Thank God I went to this amazing interview organised by Tatler magazine last night where Marian Keyes interviewed Louise O’Neill about her new book ‘Almost Love’. I almost didn’t go due to my latest depressive episode but some tiny little literary flame was shouting at me to get off my bum, get the bus and see two of my favourite authors talk about books, misogyny, feminism and everything in between. I’ve been a fan of O’Neill for a few years now. She gives women of my generation a voice. Her fearlessness and grit inspire me and my friends to speak out and be active.
‘Only Ever Yours’ angered us and made us think “Shite, men are the worst!” (#notallmen)
‘Asking For It’ politicised us, inspired activism and made us louder.
I haven’t read it yet but I feel as though ‘Almost Love’ is going to give us permission to forgive ourselves and the shame we feel at our behaviour in damaging relationships with deadly men.
Her anger at her anorexia was the catalyst for ‘Only Ever Yours’. She met women from all walks of life who had issues around body image. Our self-hatred imprisons us. There’s an invisible whiff of air that nobody really talks about, that men want us to take up as little space in the world as possible. So we starve ourselves and shut up while doing it. After some time spent living in New York, working with Elle Magazine, Louise had a relapse of Anorexia and returned home to Cork. With no job, no money and no boyfriend, at 27, Louise sat down and started writing her first book with the laptop her parents bought her for her birthday. She still has the laptop to this day which is quite touching.
The Ulster Rugby Case
Her second novel ‘Asking For It’ is about the rape of a young woman by a group of boys from the local sporting team. It is life reflecting art seeing what is going on in Belfast. We couldn’t go into details as the case is still going on but people keep sending Louise articles about the case saying “It’s just like Asking for It”. It is so upsetting to see this happening to a person and not just a work of fiction. Women have the conversations all the time, it is never what would you do if you were raped the question is what will you do? It’s the price we pay for being born women in this world. It’s utterly harrowing to see this play out. I think women will still come forward and men around me describe the guys as “animals” and I think Louise’s works have been a great way to start these conversations. If she hadn’t written her books I know the public would be reacting to the case much differently. “Women aren’t raping themselves” We need to educate men and women about boundaries and behaviour and consent. Louise said something that really stuck and something I’d like to help with – we should give every first year, girl and boy, a copy of ‘Asking For It’. I know if we went out and did this, future generations would behave differently and it could mainstream equality and consent to be sexy. Oh, what a world that would be! Or will be…
Women are judged in the court’s system much tougher than men for misdemeanor, non-violent, crimes. They face jail time more than men who are more likely to get suspended sentences, a fine or community service. Judges can’t deal with the image of a “bad woman”. The template women have to fit into is destructive. Louise just wants her characters to feel real, to be authentic, fully fleshed human beings. Women are put under so much pressure to be perfect. You can’t just be one thing, you have to be a master of everything. Smart, beautiful, funny, kind.. You can’t just be good at your job, you’ve to also look like a model. It’s exhausting. I know I’m so bloody tired of acting as if I’ve all my shit together.
Sarah becomes obsessed with this man, to love her, she loses her senses and people dislike her for it. We’re all just humans and sometimes we respond pettily and destructively. And that’s normal as we’re just people. I’ve still yet to read ‘Almost Love’, I picked it up yesterday at the talk but I will do a book review on it soon. Marian chimed in and said something chilling, that the more awful men were to her when she was younger the more she wanted them. That carried on shame, knowing her actions and she hated herself for being that way. It’s a bit like a right of passage for women to become totally infatuated with an asshole. I know I’ve been in more than my fair share of those destructive, all-consuming relationships and I lose myself, all the work I’ve done on myself erodes rapidly until I unravel and have to start at step zero again. We’re all the masters of our undoing, but I suppose, I’ve never felt like I could forgive myself for acting the way I have in relationships.
The Surface Breaks & Hopeful Endings
Louise’s fourth book is already coming out in May. I’m so excited for it. It’s a re-telling of the Little Mermaid. Marian said it’s her favourite of Louise’s books. Marian described the end of the book as powerful. Her husband couldn’t stop reading it when Marian called him for dinner. Finally, maybe a hopeful ending? Maybe this could mean, the whole #metoo movement could be a catalyst for change. We can’t undo 1000 years of patriarchal oppression of women in a few months but we can keep standing up for ourselves and fighting for our rights and in Ireland, our reproductive destiny. Louise reminded the audience that it’s important to not become complacent on what we’ve worked hard so hard for because someday someone like Mike Pence could slip into power in Ireland and undo everything. So, basically, let’s keep doing what we’re doing. I know, I’m less afraid now to speak up when I see injustices or am untreated fairly on the path of life due to my gender.
At the Q&A, I stood up, mic in my hand, hands shaking, voice trembling, chest heavy
“Hi,” I said meekly
“I just want to say it’s been great being here, thanks for the chats and everything like that. I just have a question and it would be great for you both to chime in.
Today, was a really bad day for me.
I’m going through a bout of depression right now and I know Marian has had bad days before and I know you, Louise have too and I just want to know how do you keep writing in the face of dark days and what makes you get out of bed in the morning. Today, this event, got me out of bed today so thank you.”
I could barely breathe during my question and was staring into the mic instead of at my idols. To my surprise when I sat down, the whole room clapped. That totally shocked me. I was expecting a tumbleweed followed by an awkward silence instead I was greeted with love, warmth, and support. Louise was so kind and thanked me for coming and also for my bravery and handed the mic over to Marian because of her book The Mystery of Mercy Close deals with the topic of depression. Of course, Marian was just as sweet and thanked me for coming and showed she really felt for me. “It will pass.” She reassured me that for long times she didn’t write anything and that’s okay. “It’s okay to do nothing” Hearing those words pushed away this overbearing weight I’ve been carrying on my shoulders for years.
“To write any old crap is better than to write nothing, I mean, that’s still my way of working. I made a contract with myself to write for an hour a day.” Or spend an hour in front of the computer every day. Even if she wrote nothing at least she showed up. If I feel like it’s ever too much she told me to just be kind to myself, it’s a grueling illness and exhausting living with chronic pain. If this was a physical chronic pain, nobody would judge me. It’s very tiring. If I can’t do it on a certain day go easy. One other thing she suggested was a little spiritual. I ate this up. Love me some spiritual ceremonies! She lights a candle because fire is magical (obviously) and asks the universe to send her some words. She made herself humble, opened herself up and tried. Watching nice telly saved her life. I’ve to now find something nice to watch. Last night my nice thing was Queer Eye. What a show!
They called me brave… something nobody has ever used to describe little old me. The tears kept streaming, I didn’t expect to be so emotional. When my hand went up to ask the question – I was shocked at myself for asking it. Nobody really talks about the ugly facts of depression just that it is there and loads of people have it.
I’m really glad I got out of bed yesterday morning and I’m so glad I asked the question. I feel as though Marian’s words will stick with me for a long time and are pointing me in the right direction. She prescribed me kindness, something no doctor has given me and I know that will see me through. We all forget to be kind to ourselves sometimes. I’m not really sure why. If we were all a little more kind to ourselves the world would be a different place.
So here’s to being kind to ourselves and watching lovely telly.