Further under the duvet, p.1
Further Under the Duvet, p.1
Under the Duvet
By the Same Author
Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married
Last Chance Saloon
Sushi for Beginners
Under the Duvet
Notes on High Heels, Movie Deals, Wagon Wheels, Shoes,
Reviews, Having the Blues, Builders, Babies,
Families and Other Calamities
an imprint of
Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL
First published 2001
Copyright © Marian Keyes, 2001
The moral right of the author has been asserted
All rights reserved.
Without limiting the rights under copyright
reserved above, no part of this publication may be
reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system,
or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical,
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A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
1 Oh, the Glamour
In the Name of Research – Going Under Cover
Planes, Trains and Ought-to-know-betters
Fear and Loathing in Los Angeles
If it’s Wednesday, it Must be Hamburg
Given the Boot
2 Mind, Body, Spirit… and Shoes
Imeldas, and How to Spot Them
Does My Base Chakra Look Big in This?
Botox and Other Miracles
Hope Springs Eternal
What Colour is Your Aura?
3 Friends and Family
Till Debt Us Do Part
You Can Run But You Can’t Hide
Bah! Givvus a Humbug
Himself is a Hooligan
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Throw Down Your Hair-Dryer!
Lucky O’Leary: a Prince among Dogs
Now is the Time for All Little Brothers to Come to the Aid of the Party
4 All Grown Up
Ten Housework Laws for Men
The Agony and the Ecstasy, but Mostly the Agony
Scarlet Pimpernel Construction
Get that Dustbin out of my Relationship Corner
Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Garden
Driving Along in My Automobile
Reversing Around Corners
The Pissed is a Foreign Country, They Do Things Differently There
5 Twelve Months
Sackcloth, Ashes… and the Gym
Have You the Green Food Colouring?
Happy Christmas! Form an Orderly Queue
A Quiet Millennium Night In
6 Both Sides of the Irish Sea
Do You Know the Bus Stop in Kilkenny?
The Early Bird… Catches the Host on the Hop
Slacking Off is Hard to Do
Catholicism: Cheaper than Prozac, But is it Good for You?
7 That’s Me Away!
Beside the Seaside
The Lucky Suitcase
The Exciting Task of Angels
When I was twenty-one I got it into my head that I wanted to be a journalist. I considered my options: I could buy a pork-pie hat and notebook and approach newspapers, or I could apply to do a course. I decided on the course, which happened to be vastly oversubscribed, but I got through several of the interviewing stages, as they whittled down the numbers. However, I didn’t make the final cut and I was absolutely devastated – heartbroken! But with the wisdom of hindsight it was probably all for the best. I would have been a terrible journalist – too wussy to doorstep suspects and too afraid of giving offence to ask tough questions. And I think I misunderstood my desire to work with words: I wanted to write fiction, not fact.
Anyway, years passed (nine of them) and eventually I did begin to write fiction, which is when I discovered a peculiar side-effect of being a novelist: newspaper and magazine editors were keen for me to contribute pieces of – wait for it – journalism.
Once I established that I didn’t have to dissect burning matters of the day and that it was perfectly OK to write funny autobiographical pieces, I was happy to do so. I began doing a regular monthly column for Irish Tatler, which covered most aspects of my life – writing, touring, trying to buy a house and learn to drive, my great love of shoes and confectionery, my great fear of dogs and New Year’s Eve. Occasionally other Irish publications commissioned articles on something specific like Mother’s Day or summer holidays, and over the months and years, without noticing, I built up quite a hefty pile of journalism.
Most of the articles in this collection have been published already in Ireland, but not all have been. Some others I’ve incorporated into a novel – like the story of me going for a mud-wrap in a desperate attempt to lose weight two days before I got married. Those of you who’ve read Last Chance Saloon might remember Tara having a similar experience.
Everything in this book really did happen to me, but occasionally I’ve changed some details and people’s names to protect the innocent or not-so-innocent! The majority of the articles are humorous, but a few aren’t quite as light-hearted – in particular the piece about struggling with alcoholism. (But you can skip it if it makes you depressed!) That’s the beauty of a collection like this – unlike a novel, it can be read in any order you please; you can even start at the back if you want. I like the idea that this is something you can dip in and out of, that you can let the book fall open on a random page and just start reading (unless you’ve read it already, of course).
