Brendan O'Connor on our TV Radio one right now, Louise O'Neill has just published her fifth novel. It's a whole new direction for her. It's a page turner of a psychological thriller. Good morning, Louise. Good morning. You've said this is your favorite of all the books you've written so far. So unfair on the other. Oh, I actually feel really guilty.
I'm afraid that they might be listening and getting really hurt. I think it's like a parent saying one of their children is their favorite. Yeah, but yeah, I don't know.
It's interesting. As you said, it's a it's a departure for me that it's my first psychological thriller. But when I was writing it, it just felt like a really good fit for me as an author. So yeah. So even though it's know quite dark, I really enjoyed it.
Is it a shift into a different phase of your career for you? Do you think, like, like to get into a more general audience?
Maybe because, you know, I don't know. I'm such a commitment phobe and I get like I know my boyfriend is listening and getting increasingly worried every time I say this and I get bored very easily.
But yeah. So I think it's I don't want to kind of tie myself down. And I think if you if you look at the books that I've written so far, I've written dystopian, I've written a fantasy retelling of The Little Mermaid. I've written two contemporary novels. This is a psychological thriller.
You know, I think that I'm less kind of confined by genre and more that the idea for a story comes to me and I'm like, OK, what is the best way to tell this story? And with after the Silence, I think, you know, which is a book that is concerned with an unsolved murder and, you know, secrets and the lies that we tell ourselves and other people in order to survive.
I think it became very clear early on that it was going to be a psychological thriller.
Yeah, it's a I think it's the thing that Irish female writers particularly are doing very well at the moment, which is writing quite commercial and very readable books. But then, on the other hand, a lot of gritty kind of human themes in there.
Yeah, you know, it's interesting because I never thought I would write a book like this because traditionally this is not a genre that I would have read. And I think that's because I'm such a scaredy cat, like, I hate any sort of suspense or tension, you know, and I'm always afraid, like I'm not going to be able to sleep after I read this.
But there has been these amazing female authors using psychological thrillers as a way of actually addressing issues that directly impact women's lives. Like, you know, we saw with Diane Moriarty with Big Little Lies, er and Kelly and he said she said Megan Abbott, Tana French's incredible. Liz Nugent is amazing. So I feel like I'm kind of trotting trotting behind these, these greats.
Yeah. Another great Irish writer who not necessarily in the kind of thriller genre but in the more popular fiction genre, but who also deals with very gritty themes and real lives as Marion Keys. She's been tweeting a lot about how much she likes your new book. But I gather she's a bit of a mentor to you, is she?
Yeah. I mean, she's just it's funny. I've been I mean, I've been a fan of her work since I was a teenager, you know, particularly, I suppose, Rachel's Holiday, which is a book about addiction. And I actually read it when I was in St John of God recovering from anorexia. And it was the first time that I think that I actually was able to address my own addiction issues. And I think that's the power of writing.
I mean, genuinely, it was like a come to Jesus moment reading that book.
And you've got an insight from that book that you weren't getting from the treatment. You were getting it honestly, because, you know, it was funny. There's a scene in the book where Rachael is. She's doing cocaine by herself. And as someone who was in college, I was a bit like, that's really sad. Like who does drugs by themselves?
And I was I remember I was sitting on the floor of the room and in the treatment centre and I was bingeing on food and I'm planning to purge it. And I had this moment of going, but I'm sitting here by myself engaging in this behavior.
And it was just this really frightening moment of, I think, almost being outside of my body and looking at what I was doing, the harm I was inflicting upon myself, and I suppose how that tied in that I was an addict as well. And because of that, I suppose I've always had just this incredible grall for Marion.
And how can I just ask, is that the first time you saw yourself? Yeah, yeah, yeah.
And it's so strange to be I mean, I had I had developed anorexia at around 15 and then the bulimia at around 16 or 17.
And this was I was 21 and I had been in St John of God for maybe two months at that point. And that was the first time reading that book that I really was able to sort of think there's something very wrong here was all uphill from there.
