Born in September, 1963, in Limerick, Ireland; daughter of Ted and Mary (Cotter) Keyes; married Tony Baines (a computer analyst), December 29, 1995. Education: University College, Dublin, Ireland, BCL.
Addresses: Contact —c/o J. Lloyd, Curtis Brown, 28-29 Haymarket, London SW1Y 4SP United Kingdom. Office —c/o Penguin Publicity, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL United Kingdom.
Worked as a waitress, London, England, beginning c. 1986; worked as an accounts clerk, London, England, through 1996; began writing short stories, 1993; published first novel, Watermelon , 1995; full-time writer, 1996—.
Awards: Irish Tatler Literary Award, 2001; Irish World Literary Award, 2002.
Popular "chick lit" author Marian Keyes is the writer of novels targeted at a female audience. Drawing on her own life's difficulties, she infuses her books with both humor and darker real-life situations such as drug addiction, depression, and miscarriages, but always writes a happy ending. Nearly all of her works are best sellers and most were translated into 30 languages. Keyes' books are more popular with readers than critics, selling more than
Born in Ireland in 1963, Keyes was raised in various cities in that country, including Cavan, Cork, Galway, and the Dublin suburb of Monkstown. Her family led a middle-class existence, and Keyes and her four younger siblings were raised in a stable, loving home. Despite her positive family situation, Keyes later stated that she felt insecure by the time she was a toddler and believed that she did not belong from an early age. Although she was an academic achiever at convent schools, Keyes was not secure at all in social situations and relationships, especially with men. By the time she was 14 years old, Keyes had begun drinking.
Keyes continued to do well as a student at University College in Dublin, where she studied law and accountancy. She earned a law degree, but was not secure enough to use it. She told Jennifer Falvey of the Daily Telegraph , "I always had this kind of ability to self-destruct and I never did anything to its completion and even though I was blessed with brains, I didn't have the confidence to use them properly." Already attracted to writing, Keyes applied to get a post-graduate degree in journalism, but was not accepted into a program. Instead, Keyes moved to London, England, in 1986 after completing college. She thought she was being rebellious and was attracted to living in the big city. Her first job was as a waitress in part because she could not see herself as anything else. She spent much of her free time drinking and going to parties.
After a few years, Keyes began using her degree when she worked as an accounts clerk in London. She continued to drink heavily and struggled greatly with her self-esteem. Though Keyes understood that she drank to fit in, she also knew her life was a mess and she longed to live in a more conventional manner. She began making errors at work and not taking care of herself as she regularly drank two bottles of wine a day. Keyes told Marian Pallister of the Herald , "It was killing me and I felt terribly lonely and a terrible failure. There are plenty of people who can live a free-spirited life, but I wasn't one of them."
Keyes reached rock bottom in January of 1994 when she attempted suicide by overdosing on pills, including antidepressants, sleeping pills, and painkillers, with a swig of alcohol. She called a friend who got her immediate help. Her parents then took her home to Ireland so she could get treatment at a rehabilitation clinic, Rutland, for three months. There, she admitted she was an alcoholic and got her life together. Keyes remained sober from that point forward.
After treatment, Keyes returned to London and began writing novels. Shortly before her suicide attempt, she had written a few short stories. While she did not initially intend to write a novel, she had decided to send her short stories to a publisher, Ireland's Poolbeg Press. In a letter she enclosed, she mentioned that she had begun work on a novel (one that did not yet exist). The publisher was impressed and asked to see some chapters of her novel so Keyes quickly composed four chapters of what became Watermelon.
Of the novel, Keyes told Pallister of the Herald , "It poured out, and I do feel it was already written in some locked room in my head, and all I had to do was turn the key." Published in 1995, Watermelon focused on Claire Webster, who is abandoned by her husband, James, just after she gives birth to their child. Claire takes her baby and returns to her family home in Dublin, meets another man, and considers her future. A hit in Ireland, Great Britain, and the United States, the book was written in an informal style that many readers found appealing.
Soon after the publication of Watermelon , Keyes' own life continued to improve. She married an Englishman, Tony Baines, on December 29, 1995. Keyes was able to quit her accounting job in 1996, and the couple moved to Ireland. They eventually settled in Dublin. While Keyes found it hard to write full time, she was able to turn the situation into a positive one.
Though she was worried that she could not duplicate the success of Watermelon , Keyes' second novel was even more popular than the first. A dark comedy set in London, Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married was published in 1996. The title character is in her mid-twenties and has a very limited life. Lucy and three friends visit a fortune teller who makes several predictions, including that Lucy will be married within the year. Other predictions come true so Lucy believes in hers as well. Keyes uses this experience to examine the life of single women in London. The book also features Lucy's father, an alcoholic, who is partially based on Keyes herself. Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married was later made into a 16-part television series.
The success of these two novels led to a bidding war between publishers over Keyes. She walked away with a very lucrative four-book deal from Penguin in the United Kingdom in 1996. Keyes proved her value with another successful book. Rachel's Holiday was a 700-page epic that mirrored Keyes' own experience as an alcoholic. The central character, Irish native Rachel Walsh, had been living the high life in New York City for about eight years. Suffering from low self-esteem, Walsh becomes addicted to cocaine and tranquilizers. Because of her addiction problems, her family takes her back to Ireland where she enters a well-known rehab clinic, the Cloisters. Though a dark story, the text was inflected with a dry sense of humor.
Keyes continued to explore women's problems in 1999's Last Chance Saloon. The book focused on three friends from childhood who are natives of Ireland and live in London and face many personal difficulties. The two women of the trio, Tara and Katherine, have difficulties finding boyfriends; Tara is over-weight, while Katherine keeps men at arm's length. Fintan, a gay man, shows his friends that there is more to them than superficial concerns as he struggles with cancer. His dying wish helps them make the decision to change their lives.
