Maxi chats with number one best-selling author Cathy Kelly, whose gripping new novel Sisterhood reveals an explosive secret that causes two sisters to question everything.


Cathy Kelly is a former journalist whose debut novel was an instant number one. Since then she has published twenty-two novels which have sold millions of copies world-wide. When not writing she travels extensively as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador.

So how are you?
Full of gratitude for where I am. I am doing well, particularly since I’m finished with chemotherapy for breast cancer and the chemo was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through. I had a bad reaction to one of my chemo drugs so it was a tough time until that drug was removed and then – yay! Chemo was do-able. Up until that point, I was lying in bed a lot wondering if I was a particularly whiny cancer patient and if my reaction was normal!
Right now, I’m over surgery and chemo and waiting for radiation treatment. I am not back to my normal high-energy self but I am full of gratitude for my family, the doctors and nurses who’ve been healing me and for the incredible cancer research which has changed survival rates for cancer patients.

What have you learned about yourself in the last five years?
I am strong, and how to say the word ‘no’.
It’s a full sentence! I endlessly want to help people and was very bad at saying no but now, life has taught me that it’s good to look after you and not put yourself last, which is what one of the characters in Sisterhood has to do.

Tell me about your early beginnings as a storyteller, with your family.
I was a bookworm and for years used to sit in our family’s dog bed and tell her stories and read to her. Then my darling little sister came along, Lucy, and I could tell her stories at night. I lived in a world in my head where I could be a dog or a horse, depending on the books I was reading; or later, a ballerina or a jockey. I wanted to be a ‘jockey horse’ as I apparently put it.
Your talent for ‘show doesn’t’ tell’ is extraordinary; I, as a reader, am immediately in the moment. Did you learn that, or is it innate?
I think in pictures sometimes and showing what is going on is so much more powerful than hearing about it. Of course, showing can mean writing really tough scenes and I remember dear Patricia Scanlon advising me about a bit in my second book where two people have an argument and I didn’t show the argument and she said I had cheated the reader.
Gosh, that struck home. I had been rushing to finish the book but her advice stayed with me.

What kind of books give you joy to read?
I adore reading books written by my friends, like Patricia, Marian Keyes, Sheila O’Flanagan, Sinéad Moriarty and all the other amazing Irish authors.
I can hear their voices in their books and when I was ill, I re-read lots of Marian and Patricia.
But I read widely – I love biographies, books about science and biology, thrillers – who didn’t adore Sally Diamond? Fabulous. Everything, basically. The only thing I don’t read is horror.

What authors do you admire?
The above named plus Maeve Binchy, who was a total genius and should have been declared an Ambassadress for Ireland when she was alive.

What authors would you like to meet, living or dead?
I’d love to meet Jane Austen to discuss her world and how she translated it onto the page. I love her notion that ‘three or four families in a country village…’ was the ideal thing to write about because in writing about people in that close-up way, you can mirror some of the world. Not all of the world, naturally, but you can examine how people think. I love that.

When an idea strikes, what’s the first thing you do?
Write it down. I once could keep zillions of ideas floating around in my head but now, I need to write the idea down because it will get lost in the morass of ‘must buy dog food’ or ‘phone X’.

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own