An Interview with Bem Le Hunte
How do you compare yourself to other writers writing about the India experience?
I don't. I feel as if my writing has more Latin American influences, if anything. I love so much of the writing that is coming through writers of Indian descent, but I feel I am a product of my own experience, which is not geographically expressed. I don't intend to write only about India in the future. Neither did I ever intend my book to be some kind of an ethnic experience. Actually, it isn't a typically Indian story, and I don't write in an Indian voice. Nonetheless, India is a huge inspiration for me. When I'm there I'm saturated with the color, smell and personality of the land and I feel as if absolutely anything could happen. India is truly the country of the unexpected, and from a writer's point of view, it is rich with possibilities. Also, the spirituality of the people has always touched me, although Indians nowadays like to believe that they are not a spiritual nation, but an industrial superpower!
How would you describe the experience of writing?
It's a feeling of being connected, on a deep level, to a part of your self that is fully based in consciousness. A part that knows everything that needs to be known, because 'all knowledge is structured in consciousness.' Being open is the key. Open when you're observing life and trying to understand people, and also being open when you're at a computer and you're being compelled in a strange direction! Sometimes a fairly outrageous idea for a storyline can come to you and you think "oh no, nobody will believe it." But if you allow the story to unfold, the reality is there in the telling. It's almost as if the story existed before it was articulated. For me, being open is about clearing the mind. Getting out of the way of your own creativity. I always meditate, morning and night, and have done so for the past eleven years (missing one or two meditations by accident, or on the account of being in labor!) Clearing the mind, for me, is a necessity for life, let alone for life as a writer. Maybe I'm addicted to meditation, but I haven't seen any harm done yet. Quite the opposite. It's helped me to clear away cloudiness and see my own power, feel my joy, my inspiration and my love for life.
What have you learned from writing The Seduction of Silence?
I've learned an extra dimension to the concept of trust. Writing is so much a process of trust, for me. You just have to trust that the inspiration will come, and it does. You start off writing a book and you have thousands of words ahead of you. It's like climbing a mountain. Once you're half way up you can see that you're going to make your destination, but still, you're high up - anything can happen. Spend too much time looking back down at your achievements and you'll lose your nerve. Every day you have to believe that there is a plan. That the book you're writing has a course of its own that will simply evolve.
Is The Seduction of Silence the first book you've ever written?
I tried writing a book before when I was honeymooning for a few months in India. I was 28 years old and fell very sick. I still have a half-written manuscript that started losing direction, because the writing of it became too intense an experience. One day I might pick that book up again and do something with it, who knows. Nonetheless, I'm glad I published my first novel in my 30's rather than my 20's, because I feel I have much more experience. In my 20's I was influenced by a book I read titled Letters to a Young Poet, by Rilke. I remember him giving advice to a young poet, telling him that no experience is wasted if you're a writer, and the most important thing is to live your life and know that it is going somewhere. I took that advice on, knowing that some time in the future I would be ready to write, and make sense of the experiences of life.
Who or what inspires you?
I get my inspiration from listening to people, engaging, observing. I have loved the work of too many writers to name them all here. When I read books I enjoy trying to understand the thought process of the writer: trying to read through the lines and gauge the writer's understanding of life and the world they live in. I pick up on atmosphere as well as command of language and the ability to convey experience or perceptions. I also get a lot of inspiration from music. I love dancing, too. It's a way of getting a certain feeling into your body. If you've got an idea that's in your body, your mind and your soul, there's a good chance it's worth communicating it to other people.
What sort of support did you have while writing the book?
My husband was the greatest support. Not only was he a complete hero in looking after our kids and doing the cooking and housekeeping, he was also a great support with the writing. Every day he would read the story, completely gripped and eager to know what was going to happen next. For Jan, The Seduction of Silence is the best book ever written - at least until the next one I write! With support like that I never lacked any confidence while I was writing this book, and I think that lack of confidence is probably the biggest obstacle you could ever encounter.
How much of The Seduction of Silence is based on your own experiences?
So many stories in The Seduction of Silence came from real life. Often the more magical and unbelievable those stories were, the more likely they were to be true. The story of Tulsi Devi getting cured of jaundice, for example, is based on a real cure my husband came across when he was sick with the same illness. Guru Dev's story is mostly true. He hid for many years in the forests of Central India, always escaping the many pilgrims who were sent down to request him to take up the seat of Shankaracharya of the north. The story of Bahadur is inspired by a little boy in India who used to come to me for English lessons. Also, Saakshi's experiences in India trying to find a place to give birth could have come straight from my diary at the time I was writing this book. So too could the feeling of those hills, and the story of Saakshi and Jason going up to the mountains and renting a place from the villagers. Many details of the life of Saakshi, in fact, were lived rather than imagined.
What would you like readers to take away with them after reading The Seduction of Silence?
I would like my readers to feel as if they have shared a part of my life. Often the books I enjoy the most are the ones where I wish I could meet the author as soon as I turn the last page. So many writers have given me the gift of their inspiration; I only hope that I can return some piece of inspiration to others in my work. Most of all, I hope that the book is a good read, because it was certainly a good write!
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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