ABC Queensland presenter Mary-Lou Stephens has released her second book How to Stay Married.
The book takes us around the world; from the glitter and glare of Las Vegas to the sub-zero temperatures of the French Alps and the tropical heat of Thailand. The discoveries Mary-Lou makes regarding herself and her marriage are a modern day parable about learning to travel light in life, love and relationships. Her first book Sex, Drugs, and Meditation chronicled her earlier struggle with drugs.
Mary-Lou talks to Steve Ahern about her life’s journey.
How did you come to write this second book?
My husband and I travelled around the world, from the heat and humidity of Asia to sub-zero temperatures in the Alps, all with carry on luggage only. When we returned, our friends were astounded that we’d managed to do it so easily. As I’m a writer one of those friends suggested I write a book about how to travel light. I wasn’t sure it would make a very long or even interesting book, but it got me thinking. What if I used our travels as a metaphor for our marriage?
My first published book Sex, Drugs and Meditation told the story of how meditation changed my life, saved my job and helped me find a husband. How To Stay Married is the truth behind the happy ending. It uses our trip as a framework for the story of our marriage. Our early married life was a nightmare to tell you the truth. But the lessons I learnt and the hurdles we overcame to get to where we are now make fascinating reading. How To Stay Married is a modern day parable about learning to travel light in life, love and relationships.
I do what I am told. To resist will result in alarms, handcuffs, the clang of a cell door locked behind me. I’ve heard the stories.
So I stand, on a rubber mat, arms outstretched. What will happen next? Will the security officer take a swab for DNA?
Will she tell me to strip? Will the stretch and snap of rubber gloves herald the beginning of a cavity search? The male half of the uniformed team rummages through my meagre luggage. What is he expecting to find?
I was hauled out of the line with no explanation and brought here while my husband watched on helplessly. Why me? Is it because, finally, my past has caught up with me? The drugs, the stealing? But I was given a visa, no questions asked. The judge must have meant it when he took pity on me in that small town court room. He said no conviction would be recorded. Surely if my former life were still a threat I would not be here, in this airport, with an itinerary that takes me around the world
From How to Stay Married
What is your message?
How to Stay Married is about creating the kind of relationship you want. Isn’t that what we all seek? A place where we belong. Arms in which we feel safe. Home. My wish for my readers and the ones they love is for happy trails and many adventures along the way.
While How to Stay Married isn’t your regular ‘how-to’ book, there is a list of Seven Tips For a Happy Marriage (and one from my mum) at the end. By the time you’ve read the book you will have seen how these tips have played out in my own relationship. But really it’s the tip from my mum that sums it up best:
On her deathbed my mother gave our marriage her blessing. “Remember darling,” she said. “Love is a decision. Every day you make the decision to love the person you’re with. Keep making that decision every day and you’ll have a long and happy marriage, even when it’s not all that happy.”
I feel like throwing up. Sweat and tears mingle on my cheek. ‘This will pass,’ I try to convince myself. ‘This will pass.’ I have been at the meditation centre for six days. I have four days left to go. I could get up and walk out the door right now. No one would stop me. But then nothing would change. And everything has to change.
From Sex, Drugs and Meditation
Your first book Sex, Drugs and Meditation was pretty full on. How long ago was that written? Was it cathartic?
When I used to read self-help books I turned straight to the case studies, the stories. I think human beings are hard-wired for stories, we love them. When I realised my life read like one of those case studies I wondered if other people would be interested in my story. Most memoirs are a case study of sorts, a case study of the human condition, of triumph over tragedy. And most memoirs fit into the most popular story form of all – The Hero’s Journey.
To tell you the truth I never thought I’d be an author. I wrote songs for years when I used to play in bands. I didn’t think about writing prose until about 12 years ago when I went on an overseas holiday and came back with a few out of focus photos taken on a disposable camera. It was John Stokes who said “Clearly photography’s not your thing. Why don’t you write about your holiday instead?” So I did and I’ve been writing ever since.
I wrote newspaper columns and short stories but never anything longer. I saved up my money and took six months leave without pay. I wanted to find out whether I could write an entire book and then having done so if I ever wanted to do it again. The answer to both questions was yes.
My early attempts to write my first book weren’t successful. A literary agent read some of it, saw potential but told me I had to get really, really honest if I was to continue. I wasn’t brave enough at the time so I put the manuscript away and wrote a novel instead. When I found my courage I rewrote Sex, Drugs and Meditation and eventually landed a publishing deal with Pan Macmillan. It was published last year.
Mary-Lou is a graduate of the AFTRS radio course and previously worked in commercial radio, before joining ABC 90.3 on the Sunshine Coast.
Both books are available online. Click the covers to purchase from Amazon.