Saturday, 16 June 2007

Beware of gushing chick-lit groupies (and other scary phenomena)

Today, I met Marian Keyes.

It wasn’t a chance encounter - I had been planning this day for quite a few weeks - in fact, ever since my favourite mag announced that they would be hosting a breakfast in her honour. I immediately contacted all the girls* and excitedly shared the news. Sadly, when they realised sharing breakkie with Ms Keyes would set them back a small fortune, I received a flurry of replies that went along the lines of ‘would love to but have to pass. Sorry.’ It was then that I decided that I was going to fly solo and attend on my own (well, as alone as you can be with 600 other MK fans). So at the crack of dawn this morning, I switched off the alarm before it drove me to destroying it, switched on the kettle and started getting ready for my fabulous morning plans. (For the record, it is middle of winter and so very much dark at seven in the morning. It felt distinctly unnatural getting up in the dark on a Saturday morning. Or for that matter, any other morning. Bleuch. Anyway.) I smeared on some much-needed-crack-of-dawn make-up and put on a girly skirt and top ensemble. No need for practicality today! I then jumped in the car and made my way to the Table Bay Hotel, situated next to the V & A Waterfront. (Such a gorgeous drive there... the sun was breaking through the early morning mist and gave the mountain a distinctly ethereal make-over. Very pretty.) Registration opened at 8h30, which is exactly when I arrived - expecting to be one of the first. But on walking in to the ballroom after grabbing a glass of the early morning champers on offer, I was surprised to see the place fairly packed. Wot a bunch of keen little bunnies. I scanned the room for the podium (and then saw a table right in front of it - with (some) empty seats. I certainly wasn’t going to sit in the back - not a chance, so I went up to the table in the front and asked the ladies seated there if they minded if I joined them. They were super-friendly and invited me to sit down. So I did. :)

*‘Girls’ - as in the motley crew of fabulous friends that I have.

The breakfast was scheduled to start at 9h00, by which time I had nibbled on some fruit, munched on a beautiful muesli, yoghurt fruit and honey concoction, downed a cup of coffee and made good headway on my glass of champagne. Though sadly, yet no sign of the guest of honour. Probably a good thing as this gave us (my table) a chance to get to know each other and snap happy groupie pictures of each other. One of the Fair Lady representatives made an announcement that Marian would be there at 9h30 and so they served the main meal (yes, I was a real little piggy this morning - HUGE breakfast). Thereafter, Suzy Brokensha (editor of Fair Lady Magazine) gave a nice little introductory speech after which Marian Keyes took to the podium. I was in my element!!!!!! Here was an author who I have loved and admired ever since I read Sushi for Beginners way back when. Not only was it fabulous to see her in person and listen to her read from her book, but I was blown away by her modesty and general niceness! After being so widely published and hugely successful, I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had been, well a little smug, self-satisfied or distanced. But here was a woman who seemed genuinely surprised at the warm reception. She was sweet and funny, and certainly lived up to my (dangerously overly-) high expectations of her. As she read from ‘fill in the blank’ I listened captivated by reminders of a riveting story I had already read. The extract was sharp and witty, without being too over the top. Her writing is fairly relaxed and conversational and had the room in stitches.

After doing the reading in her broad (fresh-off-the-plane) accent, the tiny Irish author took questions from the rest of us. The questions varied in seriousness and complexity, though the answers were always sincere and interesting. Through the questions section, we got to meet Himself and the reasoning behind referring to him as such (in Ireland, the men often refer to their spouses as ‘herself’. While it’s not a particularly nice thing to call your spouse, it was a kind of ‘women give it back’ type move, purely light-hearted. She also mentioned she didn’t want to mention Tony by name and yet felt it too stiff to always refer to him as her husband.) Another girl asked her what her secret to writing was. Marian’s answer was that there was none. It’s hard work and takes sacrifices, but that perserverance would eventually pay off. And also, never try to emulate someone else. Just be yourself.

One of the final comments came from the lady sitting next to me. She told us all how she was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago, and while under-going treatment, had started reading Marian Keyes novels, and that she had been a fan ever-since. Marian was really touched by that, as was everyone else, it seemed. All very feel good.

After that, there were a few lucky draw prizes (can you believe I won a little somethin’ something’) after which I joined the queue to have one of my MK books signed. When I got to the front, I handed my camera to himself and started gushing to Marian about how one day, when I’m big, I’d like to be her. Then, just before having a picture taken with her, I asked her how old she was when she had her first column published. I’m hitting 30 and beginning to feel a little long in the tooth. She assured me that there was oodles of time and that she was 33 when her break came. She was so sweet and wished me luck. Like she really meant it!

So I left the Table Bay Hotel armed with a rather fabulous goodie bag, autographed book and photos of the occasion. What an awesome morning. Some people might think it’s silly getting so worked up about a chick lit author and anyone who knows me will tell you I’m not easily impressed by celebrity status. But I love what Marian Keyes stands for. Her life has been no picnic, and she’s struggled with some serious issues. Her books remind us that life is nowhere near a walk in the park. The protagonist doesn’t always ‘get the guy’. In a nutshell, they describe what modern women experience in a world that isn’t a bed of roses. They’re realistic. That’s why I love them.

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