The Lesley Krueger Interview

This fall, ECW Press releases Time Squared, the new novel from Toronto writer Lesley Krueger. The novel, A richly atmospheric portrait of women’s agency and the timelessness of love, Time Squared explores the enduring roles of rights, responsibility, and devotion throughout history.

Robin and Eleanor meet in 1811 at the British estate of Eleanor’s rich aunt Clara. Robin is about to leave to fight in the Napoleonic Wars, and her aunt rules out a marriage between them. Everyone Eleanor knows, including Robin, believe they’ve always lived in these times.

But Eleanor has strange glimpses of other eras, dreams that aren’t dreams but memories of other lives. And their time jumps start as their romance deepens. Robin fights in the Boer War, the First and Second World Wars, in Vietnam and Iraq. Meanwhile, Eleanor struggles to figure out what’s going on, finally understanding that she and Robin are being manipulated through time.

Lesley Krueger is an award-winning Canadian novelist and filmmaker. Her upcoming novel, Time Squared, jumps centuries as a reluctant time traveller fights to discover where she truly belongs. Her previous novel, Mad Richard was published 2017. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly calls it “a remarkable piece of historical fiction” and “a terrific read.” The Globe and Mail says it is “alive with wit and rebellion.”

Lesley Krueger is also a filmmaker. She has worked as a screenwriter, script doctor, story editor and co-producer on sixteen produced films over the past sixteen years, ranging from micro-budget shorts to studio features. Lesley was born in Vancouver and now lives in Toronto.

How soon after (or during) the completion of Mad Richard did the ideas for Time Squared come to you?

I keep a notebook of ideas for possible novels, stories and films, jotting them down as they occur. Often I look back at an idea a year later and think, No, no, no, and cross it out. A few grow on me, and when I find myself thinking about one of them a lot, I open another notebook dedicated to that idea. There, I jot down ideas about characters and incidents along with the titles of books to read as research. Thinking of a title for the project itself is important. Don’t ask me why, but I can’t start writing a book until I have the title.
Eventually, I end up feeling sure that I’ll write a particular book, maybe after I finish one or two others ahead of it in the queue. I had been thinking of Time Squared for a good ten years before I started Mad Richard, and knew I would write it afterward. Sometimes it doesn’t take that long for a thought to ripen. Some can elbow quite quickly their way to the front of the pack. I’d only been thinking of Mad Richard for four or five years before I started writing it.

Did you set out to explore specific time periods?

My main characters Eleanor and Robin find themselves living in different places and times, ranging from Roman-era Britain to New York during the 1960s. I picked eras and locations that I already knew something about—for which I had an affinity—and delved into them further as I wrote each chapter. In this case, that included reading novels, so I could pick up the vocabulary and diction of the time. I listened to period music and watched films. And as we approached modern times, I re-read my journals. Particularly useful was reading what I wrote about a trip I took to Paris in 2010 with a crew of fashion designers. That provided vocabulary, too. Runners? It doesn’t mean sneakers when designers say it.

How many drafts do your books go through before publication?

I know people who can dash off the entire first draft of a novel very quickly. One dear late friend used to keep writing ahead even when she changed the name or even the gender of a character partway through a draft, completing three hundred pages in three months. I can’t do that. I start each day by rewriting what I wrote the day before. When I finish a chapter, I go back and rewrite it. When I’ve got a full manuscript, it’s in pretty good shape, but it’s still far from finished. I rewrite the full draft, then show it to friends for their comments. Do another rewrite, then show it to my editor. If she likes it, my editor gives me notes and I do, you guessed it, another rewrite. How many is that?
My friend who wrote drafts in three months each, by the way, took just as long to finish a book as I do. She just did it differently. There’s no one right way to write.

What is the funniest typo you’ve ever written?

Spellcheck helps. I recently asked a friend to sell me her sled, when I meant to ask her to tell me her sched.

Being a writer is like having a mysterious part of your life no one will fully understand. Have you ever seen a fictional depiction of a writer’s life done well on the small or big screen?

I like Charlie Kaufman’s film Being John Malkovich. John Cusack plays a puppeteer who enters the mind of a fictionalized John Malkovich. Okay, a puppeteer, but he’s really a writer like Kaufman. The film is about the creative process and the recalcitrance of one’s characters. It’s also very funny.

What do you suggest a writer do to avoid writer’s block or dwelling, getting stuck on a scene or character?

Keep going. Don’t try to be perfect. Just get it down, knowing that you can always rewrite the scene or paragraph later. Knowing that you’ll have to rewrite it, even if you think it’s perfect. Rewriting is most of writing.
Often, when I can’t think of the right word, I just write in an X. “She Xed the gate.” Jumped, opened, cursed? You can fix it later.

Do you think you’d like Eleanor if the two of you met in person?

A main character expresses a lot of a writer’s personality, although she’s also different. She has to be different or she doesn’t work as a three-dimensional character. Jane Eyre is Charlotte Brontë, although after writing about Charlotte in Mad Richard—reading her letters and a half dozen biographies—I think Charlotte was a lot more savvy and calculating than Jane. A little cold, in fact. She had to be to succeed as a woman writer in the nineteenth century. Jane Eyre is, I think, a more vulnerable and relatable version of Charlotte, which is why we cheer for her.
Eleanor is something like me when I was her age, questioning life, trying to find a role for herself, slowly coming into her own. I knew from the time I was very young that I would be a writer, so I’m different from Eleanor in having had more direction. But Eleanor has a better sense of humour than I did when I was her age. I was terribly serious and intense. If we could meet in our twenties, as she is in the novel, I think she’d quietly take the piss out of me. But she’s kind, too. I’d like her. I think she’s sweet.

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1 thought on “The Lesley Krueger Interview”

  1. Loved Ms. Krueger’s defense of her many rewrites and the efficiency comparison to other methods. Also impressed with her range of roles. To think I have now been introduced to her talent, albeit late, is heartening. Will scout the library for Time Squared as “time” is a fascinating topic.

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