Interview with Marian Keyes for the RNA

Seriously – how lucky am I?

As an author of feel-good fiction myself, it was such an honour to be invited to interview the incredible legend that is Marian Keyes. I’ve read all her books, stalk her on Twitter and dream of being just a fraction of the amazing author that she is.

Photo by Dean Chalkley

Without further ado, I’d like to share our interview. Thank you so much Marian for answering my questions.

Do you still feel a buzz on your publication day even though you’ve had many books published now? 

Of course! Absolutely! It’s a privilege I never take for granted. It really is the most amazing thing to see a project I’ve worked on for 2 years (or even longer sometimes, yikes…) in actual book form. So many times when I’m working on a book I despair that I’ll ever finish it, I wish I could fast-forward to publication day. So I feel a mix of relief, gratitude, pride, delight and disbelief.

Do you have a favourite out of all of your books?  

No. I wouldn’t like that, I would feel it was disloyal to the other books. The thing is that with each of my books, I did my very best at the time I was writing them. Readers and reviewers will have their own opinions on which book is better, but I’m unable to be dispassionate that way.

If someone hadn’t read any of your books yet, which would you recommend they start with?

You know, I haven’t a clue! I’m often asked this and really and truly, I couldn’t steer a person. It’s impossible to know how a reader will interact with any book because it’s a unique relationship. I’m so sorry, but I haven’t a notion what to say here…

Do you find it a pressure to keep coming up with fresh ideas to make people laugh in your books? 

Not at the moment. The thing is, I write about contemporary women and our challenges and there are an awful lot of challenges and endless ways to be a woman.

Who has been the most influential person on your writing journey? 

Well, my mother gave me a feel for narrative, she’s an amazing oral storyteller so I absorbed pacing, twists, turns and reveals at an early age. And my dad gave me a strong work ethic. Also, when I was a child he bought me books and they say that the brains of children who read at a young age are rewired so that they intuitively understand narrative.

Also, I think any book I’ve ever read has shown me how to be a writer, (perhaps sometimes how not to be a writer.)

Finally, three people have been helped me enormously, simply by the faith they’ve had in me: my publisher Louise Moore who has been my editor for over twenty years; my agent Jonathan Lloyd (the only agent I’ve ever had) and my husband Tony. They’re so supportive and helpful.

Have you ever attended any creative writing classes? 

No, I haven’t. I wish I had, there are so many ways I could have improve my craft. As it happens, I’m booked into one this coming November, I wonder if it will go ahead?

The RNA is a professional organisation set up 60 years ago to demand respect for Romantic Fiction, have you ever encountered snobbery for writing in this genre? If so how do you deal with it?

Of course! This is what I said. We live in a patriarchy where the majority of the power and money is held by men; power and money are lovely and those who have them want to hold on to them. But a great way of undermining those (women) who might be coming for what you have is to mock what they love. Pursuits that tend to be regarded as ‘female’ (and I know I’m generalising wildly here) such as shopping, cosmetics and yes, romantic novels are routinely depicted as stupid, boring, pointless and silly. And when you mock what a person loves, what a person reads, you’re mocking their intelligence, their sense of self and deflating their ideas about what they deserve.

Male voices dominate the media so men get to set the agenda, they get to announce what is worthy. Which means that largely male hobbies such as mens football are treated as hard news. 

However, looked at dispassionately, 22 men running around a field, chasing a ball, is not inherently more important or worthy than anything a woman might enjoy.

There are women who go along with the snobbery about romantic novels, but they’re dealing with internalised misogyny. Because, frankly, it’s nobody’s business what another person does or doesn’t read. Absolutely no-one has the right to judge.

The RNA is proud of its unique New Writers’ Scheme which provides support to unpublished authors. What support did you have as a new writer? 

I’m sorry for the bald answer, but I had none. No other writer gave me writing advice or gave me a quote. I don’t feel in any way disappointed, that was simply the way it was for me.

What hints, tips or advice would you give to new writers.

If you want to write a book, then you need to sit down and do it. Sorry! There is no magic formula. Your book won’t get written until you write it.

Time needs to be set aside to write – the myth that a book will just write itself when the urge is on you, is just that – a myth. Because time is short for most people it means you’ll probably have to give up something else you enjoy – sleep, the gym, telly. (When I started, I had a fulltime job, so I wrote for an hour every morning before work, then edited in the evenings. That went on for almost three years.)

Expect your first efforts to appall you! There will be a huge gap between the sentences in your head and how they appear on the page or screen. But keep at it. So much of writing is about rewriting.

You don’t have to start at the beginning – if you have an idea for a scene or a conversation, begin there.

Write what you know and if you don’t know it, be prepared to research it.

You don’t need to know everything that’s going to happen before you begin. I only ever have the vaguest idea of where it’s all going.

If it’s boring you, it’s probably boring. Delete. Reimagine it.

Be honest! About everything! Pretend that no-one else is ever going to read your manuscript, that’s how you’ll do your best work.

Marian you are a legend and an inspiration for so many of us in the writing world. Thank you for all your amazing books and for your general awesomeness xxx

About Marian Keyes

Marian Keyes is the international bestselling author of Watermelon, Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married, Rachel’s Holiday, Last Chance Saloon, Sushi for Beginners, Angels, The Other Side of the Story, Anybody Out There, This Charming Man, The Brightest Star in the Sky , The Mystery of Mercy Close, The Woman Who Stole My Life, The Break and her latest Number One bestseller, Grown Ups. Her two collections of journalism, Making it up as I Go Along and Under the Duvet: Deluxe Edition are also available from Penguin.

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Kim Nash