Angels - Interviews

Ireland On Sunday

What is Angels about?

It's the story of Maggie who has always done things by the book,but the rug is pulled out from under her when she loses her marriage and her job.She stays with a friend in Los Angeles while she comes to terms with the fact that life has not worked out the way she planned it.
How is Angels different to your previous books?

It's a serious examination of what happens when communication breaks down. Rather than saying , 'he left me,the b*****d', Maggie looks at the part she played in the marriage breakdown. It's inevitable as I grow older my focus will shift because I can only reflect the things I care about.I hope all my books are different but they are always about going through the fire and coping with the unexpected.I'm very interested in the question of whether we go under or not.
Is that something you have had to deal with yourself?

That struggle is reflected in my own life in that everything fell apart and then was pulled back together again. It has been well documented that I have been through rehab.
Was the character in Rachel's Holiday based on you?

It was the starting point but Rachel is not me and her problems are not mine.I felt,though,that having been in rehab,I was able to write authentically about being in denial and coming to an acceptance.You worked in an accounts office until your first novel was published in 1995.
How has your life now changed?

In some ways,hugely.I moyed back to Ireland about five years ago and was able to give up my day job.Now a lot of my life is spent travelling but,in other ways,things have stayed very constant.I have the same friends and am very close to my family.My core values haven't changed. Are you already working on your next novel? I'm halfway through a book about gender politics called The Other Side of the Story,from the whole Men Are From Mars Women Are From Venus thing.The three main issues in it are the glass ceiling,childcare and fertility.
You've had your own fertility problems...

We tried to have a baby but it hasn't worked out.I'm 38 now and, after four years of trying, we have made our peace with it. The fertility issue in The Other Side of the Story is not based on my own experience, either. It is about how an older woman's husband can leave her and go on to have babies till he's 100, but she's left with nothing.
Do you have a favourite from your five bestsellers?

I'm very proud of them all because they all meant different things, but I'm always most excited about whatever I am working on at the minute.The issues in The Other Side of the Story are serious as always and,like all my books,it has a dark core but told with humour and irony.They are all slightly uplifting.
Where do you find your inspiration?

I wish I knew.I write about emotional landscapes.I'm really interested in human beings and their pursuit of happiness. Everyone's story is unique and there are a million ways to explore that maybe that's why I'm so prolific.
Do you base characters on people you know?

Absolutely not.I would have no friends left if I did that.Sometimes my friends tell me things that would make such great stories,but I just can't do that. There have to be boundaries. My characters are amalgams of hundreds of people and they eventually become real. When writing Sushi for Beginners you worked at Dublin's Tatler magazine.
Did you do anything similar when researching Angels?

In a way,I did.Rachel's Holiday was optioned by Disney and they flew me over to LA for three days. I sat in on all the script meetings and was at the producer's home which gave me a taster about LA life.Then I went back myself and interviewed all kinds of people in the film industry.This time,with The Other Side of the Story,I'm doing the research as I go along. One of the characters is a female firefighter in New York so I went over there in April and talked to cops and firefighters about their value systems so I could really get to know this woman.
Are you very disciplined about the writing process?

I haven't been writing for the past six weeks because I was knackered after coming back from my last tour but,normally,I work seven hours a day from Monday to Friday at my home in Dun Laoghaire.That's the only way anything gets done. There is a lot of misinformation about writing novels. A lot of people think and I did myself that writers spend all day lying on the sofa eating Maltesers and waiting for the creative muse to arrive. I wish it was like that. It was hard at the beginning to sit down and I love anything to distract me.
How do you explain your books'massive popularity?

I haven't a clue. All I know is that I am very honest and I write about some emotions I am ashamed of. I thought Iwas the only one who was really jealous when a friend lost weight but, it turns out, I'm just the same as everyone else.I articulate those secret,shameful thoughts but in a humane and ultimately uplifting way.I never like to abandon my readers to bleakness,as I don't like books that do that myself.

Publication: Ireland On Sunday

The Observer

This much I know
Marian Keyes, novelist, 40, Dublin

I was born without the rule book. When every one else was at a briefing on how to deal with life I must have been off looking at shoes or something. I never felt comfortable in my own skin.

My first book, Watermelon, practically wrote itself. In fact I couldn't type fast enough.Writing everything after has been like pulling teeth.

At 30 I thought my life was over.I thought I'd have made something of myself by then, that life would somehow have made the necessary arrangements - but actually I had nothing. It was just before I started writing and I'd spent eight years wreaking resentment in an office.The resentment was actually so strong you could have photographed it.You can't imagine anybody more sour faced. Part of my job involved handing out the petty cash and, Christ, you'd have thought I was giving away my own money.

Mo Mowlam is my heroine.I once lent her my comb at an awards ceremony.I was thrilled.

Alcoholism is a disease of terminal uniqueness.Nobody had ever suffered like I was suffering.

I'm lucky. My family discuss my 'dark time'. My alcoholism and suicide attempt haven't become a terrible sacred cow.I'd hate to be so narky that nobody could enjoy a drink around me.

My mother is in denial about my adult status. Although we moved back to Ireland and live up the road from her she never comes round because she won't acknowledge I have my own house.Every Thursday we go to hers for tea.She does either spaghetti bolognese or chicken casserole on a strict rotation system.It's a certainty.

Allegedly the population of Dublin is one million. I think it's really only 13.Why else do I keep seeing the same people?They do the rest with mirrors.
I bought new trainers to go into rehab.I thought I'd just spend my time there in the gym and come back gorgeous and skinny with brilliant skin. There was no gym.

I'm curious about Bacardi Breezers.They came out after my cut-off date so I'll never know what they taste like. Are they nice?

Nuns in Nissan Micras are the bane of my life. They're feckin' eejits who drive at 28mph in the outside lane. I go right up behind them and gesticulate but nothing could penetrate their forcefield of righteousness.

Money can be corrupting. Nine years ago when I got the advance that changed my life I lost a close friend. She cried when she heard and said nothing would ever be the same again. My family wouldn't ask for a penny.I once tried to pay the milkman when I was round at my parents getting my spaghetti on a Thursday.It turned into hand-to-hand combat with my mother.

I absolutely love children,but we haven't been able to have any. Still, Tony and I are planning to shop my brother and his wife to social services so we can have theirs. Previously we offered them cash.

Everything Irish was crap when I was growing up. We had a massive inferiority complex. It's funny because I only felt validated as a writer when the British started saying nice things about my books.Now as a nation we've become as cocky as hell. The Celtic tiger bubble has burst, but I hope we stay confident. It's a very good thing.

I miss the free-flowing traffic of London.Honestly.Oh,and I miss the shoe shops.

My vice is compilation albums.I don't use them properly. Take my disco-hits compilation CD in my car. I just play 'Carwash' on a loop. I don't even know what the other'hits'are.

Do I mind being called a chick-lit writer?Well it's not the worst thing that could happen. I've made peace with myself over what I write and I work very hard to do my best for myself and my readers.Having said that,if I do get a bad review I still have to fight the urge to go and burn their house down.

Los Angeles is hell.I flew out feeling reasonably attractive.After three days I felt like a freckle-skinned,hunchbacked monster with the world's largest knockers. I'm in no rush to return.

Publication:The Observer Journalist:Lucy Siegle Date:Sunday,June 15 2003