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overcome anxiety Author Cathy Kelly says she worries at 'Olympic levels' but has learned how to cope with fears

As bestselling author Cathy Kelly celebrates her twentieth novel, The Family Gift, we reflect on her success.


Cathy Kelly

Cathy Kelly

Cathy Kelly

Petite, pretty and wealthy Cathy Kelly has plenty of reasons to be a total girl boss.

Instead, she is soft-spoken and 'normal' but underneath the sensitive nature of one of Ireland's best-known authors, is one clever lady who is certainly no walkover.

With 20 bestselling books under her belt, Cathy could be forgiven for congratulating herself daily on her achievements but if there is anything that Covid-19 has taught us it is that disease and heartbreak know no boundaries.

Her latest book is called The Family Gift and the central character is suffering from a mild form of PTSD after a violent mugging. Her name is Freya, a name Cathy loves because it is "one of those Viking 'I don't take any crap' names".

Asked for her pinch-me moment, the married mum of two who lives in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow replies:

"I do remember being in the car park of the Sunday World, where I worked at the time, and when my first book Woman to Woman arrived, I was so happy. I was driving a company car, I had moved on from the heady heights of a white Starlet, and I put the box of my own books in the boot.

"That was an amazing moment and that was 1997 and I remember thinking 'Oh my God it's MY book'.

"But thereafter normal stuff carried on. I got a malignant melanoma at that time, my father was sick, and I was still broke. Normal stuff carried on..."

Along with the solitary and comfortable life of a successful writer comes the part where most authors, no matter who they are, must do print, radio and TV to promote their work.

"I have travelled a lot - to Australia, New Zealand, Canada but never America. I mean they liked me, but they didn't like me that much. I do a gig in these countries in front of a few hundred people and I do a stand-up.

"I remember being terrified, but you just click into it and now I can stand up in a room full of people, I have done a few hundred people in South Africa and it is not a bother. I like making people laugh and I do funny. Everyone is sitting there hoping you will do well."

The Belfast-born and Dublin-reared writer has based many of her novels around women who have everything - not unlike herself.

"I love writing about people who seem to have it all because we have no idea what is going on in people's lives, so she's got the money, the family, the husband, she looks great, but she has no idea how to dress herself, she has this inner dialogue that says, 'You are a moron.'"

She laughs: "Occasionally I meet someone who doesn't think they are an eejit all the time and I go 'really, you don't think you are an eejit?'"

Cathy (54) has spoken about her own battle with anxiety and how she manages it through meditation and other calming skills - but religion is not one of her comforts.

She reveals: "I am not religious, I believe in the goodness of people, in the people around me, in friends, it is not that I am going to pray to God and God will give me what I want.

"I work with Unicef and tens of thousands of people are praying to some divinity, but they are raped and starving, and nobody is saving them."

She adds: "My anxiety comes and goes. I am a smiler, so people think I am always happy, but I worry at Olympic levels - I have ways of coping.

"I hate this pretending that everything is fabulous all the time and waking up with all your make-up on, the life that social media portrays.

"Just take a pic of yourself without being six stone and without 25 filters and show us that."

• Cathy Kelly's new book The Family Gift is out now.

Sunday World