Wednesday 30 October 2013

Reprinted with the kind permission of the Society of Homeopaths newsletter

A new novel ‘Mesmerised’, based on the life of a Parisian homeopathic doctor who treated the impressionist painters in the 1800s, was published in September. Homeopath writer Michelle Shine talks about her journey from homeopath to novelist.

I suppose I have always been a writer. I remember walking behind my mother reading my latest masterpiece out loud as she went from room to room in my childhood home. I must have been around 10 or 11 at the time. My dream was to become a journalist, a career that I never made happen.

And then the years passed and homeopathy found me. My son, who had a a whole list of diagnosed conditions, benefited enormously from homeopathic treatment. I became fascinated with the subject, studied formally, and for a long while practising homeopathy was the only career path I wanted to follow.

Until, that is, I took time away from my practice to write, just one day a week to begin with. I had this idea that nagged at me night and day. I’d been researching potency. It was the area of my practice that I didn’t quite understand and it made prescribing and evaluating difficult. With every prescription I wondered, ‘is this potency high enough or low enough, and how can I tell the difference, and what dosage should I be giving?’ The information I received at homeopathic college was insufficient to answer these questions, and I couldn’t find enough information on the bookshelves. I needed to write the book.

I loved the process, and when What About the Potency? finally went to press, I took another day out of my practice to write an autobiographical text, and after that a novella entitled The Subtle Art of Healing, which was long listed for the Cinnamon Press Novella Award in 2007. A year later, I sent the novella to my good friend Louisa Dreisin at Serpentina Books. She sent it back to me with a full critique highlighting everything that she thought was wrong with it. As a footnote she said, ‘but I couldn’t put it down. You need to go and do an MA in creative writing to learn how to edit your work.’ Then added, ‘you’ll probably never speak to me again after this.’

It was around that time that I bought a copy of The Homeopathic Revolution by Dana Ullman, an inspiring book that lists all the famous users of homeopathy through the
ages. And my eyes fell upon the mention of the 19th century French homeopath and artist, Dr Paul Gachet, whose friends and patients included Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, Camille Pissaro, Paul Gauguin and Edouard Manet. I immediately became transfixed and randomly began researching both him and his world.

Anyway, it turned out that Louisa got it wrong. I not only spoke to her again, but took her advice and sent an application to Birkbeck University. I felt both surprised and privileged when I was awarded a place.

Then my husband died suddenly and tragically in July 2009, and I lost the emotional capacity to carry on with my homeopathic practice. I had a small set of friends, other writers, and we met every week to discuss our work. After a few months of my grieving process, I went along to join them again. Everyone had started composing their novels. They urged me to start mine, but I wasn’t sure about what I wanted to write. I had an idea for a plot that would centre around a modern day homeopath, but every time I tried to write it, I ended up with pages that were only fit for the bin. One member of my writing group suggested I write about ‘that man you’ve been researching; the homeopath to the Impressionists.’

It took me six months to complete the first draft. I didn’t so much as write Mesmerised, I lived it. I took trips to Paris where I walked the streets that Gachet would have walked; from his home in rue Faubourg-Saint Denis to the cafés in the Boulevard des Italiens, to his girlfriend’s house on the left bank, to the Louvre, to his art class and to the hospital where he worked as a specialist in nervous disorders. I slept little in those days, and lived a parallel life in my head, the life I imagined Dr Gachet to have had in 1863, which was far more seductive than my own. Rising every morning impossibly early, I did an hour’s yoga and then headed off for a swim at the gym, coming home to immerse myself once more in the business of writing it all down.

Once the manuscript was finished it almost seemed that I had found a literary agent straight away, someone who read the first three chapters and then requested that I send the whole book. It had a working title of The Medical Detective, and she soon came back to me with my first rejection, saying she had asked to read it because she thought it was going to be a crime novel. It was to be many rejections later (one agent actually said that she liked my writing but was damned if she was ever going to do anything to help homeopathy) and after a whole lot of edits that I found the perfect publisher who surprised and delighted me when they came back with an acceptance letter and an offer of a publishing contract.

Mesmerised by Michelle Shine was published by Indigo Dreams Publishing. in September 2013.

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