Women to Watch: Louise O'Neill on taking risks and the myth of bad decisions

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In the second instalment of our dynamic new series Women to Watch, we asked award-winning author Louise O'Neill to tell her story and give advice to aspiring writers.

When you are in the presence of Louise O'Neill, you know you're in her presence. She has an intense charisma that doesn't require songs or dances. She's the coolest girl in school who doesn't need to be mean or loud to assert their position.

When I spoke to Louise O'Neill, her book, a reimagining of The Little Mermaid, was being launched that night. I knew that The Surface Breaks would be a huge success (and it has been), but Louise was slightly nervous about it all. Despite her confidence in herself and in her work, she is still humble enough not to assume anything, and smart enough to know not to take anything for granted, even when you're a best-selling and critically-acclaimed author.

Louise's best-known work is probably Asking For It, the shocking, provocative, brave young adult novel that follows Emma O’Donovan, an 18-year-old who is gang-raped at a party. It went where few YA novels dare to go; the characters can be unlikeable, the subject matter is the heaviest you can get. Asking For It stays with the reader long after they've read the last line; it takes a huge amount of skill to create something that provokes such a reaction. This summer, it transferred to the stage garnering rave reviews. Her first novel, Only Ever Yours, is being made into a Hollywood film. At 33, Louise has achieved what every writer dreams of, but her path to success wasn't short, and it wasn't easy.


After earning an English degree from Trinity, Louise began her adult-life in fashion, working as an assistant to celebrated style director Kate Lanphear at Elle US. She loved it but not enough to continue a career in the industry of style. She realised that her calling was as a writer. She began to write Only Ever Yours without knowing anyone in the publishing world or how the publishing world works. But she took a risk, and it paid off.

I just decided that I was going to try my best, work as hard as I possibly could. It was a risk and it did pay off but I think sometimes we're so afraid of taking risks and I think that it can hold us back.

A degree from Trinity, an exclusive job and a big break while still in her twenties, on paper, Louise was living the dream life. But she openly and without shame admits her struggle with anorexia. She talks to a therapist every week. She has an intense personality and strong, firm opinions on important issues like gender equality, abortion rights (she was a staunch supporter of the Repeal the Eighth movement), subjects she unabashedly writes about in her weekly column for The Irish Examiner.

Louise O'Neill is an established author and columnist but she is still a woman to watch. She is an asset to literature and feminism in Ireland and is set to become a force to be reckoned with beyond our shores. Watch this space and watch this extraordinary woman.

The Surface Breaks is available to buy now.


Read the first Women to Watch instalment with Caroline Foran, and watch her full video here.

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