Marian Keyes tells Graham Norton about her novel Grown Ups, her next book and her online writing classes

Virgin Radio

31 Jan 2021, 14:09

So reads the synopsis for Marian Keyes’ latest novel Grown Ups, the paperback edition of which has just been published, but how does Keyes herself describe it? The author was a guest on The Graham Norton Radio Show this morning to tell us more.

“It’s a gripping story about a big complicated family. All families are complicated, and families, if they spend a lot of time with each other, they invariably pick up a lot of secrets. People know things about each other that they’re not meant to know, and in Grown Ups there are three brothers, their various wives, ex-wives, adult children, step children, and they all spend a lot of time together. On the surface they get on very well, obviously below the surface things are far murkier and far livelier, if you get me.”

“Everybody behaves like adults on the outside, they have manners and they keep their mouths shut and they don’t say what they really think, until somebody says something, she actually gets a concussion.” 

Marian told Graham that this element of the story was inspired by real life: “I know somebody who got a concussion and suddenly she couldn’t stop herself from saying the things she was really thinking. She got into tonnes of trouble and nobody could figure out what was wrong with her, until they traced it back to the fact that she’d had a concussion. This thing doesn’t last for long, but it does a sizable amount of damage… well it does last.”

“This woman, it happened, I thought that’s a great idea for a book. So at the start of Grown Ups one of my characters gets concussion, blows the gig wide open.” 

So what genre would this book fall under?

“You could call it a family saga, you could call it a mild little thriller. There’s a little bit of intrigue, but it’s mostly about people, an awful lot of very flawed people who are trying their best, which I think is kind of all of us really.” 

Commenting on how she doesn’t shy away from the big subjects in her writing, Marian told Graham: “All of my novels are set in the contemporary world, and I don’t think it would be the right thing to do if I didn’t address things like… for example the refugee crisis. One of the wives, she has a really dysfunctional relationship with money, she’s very insecure about herself and she feels that she sort of rents her friends - that if she didn’t spend a lot of money that she wouldn’t have any.”

“Another storyline that threads through the book is bulimia. In many ways Grown Ups is a lot of fun but there’s darkness in it, because I think there’s darkness in most people in some way shape or form.”

With such a huge cast of characters, Graham wanted to know how Maria keeps track of all them: “I never had a whiteboard in my life until the book I’m writing now, so there wasn’t one for Grown Ups. I feel very very fond of my characters, even the occasional baddies.”

“I do have pen pictures of them, that I add details to when I need to, but I don’t have something that I can just cast my eye at and say “A-ha! That’s that person.” but I especially loved the people in this book, for some reason I felt very tenderly, and four of the main seven  characters are men and it was very very nice to be able to write about men in a nuanced way, and realise that they’re finding modern life and late-stage capitalism extremely difficult as well. I think just the fact they become almost like my friends makes it easy to stay connected to them.”

Asked by Graham if she’s addressing the covid pandemic in the new book that she’s writing, Marian said: “I’m not. I’ve set it in 2018. I might have to at some stage make a nod to it, but I’m really hoping the whole business will be done and dusted and we can forget about it forever, and none us need ever refer to it again. Living through it has been enough, I have no desire to revisit it when it’s over.”  

So when can we expect this new book to see the light of day?

“About this time next year, I’m sorry it’s so long but I am immensely slow. I am my publisher’s worst nightmare, I take two years to write a book. But it will be worth it I promise... she said nervously.”

As well as writing, Marian has been keeping herself busy in lockdown by hosting online classes for aspiring writers.

“For the last four Mondays, tomorrow’s going to be the final one, but that doesn’t matter you can still do it all, on Instagram live I’ve been doing an hour at half seven, Irish time, which is I don’t know, twenty to eight.”

“Tomorrow night is going to be about writer’s block, editing, getting published. I will answer questions as they come in. It seems to have been really helpful to people which is so incredibly uplifting for me. The four sessions are on Instagram TV and they’re also on my YouTube channel. Also I’ve set people daily challenges, and they’re all on my Instagram grid as well.”

“I don’t have any formal qualifications so I’ve just told people all of the mistakes I’ve made, and how I do it."


The paperback edition of Grown Ups by Marian Keyes is out now.

For more great interviews listen to The Graham Norton Radio Show, Saturdays AND Sundays from 09:30am on Virgin Radio, or catch up on-demand here.