New Science Fiction Author Interview
This week I have a special guest on my blog, science fiction author Leonora Meriel.
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 major 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, published October 1 2016. Her second book, The Unity Game was released on May 1 2017.
Fast Fifteen with Leonora Meriel:
- How did you come up with the idea for your book?
The plot of “The Unity Game” came from my desire to write about New York. I had lived there for several years and been inspired by the intensity and the drive of the Wall Street life. However there are many books about New York, so I decided to write about it using parallel stories that would put it into a new perspective: these were a planet of highly evolved aliens and an after-life dimension.
2. How did you come up with the title of your book?
I find titles extremely difficult but when I came up with this one I knew it was right. I had pages of ideas for it and word plays and I had consulted with all the novel’s beta readers. I had the word “unity” and “game” in different list variations and at last put them together – and it was perfect for the book!
3. What are you working on now? Any chance of a sequel?
I’m not planning any sequels as I have too many new ideas for works. I’m currently writing the first drafts of several projects and I hope the first will be launched in May 2019. I like to challenge myself with my writing and delve into different genres, while improving my skills in my main genre. I’m now working on a novella, a children’s book, a work of poetry and planning an epic – there’s plenty to keep me busy.
4. If your novel were being made into a movie, whom would you pick to play the lead roles?
David, the main character of “The Unity Game,” is an intense and driven New York investment banker, whose world starts slipping away when he has some alien experiences. Christian Bale would be perfect for this, as he self-destructs so brilliantly. There is also an ethereal, non-sexual, highly evolved alien that Cate Blanchett would suit perfectly. She is mesmerisingly beautiful so the lack of action wouldn’t be a problem. The third character is an after-life guide for my London barrister who dies in the first scene, and I can’t think of anyone I’d rather show me around the after-life than Tom Hanks.
5. If someone is brand new to your work, what book do you think they should start with?
My two books are entirely different so it depends on their reading preferences. My debut novel “The Woman Behind the Waterfall” is intense, emotional and poetic. I thought at first it would appeal more strongly to female readers but in fact men have been some of my greatest supporters. My second novel is more wide-ranging and philosophical and has Science Fiction elements. So, if someone loved speculative fiction then they could start with either, but otherwise, they should simply pick the one that appeals most.
6. Are you traditionally published or self-published? What do you like about that path? What do you dislike about it?
I am very happily self-published. When I had completed my debut novel, it got picked up by a London agent who believed strongly in it. After a year, she hadn’t been able to sell it, and I decided to go down the independent writer’s route. If I hadn’t had an agent (and feedback from publishers) to validate it, I might have put it in a dark drawer and kept writing, but I am so glad I didn’t – not all my readers enjoy my work but I have had dozens of amazing reviews from people who found it strange and uplifting and different. It was one of the best decisions of my life, and I now absolutely love being an independent author and controlling my entire creative output. The only possible downside is the amount of time you have to spend on marketing, but as I have a business background, I don’t mind this and see it as part of the day job.
7. What are the upsides and downsides to being an author?
I love the ability to have long periods to think, as a writer. In an office environment, it’s difficult to have any quiet or calm without looking like you aren’t doing anything. As a writer, you can go for a long walk and come up with a brilliant structure or dialogue or scene. You can plan difficult things through with hours of silence. It’s rare and wonderful.
The downside, for me, is the lack of ego in the writer’s workplace. In an office, you see colleagues working on projects you can contribute to and compete with, and there’s a natural drive to success. In a writer’s space, you have bookshelves of geniuses staring down at you as you type out a mediocre sentence, and then the doubts in your head to fight to stop deleting that sentence (because it’s a first draft and can be improved with editing!) You don’t have a handy room full of average-talent writers and super-successful writers to keep you motivated and self-confident.
8. What does a typical workday look like for you?
Writing is my full time job, and my day is divided into mornings, when I create – working on first drafts or re-writing, and afternoons, when I do marketing tasks and administration. As an independent author, I effectively run my own publishing business, which means there is always a large amount of work to cover. However, the early writing hours are sacred.