Many people were instrumental in this book coming together and I’d like to thank them all; in particular, Tony (aka Himself) for his Trojan work collating the pieces, and Louise Moore and Harriet Evans for their creative and meticulous editing. Finally, I’d like to thank Ian Davidson for inspiring this collection.
And thank you very much for reading this book. I sincerely hope you enjoy it.
OH, THE GLAMOUR
When people ask me what I do for a crust and I tell them that I’m a novelist, they immediately assume that my life is a non-stop carousel of limos, television appearances, hair-dos, devoted fans, stalkers and all the glitzy paraphernalia of being a public figure.
It’s time to set the record straight.
I write alone, in a darkened bedroom, wearing my PJs, eating bananas, my laptop on a pillow in front of me. Occasionally – it usually coincides with promoting a book – I am led, blinking, into the daylight, and when I try to talk to people, discover that I’m not able to, that I’ve become completely desocialized. And as for being mobbed by adoring fans – I’m never recognized. Once I thought I was, but I was mistaken. I was in a shoeshop (where else?), and when I asked one of the girls if she had any of these sixteen shoes in my size, she looked at me, put her hand on her chest and gave a little gasp. ‘It’s you!’ she declared.
It is, I thought, thrilled to the marrow. It is me – I’m famous!
‘Yes,’ the girl continued. ‘You were in the pub last night, you were the one singing, weren’t you?’
I was so disappointed I could hardly speak. I’d been nowhere near any pub the night before.
‘You’ve a great voice,’ she said. ‘Now what size do you want these shoes in?’
Even the day a book comes out isn’t as life-altering as I’d once anticipated. The morning my first book Watermelon was officially published in England, where I lived at the time, I half-expected that people in the street would look at me differently as I went to work. That they’d nudge each other and mutter, ‘See her, that’s that Marian Keyes, she’s written a book.’ And that the bus conductor might let me off my fare. (‘You’re OK there, Writer-Girl, this one’s on me.’) But, naturally, no one paid me the slightest attention. At lunchtime I rushed to the nearest bookshop, my heart aflutter, as I expected to see my beloved creation in a massive display. Instead I found the latest John Grisham piled high where my book should have been. I looked for a smaller display of my book. None to be seen. Mortified, I went to the shelf and searched alphabetically. And found it wasn’t there. So I went to the counter and got the girl to look it up on the computer.
‘Oh, that,’ she said, eyeing the screen. ‘We’re not getting any in.’
‘I can order you a copy, though,’ she called after me, as I slunk away to shoot myself.
For a couple of weeks afterwards, whenever my boss left the office I grabbed the phone and systematically rang every bookshop in London, pretending to be a customer, asking if they stocked Watermelon. And if they hadn’t got it, I rang again a few days later, hoping they’d changed their minds. In the end, I’m sure they recognized my voice. I imagined them putting their hands over the mouthpiece and shouting, ‘It’s that Keyes one again. Have we got her bloody book in yet?’
As well as expecting glitz and glamour, I used to think that an integral part of being a writer was lying around on a couch, eating chocolate raisins, waiting for the muse to strike. And that if the muse hadn’t struck, I might as well be watching Jerry Springer while I was waiting. So it came as a nasty shock to discover that if I was waiting for the muse to come a-calling, it would take several decades to write a book.
So now, muse or no muse, I work eight hours a day, Monday to Friday, just like I did when I was an accounts clerk. The main difference is that I work in bed. Not because I am a lazy lump (OK, not just because I’m a lazy lump), but just because the idea of sitting at a desk daunts me and frankly, I’m daunted enough. So the bed it is and it’s worked out nicely so far, especially since I started turning myself regularly to avoid bedsores.
Most days I start work at about eight o’clock – kicking the day off with a good dose of terror. Today is the day, I usually think, when I run out of ideas, when the inspiration packs its bags and goes to find another accounts clerk and transforms their life.
People often ask me where I get my ideas from and, God, I wish I knew. All I can say is that I find people fascinating, and seeing as I write about emotional landscapes, this can only be a good thing. I think that on a subconscious level I’m taking in information constantly, and in case I come across extra-specially interesting people or funny sayings, I carry a notebook with me at all times. Well, actually I don’t. I’m supposed to, and when I give advice to aspiring writers that’s always what I tell them to do. But somehow when I forage around amongst the sweet papers and lip glosses in my handbag the notebook is never there. So my ‘office’ (i.e., the floor on my side of the bed) is littered with bus-tickets and pastille wrappers with little notes to myself scribbled on them.
