Interview with Cecelia Ahern

Posted by Goodreads on April 11, 2016
Cecelia Ahern is best known for her hugely popular romance novels, including the blockbuster debut P.S. I Love You, which was made into a film starring Hilary Swank. Now the bestselling Irish writer is releasing her YA debut, Flawed, the first in a dystopian series about a society that prizes perfection above all and punishes those who err by branding their skin with the letter F. With flavors of both Divergent and The Scarlet Letter, Flawed centers on Celestine, a law-abiding teen who takes a stand on a bus—there are nods to the Rosa Parks story—causing a storm that could cost her everything. Here Cecelia answers your questions about her early success, where she finds inspiration, and the challenges of writing a YA series.

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Amanda: Your first novel, P.S. I Love You, was a bestseller all over the world and got made into a movie. Do you feel that sudden fame made your career harder? Also, I've read that you wrote P.S. I Love You when you were 21 years old and working as a journalist. What was your motivation to change from journalism to being a novelist?

Cecelia Ahern: I received a degree in Journalism and Media Communications. It was a broad communications course where we studied TV production, radio broadcasting, film studies, creative writing, and print journalism. I was drawn to this because I liked storytelling but always knew that print journalism was not where I wanted to go. My passion lay in fiction.

When I completed my degree, my plan was to study for a master's in film production, but I left after two days to write P.S. I Love You. I hibernated for three months and lived and breathed every word of that book. It took over my life, I poured my heart and soul into it, and wrote the story for myself, not with the aim of being published. With the encouragement of my mom, I sent a few chapters to an agent, seeking advice, and I received so much more: my first two-book deal. It was an incredible moment in my life, and my life changed from being a student living at home to having a career and traveling the world. The belief in me gave me the encouragement to keep writing. I embraced the enormous opportunity offered to me.

Cynthia: What are your rituals just before you start writing a new book? What would you recommend to anyone who wants to start writing but is not sure how to begin?

CA: I think about the book for a long time before writing, I research the subject to fully understand it, immerse myself in it. I plot out the story in my head, watch it as though watching a movie in my head. I write out the main points, and when the character's voice is strong and I can hear them and feel them, truly understand them, then I start to write. I light a candle and write longhand. My advice is to not procrastinate, write what moves you, write with the voice you hear in your mind, and you will immediately be different, unique because nobody thinks like you, sounds like you, or will write like you.

Kabriya: What was the biggest difference or challenge you found writing a YA book compared with the adult books you've written before?

CA: There was no difference in writing it. I simply got into Celestine's head and saw the world from her eyes. My previous novel, I was in the mind of a 60-year-old man, so that's just part of being a writer, having the ability to see the world from different angles. The challenge was that it was a series, and I've never done that before, trying to decide what to reveal, what to hold back, all the threads to weave and seeds to sow for Perfect (the second book in the series). In the first draft of Flawed, I held back too much, feeling I should save story for Perfect, but then I went back and fleshed it out and made it meatier! Perfect grew so much more as a result.

Delphine: How different is the process of writing the first book in a series versus writing a standalone? Which is easier, and what do you prefer? And what is your favorite thing about the protagonist, Celestine?

CA: I like that Celestine follows her gut instincts. She didn't do this at the beginning; she listened and obeyed the rules. But when trouble is brought to her doorstep, when it becomes personal, it rattles her. She is a logical person and so uses this logic not just for her studies but instead for her life. She is compassionate in a society that has lost its compassion. She is logical, sensible, emotional. She doesn't just think her way through her new problems, she feels. This emotional journey is what separates her from others, I think. This is not a story that involves physical fights; it's about thinking, decisions, feelings...

J: "No one is perfect," as we would all say. Thus we accept that each one of us is flawed. Are the characters in Flawed branded every time they commit a mistake or are they only branded when they deviate from the norms of society? Can being flawed be an indication that you decided to be different from the mainstream? Or is it just a mark for a mistake that you've made and will act as a reminder forever?

CA: Flawed populations are branded for making decisions that are frowned upon by society. They are not illegal but moral or ethical decisions. For example, Angelina Tinder, who was branded for helping her mother die in a foreign country where it was legal. A doctor who missed a diagnosis. A teacher who was heavy-handed with a student. A CEO who takes too big of a risk that doesn't pay off. The brand shows society that they have made a mistake and due to this are likely to make it again. They may not rise high in society, must not reach a point of influence over others. They are degraded, kept low.

Jaime Leigh: As a young author, my family knows that a lot of my material comes from them or from experiences that we have had. Is there a certain someone or something that you draw from for inspiration or a particularly funny/inspiring conversation that you have used in one of your novels?

CA: I always say my ideas come from imagination, observation, and experience. My granddad Con, Cornelius, inspired Celestine's granddad Con because he was a rebel, a fighter. He fought in the Irish Republican Army for his freedom.

Megan: Your novels tend to focus on, or develop into, very positive outlooks on life and have uplifting ways of overcoming issues faced by the characters. Is this due to your being at heart a very positive person yourself or as a reflection of what you would like to see more of in the world? What inspires the more magical and fantasy elements of your writing (i.e. the secret land of found things in A Place Called Here)?

