After writing 16 best-selling novels in 17 years, you’d think that Irish author Cathy Kelly might have earned the right to sit back and enjoy her success – even if just for a moment. But when the Weekly speaks to her over the phone from Ireland, first thing on a Monday morning, she is still reeling from a busy weekend with her twin 11-year-old sons, Dylan and Murray, and is about to sit down to work on her next novel, while also thinking about the meals she needs to put in the freezer before she heads off on her forthcoming visit to New Zealand.
“It’s impossible to get the balance right,” laughs Cathy (48), whose warmth and good humour has endeared her to readers the world over.
“The hard part is trying to do it all while not being the screeching mother from hell that you promised yourself you would never become! I do feel that I’m really privileged that I can work at home, have a career and still be there for my children. But the idea that it works easily is crazy.”
Thankfully, Cathy says things have eased up slightly since the very early days in her sons’ lives.
“The first year was just about survival really. I think all first-time mums feel like they’re doing everything incorrectly – well, I felt that only double! Now they’re much more independent and though they’re not identical, they have this wonderful bond and they look after each other, so I feel very blessed.”
And while the success of her books should have put paid to any self-doubt about her abilities as a writer, Cathy says she still spends lots of time worrying.
“I’m always second guessing myself. I’ll write something and then look at the computer and think to myself, ‘Oh, you’re an idiot.’ It’s usually when I get to the halfway point in a book that it starts to go quickly and you’re cruising along and feeling delighted with yourself.”
Thankfully, Cathy gets lots of support from her husband John Sheehan, who looks after the business side of her work – though even he doesn’t get treated to a sneak preview.
“I never let him read things early,” says Cathy. “When I’m working on something, I always think, ‘Oh, no, that’s dreadful, you couldn’t possibly read that.’ Then when he does read it, I can’t bear to look at him – I make him do it when I’m not there.”
But Cathy, who counts fellow Irish author Marian Keyes among her good pals, admits that once the finished product is out in the world, she does relish the kind words from her readers.
“I get such amazing and warm feedback as if everyone is urging me on, in a lovely way. I’m still overwhelmed that I can be sitting at my desk pouring a bit of me on to the page and then someone thousands of miles away can say, ‘Oh, yes, I feel that too!’ I think a lot of what we experience is universal – we all have the same worries and thoughts, and if someone tells me that I helped them, that is always my biggest joy.”
And when she’s not reaching out to women around the world through her novels, Cathy is doing it through another outlet with her work as a Unicef Ambassador.
“I’ve always thought these charities needed people with practical skills, which I don’t have,” she says. “When Unicef asked me to be involved, I was overjoyed. I realised this is something I can do – I can visit places in the third world and then come home and go around the country and talk about it. It make me very proud that I can do something to help other women and children.”
In fact, so dedicated is Cathy to improving the lives of women that even on the homefront, she has this mission in mind. “I’m working very hard to make sure that my boys are going to be fabulous husbands one day,” she laughs. “I’ve taught them to make pancakes – with strict supervision – and I also had them vacuuming the other day. I want them to be able to do things and look after themselves.”
In the meantime, however, Cathy is still in mum-mode, making sure everything is sorted at home before she heads Downunder for what will be her fourth trip to see her Kiwi fans.
"I’m so excited,” she squeals down the line. “I just can’t wait. In case you can’t tell, I really love to meet people and to have a good chat.”
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