Bem’s top tip for aspiring authors: Never lose sight of the whole, in every sense. Find the diversity of your story (the culture and time), but never lose the unity (those principles like love, death, family, spirituality – those powerful themes that are shared in our human consciousness and serve to unite us all).
Bem Le Hunte is the author of four novels – the most recent is Elephants with Headlights (2020). Her previous novels, The Seduction of Silence and There, Where the Pepper Grows, have become number one bestsellers and been published internationally to critical acclaim. She is also the founding Director of the Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation, a transdisciplinary, future-facing degree that teaches creativity across 25 different disciplines and explores the porous boundaries between fields, disciplines and industries. She has a BA and MA in Social Anthropology from Cambridge University and a Creative Doctorate from the University of Sydney where she wrote an exegesis on creativity and transcendence. She has a research interest in the extraordinary possible, spiritual realism and in creative practice across disciplines. She has worked in the creative industries and the arts across three decades. Throughout this time, writing has always been her elemental passion, and the gift of this calling has allowed her to flourish in many ways and worlds – well beyond the written word.
Why do you write? I believe that if you have a gift you should pass it on – we share consciousness with other humans and non-humans – whether we’re aware of it or not. Stories are a currency with great power to transform our world and the people living in it. Indeed, I once wrote an academic paper titled Stories have the Power to Save Us – and I’m guilty of believing some of my own rhetoric!
What would you be doing if you weren’t a writer? Perhaps a midwife – maybe they’re even the same job! It’s hardly surprising that there are so many births in my books, including descriptions of my own births.
What was your toughest obstacle to becoming published? The toughest obstacle is always writing something worthy of publication.
How involved have you been in the development of your book? Did you have input into the cover? I love my cover (thanks to Josh Durham). The two faces in the elephants’ ears… the suggestion of a love story, contemporary and bold, in an ancient culture where driverless cars exist alongside elephants on the streets of New Delhi…and yes, I had a say in the cover. I was a creative director for years before I became a writer or an academic, and I have a strong feeling for these things (like Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow)!
What’s the best aspect of your writing life? Being swept away by the time-gobbling Duende, into a state of transcendence. I consider this to be a highly productive spiritual state and it’s useful for someone like myself who describes her genre as ‘spiritual realism’. I’ve been so enthralled with this process I even wrote my doctoral exegesis on Creativity and Transcendence.
—the worst? Having an overload of admin tasks that rob me of my moments of being and the rapture of writing.
What would you do differently if you were starting out now as a writer? Writing, like life, is a story. I don’t feel as if I should have done anything differently, because I would have robbed myself of an important chapter in my narrative.
What do you wish you’d been told before you set out to become an author? I wish I’d been told it was possible to be a writer – this part I simply had to imagine – write the path myself.
What’s the best advice you were ever given on writing? We’re in an era where people need to wake up, and writing can change people’s lives – writers can be midwives of change. Maxine Green wrote that ‘the opposite of aesthetic is anaesthetic – being numb, passive, blankly indifferent.’ Never underestimate the power you have to help people feel. She also wrote: ‘the arts, it has been said, cannot change the world, but they may change human beings, who might change the world.’ If you can become the great impetus for the shifting of consciousness that needs to take place, then you will inspire yourself as well as others!
How important is social media to you as an author? Very important, no doubt. I just wish I was better at it and cared a little more about it. To quote Greta Thunberg, ‘our house is on fire’… so where’s the time to post our latest meal on Insta?
Do you experience ‘writer’s block’ and if so, how do you overcome it? I force myself past it. I’ve created a ‘Methods Arena’ for students in my degree, the Bachelor of Creative Intelligence and Innovation. There are so many methods you can invent for yourself if you’re an inventive soul and have a problem to solve. Never underestimate the creative capacity of humans. They might impress us yet!
How do you deal with rejection? Much better than I used to. And the wisdom is worth waiting for – the world is moving too fast now for us to get caught up in the projections of others.
In three words, how would you describe your writing? Spiritual realism – emotional.
If you had the chance to spend an hour with any writer of your choice, living or dead, who would it be and what would you most like them to tell you about living a writing life? I’d love to spend an hour with Gabriel García Márquez. I’d like him to tell me more about his Nobel Prize speech – about how ‘General Antonio López de Santa Anna, three times dictator of Mexico, held a magnificent funeral for the right leg he had lost in the so-called Pastry War’. And because I wrote parts of Elephants with Headlights in a utopian community in South India, I’d like to discuss utopias with him – inspired as I am by his speech, which ends with these words: ‘A new and sweeping utopia of life, where no one will be able to decide for others how they die, where love will prove true and happiness be possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth.’
In the tradition of Bem Le Hunte’s acclaimed novels, The Seduction of Silence and There, Where the Pepper Grows, this book is a spiritual and emotional journey like no other—a richly realised and hugely entertaining story that straddles cultures, continents and generations.
An encounter with Elephants with Headlights is a collision between east and west, modernity and tradition—between driverless cars and ancient lore—and a world that needs revolutionary reappraisal. In this world, Savitri, named after a Goddess, refuses outright to marry anyone. Her brother, Neel is intent on marrying an Australian girl called Mae, much to the displeasure of their mother, Tota, and father, Siddarth. But do they have the power to command love or destiny? Only the family astrologer, Arunji, knows, yet his truth is tempered by obligations to the family that transformed his life.
Characters who we come to love and care for, teeter on the brink of a radically altered future, leaving questions in their wake. What is the generative legacy of tradition? Can spiritual values survive amidst personal challenges, the tragedy of a death foretold, and the momentous changes of our times? A warm and engaging novel touched with love, wisdom and soulfulness, Elephants with Headlights is a breathtaking story for the threshold era we all navigate.
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