masonry, Masonry, and Ministry.

King Solomon and his Temple are a big part of Freemasonry and also of my book. I draw analogies between the Garden of Eden, Noah’s Ark, and Solomon’s Temple, all of which, though real, are types or pictures of Christ’s Kingdom to come. My book is peppered with little anecdotes about the flora and fauna of Scotland, Canada, and Australia, all of which serve to illustrate the little glimpses I was getting of God while on my spiritual journey. In these things I was seeing Him watching me through the window, i.e., through the lattice (Song of Solomon 2:9).

There is also much symbolism in the rituals and furniture in the Masonic Lodge. The Bible is quoted from abundantly. The reader will be engaged in some of the aspects of Freemasonry that served to drive me to a deeper search for God. I was awarded a Bible by my Lodge as a reward and recognition for presenting papers I had written as a result of my Masonic studies. It was through reading this Bible that I was converted.

I wanted to share my life experiences with others in the hope that they too would be drawn to seek God and find Him in Jesus Christ. From Mason To Minister: Through the Lattice details my exciting journey from darkness to light.

What kind of research was involved in writing From Mason To Minister: Through the Lattice?

A: The research mostly involved double checking theological concepts against the Bible and Bible Commentaries and other theological books. These varied from researching Adam and the Garden of Eden, Noah and Noah’s Ark, Solomon and Solomon’s Temple, to Christ and His future Kingdom. I researched the similarities among these, which is to say that the previous three are types of Christ and His Kingdom.

Then I also researched certain aspects of Freemasonry. Is the God of Freemasonry the Christian God, i.e., the Triune God? And if so, how can Freemasonry accommodate e.g., Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, etc., who obviously do not worship the Triune God? I also had to research the main differences between York Rite and Scottish Rite Masonry. These two rites are open to Master Masons who want to further their Masonic education. Is one of these rites more “Christian” than the other?

I also had to research things like US presidents, Australian Prime Ministers, National Anthems, explorers, historical characters, geographical locations etc. Yes, a great deal of research has gone into the writing of From Mason To Minister!

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

A: I think I’m like most writers, I write because I love it. To become a published author is to receive recognition. It is reassuring to know that one is not delusional! The road to becoming published did have one or two bumps on it! I was comforted by the knowledge that Robert M Pirsig’s bestselling Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was knocked back something like 122 times before it was published!

I had a small publisher knock back my From Mason To Minister. It didn’t fit with the types of books they were dealing with. However, they made me think that I really had a great book by the compliments they passed about it. So, it seemed to me that I only needed to find the right publisher.

I sent my manuscript to Nordskog Publishing who gave positive feedback, but wondered who might read a book such as mine. I think anyone with an interest in Christianity, Freemasonry, including those who wish to know what the founding fathers of America were doing in the Lodge, will read and enjoy my book.

I must admit that I was quite naïve to what goes into publishing a book, cover design, proofreading, editing, choosing font size and style etc. The team at Nordskog Publishing Inc. were really patient with me when things got up and running.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

A: It was supposed to be done within a year, but actually took just over a year and a half. There was a glitch with the cover-design. The original cover was to be a modification of a design my artist brother had come up with. However, his computer program crashed and the whole thing had to be scrapped. So, it took us a while to come up with a new cover-design that was pleasing to all concerned. Then we decided to go hardcover instead of paperback which stalled things a bit more. But I am really happy with the final product!

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

A: No, I don’t have an agent. Not having had one, I wouldn’t know if it is necessary to have one! However, it would seem logical that a good agent would be greater asset than no agent!

Do you plan subsequent books?

A: Yes, I already have other manuscripts that are in need of suitable publishers. They are mostly theological in nature. Therefore that would no doubt restrict them to Christian publishers. They have the titles of Demystifying the Gospel, The Nexus: The True Nature of Nature, Are All Who Die In Infancy saved?

However, at the moment I am having a bit of fun working on a Christian novel of the historical fiction genre called A Stick In Time. It’s about Saint Patrick’s Staff as it travels with twenty-one year old twin men from Ireland in the 1600s to Outback Australia today – where there is a beautiful woman who lives in a town in which people age very slowly. I love writing this because it is like watching a movie in which I get to write what happens next!

Can you describe your most favorite place to write?

A: Most of From Mason To Minister was written while I was living in beautiful Tasmania. Our home was on the slope of a hill overlooking a valley and a bay that was part of the River Derwent. Also in the view was Mount Wellington with other mountains (often snowcapped) off in the distance. I suppose it’s corny, but I found the view from my window to be very inspiring. It helped in that it reminded me of the lochs and mountains of Scotland, some of which are mentioned in my book.

I do tend to pace up and down when I am trying to gather my thoughts or think something through, though essentially I am tied to my computer terminal in my study. However, since moving from Tasmania to Queensland I now also like to sit in my backyard with my laptop. However, my most favorite place to write is in a room with a view. I just wish I had one…

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

A: I don’t think you could go far wrong with a television ad. It would also be good if you could get someone to hold it up in a movie. Your book’s a bestseller if Oprah Winfrey or Glen Beck endorses it, so I would supply a box-load to give away to the audience! I guess huge billboards along the motorway might help or ads on the sides or backs of city buses. A blimp in the sky? The sky’s the limit when you are all cashed up!

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

A: The downside to self-promotion is that it is the promotion of self! The dilemma for me is, who is going to know about From Mason To Minister unless I tell them? Does this make me sound like a brag? Regardless, I’ve mentioned it in my Blog and I’ve mentioned it on Facebook and Twitter and post reviews whenever they come up. From Mason To Minister: Through the Lattice is also advertised on my Website.

What’s the most common reason you believe new writers give up their dream of becoming published and did you almost give up?

A: I love writing. Therefore I wasn’t writing with publishing in mind. But I can see writers give up their dream to become published on account of how hard it is to find a publisher who will accept unsolicited manuscripts. Even if by the off chance you do find one that will actually accept your “masterpiece” it can take months and months before you hear back from them. And then if the answer is no, it’s back to square one. Most disheartening!

Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

A: I don’t think we should give up. Unlike the old days, we can now surf the Web to find publishers of the type who would be suited to run with your book’s genre. I love writing, but I’m not overjoyed about trying to talk up my work to publishers, but the bottom line is that this is necessary part of the whole process – if you wish to be published.

Thank you for your interview, Neil. I wish you much success!

A: No, it is I that should thank you for this lovely interview!
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