Today I have the lovely Helene Leuschel here for an interview. She’s the author of Manipulated Lives.
Five stories – Five Lives.
Have you ever felt confused or at a loss for words in front of a spouse, colleague or parent, to the extent that you have felt inadequate or, worse, a failure? Do you ever wonder why someone close to you seems to endure humiliation without resistance?
Manipulators are everywhere. At first these devious and calculating people can be hard to spot, because that is their way. They are often masters of disguise: witty, disarming, even charming in public – tricks to snare their prey – but then they revert to their true self of being controlling and angry in private. Their main aim: to dominate and use others to satisfy their needs, with a complete lack of compassion and empathy for their victim.
In this collection of short novellas, you meet people like you and me, intent on living happy lives, yet each of them, in one way or another, is caught up and damaged by a manipulative individual. First you meet a manipulator himself, trying to make sense of his irreversible incarceration. Next, there is Tess, whose past is haunted by a wrong decision, then young, successful and well balanced Sophie, who is drawn into the life of a little boy and his troubled father. Next, there is teenage Holly, who is intent on making a better life for herself and finally Lisa, who has to face a parent’s biggest regret. All stories highlight to what extent abusive manipulation can distort lives and threaten our very feeling of self-worth.
About the Author:
Helene Andrea Leuschel was born and raised in Belgium to German parents. She gained a Licentiate in Journalism, which led to a career in radio and television in Brussels, London and Edinburgh. Helene moved to the Algarve in 2009 with her husband and two children, working as a freelance TV producer and teaching yoga. She recently acquired a Master of Philosophy with the OU, deepening her passion for the study of the mind. Manipulated Lives is Helene’s first work of fiction.
Q & A
1. What’s a typical writing day for you look like? Describe your perfect writing environment.
I write anywhere and at any time really. I always carry a small notebook with me or jot some ideas down into my mobile phone which means I never get bored standing in a queue. My typical day writing though is sitting at my laptop at home in our lounge because every time I look up, I have a splendid view of the Atlantic Ocean. I usually write at least 1000 words per day and am most productive in the morning and early afternoon. I have found that setting myself a minimum word count target helps with my motivation!
2. How did you get started writing? Was it something that you’ve always loved?
I have always loved writing and being a journalist for many years, I found it was one of the most enjoyable parts of the job. When I decided to move to Portugal seven years ago with my Scottish husband and our two young children, my dream of enrolling with a postgraduate MA programme in philosophy came true. It meant reading a lot and writing a lot which is exactly what I enjoy most in life. I felt immensely grateful for that opportunity. Tragic personal circumstances then led me to start writing fiction. Someone close to me has been the victim of domestic abuse for decades. The more I spoke to others who’d suffered similar experiences, studied the important phenomena of empathy and case studies about people who lack it, I had the idea of writing about five people at various ages and with different backgrounds but all suffer from someone exerting psychological manipulation on them.
3. Who are your favorite writers/inspirations?
I take my inspiration from a wide selection of areas such as philosophical or psychological essays, novels, art (especially paintings) and simply everyday life which inspires my thinking and my writing. A sound or a smell can make me want to sit down somewhere on a bench or the steps of a staircase and jot down some ideas. Another time, it is a conversation with the neighbour or watching people walk passed as I have a drink with my family or a friend in a café on the weekend which gives me ideas for settings in my book.
As for which writers are my favourites, there are so many I love – Margaret Atwood, Doris Lessing, Maggie O’Farrell, Stefan Zweig and Jamaica Kincaid to only name a few. I’d have to say though that my all-time favourites are Simone de Beauvoir (because she wrote great fiction as well as non-fiction and I have enjoyed reading her work ever since I am a teenager), Helen Dunmore (because she conveys what our senses make us feel, smell, hear and see in such a memorable and compelling way), Iris Murdoch (because I feel as if I was part of the plot, a shadow of her characters), Daniel Dennett and Richard Dawkins (because they write about philosophy in an engaging, stimulating as well as entertaining way), Amélie Nothomb (her long novellas have convinced me that nothing is ever what it seems) and finally I need to mention Jacqueline Harpman (because she wrote stories that are hugely imaginative and thought provoking and are always set in my home country: Belgium).
4. Anything you can tell us about upcoming projects?
I am currently working on my second book which further explores the dynamics of psychological manipulation. I have also written half of another novel, which I intend to finish once I have published the second book.
5. Normally how do you develop plots/characters? Brief us on your process.
For my characters to come ‘alive’ so to speak, I need a setting that I am familiar with myself. If I cannot situate the person, I don’t think they can be believable. Then I decide on their age and looks, the kind of skills and dreams they have, their main personality traits and the way they perceive themselves. These various aspects become apparent as I write a first chapter, then re-read it and edit the parts where I feel there is a discrepancy or lack of logic.
I also believe that we are who we are, behave the way we behave not only because of the environment we live in but very much because we interact with certain people, some who have a great influence on us and others less. Then comes the reason why we choose to interact with certain people and I ask myself what it is that attracts us to them? So, once I feel comfortable with the main character and decide on one or two others, I write a rough plan and alter it as I go along, always staying flexible and open-minded because I think that nothing is ever what it seems!
6. Favorite character from one of your own novels?
I have published my first work of fiction, a collection of five novellas, in June 2016. Each story has a main character at its heart. I guess my favourite character has got to be teenage Holly because I can imagine writing a sequel about her and I feel like I want to know how she gets on in life.
7. Preferred method for readers to contact you?
The easiest and quickest way for readers to contact me is via twitter @HALeuschel and/or on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/HALeuschel/
8. Which one of your characters do you relate to the most?
I would say it must be Sophie in ‘The Spell’ because when I arrived in London back in 1994, I was a bit naïve like her, yet so open-minded, curious and keen to meet different people. Like her, I had the caring backing of my family and knew who to turn to when things got a bit tough.
9. If writing wasn’t your career what would you be doing?
Apart from a career as a journalist, I am qualified yoga teacher which was a wonderful part time job when my two children were very young. I think if I hadn’t been able to follow my dream of completing an MA in philosophy when we moved to Portugal and start writing fiction, I’d have happily continued teaching yoga!
10. What’s the best compliment that you’ve received about your work?
A few readers have mentioned that Tess from ‘Tess and Tattoos’ has moved them to tears and that they felt like wanting to hug her. I´m amazed when I hear that my writing stirs up such strong emotions and do take it as a compliment.
Thank you to Helene for answering my questions and joining me today!