Marian Keyes opens up about her life at this year’s Open House Festival
When you think of modern Irish female authors one of the top names on the list must surely be Marian Keyes.
Loved not only for her novels, but also for her hilarious social media accounts, and her open and honest approach in interviews, Marian is a firm favourite with many readers, including this particular journalist.
Whilst many authors have a love of writing instilled from an early age, with childhood ambitions of writing a book one day, Marian came to the craft later in life at the age of 30.
And rather than being spurred on by childhood dreams of literary fame, she used writing to help her as she battled her addiction to alcohol.
“I was always a big reader but I didn’t start writing until I was 20,” explained Marian, who studied law at university.
“I had never any hope of any sort of future for me in law. I did law because I got the grades, not because I had any interest or passion. I was completely intimidated by all the other people in my year. I did the degree because my parents were so proud I got into university,”
Marian didn’t launch her writing career out of dreams of being an author and still the popularity of her books comes as something of a surprise to her.
“The family I come from, they wanted to funnel us towards steady, reliable jobs where we would be safe and we would have a regular income,” she continued. “We didn’t know any writers. We didn’t know how publishing happened. It was a whole other galaxy and I had no idea how anyone made their way into it.”
Marian has spoken openly over the years about her alcoholism and her battle with addiction. And it was that battle that brought her into the world of writing. “I was in the final throes of an addiction and had given up on everything.” she revealed. “I expected that this was it. I didn’t want to go on living. I wanted to stop drinking but I couldn’t. The self preservation urge is very powerful in human beings. The survival part of me reached down deep and I thought ‘you like telling stories and you like words’. Writing was a last ditch attempt to keep myself from tipping over the edge. It didn’t stop me drinking but after I came out of rehab writing was waiting for me.”
The first book Marian penned was Watermelon, the first introduction to the now well known and deeply loved Walsh family. This Dublin family won over the hearts of millions as they followed the trials and tribulations of sisters Rachel, Maggie, Anna, Helen, and of course, their Irish Mammie.
“I cannot stress this enough, I had no plans to be an author and I had no idea I would write more than one book,” admitted Marian. “I feel it more and more how incredibly lucky I was. So much of the success I was given has been timing and luck.
“I was hugely shocked by the response. I didn’t expect it would sell outside of Ireland because it’s a book by an Irish woman about Irish people. So that was a big shock, that it travelled to the UK and then to different languages. It still baffles me.”
Marian is well known for approaching often difficult subjects such as addiction and heartbreak with a trademark Irish sense of humour. And it is that which has gained her so many fans across the world. “Humour in any story is important, for me anyway” she continued. “All of my characters are very recognisable but the idea of something shocking happening to a very ordinary person is something I keep revisiting because it has been my experience. Again and again I keep coming back to that. The characters are different and the disasters are different but I am interested in how we bear the unbearable and how we manage devastating shock.”
During lockdown Marian has been working on her next book, which is due to be published next year. “Lockdown wasn’t as hard for me as a lot of people but it wasn’t all easy,” she continued. “I did miss people and I missed family stuff and not being able to hug my mother. I am used to working from home but I am glad we are getting back to normal. It’s not healthy for us to see nobody. The absolute rush of joy from seeing people again is very real.”
Fans will be delighted to learn that Marian will be revisiting the Wals family in her new book and, for the first time in her career, she will be writing a sequel, a follow up to the hugely popular ‘Rachel’s Holiday’, entitled ‘Rachel Again’.
Marian is in the process of penning the new book. which is due out next February, and will follow the ups and downs of Rachel, who was dealing with drug addiction in the earlier novel. Just what fate will have in store for her this time around though remains to be seen.
“I was quite opposed to the idea of sequels and this is the first.” Marian admitted. “When I finish a book I feel my characters should be left alone to live happy, unbothered lives and if I write a sequel it means that something bad has to happen to them.
“Before I started the book I knew what the “thing” was that was going to happen and it was hard to write but happy endings are my thing. That’s what I like to give people.
“It used to bother me that I wasn’t brave enough for a melancholic ending but it is my book. I am the person I write for and I want a book that makes me feel happy.”
Fans of Marian’s will be thrilled to get up close and personal with the author when she comes to the Open House Festival in Bangor on Sunday August 22.
As part of the month-long festival in Bangor Castle’s Walled Garden, Marian will be chatting with Irish Times columnist, author and podcaster, Roísín Ingle, about why writing about contemporary issues is important to her, where she gets her inspiration from, and how she brings her trademark humour to her stories.
There will also be a Q&A session so that the audience can have the opportunity to ask her some burning questions. And as far as Marian is concerned, the weirder the questions the better!
“I have been to Bangor to sign books before but not for a festival like this,” continued Marian.
“I am really looking forward to it. I will be telling people about my books and the audience will get to ask questions as well. My favourite part of my job is meeting readers and hearing what they want to know. So people should get their questions ready for me. The more off the wall the better!”
As well as working on her new book, and making a much anticipated appearance at the Open House Festival, Marian is also working on a new show for Radio 4.
Marian will once again team up with Tara Flynn, with whom she created a pervious series for Radio 4 entitled ‘Between Ourselves’. This time the pair will be tackling a host of different topics and Marian is delighted to be returning to the airwaves. “It feels really exciting,” she added. “There was a really warm response to the last series so it will be fun.”
In the meantime, whilst her devoted readers wait for her new book, they can find out more about the author at the Open House Festival, which will also see a host of other authors, comedians, musicians, and entertainers flocking to the seaside town.
Also on the bill at the Open House Festival in August is another popular author Adam Kay, who will be talking about his book This is Going to Hurt (Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor). Other highlights from the Festival include comedian Nuala McKeever who will be taking a look at the lighter side of lockdown with her new stand-up show, and there will also be music from Duke Special, Dana Masters and Camille O’Sullivan.
To find out more about the Festival, visit https://www.openhousefestival.com/.