REVIEW and GIVEAWAY
The Woman Behind the Waterfall
by Leonora Meriel
Author Leonora Meriel stops by today for an interview and to share an excerpt from her debut novel, The Woman Behind the Waterfall. You can also read my review and enter our exclusive giveaway for a chance to win one of two signed print copies of the book (open internationally).
This review opportunity is brought to you by Kate Tilton Author Services.
Heartbreak and transformation 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.
Excerpt from Chapter 1
I open my eyes to see falling white flowers.
I am lying on my back, a young girl dreaming in the springtime of Ukraine, and the branches of the lilac tree above me are moving from side to side in a warm wind. Syringa, buzok, lilac in a trembling morning light.
The sunshine touches my face as it tumbles between the bright leaves. It moves from side to side with the wind and brushes gently over my skin, painting it golden, shadow, golden, shadow. A girl in a white dress, painted gold and warm and springlight. I open my eyes and close them. This spring, the nights and days are stretching themselves out in a half-heat sleep, the garden is full of high grass and early poppies, and the fragrance of the lilac draws out the sunshine hours in a heavy flowered dream. Barely open, barely closed.
There is another scent here, quite distinct from the white star lilac. The smell of the black earth. I turn my head to the side, so that the sunshine is brushing just one cheek golden, and my skin is close down, touching the soil. Above me, the wind moves the leaves before my eyes between spectrums of light. White to gold, gold to white. I slowly turn my springtime head. Golden to black. I close my eyes. The smell of the dark earth enters my senses and I breathe deeply.
It is Ukraina. It is home.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]
Praise for the Book
"A strange and beautiful novel." ~ Esther Freud, author of Mr Mac and Me, Hideous Kinky, Peeless Flats
"Readers looking for a classic tale of love and loss will be rewarded with an intoxicating world" ~ Kirkus Reviews
"The author's seemingly flawless command of words challenges you with its very real and deeply felt connections to its characters, events and transformations. Some may find the book unusual. Some may find it challenging. Indeed, it has the potential to stir a very wide range of reactions. But so does the phenomenon called life. And just as with life, the verdict for this book is simple: just read it for yourself." ~ VgB
"The Woman Behind the Waterfall by Leonora Meriel is one of those rare books that lingers in my thoughts long after turning the last page. It’s the heartbreaking but ultimately redemptive story of seven-year old Angela, her mother, and the ties that bind them to generations past and future. [...] Highly recommended!" ~ Herb Randall
"The Woman Behind The Waterfall is a rich and sensory story of love, heartbreak, happiness and self-discovery. Evocative, dreamy descriptions transport the reader to rural Ukraine, whilst the author's attention to detail submerges us in the day-to-day lives, and struggles, of the characters. Not an easy read, but the persistent reader will be rewarded with a fairytale of truly literary quality." ~ Amy Kitcher
By Lynda Dickson
Seven-year-old Angela is taken to flights of fancy, literally. Her spirit inhabits a bird, a flower, the river water, or the sky, and rises at night to dance with her Nightspirit protector and her dead grandmother's spirit. With their help, Angela struggles to bring her depressed, suicidal, alcoholic mother back from the brink. Will she succeed?
This is a simple story, with a complex narrative, about three generations of women and the ties that bind them. It illustrates the sad reality that children often blame themselves for their parents' unhappiness. The author gives us a heartbreaking look at depression and the lasting effect it can have not only on the sufferer, but on all of those around them.
The rich, poetic writing has a fairytale quality, with certain scenes reminiscent of the way Ophelia is depicted drowning amidst a tangle of flowers under the willow tree. The author evokes the smells, scents, sights, sensations, and tastes of the Ukrainian countryside, as well as giving us glimpses of the customs and language.
This haunting tale will stay with you for a long time to come.
Some of My Favorite Lines
"I watch as tiny flowers are carried down in the breeze, drifting to the ground below, to the pressed dark earth where I love to lie, daydreaming, gazing up into a panoply of lilac stars."
"The lilac drifts like snow as the droplets of her voice push through the morning’s heat ..."
"Her face is round and wide and flat, pale and winter. My own face –spring lilac, brushed with sunshine."
"The window is painted in whitewash like the bench, faint cracks and flakes coming loose from the wood, fading, deteriorating, every moment, I think, our lives passing by and through, opening and closing, and all the while they are quietly falling apart, disappearing into the dust around us."
"Mama, you are every comfort to every sorrow! I want to disappear into the dough of your body, pushing myself back in, you would roll and knead me into yourself and I would be safe forever."
"Mother looks down at me, smiling. Her face has opened again. Like the flowers, I think. Their petals opening and closing with the sunshine."
"I gather them up inside me. Fallen under the table, onto the floor, onto the chair. Each of Mother’s fallen tears I collect carefully, and I take the ones from her old cheeks and then my own, and I store them inside of me in a secret place. My fault. My tears. My mother."
