herald

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Putting things down on paper is therapy for me

AUTHOR: Cecelia Ahern talks to Melanie Finn about why she always felt compelled to write

Cecelia Ahern does not look like a young woman who has churned out 11 novels and sold 16 million books worldwide.

She's too fresh-faced and stylish for one thing. Writers with her bulging resume are supposed to look care-worn and frazzled, weighed down with trying to make sense of the world around them as they channel their inner muses.

Not so Cecelia. The 32-year-old looks like she's spent a month on a yoga retreat in India as she meets me to publicise her latest creative offerings.

That's without even mentioning the fact that she also has two young children with husband David Keoghan, namely Robin (4) and Sonny (2).

She freely admits herself that she's astonished that she has written so many works of fiction.

"I wrote one every year and it's 11 novels now so 11 years means I must be getting old now!" she said.

When she first got her €1m book deal for PS I Love you at the tender age of 21, she was at the centre of unfair claims that it was only down to her father Bertie Ahern being Taoiseach at the time. And of course, there was much made of her famous brother-in-law Nicky Byrne of Westlife amid grumblings of nepotism.

troubled

Undeterred by the sour grapes she continued honing her craft and is now estimated to be worth €15m, having had five books turned into movies.

Her latest novel, The Year I Met You, tells the story of a workaholic woman who loses her job and becomes obsessed with her troubled male neighbour who's also going through a hard time. You wonder to what degree her characters are inspired by the real-life figures in her life?

And while Cecelia insists that she's "nothing like" her main character, she used to be far more obsessed with her career prior to becoming a mum.

"I have always felt compelled to write. Putting things on paper is my way of sorting things out, it's like a release, like therapy. Before I had my family, when I was in my 20s, my life was just about work and it's all just go, go, go.

"You don't know how to say 'no' and just keep going so when I stopped and had a family, work and life became very separate things for me."

Strict discipline is obviously the only way for her to juggle home life with her writing career and she admits she physically needs to leave her Malahide home to put pen to paper.

"I have an office outside of the house so I leave and go to work," she said. "If the kids are in the house and I hear them laughing, I'll want to go out and join then and if they're crying I'll want to see if they're OK.

"I don't want my work in my home and it was very important for me to be able to separate the two things, put my brain into family mode when I come home and be in the moment with them.

"Before I had them, it was crazy. The printer used to be in the kitchen and I think it's healthier for me to separate the two.

"I work around school times so it's usually 9.30am to 5.30pm, four days a week and I take Wednesdays off so it works out really well.

"I usually start writing in January, the novel would be due in June and then I'll promote it in September and October. That's my time-frame so it just means I have to be very disciplined."

motivated

Cecelia also has another movie out this month entitled Love, Rosie which had its premiere in London last night.

Based on a book she wrote when she was just 21 entitled Where Rainbows End, she said it was "interesting" to revisit a story she wrote when she was in an entirely different place in her life.

But she said she never writes a book with the hope that it will be turned into a movie.

"No, never. If I wrote it from the wrong perspective it would be a lesser quality book - it would be contrived and dishonest. You have to write it from a good place. It's exciting when books are made into movies but it's not my intention," she added.

She suddenly bursts out laughing in the middle of our interview to reveal how she could "never do my job" as she's not nosy enough (I must have asked a particularly nosy question.)

She actually studied journalism in DIT but said that print journalism was her "least favourite" subject. Cecelia recently interviewed the lead of her new film, Lily Collins, for a magazine but said she felt bad being too intrusive when it came to quizzing the actress.

"My mind always goes to the creative side of it, like radio and broadcasting and what I wanted to do after the course was film production. But I decided I was going to leave to write PS I Love You," she added.

Asked where she gets her inspiration, she cites real-life as the source.

"I'll hear a certain phrase and I'll wonder about the roots for it and that will give me inspiration."

And although it's hard to believe, she has already written her 12th novel.

"I love it. I can't tell you anything about it but I wrote it in six weeks, It just came running out of me. My son would be asleep in bed and I'd be just writing away. I couldn't not write this," she said. A born story-teller indeed.

mfinn@herald.ie

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