Research and Background
Catherine Chanter talks about the ideas and the research behind The Well.
Why did you choose the idea of a drought as the central premise?
I live in a cottage in the middle of nowhere where I can write, think and plant vegetables. The water is electrically pumped up from its own well. In the winter, when the rain sweeps in from the hills and lashes the windows, it seems ridiculous to ever think of a water shortage. But there have been summers when it has not really rained for weeks, or months and the pump struggles to find the water.
The world over, people are already exposed to the terrible consequences of drought as a result of climate change and our foolish insistence on building vast cities in the middle of deserts. Water shortage is a political issue. If God was to demonstrate to us what it meant to be a chosen one nowadays, maybe, I thought, it could be through the unlimited provision of water.
What research informed your picture of The Sisters?
On line research about women who have made this choice was fascinating. I read nuns’ own accounts of their choices and lives and their feelings about what they had left behind. By the time I had finished writing the novel, I knew intimately why each of the Sisters had chosen a route of religious devotion, even if a lot of this back story is not explicit in the text.
A great deal of the thinking also related to the so-called Mediaeval Mystics such as Hildegard of Bingen, Hadewijch of Brabant, Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich. I explored the invisible lines between religious devotion, sexual ecstasy, hallucinations and what our society would call mental illness. I believe sanity is a continuum whose end points are re-defined in different societies at different periods in history.
Did you own a Rose of Jericho?
Yes, as happens in The Well, you can purchase The Rose of Jericho online. They are the most miraculous plants which really do look like a rootless handful of dust and yet, left out in the rain, blossom with tiny white flowers. However, I was also writing with the knowledge that some of the world’s most powerful metaphors are ripe for exploitation for both good and evil ends.
To many of us, religion and the internet do not naturally fit together.
Both are subjects of great interest to me and nowadays believers are increasingly using the internet as part of their worship. Why not? I saw examples of online of wonderful live daily offerings of shared worship with music and readings by committed and loving people of all faiths, but also sites demanding money, personal information, playing on our insecurities. Like most aspects of the internet, it all depends on how it is used.
How much research did you have to do on the life of a smallholder?
I have spent a lot of my life in rural areas, it is where I feel most at home. I am passionately in love with the English countryside. The internet is changing our rural lives; we can be isolated and connected at the same time. The running of a smallholding, names of the flowers, the myths behind the birds, the types of trees – I knew a lot already but had to be careful to check that what I thought was knowledge was not just myth or misunderstanding.