The Woman Behind the Waterfall book interview with Leonora Meriel
First off thank you to Leonora for agreeing to this interview! It means so much to have you here on my little blog! I have become a big fan of your writing! So after reading your book and posting my review, I’m sure my followers would love to know a little more about you. I decided to stalk..er—look up your web page to see what I could learn about you first and that has inspired some questions from me.
Q: Now I noticed that you grew up in London and eventually moved to New York to work for the United Nations before moving to Kyiv where you founded and managed the Ukraine’s largest internet company. First off wow what a killer resume you must have! Second, how did you go from achieving such great feats to deciding to write a book?
A: Hello Laura, and thank you so much for having me! Your blog is really special and I love the design. I’m also happy for people to look me up on-line – I try to be very open about my life and my writing.
It’s true – I’ve done some exciting jobs in my life. Actually, the only job I ever planned to do was write books, but after finishing university I moved to New York and got drawn into the thrill of the corporate world and then of being an entrepreneur. When I turned 30, I had a big life evaluation and realized that if I wanted a career as a writer, I had better start working on it seriously. It was a hard move, but I left the company I had founded to write full time.
Q: So I see you have gotten to travel a lot, from New York to London, from Ukraine to even China and Taiwan. Do you think you getting to be so culturally knowledgeable as well as speaking several languages have helped shape you into being the writer you are today?
A: You are entirely right, Laura. I think it is part of an author’s job to see the world and be on a constant search to understand what is happening – people, trends, history and possible futures. A writer should be able to identify and raise important questions about life, and those questions can be different depending on the country, location, climate, level of hardship and many other factors.
Even if a writer is entirely local, they should travel and explore beyond their home in order to understand where it fits in globally. Languages, without a doubt, help to deepen that understanding and give you sensitivity to other cultures.
Q: So in your book The Woman behind the Waterfall, there is a significant amount of input into a mother-daughter relationship and the strengths and weaknesses that go into that. What sparked you into writing this? Do you have children of your own that you get these life experiences from or did you have a significant relationship with your mother that helped write this relationship in your book?
A: This is a great question – thank you. Yes – I have 2 children (a daughter and a son) and my daughter was very much the inspiration for the seven-year-old girl in my novel. It was possibly my favourite thing about being a mother when I witnessed how children live entirely in their worlds of imagination. They have the ‘real world’ of rules and parents and dinners, but their imagination flows into that and out of it and it mixes with the stories they hear in books and the stories they constantly make up. Children believe anything and they have no limits in their minds. I truly think that adults should learn from this to mix more imagination into our ‘real’ lives – it would make everything more exciting, more wondrous, more playful.
Of course, being a mother has a great many difficult moments too, and I explore both sides in the book. From a young mother’s perspective, it can be a big shock suddenly becoming a parent when inside you are still not fully developed – as happens to the character in my novel.
Q: One fun thing I read while looking at you page was that while researching for this book you got to try samohon (Ukrainian home-brewed vodka). Tell me more about that!
A: Mmmmm it’s delicious! I lived in Ukraine for almost ten years, and one of the best gifts that people would bring, if they were visiting from the villages, was a bottle of samohon. It’s so strong and fiery – it makes the vodka you buy in the shop seem watery. In the villages, a lot of the people make it themselves using beets or other natural ingredients. In my research, a very kind man in a village gave me a lesson in making it, and then we had to taste several different kinds – with honey, with birch juice, with lemon. I loved all of them!
Q: Now I noticed your book deals heavily with depression. Is this something you have felt in your own life? I ask because as someone who has battled depression for years, I can relate to as you write it very honestly.
A: I’m so glad that the description of depression came out as genuine. It certainly was in my case. I had times in my life when months seemed incredibly dark, and those times are terrifying because you never know when – or if – they are going to end. People will tell you that everything will get better, but at that moment, all you can see is darkness. I experienced this very acutely in my life, and I made sure that I wrote a lot during these times, so that I would remember what it was like – and I used this writing when I was working on my book. It’s really hard to look back and think how bad it was. When you’re in a good place, you can’t even imagine feeling no hope at all.
I also knew that a lot of people experience depression in connection with their children, or post-partum, so I decided in my novel to make this a feature of Lyuda’s journey.
Q: In reading your book, I fell in love with the setting of it. You were so beautifully descriptive that I felt transported all the way from my small town home across the country! How much research went into your setting and where the story takes place?
