Write On! interviews Lel Meleyal
Lel Meleyal is a Yorkshire-based, working-class, disabled, lesbian woman – these are all important parts of her identity and, to varying degrees, influence all aspects of her writing.
Lel used to write crime but became increasingly disenchanted with the rampant misogyny in most crime fiction. She became more interested in community and love and the many positive, funny and uplifting stories to be found in the unexpected spaces where joy can be found if only we look. Being a Pen to Print book prize winner for Everyday Wendy, a funny, uplifting book about love and community, would seem to support this new writerly direction!
Lel lives in Scarborough with her wife and Cavachon.
WO: How would you describe your writing to someone new to it?
LM: One reviewer wrote of Everyday Wendy that they could …hear Victoria Wood and Alan Bennett’s voices. I will definitely take that! A huge compliment. I try to write work readers connect with – that they intrinsically understand as reflecting their own experiences of the world. I write to make people laugh, to cry and to reflect upon themselves. I also try to create stories that people will thoroughly enjoy and feel was a good investment in their precious time.
WO: Can you tell us a bit about your latest book, Everyday Wendy?
LM: Everyday Wendy tells the story of a woman entering her 60s keen to expand her horizons and experience new things. One of her new adventures involves hula-hooping, where she meets a group of people who introduce her to new lifestyles and ways of thinking. Just as her life becomes more adventurous than she ever imagined possible, two shocking, life-changing events change her world forever. Wendy’s new chums help her navigate her way through the happiest and saddest times.
WO: What inspired you to write in the first place, and what inspires you now?
LM: As a child, I positively devoured Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, moved on to Agatha Christie, and somewhere in that journey I created my own imaginary writer persona. ‘Antonia Chain’ (as she/I was called) was a cigarette-smoking, vampy, fearless beauty; a writer who solved crime. Instead, I grew up to not be a beautiful vamp (arguably) and to write fusty, dry research and policy papers for work. I was good at it, but in 2014 set myself a task to write for adventure, for fun, for excitement. Once I started, I had so much fun in my ‘imaginary playground’ I never wanted to leave it. I gave up writing policy papers and focused on stories instead. I’m never happier than when in my imaginary playground and my characters inspire me every day.
WO: The current issue of Write On! explores the theme of ‘Contradictions’. With that in mind, do you ever actively look for or specifically avoid contradictions in your writing? Is there a part of your writing process that contradicts itself, yet somehow works for you?
LM: I actively look for contradictions in my writing. For example, we all want to be good/forgive/be kind, but achieving these things can be so difficult and those difficulties are the stories people connect with.
I’m currently exploring the concept of forgiveness. It’s a concept central to most religions and I think most people would say that being able to forgive is important for healing, for moving on and to rid oneself of burdens, but how to actually do forgiveness is a massive challenge that most of us struggle with.
Contradictions in my own process include the fact that I’m absolutely not a morning person, and yet…. My best writing is done from five am. I have no idea why, and it irritates me no end to leave my cosy warm duvet! My writing is best at five am and gets weaker and weaker as the hours roll on. By lunchtime, I stop actual writing and faff about with research or admin, because I know any story I try to hone after lunch will be pants.
WO: What one piece of advice would you give an aspiring writer?
LM: Character is everything. Start with your character. The reader must connect with them, care about or hate or be fascinated by the character. You must know them and write them richly and fully and feel a strong sense of knowing all about them.
WO: Question from Twitter user: @lisalovesbooksx How many hours a day do you write? What’s your routine like?
LM: I’m at my desk at five am. I open my computer and start to write where I left off the day before. I try to ensure a sentence unfinished or a note or two about how the paragraph/chapter I left is going to progress so I can pick right up. If I even think about Facebook or my emails, I might as well not bother going on, because I am oh-so-easily distracted from writing. I actively write until lunchtime, with a short break at nine am. I only write weekdays, so I can have weekends with my partner without the distraction of my relationships with my characters. My wife is worth my full attention during ‘our’ time.
WO: Can you tell us anything about future projects?
LM: I’m currently working on two projects. I’m finishing a theatre play; the first draft is written and has been well received, but it needs more energy and movement. I expect to finish that in January. I’m also working on my next novel, which is about a psychic pet detective. Penny Pindar, using psychic powers, helps people find lost pets, but she also helps them find a lot more. In helping them, she also helps herself find what is important in her life.
I’ve been asked many times if there will be a second book featuring Everyday Wendy. I built in a door to a sequel, so the answer is… probably. Watch this space!
WO: Lastly, if you could choose one fictional animal/creature to be a pet or companion, who would it be and why?
LM: Probably a banshee: a female spirit who shrieks to warn of coming disaster. As someone who falls regularly (disability-related), I’d like to be warned of imminent danger!
You can find out more about Lel Meleyal here: lelmeleyal.com and connect with her on Twitter: @compscribe. Everyday Wendy is available to buy in paperback and e-book from Amazon: amazon.co.uk/Everyday-Wendy-LF-Meleyal and to order from most good bookshops.
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Character is everything. Start with your character. The reader must connect with them, care about or hate or be fascinated by the character.