Jamie O'Neill is an Irish author, who lived and worked in England for two decades; he now lives in Gortachalla, in County Galway, Ireland. His critically-acclaimed novel, At Swim, Two Boys (2001) earned him the highest advance ever paid for an Irish novel and frequent claims that he was the natural successor to James Joyce, Flann O'Brien and Samuel Beckett.
O'Neill was born in Dún Laoghaire in 1962 and was educated at Presentation College, Glasthule, County Dublin, run by the Presentation Brothers, and (in his words) "the city streets of London, the beaches of Greece." He was raised in a home without books, and first discovered that books "could be fun" when he read Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. O'Neill was unhappy at home; he had a very difficult relationship with his father and ran away from home at age 17.
O'Neill was the partner of television presenter Russell Harty for six years until Harty's death in 1988. His current partner is Julien Joly, a former ballet dancer who now works as a Shiatsu therapist.
O'Neill lists as his favourite books: Ulysses, by James Joyce, The Last of the Wine, by Mary Renault, Hadrian VII, by Fr. Rolfe (Frederick Baron Corvo), The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, by Edward Gibbon, The Leopard, by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Siege of Krishnapur, by J. G. Farrell, One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Third Policeman, by Flann O'Brien, The Swimming-Pool Library, by Alan Hollinghurst, and The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt.
O’Neill met Russell Harty in 1982, during a two-week holiday in London. They became a couple and lived together in London and at Rose Cottage, Harty's home in Giggleswick, Yorkshire. Harty encouraged O'Neill's writing and read his manuscripts; he even mailed manuscripts of early novels to publishers without O'Neill's consent or knowledge, and a book deal was agreed with Weidenfeld. Soon after that, in 1988, Russell Harty died of AIDS-related Hepatitis B. Hounded by the tabloid press, O'Neill's nude photograph was splashed across the front of the Sunday Mirror; the picture was taken shortly after his arrival in London when he earned some money as a model. He turned down offers of up to £50,000 for interviews about his private life with Russell Harty.
This newspaper coverage was how O'Neill's parents in Ireland discovered that their son was gay. This event would have been traumatising enough; his distress was deepened when members of the Harty family threw him out of the cottage, burned his clothes and left him homeless. They did, however, allow him to take the couple's pet dog, Paddy; even though they did want it.
After Russell Harty's death, O'Neill sought therapeutic help. The following year, O'Neill's first novel, Disturbance, was published; Kilbrack followed in 1990. Both novels had been mostly finished while Harty was alive. But then, grieving for Harty and alone in London, O'Neill struggled to write, parted company with both his agent and publisher, and took the job as a night porter at the Cassell Hospital, a psychiatric institution in Surrey from 1990 up to 2000.
Two years after Russell Harty's death, Paddy was to accidentally introduce O'Neill to his future partner. O'Neill was in a London pub when he noticed the dog was missing. Paddy had been found by a ballet dancer named Julien Joly. They began a relationship and Joly was instrumental in helping O'Neill put his life back together. During the ten years that followed, O'Neill wrote At Swim, Two Boys, which was published in 2001. Its official launch at Somerset House in London was abandoned on the day -- it was September 11, 2001