O’Neill’s a passionate storyteller

Highton author Ellie O'Neill (Ivan Kemp) 282898_19

On Monday, Ellie O’Neill released her fourth book, ’Family Matters’. The Highton resident spoke with Laura Michell about her passion for creating characters and their stories.

Writing is not something that comes easy to Ellie O’Neill.

While the Highton author released her fourth book this week, and is busy working on her fifth, she freely admits that she finds writing a bit “tricky“.

“I thought by now, with my experience, I would be able to just kind of crank it out, but not a chance; this is really tricky!“

Yet, O’Neill can’t imagine doing anything else.

“I find writing kind … of good for me. I feel good when I am writing,“ she explains.

“I can’t imagine not writing and not worrying over characters and storylines because it is so brilliant to be able to create these worlds and these people and these stories.

“It’s fun“.

An avid reader as a child, O’Neill didn’t set out to become an author, starting her working life in advertising. But a desire to do something different set her on the path to becoming a published author.

“I was in London and I was working in advertising and I was feeling a bit burnt out actually,“ O’Neill recalls.

“I couldn’t see my career, like I couldn’t see myself working in an office for indefinitely, and I thought, ’I have to do something different’.

“I’ve always wanted to write, so I kind of just pulled the pin – but I could at the time, I was single and I didn’t have any commitments really – and I moved back to Dublin, and moved in with my parents, and pulled up my laptop and just started working on my idea I kind of had.

“But I didn’t have any experience writing, not really, not the way some people do. I just wanted to do it. I wanted to try and see if I could do it.

“Did I think I would write four books? Not a chance – I can’t believe I’m here and I’m working on a fifth.“

O’Neill’s latest book, ’Family Matters’ was released on Monday, May 31.

’Family Matters’ tells the story of Evie McCarthy, her daughter and granddaughters, who discover that sometimes life is entirely different to what they’d dreamed it would be.

O’Neill says the character Evie was inadvertently the catalyst for the story.

“I was writing my previous book, which is called ’The Right Girl’, which is a story around an app. I came across a lot of research around matchmaking because I was looking up stuff about Tinder and all the algorithms for matching people; it is really quite amazing that they have to down to a science because falling in love is so magical,“ she says.

“I thought that was really interesting and so I was kind of playing around with what I could do with matchmaking in terms of a story.

“And then, I’ve had this character in my head for a couple of years who is my matriarch, called Evie McCarthy, and she was following me around – like literally talking to me – and I felt like if I just sit down and write Evie, I can get rid of her and I can park her somewhere else.

“So I started writing about Evie, and as I was doing that, she introduced me to her daughter and she introduced me to her granddaughters, and one of the granddaughters was working on a matchmaking app, and then it turned out that Evie was a matchmaker. She’s an old-fashioned matchmaker.

“In Ireland there is a tradition of matchmakers that ended in the 1950s but I brought it back for Evie.“

O’Neill says ’Family Matters’ took longer to write than her other books, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the book proved to be a welcome distraction from the reality of Victoria’s 2020 lockdowns.

“I finished the first draft just before COVID and lockdown started,“ she says.

“Then when COVID hit … I kind of froze and creatively I froze as well. All that load came in where I was working and I was homeschooling, and all of that anxiety and fear and everything else that everybody else was experiencing, and I put the book on hold … I didn’t go back to it for quite a while.

“I started dipping in and out of it again, editing and rewriting, and it was a great escape, I have to say, and I found it really useful to run away from masks and viruses and illness, that felt really nice.

“It was probably another year before I even sent it to my agent… this [book] took a lot longer [to write] because our friend COVID came to visit.“

While O’Neill hails from Ireland, she has lived in Geelong for the past 10 years, after moving to Australia for love.

“I guess if you are going to move across the world for some reason, it may as well be love,“ she says.

However, her homeland continues to feature prominently in her work.

“Most of my books – not all, but most of them – lean on some sort of Irish tradition or Irish folklore and that’s just the way the stories have evolved for me,“ she says.

“I don’t really know why I set them all in ireland, It’s just happening that way for me.“