AND so to Sarum College, where this coming Saturday sees a day devoted to the fascinating but oft-neglected topic of faith in fiction. Led by literary experts Judith Maltby and Alison Shell, the day focuses in on the role of Anglican Women Novelists, whose number contain a surprising array of familiar names.

As with many things publishing, the canon when it comes to Anglican fiction leans largely towards the male. Think of writers working within this tradition and names such as Anthony Trollope and CS Lewis trip off the tongue: the comparative female figures, by contrast, seem less apparent. I suspect that’s something to do with publishing, and also with the role of women in the church as well: after all, it wasn’t until 1994 that the first women were ordained into the Church of England.

But the body of work produced by Anglican women novelists is a rich and varied one. Last week, I caught up with Alison Shell, who is also co-author of a forthcoming book on the subject. She talked me through the tradition’s rich variety of writers from Charlotte Bronte to PD James, via Rose Macaulay, Barbara Pym and Iris Murdoch. In their different ways, and in different genres, each of these writers have tackled the topic of faith through their fiction.

Writing about Anglicanism is not always the trendiest of topics. It is instructive to compare the role of Anglican writers with comparative Catholic ones – they benefit from offering being able to offer a more counter-cultural take on proceedings, bringing with it an ‘adversarial bite’ to their fiction. By contrast, Anglican fiction is often quieter, subtler, even apologetic in its outlook. Yet as the influence of the church has declined, so such fiction has switched from reflecting the majority view to one set against it. With this comes literary opportunity. Shell cites Gilead by Marilynne Robinson as an example of how more recent writing on the subject can be both critically and commercially successful. Other writers, such as Barbara Pym, have had their work republished and reappraised as modern classics.

Another writer very much in the Anglican tradition is the crime writer, Dorothy L Sayers. Crime fiction and faith might seem odd bedfellows: detective writing relies on certainty and answers. But Sayers’ discussions of faith, of doubt, of mystery is one of the reasons that her books have endured.

Sayers has a particular relationship with Salisbury: she went to school at Godolphin and part of her debut novel, Whose Body? is set in the city. ‘As in all Cathedral cities,’ Sayers wrote there, ‘the atmosphere of the Close pervades every nook and cranny … no food in that city but seems faintly flavoured with prayer-books.’