The sun is shining, like the 1997 Finlay Quaye song, I’m sitting on 10cm of fine, new memory foam topper, so my hiney is now well supported and I chased the first blue bottle fly out of my lounge to avoid it dying a slow grisly death in the Castle, so it finally, FINALLY feels that spring might finally be here.
Sorry for the radio silence, you’ve no idea how many blogposts I’ve written that have remained in draft, that didn’t quite make the grade. There is a really great one about porn that is still a bit too rough around the edges for my liking, but it’s one that will see light of day. Honest guv.
I hope 2013 is treating you well? Gunshot Glitter print, 400+ gorgeous copies are with me. They’re beautiful, limited edition and boxed and dying to be held by you. The links all lead to more info if you’re a newbie. I’m sorting out a secondary edition via FeedARead and all of it, the whole kitten caboodle will be launched on my birthday on May 4th. Gunshot Glitter commences and closes on a birthday so it makes sense for life to mirror art, or art to mirror life. More on that soon, because now I want to talk about the awesomeness that is Marian Keyes.
Last year, I was so busy with the behemoth and keeping my head on straight, I didn’t get a whole heap of reading done, but one of the books I made sure I read was by the purple-haired Irish one. It was her first book since she’d righted herself front way up after a hideous bout of depression. And I was so happy to see her back. She presented the world with The Mystery of Mercy Close. I dropped everything and read it. Many people did, Marian Keyes in the land of writers is a genuine treasure and a bit of an anomaly. Because you could easily think, judging by the covers of her books that she’s going to be saccharine sweet, I avoided her for years because I assumed she’d be so sweet she’d make my teeth ache. But she’s not. She’s hardcore.
She’s not Poppy Z Brite, you don’t find a necrophiliac and serial killer making sweet lurve while they tuck into a helpless Vietnamese boy a la Exquisite Corpse - but her books have tackled rape, violence, alcoholism, addiction – all manner of cheery topics in fact, but they’re never completely downbeat. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel. I still laugh when I think about characters in her books such as heavy metal loving Luke and his jeans, and his friends all taking it in turn to wear them. And the amount of Irish vernacular I’ve picked up from reading her novels, wow, such as ‘having a ride’ as a euphemism for a shag. There is a character called Topaz Jones in Gunshot Glitter who was a pleasure to write as I just put my head back into the land of Keyes.
But the theme in ‘The Mystery of Mercy Close’ was depression and you could feel how close to the bone it was for Keyes in the writing. I was glad of it. Some readers struggled. I saw that from a Facebook discussion I had with book lovers, it was too much for them. But I respected Keyes for going for it. If you’ve never read Marian Keyes or Mercy Close, I’ll tell you that some of her books such as ‘Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married’ work as standalone novels, but she’s also written a fantastic series of novels about the Walsh sisters. I love them. Each novel such as Rachel’s Holiday, Angels, Watermelon, focus on one character, but you feel the presence of the others in the background piping up, getting involved, my favourite background character has always been the youngest, the spiky, sharp, cunning and perspicacious, little demon that be Helen Walsh.
Her dialogue and wit always made me chuckle, she sounded bright and bullshit free and utterly loveable and terrifying all at the same time. She told the truth and didn’t care who she offended along the way. And she’d never had her own book until The Mystery of Mercy Close. In this, we have a grown up Helen Walsh and she’s come asunder due to a two pronged assault from the recession hitting her business as a private investigator, so hard she loses her home and her depression and suicidal thoughts drop kicking her hard. But it’s not all bad, she has her family, a boyfriend who loves her and accepts her spikes and all, and a tantalising proposition to track down the missing member of a reformed boyband dangled in front of her by a bastard of an ex who she still hasn’t forgiven for letting her down.
Marian Keyes has also discovered the joys of Twitter and has taken to the Twitterverse like a duck to water. Like many people who struggle with depression, myself included, when we’re up we’re strong and capable, irrepressible souls who are creative, productive and can steam roller through life. I didn’t know about Keyes’s struggle with depression until she published ‘Saved By Cake.’
Keyes had tried every therapy and trick under the sun to deal with her anxiety and depression, she was haunted by the feeling that the sky was literally going to fall on her head and much, much worse. It paralysed her; baking helped knit her back together again. The mind is a wild and crazy thing, we’re constantly discovering new ways to ally and soothe it. For Keyes it was mixing eggs, butter and flour, for me sometimes it’s Tapping and a particularly good bubblebath coupled with a song and a good cry. Some days it’s flowers or talking to a friend and feeling understood.
There is a really great Snow Patrol song called ‘This isn’t Everything You Are,’ which actually feels like someone rubbing my back and whispering in my ear ‘There is more to you than this.’ That song has soothed me better than any drug ever could.
One of the reasons I dig Marian Keyes is that her characters are not victims, they’re people; women mainly with real lives who might struggle or carry the burden of a condition, but they observe it and live with it or get past it to live on and live on well, readers need books like these to see they’re normal , not shameful, just exquisitely human and there is hope. And she does it with wit, emotional intelligence and most valuable of all, humour.
It took me years to pick up one of her books. And you know where I did it? The Maldives. It was 2002 and I can actually show you the view on Dolphin Beach I had when I read my first Keyes. How’s that for a view?
We had a staff library behind my classroom, I was working as a teacher at Soneva Fushi and would spend a huge chunk of my day off swimming and reading in a hammock. I wore this little floral sundress and would sometimes dive in the ocean clad in it, if I was too lazy to don my cossie and then dry off and resume reading. There were a handful of Keyes titles in our library but the covers put me off, yes I am a cover fascist! But then I thought, why not?
It wasn’t one I was bowled over by to be honest, it was called ‘Sushi for Beginners’ but I liked it enough to read another called ‘Rachel’s Holiday’ and I was utterly converted. That book both moved me and had me in hysterics. And years later it was chosen as a World Book Night title. It was about a girl in rehab. It was edgy but sexy. Then I came home and read Watermelon. The ‘Watermelon’ in question pertained to a baby bump, I hate to disappoint you if you think it was about tropical fruit. When I came back to England I extolled her virtues and encouraged peeps to check her out. My sister-in-law, Shirley, and friend, Geetha, love her too now and many of my reader friends are fans.
So check her out and if you’re already a fan tell me how you read your first Keyes or what you think of her? Thank you for reading. Normal service will now resume from yours truly. I do believe I’m back. I have missed you too.
p.s. In other news, I contributed a poem to Portsmouth’s writer-in-residence DJ Kirkby’s community project,’ What’s Your Story.’ It was a poetic interpretation of her children’s story ‘The Box of Magic Tricks’.
I’ve never been involved in anything like this before, especially not something with children at the heart of it – and it felt good to stretch my cababilities to re-interpret someone else’s work in poetic form, that was a first for me. Denyse formally launches the results today and you can find out more here. I wish her lots of luck and want to say thank you for having me.