"Outside, the snow falls calmly like a slow and separate waterfall. She is behind the waterfall now, in that silent, nowhere place where the noise and the silence are the same. Where the existence and the non-existence are the same. Where the being and the not-being are the same."
Interview With the Author
Leonora Meriel joins me today to discuss her debut novel, The Woman Behind the Waterfall.
For what age group do you recommend your book?
The ideal age group is women over 30 who have made some mistakes and had some years to reflect on their lives. The book is about three generations of women and the patterns that emerge, and I’ve found older readers really enjoy it. That said, my teenage daughter loved it!
What sparked the idea for this book?
I was at a big crossroads in my life and was examining everything I had done and not done age 30-ish. I was very confused as to what was a mistake in my life and what was not, and the patterns I had learned from my mother and grandmother, and the patterns I might be passing on to my daughter. This intense period of thought became this novel.
So, which comes first? The character's story or the idea for the novel?
The idea for the novel. It was burning inside me.
What was the hardest part to write in this book?
The middle section of my novel is a straightforward backstory giving some deeper understanding of the characters. By nature, I like to plunge into magic and fantasy when I write, so I had to be very disciplined to just stick to the storyline.
How do you hope this book affects its readers?
I would love my readers to recognize something of themselves in the novel – whether in the girl, the mother or the grandmother, and perhaps to look at their own lives with a kind eye and think about the beauty of these gifts that we – as women – are passed, and which we pass on.
How long did it take you to write this book?
Two years to write, two years to edit, two years to publish. It is my debut novel, so I was stepping tentatively.
What is your writing routine?
I write in the morning, as early as possible, 1000–2000 words. After that, my creative brain switches off, and I enter the place where the rest of the world are living. My most wild and wonderful writing comes earliest of all – if I get up at 4am, I can spend several hours in pure creation.
How did you get your book published?
My agent passionately believed in my novel but, unfortunately, wasn’t able to sell it. She had sent it to enough publishers, who had given high praise, for me to understand it was good enough to publish. This gave me the confidence to launch my book as an independent publisher, which took considerable research to find out the best way to do. With hindsight, I’m glad it happened this way, as I love having creative control over my work.
What advice do you have for someone who would like to become a published writer?
First of all – write, write, and write some more. Improve your writing every day. Second – know your genre. Read the best in your genre and try to write as well as those books. Third – love the creative process, because being a successful writer can be a very long game.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
Reading (everything!), running, spending time in my favorite city (Barcelona), exploring the world, thinking up new stories.
What does your family think of your writing?
My parents have watched me writing stories all my life, so they are delighted I am finally publishing novels. My children love having a mother who is a writer – my teenage daughter shares all my work on Instagam! My partner is amazingly supportive. I’m very lucky.
Please tell us a bit about your childhood.
I had a happy childhood in London, mainly reading everything I could possibly find. During my teenage years, I think I was reading 5–10 books a week. I wrote a lot, too, and loved exploring places and new friends from around the world.
So, you like reading when you were a child?
It was my favorite thing. I used to have a pile of about 10 books next to my bed, and I would read a few chapters and then put it to the bottom of the pile and read the next one. There were so many stories to devour.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
My earliest memory is telling people I was going to be a writer. There was never a time when I didn’t want to create stories.
Did your childhood experiences influence your writing?
Yes, but not too much. I didn’t have any extreme situations in my childhood that would mark my writing but, my passion for books and my ability to study literature (at school and then at two universities), led me to where I am.
Which writers have influenced you the most?
From my teenage years: Mervyn Peak – The Gormenghast Trilogy; everything by Virginia Woolf; and Dostoyevsky. I always had it in my mind that Crime and Punishment was the best novel I had ever read, and I recently re-read it. It was every bit as amazing as I remembered.
It's a great book. Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?
I hear wonderful things from my readers. As I mentioned, my novel appeals to many women who are slightly older, and they don’t post reviews online, but they write lovely emails and say how much the book has moved them and how beautiful it is. It is a very special thing to read.
What can we look forward to from you in the future?
I’m about to launch my second novel, The Unity Game, which is entirely different to my first one. It is also literary fiction, but leaning more towards Sci-Fi, and set in modern day New York, instead of in a Ukrainian village.
Thank you for taking the time to stop by today, Leonora. Best of luck with your future projects.
About the Author
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 multinational law firm.
In 2003 she moved to Kyiv, where she founded and managed Ukraine’s largest Internet company. She received an MBA from Kyiv Mohyla Business School and 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 returned to her dream of being a writer, and completed The Woman Behind the Waterfall, set in a village in western Ukraine. Her second novel, The Unity Game, will be released in May 2017.
Leonora lives in Barcelona and London and has two children.
Enter our exclusive giveaway for a chance to win one of two signed print copies of The Woman Behind the Waterfall by Leonora Meriel (open internationally).