An eighteen-year-old writing sensation from Galway – who became an author at the age of twelve – is set to build on the success of her big debut by launching her second book, Genesis, this week.
Eilís Barrett comes from just outside Ballinasloe and she began seriously reading at the age of eight; by the age of nine she had read Leo Tolstoy’s thousand-plus page masterpiece “War and Peace”.
“As a child I didn’t think of it as a pretentious thing, I just started reading it and became interested in it and once I was interested in it, I wouldn’t let it go until I was finished.
“It was so alien to me the way the society worked, the way the culture worked and the language was so different to anything I’d heard or read beforehand that I just got sucked into it,” Eilís says.
Though Eilís had read many classics at a younger age, she says that she doesn’t hesitate to put down a critically acclaimed book if she isn’t enjoying it.
“The fact that people think I will gain so much more from some old dead guy from 100 years ago than someone from contemporary culture writing with just as much thought and nuance is ridiculous to me.
“I don’t think I’m doing so much better by my brain to read a classic than a YA (Young Adult) book and once you take the stigma away from YA and you take that pressure away from reading classics then you can just read whatever you want,” Eilís added.
Eilís released her debut novel, Oasis, when she was just 16 years old after signing a two-book deal with Gill Books.
Oasis tells the story of Quincy Emerson, a young girl who is on the run because she carries the X gene, which caused a virus that has driven humankind to the brink of extinction. The only survivors of the virus reside in the quarantined city named Oasis as they search for a cure.
Writing a book is something that almost everyone thinks about in their lifetime but Eilís reveals the distinction between those who talk about creating a novel and those who have a structured plan in place.
“I know other teenagers who want to be writers and the problem is that, without structure, you can talk about it a lot but you get distracted. You can write a line here and there and just dribble it out and never actually make something out of it.
“When it comes to world building and getting really inside the head of a character, the immersion really matters.
“When you’re writing every day, you’re writing three or four hours a day and you don’t ever fully come out of it and you can feel that in the writing that it’s very immersive anytime a writer is writing consistently whereas if you’re dropping in and out, the consistency of a character changes from chapter to chapter,” Eilís says.
To stay on course to meet her deadlines, Eilís uses NaNoWriMo which is an online community that helps to get aspiring novelists to write 50,000 words in a month.
“I’d start writing and I’d have an idea or a basic understanding of the world or a character and I would just keep writing and writing and it would take shape over time.
“I’ll usually have an idea for a chapter or an idea for a theme and I’ll try to do a minimum of 1,000 words a day while I’m on a deadline,” Eilís says.
To get inspiration for her work, Eilís tries to get inside of the characters she creates and tries to imagine how they would feel in these situations.
“When you are starting with a character, they have had a life before the story actually starts and you have to figure out why they act the way they act. Emotions are something that people relate to regardless of what started them so I think that’s how you get the realism of a reaction.
“In the beginning of Oasis, Quincy is very selfish and there’s a reason for this. It’s a survival instinct and that’s all I knew about her. She was kind of nasty and I didn’t know why so I built outwards from that feeling and drew logical conclusions from there,” Eilís added.
Eilís feels that it is these realistic reactions that set’s her characters apart from the archetype heroes.
“I think the characters are realistic to their world. Lovely people who are heroic or very compassionate obviously could exist in these situations but I think there’s a lot less room for those kinds of characters in high tension situations.
“With so-called perfect characters you can almost guess what they’re going to do and it loses the tension of the story,” Eilís argues.
Trying to decipher feelings may work for her fictional characters but Eilís says that it can be a nuisance in her own life.
“I’ll get frustrated because I’ll be upset and my brain will unconsciously start explaining to me how I feel when I’m upset and I am like: can I not just be sad for once? It’s all poetic in my head and I’m not even writing it down. It can be annoying at times but I think in the long run it helps.”
Eilís draws her inspiration for writing from other mediums that would pull her into a story like TV and film but one in particular will always be her primary creative catalyst.
“The thing that started me off writing was reading so that’s always going to be a fallback. If you don’t read, it becomes increasingly difficult to write and I know that from experience.
“Sometimes I get so overwhelmed with work that I think I don’t have time to read and I will feel it in the next week or two. It’s like that creative part of my brain was being activated externally and it’s very difficult to activate it internally,” Eilís added.
Eilís turned 18 this July and launches her new book in Charlie Byrne’s bookshop this (Thursday) evening – and she revealed is also her going away party.
“I’m moving to Korea in November and it’s the last time before I leave that all my family and friends are going to be all together.
“I’ve been learning the language for about a year and I met these Korean girls who I was doing language exchange with in Galway and now they’ve moved back home to Korea so I’m going to go over for a couple of months and see how it suits me,” Eilís says.
While in Korea, Eilís will continue to write and says that she couldn’t stop even if she tried. As someone who cannot stop writing, she also had some advice for those looking to start:
“You need to write for yourself. When you are sitting down to write in the beginning you should think to yourself: “What would I like to read?” and then write that.
“You will never find the book that’s exactly what you want to read, but you can write it. While you’re in the early stages of it will feel like it’s not exactly what you want but there’s something about experiencing it from the other side that you feel it so much more deeply.”