The funny and fabulous Irish-Australian author Ellie O’Neill recently released Family Matters, which I absolutely adored and still need to sit and review. To help celebrate the release I was able to question Ellie about the book and her warmth and humour shine through in her answers. Check out what she has to say, and then go check out the book. You won’t be disappointed.

Hi Ellie, welcome to Mic Loves Books and thanks so much for talking with us.

Can you tell us a little about your journey to becoming a published author?

It was long! I had wanted to write forever but couldn’t seem to find the space or energy that I needed to really focus on it. I was working in a job in London that I wasn’t mad about, and I wanted to change. So, quite dramatically, I quit my job, and moved back in with my parents in Dublin. I bought myself a year, I was single, I had saved some money, and I took a part time job in a shop. I set myself up in their front room and I went for it. A year later, I had my first book, Reluctantly Charmed. It took me five years to get published. I shopped it everywhere you can think of, and it was rejected countless times. I kept reworking it, because now and again with a rejection I would get some feedback and that was valuable, so I kept plugging away. Eventually I came across my current Melbourne agent Jacinta di Mase, who loved the book, and had a bidding war across multiple publishers for it and within five weeks it was sold. It was an Australian bestseller, it also sold internationally to great acclaim.

The new novel is family Matters, can you tell us a bit about the book?

Family Matters is set in Ireland, and it’s a generational story, centring on four women in a family, who have all hit a crossroads in their life. They’re dealing with situations that many of us find ourselves in; financial difficulties, betrayal by a partner, parenthood, coping with old age. The life that they’d planned for themselves isn’t working out. But that said, it’s still quite a light-hearted read, I write with a lot of humour and warmth, and the underlying theme of the story is the love and strength we all get from family.

What inspired the story? Where did the characters come from?

Lots of different areas, I get inspiration from everywhere and anywhere. For example, the matriarch character in the book is a seventy-nine-year old grandmother Evie, and she has the opportunity for a late in life romance. That idea came from an interview I heard with Isabelle Allende, the wonderful South American author, who married in her late seventies, and she talked about the sheer joy and happiness that that unexpected love had brought her. And I just loved that idea.

Evie’s granddaughter Molly is an overwhelmed stay at home mum, who has everything she ever wanted and is miserable. I wrote a lot of her story from firsthand experience of when I became a mum and struggled with the transition to parenthood and grieving the person I used to be before the babies arrived.

Family Matters encompasses three generations of women from one family. Four very different, strong women facing tough obstacles. What inspired the particular troubles they face?

There was no particular inspiration for their troubles other than I think they’re common problems. I look for situations that effect women, and then I imagine how they’ll play out.

The character of Yvonne is recently divorced, and struggling with independence, she had planned for this great, single life but then the reality is a lot harder than she’d envisaged. And she’s finding dealing with her finances really difficult, this is very typical for women who have been in long term marriages where the husband has controlled the money. It can feel impossible.

Evie, is seventy-nine years of age and feels like time has run out for her. She’s facing into death and still wants to live, because life is just as precious at that age.

I love how you explore two very different forms of matchmaking, can you tell us a little about the research for the app?

My previous book, The Right Girl, is based on an ‘all knowing’ app, so I had done a lot of research on artificial intelligence and data analytics and collection for that book. Dating apps are such a huge part of our environment now. I think it’s hard to give over that faith and hope you hold in your heart to find real love to an algorithm. Obviously, these apps can work, but I feel that’s more down to the individuals than the science of matching people. 

Fascinating to read about Evie’s Matchmaking skills, can you tell us anything about it. Is it an actual matchmaking method and how did you research it.

A lot of cultures have a tradition of a matchmaker, or a middle person to make a marriage. In Ireland, up until the 1950’s there was a town matchmaker who created these unions, or tried to. They were respected in the community but a town busy body. When I was playing around with this story idea, I wanted to give my matchmaker something more special than just being a nosy parker. I wanted her to really believe in love. So, Evie sees what we all feel when we are in love. And she describes it as a blinding white light, like looking into a star. And she wants to complete that, she feels their happiness, the pull of one soul to another, and she feels blessed to experience it. Because that’s love, and she recognises how lucky she is to even be around it.

What can you tell us about the small Irish town that actually hosts a matchmaking festival?

The Lisdoonvarna matchmaking festival runs every September. It’s in County Clare and it’s been going for years. Traditionally September is the end of the harvest, and my understanding is, the local farmers would head into town and celebrate, and local ladies got wind of this, that there were single men around and love was on the cards! And it sky-rocketed from there. It runs for a month, it’s now quite a festival by all accounts up to 40,000 people attend every year. And it’s all about finding love – how cool is that?

Is there something new that you’re working an you can tell us about?

I am working on something at the moment – the difficult fifth novel. Nobody really says that do they? But I am, and it is. It’s too early for me to really talk about it just yet – sorry!

There are a lot of family dynamic issues within these pages, what do you think about the idea of living so close to your mother in-law?

I wouldn’t do it, and I absolutely love my mother-in-law. She’s fantastic.

I think it completely depends on you, your partner and your mother-in-law. Every family is different. And getting it right can be a very delicate balance!

Thanks for your time and I look forward to watching what’s to come.

Family Matters is published by Allen and Unwin, and available now where all good books are sold.

Ellie O’Neill can be found and followed on Socials at the following links: Facebook, Instagram and her Website.