No, sorry. I'd love to say that, Mary, if you say the age, anyone but the writing is amazing, but maybe not like that. You know, I had to do the work myself, but I suppose because of that, as I said, you know, her work is always just been incredibly important. To me, and we met, I think, around five years ago, and it was just one of those, we just instantly sort of fell in love with each other and I knew it.
I knew all along I was like, if we met, we'd be great friends. You know, I basically stalked her and made her be my best.
And usually the stalking thing like that doesn't anyway, because I'm really uncomfortable meeting where she's like, oh, my God, how do I get rid of this person?
But no, she's really taken me under her wing.
And so it's just not just that she's, you know, an incredibly generous friend, but that I'm a fan of her work. But she has been an amazing mentor and just an incredibly supportive presence in my life.
I'm told the female writers certainly in I don't know, both the male ones. I also know that I support them because you would you would associate Reuters with competitiveness and back boys spots and.
Yeah, I mean, I haven't that just hasn't been my experience. I know I remember when Marijan came down to Tony Kielty and when my mother met her for the first time herself and Tony, her husband. And when they left, my mother was like, they're just so ordinary.
And honestly, I think only in Ireland is that a compliment you that they're just like they're just so they're just very ordinary people.
Know another woman. We come to the book in this book, and I loved it. And I want to talk to you about it. But there's another woman I want to ask you about, because the the dedication in the book is in memory of Granny Morphic. You were so, so loved. This is your maternal granny who died last year. She kind of half reared. You did? She did.
You know, my parents were very young. You know, they got married at twenty one and then had my sister and me, I think twenty four, twenty five when they had me. And so they were very young and my dad was playing football in New York. There's a story where my mother went over to, he was over there I think for about three months at the time, and my mom went over to him for maybe six weeks. They left my sister with my grandparents and when they came home, my sister, who was maybe two at the time, was calling my granny, my granddad, mom and dad, and was I didn't had no clue who these strangers were, that they had to, like, bring the dog home with her in order to persuade her to come back to Mykelti.
And so, you know, we would have spent every weekend there and, you know, weeks during the summer. So they were we were just, you know, it was just like it was quite a strange childhood, you know, that I had this sort of, you know, half of my life and kind of kielty, which was very much sort of typical of a 90s childhood, playing with our Tamagotchi and begging our parents, you know, to buy a Sketchers.
And then this life in rewriter, which was much more traditional, you know, like, ah, T- in the in the evening would be no brown Broadbridge that my grandmother had just baked. And we played cards and there will be around the rosary and you know, it was just like just complete opposites. But we, you know, my sister and I would just adored my maternal grandparents. They were so important to us. So my my granny died in January 2019.
And it was it was devastating, you know, which I think sometimes you're not really allowed that grief. I think, you know, when you say to people, my grandmother has died and she's 85. People expect you to, I think, get over that very quickly, and it took me I mean, I would say six months before every day I would just cry. You know, it was just it was it felt like this primal loss.
Like, I think I I knew I mean, I was 33, but I think it was this moment of realizing realisation that my childhood was over and that it had all been tied up with her and the house over home and that that was gone now.
And it just it was it was a huge loss.
I thought you said somewhere about her she accepted you as who you are. Hmm.
I think, you know, it's interesting, though, when people sometimes ask my parents, you know, did they know I was going to be a writer?
And my mother says we knew she was going to be something, you know, that that she says she tries to that as a compliment. She's like she was just very different. And, you know, it's like it's not a bad thing. But I think it might have been.
And I think just growing up, there was always a sense from teachers and from, you know, people, you know, my class and, you know, around me that that they that they thought it would be easier for me if I changed or if I was a little bit more easygoing or if I was a little bit quieter. And actually, interestingly, my grandmother was the only person who who never did that to me, you know, that she just completely accepted me as I was.
And I think actually that's quite rare and it's an incredible gift to be given as a child and just as a human being.
