Joanita Wibowo


5 minutes with author Imbi Neeme

5 minutes with author Imbi Neeme

In 5 minutes with authorOver60 asks book writers about their literary habits and preferences. Next in this series is Imbi Neeme, a novelist, blogger and short story writer based in Melbourne. Her blog Not Drowning, Mothering won the 2010 Bloggies award for best Australian/New Zealand Weblog. After winning prizes for her short fiction works, she was awarded the 2019 Penguin Literary Prize for her manuscript The Spill, which was this month published as her debut novel.

Over60 talked with Neeme about characters, Shakespeare and tips to prepare manuscripts for publication.

Over60: What was the last book that made you laugh?

Imbi Neeme: Less by Andrew Sean Greer. I loved this book’s gentle humour and hapless protagonist. Plus, it really packs an emotional punch at the end. I cried.  

Character or plot – which one is more important to you?

Gah! This is like choosing a favourite child (which my children regularly ask me to do). Ultimately, I need both character and plot to keep my interest. If there is a very interesting person where nothing much happens to them, that’s a wasted opportunity to me; same applies to an interesting situation with thinly drawn characters. But, if I absolutely had to choose, I’d choose character. People are endlessly fascinating!  

What does your writing routine look like?

I have no routine to speak of. It’s really a “grab whatever time I can” situation. I blogged during the years that my children were very young and learned to write in short, sharp bursts. There’s no gentle, easing into it for me. I just open the laptop and go.

When writing the first draft of a manuscript, my aim is always to write 250 words a day, although I might increase it to 500 words when I’m in full flow. I set my expectations of myself low so I get a sense of satisfaction from achieving my target and can close my laptop without resenting everyone and everything else in my life.

Do you deal with writer’s block? If so, how do you overcome it?

I certainly have periods where I’m writing less, either because life is too busy or I’m somehow not in the mood to write. However, I’m always thinking about writing – either my current manuscript or an idea for a new short story or a blog post. As long as I’m thinking about writing, I don’t feel like I’m truly blocked. 

What trope grinds your gears? Alternatively, is there a cliché that you can’t help but love?

I don’t like it when authors over-describe their characters – as a reader, I like to be left a certain amount of space to imagine them myself. So if a protagonist ever looks in a mirror and describes themselves or what they’re wearing, my eyeballs start rolling so much I can’t read any further.

Don’t tell anyone, but I love a proposal scene, no matter how corny. Seriously, I cry any time anyone proposes to anyone.

Which author, deceased or living, would you most like to have dinner with?

If I had to choose just one, I’d choose Shakespeare. That way, I’d know once and for all who he was and if the name was just a pseudonym for a collective of writers (I’d have extra food on hand, in case it was a large cohort). Reportedly, Shakespeare wrote King Lear under lockdown conditions. I could ask if this was true and, if it is, make him (or them) apologise at once to a whole generation of writers who are currently feeling deeply inadequate.

Do you have any tips for writers looking to publish their manuscript?

I think it’s important to give all feedback you receive along the road to publication proper consideration, even the feedback that makes you want to shout and stamp your feet. I don’t mean that you have to do everything everyone tells you – ultimately, you remain the boss of your manuscript. But when someone suggests something that you don’t agree with, it’s good to at least ask yourself why it’s eliciting that kind of response and see if that’s something worth addressing.

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