The road towards Marian Keyes was beautiful. The sun was out, the temperature was rising and the Northamptonshire lanes were scattered with daisies, dashes of bright pink wildflowers and pops of, well, poppies.
I was on my way to Althorp House where the twelfth Althorp Literary Festival was taking place. Marian Keyes’s session was on at 10.30am. Arriving early I went for a coffee with my friend, Sarah, and wondered at my legs. Why were they starting to shake? Why was my tummy starting to do flip-flops?
Some people’s heroines are sportsmen or women. Some are actors. For me, my heroine is Marian Keyes. An author who has sold 30 million books internationally and writes books that are like an open packet of biscuits. Once the book is open, once that first page has been read, I cannot leave it alone until I’ve demolished it. If I’m driving her book will be there on the seat next to me, waiting for me, taunting me, until I can stop and pick up, fervently reading as much as I could. Until real life, annoyingly, interrupts. Marian writes about serious stuff with such wonderful humour. A gallows type of humour she says comes natural to her, it isn’t something she purposely adds in to lighten the serious stuff.
But they say you shouldn’t meet your heroines. Would Marian disappoint?
Well. No. If anything I adore and admire her more than ever.
Marian first started writing around her thirtieth birthday. Her stories were short and, in her eyes, rather charming. But to others they were just plain peculiar. Soon after she went to rehab, thinking there was nothing wrong with her. Turns out she was an alcoholic. When she came out of rehab her attitude changed. She stopped self-sabotaging. She wrote the first four chapters of her first novel, Watermelon, in the space of a week. And from that she got a three book deal and never looked back.
In her words she was incredibly lucky in her route to publication. But if she’d been knocked back, who knows if she’d have had the strength to continue.
Her success has amazed her. She didn’t think her work would translate to Britain, never mind the rest of the world. She was also worried about writing another two books. She thought she only had one in her. She thought she’d used herself up, told all her stories in Watermelon. And indeed, the second, and the third book became increasingly hard to write. But she persevered becoming more disciplined as a writer. She believes it is “important to show up, even when you’ve nothing to say”. There is always stuff she can work on, tidy up, or jump ahead to another scene. It doesn’t have to be written in a linear way.
On the subject of literary recognition and the fact her books are dismissed as ‘just chick-lit’ she is incredibly down to earth. She feels “very lucky”. She loves what she does and feels very proud of her work. There are, she says, bigger injustices in the world. Worse things in life to get upset about.
So, what’s next? Any chance of a return to The Walsh Family? asked a member of the audience. Well, says Marian. Its funny you should ask. For she is writing about Claire Walsh at the moment. Twenty years after Watermelon Marian returns to Claire and Adam’s life to see how they are now. She even has a title. Time Off For Bad Behaviour. To write it she is re-reading all of her Walsh Family books. Cringing at the mistakes she spots. [Edit: Marian has since said on her You Tube video that she will no longer be revisiting Claire Walsh. It was making her too sad. See her video for more.]
For now though, Marian’s current release is The Woman Who Stole My Life. A story about a very ordinary woman called Stella. And how something extra-ordinary happens to her, changing her life. It is, quite frankly, brilliant.
The talk ends and we go through to the saloon in order for her to sign our books. Here my wobbly legs go into overdrive. What should I say? Panic! I plan out in my head what I could say. And in the event say nothing like that. Just some embarrassing drivel about what as inspiration she is to me.
Marian, on the other hand, was lovely, and showed no signs she was mortified by this dribbling, stuttering loon in front of her. She signed my book and made time for a quick conversation. Made me feel special. And I came away with Sarah saying what a humble, funny and amazing woman she is.
*Obviously with several hundred other people. But I still met her.