Louise O’Neill: The lockdown brain drain and pandemic ‘strain’ on long-distance relationship 

Cork-based author and columnist Louise O'Neill speaks openly, honestly and from the heart about surviving lockdown and being apart from her partner, Richard Chambers, for most of the year
Louise O’Neill: The lockdown brain drain and pandemic ‘strain’ on long-distance relationship 

Louise O'Neill: 'I couldn’t read anything, which is very unlike me, and that just wasn’t conducive to writing.' Picture: Miki Barlok

Author Louise O’Neill has spoken about how much pressure she felt she was under when the country went into lockdown in March and how difficult the pandemic has been for her relationship.

While many people picked up hobbies and started baking up a story, she was fielding questions from well-intentioned people about how she would make the most of her time at home. She says the expectation that she would write her way through and emerge at the other side with a book or two to show off actually stifled her creative impulses.

“Particularly at the beginning, there was an enormous amount of pressure. The amount of people who said to me, ‘you must be thrilled with this extra time, you’re going to have two books written by the end of it’, and I felt as though my brain was broken,” she tells Vickie Maye in ‘The Moments That Made Me', the new weekend podcast from the Irish Examiner in association with Green & Blacks.

“I couldn’t focus for longer than 10 minutes. I couldn't watch anything on TV, I couldn’t read anything, which is very unlike me, and that just wasn’t conducive to writing.” 

Louise, whose latest novel, After The Silence, was named Crime Fiction Book of the Year at the Irish Book Awards last month, says she feels better equipped to handle the current level of restrictions after feeling the “abject terror” of the earlier lockdown.

“At the beginning it was this sort of abject terror where as I think this time I think the prevailing feeling is, I think, people are a bit fed up. In a way that’s easier for me to navigate than that feeling of just complete overwhelming terror,” she says.

Louise O'Neill with her partner Richard Chambers. Picture: David Keane
Louise O'Neill with her partner Richard Chambers. Picture: David Keane

One aspect of Louise’s life that has been made more difficult by Covid-19 restrictions is her long-term relationship with her partner Richard Chambers, a Dublin-based journalist. The couple has been apart physically for most of the year.

“It is very difficult. We’ve always done long-distance but we’ve seen each other every weekend. Not being able to see him for months on end has been a real strain on our relationship. That has been really trying.” 

Louise says despite the temptation at times, they have respected the travel guidelines that have kept them in separate counties for most of 2020.

“We’re both the sort of people who do the right thing. A lot of people asked ‘did ye break lockdown, did he sneak down, did you sneak up?’ We both do feel we’re all being asked to do this, there are very legitimate reasons why we’re being asked to do this. Because he’s a journalist I feel that he would really on moral grounds disagree with doing that. Sometimes I have been very tempted but it’s just one of those things, this is the way it is and you have to keep moving forward with it.” 

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