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Now You’re Asking: Tara Flynn and Marian Keyes may be sweet Irish agony aunts, but they’re not afraid to shank you

Podcast review: The pair are clearly close friends with a strong chemistry that works a charm

“Most things are survivable, I have learned,” says Marian Keyes, in soft, agreeable tones. It’s the kind of warmly wrapped wisdom delivered on Now You’re Asking, a BBC podcast, now in its second season, in which Keyes and her co-host, Tara Flynn, play agony aunts to letter writers putting pen to problem.

Said problems are various and occasionally ridiculous; one suspects a fair whack of the letter writers are showing off their literary heft and humour as opposed to really expecting solutions to the issues, which include an errant pink flamingo’s arrival in some shared space, and a vegetarian who cheats on his wife with a bacon sandwich.

Flynn, the actor, writer and founding member of the Nualas, and Keyes, who needs no introduction, are clearly close friends with a strong chemistry that works a charm. They take on those lighter concerns and contretemps with a kind of performative affability and a heavy dash of amiable bon mots, adding entertaining tangents about things like striding out to hunt grouse and, once, a comical Statler and Waldorf-style sign-off.

But many letter writers – “askers”, as Flynn and Keyes like to call them – have serious, profound questions, and this is where Flynn and Keyes really shine, showing their particular combination of cleverness and compassion. One asker shares her struggle with fertility and the challenge of taking part in so many gatherings with friends with children. Keyes is immediately frank and empathetic, referencing her own struggles to have a child and using the metaphor of a bad wound that can’t be bandaged to talk about the reality of that pain, and how the asker is justified in avoiding the “salt-flinging parties” of her pregnant and bechilded friends in order to let it heal. “You don’t need to be braver,” Flynn adds, and it’s a tender and necessary response.


Never have I loved Keyes more, though, than for the way she follows a lengthy response to an asker who has to take time off work to look after a newborn baby and finds herself still on the hook for her half of the mortgage thanks to her husband’s insistence that she continue to pay “her share”. Flynn makes the Marge Simpson humming sound that tends to be an indicator of her furious disapproval, but as they angrily take apart the meanness and misogyny at the heart of the husband’s accounting, Keyes really steps up to skewer the essential takeaway. “Leave him,” she says bluntly. I found myself punching the air.

With the success of the format, Keyes and Flynn recently launched a series of mini-podcasts, five- to eight-minute long nuggets of question and answer, mooted as a little saltier than the sweeter 30-minute versions, and a happy addition to their canon of counsel. “We’re not experts, but we are kind,” says Keyes at the beginning of one episode, and it’s a kindness that’s warm, and winning, and sometimes blunt and to the point. That’s the beauty of Now You’re Asking: these two may be sweet and lilty Irish aunties, but they’re not afraid to shank you with the knitting needles when the need arises. Because that can be a kindness too.

Fiona McCann

Fiona McCann, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer, journalist and cohost of the We Can’t Print This podcast