'Good friends are very rare' - Marian Keyes & Anne Marie Scanlon's 30-year friendship
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'Good friends are very rare' - Marian Keyes & Anne Marie Scanlon's 30-year friendship

Marian Keyes' has said her latest novel would not have been written were it not for her best friend Anne Marie Scanlon.

Best friends, they each reflect on a bond that has now spanned nearly 30 years.

‘With Anne-Marie, I can tell her everything’

By Marian Keyes

ANNE MARIE SCANLON is my friend. My true friend. She is a rare and wonderful person and I feel so grateful to know her and that we’re so close. She and her son Jack are family to myself and my husband, Tony.

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Sitting down to write this piece has made me focus on what I value in her most and I suppose the first thing is her loyalty. She’s on my side, I know it in my gut. And her loyalty is to me the person, not me the writer. She stands up for me and she never judges me.

Even though we live in different countries, we’re in constant contact – email, Twitter and phone calls – and we’re a great support to each other. She understands my dodgy mental health and I know that when I’m in a dark place she will never take the position, “What has she to be depressed about?”

She listens to me, gives me compassion and it’s such a relief for me to be able to blurt out everything I’m feeling. I never feel I have to self-censor or only tell her part of the story – with Anne-Marie, I can tell her everything.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Far from it. She’s great company and always full of recommendations for interesting books and television shows. She’s a uniquely gifted raconteur and probably the funniest person I’ve ever met. No-one makes me laugh like she does. Even when we’re talking about the darkest of subjects, we end up having a scream.

I suppose our senses of humour are perfectly aligned, we find the same things funny and if some sort of news story breaks, all she has to do is text me three words that might seem entirely random to anyone else but has me in convulsions.

Here’s an example – ‘Leo Sayer’s jocks.’ That’s meaningless to anyone other than myself and Anne Marie and to explain why it’s funny would be impossible because it’s a long story that goes back years.

That’s another thing about Anne Marie and myself – we’ve known each a long, long time, probably 30 years. She’s younger than me, she was originally a friend of my sister’s but during my years of living in London, Anne Marie and I became close.

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As a result, we share countless memories. To have that sense of rootedness and continuity with her is something I really value. I’ve known her for more than half of my life, she didn’t just parachute into my life when I was a successful author, she knew me when I was a broke accounts clerk.

I wish we lived in the same country, I really do. But when she comes to Ireland, she and Jack stay with myself and Tony and we all get on great. We’re extremely relaxed around each other. She goes off and does her own stuff during the day and I’m always impatient for her to get back to me because she’s such a brilliant story-teller that she turns the most mundane events into a performance.

Regarding my work, I trust her implicitly. I always show her my work-in-progress and she will comment honestly – she won’t flimflam me.

If she feels something is unconvincing or confusing, she’ll give it to me straight.

But she’s always kind and always constructive. In fact, I have Anne Marie to thank for the inspiration for The Mystery of Mercy Close because for years she’s been saying that “poor Wayne Diffney” deserved his own book. When I went through a long spell of being unable to write, she insisted that I get working on Wayne, and it kick-started me again.

With her journalism, she’ll often ask me to take a look at her work before she submits it. She’s a brilliant writer, an insightful and gifted interviewer. But I wish she was on telly. I’d love if she had a spot, reporting on Corrie and other TV dramas. She’s so articulate and clever, such an astonishingly gifted and forthright communicator that she’d bring so much pleasure to so many people (especially me).

There was one year when Tony and I were away during Celebrity Big Brother (actually it might have been the year of Leo Sayer’s jocks) and Anne Marie sent us daily email dispatches on the show, and I swear to God, I’ve never read anything so brilliant. In a stream-of-consciousness style, she conjured up the whole series, second-by-second. It was better than watching it.

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Anne Marie is full of thoughtful gestures. When I go to stay with her she has all my favourite foods in and lovely pretty bed-linen on the bed and she waits on me hand-and-foot.  She goes to an awful lot of trouble for me. There was one time in Marks and Spencer’s and I was trying to buy a scarf but the assistant couldn’t find a tag on it, so it couldn’t be sold. But a few days later, Anne Marie produced the scarf for me – she’d gone to another Marks and Spencer’s and got it.

What I also value about Anne Marie is the way she includes my husband Tony in everything – we really are family.

