Books: Interview - Marian Keyes

Marian Keyes
Marian Keyes

Marian Keyes’ latest book, Making It Up As I Go Along, is a collection of essays about modern life. The writer, now on the ‘other side’ of crippling depression reveals why she’s accepted that life doesn’t always come with a rule book

Just a few years ago, bestselling female fiction writer Marian Keyes was in the depths of despair, suicidal and unable to function properly.

The top Irish writer - whose novels, including Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married, This Charming Man and The Brightest Star In The Sky, have been translated into 36 languages and sold more than 33 million copies worldwide - had been under a cloud of clinical depression for more than four years.

In 2010, she announced in a newsletter to fans that she was suffering so severely that she couldn’t sleep, read, write, or talk.

“Everything stopped. It was really unexpected. I’ve always been respectful of the fact that I’m prone to depression. I’ve tried to take care of myself and I thought I was, but it’s an illness like any other and I found it hard to accept that.

“I thought it was my fault and that I’d done something wrong; that I’d brought it on myself somehow. But once I started thinking of it as an illness in the way that cancer is an illness or emphysema is an illness, and that things happen seemingly without a reason or cause, that was the way I had to think about it.”

She fears the depression, which lasted four-and-a-half years before finally lifting in 2014 as inexplicably as it arrived, may return. After endless therapies, both conventional and alternative, she’s no longer asking why it happened or how it could be cured.

She tries to avoid talking about that period, however, which she admits is a change from her old belief, that talking always helps.

“Sometimes just burying something is a better way to go forward. It’s not something I dwell on.

‘‘All the way through, I was trying different things to try and find out how I could get better, but nothing helped.’’

She’s cut down on her heavy workload, and her husband and full-time PA Tony Baines makes sure she’s not taking on too much.

She makes references to some of the dark times in her latest collection of writings, Making It Up As I Go Along, a compilation of essays both published and previously unpublished, covering a myriad of topics, from cosmetics and beauty treatments to holidays, family events, guilty pleasures and turning 50, all in her trademark humorous style.

She recalls visiting her local chemist to pick up her ‘Madness-Be-Gone’ kit, tweeting ‘Is anyone awake?’ during one of her frequent bouts of insomnia, makes gentle fun of the various therapies she has tried with little success, along with passing references to the discovery that she and her husband couldn’t have children.

Keyes has long been aware she has an addictive personality - she’s a recovering alcoholic who hasn’t had a drink for 22 years - and mentions in her latest essays the 
years lost in an alcoholic haze between the ages of 20 and 30.

While Keyes was at her darkest point, her husband discovered climbing - which helped him cope. It’s another thing she mentions irreverently in her latest book.

- Making It Up As I Go Along by Marian Keyes, published by Michael Joseph, £14.99.