Today I welcome Imbi Neeme as my guest, with an attic first—an in-conversation with herself!
I’ve never met Imbi but if this quirky post is anything to go by, I’m looking forward to the pleasure one day.
Please read on, as Imbi tells Imbi about how it feels to be published, why she played around with the timelines in her book, and why it took (approximately) 14,000 drafts to get right.
Imbi Neeme is a writer of long and short fiction. Her novel The Spill won the 2019 Penguin Literary Prize and was published by Penguin Random House Australia in June 2020. She was the recipient of the 2019 Henry Handel Richardson Fellowship for excellence in short story writing at Varuna, the National Writers’ House. She lives in the west of Melbourne with her partner, kids and largely indifferent pets.
Imbi Neeme In Conversation With Herself
Q: So you’ve finally been published.
A: Yes. Yes, I have.
Q: How does it feel?
A: Surreal. It doesn’t help that it’s taken place during a global health crisis and that I’m now having this conversation with myself.
Q: Sure. I’d blame isolation but I think we both know you would have written this blog post this way under normal circumstances.
Q: Personally, I’m relishing this chance to ask you some difficult questions such as, why do you make it so hard on yourself?
A: What do you mean? I didn’t choose to debut during a global health crisis.
Q: No, I meant with the structure of the book. Why don’t you ever write a linear story with a beginning, a middle and an end?
A: The Spill does have a beginning, a middle and an end.
Q: Yes, but not necessarily in that order.
A: Point taken. I wanted to take an incident—
Q: Like a car accident in 1982 on a remote West Australian road?
A: Yes, like a car accident in 1982 on a remote West Australian road involving two sisters and their mother. I wanted to explore how, even though none of them are particularly hurt at the time, the impact of that accident is felt by both the sisters for decades afterwards. So much of our lives are echoes of what has happened before.
Q: But the book doesn’t start with the car accident.
A: No, it starts with what happens immediately after the accident. That was the very first idea I had with the structure: start with the immediate aftermath, have the accident itself as the mid-point, and to end the book with the time just before the accident.
Q: SPOILER ALERT!
A: Kind of. But not really.
Q: So after that first chapter, you jump straight into the ‘present’ where the mother has just died.
A: (mutters darkly) Talk about spoilers…
Q: It’s the second chapter! Anyway, you then start jumping all around the timeline like you’re Eric Bana in ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’.
A: That was a book first, you know.
Q: I know, I know. So why do you do that? Why didn’t you write it all in the ‘present’ and have flashbacks to the past?
A: Certainly, that was the feedback that I got from one of my beta readers from the first, rather shambolic draft. But I really wanted to explore the gap between what we experience and what we remember. Also, memory is not linear. Certainly, on any given day, I can be thrown back and forth between decades. Like the Mad Mouse from the Royal Perth Show, circa 1985.
Q: True. Tell me more about this alleged “first, rather shambolic draft”?
A: I sent it to my lovely beta readers earlier than I normally would because I really needed to test this Mad Mouse idea. Sure enough, the readers got confused. One may even have thrown up their Dagwood Dog. The whole thing was in third person so they had trouble orienting themselves, and while I’d tried to place the past chapters carefully, it felt like one of those collages my kids made in kindergarten: a whole lot of random.
Q: You love a good simile.
A: Yes. Yes, I do.
Q: So how did you fix it?
A: Over the next fourteen thousand drafts, I converted the present day chapters into the first person. And I created clearer threads between the present day chapters and the past ones.
A: I hope so. I had to create a whole spreadsheet to make sure I got the timeline correct. I could look at the chapters in chronological order or I could look at the chapters in the order that they appear in the book. I also needed to ensure that every chapter earned its place – that each introduced, furthered or resolved one of the many micro-mysteries in the novel.
A: Yes, I consider myself a mystery writer of sorts. Not murders or disappearances, but everyday domestic mysteries like, “Who put that red sock in with the whites?” and, “Why does the woman next door never smile?”.
Q: Why does she never smile?
A: She’s most likely annoyed by your incessant questions.
THE BIG BOOK GIVEAWAY CONTINUES!
THREE BOOKS by Australian women authors plus Paris Savages TOTE
The three books are:
Fauna by Donna Mazza
Paris Savages by Katherine Johnson
The Spill by Imbi Neeme
To enter, just comment on the blog or social media posts. Your comment can be about anything—saying hello is enough, or mention why you’d love to win all three books (plus tote!).
Each comment on a post by a different author will count as another entry in the draw. So, if you comment on one social media post per author, you’ll have three entries.
The winner will be drawn 12pm (WST) this Thursday, 18th June, and will be chosen randomly.
International entries are welcome, but I can only post to an Australian address.