Good friends are very rare and I love Anne Marie Scanlon with all my heart

The Mystery of Mercy Close is published by Penguin Books

Marian Keyes, Anne Marie Scanlon Anne Marie Scanlon. Pic credit: Woman & Home Magazine
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Marian Keyes' has said her latest novel would not have been written were it not for her best friend Anne Marie Scanlon.

Friends for nearly 30 years, they each reflect on a bond that has now spanned nearly 30 years.

‘We are our own worst enemies and each other’s biggest fans’ 

By Anne Marie Scanlon

WHEN I first met Marian she was the glamorous, sophisticated and thoroughly unapproachable older sister of my friend Caitriona.

The gap in age between us isn’t that big but back then I was a gauche schoolgirl and she was a stylish university student.

She had great clothes. Sometimes Caitriona would open the wardrobe door and we would stare in awe at Marian’s fantastic array of fashion.

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Looking was all we could do, we were most definitely not allowed touch any of the threads.

It’s funny, 30 years down the line (I cannot believe it is actually that long), that I was once scared of a woman who is the very embodiment of kindness, generosity and approachability, and who I love better than the sister I never had.

These days Marian still has a fabulous wardrobe but now I’m afraid to admire anything because she has a habit giving me things I say I like (with the exception of her husband Tony).

Most friendships, no matter how strong, become diluted with age, as priorities change, responsibilities increase – people marry and have children. Perhaps it’s partly because Marian and I only managed the whole package between us (she got married, I had a child) that we have grown closer over the years despite the fact that we’ve lived in different countries for the past two decades.

Marian’s readers are right in thinking that they know her – she is “warm & witty” as a thousand reviewers have said, but in real life she is even more so.

Marian is not just kind and generous but ferociously intelligent and is one of the funniest people ever born. Seriously funny – she could be a successful stand-up if she wanted.

In fact she is so smart and so funny she really could do anything that she wanted to do. I get very cross when I hear people slagging her books off, dismissing them as mere “Chick Lit” and not really proper writing (proper writing being of course earnest, po-faced and above all dull).

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I know I am biased but I think Marian’s books are in a class  all of their own and she should be loudly applauded  for her ability to tackle difficult subjects without leaving her readers wanting to top themselves.

Many assume writing is an easy job and Marian spends her days reclining on a chaise lounge, eating chocolate and reciting her novels into a Dictaphone.  Maybe some writers work that way but Marian is not one of them - I have witnessed at first hand just how much effort she puts into every book and how hard she works herself trying to make every sentence perfect.

In the course of our relationship Marian and I have both been through some very dark times and she is the person I will usually turn to in a crisis.

We have a very honest relationship and we’re not afraid to tell each other the truth.

I always know Marian will be frank with me and tell me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear, and because Marian is so willing to risk my ire (which can be fearsome) for my own good I am more willing to listen. She’s usually right as well.

The birth of my son Jack in 2007 highlighted just what good friends Marian and Tony are.

At the risk of sounding self-aggrandising, I’m a pretty good house guest. I clean up after myself and don’t expect to be entertained – although I do have a bad history of accidentally setting off burglar alarms.

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Having a baby or a small child in your house is no picnic (even when you are the child’s parent) but Tony and Marian have always been so welcoming towards my son and have never appeared put out - even when he locked us both in the bedroom on Caitrona’s wedding day and dropped the key through the floorboards – necessitating Tony to start hunting for spare keys a few minutes before he was due to drive the bride to church; or when Jack vomited all over their lovely beige sofa or the endless times he stank up Tony’s fancy car when he was a baby.

Since he was three, my son insists that Tony and Marian are part of our family. He’s right, we may not be related by blood but they are much more to us than just friends.

I love spending time with Marian because we amuse each other greatly, she is not just a great entertainer but she’s also a wonderful audience.

One of my favourite things in the whole world is to watch Come Dine With Me with Marian – we shout at the telly and kill ourselves laughing. Our relationship is symbiotic, we are both inclined toward self-doubt and harsh self-criticism, we are own worst enemies and each other’s biggest fans.

I won’t mention words like ‘Ying’ and ‘Yang’ as she’d call me a feathery-stroker and probably never speak to me again – which would be a pure disaster.