Book Talk: Modern, ancient Ireland inspire novelist Cathy Kelly

SYDNEY, April 1 Wed Apr 1, 2009 9:25am BST

SYDNEY, April 1 (Reuters Life!) - She's topped bestseller lists all over the world, but it's her home country, Ireland, that excites and inspires popular fiction author Cathy Kelly.

Born in Belfast and raised in Dublin, Kelly started her writing career as a journalist in an Irish newspaper.

Her first book, "Woman To Woman", was published in 1997 and became a bestseller almost overnight, and 12 years -- and 11 books -- later, her writings, which tend to focus on women and relationships, are as popular as ever.

Kelly, who is an ambassador for the U.N. children's fund UNICEF, recently spoke to Reuters in Australia, where she was promoting her latest novel "Once in a Lifetime".

Q: What started you writing novels?

A: "I've always wanted to write, but I just never thought I could write about our life and the world we live in. But while working as a newspaper journalist, I interviewed the then "new girl" on the Irish writing scene, Patricia Scanlan, and she changed it for me. I remember thinking that her book, "City Girl", was such a contemporary book. Maeve Binchy also influenced me. She wasn't writing about old Ireland either, but about contemporary women."

Q: Ireland has a rich literary tradition, but now we're seeing a lot of successful Irish women authors on the scene such as Marion Keys and Cecilia Ahearn. Is there any rivalry?

A: "I know it would make a much better story to say we are all rivals, but no, we're not rivals we're friends. We go out for lunch, we have meetings. I sent my latest book to Marion Keys in the very early stages and she loved it and that gave me great confidence. I think the pie is big enough for all of us.

Q: Where do you get inspiration for your characters?

A: "Ideas come from the weirdest places. It's very rare that I can pinpoint exactly where an idea came from. There was one book where I got the character after listening to the Scissors Sisters' song "Take Your Mama Out". I thought wouldn't it be great to have a character who was absolutely wild in her youth and now she's incredibly settled and everyone thinks she's this little square person but actually she has a big secret.

Q: In your latest novel, you go back to pre-Christian Ireland. Is that something you want to explore further?

A: "Absolutely, I love that stuff! I loved writing Star's character in my latest book. I'd written half the book and didn't like it and then she came to me. I love that pre-Christian era, it's very powerful. I think we're ready to hear about it more too. Maybe the difference is with this global meltdown we are ready to look at something deeper."

Q: Do you intend to weave threads of ancient Ireland into your writing?

A: "It's happened a lot more because I love ancient Ireland, we've got a wonderful history and a wonderful culture. People say how can books set in Ireland work around the world, but I think I talk about things that work everywhere: life, relationships, grief, whatever. But, it's lovely to have little things that are intrinsically Irish."

Q: How does being a writer help you in your role as a UNICEF ambassador?

A: "Writers fame is very different to Hollywood or music fame, but it's brilliant thing to be able to give something back. In my previous book I mention "if it takes you four days to read this book, by the time you've read it 5,000 children will have died from HIV." I write books that gives me a certain platform to talk to people about something they may not have heard about. UNICEF is just an incredible organisation to work with."

(Reporting by Pauline Askin, Editing by Miral Fahmy)