I gather you're debating getting a tattoo. Yeah, I, I really wanted to get because, you know, she had this incredible Rose Garden and she just adored her garden. And I keep thinking I was like, oh, I'd love to get a tattoo. And my mother says, you realize that this would be her worst nightmare. And she would be saying, why on earth are you doing this to your body? Like, OK, yes, I think it's more for me than in memory of her.
But you have how many tattoos? You.
I have nine. I have nine. Yeah.
OK, yeah. I would love some. I wouldn't have pegged you as a tattoo first. You're not being cool enough for tattoos Brenda. Too cool. Yeah.
I'm the first one was let go. I believe you. Have you let go.
Well I have to say this year like has definitely been a lesson in art and not the most comfortable lesson at times.
You know, particularly I think it's been very interesting publishing a book because this is my fifth novel and it's the only one that I've published in the middle of a global pandemic. And I'm a complete control freak.
And I you know, I like just to feel like I'm in charge and that I'm that I'm in control of everything. And actually this year has just taught me that I'm not in control of this. I can't control this.
I have to sort of just surrender to the process, let the book come out, sort of, you know, let it do what it's going to do and, you know, just let go as the tattoo says so all the time.
And John, God didn't didn't cure the control freakery, but it took like so many other things to make. And you finally. So listen, tell me about the book anyway. It's called After the Silence and briefly give people in your voice.
Well, when I was first sort of describing it to people, I was saying it's like the Virgin Suicides meets making a murder with a little bit of like big little lies thrown in just for good measure. Yeah, it's set on an island called Inish Run off the coast of West Cork, where this very glamorous, wealthy family, the Kinsley's, have set up an artist retreat center there. And the youngest, Cancela son, Henry, has married a local woman called Chelin.
And it's Killens thirty sixth birthday party that this violent storm completely engulfed the island and it cuts it off from the mainland. And the next morning, the body of a young woman is found and no one can get off the island. No one can get on the island. So it has to be someone here that's done it.
And then ten years later, the murder of the beautiful necessarily, you know, still haunts the Irish people. So a team of documentary makers have come to the island determined to figure out exactly what happened that night.
Yeah. And you actually, you know what you could have thrown in there as well, The Wicker Man as well, because the island gives it that kind of sense. And then you have that kind of Virgin Suicides, Greek chorus of the islanders that come in now and again. But yeah. Yeah, it's great. Now, look, don't don't get across to me. But obviously parallels have been drawn with because these guys come and dig up this story and everything and the notoriety of the the thing parallels have been drawn with the murder of Sophie Toscan Duplantier and then the making of the Westcourt podcast and everything.
But that was that murder was a kind of a pivotal moment for you as a kid, wasn't it?
Yeah. I mean, you're from Cork. You're not from West Cork are you know, we'll forgive you that, Brendan, and not everyone can be as lucky as I am, but we. Yeah. So I suppose I was. Eleven, you know, when that murder happened and it was. You know, it was a lot of authors are obsessed with the idea of the loss of innocence, and I don't know if I can directly pinpointed to that moment, but I do think there was this sense of just complete shock.
And I think anyone who lived in West Cork at the time would tell you the same.
Like, it shook us to our very core because, you know, you grew up somewhere like that.
And there it was really idyllic. You know, people didn't lock their doors.
We were afforded just an enormous amount of just freedom. And I think I just felt so safe.
And for something like that to happen, and particularly I think for it to happen to a Blowen or an outsider, it wasn't just shock.
There was a sense of shame as well. And the way that that the you know, I suppose that afterwards, the way that it was mishandled and the portrayal of the guards, you know, in the in the global media as being kind of backwards and a bit fumbling, it just felt really embarrassing.
And it's quite interesting, I suppose, to see even the pin point of that. Like, you know, it was just before really the Celtic Tiger really began to take off.
And I felt like it was nearly like the death of one sort of Ireland, you know. And and I think when the podcast aired, when the West Cork podcast aired in February 2018, I, like everybody else, was just betting to us like I binged it and I'd say about twenty four hours. And and afterwards, I think it wasn't necessarily the case because the case in the West, you know, the Soviet Iskhandar Planty case and the case and after the Cylons are very, very different.
