When We Met Marian Keyes

Last week BF editor Kirsty trotted off for an evenings Q and A with author Marian Keyes, to hear about her new book, relationships and the good things about getting older…

There’s an old phrase about meeting your idols; you probably shouldn’t, lest their feet be made of clay and their personalities drier than the Sahara.

marian keyes

So, whilst I was ridiculously excited to attend Good Housekeeping’s evening with Marian Keyes last week, I was also more than a little worried that 20 years of literary devotion could be about to be destroyed by my own unrealistic expectations.

In fact, so nervous (and hyped) was I, that I created the following list to remind myself how not to behave:

  1. Do not insist on her signing every single book you own. Or any body parts.
  2. Don’t lapse into a fake Irish accent. ‘Gom’ is not a word you use. Stop it.
  3. No squealing, staring, creepy laughing or clinging to her ankles.
  4. She’s not going to be your new bestie. Stop it. Weirdo.
  5. No going through each book individually to ask about certain points.

Reader, I’m delighted that I -just- managed all the above.  After a somewhat awkward encounter, when I walked into the tiny toilet five minutes before the Q and A began, smack bang into the lady herself and had to rapidly school my face into a ‘I’ll pretend I’ve no idea who you are as this is a PLACE OF PRIVACY’ expression, I grabbed my (very treaty) goodie bag and champagne and chained my feet to the floor ready to see what she was really like.

I needn’t have worried. If you’re a fan of her work (and if not stop reading this site at once, heathens), you’ll be as relieved as I to hear, that she is as lovely as one could possibly hope.

Softly spoken and very funny, she comes across as warm, and with an innate sense of humanity that shines through.

One of the biggest ‘oohs’ of the night came when she shared that she was thrilled to have received a rather fabulous review from none other than Nigella Lawson. That humility – like she really doesn’t get the fuss – makes her much more likeable and I suspect is the reason so many of her characters have a depth and brevity that chick-lit isn’t (unfairly) usually expected to deliver.

Her humility continued when asked if she still gets nervous when sharing her work, when she said:

“It gets sent off and then I think ‘Oh my god I can’t believe I’ve written this shite’.

“The moment it’s gone from you, the fear kicks in, although that’s good as it keeps me trying with each book.  You need a bit of that.

the break, marian keyes“I try not to read reviews – even if they’re good, it’s not healthy, and Mammy Keyes lets me know anyway – she’s always surprised when they say something nice.  I do find that people being mean is tough, but people being nice is twice as hard.”

Marian’s latest book ‘The Break’ is out this month.  When asked about her inspiration for a tale based on a lengthy marriage hitting an unexpected troubled patch, she said:

“It came from an American book ‘The Marriage Sabbatical’ about a trend for people taking ‘breaks’ from their marriages.  I can’t really get on with the idea myself, but it makes sense that as we’re all living so long now, some of us might need it.

“When we had a life expectancy of 55, we were grand, but we’re staring down the barrel of another 45 years these days.  So, instead of a mid-life ‘mosaic sabbatical’ we’re taking breaks from our marriages.

“I was also a bit tired of books all about Men’s midlife crisis where the man leaving is a devil and the woman a saint.  I wanted it to be a bit more real.  I wanted to try and have sympathy with Hugh, the man and understand his point of view.

“For instance, I’ll name no names, but I’ve got a friend who doesn’t feel right unless she has a work crush.  When I was younger my friends and I would be very scornful of a cheating man, but at this age, I know it may not be the worst thing.

She’s not so sure she’d be up for a break herself, however:

“If it were Himself, I’d be devastated, I know I would, but I wouldn’t stop him – if he was so unhappy and this was what he needed to do, how could I?

“Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that, but he’s not immune to a mid-life crisis. Most days the postman turns up with an ice axe, thanks to his hobby – he goes away on climbing things.  While he’s away I do worry, of course, I do.  I do that thing where you check who else is going and then panic if one is a woman.  I believe there’s safety in numbers but there was one incident with a tour guide that I really got myself in a panic over.

“The very worst thing for me would be to lose him.  I know I should shout ‘I love you’, but I just shout, ‘don’t fall’.”

Marian’s been quoted as saying there’s a lot of riding in this one, and she was asked how it felt to write a sex scene:

“Mortifying.  I’ve got a lot of writer friends and I can never look them in the eye.  I’m not like that at all, but this is a book about a woman finding herself again and the sex is an essential element of that.”

Over the years Marian has been honest about her own battles with depression and alcoholism.  Despite recovering, or ‘coming up from the bottom of the ocean’ as she calls it, in 2014, she’s still very conscious of what it takes to stay well.  Her top tips:

“To say no is a necessity, which is hard as a people pleaser, but essential.  I watch an awful lot of telly. My couch, Percy Pigs, himself and a Scandinavian murder thing – heaven!

“I also make sure to get as much sleep as I can, and I’ll retreat for a while if I need to. I’ve learned to care a lot less too.  When I was younger, I’d pretend I’d gone to plays I hadn’t or read books I didn’t want to.  Now I’m honest.  Not caring is the lovely thing about getting older.

“I don’t miss drinking either.  It’s been 23.5 years, so I don’t mind when others have a drink, in fact, I quite like it.  It means everything to me not to be tormented by it though. It’s weird to remember that me, how without hope I was.

“Honestly, stopping drinking is the thing I’m most proud of, along with passing my driving test”.

The Break, published by Penguin, was released on the 7th September in all good book shops (we’ll review it when it can finally be prized from my Gollum like claws).