Can you remember what you were doing when you were 15? If you’re anything like us, your life probably followed the school > home > dinner > study > sleep daily routine. Unless of course you’re Eilís Barrett, who signed a book deal at the tender age of 15 and has just published her debut book, Oasis. We recently caught up with Eilís to chat about writing, life as a teenager in Ireland and her newfound fame as one of Ireland’s youngest published novelists.
1. Welcome to Gobblefunked Eilís! First of all, congratulations on being a published author at 16! What a fantastic achievement, plus you’re making the rest of us feel very old! Can you tell us a little about the plot of Oasis – spoiler-free of course – and what inspired you to write it?
Thank you so much for having me! And don’t worry, I make myself feel old all the time. I’m basically a grouchy old lady in a teenager’s body.
Anyway, Oasis is about a girl named Quincy Emerson, who has a gene that has the potential to restart a virus that almost wiped out humanity a hundred years ago. She lives inside Oasis, the last surviving city on earth that walled itself off from the rest of the world when the Virus first broke out. Quincy, and everyone else with the potentially dangerous gene are segregated from the rest of society until a Cure can be found, but as Oasis begins to take an insidious shape, Quincy’s not sure how much longer she can wait for a Cure.
2. The world that Quincy lives in is obviously quite different to the one you’ve grown up in! How did you build this universe for Quincy or did the inspiration for the character come first and the universe after?
The world for Oasis took quite a long time to build, actually. World building doesn’t come particularly easy to me; I’m way more interested in characters and the way they interact and view the world. But I knew the world of Oasis needed to feel almost like a character itself, so I spent a long time working on it.
Oasis itself was built with the best of intentions, but turned cruel as power grew in the heart of Oasis. Once you added the terror that came with the possibility of the Virus returning, Oasis becomes treacherous. These are all the things I thought about while I was world building. The walls of my bedroom were absolutely covered in sticky notes with world building ideas for weeks while I was writing!
3. Oasis has been described as a ‘coming-of-age adventure’ do you find that strange when you’re just coming-of-age yourself or do you feel like you’ve grown up with the book?
I definitely grew up with Oasis. It was a kind of catharsis for me all through its creation. There’s a definite narrative of change and learning to deal with drastic change throughout the book, which was something I channelled from my own experiences growing up.
It certainly didn’t feel strange, though. Oasis is a part of me, and YA is a part of me, so it made sense to write for that age group.
4. We’ve read that you were 12 when you decided to become an author – which is obviously quite young! – but can you tell us what appealed to you about pursuing writing as a career?
This is a really hard question to answer, because it’s hard to answer it in a way that makes sense. But writing just kind of … settled into me.
Sometimes things will just do that to me — appear out of nowhere, and they hang around for a bit, and I’ll wake up some day and realise it’s just settled into me. It’s like coming home to some place you’ve never been to before. Like watching memories backwards. It’s very confusing I know, but that’s the only way I can explain it.
5. We’ve also read that not only are you accomplished author, you’ve also taught yourself how to play the piano from YouTube videos, so we’re very jealous of your self-discipline! Do you think your upbringing helped you to be more disciplined and set rules for yourself rather than have them set by someone else?
Definitely! I’m homeschooled, so there’s no one telling me what to do all day. Or any day, really. I grew up in that environment, so it came very naturally to self motivate and self discipline. You wouldn’t get anything done if you didn’t!
6. Can you tell us about your path to publication for Oasis. Where did it all begin?
Well I wrote Oasis during National Novel Writing Month, and once the draft was finished, I gave a few chapters to a family friend. She really loved them, and passed them on to someone she knew from Gill Books, and they set up a meeting with me!
Gill Books wasn’t publishing YA at the time, but I got a cool tour and got to talk to one of their editors about publishing and writing and all of my favourite things. A year later, Gill Books contacted me to set up an interview. Apparently they liked the sound of Oasis, and a few weeks after the interview, they offered me a two book deal, for Oasis and its sequel!
I honestly couldn’t believe it. When I got the phone call, I just start laughing. I think I actually asked my editor if the sky was blue where he was, because back here in reality, teenagers don’t get multi-book deals.
7. Can you outline your writing process? Do you spend a certain amount of time a day on writing and how do you balance this out with other schoolwork etc.?
My writing process is a bit haphazard. I don’t sit down at a particular time of day, although I do tend to prefer the early mornings or late evenings — most of the middle of the day is so hectic, it’s hard to settle down enough to write.
