Friday, April 12, 2013

Marian Keyes on Beautiful Handbags, Clever Children, and Her Fun New Mystery

Marian Keyes is one of the most successful Irish novelists of all time. Her new book, The Mystery of Mercy Close, is available in bookstores now.

Hello, Marian! First, let me say that your book was a delight to read!  I very much enjoyed The Mystery of Mercy Close.

Hello Julia, and thank you very much. I’m so glad you enjoyed it, I had lots of fun writing it!

Your character, Helen, has a wonderful narrative voice—direct and spritely and likable.  How do you keep her narration so full of energy?  Did you hear her voice in your head while you were writing the novel?

The thing is that Helen has already appeared in 4 of my other books. There is a family of 5 sisters, and 4 of the other sisters have already had ‘their’ book and this was Helen’s turn. So in a way I already knew her voice. But it’s very different to mine so every time I sat down to write I had to ‘become’ Helen, like an actor preparing for a part. And I knew she was no-nonsense and slightly acerbic, so I had to divest myself of any sentimentality

Helen had two love interests in this novel, and they were both extremely attractive.  One of them truly won my heart.  Are you a romantic at heart?  Do you like reading romantic stories?

I’m so glad you liked them! I’m interested in reading about relationships, all relationships and all my novels are about emotional landscapes. When I was a lot younger and studying law I got light relief by reading a couple of Harlequin-style romances every weekend. …I’m not so sure I could do that now. I’m not really a fan of books that present a man as the solution to all the heroine’s problems.

The premise of the mystery is that a former boy band member goes missing right before the band’s reunion.  Do you have a favorite boy band that you would like to see reunited?

There’s an Irish boyband called BoyZone, I don’t know if you’ve heard of them? Also, I need to say I’m very fond of One Direction!

On your website you mention that one of your favorite artists is George Michael.  If you could sing a duet with him, what would it be?

Oh, what a lovely thought! I’d happily sing  anything with him! Perhaps Club Tropicana!

One of my favorite characters in Mercy Close is a nine-year-old girl named Bella, whose dialogue is routinely hilarious.  Is she inspired by any real nine-year-olds, or did you just tap into your little-girl memories?

I will whisper this… Bella was inspired by 2 little girls I know. One is my niece, Ema, who was always incredibly bright and at the age of 4, her favourite movie was Roman Holiday. Even from a young age, I was able to have ‘grown-up’ conversations with her about movies and clothes and nail varnish. She took our discussions very seriously. The other inspiration for Bella is my god-daughter Kitten, who often does quizzes for me, the way Bella does for Helen.

The quiz was wonderful! (And I love the name Kitten). You have a law degree.  If you practiced law today instead of writing your wonderful books, what would be your specialty?

Oooooh…. Tricky question. I feel so so so far away from the world of law that I couldn’t imagine practicing anything.  I suppose I feel that the legal world is invoked to either anticipate a conflict or to resolve it and I’m a bit sappy. I like everyone to be nice!

Helen struggles with anxiety and depression; at one point she confides to her doctor that she is waking up each day at 4:44.  I’m curious to know if this is a real phenomenon, because I’ve had my share of panic attacks, and there was a point when I was also not only waking up at 4:44 each morning, but also seeing that number everywhere—on license plates, on billboards.  Do you think this a number that stands out to anxious people?

VERY interesting point! They do say that, with human beings, our bio-rhythms make us most sad/fearful/vulnerable around 4 am. Without getting too morbid, it’s the time when ill people are most likely to die. There is so much anecdotal evidence that 4am-ish is when people wake to do their worrying that it must be true. I don’t think the fault lies with the numbers themselves, though, but the fact that our bodies and psyches are at their most depleted around then. 

Helen’s descriptions of her depression is so detailed and realistic that I became depressed when reading some of the passages.  How were you able to so well balance the darker side of Helen’s psyche with her fun, humorous narration?

It’s a feature of all my books that I balance serious issues with lots of humour. It was very important for me to write an accurate account of what it’s really like suffering from depression. However, I could only take so much darkness and I needed to write comedy and fun and lightness to counteract it. Laughter is a survival mechanism and it kicks in with me when it’s needed. And I want my readers to have a good time, I’m happy to reveal some darkness, but ultimately I’d like everyone to leave my books feeling uplifted and hopeful.

