Wednesday 28 September 2016

Life lessons with Cecelia Ahern: 'My first book completely changed my life'

Published 20/12/2015 | 02:30

Cecelia Ahern says she used a fake name when submitting her book to get an honest review. Photo: Ronan Lang.
Cecelia Ahern says she used a fake name when submitting her book to get an honest review. Photo: Ronan Lang.
Sister act: Cecelia and Georgina Ahern

Best-selling author Cecelia Ahern has had the private and public success many of us dream about.

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The Dublin-born daughter of former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern was just 21 when she penned her first novel, PS, I Love You, which became a best-seller. In 2007, the movie adaptation, starring Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler, became a box office hit. Today, she and her TV producer husband David Keoghan live in Malahide, Co Dublin, with their two children, Robin (5) and Sonny (3). At 34, Cecelia has an impressive 12 novels under her belt. Her most recent title, The Marble Collector, was released in October. She has also worked on a number of television series and short films. Cecelia has been published in nearly 50 countries, sold more than 25 million copies of her novels worldwide, and won numerous awards, including the Irish Book Award for Popular Fiction for The Year I Met You in 2014.

Now Hollywood is knocking at her door again, as Warner Bros has optioned the movie rights to her forthcoming young adult series, Flawed And Perfect, due out in March.

The Flawed And Perfect news is very exciting. It feels like a new beginning and a fresh start, as it's a whole new audience. Getting the film deal was a real boost. It's the same team that made PS, I Love You.

I get my ideas from experience, observation and imagination. I might take something that I've thought about for one moment in my life and turn it in to someone's biggest moment.

I got the idea for my new book from that phrase, "I've lost my marbles." It's something I say a lot as a busy mother.

I've spoken about having panic attacks in the past, but it's a story I don't want to keep going on about. I was trying to explain where I was at when I wrote PS, I Love You. People couldn't understand how I could write a book like that at 21. At that time, I was at a vulnerable stage and very much trying to figure out who I was.

It was something that I struggled with for a couple of years. It made me very introspective and really made me think about what's going on in other people's minds - but everything's fine now.

The anxiety of having them is quite terrifying. It's more about being anxious about having panic attacks than actually having them.

I always want to take my characters from somewhere dark and bring them to a lighter place. I've never had a character in my novels who's had panic attacks. But as a result of the experience of going through them, I've been able to put what you go through when you have them into my characters.

My first book completely changed my life. I had just got a degree in journalism and media communications, was still living at home and it was time to start looking for a job. I wanted to do film production but decided to write PS, I Love You instead, as the idea was taking over my mind.

All of a sudden, I had a career. I had to travel the world, I was published in 47 countries and I had a lot of responsibility. It was a two-book deal so I had to begin writing another book again.

I think my way of coping with everything was just wanting to get back to my desk to write more stories. So I wrote one a year, sometimes two. It was overwhelming, but not in a negative way.

Myself and my sister [Georgina] were a lot more aware of other people, of being looked at. It made us careful about who to trust and who not to trust.

My natural way to tell a story is to write a novel. I feel really comfortable with that genre, because of the freedom it gives me. If I'm working on television and it doesn't go the way I wanted then I'm really annoyed because I've lost my voice.

I don't respond well to being told what to do. I tend to just do the opposite.

As a mum, you're just so busy doing things for your kids that you have less time to worry about your own insecurities. I'm deliberately cautious to avoid having to worry. I take risks in my work but not in my personal life.

My husband is very measured and self-assured. I'm very close to my family but I also have great friends. As I've gotten older I've come to realise the importance of female friendship. One of my friends always says that she looks out for the beacon - usually in the form of a brief text message - when something is going wrong for me.

Most of the time I manage to keep things in perspective. I'm not a traditional creative person. I really like things in their place. I have folders for everything in my office, for example. I think I compartmentalise my life.

I feel more settled and more confident in what I'm doing now. At every stage of writing a novel there's always a point at which it's not going well and I start to question myself. Sometimes it lasts just a day, but I could have a week of it not going well.

I took a year off when I had my first child, after six or seven books. I got married and that year, I let everything sink in and re-prioritised. Things changed after that. I now have a much better work/life balance.

'The Marble Collector', published by HarperCollins, is out now at €19.50

Interview: Press Association, with additional reporting Meadhbh McGrath

Irish Independent

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