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INTERVIEW: Eleanor Limprecht

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Photo by Louise Hawson

Today I welcome Eleanor Limprecht, author of The Passengers, to the blog.

Are you a daydreamer too?
Yes! The constant refrain on my report cards in school was: Eleanor seems to be in her own world most of the time. Now my eight-year-old son is getting the same feedback from his teachers, and I can’t help but be a little bit proud.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
No, not until I was in my twenties did I even consider writing a book. I wanted to be many other things: a park ranger, a farmer, baker, even a Marine!

Tell me a little about yourself – where were you born, where do you live, what do you like to do?

I was born in Washington DC. I grew up in many different countries (my father worked as a foreign service officer for the State Department). Now I live in Sydney, near the beach in Maroubra. I love hiking and camping with my family, baking, running (especially trail running), travel and just taking the dog to the park.

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?

About four years ago I took my husband and kids to visit my Great Aunt Marge in San Diego. Her boyfriend Bert, who was in his 90s, was talking about the time he went to Australia during World War II. He was an American Serviceman in Sydney on R&R, and he was remembering “the beautiful girls and how they loved to dance”. He mentioned how some of his friends married “these Aussie girls”, and for the first time I began to wonder how many war brides there were, and how the marriages turned out. I married an Australian in my twenties so I knew what it meant to leave behind my family and the culture I had grown up in, but I imagined it must have been more difficult for these women, who didn’t have the inexpensive overseas travel or even phone calls to stay in touch.

How extensively do you plan your novels?

Not extensively at all. I tend to write first and organise later - which means that I write far more than I end up using. But I’m convinced that it is the process of writing which shows me the direction the story is meant to go.

Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Sometimes, but it is less dreams than those 3am thoughts that inform the story - so I always sleep with a notebook beside the bed.

Did you make any astonishing serendipitous discoveries while writing this book?
While researching the book I travelled to the US - both to meet and interview war brides and to attend the Tin House Summer Writer’s Workshop in Portland Oregon. The workshop had nothing to do with my research, but was going to be a place where I workshopped an early draft of this novel. There are around 200 participants from around the world, and we all ate meals in the dining halls together. The very first day I was there I sat down for lunch at a table with a stranger, and when we began talking she asked where I was from. I told her I was from the US but lived in Australia. “My mother was from Australia,” she said. “She was a war bride during World War II.” I couldn’t believe the coincidence, and this woman ended up helping inspire the story I ended up writing.

Where do you write, and when?

I write in my studio when the children (aged 8 and 10) are at school, between the hours of 9am and 3pm. For many years I wrote at the kitchen table, but a few years ago my husband finished building the studio out the back, and I love having a space of my very own. It also means that I’m less distracted by the housework that needs doing. Out of sight, out of mind.

What is your favourite part of writing?
When I get lost in the story and time disappears. Also when things fall into place unexpectedly.

What do you do when you get blocked?
I read, or walk, sometimes I go work elsewhere, like the library. I always have a few projects going at once so I might work on something else.

How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
Travel is inspiring to me, as well as reading widely. I find it inspiring to teach and help others find joy in writing. I love to be outdoors, and to watch children and animals outdoors. And finally, conversation with interesting people.

Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
Coffee is a big one. And after checking my email it helps me to turn off the internet for a few hours. Then I know that I won’t be distracted as easily.

Who are ten of your favourite writers?
This is hard! I have many….and they change regularly, but here are today's

1. Louise Erdrich
2. Barbara Kingsolver
3. Anne Enright
4. Toni Morrison
5. William Faulkner
6. Rebecca Solnit
7. Gillian Mears
8. John Steinbeck
9. Helen Garner
10. Arundhati Roy

What do you consider to be good writing?
Increasingly I am drawn to writing that is less ornate but more powerful. Writing that looks simple but simmers beneath the surface.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?

Read read read and read some more. Write because of the joy it gives you, not because of the joy you expect it to bring you when it is published. And practice taking criticism without being devastated by it - this is a difficult but important part of being a published writer.

What are you working on now?
A few things: some short stories, an essay about my father, and I’m beginning to research a new novel.

You can read my review of The Passengers here.

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