I usually write anywhere from four to eight hours a day, although I can do those hours of work whenever I like, as long as they get done. The rest of my day is scheduled similarly, which is to say not really scheduled at all. I basically do whatever I want whenever I want to do it. That being said, I’m pretty hard on myself, and I’d usually prefer to walk over hot coals than not work, so ‘whatever I want’ usually means working.
8. Now the book has obviously attracted quite a lot of media attention due to your age, how are you dealing with this sudden fame?
Haha! I don’t know if I would call it fame, but yes, there has been a lot of media attention over the last few weeks. I guess I just find people really fascinating, so most of the time I’m more interested in whoever it is I’m meeting and getting to talk to then any media recognition that comes along with that.
That being said, I’ve opened more than one newspaper or magazine over the last few weeks and seen my face staring back out at me. That’s a really trippy experience.
9. You’ve spoken about your gratitude towards the YA community and the welcome and support you were offered while you were writing Oasis, can you tell us about that and why you think it’s important to have this support as an author?
I found my ‘people’ as it were, when I was 14 and joined NaNoWriMo for the first time, back when I was writing the very first draft of Oasis. I had been writing for two years at that point, but I’d never really had any support, so I kind of learned to hack it alone for the first while.
Going from that kind of isolation to belonging to a really awesome group of fellow writers was amazing. I run that group with my friend Serena Lawless now, and it’s still as awesome as it was three years ago. (I might be a little biased, but it’s possible it’s even more awesome now).
10. Are you a fan of YA literature or what kinds of books do you read yourself for pleasure?
I’m a huuuuge YA nerd. Super nerd. Super atomic YA nerd to the stars. I’ve been obsessed with YA since I was 13, and my room is packed with YA books. I keep having to buy new shelves, but then there are empty shelves, so of course I have to fill them, and then I need new shelves, and so on and so forth.
It’s such a diverse, raw, incredible category that I love so much. I can’t see how I’ll ever fall out of love with YA.
11. As a teenage girl yourself, what’s your opinion on the portrayal of teenage girls in literature and in the media?
Oh wow. That’s a can of worms. The most pressing thing I find, and have found since I was aware of it, was the lack of accurate portrayals of flawed teenage girls.
Teenage girls who screw up, again and again and again, without being bad people. Teenagers screw up all the time, it’s kinda what we do, but it certainly doesn’t define us. I think teen girls tend to get bracketed into ‘bad girl’ or ‘good girl’ in the media, and that really bothers me. I tried not to slip into that mentality while writing Oasis. Quincy is extremely flawed, sometimes callous, quite often selfish, but it doesn’t make her a bad person. She’s not the ‘bad girl’. She’s a girl. Inherently flawed and messy and wonderful and vast and complicated. That’s what girls have always been, and will always be.
12. Are there any authors that have inspired your work?
The two authors who have most affected me are Charlotte Brontë and Victoria Schwab. I grew up reading classics (not for any posh reasons, just because they were the books I found first, and also everyone talked really weird and young Eilís just thought that was the best), and when I found Jane Eyre, it was so raw and emotional and passionate and volatile. It made me want to write volatile books.
Victoria Schwab’s books are incredible, but it’s her career path and work ethic that inspire me the most. A few weeks ago, she hit The New York Times Best Sellers list, and I was so happy for her. It wasn’t her first book, or her third or her fifth. It took her six years and nine books to hit the NYT Best Seller list. She wasn’t an overnight bestseller, she worked her way there, one word at a time, one chapter at a time, one book at a time. That’s the career path I want to emulate.
13. What’s your favourite thing so far about being a published author?
Gah, all of the things. It’s stressful and time-consuming and exhausting and I love it more than anything in the world. Any kind of contact with readers is always incredible though. Emails, tweets, Tumblr messages, in person — all of it makes me absolutely giddy.
14. We know you’re currently working on the sequel to Oasis, can you divulge any information on that or tell us about how your process has differed this time around?
So far, it’s not been much different, actually. I write a bit in the morning, edit during the afternoon, and write a bit more in the evening. In between I try to normal stuff like playing piano and hanging out with friends and watching vast amounts of Netflix (I just started Fullmetal Alchemist and I have so many feelings. But the sequel good and truly has its hooks in me now, so I never really stop thinking about it, even when I’m not actually writing.
15. If you could offer one piece of advice to a budding author what would it be?
I try to tell young authors what I needed to hear when I started out, which is three simple things: take yourself seriously, you’re a legitimate writer, published or not; you’ll find your people, I swear; and mostly importantly, don’t give up. Ever. For any reason.
Your books will only ever be as strong as you are, so be strong as hell.