But I think I kept thinking about just, I suppose, the spectre of the foreigner, the, you know, the dreaded Sassenach, the Englishman, you know, in these small communities.
And then I just thought about these two documentary makers coming with their English accents, asking questions, you know, talking to locals. And I just thought, gosh, there's something in that that I found so fascinating. And I think I couldn't stop thinking about it.
And that was that was just saying, like canary's. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. No did dead now.
So there's the whodunit aspect. A very strong team. Truth, though, is, I suppose, the issue of what we now know as as coercive control. And it's very it's very nicely painted in the kind of central relationship in the book, drawn back again to those kinds of issues. You keep getting drawn back to them, don't you?
Yeah, I mean, it's funny because no matter what, as I said, I've written in a variety of different genres, but I think like all authors, I think there are certain and all creators. I think there are certain themes and motifs that you are continuously drawn back to. And actually what I thought was interesting was when you look at a lot of these cases, you know, with unsolved murders and with the, let's say the prime suspects, there is this question that comes up.
If they have female partners, you know, why do they stay? And I think there was such an uncanny parallel to the question that people ask of wives, you know, of women who are being abused. You know, why don't these women leave? You know? And I think that sort of started me thinking, like, how could I how could I tie this in? And and I suppose, you know, I was speaking at a safe Ireland conference and 2016, and it really brought home to me, I suppose, that I think now we have a real understanding that violence is wrong.
I think that people don't dismiss that as easily as they might have done before or said, oh, that's a private family matter.
Whereas I do think that there's still like a lot of just a lack of understanding around coercive control, you know, which is this persistent pattern of controlling or threatening behaviour. But it can be emotional. It can be physical, it can be financial, it can be sexual. And because it doesn't leave, you know, there are no bruises, there aren't any broken bones.
It's much harder for us to recognise that. Actually, the problem is, is that it's much harder for the people within those relationships to recognise it as well. Because I suppose the problem is, is that especially with gaslighting, you know, where someone is is forcing you are making you question your own grasp on reality like that is so isolating.
And I think it further it makes the victim even more dependent on the abuser as well. Yeah.
Like, there's that thing about the phone in the book, which I thought was really chilling for some reason, that he just changes the password on her phone and then, yeah, I not, like, completely cut her off. Yeah.
And I think that is, you know, and I suppose it's been interesting, I suppose, seeing the parallels even with this year where we're all thinking a lot more about isolation and I suppose loneliness.
And there is that sense in the book where she becomes further and further isolated and also really begins to think like Kaelyn thinks it's her and Henry against the world, that Henry is the only person that she can rely on, that he's the only person that she can trust and how dangerous that is.
Why do you think you come back to it all the time? Because mean like a therapy session now, you know, it's funny, like I would have always considered myself a feminist, you know, I read The Handmaid's Tale when I was 15, and I think that book was like a really pivotal moment for me. And when I went to university, I was very drawn to, you know, gender and sexuality and post-colonial women's writing and, you know, anything that had, I suppose, had to do with women and and femininity and feminism.
And I think it was really, you know, when the eating disorder had sort of gone out of control.
And I think I started to look at how being a woman and navigating the world in a female space and having to deal with sexual trauma and having to deal with objectification and how I kept turning that against my body, that my body felt like the battle ground. And I was seeing how all of that played out and the fact that I'd had decisions sort of for years and that it had stolen so much from me. And I think that I started to feel angry.
And I think we've seen a lot of that over the last number of years of women just really beginning to understand how the patriarchy has. It's going to use a bad word there, but it's kind of, you know, has done them a great disservice. And I think that there is that rage. And because of that, these are just themes that I come back to time and time again, because I'm still trying I'm still grappling with them just as a woman.
I'm still trying to to work them out.
Actually, there's a line in the book which I probably misquote now, but it is something to the effect that girls are brought up, are taught to be afraid.
Is that. Yeah, that's. Yeah. Yeah. Is that true.