Helen notes with some irony that the Devlin family (her boyfriend’s family) are seemingly perfect: they’re all blonde and good-looking, they have a gorgeous house and nice possessions, and everything they touch seems to turn to gold.  So why are they such a likeable bunch?  Shouldn’t  we (and Helen) hate them?

I know what you mean! But it’s because the Devlins themselves are so well-mannered and thoughtful and loving that makes them likeable. I happen to know a family of 3 sisters and they’re all gorgeous and accomplished and successful, but they have such a knack of making me feel special and loved when I’m in their company that it’s impossible to do anything but adore them! The same with the Devlins (apart from Bruno, of course, who is not a fan of Helen’s.) They treat her with such admiration and fondness that she can’t help but be seduced.

That makes sense.  On another note, you are in Ireland.  Do you visit America often?   If so, what stands out the most about our country for you?

Well, I do visit often, because one of my sisters lives in New York. And over the years I’ve had the opportunity to travel to many places in your beautiful country.  I suppose what amazes me about the US is your incredible geographical diversity.  Also, you have such amazing handbag designers! My sister lets me know about what’s new and exciting long before it arrives here. Last time I saw her, she had a fabulous cross-body purse by Vince Camuto, which I really really really want…

Will there be more mystery novels starring Helen Walsh?

Yes! I’m hoping! I’m currently working on a new book, which isn’t about Helen, but I’m hoping that the one after will be about Helen and – the best bit – set in New York!

Terrific! How can readers find out more about you?

I have a website or you can follow me on twitter @mariankeyes.

Thanks so much, Marian, for the interview!!

Thank you so much!

(Photo credit: Barry McCall).

Monday, April 08, 2013

Kaye Barley Returns to Talk About Whimsical Women, Beautiful Places, and Delicious Food

Hi, Kaye!  Nice to see you again on the blog.

Hi, Julia – Thanks so much for having me back.

Your writer friends have been telling you for years to write a book.  Not until recently did you take them up on the challenge.  What made you sit down to write Whimsey, your self-published book?

They have been, haven’t they?  Especially a couple in particular – Judith Greber and Earl Staggs.  Judith with gentle nudges, Earl – eh, not so gently.  (I’m teasing about Earl - sorta).  But after I retired I decided it was now or never and I wanted to see if I could actually write the book I wanted to write.  It took a couple years, but with Earl’s patient guidance, holding my hand and teaching me every step of the way, along with excellent editing on his part, I wrote the book that was living in my head and in my heart and I’m proud of it.

You live in Boone, North Carolina, but the island of Whimsey is located off of Georgia.  How did you decide upon the setting?

I love these North Carolina mountains, but I think by growing up on the water that’s where my heart is.  I find magic when I’m near the ocean and it just wouldn’t be “my” book if I tried to place the story anywhere else.

Whimsey the island is a place that celebrates the arts.   Was there, for you,  a sort of Renaissance feeling to this creation?

I wanted WHIMSEY to celebrate many things.  Connections for one, thus the strong family and friendship storyline that runs through the novel.  Beauty for another, and that’s where the artsy things came into play.  I’m a lover of beautiful things, and having these women who have been friends since they were little girls creating beautiful things just felt right to me. The renaissance may be in the rebirth of a talent thought lost by the protagonist, Emma, but truthfully, a renaissance for me--I’m not so sure.  An “awakening” of a talent, then yes, probably so.
I love the title, not only because it sums up the tone of the book but because it reminds me of Lord Peter Wimsey and of all things whimsical.   What came first: your idea for a title, or your idea for a plot?

The idea for the story came first – and I wrote a lot of it before Earl said, “Kaye, this is lovely, but you don’t have a plot.”  By then the name WHIMSEY was just there.  I have no idea where it came from, it was just there.  And I think it’s perfect and I love it and the name Whimsey, honestly, helped spark a lot of what happens through the book.  With a different title, even a working title, I don’t think the same book would have emerged.  I’ve always tried to live my own life with a bit of whimsy – right down to decorating our home with surprise touches of playful and whimsical things sitting around.  I’m sure it drives some people a little crazy when they walk in the door, and I sometimes think I’m going to try decorating the house like a grown-up and I try, but those “things” just seem to find their way back.  And having Lord Peter Wimsey as a long time “friend” was   part of the mix also.

You recently retired.  What’s the best thing about retired life?  Are you reading a lot more than you did before?

