Leonora Meriel, author of The Woman Behind the Waterfall and The Unity Game
What started you off writing?
I dreamed of being a writer throughout my childhood, and wrote a lot of stories and poems growing up, and a novel when I was 17. After I graduated I had several jobs, such as working for the United Nations and for a law firm in Manhattan, before starting a business of my own. When I turned 30, I decided it was the perfect time to give everything to my dream. I left my job, and I’ve been writing full-time ever since.
Which writer do you feel inspired you the most to yourself become an author?
When I was 12 or 13 my godmother gave me the Gormenghast Trilogy by Mervyn Peake: Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Alone. I had never read anything like it. The vocabulary alone was extraordinary and the world Peake created was so utterly complete and incredible that I thought if I could write anything at all like that, then I would be happy. I had always wanted to be a writer, but after I read this trilogy, my vision of what could be accomplished was based on these wonderful books.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I have a very creative mind and I am almost always turning several ideas round in my imagination at one time. I suppose it comes from being utterly fascinated with everything – with the planet Earth that we live on, with the mysteries of everything we don’t yet know, with the universe around us. I love to discover and delve into new areas. There are so many extraordinary things happening in the world at any one time, and so many stories to be told that should be known about. As a writer, it’s amazing to have the power to combine ideas and stories and “what if” scenarios endlessly in books. So, I’d say the ideas come from a combination of my insatiable curiosity, my vast fascination with everything around us, and a creative mind that likes to play with pieces of information and arrange them in interesting patterns.
Do you have a favourite book which you couldn’t put down or have reread several times?
That’s a really difficult question. I would have to choose 3 that I return to again and again. The first is The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Its themes and language and beauty haunt me. The second is Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. When Michael Cunningham published his personal interpretation of this in The Hours, that also became a favourite. For my third, I would choose Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore as it constantly inspires me to be bold in my ideas, expression of motivations and language. It reminds me that in writing, everything is possible.
What is your writing process like?
I start off with many different ideas in my head, and I simply try writing about all of them. Some story threads fizzle out after a few thousand words and I understand that I didn’t have a very deep interest in the themes behind them. Others expand until a novel starts coming into shape. I often then integrate the smaller ideas as themes into the larger works. A novel has to have a question or a theme so burning, that it will carry you through up to five or even ten years of your life, and thousands of words.
Tell us a little bit about your most recent book?
My most recent book is The Unity Game, published in May 2017.
The main theme of the book is the meaning of life on earth, which I explore using three different characters: first of all an ego-driven banker in New York City; then an advanced alien observing Earth; and finally, a lawyer who dies in the first scene and reflects on his time on Earth from an after-life dimension. It’s philosophical and metaphysical and it contains all the questions that I was burning to explore while I was writing it.
What did you find the most challenging aspect of writing your latest book?
The most difficult thing about writing The Unity Game was writing the advanced alien. As we are not yet advanced on Earth, I had to write about a being in a state beyond myself, which was certainly challenging. The alien also does not have a gender, and its planet does not have time, so I had to write the piece without any gender or time references. It’s the hardest thing I’ve done!
What five books would you say everyone should have in their personal libraries?
1) The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – for the power and magic of dreams.
2) Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – for the exploration of morality and ethics.
3) The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin – for the portrayal of a truly idealistic society / utopia.
4) The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu – for a narrative explaining China’s recent history and a brilliant glance inside its society, combined with terrifying Science Fiction
5) Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe – to understand a little of the power and magic of Africa.
Where do you write and do you have any idiosyncrasies or specific writing area that has to be just so?
The time is always the morning – as early as possible, but the place can vary. If there is no one at home, then I write in my office or living room. However, if there are people wandering around, I’ll have to go out to a café. I’ll always choose a corner seat where I can observe the room, and one with loud enough music so I can’t hear other peoples’ conversations.
If you could yourself climb into any book and take on the mantle of a character which book and which character would it be?
I think that I would return to my very first inspiration and go into the world of Gormenghast as Titus Groan’s angry teenaged sister Fuchsia. I would roam the incredible towers and hidden corridors of the castle and meet the dwellers who lived and plotted there.
What upcoming works can we expect from you and do you have a timeframe for them?
I’m currently working on seven different projects, some of which are short term and some long-term (10 years or more). The piece that I plan to publish first is a literary fiction novella set in a meditation centre, which takes place inside the minds of the characters. My first two novels have been quite experimental regarding genre, and I am planning for this to be straight literary fiction – no magic, no other planets, no dead people. It’s my personal challenge to see if I can keep one novel solidly on the Earth.