'Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms.'- Angela Carter

Friday, 27 June 2014

INTERVIEW: Louise O'Neill talks Only Ever Yours

Louise O'Neill, author of Only Ever Yours stops by for a quick Q&A on her debut and mental health issues.

Today I'm very excited to share a very heartfelt interview with upcoming author Louise O'Neill.

1. Only Ever Yours deals with some pretty difficult subject matter. Could you tell us a little about it and what inspired you to write about such topics?

Only Ever Yours is set in a world in which women are unable to bear female children. Faced with the inevitable extinction of the human race, the decision is made to create The Schools, closed environments in which girls are bred for their beauty and trained from their creation to be subservient to men. I used this dystopian setting as a tool to explore issues that women face in our culture today, such as the fetishisation of thinness, the idea of the Beauty Myth, and the sexualisation of all women, but young women in particular.

I think the idea for Only Ever Yours was inspired by a summer I spent in India in 2006. I was volunteering in the Shishu Bhavan orphanage in Kolkata, and had noticed that the majority of the orphans were female. While I was still in Kolkata, I randomly came across a book called May you be the Mother of a Hundred Sons by Elisabeth Bumiller, which introduced me to the idea of sex selective abortion and the high rates of mortality amongst female babies in poorer areas of India. It wasn’t until much later, (and after I had taken a module called ‘Catastrophe and Post Apocalyptic Fiction’ at university) that the idea of a feminist dystopian novel started to formulate.

2. I felt that your book was, in a way, a criticism of the current pressure on women to look flawless constantly and how today’s society has reduced people to appearance alone. Was this your intention? What messages are you hoping to convey through your novel?
While I don’t think that the pressure on women to look attractive is necessarily a current phenomenon, I do think it has worsened in recent years. The internet, while making our lives easier and more efficient in countless ways, has also given us 24/7 access to images of ‘flawless’ models and actresses on gossip websites and tumblr accounts. The majority of these images are, of course, airbrushed almost beyond recognition, but it takes a level of sophistication to be aware of this, a sophistication I certainly lacked as a teenager.

I spent a year working for a fashion magazine in New York, and while this was predominantly a positive experience due to the incredibly talented and creative people I met, I did find myself struggling with how the models were reduced to commodities at times. All that mattered was their physical appearance, and it could be very dehumanising. While I will defend my friends in the fashion industry to my deathbed, I began to feel as if I was contributing to a culture that was making young women sick – and I couldn’t do it anymore.

3. I enjoyed every aspect of Only Ever Yours. It was hard hitting and the perfect book to read as part of Mental Health Awareness Month on myself and Ula’s blogs. Is mental health something that is close to you or something that you feel strongly about?

Mental well being is so important, and yet we never really learn how to maintain, or even how to foster it in the first place. We are taught how to take care of ourselves physically, encouraged to eat healthily and to exercise, but somehow we are expected to instinctively know how to stay well on an emotional level. I’m in recovery from an eating disorder, and I attend therapy on a weekly basis, I meditate, I practice yoga, I read self help literature and practice loving self care. I’m not entirely comfortable with sharing that, but I do anyway – I talk about it all the time because I refuse to feel ashamed of the fact that I prioritise my mental health. The more open and honest we can be in our discussion about mental health, the more ‘normal’ it will become.

4. On a lighter topic, how has your experience been as a debut author? How does it feel that your work will be out in the wild?

My experience thus far has been great! I really love all the people that I’ve worked with, from my agent to all the wonderful team at Quercus. I’m excited about the book finally being available in bookstores, mainly because I want as many women and girls to read it as possible. This isn’t (just!) about royalties. I wrote Only Ever Yours because I wanted to cause debate, I wanted women to start questioning and thinking about the facets of our patriarchal society that we seem to just blindly accept. I was only fifteen when I read The Handmaid’s Tale and had such a profound effect on my life – it was my first introduction to the mere idea of feminism. While I’m not comparing myself to Atwood, obviously, I would love it if Only Ever Yours had the same effect on another teenage girl out there.

5. Finally, a cheeky little question. Do you have any plans for another novel?

I am in the process of editing book number two! It’s set in a fictional small town in Ireland, and I’m now afraid that no one in my real life small town in Ireland will ever speak to me again once they read it! I would like to stress, yet again, it’s FICTION!

Only Ever Yours
Only Ever Yours
In a world in which baby girls are no longer born naturally, women are bred in schools, trained in the arts of pleasing men until they are ready for the outside world. At graduation, the most highly rated girls become “companions”, permitted to live with their husbands and breed sons until they are no longer useful.

For the girls left behind, the future – as a concubine or a teacher – is grim.

Best friends Freida and Isabel are sure they’ll be chosen as companions – they are among the most highly rated girls in their year.

But as the intensity of final year takes hold, Isabel does the unthinkable and starts to put on weight. ..
And then, into this sealed female environment, the boys arrive, eager to choose a bride.

Freida must fight for her future – even if it means betraying the only friend, the only love, she has ever known…

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic interview and thank you so much for putting this book on my radar!!


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