CA: All of my novels have a similar thread; we meet a character who is going through the most difficult point in their life and is finding life difficult. Through their struggle they go on a journey of self-discovery, learning things about themselves and life that they never knew before. Whatever awful thing that has happened actually causes this stronger person to emerge. I believe that life's struggles do help us to become stronger versions of ourselves.

I'm intrigued by the human spirit, fascinated by stories of people overcoming hardships, that despite enduring traumatic things, we can come through it and live on, move on. That is the spirit that I base my books on. The left-of-center angle of some of my books is due to the fact that I'm a curious, open-minded person who likes to question 'what if'?

Adhe: What was the book you read that made you want to be a writer?

CA: There was no such book. I've felt compelled to write ever since I learned how. Writing is inside me, a part of me, and though I love reading, it's my desire to put pen to paper that turns my ideas to stories.

Floyd: How do you continue to stay so independently inspired for each book? They are so vivid.

CA: I really have to feel everything I'm writing. I need to feel moved and be connected. If I'm not, I can't write it. I think that's the magic of books; if done right, the reader gets back what the author puts in. I also watch the story in my head, then I write it.

Alejandra: Two of my favorite books (P.S. I Love You and Where Rainbows End) are about love... How would you describe true love?

CA: I'm no expert on love, but I think it's something different to everyone. I personally think friendship is vital. If you can't respect your partner as a friend, then you can't really go any further.

Comments Showing 1-12 of 12 (12 new)

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message 1: by Soumya (new)

Soumya Singh Cecelia Ahern is one of my favourite authors. Whenever I read her books I get so emotionally attached to the characters in them.
She really is an inspiration. I aspire to be able to do what she does... Magic
For me Cecelia Ahern books are the modern day fairytales.
I love her style and how she expenses herself.

message 2: by Carrie (new)

Carrie Madsen Cecelia Ahren's books are like modern day fairy tales-- well said Soumya.
They make me happy-cry laugh out loud. I love the characters and settings she paints with word-pictures. When I read a Cecelia Ahren book I don't want it to end or say goodbye to the characters.
I have always enjoyed YA fiction and I'm excited to read this new series. Yay. Enjoyed the interview on her process and career too.

message 3: by Kidrauhlland (new)

Kidrauhlland Cannot read her book now, because I am writing my exams. It is so hard for me to not start reading "Flawed", I actually asked my sister to hide the book somewhere!

Lourdes (Chapters We Love) I read The book of tomorrow and totally loved it!!! Can't wait to read more from her!

message 5: by S (new)

S I love her so much :')

message 6: by Kerrie (new)

Kerrie Foster I love her and her works so much! I like this interview as well, except the fact that almost all questions are about her books and the process of their writing and creation. It's really cool, but I also interested in some of her backgrounds, so it would be great if someone asked Cecelia about how she came to the choice of her profession, I mean the period before she was admitted to the Faculty of Journalism. I would love to know about her childhood, about how she first met on writing. Because I think that this period has the greatest influence on the formation of a man as a creative person. Some of the future writers start loving literature from early childhood, some of them struggling with writing and asking for help with college essay writing online, and only as they become more mature they begin to understand and love writing. Everything is quite individual, and this is the most interesting part for me. But thanks for the interview, I learned a lot from it.

message 7: by Joseph (new)

Joseph Cecelia Ahern's books is great! I love her style. I wish writers from Dissertationteam writing service be as good as she. I ordered an essay from that company and they delivered me an awful paper. It seems like their authors don't know English language at all! What an awful experience.

message 8: by Lisa (new)

Lisa I read 'Rosie Dunne' in 5 days. Loved it! It was romantic, funny, teasing, playful, thrilling, innocent. Not overly sexed up and sucking out the romance. I would like to write novels too, and these are the ingredients I'd like to have. Big up Cecelia!

message 9: by Lisa (new)

Lisa I read 'Rosie Dunne' in 5 days, loved it! It was playful, romantic, teasing, innocent. Not overly sexed-up and sucking out all the romantic flavour. I liked her different writing style, and as a novelist aspirant, I was completely inspired. Big up yuself Cecelia! You have a new Jamaican fan.

message 10: by Steve (new)

Steve Everyone who knows Cecelia Ahern, knows her for her hugely popular blockbusters like "P.S. I Love You" or "Divergent". But I fell in love with her writing style and her way of thinking after I've read her novel "A Place Called Here". This novel perfectly discloses the topic of our lifetime search. What do I mean? You start searching for some daily thing but while doing that you find something absolutely extraordinary, that changes your life and ideas significantly (for example, you are a lazy student but you want to graduate successfully so you start searching for on the Internet, but instead, you find some interesting book and it changes your mind). Jenny-May Butler is one of my favorite characters from this novel. This is a girl that went missing, she has been portrayed to be mean but later Cecelia shows us that she is just a girl, that has her own vision of the world we live in.

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