Marian Keyes: ‘What doesn’t kill us makes us funnier’
The writer on Irishness, feminism, mental health and happy endings
Marian Keyes. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times Marian Keyes. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times Marian Keyes: ‘I really think less value is put in general on women’s voices, across the board.’ Photograph: Alan Betson
Charlotte’s Web author EB White once said that a writer should concern herself “with whatever absorbs her fancy, stirs her heart and unlimbers her typewriter”. Of course in the original quote White used “his” and “himself” – speaking as he was for himself and his fellow male writers – but the point still stands. White might have been talking about Marian Keyes.
What has absorbed the fancy, stirred the heart and unlimbered the laptop of Keyes for the past 25 years is the messiness and humour to be found in ordinary Irish lives and families. Her stories have travelled across the world, selling over 40 million copies which have been translated into more than 30 languages.
From Watermelon to Rachel’s Holiday, This Charming Man to her latest novel, Grown Ups, her stories might be mostly rooted in Ireland but, as with the late Maeve Binchy, they contain universal and enduring appeal.
I have been lucky enough to have interviewed Keyes several times. I will be in conversation with her again on the opening night of The Irish Times Summer Nights Festival on Monday, July 13th. Those who join us can expect her trademark witty banter but also the thoughtful musings of a woman who is relentlessly original, courageous and warm. That she’ll make us laugh goes without saying.
But from experience I also know she’ll say something, probably several things, that we’ll end up thinking about for a long time afterwards.
So in anticipation of a wonderful event, here is Marian Keyes in her own words on writing, feminism, mental health and happy endings:
“When you’re a mass-market writer people think that you can just decide ‘this happens, this happens, this happens’ whereas with literary writers it’s coming from their soul and their core. But with me it does come from my soul and my core, but my soul and my core often go Awol and then I’ve nothing to write.”
“I think reviewers are sexist. . . This isn’t to sound bitter, but I think you’re more likely to get a critical kicking if you’re a woman. I just think that’s a fact. I really think less value is put in general on women’s voices, across the board.”
“I used to feel defensive when people would say, ‘Yes, but your books have happy endings’, as if that made them worthless, or unrealistic. Some people do get happy endings, even if it’s only for a while. I would rather never be published again than write a downbeat ending.”
“I’ve kind of realised life is meant to be tough and everybody is in psychic and spiritual discomfort of some sort and has a burden to carry. I’ve realised I’m not special.”
“If an Irish person says they are grand it means they are carrying at least two injuries and they’ve just had a bit of small but really quite wounding, bad news.”
“Anything that empowers women or anything that makes them feel like, “Hello there, can I have some equal pay?” or “Hello there, how about access to the management jobs?”. Anything that makes us uppity has to be slapped down. If we like something, by telling us it’s rubbish, it makes us feel a bit silly for having liked it in the first place.”
“Medically speaking there is no such thing as a nervous breakdown which is very annoying to discover when you are right in the middle of one”
“Bizarrely, I actually feel safer the older I get. Like people will expect less from me and I can become more and more invisible, yet more and more eccentric”.
“What doesn’t kill us makes us funnier”
The Irish Times Summer Nights Festival is a series of online talks and events taking place from July 13th to 16th. On Monday at 9pm, expect wise observations, life lessons from lockdown, and some very grown-up laughs, as Irish Times columnist Róisín Ingle gets personal with Marian Keyes.
Readers of this article may use the discount code “summer20” to avail of a half-price ticket for €20, covering this talk and all events at the Irish Times Summer Nights Festival. Simply go to irishtimes.com/summernights and make sure you apply the discount code before purchase.