Mar­ian Keyes and hus­band Tony Baines speak can­didly about their re­la­tion­ship

The nov­el­ist Mar­ian Keyes, 52, and her hus­band, Tony Baines, 53, talk about her break­down and al­co­holism, and how they came to terms with not hav­ing chil­dren. In­ter­views by Clare Con­way.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS - AWW


I met Tony at his 30th birth­day party. I ac­tu­ally gate­crashed it. He’d in­vited my friend Su­sanne, who in turn brought about 27 of her near­est and dear­est. It sounds vomit-in­duc­ing, but I fan­cied Tony be­fore I met him. I’d heard he loved Ir­ish mu­sic and writ­ers, and that he was a mem­ber of the Labour party. He was my per­fect man, ex­cept he had a girl­friend and I was mired in al­co­holism. I was 29 and at my very worst.

At the time, Tony was liv­ing in Lon­don. He was born there, had gone to Cam­bridge and worked in IT. I was born in Lim­er­ick, stud­ied law at Dublin Univer­sity and moved to Lon­don aged 22. I was liv­ing in a squat in Hack­ney with a gay friend and was hav­ing a fab­u­lous time. While Ire­land was still very tra­di­tional and con­trolled by the Catholic church, Lon­don was just the op­po­site. I’d sleep all day, go out club­bing at night and worked in a trendy café in Soho.

I was also drink­ing. I was a maudlin, re­ally teary drunk. I also had no self-es­teem, so I’d al­ways end up pick­ing boys who weren’t re­ally in­ter­ested in me. By the time I was 30, the drink­ing had got so bad, I went into re­hab. I thought the best of my life was be­hind me.

But I got bet­ter, and when I came out of re­hab, Tony and I started see­ing each other. Ini­tially, it was only as friends, but 11 months later we got en­gaged. As they say: “When you know, you know.”

We’ve been mar­ried for 20 years now, and Tony han­dles my me­dia re­quests, proof­reads my chap­ters, helps me with con­tracts and taxes. A lot of men have a prob­lem with women bring­ing home the ba­con. Tony used to be the bread­win­ner, but he’s to­tally at ease with be­ing a dogs­body, and I re­spect him for it.

Fame didn’t change us, mainly be­cause at first I didn’t make any money. With my first roy­alty cheque I bought a couch, but kept my day job in a clerk’s of­fice. It was only when I was do­ing my third novel, Rachel’s Hol­i­day, that I got a big ad­vance and gave up my job. We also moved back to Ire­land, which I’m ashamed to say was partly be­cause writ­ers didn’t pay taxes there – I’ve now been pay­ing them for a long time.

We bought a big house in Dun Laoghaire, not far from Dublin, and the plan was to have lots of chil­dren. It didn’t hap­pen.…All I’ll say is, it doesn’t hurt too much any more and I know Tony would have been a won­der­ful dad. Now we’ve filled our lives with other peo­ple’s kids and our neph­ews and niece.

Then, six years ago, I had a break­down. I felt dis­con­nected from the world, afraid of stuff I couldn't ar­tic­u­late. For 18 months I was sui­ci­dal each day. My only job was to get up and not kill my­self. Even Tony, who was my safe per­son, couldn’t reach me and I felt I was mak­ing him mis­er­able. I told him to go, but he stayed. Four years later, I started to come out of it.

The best thing about Tony is his kind­ness. It’s a qual­ity that in any­one I love the most. He also has a gen­tle, lov­ing way and has al­ways been sup­port­ive of me. I feel su­per­sti­tious talk­ing about him be­cause I don’t want to jinx it.

I know God doesn’t do bar­gains, but I’d hap­pily live in a shoe­box with Tony. I’d hap­pily lose ab­so­lutely ev­ery­thing to keep him.

STRANGESTHABIT Mar­ian on Tony: He’ll eat any­thing. He once ate a cockscomb, the top of a chicken’s head. I had to close my eyes.


See­ing some­one you love suf­fer so much with de­pres­sion is hor­ri­ble. Through­out Mar­ian’s break­down, I hon­estly thought that sui­cide was a se­ri­ous pos­si­bil­ity. Ev­ery sin­gle time she went out, I would worry. I found my­self turn­ing into this con­trol­ling hus­band, con­stantly need­ing to know where she was and when she’d be back.

Be­cause we are each other’s best friends, if ever I had a prob­lem,

I’d talk to Mar­ian. When all this hap­pened, I knew I couldn’t put any pres­sure on her. If she re­alised how hard it was for me, there was a risk that it would make sui­cide even more likely. She’d of­ten speak about killing her­self so that I didn’t have to be stuck with her. But al­ways, hid­den un­derneath it all, the real Mar­ian was still there.

When I first met Mar­ian, she was liv­ing in Lon­don. We were both in our 20s and she al­ready had a prob­lem with al­co­hol. She then went into re­hab and wasn’t meant to get into a re­la­tion­ship for at least a year. That was fine with me, I was happy just be­ing friends, but in the end we only man­aged about eight months be­fore we started go­ing out.

Our en­gage­ment also hap­pened quickly – three months later. It wasn’t grand, there was no ring. We were just in my flat, I didn’t even go down on one knee. We then got mar­ried at the church by her mum’s house in Dun Laoghaire, where we now live. It was a won­der­ful day. It was also a great time be­cause her first novel, Wa­ter­melon, had just been pub­lished.

Her re­cov­ery from this last break­down was slow. She still finds ev­ery­day life more stress­ful than be­fore. She’s hap­pi­est when we’re sit­ting on the couch watch­ing TV. When it came to hav­ing a fam­ily, we did ini­tially want kids, but in the end we couldn’t have them. No one ever told us we couldn’t…– it just didn’t hap­pen. We thought about adop­tion, but Mar­ian said she only wanted my chil­dren. We have a lovely life, I can’t com­plain.

If Mar­ian is writ­ing a novel, it be­comes a huge part of her life. She’ll think about it all the time, and want to dis­cuss it. I’ve just read 25,000 words of her next one, Time Off for Bad Be­hav­iour, about a woman whose hus­band wants to go trav­el­ling for six months and have af­fairs.

I’d say I’ve helped her work out some of the plots, but mainly I’ll deal with her tax re­turns, post and so on. I’m re­ally just happy be­ing in the back­ground. I hope Mar­ian car­ries on writ­ing. I know she finds it stress­ful, but it also makes her re­ally happy. And that’s the one thing I want more than any­thing.

STRANGEST HABIT Tony on Mar­ian: She wears a shower cap when she’s cook­ing, to stop the smells get­ting in her hair.

“For 18 months I was sui­ci­dal each day. My only job was to get up and not kill my­self. Even Tony couldn’t reach me...”

Above: Mar­ian and Tony on their wed­ding day In 1995. Above right: Mar­ian and Tony at home in Dun Laoghaire. “She’s hap­pi­est when we’re sit­ting on the couch watch­ing telly,” says Tony.

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