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).


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