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. She published her debut novel “The Woman Behind the Waterfall” in October 2016. I write literary fiction, mixed with elements of fantasy, surrealism, and magic realism.
When and why did you start writing?
My earliest memory is my desire to be a writer – feeling it very strongly, and telling everyone I met. I wrote stories throughout my childhood and novels and poetry in my teens. I studied literature in Scotland and Canada – the only thing I was ever completely sure of was that I was meant to write. Somehow, when I hit my 20s, I got distracted by the real world, and found myself in New York working for a law firm, and then in Kyiv, starting my own business. I built up a store of amazing experiences to draw on for my books, and when I turned 30, I knew it was time to write professionally. I had the passion, and by then I had seen some of the world. Now I’m putting it all together into my novels.
What inspires your writing?
I have never had to look far for inspiration. When I sit down to write, I have so many stories in me bursting to come out, it’s sometimes hard to decide which to start with. However, there is usually one story – sometimes, one I haven’t even thought of – which overrides the others and insists on being told. I understand that all my life experiences and passions are churning away in my subconscious, and deciding for themselves how they will form into stories. My job is to sit at the computer and open that magical white page for them to fill.
What has been your worst moment as a writer?
When I decided to write professionally, it meant quitting my job as CEO of the fastest growing internet company in Ukraine. It was really a dream job. I’d just finished an MBA, and I loved what I was doing. But I also knew that it wasn’t what I was really, really meant to be doing. I moved to Barcelona, and it was an incredible shock to feel the depth of that change. A few months back I had social standing, reputation, a title, a great salary, a busy life. Now, I had a blank page, cups of coffee, and a job title of “writer who hopes someday to write a book which will be published.” It was terrifying. But I’m on the other side of that now, with a novel which would never have been written if I hadn’t made that leap. It was one of the best decisions of my life.
Do you have any writing rituals to get you in the mood for writing?
It has to be early morning for me. The earlier the better. Some of my best writing has been at 4 or 5 am. Anything which helps to maintain a dream-like state is great. A sunrise. A grey dawn. Candles. But also early morning cafes. The energy and bustle of a day before the dreams are broken and monotony has kicked the spark out of everything. And, of course, coffee.
If you could, what would you go back and tell yourself as a writer starting out?
I’d say – just keep believing. Believe and believe and believe. Because you start out with empty pages – both in your future career and in front of you on the computer. And those pages get filled with your words and your actions and they transform into stories and events and then into books and careers. But nothing happens without that first belief. So keep believing!
What do you think makes for great writing?
I think that reading the very best in your genre will keep the bar high for you in your head and heart – and keep reminding you of why you are writing, and what you are striving towards. Then – reading widely. Read outside your genre and read unexpected things. Read fiction and non-fiction. Read a science book. Read a philosophy book. Read a classic. Read a book from a country you’ve never read a book from. Read a comic. There are ideas and tactics to be found in all written mediums. And finally – with every book you write – give it every bit of passion, blood, imagination, discipline and financial investment you have. If you have anything left at the end of the writing and editing process, then the book isn’t finished. Give it everything, and then offer it to the world. It’s ready.
How do you measure success as a writer?
On a personal level, I have to know that I have given my book everything (see the answer above) – which is when I am ready to put the book out there in the world. If I have done this, then even if the book fails completely in the commercial world, then I did my best, and the next will be better. On a more professional level, I measure success in the words of readers. If a book has moved and inspired people, or taken them on a journey, then it is a success. This can be wonderful reviews (I’m lucky enough to have some), or readers talking to you personally, or even just ratings. In time, I hope to measure success with money, but it’s a slow game with literary fiction, and the first steps are to build readers and reviews.
What’s your biggest fear as a writer?
I’m a mother of two, with a very busy life in several countries. My biggest fear is never having the time to develop my writing to the level it could be. I think of writers such as Haruki Murakami who have the time to write, run, travel; or Philip Roth, who lived alone most of his life and worked for straight days year on year. When you’re a mother – you fight for your hours, and often things are simply more important than your writing – medical emergencies; calls from school; even homework! Feeding children? – I’m still on the line about that one. I do hope as they grow older my hours will be less of a fight; and I hold on to the belief that the extraordinary experience of motherhood is only beneficial to the depth of a writer’s perception of the world.
Describe your latest book to our readers.
“The Woman Behind the Waterfall” is a story of three generations of women in a village in Ukraine. The mother thinks she has made a terrible mess of her life and can’t struggle out of a depression; her 7-year old daughter lives in a world of natural happiness where everything is connected; the grandmother feels the weight of not protecting her daughter against the harshness of life. It’s full of Ukrainian culture and magic and the bonds between women. It’s a very personal book, which delves into the imagination and has elements of surrealism and Jungian archetypes. To quote one of my favourite reviews, it’s also “a timeless and universal novel….”
What would you like readers to take away from your writing?
I would like them to be moved by the story itself, and to feel an appreciation for the female relationships in their lives. I’d like them to know a little of the lush and magnificent Ukrainian culture and perhaps have an interest in knowing more of Ukraine. Ideally, they would be interested in my writing and write wonderful reviews of my book!
Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Believe believe believe! Give it everything. And know that your next book will be better.
What’s next for you?
I’m just in the finishing stages of my second novel, which will be released on May 1st, 2017. It’s called “The Unity Game” and it is set in New York, on a spacecraft, and in an after-life dimension. It’s a combination of literary fiction, thriller, and sci-fi. It’s faster paced than my first novel and intended for all audiences (“The Woman Behind the Waterfall” was more targeted at women readers). It’s a wild ride, but my beta-readers have loved it, so hopefully it will be a success!
by Leonora Meriel
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.