About Marian Keyes
An Interview with Marian Keyes
More About Marian Keyes
Marian Keyes, a preeminent writer of contemporary women's fiction, is the internationally bestselling author of more than ten novels and two autobiographical works. She lives in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland, with her husband.
We've got the "hottest young female writer in Britain" to tell us about a few of her favourite things including authors, movies, shops and guilty pleasures ...
Favourite thing about being a writer:
Meeting my readers.
Favourite thing to snack on while writing:
Apples & Percy Pigs (strawberry flavour jelly-style candy - they're fabulous!)
Favourite item in your closet:
Blue suede Paul Smith coat
Favourite place(s) to shop:
Selfridges in London; Henri Bendels in New York; and Thrift Stores (for quirky, wacky stuff)
Favourite purchase you've made recently:
My ice-green Balenciaga handbag. I love it so much I want to sleep with it.
Favourite item(s) always to be found in your handbag:
Murray Mints. 68 lipsticks. 14 pens (all leaking). Torn pieces of paper with mystery phone numbers on them. YSL touche éclat. Kleenex patterned with shoes - too pretty to use. Just For Today card.
Impossible! - too many - current favourites include Val McDermid, Carolyn Parkhurst, Philip Roth.
Raising Arizona & Roman Holiday
Favourite place you'd like to travel to:
Cambodia & Laos
Favourite thing about being married:
Having a best pal always around
Favourite way to spend a Saturday afternoon:
Favourite music to relax to:
Favourite guilty pleasure:
Favourite thing about Dublin:
The way people talk.
Favourite thing about London:
The shoe shops.
Favourite character from one of your novels:
Jojo Harvey - she's the woman I want to be when I grow up.
We asked Marian Keyes to reveal what it's really like to be a bestselling author and how it feels to write her own account of her alcohol addiction.
Can you tell us about your new book?
It's called Angels and it's about another member of the Walsh family. Of the five sisters there was one sister Margaret who was a lick arse, but she's not so much of a lick arse anymore. She has been married to a dull but worthy man and she runs away to Hollywood to visit her friend Emily who is a failed scriptwriter on the fringes of Hollywood. This is not a Jackie Collins novel, this is not a glamorous novel, it is about people who are probably never going to make it, people on the edge, the vast numbers of people waiting tables and waiting for their big break. At the same time it's a journey of personal discovery, because it's the story of Margaret and the break-up of her marriage which is told through flash backs throughout the book; so as things are happening to her and she's moving forward in Los Angeles, the back part of her life is also catching up with her. I've had an awful lot of fun writing this book.
Under the Duvet differs from your other books. Could you tell us a bit about it?
Under the Duvet is very, very different from all my other books because it's not a novel, it's a collection of journalism about my life, learning to drive, trying to buy a house and about my life as a writer. I've been doing various pieces for magazines and papers over a period of five years and it's all been collated and organised into lovely sections, like the glamour of being a writer and moving back to Ireland after I've lived in England for so many years. Hopefully people will get a lot of laughs out of it and it's also in a good cause; I'm giving my royalties from my Irish sales to The Simon Community, which is a charity that deals with the homeless. So it's a feel good thing all round, you get a laugh when you read it and you know your money is going to a good place.
What inspired you to collate all your work and ideas? Was it a starting point for wanting to do something for The Simon Community?
It was triggered when I moved back to Dublin about four years ago. I lived in the centre of Dublin and I got to know a lot of the homeless men who lived in my doorway and in the doorways around my flat and it had a big effect on me because I saw them as human beings and I got to know their circumstances. I was very touched by the problem of homelessness and after I had written about it in a fictionalised form in Sushi for Beginners I wanted to do something further to help. People had said to me over the years 'oh you really should collect all those bits and pieces of articles that you've done', and everything came together at the same time. It just seemed a good idea, because I felt I'd already been paid for the articles, even though I didn't get paid much, so I was happy for the royalties to go to the homeless charity.
Are you happy for your readers to get 'closer' to the real Marian, as opposed to reading about your characters?
I'm delighted, because there are so many myths that surround being a writer. I certainly thought before I started to write that the minute my book was published I would never be unhappy again and it would be a non-stop round of limos and joyous occasions and television appearances and stalkers and people running up and doing my make-up, and asking for autographs. What kind of surprised me was how ordinary life continues to be, even though I'm in the incredibly fortunate position of having books of mine in the bookshops. It is like a dream come true to have your books published, but you know you don't fundamentally change.
How do you think having your books published has changed you?
It took me a very long time to describe myself as a writer because I felt I was really lucky to have got away with it and I probably wouldn't pull it off a second time. It probably took until book five, Sushi for Beginners, before I could say I'm a writer. Maybe it's because if you're working for someone else you have a title and you're defined from outside. I've always tried to keep my kind of self-definition separate from my job - I love it so much that I am afraid it will be taken away and so because of that I've always been careful to remember that I'm someone else as well.
