Sunday 17 December 2017

‘There may come a point when he will not be there and Ic annot bear to think of that. I love him to bits’

Aoife Finneran meets bestselling author Cathy Kelly and finds that her marriage to a man 20 years her senior is straight out of a fairytale romance

I'M trying my best to look nonchalant but it's impossible to ignore the three iceberg-sized lumps of sugar Cathy Kelly is dropping into her coffee cup. Noticing my astonished stare, the writer grins impishly and laughs: "I know I take too much sugar. It's very bad, it's disgraceful. I did try and give it up but..." she trails off ruefully.

Speaking of icebergs, it's also hard not to notice the stunning diamond glistening on her ring finger. Yes, seven years after having twin boys with her partner John, the pair finally decided to tie the knot earlier this year.

It was a typically unconventional move for the self-described "realist", who admits: "I was never one of those kids who grew up with a Barbie wedding concept in my head."

The big day, which took place in March this year, was marked by an intimate party for family and close friends. Seven months on, she's still beaming at the memories.

"It was wonderful. It was very important and very special," she reveals.

Her long-term partner -- and new husband -- is "a wonderful man and a wonderful daddy". John is 20 years her senior, yet she insists the age gap is of no consequence.

"It doesn't make the slightest difference to us," she explains matter-of-factly. "The only sad thing is that by the law of averages there will come a point when he will not be there and I cannot bear to think of that. I would cry just thinking about that. I love him to bits."

One wonders if it was this type of thinking that led her to create the character of Eleanor Levine in Homecoming. The novel centres around a retired psychoanalyst who returns to Ireland following the death of her husband and finds herself healing the various troubled residents of Golden Square. I won't spoil the plot, but it deals unflinchingly with adoption, the troubles of finding love at 40, extra-marital affairs, death and recession.

We're sitting in the elegantly furnished lounge of the Ritz- Carlton in Enniskerry, hardly the ideal setting for a discussion about the economic downturn. And yet, the impact of the recession is a subject close to Cathy's heart, partly thanks to her mother's volunteer work with St Vincent de Paul. This partly inspired one aspect of the character of Rae in Homecoming, a woman who spends her time working with a local charity.

"Thanks to my mum, I see so much of what St Vincent de Paul do and what they're up against. It's horrendous," she explains.

As for the supposed architects of the country's downfall, Cathy isn't shy about venting her feelings.

She pauses, taking a sip of that sugary coffee and choosing her words carefully, before she remarks: "I think Brian Cowen is a very honest, straight man and I have huge admiration for Brian Lenihan but I also think they were part of the Government that led us into this mess."

The lack of banking regulation, she believes, was "frightening", and is clearly exercised by the continuing lack of accountability in this country.

"You know that guy who drove the truck into Leinster House last week?

"Well, after it happened, he's in the Bridewell station five minutes later and all these other guys are still driving around in the Mercs, owing millions," she sighs.

As for former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, a man with his eye on the Aras, Cathy is equally firm about his potential bid for the role of president.

"I just feel, not that I've ever met the man, but I just feel perhaps that as someone who was leading the country into the bad direction... I just feel it would be wrong."

Declared candidates David Norris and Michael D Higgins would "both be fabulous", she gushes.

So who else would she like to see blazing a trail to the Aras?

Her distinctive green eyes light up as she muses: "I remember they were all on about Miriam [O'Callaghan] and poor Miriam was saying: 'No, stop!'

"Isn't she amazing? She's a woman's woman. You meet her and she's interested in you as a woman. You know the way some women pretend they're women's women and they're not, they're men's women. But she's amazing."

One gets the impression that Cathy Kelly is a confirmed woman's woman. Indeed, minutes into the interview, she spots my shoes and correctly coos: "I bet you got those in Schuh!"

Posing for a photograph, she's endearingly self-deprecating, saying with a grimace "stomach in!" It's all done with an unaffected, disarming smile which makes her look much younger than her 44 years.

It's no wonder this petite blonde caught the eye of the fictional character Ross O'Carroll- Kelly. She looks a combination of embarrassed and chuffed when I mention that D4's most notorious womaniser regards her as a highly fanciable yummy mummy.

"I knew Paul Howard a million years ago when he was writing about sport. And then I met him at something after he'd written a few books and he said: 'I was wondering could I put you in one of them?'

"Ross said I was a... what four-letter word can I use?... a fine thing. He did once say, 'I'd do her'. I'm thrilled, my elderly 44-year-old body is 'fabulous'. I'm delighted!"

With no fewer than 12 novels now under her belt, Cathy is one of a growing coterie of talented Irish writers who have made their mark on the international market. Another member of this esteemed group is Cecelia Ahern, the hugely successful, yet oft-maligned, novelist. Yet she can count Cathy as one of her supporters.

Cecelia "has this high-concept brain which is just phenomenal. I remember when she got the deal there was a lot of talk about her, but as someone who has worked in publishing for a long time, I know you don't get a deal in America like that just because your dad's the prime minister. She's brilliant and people love her all around the world".

With no shortage of her own fans internationally, Cathy is just back from a publicity tour of Australia and New Zealand. It's a stint which, she explains ruefully, is the longest she can cope with being so far away from her sons.

"There's something about being so far away from them", she concedes.

Luckily, full-time writing means that her working life allows her to be at home with her family most of the time. So, as every aspiring author wants to know, what's the secret to churning out bestseller after bestseller?

The answer is simple. It's a quote she heard last week in Australia from the author Byrce Courtenay. "Bum glue," she guffaws. No big secret then, just plenty of hard work, perseverance and just a little hint of magic.

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