STELLAR Meets Irish Author Louise O’Neill
One of her books is already being made into a film and the other looks like it might be headed the same way. Louise O'Neill chats to us about her personal success story.
Job title: Author
Books: Asking For It, Only Ever Yours.
In many people’s eyes you have a dream job. Tell us where you started.
Although I’ve always had a huge love for reading books, I didn’t want to be a writer when I was younger. Until I was 18 I was convinced I was actually going to be an actress! Then when I started studying English Literature at Trinity, I began to think that writing was a career I might enjoy. I made two false starts at beginning a novel, one when I was 19 and the next when I was 24. I forgot about it then for a while until I left my job in New York when I was 26. I decided to try and give it another shot. Only Ever Yours was born out of that.
Finding the time to write must be difficult. Can it be done in conjunction with a full time job?
I know loads of authors who enjoy having a day job, I think they find it helps prevent feelings of isolation. I enjoy spending a lot of time alone though so I don’t really have that problem. The manner in which I write is very immersive, obsessive in a way, so I think I would find it difficult to have another job at the same time. I feel very privileged to be able to write full time.
How long did it take you to write both of your books?
It was different with both of my books, Only Ever Yours sort of flowed in an organic fashion. A great deal more planning was required with Asking For It because of the way it’s structured. The first draft of each took the same amount of time, six months. That might sound like a very short period of time but I was writing full time, seven days a week! Unfortunately, the editing can take up to a year!
How about researching? Is that a long process?
Again, it really depends on the book. For instance, Only Ever Yours was inspired by the world around me and it was taken from real life events, so the research for that felt very natural. With Asking For It, I did a lot of research. I felt I had a sense of responsibility to make it as authentic and realistic as possible.
Asking for it was a massive hit. Did you anticipate its success?
It’s really impossible to predict how people are going to react to a book. I worked very hard on Asking For It, so did my editor and all my team at Quercus. After that, you can only hope that people will understand what you’re trying to achieve. The reaction has been so gratifying and a little overwhelming, to be honest. I get emails every day from women who have read it and want to share their stories as survivors of sexual violence. It’s powerful.
The book raised some really important questions about rape. What tangible actions can we take to do something about the issue?
The first step on a personal level is to become completely intolerant of rape ‘jokes’. If you hear someone trivialising sexual violence in a jokey manner, call them out on it immediately. Secondly, I think that mandatory sex education programmes need to be rolled out in all schools in this country, regardless of religious orientation. It’s also important that consent in sexual relationships needs to form a core part of those programmes.
Can we expect to see the book on the big screen?
I can’t say anything yet I’m afraid, but watch this space!
What’s the best part of your job?
I love when you’re in the middle of writing and you’ve managed to establish a rhythm, you feel like you know what shape the book’s taking on and you’ve found the character’s true voice. It can really feel like magic.
What’s the most difficult?
I find it really difficult re-reading my own work so the editing side of things can be pretty torturous. I have a brilliant editor though, Niamh Mulvey who works with Quercus, so having her really helps.
What have been some of your best career highlights so far?
I still think going on the Late Late Show was a massive highlight! It’s such an Irish institution and you should have seen the huge excitement at home and for my family. Selling the movie rights to Only Ever Yours and having a party thrown for me on a yacht is a close second!
Tell us about this yacht party!
Killer Content flew me over first class and put me up in the Gansevoort Hotel in NYC. Then they threw a party on a yacht for the launch and Eva Longoria, Laverne Cox, and Lance Bass were there. It was pretty great!
You spent time working in the fashion industry in NYC, what did you learn from that?
I’ll always be grateful for my time in NYC. I met incredible people, it honed my work ethic into what it is now, but most importantly it gave me full permission to be ambitious. Ambition can sometimes be seen as a dirty word in Ireland, “she really wants it” is an insult thrown at women who are seen as being hungry for success. Well, I do really want it and I am hungry for success and I’ll make no apologies for it either.
Is fashion something you still have an interest in?
Yes, I still love fashion. I sometimes get asked if that’s somehow at odds with my feminism, although no one would ever ask a politician if his love for sport might make him seem less serious!
Any tips that you can you give to aspiring authors?
Break your novel into smaller chunks by setting yourself realistic word count targets to achieve every day. Tell yourself you will write 500-1000 words every day or three to four times a week and stick to it! You can always edit afterwards but you can’t edit a blank page.
What characteristics do you think are needed for someone who’s hoping to write a book?
To be a good author, I think you need to be curious, empathetic and extremely diligent.
And what’s next for you Louise? Are you already on book three?
Well I just signed a two book deal with Quercus so yes, I’ll be moving back to west cork in January to start writing my third book!
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