Hannah Stephenson discovers the acclaimed novelist’s love of cold places, her holiday disasters and the time she wandered around Istanbul on her own
Bestselling Irish novelist Marian Keyes, 56, has brought us love, laughter and all matters of the heart in her many novels, including Watermelon, Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married, This Charming Man and The Break and has travelled the world on book tours, charity events and speaking engagements.
Her latest novel Grown Ups follows the trials and tribulations of an extended family, featuring fabulous locations in Ireland, is home to the acclaimed author, who lives near Dublin with husband, Tony Baines.
Here, she reveals her love of chilly locations and her escapades around the world.
You’ve been to Lapland recently what was that like?
The air is so pure, there are so many trees, you feel like you’re in the middle of a huge forest that goes on forever. The temperature wasn’t even that cold. It was minus one.
We stayed in these beautiful wood lined little chalets where there was a church made of ice and huskies and reindeer. We met Santa Claus. That was the best bit, properly magical.
Where are you off to next?
My mother, with her new lease of life, decided that she wanted to go on a cruise. She and Dad booked a cruise to Norway just before he got too sick to leave home. He died in December 2018, so we are going up the Norwegian fjords with my two sisters in May.
I love cruises. You see new things every day. I haven’t been on a giant cruise ships where there’s 48 cinemas but I was working, doing talks on the Queen Mary last February. We went to Thailand and Malaysia and ended up in Hong Kong. Actually, that was almost the 48 cinemas. The glamour was amazing. I love that you go to a new country every day and then you wake up and it’s different.
Have had any travel disasters?
Millions! I was going to Ethiopia to write about an Irish charity called Concern and I’d packed my bags with all kinds of treats and food to bring for the people who worked there. We arrived at Addis Ababa airport and it was like a cow barn. The luggage carousel didn’t work, our bags didn’t arrive and our malaria tablets were in the bag. We had nothing except the clothes we stood up in. The next flight wasn’t due in for two days and by then, we were going to the south of the country. But it was kind of wonderful, in that we had to go out in the market and buy clothes.
This was about 15 years ago when they didn’t have supermarkets so there was nowhere to go to buy toothpaste or toothbrushes. We cannot conceive of that level of an undeveloped country. But it was a great adventure, although it didn’t feel like that initially.
What’s your earliest memory of being on holiday as a child?
My mother is from County Clare and there’s a place there called Lahinch, on the Atlantic, which is so incredibly beautiful. It has one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and proper waves.
We used to go there and stay with my granny. It seemed like the sun was always shining and the sea was always blue.
I went to Amsterdam to write an article about it. I’d only ever been there for work, and this time, I had the time to see it. It’s so beautiful. Everything I looked at during those 48 hours was exquisite. It was balm to my eyes.
I like cold places like Helsinki. Not that many people go there. It’s different, and when you drive outside Helsinki, it’s forest. We drove to this beautiful town called Porvoo, a couple of hours outside Helsinki, and it’s got all these gorgeous buildings.”
Have you ever been on holiday on your own?
Yes, a long time ago. I went to the Cyclades in Greece for a week. It wasn’t much fun being on my own, but I would go away for a couple of nights. In Istanbul, it was interesting walking around as an unaccompanied woman, both good and bad.
It gave me a chance to get to know a different part of myself.
Staycation or far-flung destination?
I’m a fan of far-flung. I’d love to go to India. In the summer, I went to Uzbekistan and that was incredibly exotic.
Train travel, air travel or road trip?
Train! It’s the best, because you can get up and move around and go to the loo, and you’re passing country- side, you’re not in traffic jams. I love train travel.
Favourite travelling companion?
I love going on holiday with my husband, because he’s so interesting and we like the same things. He’ll persuade me to try something I haven’t done before.
I’m no fan of the opera or classical music, but when we were in Sydney, Australia, there was a Shostakovich thing on in the Sydney Opera House. Tony wanted to go and I went and I loved it.