9. Do you outline books ahead of time or are you more of a by-the-seat-of-your-pants writer?
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 and 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.
10. Are there any nuggets of wisdom you can impart to aspiring writers?
For aspiring authors: the main thing to do is write, write, write. Learn how to complete a piece of work professionally. Set a word count (short story, novella, poem, novel), then write the first draft. Edit the work as well as you can. Then let it go. Write another one. It will be better. Then write something longer. This way, you build up confidence in your ability to work professionally, and also learn to grow and develop your skills.
11. Who are some of your favorite authors?
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.
12. What are some great books you’ve read recently?
I’m interested in South Africa at the moment, and I just finished “Cry, My Beloved Country,” by Alan Paton – a truly extraordinary book. For a contrast, I then read “Disgrace” by J. M. Coetzee which gave a very different picture of the country. In the last months I’ve finished “The Three Body Problem” by Liu Cixin and “The Dispossesed” by Ursula Le Guin – both powerful, breathtaking works of Science Fiction.
13. What types of books do you enjoy in your downtime?
I try to read as widely as possible, so in my downtime I would read something not directly related to writing skills. I’ve been reading a lot of indie published books lately, and enjoying the many genres and styles you can find there, and also I love reading books that my children are studying at school so that I can have a deep conversation with them. I’m also a member of several book clubs and I love someone else deciding the choice for me once a month!
14. What are your top three favorite books of all time?
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.
15. Can you recommend any new or upcoming authors to us?
Jess Kidd is quite a new writer, who lives locally to me and visited my book group. I greatly enjoyed her debut novel “Himself” set in an Irish town. It was bold and imaginative and sprawling.
Across the Atlantic, I loved “We The Animals” – the debut of Justin Torres – a furious, cathartic novel. I would read anything new he wrote.
For indie writers, I love the idiosyncratic work of Mari Reiza, such as West B’Egg and Marmotte’s Journey.
Book Description and Reviews:
WHAT IF THE EARTH YOU KNEW WAS JUST THE BEGINNING?
A New York banker is descending into madness.
A being from an advanced civilization is racing to stay alive.
A dead man must unlock the secrets of an unknown dimension to save his loved ones.
From the visions of Socrates in ancient Athens, to the birth of free will aboard a spaceship headed to Earth, The Unity Game tells a story of hope and redemption in a universe more ingenious and surprising than you ever thought possible.
Metaphysical thriller and interstellar mystery, this is a ‘complex, ambitious and thought-provoking novel’ from an exciting and original new voice in fiction.
Reviews for The Unity Game
“A complex, ambitious and thought-provoking novel.” ~~ Kirkus Reviews
“Elegantly written, expertly crafted and a moving message. I found this book very hard to put down. Moving and poignant.” ~~ Lilly, Amazon US reviewer
“An engrossing, unique, and totally bizarre tale! I could not stop reading it once I started. Such a beautiful take on the afterlife, and its connection to those still living. A unity game, indeed!”~~ Brenna, Goodreads reviewer
About the Author
Leonora Meriel grew up in London and studied literature at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and Queen’s University in Canada. She worked at the United Nations in New York, and then for a multinational law firm.
In 2003 she moved from New York to Kyiv, where she founded and managed Ukraine’s largest Internet company. She studied at Kyiv Mohyla Business School and earned an MBA, which included a study trip around China and Taiwan, and climbing to the top of Hoverla, Ukraine’s highest peak and part of the Carpathian Mountains. She also served as President of the International Women’s Club of Kyiv, a major local charity.
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 decided to return to her dream of being a writer, and to dedicate her career to literature. In 2011, she completed The Woman Behind the Waterfall, set in a village in western Ukraine. While her first novel was with a London agent, Leonora completed her second novel The Unity Game, set in New York City and on a distant planet.
Leonora currently lives in Barcelona and London and has two children. She is working on her third novel.