What is the Enchanted Island? Our Q&A with Ellie O’Neill

Born and bred in Ireland, novelist ELLIE O’NEILL now lives in Australia. Enchanted Island is her second novel. We chatted with her recently about Irish folklore, her writing process and the delights of modern fantasy. You can read a full blurb of the novel here, or visit Ellie’s website.

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With the success of your first novel, Reluctantly Charmed, did you feel any pressure when writing your second book?

Yes, absolutely. But it wasn’t anything to do with the success of Reluctantly Charmed. It was more a case of battling my own demons and finding out if I could do it all again, or was I just a one-trick pony? I think that’s probably a pretty common fear in most writers – crippling self-doubt. Even if I managed to produce a prize-winning, global bestseller, I’d still rage war with doubts on the following novel!

I’ve had this sinister, hostile island knocking around my head for a long time.

Did your writing process change at all?

Not really, except for having a toddler, who thankfully took long afternoon naps. But the process hasn’t changed much: it’s me and a laptop and a lot of long walks to tease out ideas, and unfortunately no short cuts. I had to work to a real deadline this time, instead of a self-imposed one, and I think that helped me – in a strange way.

What inspired you to write The Enchanted Island?

I’ve had this sinister, hostile island knocking around my head for a long time.

I had written the opening chapter a few years ago but I wasn’t sure what the story was. It was as if I was on the edge of the island looking in for a long time, trying to see what was going on. Eventually I arrived there, the story teased itself out, and I discovered why I had been so interested in this place and the very unusual happenings there.

Reluctantly Charmed was heavily influenced by Irish folklore and culture. Does this theme continue in The Enchanted Island?

Yes, there is definitely folklore and myth at play in The Enchanted Island, but it’s not as strong a player as you’ll find in Reluctantly Charmed.

Have you always had a connection with Irish folklore or is it something that you have become fascinated with over time?

I’m definitely interested in folklore, how it evolves and how it manages to creep into a civilisation’s psyche. I like that folklore often falls into a grey area, where you’re not quite sure what to believe.

When you become a citizen of another country, you have to let part of your connection with your home country loosen. You have to assimilate; it doesn’t do anyone any favours to have a foot in both fields. Australia is a great country, and I was thrilled this year to become a citizen.

Now that you are an Australian citizen, do you find yourself using your writing as a way of preserving or connecting with your Irish heritage?

I hadn’t thought of that before, but I think you might be onto something. I wrote Reluctantly Charmed in Ireland, so while it can appear to be quite a love story to Ireland, I didn’t write it with rose-tinted glasses. I was sitting in Dublin at the time. The Enchanted Island may have a slightly different feel to it; people will have to let me know. It was written in Geelong, but I did take an extended trip back last year for inspiration.

When you become a citizen of another country, you have to let part of your connection with your home country loosen. You have to assimilate; it doesn’t do anyone any favours to have a foot in both fields. Australia is a great country, and I was thrilled this year to become a citizen.

Hy Brasil is a phantom island located off the west coast of Ireland. Could you tell us about it and why you chose it as the basis of your novel?Ellie O'Neill hi-res

Hy Brasil Island appeared on maps about 600 years ago 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.

In a previous interview with Good Reading you mentioned that in order to write your new novel you had to pack up and move back in with your parents. In The Enchanted Island, Maeve is forced to move back home. How much of yourself do you put into your writing?

Quite a bit, although I read somewhere that your characters should be one-third you, one-third made up and one third someone you know. I think there’s probably more than a third of me in my main characters. It all just manages to seep out, particularly since I’ve written both novels in the first person.

Despite the fantastical tone of your books, the heroines so far have been grounded, modern women. Do you think that it’s important to write authentic and realistic female characters?

Absolutely. I try to write honestly, and I am a grounded, modern woman (Great phrase! I should stick that on my CV), so for me to write anything else just wouldn’t work. Every reader needs to identify with the characters. It’s important that the characters are relatable for the plot to be believable.

Many supernatural novels are set in the past. What inspired you to write a contemporary novel with elements of fantasy?

I didn’t really set out to write in any particular genre; it’s just the way the stories have evolved. But I think the elements of fantasy are probably more a reflection of a lot of my own interests; while not strictly fantastical I like to explore aspects of spirituality and parapsychology. I think it’s healthy to question contemporary perceptions and beliefs, and it’s fun.

Read any good books recently?

Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life is a stunning book, I am in awe of her writing talent.

Just recently my sisters and I all became obsessed with a book called The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. It was written about 20 years ago and is a story about faith, hope, and ultimately what it means to be human. I couldn’t believe I’d never heard of it; I felt like I’d uncovered a treasure trove.

Enchanted Island by Ellie O’Neil is published by Simon & Schuster, rrp $29.99.

One response to “What is the Enchanted Island? Our Q&A with Ellie O’Neill

  1. Pingback: #AusReadingMonth Review: The Enchanted Island by Ellie O’Neill | bookarahma·

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