Good morning everyone! I have a very exciting blog post for you today! Books Beyond The Story sat down with Leonora Meriel, author of The Woman Behind the Waterfall and The Unity Game, for an exclusive interview! But first, I also have for you a Q&A with one of the characters from The Woman Behind the Waterfall! How exciting!
You can find my full review of The Woman Behind the Waterfall HERE!
Photo courtesy of Leonora Meriel
Q&A with Angela, one of the main characters from The Woman Behind the Waterfall.
What is your favourite time of day?
I love the early morning, when Mama is still asleep. It’s so secret. I’ve always woken up early, and we live in a village so Mama lets me go wherever I want. It’s very safe. In the early morning, I can tiptoe outside the house, and I can hear the neighbours already working on their gardens in the spring and summer, and the village noises are so loud – the dogs howling, the cockerels crowing, the frogs (although the frogs usually sing at night), the goats bleating. Then the smells of morning – it starts with the lilac and the dew and the leaves, but before long it’s frying potatoes and sunflower oil and mushroom pancakes. I love to feel a part of all this – in a village, everything is on show and connected – so I can see and hear and smell everything that is going on, and it’s all happening as if it’s in my own home.
Although a child, the narrative feels as if you’re ahead of your time. Why do you think that is?
The language I tell the story with is just how I speak to Grandmother and to my Night Spirit. I don’t really know how to explain it. When I’m with Mama, we use everyday Ukrainian words. But when I’m on my own, my soul or my spirit or my imagination has its own voice and it sings to me, and I sing through it. I’m only seven, and there are so many things I don’t understand, but lots of things I understand so clearly that nobody has to explain them to me. Grandmother has said that it’s because my soul carries all this knowledge, and that my soul is open and free. But I don’t know if that’s true because why doesn’t everyone have the same? I don’t know if it will always be like this. When I play with my school friends I don’t feel any different to them.
How would you describe your relationship with your mother, and also your grandmother?
Mama is everything to me. She is so beautiful and she tries so hard to give us what we need. She makes such tasty soups and cakes and she washes my dresses so they are clean and neat. I have to help her, of course, but all of my friends in the village have to help their families. Some of my friends are hit when their parents are angry, but my home is so safe and warm.
Grandmother started talking to me just recently. I didn’t know much about her as Mama doesn’t tell me about her childhood. I don’t even know much about my father, my Tato. Grandmother explained to me that she’s worried about Mama, and we agreed to try to help her and make her happy. She does so much to make me happy and it’s what I want most in the world.
I suppose I’d say that Mama and Grandmother are everything to me. From when I wake in the morning to when she strokes my head at night, all I want to do is make Mama happy.
Do you believe in magic?
There are lots of books on magic in my village. At the post office, there is a monthly magazine called “Everyday Magic” that gives recipes for getting rid of dark spirits or re-growing your hair or making peace with your neighbours. I don’t like the look of it. I don’t think that making potions or cutting up onions will make anything happen. I know that the fairy tales are not true as well, even though I love reading them. I have a special Night Spirit who I talk to when I need help, and I talk to my Grandmother as well, but I think they are just a part of me. Maybe I even made them up! I always feel better after I speak to them though.
You have a whimsically innocent imagination. Do you think this helps you in ways reality can’t?
I love to dream about things, especially when I’m in the garden. But it’s no different to the books I read and the fairy tales where everyone is being transformed into different animals or flying through the clouds on wild geese. I just like to make up stories and I often close my eyes and they are real. I’ve always been able to do this. Maybe when I talk to Grandmother it’s not quite real, because I know she died many years ago, but it still feels real to me.
If you could be any animal, what would you be?
Hmmm, let me think. I would be some kind of bird because they have the most freedom. They can go anywhere and see anything. I could fly and fly over all the villages and see the houses. I could fly to cities and even to the countries around my country. I could see all the castles on hills and the waterfalls and the rivers and then I could return to my soft, safe nest. I’d like to go far, so maybe a stork. There are lots of them where we live. I could have my nest on the roof and be near Mama.
What do you think makes you happy?
So many things make me happy! Sugar! Honey cake! Pancakes! A new dress! A new friend in school! Sitting in the sunshine with Mama! Everything is happy except when I see Mama is sad.
Photo courtesy of Leonora Meriel
This Q&A was so much fun to do! Now its time for an exclusive Books Beyond The Story interview with Leonora!
