Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Louise O'Neill Talks Inspiration, The YA Book Prize and What's Next

Louise O'Neill is the phenomenal debut author on the lips of YA readers nationwide. Her debut, 'Only Ever Yours', has claimed the inaugural YA Book Prize, an Irish Book Award and was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize. We can expect big things from Louise and her hotly-anticipated follow-up, 'Asking For It, publishes in September.

Follow Louise on Twitter: @oneillo

Buy 'Only Ever Yours':

The interview

1.For those that haven’t read Only Ever Yours, could you sum it up in 140 characters? 

The Handmaid’s Tale meets Mean Girls. (With a side of Heathers for good measure.)

2.Where did the premise for the novel come from? 

 On a very cold January day in New York, I was waiting in a Starbucks for the subway to start running again. I was reading one of those terrible gossip magazines that had red circles of shame drawn around the body parts of female celebrities deemed to be somehow unacceptable. All of a sudden, a vision flared in my mind. It was of a young girl in a bikini, standing in front of a classroom of other girls while a teacher in long black robes drew circles around her ‘defective’ body parts in red marker. The other girls were pounding their fists on their desks, shouting FAT, FAT, FAT. 

And I thought to myself – a world in which women are bred for their beauty.

3.How long did it take to pen it and how difficult was it to build and develop the world in which it is set? 

I had the idea in January 2011 but I didn’t start writing it until March 2012. At that point, I had all of these ideas for the world and the characters so when I actually started putting words down on the paper, it seemed to flow easily. I had a first draft written by the 31st of August 2012

4.Who was your favourite character to write? 

megan was always fun to write because she could be such a bitch. I had an entire back story created for her in my mind so I always felt she was more sympathetic than perhaps she was perceived. She’s so different to me and that forced me to give more thought and consideration to her motivations.

5.If you had to write from the perspective of one other character, which character would you pick and why? 

I would have been interested in writing this story from megan’s perspective or Darwin’s point of view. I deliberately kept isabel as quite a shadowy character in the narrative so I think it would be strange giving her a voice in that way.

6.You explore sexuality and gender (and even touch on race) and force the reader to face a very dark and twisted world. The most frightening aspect of the world you’ve created is that it holds some kernels of truth that are relevant to our society. How conscious were you of this in the writing process? 

Every single thing that I write about in Only Ever Yours was inspired by something that happened in real life. Every day, I would look at my Twitter feed, or read an article on the Vagenda or Jezebel, or see a post on the Everyday Sexism Project and I would instantly want to include that in my novel. It was about 140,000 words when I initially finished it and the book in its present form is approximate 92,000 words. We cut a lot – not everything I wanted to include was helpful to the pacing!

7.The novel is very intimate and personal. I know you’ve suffered from an eating disorder in your personal life and you share this in the love through frieda. What elements of frieda’s character mirror your experiences?  

freida is a work of fiction and she isn’t based on me. Writing is like acting in a way, you try and figure out a way into each character’s head, try and figure out what it is that makes them behave in the way that they do. Everyone has experienced grief, shame, fear, love, hope, sadness... It’s about remembering how that felt and then thinking about how a particular character would see those emotions.

8.How did you find the publication process? 

I’m very, very busy! There are a lot of invitations to events and speaking engagements and literary festivals.

I’m lucky enough to have incredible people working with me. From my agent and my editor to all the team at Quercus shouting about Only Ever Yours on my behalf, I’ve felt encouraged and supported from the very beginning.

9.The novel has achieved tremendous success in both Ireland and the UK. Were you surprised by this? How did you react when you discovered you won the Bookseller YA book prize? 

While I was writing the book, I remember telling a friend that I thought if I managed to do justice to the idea, that I thought the book could be important. She looked at me like I was crazy! I didn’t think I was the best writer in the world but I believed in the story, in the message. I was hungry for something like Only Ever Yours to exist and I hoped that other people might feel the same way.

As for the awards... well, I think I’m a bit psychic. I had the strangest feeling with both the Irish Book Awards and the Bookseller prize that I had won, whereas when I woke up on the morning of the Waterstones Book Prize, I knew that I had not. 

It was a huge honour to win the YA Book Prize because the shortlist was so incredibly strong and the judging panel was made up of people whose opinion I truly respected. The entire event was so well organised – it was a pleasure to be involved.

10.Now that Only Ever Yours has been published, what’s next?

Only Ever Yours is going to be released as an adult book in July 2015 which I’m very excited about. My second book, Asking For It, will be published on the 3rd of September. It’s about a young girl, Emma, who wakes up the morning after a party to find images of her sexual assault all over social media. It deals with issues of consent, rape culture, and victim blaming.

11.Do you have any unusual habits when you write?
I meditate for about ten minutes beforehand, then I invoke all the angels, saints, gods and goddesses that I can think of to surround me and to help me connect to the greater consciousness from which all the best ideas come from.

Yes, I’m a bit weird.

12.You’re on Mars and you have meagre food reserves. You have no communication with Earth and you’re down to your last two canisters of oxygen. You have just enough time to read five books. What five would you choose? 


Amongst Women – John McGahern

Skippy Dies – Paul Murray

The Secret History – Donna Tartt

Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood

Are you there God? It’s Me Margaret. – Judy Blume.

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions. I have so much respect for any author that puts so much of themselves into a novel; the good parts and the dark and you certainly don't hold back. Congratulations on your success and good luck for what lies ahead (though I doubt you'll need it).

No comments:

Post a Comment