Published around the world and with millions of copies of her books in print, Cathy Kelly is one of Ireland’s best-loved storytellers. But, as she tells Modern Mum, being with her family is her number one activity!
Woman to Woman….
I’ve met Cathy Kelly several times over the last 19 years and have never ceased to be amazed at her boundless energy and enthusiasm for what she does, Cathy shows no signs of slowing down.
Originally born in Belfast, but raised in Dublin, the 50-year-old, five-foot-tall writer has produced 16 novels in as many years. She currently lives in County Wicklow with husband John Sheehan, twin sons, Dylan and Murray, and their three dogs and, for the past eleven years, has also worked as a UNICEF Ireland Ambassador. Phew!
How, I asked Cathy, does she manage to keep all of her plates spinning?
‘I guess I’ve always been used to juggling,’ she tells me with a laugh. ‘I started out as a journalist with the Sunday World in Dublin, working in news and features, as well as acting as the paper’s agony aunt and film critic! I also started writing fiction as a hobby, so I was busy – to put it mildly!’
Cathy’s life was to change in 1997 when her first novel, ‘Woman to Woman’ went straight to number one on the Irish Times and Sunday Times bestseller lists. Cathy’s trademark is warm Irish story-telling about modern life, but, while her books deal with themes ranging from relationships and marriage to depression and loss, there’s always an uplifting message, sense of community and strong female characters at their heart. Cathy’s storytelling style proved an immediate hit with her readers and, perhaps inevitably, produced instant comparison with one of her writing heroines: Maeve Binchy. A comparison which Cathy is happy to accept!
‘Maeve was just incomparable,’ she says. ‘Her books still just make me happy with their kindness and warmth. Plus, she was the most wonderfully skilled writer: easy to read is very much not easy to write. She could nail a character in one line and that’s a combination of both gift and huge skill.’
Cathy’s style proved equally successful with her readers and, over the next four years, ‘Woman to Woman’ was followed by ‘Someone Like You’, ‘What She Wants’, ‘Just Between Us’ and ‘Best of Friends’. It was at this point that she decided to finally leave the world of journalism behind and fully commit to her storytelling.
Sixteen years – and 16 books – later, Cathy has now settled into the routine of writing a book a year: no mean feat when you consider that she is also a working mother and UNICEF Ireland ambassador: two roles which she relishes equally.
‘Some authors manage to publish several titles in one year, but that’s never been my style, mainly because writing is quite an intense process and I find that, between writing my next book, my short stories and the promotion of the new title – (Cathy’s latest book is ‘Secrets of a Happy Marriage’) as well as being a mum to twin boys – it doesn’t take long for twelve months to go by.
‘I’m always aware of how fortunate I am to be in the position that I’m in. There are few jobs that women today can do and still be home for their kids. Being with my family is the major thing in my life which makes me happy. As a working mother, the absolute best thing is that I can bring my sons to school, pick them up and help them with their homework – although the maths is getting weird…they do sums differently these days!
‘As a writer, it’s a huge privilege to be your own boss and structure your day around your family, and I never forget how lucky I am to be in such as privileged position! I’m also lucky in that I find it easy to walk away from my writing if I have to and then and pick up where I left off. My journalistic training probably instilled that discipline in me. During the day, when the boys are at school, I make filter coffee, try not to add too much sugar (failing at that one!) and then reread what ever I wrote the day before. I spend ages editing before launching myself into writing something new.’
In 2005, Cathy was appointed a UNICEF Ireland Ambassador and travelled to Mozambique to highlight the impact that HIV/AIDS was having on children in sub-Saharan Africa.
‘For me, being a mother is the most important part of my life. In Mozambique, I met mothers who face problems that I daren’t imagine. HIV-positive mothers desperately trying to get their beloved HIV-positive kids on the life-saving anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) that can mean the difference between life and death.’
‘Seeing mothers in the hospitals as their children die from malaria is heartbreaking, but I love being able to offer support through my work and write articles that raise awareness and paint a picture of what life is like for these children who need our help.’
Cathy is currently at work on her new book but which subject, I wondered, would she ideally like to write about?
‘OMG, where would I start…?’ she laughs. ‘Only kidding. I long to write a crime novel (when I finish writing a teenage one!). I know this is a pipe dream but I so love crime and that’s probably why I love the Becky Masterman novel so much – she has written about a female detective and I’d long to do that. I may be only five foot nothing but would love to learn how to flatten someone with Tae Kwan Do (like my fabulous niece, who is only a bit away from being a black belt). You’d need to know how to flatten someone in order to write about it, wouldn’t you?’