Q & A – H. A. Leuschel

H. A. Leuschel has got a new novel out. To find out more, I asked her over to the blog for a chat. Morning, Helene! I hope your Sunday has started well! Tell us a bit about Lizzie in The Memories We Bury.

Lizzie is a young Scottish woman with a passion for music who, after marrying her boyfriend Markus, moves to the outskirts of Edinburgh. She is aware that she is the polar opposite of her husband – shy, quiet and undemanding while he is energetic, streetwise and restless but feels like the move is a fresh start in her life. Having lost her parents and beloved granddad, Lizzie is invigorated by the outgoing nature and bubbly energy of her husband and hopes to build what she has lacked growing up – a loving home.

When she meets her next-door neighbour Morag they quickly become friends despite the big age gap, especially when Lizzie unexpectedly falls pregnant. Her kindly new friend spoils her with generous motherly care and the expertise she has as a former paediatric nurse. When Markus shows little interest in beconing a father and Morag increases the involvement in her neighbours‘ lives, Lizzie gradually feels unease, like the carpet that she was standing on firmly until then is pulled from under her feet against her control. However, to untangle the confusion of feelings, she will need to understand her past.

Hmm – intriguing! Where did the idea for your story initially begin?

The idea for my story began with a conversation I had with friends about female friendships. We spoke about the fact that between mother and daughter as much as between two female friends, there can be a strong unbreakable bond as much as a fake one that may look as if it’s unquestionable but at a closer look is mired with unspoken pain, jealousy, mistrust or sometimes just unresolved personal trauma. The idea that trust is often based on how we experience it as a child also came up in the discussion and is something that I subsequently decided to develop in my novel.

Do you ever base your characters on people you know?

I will take note of people’s behaviour around me, yes, and I find that it is inevitable that certain life situations can spark the idea for a scene in a book. Even a throw away comment can trigger an idea for a character development or lead me to explore the underlying reasons for someone saying or doing something.

Where do they come from?

The way I develop a character profile can come from anywhere, inspired from real life, movies, articles or conversations with friends as well as non-fiction books or case studies. As is the case with The Memories We Bury, there is an initial idea of who my main protagonists should be, what they look like and what is causing conflict in their lives. In Lizzie’s case it is her increasingly strained relationship with Markus as well as the deepening friendship with her neighbour Morag that creates the turmoil. She wants to build a family with her husband, not her neighbour. This inner struggle is why I chose to alternate chapters between Lizzie and Morag’s point of views. It gives the reader a peek inside both of their minds and the different interpretations offered for the same event. In the process, it is important to work out where the characters (Lizzie and Morag especially) come from. How they have lived before they meet is crucial in understanding their goals, behaviour and personality traits.

Which secene are you most pleased with in this new novel? And which one was the hardest to write?

The scene I am most pleased with in this novel is the last chapter. The final chapters are building towards an ending that needs to conclude the story neatly. However, despite the reveleations and the overall story elements being tied together at the end, it is the final sentence that reveals the real truth with a final shocking twist. Once I felt that this final build up and ultimate scene flowed well together I was pleased with the result.

The hardest scene to write was conveying what the lack of maternal love does to a child and how finding solace in the attention and tender care of a grandparent can, at least to some extent, aleviate it. I did not want to minimize the importance of a primary caregiver’s responsibilities, nor the resilience in every person, no matter how young, to find ways to cope. After a few attempts, I sensed that it was Lizzie’s personality that was the determining factor that was guiding me to show the effects of other people’s behaviour on her. Once I let her breathe, feel and show what it did to her confidence and sense of self, the rest flowed much more easily and helped me understand how and why she would be attracted to a man like Markus and a woman like Morag.

Tell us something about your writing process – where do you do it? Do you plan ahead?

Before starting a plan, I explore a wide range of ideas by writing down scenes as they come into my mind, random thoughts of what my characters may like or dislike, what they look like, where they are from etc. This writing process includes writing ideas on the computer, in a notebook or on my phone.

Once I have a plan in place, I find that many of the scenes do find their way into the novel and even if  I change many of the details, they offer a good starting point for moving the plot forward. When I know my characters‘ likes and dislikes, their inner struggles and past histories, the writing starts flowing because I can see more clearly what is holding them back from achieving their goals or finding solutions to their problems.

I like the idea of knowing their inner lives first. And thinking about the mechanics of it all, do you write or type? Has the past year changed the way you write in any way?

I mainly type but always have a notebook/mobile phone close at hand in case I need to jot down an idea. Looking through those ideas is like the warm up to an exercise, like loosening up muscles, get rid of any stiffness in the joints. It helps me think outside of the box, especially now that I rely more than ever on my imagination.

The lockdowns in Portugal have made me write and read even more than in previous years, compensating for the lack of travel opportunities and hanging out with friends. I also spend much more time outdoors because my body in movement means my mind wanders more freely and I find solutions to problems in my plot more easily or come up with a fresh viewpoint or scene idea.

Do you approach short stories differently to writing this novel? What are the different challenges presented by the different forms?

Whether a story is short or long, by my experience it is the same process of writing and re-writing. While a short story has the advantage of usually being focused on one main character and his/her action in the story, a novel definitely is a more complex beast to tackle. But overall I find the approach is very similar.

What’s next?

I’ve just finished the first draft for my next novel. I won’t say more at this stage, other than that I really enjoyed writing it! 😊

Excellent! That certainly bodes well for your readers! Thanks so much for dropping by, and enjoy the rest of your Sunday!

H.A. Leuschel

Helene Andrea Leuschel gained a Master in Journalism & Communication, which led to a career in radio and television in Brussels, London and Edinburgh. She later acquired a Master in Philosophy, specializing in the study of the mind.

Helene has a particular interest in emotional, psychological and social well-being and this led her to write her first novel, Manipulated Lives, a fictional collection of five novellas, each highlighting the dangers of interacting with narcissists. She lives with her husband and two children in Portugal. Please find out more about Helene at heleneleuschel.com or on Facebook and Twitter.

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