A medical mystery from a medical insider | Sunday Observer

A medical mystery from a medical insider

10 May, 2021
Carmel Miranda
Carmel Miranda

A medical practitioner by profession specialising as an anaesthetist in Colombo, Carmel Miranda, the author of the medical mystery novel ‘Crossmatch’, saw her debut novel being shortlisted for the Gratiaen Prize 2020.

A past pupil of St. Bridget’s Convent Colombo 7, and an alumnus of the Colombo Medical College, she drew on her experiences from her medical student days in the Medical Faculty of the Colombo University to construct the narrator of her novel. In this Q&A feature, Carmel gives insight about her arrival into the folds of fiction writing and what sort of an experience she has had as an author.

Q: Being a medical practitioner by profession at what point in your life did you decide to embark on the path to become a fiction writer, and what was your main inspiration?

A: I decided to start writing about four or five years ago. After a lifetime of reading books I began to wonder what it would be like to actually create one, and how easy or difficult that would be. And so I played around with the idea of crafting a story, and that’s how it began.

I’m inspired by books themselves – when I read a well-written book I think, ‘I wish I could write a book like that’ and when I read a badly-written book I think,’ I’m sure I could write better than that!’

Q: Your novel ‘Crossmatch’ is a mystery novel. How did you develop your approach to this genre?

The book cover

A: I didn’t want to bore readers. One of the criteria of a good book for me is, once I start reading, I should want to continue till I get to the end. There’s nothing like a good mystery to make a book ‘unputdownable’!

Q: How did you gather material for the story, such as details and information to build up the plot and characters the story unfolds?

A: After I decided to write a story based in the medical world in Colombo, building up the background was pretty easy, because this was something I was familiar with. Doctors are frequently portrayed in fiction but medical students not so much. I wanted to give a feel of what it is like to be a medical student in Colombo, and I drew from my own experience.

I also read some medical student blogs to get some modern-day views (it’s been a while since I was a medical student!). When doctors talk or write about medicine, it can get boring. The challenge was to write about medicine in an authentic yet compelling way. The plot is entirely made up but influenced by real situations and events. There was some research involved, and that I did the usual way – by googling!

Q: How long did it take you to build up the storyline and narrative structure? How much planning went into this story before you began writing it?

A: I had a vague plot in my mind when I started. But the story that I ended up with was not quite the one I started with. It’s true what they say about characters taking on a life of their own and dictating their own paths in the story!

I think it’s important not to wait till you have a ‘perfect’ plot. Some of the twists and turns in the story suggest themselves as you go along. I write in my spare time, so sometimes days or weeks would go by without getting a chance to write. So the whole process took a couple of years, then another year or so just re-reading and editing it.

Q: Do you personally feel that you can connect with any of the main characters that you created in this novel?

A: Absolutely. The narrator of the story is a medical student and I have drawn on some of my experiences and emotions as a student in building her story.

Q: How has the response been to the book after publication? What has the feedback been from readers and reviewers?

A: The response has been great – better than I ever imagined. I’ve had personal feedback and also feedback through the social media pages of the book. Doctors who read the book said that reading it brought back nostalgic memories of their own medical student days.

Sri Lankan readers living overseas commented that reading about different locations in Colombo made them feel homesick.

Now that it’s on the Gratiaen Prize shortlist I hope more people will read it and send in more reviews. Some people told me that they felt squeamish reading some of the medical details in the book, but I wouldn’t change that because one of the aims of the book was to paint a real picture of what it is like to go through medical training.

In fiction, the gritty and non-glamorous side of medicine is rarely depicted, especially by non-medical authors.

Q: Do you see yourself exploring other genres as a writer in the future? And have you begun work on your next novel?

A: Honestly, I haven’t thought that far ahead. It would be nice to write another novel, but I have no plans at the moment. Many readers have demanded a sequel to Crossmatch, so that’s an idea.