Another question that I’m often asked is if there’s any downside to being a writer. Three words: the crippling insecurity. In my old job, I worked in accounts. It may not have been the most exciting job in the universe, but it was very reassuring. If it balanced I knew I was right – it was as simple as that. But with writing, there’s no right or wrong, it’s all just a matter of opinion. One of my hardest times as a writer was when my second book came out and someone told me they preferred the first. ‘It’s not as good,’ she complained sulkily, as if I’d done it specifically to spite her.
‘Thank you for your comments,’ I replied heartily. ‘And would you mind passing me that cut-throat razor. I’m off to have a bath.’
And there’s more! For example, I tried to get an agent after I’d been accepted for publication. Smugly, I assumed it would be no bother, seeing as the hard work of securing a publisher had already been done. Instead I got a snooty letter saying that the agent didn’t feel mine was the kind of work she wanted to represent. I was absolutely devastated, and tormented myself during many a sleepless night wondering about these mysterious authors that she did want to represent.
It took me a long time to see that this woman’s rejection of me was only one person’s opinion. Which leads me smoothly to my next gripe – bad reviews. The first time someone slagged my book in print I was genuinely baffled by how nasty they were. ‘What did I ever do to her?’ I wondered aloud and at length, and only stopped when my nearest and dearest begged me to shut up. Five books later, I’ve got a lot better at dealing with it. A bad review is never a reason to throw my hat in the air and burst into an impromptu version of ‘Knees Up, Mother Brown’, but nor is it a reason to take to my bed with a box of Miniature Heroes for a day or two either. (I need no excuse to do that.) I’ve got better at accepting that I can’t please everyone. I’ve also got better at accepting that critics are often happy to review books without going to the trouble of actually reading them: that became clear when one broadsheet described Rachel’s Holiday – a novel about recovering from drug addiction – as ‘forgettable froth’.
Another potential minefield is the possibility of real life leaking into what I write. I love my friends and I’m keen to hold on to them, so if they’re going through dramas, tempting though it may be, I have to make sure that not even a hint sneaks into a storyline. Similarly, my characters are entirely made up – amalgams of several characteristics gleaned from dozens, maybe even hundreds, of different people. Hopefully, at some stage in the book they transcend the sum of their parts and become ‘real’. But not real real, if you know what I mean. All the same, that doesn’t stop people seeing either themselves or others re-created as fictional characters. More than once someone has said to me, ‘Oh-ho! So-and-so won’t be too pleased to see you’ve stuck her in your book! And implied that she’s unfaithful to her husband.’
But apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play? – Despite the few downsides, I get tremendous pleasure from what I do. And even more pleasure from the fact that other people seem to enjoy it.
Though I’m told it actually happens, I still find it hard to credit that people will part with their hard-earned cash for something that I’ve created. One of the nicest experiences I’ve ever had was recently in a bookshop. They had a lovely display of my books, which gave me a great buzz, especially because I’m the kind of person who gets a kick from seeing my name in the phonebook. While I was discreetly admiring the pile, and marvelling at how strange life was – by rights I should still be working in an accounts office – I saw a girl pick up a book with my name on it. Casually she glanced at the front, turned it over and read the back. Then – with me holding my breath – she started to drift towards the cash-desk, still with the book in her hand.
Slowly, slowly, she made her way through the shop, while beads of sweat broke out on my forehead. When she finally got to the till and put the book down, this was the real moment of truth. Either she’d brought it over to complain that the bookshop was stocking a load of crap or else she was going to buy it. I could hardly believe it when she began to rummage in her bag for her purse. In a matter of seconds, she’d handed over some money and left with the book. I’m sure she wondered who the weird woman staring at her was, but it made my week.
Adapted from an article first published in ESB Magazine,
In the Name of Research – Going Under Cover
When I decided to set my fifth novel in a women’s magazine, my friend Morag invited me to do a week’s research on the glossy Irish monthly she edited…
I’m ready for my freebies, Mr de Mille.
Up at six trying to Pull Together a Look – have to hold my own with the glam mag folk. Leaving the house, was convinced I cut a fairly impressive dash: until I arrived at the office and clocked the staff. (The prettiness! The skinniness! The lovely shoes!) The scales fell from my (incorrectly made-up) eyes and I saw myself for the lumpen hick I was all along.