I love being retired.  I now believe I was born to be a retired person.  When I was younger my interests were SO different than they are now.  I had years of working in an office in jobs that offered little in the way of creative outlets.  I’ve taken a beezillion classes in lots of different areas – I’ve taken basketweaving, knitting, pottery, weaving, jewelry making, and I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting.  Some were more successful than others, but all were precluded by the fact that I had a “job.”  That job made a difference.  While none of the jobs have been bad, just the very fact of them seemed to suck up the time and the inclination to spread my wings and do more.  Once I retired I promised myself I would do the things I didn’t feel as though I had the time for while working.  The best thing is that time.  Time is my most cherished possession now and I try to use it in ways that are productive and bring me joy.  I am not reading as much as I did.  I’m still reading a lot and I still love it, but now there are other joys in addition to my books.

What made you decide to self-publish instead of going the route of querying agents or publishers?

I did it for a number of reasons, and it's working for me, but it's not for everyone.  The whole two years I was working on WHIMSEY, I had intended to try to publish traditionally. I did my research, I made lists of agents and editors of some of my favorite authors (the acknowledgements in books by your favorite writers is an excellent source for this type of information). But when I was finally finished and when Earl Staggs, who edited WHIMSEY, agreed that it was finally finished, the traditional route suddenly wasn't as important to me as it had been in the beginning.

What was important to me now was getting it out there. I personally think, for one thing, that starting out in the traditional way is now a young person's game and I'm not a young person and I'm not a patient person. And, truthfully, I wanted my mother to be able to read “Whimsey” and see it as a "real" book.

A more lengthy answer to your question, IF anyone is interested in here:
In addition to the blog I wrote about why I made the decision I did (see above), I've also written a piece about the self-publishing process, and you can read it here -  

Are you thinking of writing  a sequel to Whimsey?

Actually, my plan is to write four more WHIMSEY books.  There are five women (The Wicked Women of Whimsey).  WHIMSEY: A NOVEL focused on Emma.  Book #2, which I’m working on, will focus on Olivia.

One of your glowing reviews praises the descriptions of food in your novel.  What was the food description that was the most fun to write?

I love to eat.  I wish I loved to cook as much as I love to eat.  But some of my loveliest times seem to involve nice meals shared with good friends.  Hanging around in their kitchens, sitting around tables.  I don’t think Donald and I have ever taken a trip that we don’t seem to gauge it by how well we ate.  So, there’s a lot of that in WHIMSEY.  I think one of my favorite scenes is one where most of the book’s characters are gathered for a “breakfast for dinner” being whipped up by Emma’s mother, Zelda. 

What did your husband and canine companions do when you were answering your writing Muse?  Did they miss you while you typed away?

Donald Barley is so good.  He has encouraged my writing since the very first piece I wrote in 2008 – a blog for The Stiletto Gang about my efforts to quit smoking.  He’s always been there for me to bounce ideas off when I write at Meanderings and Muses, and he encouraged me to write yjr pieces which I was thrilled to have accepted for two regional anthologies.

While I was writing WHIMSEY and we would talk on the phone during the day he would ALWAYS ask, “Are you working?”  and if I wasn’t, he would nudge me a bit.

Harley?  Now that’s a different story.  Harley makes the rules, and if it’s time for walkies, well – it’s time for walkies.

That seems pretty dog-like, yes.  :)  

Has Spring come to Boone?  If so, what does spring look like there?

Spring?  NO!  Is it ever coming???  We’re expecting snow this week.  How ‘bout you?  Are you beginning to see lovely spring flowers?

Actually, it's cold in Chicago, too.  We had an entire March without any temperatures in the 60s, and April has been mostly that way, too! 

If you could go to Whimsey, what’s the first thing you would do there?

I would go sit on the beach and watch the sunrise.

Aah. Where can readers find out more about Whimsey and Kaye Barley?

I talk about WHIMSEY endlessly.  Everywhere.  If you’re at Facebook, I’m there – a lot.  But here’s the WHIMSEY webpage which includes a schedule of blogs where I’ll be popping up.  It also includes the first chapter of the book.  AND, I’m the blog mistress of Meanderings and Muses - .  AND the very cool women at Jungle Red Writers let me pop in to play the first Sunday of each month -

Thanks for chatting, Kaye!

Julia, Thank You!  It’s always fun to spend a little time with you, my friend.