Maeve O’Brien is the funny and loveable character in Ellie O’Neill’s witty new novel, The Enchanted Island. Maeve is terrible with money, addicted to shopping and social media, and needs to get away from her crazy life in Dublin. So when the opportunity arises to escape to a mysterious island off the coast of Ireland, she takes it in a heartbeat, and finds more than she bargained for.
The Enchanted Island is O’Neill’s follow-up to her wonderful first novel, Reluctantly Charmed. She spoke to Better Reading about social media addiction, the supernatural and why she is still writing about Ireland.
Better Reading: The main character of The Enchanted Island, Maeve O’Brien, is an apprentice in a Dublin law firm escaping bad romances and credit card debt. How did you get the idea for this theme?
Ellie O’Neill: I needed my main character to be a bit lost in her life, in a very relatable way. She’s made some bad decisions and her life is spiraling out of control. She’s just pushed things a little bit too far, further than most people would go.
I needed her to be in this position to really feel the full effects of the enchantment of Hy Brasil Island. It’s only when she manages to step away from the hysteria of her life and onto the island that she can be seduced by it.
BR: The addiction of Maeve to social media, selfies and shopping is very funny and will undoubtedly resonate with lots of readers. Has this been a part of your own life?
EO: Oh yes! Social media is addictive. It’s so easy to lose yourself in it. I hate to think how many times a day I pick up my phone to scroll through facebook, or to check my messages or news feed. I have to give myself a stern talking to, ‘step away from the phone, it can wait’, the world will keep spinning if I don’t know what the Kardashians are at.
I find the whole notion of selfies very funny. I’m completely guilty of only trying to put up attractive photos online so I’m in no position to judge. With selfies everyone is a supermodel overnight, you can photoshop yourself, choose your best angle, pout and preen with just the right amount of cleavage. But ultimately you’re just putting pictures of yourself up there to be judged by other people, which is weird weird weird. Why do you need their approval? Why does it make you feel good for those thirty seconds? It is a strange sub culture in our society that begs a lot of questions about our behavior and insecurities.
BR: Mystical and supernatural elements play a part in both novels too. What’s the background behind that?
EO: If I’m honest I’m not a hundred percent sure. I’m really interested in the idea of the supernatural and spiritual world, and exploring it to try and understand it more. My stories have evolved to include it, I didn’t necessarily set out to write a supernatural theme but my imagination ran away with me.
BR: Ireland forms the backdrop for your two novels, though you now live in Australia… How much does your Irish heritage still influence your writing?
EO: It does big time. I think I write English with a lot of Irishisms, not necessarily slang but with an Irish lilt, if that makes sense. There’s an Irish/English that is rich in curse words and humor, it’s how I talk, and it has translated into the tone of how I write. I put a lot of myself into my writing and being Irish is definitely a big part of who I am, and in some way my sense of Irish identity has nearly been magnified living out of Ireland here in Australia.
BR: Hy Basil, ’the enchanted island’ of the title where most of the novel is set, is a mythical island off Ireland. Can you tell us a little about that and why you chose to set it there?
EO: Hy Brasil Island appeared on maps about 600 years ago of the west coast of Ireland and then disappeared again. It popped up in later folklore as a place of paradise and a home of gods, and at one point conspiracy theorists thought it could be the site of the lost city of Atlantis. Whether or not it ever existed I don’t know, but the myth around it fitted very nicely with my developing story line, so my interest was piqued
EO: I took an extended trip last year for my sisters’ wedding, and will hopefully do something similar next year. The problem with long haul travel is that I now have a toddler and a baby to accompany me, and those flights are no fun with kids, far too many temper tantrums, tears and spilled milk, and that’s just me.
BR: Who are the people – literary or otherwise – who have influenced your writing mostly?
I do read across a wide spectrum, science fiction, thrillers, biographies, historical novels and I really love humor in books. There’s a few authors that I read again and again and never tire of. I just love their style, and they’re an eclectic bunch, David Sedaris, Stephen King, Elizabeth Berg, Richard Yates, Marian Keyes to name but a few.
BR: We understand that you’ve just had your second child (congratulations!). Will this have any influence on your future plots?
EO: Yes I’d imagine so. My personal life is all over my books, I doubt I’d be able to keep motherhood out of it even if I tried. Whatever is going on in my life and thoughts seems to seep through into my writing. And there is nothing more life changing or overwhelming than having a baby, so how that will play out in future novels I have no idea, but I’d be confident it will in some way.