Marian Keyes

How To Fail: Marian Keyes on why she “failed her 20s” is a hard but essential listen about addiction

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Elizabeth Day chatted to Marian Keyes on the How To Fail podcast about getting through her 20s, alcohol addiction, IVF and the conflicting “desire” to not put on weight. 

Marian Keyes is the best-selling author that everybody wants to be friends with. That’s not an exaggeration; she’s one of the friendliest and funniest women in publishing. Keyes is also incredibly talented, thanks to an intrinsic ability to connect with readers with her relatable stories and characters. That’s probably why she’s sold over 33 million copies of her novels worldwide. And why we cannot wait to read her highly-anticipated new book Grown Ups

So it’s little wonder that the internet has fallen in love with Keyes once more after she chatted to Elizabeth Day on the How To Fail podcast

Keyes opened the conversation by talking about the sexism in publishing, saying: “If something is done by a man, it’s automatically more interesting, it carries more weight. If a man writes a book about emotions, he’s writing about the human condition. If a woman writes a book with emotions, she’s writing a fluffy soap opera. But the subject matter is identical.

“But men cannot be seen as writers of fluffy soap. Obviously, it has to be ‘far more meaningful. A universal, searing exploration of the human condition…’ And it’s just irritating.”

She then went on to honestly discuss her personal “failures”, including not getting into journalism college, not having children, and gaining weight (which she admits to being part of sexist expectations).

But it was her words on why she feels she “failed at her 20s” that really got us thinking about alcoholism – and how is affects women during this pivotal decade. 

She explained how she felt after not getting into journalism school, saying: “I kind of gave up. Alcohol had been a great friend to me from my early teens and just became a better friend. I was in a job where my boss was very kind to me, she took care of me. I was overqualified for that job but I stayed there because I thought I’d never be able to ‘better myself’. 

“So I drank and I drove down cul-de-sacs and had relationships with men who endorsed my own sense of self-loathing. I was hopeless with money, but at the same time I was always holding out hope that something magical would happen. An awful lot of it was hung on a man. That this fabulous man would arrive and he’d make everything OK.”

Marian Keyes
Marian Keyes books

She continued: “It was like treading water, or being on a treadmill and going nowhere. Cycling a stationary bike. But I wasn’t – everything was getting worse.

“About a year and a half before I finally had to stop drinking, it had moved from a worry to being an obvious alcoholic (to everyone but me). I was very depressed, very hopeless. I was so grateful to alcohol. I thought ‘god this is helping me, because I am so unhappy, and how would I manage if this was taken from me?’

“And any addiction is progressive. It got worse and I’d continue to normalise the abnormal. I ran out of road and it was the best thing that could have happened to me. But it was a waste of eight years. But now, it wasn’t because I had to get to the end of the road.” 

Anyone who has been through, or is going through, addiction might relate when Keyes says alcohol “was the love of my life, it was my best friend”. And when she describes addiction as being a “powerful relationship with an abusive person”. 

Listeners have pointed out other great lines from the conversation, which are just too relatable for many.

It’s an essential listen for any Keyes fan, and anybody who knows what it’s like trudging through the turbulent 20s. 

Listen to Elizabeth Day’s How To Fail podcast with Marian Keyes

Images: Dean Chalkley

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…

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