Goodbye, Queen of The Limbo

Louisa Leontiades On Writing, On Writing-General

For over fifteen years I’ve had a manuscript on my hard drive. It has lingered there, trapped like a ghost lurking in the cellar. Sometimes it even spoke to me saying, this is a story you need to publish, let me out. But it was too painful a story, too private.

Every year when I opened it up, I’d be astonished at how bad a writer I really had been. Around the three year mark, I renamed it from novel.doc. to Queen of the Limbo and that name has stuck. Later I recognised where I’d parted ways with structure and tone into my own very pretentious philosophies, and made some brutal cuts. At about the eight year mark realised it had no dialogue, so I went through the whole thing inserting various conversations, littering the ‘he saids’ and ‘she saids’ liberally with adverbs (she said grandiosely).

What started off as a small experience and a diary of real-life became a novel, when I decided that the truth wasn’t interesting enough. I’d learned many things in hindsight, had many twisty ideas which made the story more compelling. I wanted to add them but couldn’t do so without departing from the truth in a stretch so monumental, that it could no longer be called a memoir.

Yet fictionalizing a once real-life story freed it. I slashed out huge swathes of what happened. I created new scenes, new characters, exaggerated old ones, split some, amalgamated others and invented backstories which never existed for the purposes of developing a series. I invented some fantastic sex, the type I wished I’d had back then. I hope those with me on that journey back then will forgive me for how I have transformed their lives and distorted their words; they have changed professions, personalities and even nationalities. There is very little left of what happened in real life now, instead it has become an fantastical beast of its own, Gruffalo-esque in that little details were added over the course of time but which make for a very believable, somewhat scary tale. Just as in the Gruffalo, the underdog wins… albeit in an altogether surprising way.

One extraordinary thing I’ve noticed in fictionalizing this tale is how my memory of what happened in real life, has faded. If I believed hard enough I could forget how it was, and simply believe in the fiction I’ve created. It’s a seamless patchwork of memories and fantasy. Sometimes I do forget and this is double edged sword. I can feel my fake characters, speak their words and breathe life into them. I can cast myself into that world, the story tells itself to me, and I only have to write it out. But I must also keep myself grounded in reality, knowing that the original characters are neither the ogres nor the angels I have created – including the character who was originally played by me who has become three characters, but who were once totally different human beings. With this novel I have realised that our line between fantasy and reality is tenuous. You can literally brainwash yourself, and rewrite your past, believing it as you go.

I’ve been told by my editor that to keep to the publishing timeline, my manuscript must be done by Monday at the latest. After fifteen years, six major rewrites, three restructures, and now two substantive edits the Queen of the Limbo is almost ready to go out on stage and come into her own. And I am torn. I’ve loved having her here, tweaking her to idly pass the time, embellishing her with colour and power. It’s a book that has grown with me.

In many ways your book is like a child. Once you let go, it takes on a life of its own, becomes loved by people other than you, interpreted in different ways. It’s no longer your baby and whilst you love it still, you have to say goodbye. I will miss you my Queen, but know that I will always love you.