By late 1990s, Keyes was becoming one of the best-known Irish authors and one of the wealthiest people in the British isles. Though her blockbuster status meant increased scrutiny, she continued to write and push herself. Over the years, the tone and setting of her books changed. Her novels focused more on the workplace and became more accessible to a wider audience of readers.
The first of Keyes's novels to focus on work was 2000's Sushi for Beginners. Set in the office of a new women's magazine in Dublin, the book explores the lives of three women employed there, an English editor and two Irish women, who are looking for happiness. Though they lead unhappy lives for different reasons, they all come to realize that they need to find contentment inside themselves, not from an outside source. Sushi for Beginners was a number-one best-seller on the Sunday Times list.
While Keyes was gaining fame for her novels, she was also contributing essays and columns to various publications. Many of the pieces were about her life, friendships, relationships, travel, living abroad, and many other topics. She published a collection of these non-fiction works, Under the Duvet , in 2001. One prominent piece in the book was about her alcoholism. Keyes donated her royalties from the book's sales in Ireland to a charity, Simon Community, an organization which benefited the homeless in the area.
Keyes took another chance with her next novel. Angels , published in 2002, was set in Los Angeles, California. The primary character was an Irish girl named Maggie, who was related to characters in previous novels by Keyes. Maggie was married to man named Gary for nine years, but has separated from him after she learns that he had an affair. She also loses her job and moves to Los Angeles to live with a friend, Emily, who works as a screenwriter. Maggie becomes her assistant and tries to be a "bad girl, " experiencing many types of relationships. Over the course of the book, she comes to terms with her own problems and decides she might want to reconcile with her husband. Many critics found the book a funny, witty take on Los Angeles and the lives of her characters.
In an interview with Keyes upon the publication of Angels , Yvonne Nolan of Publishers Weekly noted, "Whilst in the wake of the success of Bridget Jones' Diary , many writers and critics have sought to dismiss chick-lit as froth, Keyes' fiction is so genuinely funny, sharply observed and winning as to make such reservations seem stuffy and wrongheaded."
Keyes made another creative leap with the novel The Other Side of the Story. The structure of this novel is different than her previous works. There are three stories about three women that are only slightly linked. All the stories are set in an inter-related publishing world. One main character is Jojo Harvey, an American literary agent working in London. She is in a frustrating relationship with a married man, and represents a writer named Lily. Lily's story focuses on her life as a best-selling author and a mother. Her child was fathered by Gemma's former boyfriend. Gemma has a story as well. She works as an event planner and is coping with a difficult family life. Her parents separate when her father leaves her mother for a younger woman. Gemma eventually triumphs with her own lucrative book contract and satisfying relationship. While The Other Side of the Story retained Keyes' trademark humor while dealing with the dark situations in her characters' lives, some critics found the relationship between the stories to be too loose for the novel to be effective as a whole.
Despite an occasional negative review, Keyes remains sure of her voice as a writer and keeps her ability in perspective. Keyes told Crawford Wayne of Hobart Mercury , "I don't know where this ability to write comes from so if disappears I don't know how to get it back. I don't really worry too much about getting writer's block, because if I get it there's nothing I can do. All this is a bonus. Just being sober is enough."
Watermelon , Poolbeg Press (Dublin, Ireland), 1995.
Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married, Poolbeg Press, 1996.
Rachel's Holiday , Penguin (London, England), 1998.
Last Chance Saloon , Penguin, 1999.
Sushi for Beginners , Penguin, 2000.
Angels , Penguin, 2002.
The Other Side of the Story , Poolbeg Press, 2004.
Under the Duvet: Shoes, Reviews, Having the Blues, Builders, Babies, Families, and Other Calamities , Michael Joseph (London, England), 2001.
Cracks in My Foundation: Bags, Trips, Make-Up Tips, Charity, Glory, and the Darker Side of the Story , Avon/HarperCollins (New York City), 2005.
Debrett's People of Today , Debrett's Peerage Ltd. (London), 2004.
Booklist , June 1, 2001, p. 1845.
Daily Telegraph (Sydney, Australia), April 19, 1997, p. 105.
Dominion Post (Wellington, New Zealand), February 26, 2004, p. D3.
Europe , April 1998, p. 45.
Guardian (London, England), October 19, 2002, p. 26; June 19, 2004, p. 27.
Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), February 27, 1997, p. 17.
Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia), January 27, 2001, p. W17.
Hobart Mercury (Australia), April 21, 1997.
Independent (London, England), June 4, 2004, pp. 20- 21.
Kirkus Reviews , May 1, 2002, p. 600; March 15, 2004, p. 244.
Library Journal , June 15, 1998, p. 106; January 2004, p. 110.
More , May 2004, p. 32.
Observer , October 22, 2000, p. 3; May 23, 2004, p. 16.
Press (Christchurch, New Zealand), March 13, 2004, p. D12.
Publishers Weekly , April 13, 1998, p. 48; June 26, 2000, p. 50; June 3, 2002, p. 62; June 17, 2002, p. 37.
Scotsman (Scotland), February 13, 1998, p. 15.
Sunday Herald (Scotland), August 27, 2000, p. 2.
Sunday Mirror , May 24, 1998, pp. 14-15.
"About Marian: Autobiography, " MarianKeyes.com, http://www.mariankeyes.com/aboutMarian/ profiles/autobiography.html (October 15, 2005).
"About Marian: Biography, " MarianKeyes.com, http://www.mariankeyes.com/aboutMarian/ profiles/biography.html (October 15, 2005).
— A. Petruso