Q&A with author Cecelia Ahern
Cecelia Ahern joined us in October 2011 to answer your questions on her eight novels, including the bestseller, PS I Love You, and her latest offering, The Time of My Life. She also discussed her inspirations and the excitement of having her debut novel adapted for the silver screen at the age of 21.
Q. ChocoBOO: There's been a definite change in style in your books; they've become more mystical lately. Did something in your own life inspire this and do you ever feel like moving back towards the more realistic styles of PS I Love You and Where Rainbows End?
A. Cecelia Ahern: I never choose what style of books I write, I merely go with the strongest idea in my head, the one that won't leave me alone. Usually an idea will float around my mind and then the characters begin to form. I hear the voice of the character, I hear the tone and feel the mood of the story and the only way I can get rid of this from my mind is to put pen to paper and tell the story. Because of the way that I write, I would never rule out writing any particular genre, because I'm not deliberately trying to fit into any genre, they are just the stories that come to me.
A director recently said to me that my stories would be described as "speculative fiction" because I take the character out of normal day life, put them in an extraordinary situation and ask – 'what if?' That is just the way that my mind works! I like to escape to my imagination when I'm writing just as I like to escape into another world when I'm reading. In saying all that, I don't think that my next book, which I'm beginning in January, will have a "magical" element but it will obviously still be told with my voice, in my style and I'm hoping the overall feel will be rather moving and magical like PS I Love You.
Q. Celebmum: I really enjoyed Where Rainbows End. What gave you the idea for that book?
A. Cecelia Ahern: When I got my first book deal for PS I Love You I kept all communication regarding my book and the film between me and my agent, my editor and film people. After my life had effectively changed forever I was very sentimental about how it all happened and would regularly read back over the correspondence from the time, seeing the change in myself from the first email to the last. I printed out all of the emails and began to read from the start and I realised that the communication between us all was telling the story not just of how I became published but it was also telling a story about a very important time of my life.
I realised that the communications we receive in life, whether it's emails, letters or texts can all leave behind a trail of what we are experiencing, feeling, dreaming and actually achieving. I also kept shoeboxes of old letters and notebooks and diaries from when I was younger and each shoebox told a story about a particular point in my life. I decided this would be an original way to tell a story, one which would be incredibly special for the reader - there's nothing more intimate than a personal letter and in Where Rainbows End we get the opportunity to be a part of their most intimate thoughts.
Q. Ifancyanewname: I have just finished The Gift and it made me cry my eyes out at the end. It really made me think about the importance of putting family first. Is this something close to your heart? Do you feel as though you have not been put first as a family member or have you been guilty of taking loved ones for granted?
A. Ceclia Ahern: I came up with the idea for The Gift when I was doing publicity for PS I Love You, the movie. The book had also been re-released, I was putting finishing touches to Thanks for the Memories, I was working on Samantha Who? and I also had a silly idea to adapt a novella I'd written - Mrs Whippy - into a one woman show for theatre. I was extremely busy. It was probably the most frantic time of my life. I was in New York in the Waldorf Astoria in the Bear and Bull bar doing an interview for CNN when the researcher asked me if I was going to a certain event. I said, if I could figure out a way to be in two places at the one time, then I would. Suddenly – ping! I got the idea for the book and it all instantly came to me. I went back to the hotel, scribbled the story down on a notepad and knew that I had my next book.
Even in my most frantic times I can be inspired. I think what I was feeling at the time was that all the success was wonderful and I was so incredibly fortunate to be doing what I was doing, but I was quite tired and stressed out and the only place I really wanted to be was at home with my family feeling normal. That's when I came up with the idea for a character who didn't know what was important in life and through having the opportunity to be in two places at once he learns where he would really rather be.
Q. MsXPat: your books are like adult fairy tales. The mysticism fascinates me. Do you feel that you have to keep your 'inner child' alive in order to capture the innocence and inquistiveness that features in your narratives?
A. Cecelia Ahern: Writing the way that I do really comes naturally to me. I don't feel I have to connect with an inner child, because it's really just the way that I think. I believe in possibilities and I always continue to believe that we don't know it all and I am curious about what we don't know as opposed to what we do know. I find that when we are happy, we rarely question our lives but when we are thrown into traumatic situations we immediately begin to question ourselves and who we are.
This is why I choose to begin my novels with very vulnerable characters so that they will search within themselves for more answers. I also think that when we are in a place like this we are more open to believing in things that we wouldn't ordinarily believe in. That is why I feel the balance of reality and the extraordinary works in my novels. It's important to me that people can identify with my characters because if we believe in the character we can allow ourselves to be brought anywhere with them.
Q. LottieJenkins: I loved the book PS I Love You but I hated the film, and I despite Gerard Butler). What did you think of the film version?
A. Cecelia Ahern: I really enjoyed the film. I was incredibly proud of it and so excited that my idea was turned into a film with such incredible actors such as Oscar winners Hilary Swank and Kathy Bates, and then of course, Gerard Butler, Harry Connick Jr and Lisa Kudrow. What a cast! I prepared myself for the fact that the film could be hugely different to the book, because that's what happens in adaptations and so when I saw the film I was nicely surprised because it kept a lot of what was true to the book. The heart of the story was exactly the same and that was important to me. People liked that they could laugh on one page of the book and then cry on the other and the film was true to that. The characters were unchanged (mostly, in fact Daniel's character was changed and improved) and that was fantastic to me. The structure of the story may have been changed but the most important aspects of the story were there and I was thrilled. The problem with loving a book so much is that the film will never live up to the power of what you have seen in your mind. That is what is so wonderful about a book – we create what we want to see in our imagination whereas a film presents its vision to us. I was extremely proud of the film and feel that the story was interpreted perfectly.
Q. Peaceflower: Who read you bedtime stories when you were little?
A. Cecelia Ahern: Sadly - this will break my mother's heart - but I can't really remember any bedtime story-time but I do know that it was my mother who read to me. My memories only begin after the age of five. The books that I remember are the books that I read to myself such as: Enid Blyton's famous five, The Babysitters Club and Sweet Valley Twins. I must have been seven when I began reading all of those books.
Q. Mychildrenarebarmy: I love all your books and can read them time and time again. What is your all time favourite book?
A. Cecelia Ahern: My favourite book is The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. It's a beautiful dark love story, so cleverly constructed and beautifully written and I wish I had come up with the idea myself!