Interview with ‘Becoming Carla’ author, Chris Edmonds „Becoming Carla‟ is a novel about a young woman forced to deal with the breakdown of her marriage and the impact it has on her life and those closest to her. Redemption comes from an unlikely source, and the outcome is both inspiring and surprising. The novel has been described as “lively and engaging, where yoga takes centre stage in a woman‟s journey from lost love to self-discovery”, and “an enlightened story that we can all learn from”. One of its great achievements is the ability to tap into the trauma of loss we have all experienced at some stage in our lives. In this interview, Chris reflects on her own journey as a source of inspiration for her debut novel. Where did the inspiration to write this novel come from? As a child I was not particularly academic, in fact I was an under-achiever at school. I always struggled, and eventually left school at the end of Form 3 (now Year 9). I was told in no uncertain terms by my teachers that I would never amount to anything. I left without ever reading a book or writing an essay. I left without ever thinking that I could do either. It was a bitter experience that informed how I responded to life for years after. What happened when you left school? I entered the workforce at 16, uneducated and unskilled. I worked as a cashier until I found a job as a junior receptionist at a hairdressing school. It was there that I met a remarkable woman, one of a handful I would meet in my life (so far) who had the ability to let me see beyond my limited world view. Carole was a hairdresser with an irrepressible personality who only ever saw the positive in everything, even though she had experienced more than her share of personal tragedy. She was also fascinated by the occult. One day I was at her salon when she handed me some I Ching sticks. I wasn‟t sure what to do with them, and she said “just pull one out”. I did and it said I was going to be a writer! “Ridiculous,” I thought to myself. “I haven‟t even read a book, how could I become a writer!” So I dismissed it, but I never forgot it. It wasn‟t that I believed in clairvoyance or the I Ching, however something about it must have resonated and over the years I wondered if it was my destiny. How do you understand destiny? Destiny is an interesting thing; some people believe in it others don‟t. Many believe our fate is mapped out for us before we are born, others believe only some of the events in our lives are preordained. We like to think our lives have a purpose and I suppose I hoped my purpose was more than being a „check-out chick‟. But I truly believe that writing was not my idea. Ever since I was a young child I felt a need to communicate with God, so I tried to be open to any message s/he might send me. Later in life as I reflected on the events of that day I believed God did communicate with me through I Ching. Did you feel inspired enough to act at that time? It would be another ten years before I returned to study. Those were formative years in my development and in many ways difficult years. Trusting instinct is an important thing, but when your self-belief is low it‟s a struggle to find the path towards enlightenment. In my arts degree I majored in literature and was encouraged by feedback from some lecturers who enjoyed my writing. I entered a few short story competitions without any success and had a few attempts at longer pieces but there was no burning story to tell within me. The I Ching was still in the back of my mind, although life continued and I was largely preoccupied with family, work and my developing interest in yoga, until my brother committed suicide in 1996. How did you deal with his death? That event was a catalyst for me, it triggered childhood memories of an abusive, alcoholic father and my life just started to fall apart. It was at that point that Devamaya (Mukti), my yoga teacher who was the inspiration for one of the central characters in my book, nurtured me through what was an extraordinarily difficult time. She encouraged me to become a stronger, more insightful person with a renewed enthusiasm for life. She gave me something very special and suddenly I had a burning desire to pass this on to others. I‟m no Mukti myself, but I thought if I could write about this experience others could also be inspired by it and perhaps search for their own Mukti (mentor) or the Mukti within. Did your family and friends understand and accept this change? Writing, by its very nature, is a solitary activity and can be selfish to those around you, especially when you embrace it as an adult. I knew, despite my misgivings and probably my family‟s, that if I had something meaningful to say, whether to myself or to others, it would be through the written word. My family reacted by deciding that it was just another one of my idiosyncrasies. It wasn‟t really spoken about and no one took it seriously. I took it very seriously and was extremely sensitive about it because I was struggling with my own self doubt. None of us believed that my writing would ever be published. To write under those circumstances takes enormous energy and willpower, because most writers keep going because they dream of being published and there is an inherently powerful self-belief, even if they don‟t articulate it publicly. I never spoke of writing to my friends, probably because I felt self-conscious about it. Yoga and meditation are powerful themes in your book. Obviously they’re important in your life, but was the process of writing the more significant driver for change? Yoga is the thing that has made a difference to my life and friendships. Yoga means different things to different people, for the athlete it‟s stretching, for others it‟s fitness, for me it‟s a spiritual practice that touches my head, hand and heart. It‟s a space where I can commune with God and be one with the universe. I don‟t think I could have written a book without this practice underpinning me. Yoga is a means to an end. The book is my way of explaining that to the reader. What do you hope to achieve with ‘Becoming Carla’? I want the focus of „Becoming Carla‟ to be the journey of recovery, the journey of self discovery. If the focus is on the devastating events in Carla‟s life that precipitated the journey, then I haven‟t done my job as a writer, and the reader will have missed my point. However, I‟m pleased to say that the people who‟ve read the book and spoken to me about it, have all identified with the central thesis that I was trying to develop, so I‟m thrilled with that. There will always be interpretation, and that makes for great conversation. But at its heart, the book aims to leave the reader with the same sense of hope and optimism that Carla experiences. Is there another novel on your horizon? I don‟t think you‟re ever done with writing. The solitude is comforting and alienating; there are days I loved writing and days I loathed it. I learnt a lot about myself during the process. Not all of it good! Learning is what gives meaning to our lives, so I feel that it‟s a journey worth taking. I also think it‟s a positive example to my chidren. So, was the I Ching right? Absolutely. Regardless of what happens to „Becoming Carla‟, I did complete a novel. Of course, the I Ching didn‟t say if I was going to be successful! You could ask, was it a self fulfilling prophecy? My answer is, who knows and does it really matter?
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