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Five questions with Ellie O’Neill

Ellie O’Neill is a Geelong-based author who hails from Ireland, and whose novels are all set (so far, at least) in that blustery and beautiful part of the world. Ellie’s latest offering, Family Mattersfollows three generations of women in one family across Dublin and Ballyhay as they wrestle with the various problems that crop up at different times of life. It is charming, funny, and deeply true. The McCarthy women will make you laugh and make you feel, and we highly recommend this novel for lovers of Beth O’Leary and Mhairi McFarlane. Ellie was kind enough to share a few insights into her novel and writing process and sign copies of her latest book for the shop. Read on for the interview, and pick up your copy of Family Matters here.

Your latest novel Family Matters follows the lives of four women in the McCarthy family – Evie, Yvonne, Rosie and Molly. What appeals to you about the multi-generational family novel, bringing the young and the old together into close proximity?

I always love a good generational read, so as a reader it appeals to me. And as a writer it allows me to jump into four different scenarios and examine these unique stages of life. In a way it’s a lot of fun to write but there were a lot of voices going around my head! It gave me freedom to explore a whole host of topics, from dating apps, to being a stay-at-home mum, a divorcee and a late-in-life romance. I covered a lot, so I was never bored when I was writing, and also using different tones of voice, and writing from the four characters perspective really kept me on my toes (and up late at night).

Bringing generations together is how we live, none of us are in a bubble, and it’s nice to reflect that in a novel.

The novel opens with Evie – Yvonne’s mother; Rosie and Molly’s grandmother – who believes the universe is telling her she’s about to die. Evie is really at the center of the novel and is a very special character. Can you introduce us to Evie and how these bad omens in her life spark the events of the book?

Evie is a unique character; wise, vibrant, maternal, and shrewd. We meet her at the opening chapter, and learn that she is superstitious and believes, because of a number of omens and ominous tarot cards, that death is coming for her soon. Evie knowing that there are problems facing the women in her family and is determined to teach them the important things in life while she still can.

Evie is the town matchmaker and throughout her life she has brought couples together in the snug of the family pub. As she would say herself, she is blessed in being able to see the light of love between couples and making their connection and charging an arm and a leg for her services. She’s seventy-nine years of age, and as the book progresses, we learn that Evie still has a lot of life left to live, and she may not be willing to bow out gracefully.

Evie is the town matchmaker in Ballyhay, Ireland, employing her sixth sense to bring the right people together. Her granddaughter, Rosie, is busy in Dublin launching a dating app that promises to find its users true love via some rather unconventional methods. Talk a little about the theme of matchmaking and dating in the book, as these two very different approaches to meeting one’s partner are nicely contrasted in the story.

For me, the idea of falling in love is magical. It’s almost otherworldly that it can even happen, and I find it amazing that we try and bottle it up into a scientific algorithm, on dating apps, as if we’re trying to control something that is absolutely out of our control. The truth is romantic love is anything but logical. So, I’ve approached two opposing views on matchmaking, the magical and the scientific.

Rosie is approaching love in the modern way, through a dating app that promises to get to the essence of you by harvesting your online data. So, rather than filling out a form, which you could lie on (we all bend the truth when dating) the idea with the app is that you can’t hide your truth through your online history. It’s a very invasive concept, but it appeals to people who are tired of online scammers, which proves to be quite ironic as the story progresses (no spoilers!)

Evie is also, very upfront about wanting to make money from her matchmaking, she recognises her talent, and does not give it out for free. However, her work comes with a caveat, because she isn’t always successful, she can’t always find the light of love between people for a lot of reasons.

Family Matters is full of humour derived from the drama of every day life. Can you talk about the role of humour in your writing?

Humour has always been a big part of my writing. It’s my voice at this stage. It’s how I approach the words on the page. For me it works, it’s about finding laughs to help you through lifes tricky stages, but that said I don’t write about crime or murders, or topics that wouldn’t lend themselves to a light touch!

You are currently working on your next (and fifth!) novel. Are you able to give us a hint of what to expect from you following Family Matters?

Not really!!! It’s a work in progress, it is a multi-narrative book, and it’s set in Australia, which is a first for me.