You mention in Under the Duvet that you like to write in bed, hence the title. Do you enjoy the process of writing?
I have days that are absolutely wonderful and I write all the stuff that I had never known was in me and I've surprised myself and made myself laugh, and then I have had days when it has been like trying to get blood out of a turnip. I'm very all or nothing in every area of my life, so I'm either belting through it and lashing down 2000 words in three or four hours or I'm painstakingly going through it and I'm moving things around and deleting paragraphs. Moving words around is just as important as the splurge of creativity, I'm a Virgo, a perfectionist, and I like things to be neat and tidy. I think it takes me longer to write books than it takes my contemporaries because the feel of the book filters through me more slowly than it does other people. I actually feel what my characters are going through before I am happy to write about it, so that's really how it is.
Does your family provide inspiration?
The writing in Under the Duvet is 'real life' and I'm very fond of my family, we're a very colourful lot. There are five siblings altogether, but it feels like lots more, we're all kind of volatile and I think the whole thing comes from my mother who is very, very funny although on the outside she was a very well behaved Irish Catholic mammy. The columns have been inspired by a lot of things, like I had a party and I was so afraid that nobody would come so I made my brother bring fifty-seven of his closest friends, and he actually did.
Do you know what you're going to write about beforehand?
I never have a clue what a book is going to be about, ever. I always start with one character and have a vague idea of background or setting. For instance I knew Sushi for Beginners would be set in the magazine world, but other than that I didn't know how my characters would interact with each other, and I didn't know who would get off with who, and who was going to end up with what man, and who was going to change and who was going to come through fairly unscathed by the book. I like the unexpectedness of what my characters do, because life is like that, weird stuff happens all the time and I'm always intrigued by how we adapt to change. I've described writing as like climbing a mountain in the dark, you know, I don't know where I'm going and it is kind of a case of looking for the next toe holder or foothold before I can move forward. It's a really kind of an exciting process and I would prefer the way I do it than the safer way.
What was the starting point for Rachel's Holiday, and was it important to you to write about your addiction?
The addicted character was the starting point. I had already touched on addiction in Lucy Sullivan's Getting Married, through her dad's alcoholism, and it was a further step to actually write about addiction first-hand. I still love writing about addiction and alcoholism because it is so pivotal to who I am and I know that maybe the next book that I write, not the novel I am writing at the moment, but possibly book seven, will be about a recovering alcoholic. I'm very interested in addiction in all it's manifestations because I think we live in very addictive times and it's possible to get addicted to so much and not just the traditional substances like drink and drugs, but food, exercise, work and unsuitable men. I am fascinated by, not so much by the addiction I suppose, but the recovery from it. I love the process of how human beings heal and it's something that I keep wanting to explore and certainly with Rachel's Holiday it was a definite decision to write about a character who was mired with addiction, and mired in denial.
Did you find writing about your own alcoholism, as opposed to that of a fictional character, hard?
It wasn't that hard because I've talked about it a lot in press interviews and they've so rarely quoted me accurately or the headlines have been so sensational, that I was delighted to have this opportunity to tell the story of my addiction and my recovery in my words, without having someone else's agenda distorting the direction of it. There is a kind of taboo around alcoholism, there's still a stigma attached to it, especially to female alcoholics, but I don't judge myself, I'm not ashamed of it. I wouldn't have wished it on myself but I've come through it and I've been lucky enough to have recovered from it, and it's made me the person I am today. It's made me a more compassionate person than I probably would have been if I hadn't gone through that kind of horrific time. So it was fine to write about it and it's the most accurate account that has been published.
In Under the Duvet you describe working at a magazine as research for Sushi for Beginners. If you weren't an author do you think you could have made it in the glamorous world of magazine publishing?
I'm absolutely sure I couldn't, I would be so clueless. Everyone who worked there always looked so effortlessly glossy and they always looked 'band box fresh'. They never had mascara smudges under their eyes and their hems and buttons never fell off, but that's me - my heels fall off my shoes, I forget things - I would be absolutely dreadful in that world. I would be totally intimidated, so that is one job I don't yearn for in a parallel life.
Is there anything you miss about London now you've moved back to Ireland?
I miss loads of things about London. I still have a lot of friends here and that's difficult, and the shoe shops, good Lord, Dublin is great and has caught up in an awful lot of ways, but for some reason it is shamefully remiss in the shoe shop department. I love the buzz of London and I love the architecture - I've only noticed it now that I don't live here anymore.
Out of the all the books you've written which was the hardest book to write?
Watermelon was the easiest because I hadn't a clue what I was doing, and they say a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. The second book, Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married, was much harder, I thought I could replicate the light-hearted approach I took to Watermelon and I was told by my editor to go back into myself, into my darkness and make it a more interesting book. The third book Rachel's Holiday was even harder and the killer was Last Chance Saloon. I fully expected that every book would just get tougher, but Sushi for Beginners was an absolute joy to write from start to finish - it just wanted to be written - and Angels, the book I'm writing at the moment, has been easier than the others, so I'm delighted. I would continue to do it even if it was hard because I think it's worth doing and I love doing it.
