When is an island not an island? When it's Inis Meáin in Sophie White’s new novel, Where I End, because Inis Méain is not in Where I End. Sophie explained the paradox to Ryan Tubridy:

"Where I End is set on an island that isn’t Inis Meáin, but it’s not not Inis Meáin either. I love Inis Meáin so much, so I always hate to say that it’s based on Inis Meáin because the island in my book is a kind of malevolent place, whereas Inis Meáin, for everyone who knows, is a really special, beautiful place and there’s like incredible people who live there, the community there is amazing."

Sophie first visited the Aran island 10 years ago when she went there on her honeymoon with husband, Seb. She went back to it last year to research her new novel, as she credits the island for giving her the idea for the story:

"Inis Meáin has an incredible kind of geography to it. It has this almost like tropical beach at one end and then it has these terrifying, desolate, bleak cliffs at the other end, there furthest west end... The cliffs always, they always reminded me of like this kind of lunar sort of landscape. It's not just, it’s not like windswept, it’s alien back there. It’s incredible, it’s stunning. It’s so stunning."

When Sophie and Seb went for a walk when they were on their honeymoon, things took a spooky turn:

"And we both just started to feel really like this rising dread. It was really spooky... He kind of blamed the dread on – it was all freaking him out because he’d just watched Alien vs Predator – and I blamed the dread on, well, the island infecting us. Was it something strange happening?"

The word dread leads Sophie to tell Ryan that, as a person with mental illness, dread is something that she carries with her. And when Ryan asks Sophie about her illness, she’s admirably forthcoming:

"I had my first breakdown when I was 22. I had kind of a drug-induced psychosis and so, you know, that was a very, I mean it was terrifying. It's terrifying when you can’t trust your own brain, when you can’t trust your own mind."

Ryan wondered what that sort of experience was like, what did it look like from here perspective:

"That breakdown at 22 looked like, I was just scared every single day. All day, every day. It was this roaring terror."

What was it that Sophie was afraid of? Ryan wondered. Sophie had to laugh at her own response:

"Well, I suppose, ironically, going mad. And I think the thing is with mental illness, it can be so relentless and it can really wear away at your resilience. And I suppose there have been times in my life where I’ve worried that I’m going to take my own life. Because mental illness is unbearable. People know, so many people deal with this and it’s unbearable and I think sometimes it can push you to this precipice where death looks like hope, it looks like a release, instead of what it is, which is just like you know, it’s the illness being fatal."

Sophie spent her 20s having episodes and treatment, but it wasn’t until she was in her 30s that she got the answers that provided some class of insight into her condition:

"In my 30s I was diagnosed with Bipolar II, which came as something of a relief because it actually felt like an explanation. Whereas up until then I’d had these episodes over the years and they were all different and strange but strange and awful in their own ways. I’d often slip into kind of slight wonky, wonky, delusional-type thinking. Like, I’m here now kind of thinking of the, like, the best of delusional episodes of the last 17 years. The director’s cut is long and, as with most directors’ cuts, doesn’t need to exist."

Nowadays, Sophie has people she can turn to when she needs to, as well as assistance from medication:

"I go to my fabulous psychiatrist John, who I love so much and I speak to a therapist and I, I mean, I have medication for my illness and I’m so grateful for it."

The conversation moved back to the island as Sophie explained how Inis Meáin inspired her novel:

"I went back to Inis Meáin 10 years after first going there knowing there was a story with an island in my head and I nearly needed to go there to kind of find out the finer details of that story."

Sophie went into some detail about Where I End, a story that Ryan called "a slim volume with a big story":

"The story of Where I End is about a young woman called Aoileann, who lives on an island with her mother and her grandmother. She’s never left the island. Her mother is bedbound. Her mother has never spoken to her, her mother has never looked at her. They spend their days, her and her grandmother, caring for her mother. And nobody has ever explained to Aoileann what’s happened to her mother. And all she has is, like piecing together little clues about this private disaster that took place in this family that she belongs to."

A big story indeed. You can hear Ryan’s full conversation with Sophie by going here.

Where I End by Sophie White is published by Tramp Press.

If you have been affected by issues raised in this story, there are resources that may be able to help here.