Yeah. I mean I, I think so. I think that we're conditioned to believe that rape and violence and murder, you know, are this distinct possibility for us. And I mean, if you look at the statistics, you know, like one in four women will be the victim of sexual violence. One in three women will be the victim of domestic abuse. Like, you know, it would sort of those statistics would say that we're probably right to be afraid.
And it's been really interesting with true crime, which is such a central part of After the Silence, because, you know, studies show that it's women who are reading these novels who are consuming these documentaries and these podcasts. And it's really interesting because if you look at it, most of the crimes that are talked about in these in this programming, you know, center female victims. And I wonder, is that a way of almost like a psychological bloodletting that we have all of this fear like built up inside of us since we were children?
And listening to this, you know, where there's a safe psychological distance between us and what we're consuming sort of allows us the space, I think, to to relieve some of that. Yeah.
OK, let's let's lighten up a little bit. You know, Brandon, I like it down here, OK? Yeah. You see, I do too. I promise. Cheer for Saturday morning. Yeah. I know you spent the lockdown with your parents and phone cards and board games like not notwithstanding that your child did it.
And it was a bit like, you know, it's really funny because I said that in the of his which your wife was kind enough to give me time out of her all day to interview me and my parents read it afterwards.
And my father said, you make us sound like we're senile about like 90. And then we had to play board games with you.
But yeah, well, I was in the middle of some building work.
I was moving into my own place and I yeah. So I obviously that was, you know, came to a halt. So I was with my with my parents first. But, you know, it was actually it was lovely. Well, you know, and I mean, I say it was lovely. It was lovely to have that time with them. I mean, lockdown in general I think was incredibly difficult.
And a lot of writers said to me that, you know, it wasn't that different for them. And they lived quite isolated lives anyway. And that was great to have no distractions and all that.
You know, I feel kind of guilty whenever I hear this. And I'm like, why didn't I just write another novel during lockdown? But I think I feel a bit pressure saying this because, you know, I'm not working on the front line. I didn't lose my job.
My parents, we will take our privilege for me. No, no, no, no. And but I suppose I didn't see my partner for four months, and that was really difficult. And actually, I think a problem that I have is. I mean, this is kind of a little bit of a tangent, but I was reading this book recently about this thing called Integrated Family Systems, and in it they they have this theory that babies who have had colic develop this sense that no one's coming to help them.
So they have to do everything by themselves. And I actually had really bad colic for like the first year of my life where I just screamed for about a year.
So I think I've always been like independent to a fault, like abandonment issues maybe. I mean, one of my earliest memories is when I was three and I was going to get like Gromit's, you know, having that operation with Gromit's because I and I couldn't talk until I was three. And then when I was when they were bringing me down, you know, in the trolley, they said, you know, they asked my mother to come.
And I said, no, I want to go by myself.
You know, it was just a sense of no, I this is a big deal. I'm going to do this alone. And I think I can be someone who can isolate quite easily. And I think when you have locked in a situation where people are isolating anyway, like I know it was very difficult for me to connect with my partner. And did you survive it? We did, thank God.
But I mean, there was a period of time where I was like, this is really difficult and I'm not sure if we are going to. And it was it's just been so lovely, you know, over the last month or so just to reconnect and to just to remember, I think. Oh, yes, this is why I love this person. This is why I want to be with this person. But I know that sometimes I suppose with social media or, you know, people can get a sense of who you are and you only really will I do anyways was on Instagram.
You know, you post the best parts. You don't post the bits where you're like, I feel really lonely. I feel really anxious. I feel really worried. I feel disconnected from everyone around me. And and I suppose I just so I decided to come on national radio and just clear that up.
OK, you said you're building a house. So you're are you going to live in West Cork? Oh, yes. Yeah. Well, are you done with the city living in LA? I think so.
I mean, again, I'm very loathe to kind of say anything for definite, you know, you just don't know my you know, my partner does live here and he's a journalist and obviously his work is very Dublin centric. So, you know, I'm not sure what the next few years will hold, but I just love living in West Cork. I love the wildness of this. I love being, I suppose, in nature. And I do find it really conducive to creating good work.
So for the moment, I think that's where I'm going to going to stay.
