By Grainne McCool @grainnemccool
At just 16-years-old Eilís Barrett has signed a two book deal with Gill Books Ireland – and her first coming of age novel Oasis is being launched across all book shops in Ireland today.
While most teenagers her age are busy hanging out with friends or enjoying a lie in when they aren’t busy with school work, Eilis was hitting her own books – writing at every opportunity.
From the age of 12, the writer was setting her own deadlines on when books needed to be completed – all in preparation to become professional writer.
The Galway girl is homeschooled by her mother – and this she feels could be the reason why she was encouraged to write.
From the day I decided I wanted to pursue writing as a career, I was able to throw my whole self in to that, and that’s a lot of the reason I am where I am today.
“Home-schooling has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me. The opportunity to really decide what’s important to me, and live my life according to those priorities. It’s an absolute privilege.”
Oasis is a thrilling adventure book, set in a dystopian universe where personal freedom is almost non-existent and human values like friendship, love and creativity have all but been extinguished.
Eilish, who lives with her mother, three brothers and her dog, Rosie, said she and her siblings, also home-schooled, in comparison had a lot of freedom how they spent their time and were encouraged to do what they were good at by their mother.
“Stories have always been a part of my life,” Eilish said.
My earliest memories are interwoven with stories of every kind, from my mother reading to me and my brother as young children, to listening to audiobooks in the car, playing ‘storyline games’ as a kid, and just overhearing stories shared between my mother and the vast array of visitors we always had coming for a cup of tea and a scone.
“When I got to a reading age, it only expanded my imagination and my ability to tell my own stories. When I started writing Oasis three years ago, it was mostly about a girl trying to figure out her place in a very dangerous world.
“The world itself grew and changed over time as it expanded in my head, and as I learned more and more about my craft, but at the end of the day, stories have always been who I am; whether it’s a story over a cup of tea, or a story about a futuristic fortress city, stories are as natural to me as breathing.”
The character of Quincy in the book is a young woman who is forced to survive and fight in this tough world Eilish has created.
The young writer said though she had not based Quincy on herself – the character was bore fro certain “frustration.”
“Quincy was in a way inspired by my frustration with what I felt to be inauthentic reactions in a lot of characters in books I read. She struggles with compassion and empathy – she’s a survivor first, and everything else second – she has been her entire life, and the decisions she makes reflect that,” Eilish said.
“Her own safety comes first, and although she begins to unravel that reaction throughout the story, Quincy is someone who’s grown up in a world of kill or be killed. That she puts herself first in a dangerous situation just feels more realistic to me. That way, when she begins to put other people’s safety above her own, you really get to see the inner workings of the struggle there.
I’ve always argued that if heroism is a character’s first instinct, it isn’t really heroism at all. Heroism, in my opinion, is overcoming our first selfish reaction, and learning to put other people first, even when it feels impossible.
Gill offered Eilish the two-book deal when she was only 15 – and the writer admits “There’s always going to be a certain amount of pressure,” from gaining publisher backing at such a young age.
“Suddenly there are other people expecting you to write, and write well. But by the time I signed the deal at 15, I had been working on self-assigned deadlines and being accountable to myself through them for over three years. I had been preparing myself to work as a professional writer for years, so while there was a little adjustment period, for the most part it wasn’t much of a shock to my system.
“When I’m writing a book, there’s almost always a particular theme or concept that I can’t stop thinking about, and it ends up channelling itself into my writing. For Oasis, that theme was nature vs nurture. I was fascinated by the concept that for some people, they were a product of their story, and for others, their stories were a product of themselves.
“Certain characters let themselves be swept away with predestined fates, and ended up losing themselves in the process. Quincy was landed into a life of oppression and terror, but learned to escape it. She made her story a product of who she was, not who she was supposed to be.”
And while most young girls her age are worrying about their Leaving Cert, Eilis seems to be dreaming only of writing. She is currently working on the sequel to Oasis, expected to be released next year.
My path right now is to do what I love and keep doing it, and find new things to love in the process, Eilis said.
Oasis is set in the near future after a virus has driven humans to the almost extinction. As the illness spreads, attempts are made to control it but society collapses and the final surviving city is christened Oasis – a place walled off from the outside world.
Governing on a promise to protect its citizens from infection at all costs, the government of Oasis begins to impose its vision of the perfect society. Every aspect of life is controlled, and the city begins to take on a new, sinister shape.
The book’s main character, Quincy Emerson, is a resident of the Outer Sector Dorms, a brutal housing institution reserved for those judged at risk of infection.
Though the book is a fictional dystopian novel in certain respects it seems the teenage writer has recognised some of the inequalities that exist in the world today.
At just 16, she has written in detail about illness, corruption, lies, friendship and love, with a voice of experience.
Oasis published by Gill books is available in all good bookshops from today.