“Not all women are narcissists – some of us are sociopaths!”
Yet that is what makes her so compelling as a writer. Once again, Rachel is her 15th novel, and once again it deals with the harshness of life as a woman in the most deliciously funny way. In addition to addiction, it touches on bereavement and childlessness (Keyes and her husband, Tony, both imagined they would have a large family, but it wasn’t to be, which they have accepted for a long time).
Her editor, Louise Moore, described Keyes as having “no fear” when it comes to the topics she tackles, but when I put this to Keyes, she laughs it off. “I’m very scared,” she smiles, evaluating her avocado on toast. She constantly worried about the subjects of her new novel and approached them with sensitivity. “When I started writing, there were no trigger warnings. And I really worry, how do you do a trigger warning without giving away a storyline? I don’t know how to deal with those two things because I don’t want to upset people and I always like to tell stories.
The book has been sensitively read by experts in the specific field of bereavement and at the end is a list of resources. “Just two and a half years ago when I finished Grown Ups [her last book, another number one bestseller]it never occurred to me that I should put a trigger warning on it.
We talk a bit about how life generally kicks in. “The world is dangerous and triggering,” she agrees. “I mean, I have my own things that revolt me that I would like to avoid.” As? “Oh my God! I can’t! She holds her head in her hands. “Life is scary. of everything, minus the other things that come with walking in a nice big city. That’s life, you know.
I ask him about cancel culture and publishing, a subject that is never far from the news, whether it’s with JK Rowling’s accusations of transphobia, or the recent furore surrounding author Kate. Clanchy who was forced to re-edit her memoir with deemed “offensive” terms and phrases removed.
Does it scare him? Rather the opposite. “I know they say it’s political correctness gone crazy, but actually I totally disagree. It’s become okay to say casually hateful, gratuitously cruel things. That’s a good thing [that it’s being called out]. I mean, in 2006 it was perfectly acceptable to call someone fat or crazy. She thinks she probably said things during her career that wouldn’t be considered acceptable now. “It’s hard for people who have had long careers, and they said cruel things earlier and now they wish they hadn’t.”
Keyes does a podcast with comedian Tara Flynn, “and we were talking about how earlier in our career we said things we’d rather take a bullet to the head than say now. And how do you live with that? All I can say is that I was a product of my time, but now that I know better, I have to do better.
Marian Keyes was born in Limerick and grew up in Cork and Dublin, where she now lives with her husband. She was one of five children and was always exceptionally close to her parents – her mother, Mary, who is still alive, while her father, Ted, died of dementia three years ago. Her childhood was normal but she always felt that something was wrong, that life would improve once she met a nice man and got a decent job.
Keyes studied law at University College Dublin before moving to London, where she became a waitress and discovered she was an alcoholic. His years of drinking came to a head after a suicide attempt, with his parents checking him into rehab in Ireland. It wasn’t until she got sober, at 30, that she realized she could try her hand at writing, submitting a short story to an editor and telling them she was writing a book. , in order to appear professional. She wasn’t, but the publisher liked what they saw and asked her to send in the book. She set about putting pen to paper and Watermelon, about a woman whose husband leaves her the day she gives birth to their first child, was published in 1993.
She ended up with Tony around the same time. When it became clear that his career was taking off, he became her assistant – although many people describe him as her manager, so unable to understand the idea of a husband working for his wife. Keyes has spent her whole life trying to get people to take her seriously. She hates the term “chick bed”. In the 90s, when her career took off, “there was definitely a thirst for post-feminist, my-life-is-actually—- books,” she laughs, referring to the period that was dominated by people like Helen Fielding‘s Bridget Jones.