Love and pain and dangerous liaisons

Marian Keyes had recovered from alcoholism to write two novels that have been number one bestsellers in Ireland. Last autumn, Reed won a frenzied auction to buy both her novels, along with a further two, for £425,000.

"I read a short story in a magazine one afternoon in September 1993, and out of the blue I got an urge to write myself. I think its quirkiness was what sparked me off. Over the next few months I wrote about four more. This was at the worst time of my drinking; the stories were a way of clinging on to sanity."

"I decided to do something about writing in April 1994, when I came back to London after being in a treatment centre. So I gathered up the short stories and sent them to Poolbeg Press in Ireland. I was a bit cheeky and said I'd also written 15,000 words of a novel. Of course, I had no intention of writing a novel - my attention span was far too short."

"Kate Cruise O'Brien wrote back and said that she loved them, but couldn't do anything with short stories by an unknown - but could I send the novel? I thought, 'OH MY GOD'."

"But I recognised an opportunity. Within a week I wrote the first four chapters of Watermelon. The words flew out of me - it was as if it had already been written in some locked room in my head."

"It was published in Ireland in September 1994 and went straight to number one. Then it was picked for the W H Smith Fresh Talent award, the first book from an Irish house to be chosen, and that was just mind-blowing."

"Through Erica James, one of the other Fresh Talent authors, I met her agent Jonathan Lloyd. He felt I could do a lot better with a big UK house. It was a tremendously difficult, upsetting decision to make to leave Poolbeg, but we came to a lovely agreement, where I signed for five more books (following the initial three-book contract) with them, and they freed me for the rest of the world."

"In September, Lucy Sullivan came out in Ireland, went straight to number one and stayed there for nine weeks. Then the whole song and dance began, with publishers offering money that was beyond my wildest dreams. It was deeply frightening. In the end it was just Random House and Reed. We went to see both houses, and they were both so enthusiastic and full of ideas about the books. But I went with Reed. I suppose I was a little overwhelmed by the size of Random House."

"Lucy Sullivan is damaged, because she has an alcoholic father, and has learned how men behave from him. An awful lot of women seem to be drawn to dangerous men. I was a perfect case in point. It wasn't until I got sober that I was comfortable with a reliable man, who phoned me when he said he would, and who was interested in making my life happy (Keyes married in December 1995)."

"I know that a lot of readers will pick up on the frothy, light-hearted side of Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married, and there were times when I laughed out loud myself - I know that sounds really show-offy. But I want there to be more to my books than romance. I want there to be pain, and real issues to be faced."

"I tried to walk a fine line between humour and telling quite a grim story. Because there is always humour. I've learned that myself."

Publication: Bookseller (UK) Date: 24/01/1997