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Cathy Kelly is the author of twenty novels, the latest of which, The Family Gift, was released in paperback on 15th October. She took the time to answer some questions for us.
Can you tell us a bit about The Family Gift?
Imagine a world where your heroine, Freya, looks as if she has it all – fabulous career as a TV chef, two gorgeous children, handsome husband and a new house… and then add in a crippling inner voice (called Mildred), a traumatic experience she’s trying to recover from and huge worries about her beloved birth family. Oh yes, and she can’t sleep so has taken to the sleeping tablets, and needs to stop them because her doctor says she has had enough…that’s the set-up for The Family Gift. This is my twentieth novel and I wanted to write in the first person for the first time and it was so much fun! Even though Freya is a tall, naturally blonde goddess who can cook (I am a short, dyed blonde who cannot cook but nightly cremates things for the family), I think I put a lot of me in her.
It was hilarious because the best bits were her inner voice, Mildred, who sounds like a very cross ancient auntie who disapproves of everything you do. No matter what Freya does, Mildred is in her head demanding to know why she’s wearing yoga leggings again when she never does yoga. It was so much fun to write but there are serious themes too, including one where her darling sister is trying to conceive and where Freya’s adoptive daughter’s birth mother comes back into their lives to cause chaos. The birth mother is an absolute cow! And Freya’s fourteen-year-old daughter is enthralled by her, so Freya is in agony.
Which of your twenty books is your favourite, and why?
I think that right now, I like The Family Gift most because it was so much fun to write and I feel that it’s very me. As a writer, you change all the time because, well, life changes you. When I started writing, I was twenty-seven with no children and a Labrador. Now I’m fifty-four and have twin seventeen-tear-old sons. Marriage, motherhood: it all changes you. I’m still wedded to my yoga leggings, though! Mildred is talking to me when she goes on about that!
If someone was new to your books, where would you recommend starting?
Actually, I’d love them to start with this book, The Family Gift. I always love one called Once In A Lifetime because it was a joy to write but truly, I am so proud of The Family Gift. It deals with serious subjects but because I have such a sense of humour – a very Irish thing, I think – there is lots of humour. And it emphasises the fact that women are incredibly strong. We really are. We can cope with so much when we have our strong network of women friends and family. I simply couldn’t cope without my female friends – and chocolate, of course…chocolate makes everything more bearable. And looking at cute things on Pinterest!
How has Covid impacted on your writing life?
I write from home in a very messy office with a dog sitting on the back of my office chair taking up most of the room – this is not ergonomically sound and I lie about it to my osteopath. I have three Jack Russell sisters and they like to take turns to sit behind me and I love them so much, I let them. The hardest part of Covid was taking care of my mum and husband, who both have underlying illnesses, and the sense of fear I felt when I went to buy groceries was terrifying. You want to have seen my scrubbing all the groceries I brought home from the shop. I was afraid I would bring ‘it’ into the house. I am very disciplined but some days, I literally felt too freaked out to write. I would sit in front of the telly, knowing I had a book to finish and watch morning TV, which I never do. This made me consumed with guilt.
Can you tell us anything about what you’re writing next?
I’ve just finished a book about a group of friends from university and how their lives change over a period of six months. There’s love, sadness and worrying about if a certain husband is cheating…oooh, it was fun to write. It’s coming out next spring.
What are some books you’ve read and loved recently?
I’ve just read a lovely book called Time Out by an Irish author, Emma Murray, who lives in London and it’s about a mum who ghost writes books but is suddenly asked to write a book about motherhood. She is deliciously chaotic and wonders if she can be truthful about real motherhood or if she ought to pretend she’s making hand-made fish fingers with organic salmon…utterly hilarious. And I am addicted to the books of Kerry Greenwood, a Melbourne author who writes the Miss Fisher mysteries. I do love the TV series but the books, there are at least 22, are so much better.
Do you have any tips for people who want to write?
I think most writers are dreadfully unconfident at first and it’s so easy to rip up the first pages or delete them, but be strong and keep at it. Don’t write for critics – I wrote what I wanted to read with my first book, Woman to Woman. Keep at it and don’t think that a book is huge and you’ll never do it. Just a bit at a time. Also, do read. I don’t think it’s possible to write without being a reader. I always say ‘get the bum on the seat’ but try not to let the dog get into the habit of sitting on it with you.
Buy The Family Gift on Amazon here: