‘I’m sorry I’m late’, a troubled but charming Cathy Kelly, the wildly successful recent author Dancing with the stars alum, bleats on Zoom. “I didn’t realize it was a video call I needed, so I was just doing a dry shampoo.” It’s a typical Wednesday in the calendar for the Belfast-born, Enniskerry-based woman – it’s her 22nd book launch, incredibly. A fact that repeatedly overwhelms us both as we speak. And she’s not yet out of ideas.

That’s a crazy amount of pounds, she agrees. Almost wacky. He also had to be reminded that this was his 25th year in publishing.

“Someone called me the other day to congratulate me on my huge birthday,” she laughs. “And I kind of freaked out and said – ‘what? I don’t have that kind of deep internal gravity, where I want someone to pour me a glass of champagne to celebrate, I just think it’s gas.

This is where her Vestiare Collective (a luxury second-hand online retailer) order comes in, to raucous applause from Cathy herself. “Sorry, where were we?” Ah yes, my work. It’s amazing, and I’m thrilled to love what I do, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have moments where I stare at my laptop while writing (and reader, she still writes) and think that I am a complete moron.”

You see, Cathy (now 55) is publishing her latest novel, The wedding party, this month. It’s a tumultuous read full of heart, much like its previous 21 iterations, centering on female-centric storylines and the day-to-day survival methods of those whose lives have touched on often overlooked topics such as eating disorders. , domestic violence and substance abuse.

Cathy Kelly: “I just wasn’t cut out for the tabloid world.” Moya Nolan Photography

A world away from the “girl-lit” category she’s often lumped in with, Cathy politely courts the status quo, but likes to surprise readers, and non-readers, with the challenging and diverse topics she chooses time and time again. occasions.

“It’s something you get used to, the ‘girl lit’ thing,” she said, her piercing eyes meeting mine through the screen. “Back when I was working in a newsroom, I was writing a lot of social features and I was very interested in the issues people were having. And so when I got into writing, I brought all that with me, so I like more meaty subjects, because that’s often the reality of what surrounds us.

“People also like to categorize women, I think, a lot more than men, so I’m going to often hear people tell me that I ‘produce’ books – diminishing and almost denigrating the female experience. Ultimately, you “I have no control over what people think of you or your work, but when it comes to stereotyping women’s projects like those silly fluffy little things, I mean ‘stop it right now’.”

She started life in Belfast, the daughter of an insurance salesman, whose job took them to Dublin, where she grew up “somewhere between Dundrum and Sandyford”. Interestingly, she still considers herself a country girl, due to the summers, Christmases and Easters spent on her grandmother’s farm in the west of Ireland (“I love chickens, dogs and cows, but geese have problems”). Growing up, unsurprisingly for her, focused on books.

“I always come back to that Malcolm Gladwell quote about it takes 10,000 hours of work to be an expert in this – I think I had timed that by reading about 16 books,” says- her, citing that she is still a voracious reader today. . Her writing career began as a journalist, working with the Sunday World for over a decade (“I just wasn’t cut out for the tabloid sphere”), which led to her writing her first novel, Woman to Woman, in her late twenties. .

    Cathy Kelly: "people are people are people".  Moya Nolan Photography
Cathy Kelly: “People are people are people”. Moya Nolan Photography

She wrote it because it was the kind of book she herself wanted to read. And it’s clear that his desire for a smart, female-centric book wasn’t the only one. Now a bestselling author in Ireland, the UK and Australia, with over 15 million sales, she is grateful that “because of the amount of words she has written” people no longer think that her characters are solely based on herself.

“Whenever I wrote anything about sex or drugs or rock ‘n’ roll,” she whispers comically, “people often thought I was doing it. I feel like this question is very rarely asked of a man, and maybe a woman who has written 22 books now too!

Curiosity, kindness and her twins, who have just completed the Leaving Certificate, are what sustain her. “God loves them, they hate coming down to the village with me because I could spend hours chatting with people.” But such is its true plot – and the reason its stories resonate around the world, this writer believes. “I mean, we [Irish people] have a great ability to speak and listen,” she acknowledges.

“There’s no two ways about it. You know, you hear all the time that Ireland is the friendliest place in the world, and you think that’s rubbish, until you go abroad. For example, the other day I was taking a train, and before the train left the station, the whole car I was in was chatting and exchanging stories, even the guy who was selling tea and cookies. You don’t get this anywhere else.

    Cathy Kelly: "I am very attracted to the idea of ​​recovering from difficult situations".  Moya Nolan Photography
Cathy Kelly: “I am very attracted by the idea of ​​recovering from difficult situations”. Moya Nolan Photography

A proud ambassador for UNICEF Ireland, it’s no wonder her books focus on survival. “People are people are people,” she says. “Whether you are in Sydney, Saigon or Skibbereen. We all just want safety and comfort. The brain moves when you’re trying to survive, and that’s huge, but that’s all anyone really wants at the end of the day.

“Things can be terribly difficult, as I have seen on trips to Africa with UNICEF, but I truly believe that talking and helping anyone can do so much – also realizing that there is so, so much more in the world than just what’s going on in your kitchen. It’s something the Irish are really in tune with, I think. Naturally.”

For Cathy, surviving scales. Suffering from long-time depression and anxiety (“I think I had my first episode around 14”), the fluency in writing suits her and chastises her. “I’m very drawn to the idea of ​​recovering from difficult situations, because you know, life can hit people in different ways,” she says. “My writing is a love letter to these people because I want to show them that they are not alone. You know, when you’re a reader, I think it’s so powerful to come across something that you’ve already felt yourself and think, “Oh my God, someone else felt that.” .

“Surviving life isn’t always easy, so it’s nice to read about other people, even if they’re fictional people, and see them grow out of it and see them love each other. I didn’t always want to have messages in a way, but messages get known, which I think is kind of the beauty of life – finding out that something can work and you can get through it, even if you might not have planned it that way. the writing process can be torturous. For every second your editor doesn’t email you back after you send them your draft, you’re thinking “c it’s rubbish, they hate it, and they’re trying to figure out how to tell me I’m done.

For now, she’s playing it right and letting kindness lead her, as always. “I love the quote from Henry James that the three most important words in the English language are kindness, kindness, and kindness,” she says.

She’s also kinder to herself these days. “There is a real beauty to growing old, where you care less about yourself and more about others. It started for me when I had my boys and it has always been the case for other women. loves fellowship and I find myself reading obsessively about those who need help.

The day before our conversation, the report on domestic violence from Women’s Aid came out, a subject close to her heart. “There’s so much to do, and if I can open the conversation with my writing, then I’m happy to do it.” She is about to embark on an absurd but understandable 23rd volume, she smiles (“I often have an idea for one while I’m already writing about the other”) but readers will have to wait until 2024 for the one -the.

  • “The Wedding Party” is now available