Time to catch my breath

Posted on: 8th August, 2014

Category: Arts & Entertainment

Contributor: West Cork People

Louise O' Neill is from Clonakilty. Her debut novel ‘Only Ever Yours’ has been described by Marian Keyes as 'magnificent' and is available to buy nationwide.

My debut novel, Only Ever Yours, was published on July 3, and it’s only been in the last couple of days that I’ve finally felt able to catch my breath again. It has been whirlwind of media requests, interviews, newspaper covers and photo shoots, as well as one of the best nights of my life – the official launch of ‘Only Ever Yours’ at Astna Square, Clonakilty. THANK YOU to all of you who turned up in such huge numbers, who waited in line to get your books signed, who showed me the depth of kindness and love and support a tightly knit community can give. I cannot even begin to tell you how much your generosity has meant to me.

Of course, no matter how generous some of you are, I’m sure you’ve been getting a bit sick of seeing/hearing me recently. I know that as a debut author the sort of publicity I’ve been receiving is unusual. I also understand that it’s only partly to do with the quality of the book. I’m savvy enough about understanding how the media works, how they need a ‘story’ to better sell the product. My story seems to be one that people find interesting, a decade long struggle with an eating disorder, a relapse into anorexia while working at one of the biggest fashion magazines in the world in one of the most image conscious cities in the world, New York. I was prepared to be open about it, to speak frankly, to not feel embarrassed or ashamed. Obviously a large part of why I did so was because I feel very strongly that ‘Only Ever Yours’ is a book with an important message. I wanted it to be read as widely as possible and publicity is necessary to achieve that. However, I was also determined to speak about my past because disordered eating and poor body image are issues that face hundreds of thousands of women and men in this country, and it’s something that we rarely speak about. There is still very little understanding about mental health difficulties, and a stigma attached to those who suffer. The amount of letters and emails I’ve received from women who are struggling with anorexia and bulimia has been staggering, and not a little humbling. While at times over the last few weeks I have felt a little vulnerable when I’ve read lurid tabloid headlines, when I’ve felt as exposed as if I’ve allowed the entire country to read my diary, it’s those letters that remind me of the importance of being honest.

In the interest of being honest, I suppose to should tell any budding authors out there about what it feels like to be a published author. I have to keep re-reading that sentence in the hope that the more times I read it, the more real it will begin to feel. ME. Louise O’ Neill. I’m a published author now. This is really happening. It’s wonderful, and surreal, and uncertain, and terrifying, and all of my dreams seem to be coming true, and I feel like I’m falling, falling, falling into an unknown chasm of blackness. Because after all that work…well. What comes next? What happens if the next book isn’t as good, isn’t as well received? What if it was all just a fluke?

Friends try and reassure me; they try to remind me that the mere act of getting published should be validation enough. There is truth in that, of course, and two years ago I probably would have said the same thing. Yet with each new benchmark, each new achievement, it feels like the stakes get a little bit higher as well. It isn’t enough to get published; I want the book to be well received. Then it isn’t enough for the book to be well received; I want the book to sell well also.

I’m not the only one whose expectations have been raised either. Only Ever Yours was only published three weeks ago and already people have begun to ask me about when the next book is due, giving me a new found sympathy for mothers who are asked about the likelihood of a ‘little brother or sister’ for their week old baby. I’ve been queried about foreign territories, royalties (this is akin to asking someone how much they earn a year, and therefore very rude. Just FYI) the possibility of the book being adapted for TV and film, and, my personal favourite, being asked why I hadn’t been nominated for this year’s Man Booker ‘like that fellow out the road’.

Yes. Quite.

So where do I go from here? Back to burrow myself under a pile of words, back to that which I love the most, the process of writing itself.

I am just going outside, and may be some time.

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