What inspired you to write The Woman Behind the Waterfall?
There were two main inspirations for The Woman Behind the Waterfall. The first was the desire to describe the culture, land and language of Ukraine – a country where I had lived for ten years, and which was known to very few people. The second was being at a crossroads in my life: when I started the novel, I had just turned 30 years old, and I was examining what had happened in my life up to this point, the choices I had made, how they were influenced by my mother, and how I was in turn influencing my own daughter. Thus, The Woman Behind the Waterfall is a novel about 3 generations of women and the difficult choices they make, set in a Ukrainian village.
Do you have any favourite authors/writers?
I read as much as I possibly can – probably a book a week on average. I love literary fiction the most, but I’ve started to read more science fiction as well, and I try to keep a balance of at least one non-fiction book per ten fiction. Authors I love start from literary classics such as Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, to current writers such as David Mitchell and Michael Cunningham and Eleanor Catton. I particularly love surrealism and great writing that heads in a strange direction, such as Haruki Murakami and Aimee Bender.
What are you currently working on now?
I’m currently working on three different books. I spent between four and five years each on my first two novels and I wanted to work on several projects now to get some diversity. In my first novels I wrote in the genres of Magical Realism and Science Fiction, so I’m now experimenting with some straight literary fiction. It’s challenging, as my imagination likes to roam, but I’m trying to keep it at least on the Earth this time!
What are your favourite hobbies?
Exploring is the main thing I do – which is really research as a writer. I love to explore countries, cities, ways of life, new people, different personalities, roles and also new worlds in books. I am the mother of two incredibly interesting children, and I try to understand their world as it forms around them. Apart from exploring, I love to run, which clears out all the thoughts that have entirely filled my head. And visit the city of Barcelona (see below), where there is so much creativity on every street corner, and sunshine and laughter and sea.
Where is your favourite place in the world?
My favourite place in the world is Barcelona. I have lived there on and off for the last few years and it has a strong place in my heart. The city has so many elements of happiness: sunshine, beach, fresh wonderful food, fantastic cheap transport, but most of all a powerful living culture. When you take a walk through the streets there, you will be inspired by so many things: drummers in the park, incredible architecture of the buildings, a street festival with giant puppets, buskers and dancers, beautiful graffiti. The thing that always surprises me, though, is how happy it is. As you drive into the city you see people laughing, smiling, truly enjoying life. It can be a stark contrast to the bleak, coping faces of everyday life in many cities.
What is your favourite time of year?
Spring and autumn are my favourite times. Spring, for the miraculous transformation of it, and the incredible beauty of everything around you. Autumn, because I love the start of the cold weather and the intense work drive this brings. I operate very well with deadlines, and autumn is the kick off for the end-of-the-year deadline. Everyone suddenly gets focused and intense and projects are completed quickly.
Which character in the book would you say is most relatable?
I have had a lot of readers who have suffered from depression, who have related strongly to Lyuda and her search for happiness. However, other readers, who haven’t had this kind of experience, find her difficult to relate to.
I would hope that the most relatable character is my favourite one – Angela. She is the one I most strongly identify with, as she was based on my own daughter. In the book, she is seven years old and she is at the turning point between the world of pure imagination that children inhabit and the adult world of accepted reality. I based her character on observations of my own daughter growing up and the world of pure possibility that children live in. Until you tell children a fact, then they don’t assume that anything is fixed or limited.
I believe that all humans retain this core of possibility inside themselves, and I would hope that in Angela, they would remember that they once had this, and instinctively relate to her.
What is the best thing about being an author?
The best thing about being an author is the unknown and unexpected nature of it. I am organised and strategic in the real world, as I have children and am an entrepreneur, and this takes management and constant planning. In my personality I am a structured, logical person. However, in my writing, I never know what incredible stories are going to bubble to the surface and insist on being written, or what characters have been roaming my subconscious waiting to stride onto my page; I have no idea if I will murder someone or make love, travel the universe or delve for hours into a single strand of thought. It is the perfect freedom and the fact that once I sit down to write, any planning I might have done will be discarded instantly, the moment one of my characters decides it is their turn to tell me their story. This is my joy in writing.
Photo courtesy of Leonora Meriel
Thank you, Leonora Meriel for this wonderful interview, and the fun Q&A with Angela!
See the links below for how to follow Leonora, and also how to get your hands on a copy of The Woman Behind the Waterfall!
How to buy the book:
Happy Reading! Lx