When Carmel Bendon isn’t writing she’s lecturing at university or giving talks to general audiences on “all things medieval”. With a PhD in Medieval Literature and Culture she has published in academic journals and authored the successful non-fiction book Mysticism and Space. At home in Sydney she lives with her husband, a faithful dog, and a wild garden. She is the proud mother of three adult daughters. Grasping at Water is her first novel.
What drew you to write about mysticism? Were there any authors that inspired you to write about this subject?
I have a PhD in medieval literature so I’ve long been fascinated by the tales and the particular way in which narratives were constructed in those long ago times. I was especially drawn to the strangeness of some aspects of medieval life. Medieval mystics were one of my main research areas and I had often wondered how we, now, would react if someone like a mystic arrived in the middle of modern-day Sydney. This idea became the triggering point for my novel Grasping at Water.
Authors who inspired me in this direction were, of course, the great medieval authors like Geoffrey Chaucer. Daphne Du Maurier was an early influence too, I think, with her novel The House on the Strand, which, though set in contemporary England, featured a strong medieval element. Later, the brilliance of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose really made me want to write fiction. Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, with its brilliantly conceived magic realism, was also influential.
Do you find your characters and setting of your book were based upon your own life experiences?
Yes, definitely, in parts of my writing. Prior to my academic career I worked in the medical field and so it’s no surprise that the occupation of one of the main characters in Grasping at Water is a psychiatrist (Kathryn Brookley), and that some of the main settings are a hospital and an aged care facility. And, of course, the medieval elements of the book come from my study of that period.
What motivates you to write fiction?
My biggest motivation is the freedom I feel when I am immersed in the creative process, closely followed by the challenge of bringing ideas and words together to produce a cohesive and engaging story.
How many books have you written?
I’ve written two books, very different to each other in tone and style but not so vastly different in subject and theme. The first book, Mysticism and Space, was an academic monograph that looked at the insights of a group of medieval mystics. The second book is my first novel, Grasping at Water, which features both a mystic and medieval sequences.
What would you say is your biggest accomplishment?
I’m mature enough now to know that ‘accomplishment’ can take many forms. Raising a family, having a satisfying career, and just generally living life well are big accomplishments for any/all of us. However, having books and articles published on topics that I’m passionate about and love to share is an accomplishment in the ‘dream fulfilment section’ of life.
What advice would you give to a new writer trying to get published?
My Four-Point Advice is:
- Read widely, not just in your own writing genre but across all genres. Doing so gives you so much more to bring to your own work
- Be alert for the stories that are all around us, just waiting to be told
- Be competent in the ‘tools of your trade’ – grammar, spelling, punctuation
- Be persistent, in writing every day, and in continuing to send off your work for consideration to a variety of publishers
What inspires you when you hit writer’s block?
I’m quite disciplined in my writing so I usually just ‘sit out’ a block in the hope that staying at my desk long enough will eventually spur me on (and generally, it does). If that fails, I like to go for a long walk during which, very often, the ideas that have been stuck just below the surface start to bubble up.
Describe your writing style in three words.
Honest. Textured. Imaginative.
When a young, unidentified woman is pulled alive and well from Sydney Harbour in 2013, the connections to another woman – found in similar circumstances forty years earlier – present psychiatrist Kathryn Brookley with a terrible decision as the events of the present and past begin to mirror each other and the gap between truth and illusion shrinks.