A: Lots of research! I lived in Ukraine for ten years, and although I was in Kyiv – which is a modern, international city – the parts of the country I really loved were the west and the south, where there is this extraordinary, lush countryside and heartbreakingly beautiful villages. I felt so passionate about them that I knew I wanted to paint a picture for the world. Ukraine has so many wonderful things about it that nobody knows about, and it is one of my personal missions to write about all these things in my novels.
For the specific research, I wrote the settings originally from memory, and when I was on the final draft, I spent a week in the countryside near Lviv checking the details of everything I had written – such as really learning how to make the samohon. It was a wonderful week and I took a lot of photos, which you can find on my blog (www.leonorameriel.com) .
Q: What was the hardest part in this story for you to write? And the easiest?
A: The hardest part of the story was writing the chapters when Lyuda is experiencing a very simple life – she has the man she loves, she has money, she is more or less happy. They were difficult because I like to fill every page of my writing with poetry and magic, and these had to be more straightforward, to express the different life that Lyuda is living.
The easiest – anything with poetry or magic – it’s just what I write naturally when I sit down with my pen or computer!
Q: who are some of your favorite authors that you look up to?
A: I really love writers who use the imagination a great deal, and also combine it with literary skill. When I read a book, I like to read about an idea that I couldn’t possibly have come up with myself – to have a door opened by someone who is stretching their own concepts of reality and possibility. David Mitchell does this in every book; Haruki Murakami leaves me wanting to jump into his head; Ken Liu is a modern genius of social commentary and sci-fi. And so many more!
Q: What are your plans for your next book? Can you give us any spoilers?
A: My second novel is coming out very soon – on May 1 2017. It’s called “The Unity Game” and it’s a wild saga of worlds and fates and philosophy. It’s set in New York, on a space vessel and in an after-life dimension, so I’d describe the genre as literary sci-fi.
Q: If someone wants to find out more about you or reach out to you, what is the best way to do so?
A: I love connecting with readers – and I hope some of your blog readers will reach out. My author website www.leonorameriel.com has full information on my novels, my news and blog that I write. I’m also on Twitter as @leonora_meriel and on Facebook as Leonora Meriel Writer. I’m happy to answer e-mails and get in touch at Leonora@leonorameriel.com
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: I mentioned earlier that one of my missions is to spread the word about what a wonderful country Ukraine is – the landscapes, the culture, the language. My most cherished hope from my novels is that it will inspire people to find out more – and even to visit – this beautiful country.
So – to finish with a little Ukrainian – “dyakuyu” or “thank you” so much for having my on your blog. And thank you for supporting writers!
Again thank you so, so much for agreeing to this interview. You are truly an amazing woman who is multi-talented! It has been fun to have you here and I can’t wait to read what you write next.
And you can see my review of her book The Woman behind the Waterfall here.
Title: The Woman Behind the Waterfall
Author: Leonora Meriel
Genre: Literary Fiction, Magic Realism
Publishing Date: October 1, 2016
Page count, hardback: 234 pages
Page count, paperback: 262 pages
Heartbreak and redemption in the beauty of a Ukrainian village
For seven-year old Angela, happiness is exploring the lush countryside around her home in western Ukraine. Her wild imagination takes her into birds and flowers, and into the waters of the river.
All that changes when, one morning, she sees her mother crying. As she tries to find out why, she is drawn on an extraordinary journey into the secrets of her family, and her mother’s fateful choices.
Can Angela lead her mother back to happiness before her innocence is destroyed by the shadows of a dark past?
Beautiful, poetic and richly sensory, this is a tale that will haunt and lift its readers.
Leonora Meriel grew up in London and studied literature at the University of Edinburgh and Queen’s University, Ontario. She worked at the United Nations in New York, and then for a law firm. In 2003 she moved to Kyiv, where she founded and managed Ukraine’s largest Internet company. She studied at Kyiv Mohyla Business School and earned an MBA. During her years in Ukraine, she learned to speak Ukrainian and Russian, witnessed two revolutions and got to know an extraordinary country at a key period of its development. In 2008, she returned to her dream of being a writer, and completed The Woman Behind the Waterfall, set in a village in western Ukraine. Her second book, The Unity Game will be released in May 2017.
Press & Reviews
“Readers looking for a classic tale of love and loss will be rewarded with an intoxicating worlds” – Kirkus Reviews
“A strange and beautiful novel” – Esther Freud, author of Hideous Kinky, Peerless Flats, Mr Mac and Me
“A literary work of art” – Fiona Adams, Richmond Magazine
“Timeless and universal novel” – Goodreads & Amazon reviewer
“A beautiful, thought-provoking exploration of family ties” – MP, Amazon reviewer
Amazon US author page
Amazon UK author page
Twitter – @leonora_meriel