Friday 19 July 2019

Bondings: Marsha Mehran & Christopher Collins

The acclaimed novelist Marsha Mehran, who was found dead in her Mayo home, gave this interview to the Sunday Independent eight years ago.

Andrea Smith

'WELL, I guess I can buy some new underwear now," was the first thing out of Christopher Collins's mouth when his wife Marsha Mehran jumped on the bed and woke him with the news that she had just landed a two-book deal.

Laughter is a huge feature of the relationship between author Marsha, born in Tehran on the eve of the Iranian Revolution, and Christopher, from Claremorris in Co Mayo.

"We have a lot of fun together, but I drive her mad with my humour - I joke about everything," he says.

The couple met in New York in the mid-Nineties when Christopher was a bartender at Ryan's Irish bar on 2nd Avenue. "When she walked into that bar, she lit it up," says Christopher, who, at 23, was four years older than Marsha. "I knew there were only two ways I could go: either IDher and kick her out, or askher out!"

"After several Malibu Bay Breezers," says Marsha, "I thought the Irish bartender was starting to look good."

"She blew me off the first few times I asked her out," says Christopher with a laugh. "She was being cool because she had just started coming into the bar and everyone liked her."

Marsha's arrival in New York was another chapter in a very cosmopolitan and eventful life. Her family escaped the Islamic upheaval and moved to Buenos Aires where they set up a Middle Eastern cafe. She attended a Scottish private academy there, and by four years of age could speak three languages - Farsi at home, English at school, and Spanish in the streets.

Amid threats of military coups and a teetering Argentinian economy, the Mehran family subsequently moved to Miami, and, following her parents' divorce, Marsha, then 14, went to live in Australia with her mother,

"I left at 19 and arrived in New York with only $200 in my pocket," she says. "I worked, initially, as a hostess in a restaurant owned by Russian mobsters. There were no customers there, which I thought was a bit odd at first, until I realised that the restaurant was just a front for their other dealings."

Christopher was always destined to be involved in the bar business, having grown up with a family involvement in The Beaten Path in Claremorris, one of Ireland's biggest entertainment venues, from the late Seventies to the late Eighties.

Following a CERT food and beverage course, he worked in Germany, and then went to the US on a Morrison visa in 1994, where he worked as a bartender and manager.

When Marsha saw Christopher kissing another girl after she had turned him down, a ploy he claims was engineered to make her jealous, she realised she harboured feelings for him too.

"He was very charming and very kind, with a huge heart."

He moved in with her two weeks later, and she proposed to him two months after that.

"I called him up one night and said, 'Hey, do you want to get married?' And he said, 'Are you serious?' So we did, eight months later, in Australia. We hadn't planned it, it was a spur-of-the-moment thing because I'm not the most romantic person," admits Marsha. "We didn't even have wedding bands and still don't, but we know we'll be together for the rest of our lives."

The couple stayed in Australia for a year, then decided to come to Ireland. They moved to Dublin, and Christopher got a job managing the Oliver St John Gogarty pub in Temple Bar, while Marsha was a receptionist inFilm Base.

"It was at that time that I realised that I wanted to be a writer," she says. "I started out writing a letter to my brother. It turned into a short story, and then a novella. Christopher was working a lot of late nights, so I was often home on my own in a new city. I was lonely, so writing started becoming my outlet.

"I was walking across the Millennium Bridge one day when it suddenly hit me like a lightning bolt. I know that this sounds really cheesy, but it was an epiphanous moment. I stopped and looked around at the beautiful lights and the people walking past, and said out loud, 'I'm going to be a writer.' From that moment on, I really pursued it with drive and commitment, and I eventually found an agent who I instantly liked and was interested in representing me."

Marsha and Christopher eventually made their way back to New York via Australia, and Christopher worked at his specialty - turning ailing bars into success stories. Meanwhile Marsha worked on her book, a novel about Iranian-American women.

Six weeks before the book was due to be delivered to the agent, and having worked on it for almost two years, Marsha decided she didn't like it. "It was depressing and dark, and I realised that if I wasn't touched by it, nobody else would be," she says.

"So I got up the next morning and started a new book, Pomegranate Soup. I wrote it in six weeks flat - I justconstantly wrote, and ate!" "Ice-cream and chocolate," interjects Christopher.

"Luckily, my agent loved it," she says, "and sold it a couple of weeks later to Random House." Pomegranate Soup is a delightful book that fuses Persian cooking with Irish living and has already been sold in 17 countries, with its movie rights now under negotiation.

It is centred on three Iranian sisters who flee Iran and make a home in a village in the west of Ireland, where they open a cafe selling Persian food. The venture is initially viewed with suspicion by the locals, until they are lured by the magic of the cafe's mysterious, spicy fragrances.

"It was inspired by livingin Mayo, where I came to love the smell of peat fires, thefiddle sessions, and the Irish humour," says Marsha, who sees herself as a melding of Persian, South American, American, Australian and Irish cultures.

Christopher and Marsha still live in Mayo, but admit they still haven't settled on where to settle yet.

Christopher has been hugely supportive of Marsha's creative endeavours and is assisting most capably with the publicity drive, often employing the hook of "annoying Irish husband" when approaching the media.

He is also the designated tester of Marsha's experimental cooking, a passion of hers, but it is clear that he is more than happy in this role.

"The day I met Marsha was the day I fell in love withher," he says, "and every day I fall a little bit more in love with her."

First published in Sunday Independent, 2005. 

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