Author Cathy Kelly talks about getting older, love, loss and this year’s passions
Arriving at Cathy Kelly’s house you feel straight away it was a home where imagination is celebrated. The honey and burnt orange trees in the garden, artwork to make you smile or raise a brow, Billie Holiday original records on show and deliciously scented candles. As Cathy invited me into her home with a welcoming smile I felt immediately like I was popping in for a cuppa with friends; Cathy, myself and her three little dogs. To have the chance to speak with the award-winning author was a complete treat and the perfect way to launch our year-long series of interviews celebrating 50 people across the country, aged over 50, who have excelled in their chosen field.
What does being over 50 mean to you?
“The older you get the more you see we should love each other and mind ourselves. We can be so hard on ourselves. I have never had a problem with growing older, you are a certain age and that’s who you are. There are people in their twenties who may as well be 100. And then there are the people who have an enthusiasm for life and age is irrelevant. Yes, our bodies age, that is the reality, but we deal with that. I have horrendous arthritis in my hands, but that’s nothing in comparison to people with severe illnesses, this is a blip.”
How do you grow as a person?
“The older you get, you realise what you don’t know, you begin to see these enormous gaps in your knowledge. I read lots of non-fiction and you learn about history, people, life, how other civilisations live and survive. It’s an awareness of the planet and the people on it. We are all part of this amazing mix and the tragedy is that there is a lot of unfairness in the distribution of wealth, education and basic healthcare on the planet. We are all on this journey of learning.”
Are you treated differently now you are over 50?
“Fifty becomes important for women in a way that it isn’t for men as so much of our power comes through youth and fertility. It was a defining factor. Once you have come through the other end and had the babas and no longer turn the man’s head, sheer evolution means that instinctively guys won’t be going ‘ooohh’. They are now saying, ‘Hello Ma’am, how are you?’ It is sweet, they are being respectful. This is the great thing about getting older, you begin to say, ‘this is it.’ If I mistakenly go to the shops in my slippers, nobody’s going to notice.”
Have you changed much since turning 50?
“I have a lot of enthusiasm. The older I get, the more it comes out because you’re able to be a little bit crazy, wild and it’s fun. I talk to everyone, I’m desperate in the Irish sense. My sons, when we go the village, are like ‘Can we sit in the car?’ because I’m going to meet eight people and hug them and have a conversation. I love that. I’m always rushing, [a] Duracell bunny person.”
Tell us about your attitude to ageing and motherhood
“Being a mother has been pivotal to letting my character out. A lack of confidence when I was younger flattened it for a while when I was trying to fit in, which is a terrible prison. Suddenly I had children, these two beautiful boys, and a switch went off. I can be me, and it’s been joyous. We have so much fun, and my writing style changed, I think I’m funnier.”
Did you have confidence and drive in the early years of your writing?
“I didn’t always have a lot of confidence, but I had a lot of drive. I always wanted to make things the best I could, I would always try. Once I said I was doing this, I was doing this! I always wanted to write, I tried to write a Mills and Boon with my mum when I was 19, at journalism college. My Mum is hilarious and hysterical. We had a golf ball typewriter, the E was dodgy, it didn’t work. I don’t know how two people can write a book. It was going nowhere, and then my father decided he was going to do his book. They all went nowhere. I don’t know if we even sent it off, it didn’t work. At 21, I tried to write another book, a sort of clogs and shawls, I didn’t read those sort of books. That didn’t work and I told everyone I was writing a book. Never do that, because then when you can’t write it people want to know where it is and you feel like an eejit.”
Would you change anything?
“There are certainly things I would change, more in how I reacted to people. ere were people who walked on me, I am part of the Me Too movement. There are people who say, ‘she did what she could with the knowledge she had at the time.’ They are the things I would change.”
How do you feel about the future?
“Right now I am in a certain phase of my life, I want equality for all women in the world. That’s not going to happen in my lifetime but I’m damn well going to give it a shot. I would love to write for TV, workshops and get more involved in the fight for women and children.”
What’s the worst thing about getting older?
“Being creaky, I was always hyper flexible, I could bend over backwards. I wouldn’t try it now, I’m doing a bit of rehab yoga. At some point, it will all go crazy. I smile, I have energy, vitality is the most important thing.”
What’s your advice on ageing?
'“My best friend Emma Hannigan, towards the end, lived with so much vitality. She did not have time, but we have time. My way of ageing is not being afraid. If you think about the alternative, this is pretty good. We go through menopause thinking everything is going to fall apart or fall off. Everyone is going to do it differently, do it your way and try and do it with enthusiasm. Your life is not over, it is a different phase. Those of us that are here, we are so lucky, we are alive, that is a gift to enjoy. Being over 50 is a great time in my life, it is arthritis and wrinkly bits but we are here, we are alive. As the Japanese say, it’s our second spring, so watch this space.”