DreamWorks has just hired their first female composer – and she’s Irish
DreamWorks has just hired their first female composer – and she’s Irish

Sarah Finnan

WIN a Fitbit Sense health smartwatch, with tools for stress management
WIN a Fitbit Sense health smartwatch, with tools for stress management

IMAGE

Tom Ford’s new leather scent is as sophisticated as they come
Tom Ford’s new leather scent is as sophisticated as they come

Holly O'Neill

How to deal with failure: 4 tips on how to recover from a setback
How to deal with failure: 4 tips on how to recover from a setback

Colette Sexton

The ‘Friends’ cast just launched their first official limited-edition merch collection
The ‘Friends’ cast just launched their first official limited-edition merch collection

Sarah Finnan

A shared gold medal and an Olympic knitter: The most heartwarming moments from the Olympics so far
A shared gold medal and an Olympic knitter: The most heartwarming moments from the Olympics...

Sarah Finnan

Sustainable Irish sleepwear brands to help you catch some zs
Sustainable Irish sleepwear brands to help you catch some zs

Sarah Finnan

Andrew McGinley: ‘I cannot forgive the act of murder. I can’t forgive how my children died’
Andrew McGinley: ‘I cannot forgive the act of murder. I can’t forgive how my children...

Amanda Cassidy

What actually consitutes self-care when you’re a mother
What actually consitutes self-care when you’re a mother

Sophie White

The expert guide to your hair problems, from thinning hair to heat damage
The expert guide to your hair problems, from thinning hair to heat damage

Melanie Morris

Image / Editorial

Author Cathy Kelly talks imposter syndrome, inner critics and being yourself


by Jennifer McShane
16th Nov 2019
blank

She’s a beloved Irish author who has sold millions of books worldwide, but even she struggles when it comes to that dreaded inner-critic. Cathy Kelly spoke to Jennifer McShane about her latest novel ‘The Family Gift,’ new beginnings and the challenges of keeping her stories fresh


As soon as I start talking to Cathy Kelly, it’s like I’ve known her for years. Similar to her novels, it’s like catching up with an old friend. This time, however, it’s like we’re reminiscing after decades-long friendship being that her newest book The Family Gift is her 20th novel. I can’t believe it’s number 20 and neither can Kelly.

“Oh, either can I!” laughs Kelly when I mention the number.

The Family Gift tells the story of Freya, a woman who, on the outside, has it all: wonderful family, blossoming career and a new house. Except that, well, family life is messy, she’s struggling to keep up with social media pressures as a TV chef and she has Mildred to contend with – the name she’s given to the nagging voice in her head who criticizes her every move.  It’s a wry, funny and warm look at the complications of modern life with a style that is a departure for Kelly – this is the first time she’s written in the first person.

“There’s a lot of natural progressions and as you mature and develop you – as well as the writing – change. For this one, I made a conscious decision to write in the first person, which I knew would change it straight away, and I loved doing that”

“It just changed how I wrote. In this way, more of ‘me’ shines through. When I sit down to write, I’m always thinking of the next book, so I’ve always got loads of ideas in my head. But you do want to progress all the time. I love when writers I love change things around – they are still able to retain what makes them ‘them’ yet become very modern, so I strive to do this, in my own way.”

Mildred may be a battle for the character of Freya but it’s this element of the story arc that feels the most relatable. We all have that voice, named or not, and Kelly says this was her favourite part of the novel to write – and, tellingly the easiest.

Battling imposter syndrome

“To be honest, I had to take out a lot of Mildred out – she was nearly getting her own book – because I found I was drawing on my own inner voice, willing her to the surface more. I wondered if that ‘voice,’ the one who never gives us a break, is a particularly feminine characteristic, but I know that’s not necessarily the case.

“I found it especially reassuring when I was talking to other people for the book and they said, ‘yes, I have that too!’ I know that not everyone has a ‘voice’ like that but I am envious of those who don’t have something second-guessing them all the time”        

It seems strange that a writer as successful as Kelly would have bouts of self-doubt and imposter syndrome but she says she certainly not immune to either. She agrees it’s very much a common denominator among women in a work environment and that hers reared its head years ago, in her early journalism days. Despite years in the field, she says she constantly feared she was awful at her job and would be ‘found out’.

“It’s a complex thing,” she admits. “I had enormous imposter syndrome when I started in journalism. I feel I talked my way into the job – I think a lot of us do in journalism – and every week if my byline wasn’t in the paper, I would think, ‘that’s it, they think I’m awful at my job and I’m going to be found out and fired.’

“And then when I was first published as a novel, it reared its head again and I thought that’s it, they found me out and all the negative things they are saying is true. Because you might have five lovely reviews and one bad one but my god, do you remember the horrible ones – they burn into the back of your eyelids”

Her advice? To just do ‘the thing’ you think you can’t.

“Funny enough, a lot of the confidence I’ve got in later years I’ve gotten from journalism and writing pieces to promote the book because I sit down and say, there, you’ve done it! Look, you can actually do that and talking myself mentally through the fear.  It was the same with short stories which used to fill me with absolute FEAR – until I sat down and wrote my own. And it’s so wonderful, the confidence you get from doing that. But even now, I’ll write and write and then send it to an editor and sit there in terror until I get some feedback.

“So for this one, I thought, yes, I’m going to write about how I actually feel [through Mildred and Freya] which is often afraid and insecure, despite having to appear strong, and there’s great comfort in that – to know that it isn’t just you.

“There’s a power in that, in reclaiming who we are and not thinking we have to be the visions of ourselves which might exist in someone else’s head. We can be different. And that is empowering all by itself.”


The Family Gift (Orion, approx, €15.99) is out now

Also Read

stress
EDITORIAL
Are you up the walls? How the language of stress causes stress

Do you find yourself talking about how busy and stressed you are? With stress, the words we speak are like...

By Sophie White

blank
EDITORIAL
This is what happens when you hypersexualise young girls growing up

Who is demanding the fetishization of young girls anyway?”When I was working in my early twenties, and even my late...

By Amanda Cassidy

blank
EDITORIAL
‘Quite interesting’: Princess Anne comments on The Crown

We’ve all heard that the royal family don’t exactly gather round to watch The Crown, but one member has shared...

By Jennifer McShane

blank
CULTURE
Reality Bites: TV shows like Love Island are warping our minds

It may be the most unifying show on television, but shows like Love Island are promoting some pretty damaging messages....

By Amanda Cassidy

brain
EDITORIAL
8 easy ways to keep your brain healthy that you can do right now

Your brain health is just as important as that of the rest of your body, says psychologist and neuroscientist Dr...

By IMAGE

blank
EDITORIAL
‘Why do we keep snatching normality away from our children?’

This summer the government will allow my children into a bar, but not to their gymnastics camp. Amanda Cassidy on...

By Amanda Cassidy

blank
EDITORIAL
Setting mental health boundaries: ‘I didn’t expect the level of anger it caused’

The entitled backlash when someone tries to set their own boundaries is concerning, writes Amanda Cassidy “One particular friend just...

By Amanda Cassidy