Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Eleanor Limprecht is a novelist and book reviewer who has just completed her Doctorate of Creative Arts at UTS. She was born in Washington, DC, raised in the US, Germany and Pakistan, and has lived in Sydney for 13 years. Her latest novel, Long Bay, comes out in August.
Eleanor’s first novel, What Was Left, was shortlisted for the 2013 Australian Society of Literature Gold Medal. It is about a mother suffering from postnatal depression who leaves her husband and child. Eleanor keeps returning to the theme of “bad mothers” in her writing, mothers who – consciously or unconsciously – subvert societal expectation.
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED?
I didn’t write much in my youth – besides bad poetry and silly notes to my friends. But I always loved reading and read indiscriminately: everything I could get my hands on. When I moved to Australia as a twenty-something in love I abandoned my masters program to teach high school English in the US and had to create a career from scratch. I became a journalist. Journalism taught me deadlines. Before I had my first child I went freelance but instead of making an income discovered I liked writing fiction more than anything. Which isn’t surprising: I like to write what I like to read. My first break was when my current publisher – Sleepers Publishing – read the manuscript of What Was Left, rang me, and said: “We want to publish this book”.
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST BOOK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
Long Bay comes out in August and it is a historical novel based on the true story of a woman named Rebecca Sinclair. She was convicted of manslaughter in 1909 after a botched illegal abortion on a mother of three. Rebecca was in her early twenties and also pregnant when she went to Long Bay Women’s Reformatory, and six months into her sentence gave birth. She kept her daughter with her in prison. I used the archives to help reimagine her life, from a childhood of poverty, to the mistakes made for love and the bond between mother and child in the bleak environment of gaol.
WHAT IS YOUR WORK ENVIRONMENT LIKE?
I work from home and currently my office is either the desk in the spare room, the kitchen table or the living room sofa. I move around like a lizard, seeking sun, heat and food throughout the day. My husband is a builder and he tells me that the garage he is building out the back will contain a studio for me. He gets a little irritated by my towers of books and papers.
WHEN DO YOU WORK? WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?
I work most weekdays between those golden hours of 9:30 and 2:30, when my children are at school down the road (so close I hear the bells for recess and lunch). One day a week I teach writing students at UTS and one morning a week I volunteer teaching ethics classes at their primary school, but the rest of the time is spent writing, editing, or doing admin. I try to get my writing done early – before lunch – and it helps when I use Freedom to disconnect my internet. If I’m feeling stuck I walk the dog or go for a run.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
Stare out the window. Examine my fingernails, peel split ends, count freckles on my arms. Then in short bursts I actually come up with words. I try to write around 1000 words a day when I’m working on something new. Then I read over it but I try not to really edit it until later. I like to keep a scrapbook of ideas and then when I’m structuring a piece I often work within Scrivener. I still feel like I haven’t used Scrivener to its full capacity though.
WHY DO YOU DO WHAT YOU DO?
Because I have always communicated better with the written word than any other form of expression, because I can’t imagine a world without books and every time life challenges me I find some solace in words. My grandfather, Hollis Limprecht, wrote several non-fiction books in Omaha, Nebraska where he worked as a journalist and he always encouraged me to write; we used to exchange letters before he died when I was 14. My mother did her PhD in English Literature and instilled a love of books and reading. I still remember her reading to me nightly from Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books: these vivid, gruesome stories which gave me magical and sometimes terrifying dreams.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
I’m inspired by stories people tell me, things I read, moments I remember. I am an extremely nostalgic person so sometimes it is a flicker of memory, or someone else’s memory: something which is in the past but which clearly has changed the way life is lived. I am also inspired by music and song lyrics, so much so that I have begun dozens of stories on a lyric from a song.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF WHAT YOU DO?
I find it hard to navigate the public world a writer has to navigate without letting it leak into my private sphere. I never think of someone reading my work when I write, so it is very hard to both communicate with those readers and communicate with the outside world and then return to my bubble of isolation. I find it hard not to be distracted by everything in the universe.
WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU HAD KNOWN WHEN YOU STARTED?
Everything good takes time.
There is a quote from Ira Glass I read about a year ago which is now on my wall: “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.”
I also wish I knew that publication would not change my life, that writing is its own best reward.
WHAT IS YOUR ARTISTIC OR PROFESSIONAL VISION?
I would like to keep writing and improving. I also want to support beginning writers like others have supported me. I would love to see the publishing industry stay diverse and see the wonderful, small publishers thrive – they are so important for new and emerging authors. I’m scared that recent funding changes with the Australia Council will make it harder for these small, independent publishers to survive.
WHO ARE YOUR FAVORITE FEMALE AUTHORS?
When I was a girl I lived and breathed Laura Ingalls Wilder. I still love her, but my favourite authors to read now are Alice Munro, Arundhati Roy, Joan London, Annie Dillard, Anne Enright, Elizabeth Strout, E. Annie Proulx, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Barbara Kingsolver.
WHICH FEMALE AUTHORS WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE INTERVIEWED ON WORDMOTHERS NEXT?
Thank you, Eleanor Limprecht!
— Nicole Melanson
* Author photo by Sarah Rowan Dahl
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