Marian Keyes Q & A
What's your worst habit?
Have you ever broken the law?
Many times, more so since I learnt to drive - I'm always going through red lights. I also nicked some nail varnish from Woolworth's when I was 12.
What quality would you most like to have?
More stamina - I'd love to need less sleep.
If you could swap a physical attribute with someone else, what would it be and who would you swap it with?
I'd like to look like Salma Hayek.
What's your greatest fear?
Dogs - I'm terrified of them!
Have you got a party trick?
I tell stories about my disastrous life.
Do you have any nicknames?
Yes, my name is actually Mary-Catherine but my family calls me Marian - I'm not sure why but it runs in the family!
Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?
I don't really - I spent my entire life yearning and wanting everything to be different, but now I don't.
What's in your handbag at the moment?
A lilac umbrella
Floppy disk containing my next book
Groovy Chick hankies
Purple pens [for doing book signings]
Marian's top five ...
Chocolate bar: Time Out
Shoe shop: The shoe hall in Selfridges
Place: My bed
Restaurant: The Fleet Tandoori in Fleet Street
Designer: Prada for handbags
All about Marian Keyes
She was born in the West of Ireland in 1963. I was a month overdue and I often wonder what my life would have been like if I'd been born on time. How being a dynamic, sunny Leo, instead of a critical, crap-in-bed Virgo would have been. But we will never know.
She was brought up in Dublin, and then she spent her twenties in London.
When I left school I went to college, got a law degree, then put it to good use by going to London and getting a job as a waitress. Eventually I upped and got respectable and got a job in an accounts office, where I worked (I use the term oh-so-loosely) for a long, long, long time. I thought I'd be there forever, that I'd end up as a dessicated, badtempered, old bag who lived with a one-bar heater and forty cats. That small boys would throw stones at me. What I certainly had no notion of doing was becoming a writer.
She started writing in 1993 and her first book Watermelon was published in Ireland in 1995.
I decided to send my short stories off to a publishers. So that they'd take me seriously, I enclosed a letter saying I'd written part of a novel. Which I hadn't. I had no intention of so doing, either. I was much more into the instant gratification of short stories. But they wrote back and said, send the novel, and for once in my self-destructive life I didn't shoot myself in the foot. I wrote four chapters of my first novel Watermelon in a week, and was offered a three-book contract on the strength of it.
Since then she has become a publishing phenomenon. Nearly 3 million copies of her four books have been sold worldwide and book Last Chance Saloon was Britain's highest selling trade paperback of 1999.
In November 1996 I was finally able to give up my day job and become - allegedly anyway - a full time writer. Except that almost from the moment all my time was free to write with, I began to try and distract myself and do anything but write. I'm up and down the stairs, checking to see if the post has come. (Even after it already has.) I pray for the phone to ring, I make appointments for root-canal treatment and toy with the notion of scrubbing the kitchen floor. Anything other than switch on the computer. Of course, once I start it's not so bad, I always find.
Her books are an unusual blend of comedy and darkness and cover subjects like depression and addiction.
Okay, so a book about someone with depression doesn't exactly sound like a laugh a minute, but in my experience the best comedy is rooted in darkness. All five of my books are different but share a common theme of people who are In The Bad Place, and who achieve some form of redemption. I've been In The Bad Place myself many's the time, which wasn't very pleasant while it was happening but has since come in very handy for writing about it.
Her latest (5th) book Sushi for Beginners is set in Dublin.
Three years ago I moved back to live in Ireland, a move only sanctioned by me after a branch of Boots opened in Dublin. So that I wouldn't miss London too much I imported an Englishman (well, actually I married him.). I was worried that I'd hate the small-town feel of Dublin, but what I hadn't realised was that while I'd been away it had become Groovyville. It's now nearly impossible to buy "a grand cup of tea" because all that's available is skinny double mocha lattes. Sushi for Beginners is about a fabulous English woman who arrives to edit a women's magazine in the new improved Dublin. (Except she's not impressed. She reckons it's a one-horse town. And the horse is wearing last season's Hilfiger.)
She's working on her next novel which is set in Los Angeles.
I spent a month there earlier this year - well I had to. Research, see? And it's without doubt one of the maddest places I've ever been. No-one seems to eat, the gyms open at five in the morning and even the palm trees are skinny.
Her books are published in 35 countries worldwide and have been translated into several different languages, such as Hebrew and Japanese. And that's about it!
To sum up I can't cook and I'm addicted to shoes, handbags and white magnums. All quite normal, really.
'A writer who pips Maeve Binchy in Irish bestseller lists, Marian Keyes is chick lit's class act.'
'There's no question that she's hot property'
'The reigning queen of romantic fiction'
'The doyenne of satire'
'Marian Keyes is the queen of feel-good fiction...the hottest young female writer in Britain and the voice of a generation'
'Her writing sparkles and the world is a better place for her books'
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