Cathy Kelly: Life is full of difficulties for the women in my book – and for all of us

Best-selling Irish writer Cathy Kelly has just released her 19th novel which tells the stories of three different women at pivotal moments in their lives. She tells Joanne Sweeney how she believes that love and support from your friends is how to navigate the difficulties that life invariably throws at your way

Belfast-born writer Cathy Kelly's new book The Year That Changed Everything was published earlier this month

CATHY Kelly's heart is "simply broken" as she faces up to the prospect of losing her closest friend, fellow best-selling Irish author Emma Hannigan, who recently confirmed that she's losing her fight against cancer.

"I just visited Emma this morning in hospital and we laughed as we always did, as she believes that you always should enjoy life and get the best out of it," Cathy says. "She just has such phenomenal strength and is a wonderful mother and friend. I can't tell you how many lives she has touched, including mine."

Emma, whose novels include The Pink Ladies Club, Keeping Mum and Perfect Wives, announced on social media that doctors had told her that there was nothing more they could do for her in her 13-year battle.

In a moving blog post, she left her readers with this advice: "Mind each other. Be kind to each other and hold those you love close by. Life is so very precious. We never know the day or hour that it will be whipped away. So fill your days with as much happiness as you can muster."

The reaction to the mother-of-two's tragic news brought fellow authors, cancer survivors, and fans online rallying to support sales of Emma's latest book, the heart-warming Letters to My Daughters, as book seller Dubray Books has promised to donate all profits to the Irish Cancer Society.

"Giving money to aid research is Emma's big message to us all – she wants more research to be done," says Cathy, who like Emma, lives with her family in Co Wicklow.

"She's been my closest friend for the last 14 years and we talk every day. She's always believed that life is to be lived, so get on with it. I bet there could even be a book in the amount of texts we have sent to one another over the years. Needless to say, I'm just broken at the moment."

The completely supportive friendship that Cathy and Emma share is very much like what Cathy writes about in her new novel, The Year Which Changed Everything, which ultimately showcases how resilient women are, particularly when they support each other instead of being in competition.

Both authors have enjoyed considerable success over the years with their range of novels written about life in contemporary Ireland. While Emma has 13 best-selling novels to her credit, Belfast-born Cathy has written 19 over the past 20 years.

The mother of twin teenage sons, Murray and Dylan, with her husband John Sheehan, the former managing director of Sony Music, Cathy was only one when her parents left Glengormley to live in Dublin where she went on to be journalist.

The Year That Changed Everything, which has just been published is a warm and humorous account of the lives of three women who all experience a momentous change in their lives as they celebrate their respective 30th, 40th and 50th birthdays.

One has a baby, one loses everything she has, including her husband, and one loses a disloyal friend who had dominated her in a toxic relationship for years – but how they manage to navigate these major changes will have to be left to readers of the book to find out. Suffice to say that the women, Callie, Sam and Ginger, are all very changed by the time they next celebrate their birthdays.

"Life is full of difficulties, just like it is for the women in my book – well, just like it is for all of us – and life is about learning to accept what has happened but still make the best out of your life.

"My character Sam finds that she has to accept her mother for who she is and she happens to be a woman who is not naturally maternal but who instead wanted to have a job," says Cathy.

The youngest of her characters, Ginger, falls foul of a female boss as she tries to make her way in a newspaper, working as an agony aunt, which Cathy herself did for a while when she worked for the Sunday World in Dublin.

The 51-year-old novelist is very much a girl's girl, in that she's supportive and encouraging of women, particularly in the workplace, and enjoys mentoring other less experienced women writers. She's also an ambassador for UNICEF Ireland, raising funds and awareness for children orphaned by or living with HIV/AIDS, and a strong feminist.

Her writing trademark is warm and witty Irish storytelling about modern life, always with an uplifting message, a sense of community and strong female characters at the heart.

The best-selling author of The Honey Queen, Between Sisters and Secrets of a Happy Marriage, her work is published all around the world, with millions of books in print, since her debut novel Woman To Woman was an unexpected international best seller in 1997.

At times she has outsold both J K Rowling and Dan Brown in the UK and is one of the most successful, as well as prolific writers of her generation, on a par with Maeve Binchy.

Cathy tells me she uses her nous from her feature-writing days to come with story lines and characters for her novels.

"I was always used to coming up with ideas for features so I don't find it that difficult to come up with ideas for situations and characters in my books," she says. "In my writing, I'm always interested in the psychology behind why people do what they do, so that's what I bring to the characters. I've often said that if I hadn't have turned out to be a writer, I would have loved to have been a psychoanalyst."

:: Cathy Kelly's new novel The Year That Changed Everything is out now in paperback (£12.99) and eBook.

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