Q&A with Louise O’Neill – author of Only Ever Yours

Hi everyone,

Following my recent review of Only Ever Yours last month, I am delighted to share with you my recent interview session with the author, Louise O’Neill.  Louise very kindly took time out to answer some questions posed by myself and Georgia Dalton and share some insight with our readers.

So, on with the interview…

Caroline: Thank you for agreeing to take part in a Q&A for the Caroline’s Choice Book Club at the Big Book Project.

I really enjoyed the book and I couldn’t leave it alone!  I’ve read Mortal Engines and also His Dark Materials recently as part of my university study into Children’s Literature, but your book was an interesting hybrid of the dystopian fantasy and the traditional girls school genre, it was so different to what I’ve read before, which was refreshing.

Georgia: How did you think of the idea for Only Ever Yours?

Louise: It was a cold January day in New York and the subway has broken down.  I was sitting in a Starbucks waiting for the trains to start up again, reading a trashy gossip magazine.  As I looked through photos of celebrities in their bikinis, red circles of shame drawn around muffin tops and cellulite, a vision flared in my mind.  It was if a young girl, standing in her underwear, while a nun-like figure walked around her.  The teacher had a red marker in her hand and began to draw circles around the young girl’s ‘defective’ body parts while the rest of schoolgirls chanted ‘fat, fat, fat’.  It was such a vivid image and it became the basis for my novel.

Georgia: Have you always wanted to be an author since childhood?

Louise: No, I wanted to be an actress!  I loved to read though, I couldn’t go anywhere without a book in my hand.

Georgia: Who is your author inspiration?

Louise: There are so many!  I always say that I love John McGahern for the deceptive simplicity of his writing.  It takes real confidence to pare your writing back the way he does, he never needs to show off and his writing is all the more powerful as a result. 

Georgia: What would you tell your younger self if you had the chance?

Louise: I would tell my younger self to care less about what other people thought of her and to think a little more about how she felt about herself.  I would tell her to just be herself – that not everyone is going to like her but the people who matter will.

Caroline: I read this book as a cross-over fiction, one to be enjoyed by both young adults and adults.  Was this your target audience?

Louise: I wrote the book in the way in which I felt it needed to be told, trying not to think too much about any possible readers.  I did want as many women as possible to read it as I believed the message was important, regardless of their age.

Caroline: What kind of message, if any, were you looking to convey to your audience?

Louise: I wanted to encourage the reader to question the way in which our culture treats women, particularly in the media.  I hope that after reading Only Ever Yours, they might have the courage to stand up against any sexism they might encounter.

Caroline: Having read a recent interview, I noted that you wrote this book because you were tired of how women in particular are judged by their body parts.  Do you think that the level of satire in Only Ever Yours not only conveys this, but can be understood by your readers?

Louise: I believe it can.  I don’t think anyone who readers Only Ever Yours would ever assume that I’m advocating that women continue to be objectified and sexualised without their consent.

Caroline: I admit that I felt a bit unsettled by the book in that it magnified all those fears and insecurities teenagers and young women have that we don’t fully relinquish in adulthood.  Was this one of your aims – to encourage readers to question why we have these insecurities created by the society of our peers and the society at large?  Could you tell us more?

Louise: For me, the most powerful experiences that I have had while reading a book is when I read about something that I thought was unique to me.  Usually it’s an experience or a thought that I will feel ashamed of and will be reluctant to share with someone else.  When I see that same experience explored in fiction, I have a feeling of being seen, a sense that I am not alone.  I wanted Only Ever Yours to start a conversation amongst women about those insecurities that we share and realise that they have implanted within us by a patriarchal society.  Only then can we finally overcome them.

Caroline: Finally, you have Asking for It due out in September.  I would love to read and review it.  What can you tell us about it?

Louise: Asking for It is about an eighteen year old girl called Emma O’Donovan who lives in a small town in West Cork.  She wakes the morning after a party with no memory of what happened the night before until she sees photos of her sexual assault all over social media.  It deals with issues of rape culture, victim blaming, and female sexuality.

Strong stuff…but then we wouldn’t expect anything less from this stirring Irish author who, though her textual worlds, is able to convey her feminist ideals to bring questions to the fore about the perception of women in Western culture. 

Thank you once again Louise for taking the time to take part in this interview.

Follow Louise O’Neill on Twitter @oneilllo and read her blog at www.louiseoneillauhor.com

Thanks for reading and feel free to comment below.

Caroline

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