I did notice over the summer that people are having a good life now on the West Coast and they weren't telling anyone about that every year.
All these people here are there was a couple of days where I couldn't get out and Sydney because, you know, there was such a huge kilocalories. Honestly, I felt like there should be a secret routes for locals that we're, you know, get first preference.
There was a lot of localism already. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. No asking for it.
Had it been inducted into play and it was on in the every man who was on in the abbey.
And then it was, it was starting to tour wasn't it. You saw it in Birmingham.
I saw it in Birmingham and I think was around Valentine's Day. So it was February 14, but it was there for the first two weeks of February.
And it was so strange because I remember going over and no one was talking about college like it just was not part of the conversation. And then I think three or four days later, I had to go to Madrid because asking for it was just being released there. And and then it was really people were getting, I think, a little bit worried. And then by the end of February, I think people were really starting to think, oh, this is actually going to be a problem.
So it's devastating for everyone involved.
And I think it's I think it's so hard for everyone who who is involved in life, you know, like anyone who's in music, anyone who's performing arts, the theatre like it is incredibly difficult, I suppose, to see. I mean, this is they're living this is how they make their their income look.
It is it is devastating, I think, to see that just have to come to a halt for an infinite amount of time. Yeah.
And then in terms of movies and stuff, by the way, I think after the silence would be a great it'd be great movie like anything.
Brendan, I can't say anything yet, but watch this space hopefully in the next few weeks, which have a bit more news on that.
And the film rights for asking for it have been, yes, the TV rights are fine for asking. Right, for asking for it. And there was a script being shopped around again. You know, it was funny. You know, you get so far and then with covid, things were being sort of put on, just pushed to the side for a little bit. But the only ever yours, which is my first novel, that is actually much further along in the process.
So I'm really excited about that.
The script is looking incredibly strong and the animation rights for the surface breaks, which is the fantasy retelling of the Little Mermaid, have also been bought.
So yes, it's only almost of pure almost love. I'm like, well, anyone does anyone want to make a very good TV show?
And I presume the dream is do a normal people like every writer now was thinking I could I do a thing?
I mean, it was I mean, it was an incredible production and. You know, such and such a great showcase for Irish talent, and actually I think there was like six people from the asking for a play were in, you know, including Paul Mesko. And so it's just like, I think, an amazing showcase for Irish talent. But I have to say that it's always really exciting when the rights are sold. But like I'm a writer, like books are my first love.
Like I I didn't become a writer. I mean, I would write for TV and film if I wanted to make TV and movies. You know, I think the books always come first for me.
And is it a nervy time now with the book coming out and everything when you read reviews? No, and it's funny because someone texted me today about an Irish Times review and people, lovely people always love to be.
The first thing to know is really kind of hurt because I think it was it was a good review. But I actually made a decision that I wasn't going to read any long form reviews because I think I decided, you know, they're not actually for me. I don't think like, you know, when I'm in the editing process, I can take all the constructive criticism. It's like, yeah, throw it at me, throw everything at me. Whereas when the book is done, I can't change it like, you know.
So if you think this didn't work, I can't go back magically, you know, I can't travel back in time and fix it. And it also, I think, just adds to this like terrible feeling of anxiety. And and my dad, you know, because he used to play football and he always said to me because, you know, he'd never read afterwards the reports of the matches. And he said to me, if you believe the good, you have to believe the bad.
And I think there's a there's a great truth in that. And sometimes it's a lot of noise. And then when I'm trying to get back to my writing, either you think that got really good reviews, this book won't be as good. I can't live up to that. Or you think that book got a really bad review? I'm useless. Why am I even bothering? So I think it's almost safer for me just to try and sort of protect myself from it as much as possible, especially if you're a control freak.
I am. Just let go. And the book is due to learn how to do it. Let it go. OK, and it's called After the Silence and by Louise O'Neill. And it's published by Riverrun. And it's in the shops now. Louise O'Neill, thank you very much. And take a break.
Text five one five five one. Brendan O'Connor on our TV, radio one.