The Keyes to writing a bestseller

Marian Keyes is one of the most successful Irish novelists of all time and is published in 39 languages. After the release of her most recent novel Grown Ups, Booktopia asked her ‘Ten Terrifying Questions’.

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
Born in Ireland in 1963, the eldest of five, went to a convent school, got a law degree, moved to London at 22, worked as a waitress for a while (I was rebelling …), eventually got a proper job. Began writing short stories in 1993, went to rehab in January 1994, got a publishing deal seven months later, my first book was published in September 1995. I got married in 1995, moved back to live in Ireland in 1998, I’m still here.

2. What did you want to be when you were 12, 18 and 30? And why?
At 12: I wanted to be grown-up.

At 18: I wanted to be happy.

At 30: I wanted to be dead.

At 12, I wanted to be grown up because I thought that when I had control over my life and choices, that I’d be able to make a life where I felt I belonged.

At 18, I wanted to be happy, because I was starting to suspect that it was something I wasn’t going to be very good at.

At 30, I wanted to die. I was mired in alcoholic drinking and had no clue that that was why I felt so terrible all the time.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at 18 that you do not have now?
I was certain that I could get through anything in life, so long as I could drink.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
Heartburn by Nora Ephron, Fabulous Nobodies by Lee Tulloch, Emily by Jilly Cooper. Three different books, but each had a chatty, confiding tone that I loved. When I began writing, I wanted my reader to feel as though we were having a conversation.

5. Considering the many artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I’ve always loved words. Maybe it’s an Irish thing? We put such store on people being good raconteurs and I’ve always gravitated to funny, articulate people. Certainly the home I grew up in, it mattered to be entertaining and funny. Also, I’d loved reading from a very young age. I’ve often said that books were my first addiction.

6. Please tell us about your latest novel?
Grown Ups
is about three brothers, their wives, ex-wives and adult step-children. They’re a glamorous, close-knit tribe. On the surface they get on very well, but underneath the veneer of civility, things are murkier. Some don’t like each other at all – and others like each other far too much.

It all stays under control until one of the wives (Cara) gets concussion at a dinner party with the whole family present. She accidentally spills a secret, which kickstarts a chain for revelations.

7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I like to entertain, amuse and offer another world to escape into.

8. Who do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
Oh, so many! Kate Atkinson, Jaclyn Moriarty, Liane Moriarty, Nicola Moriarty, Tana French, Jane Harper, Louise O’Neill, Liz Nugent, Emer McLysaght, Sarah Breen, Nina Stibbe, Simone Ahrnstedt. What interests me is story, rather than prose. (I’m not saying their prose isn’t excellent, I’m saying that some people read for the beauty of the prose. I like narrative.) These are all excellent story-tellers.

9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I’d like to lift people out of their own lives and heads and offer them another place to be temporarily. That means creating convincing characters and interesting circumstances. Probably the most important thing to try to do is get my readers to identify with at least one of the main characters. Once they care, they’re invested in the story.

10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
You’re going to hate me but my advice is … just sit down and do it. Your novel won’t write itself. Starting is always daunting, but respect your novel enough to carve out some time dedicated to it. Commit to writing an hour a day and try to do it at the same time.

Expect your first attempts to be shockingly bad. That’s absolutely fine, it’s that way for everyone. That’s what editing is for. Stand by for a cliché – writing is 10 per cent inspiration, 90 per cent perspiration.

They say write what you know, but I don’t entirely agree. If you don’t know, then do research. But seriously, give it a go. If you think you might like it, then do yourself a favour and try it.

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes is available from Booktopia.

This article was first published on

Have you ever wanted to write a book? Did you sit and start? Did you find it too onerous or persevere?

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