In this version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing
victim author and they choose their own interview by handpicking which questions (and how many!) they want to answer. Cecelia Ahern is the author of One Hundred Names, a novel about what happens when a woman goes on a journey of discovery as she tries to find the common denominator in a mysterious list she finds containing a hundred names. Here is what Cecelia had to say about reading, writing, and the benefits of writing longhand.
Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?
After graduating with a BA in Journalism and Media Communications I was twenty-one years old and going through what I call a ‘quarter life crisis’. I was quite down, was going through some issues, was very introspective, withdrawn from others and was really trying to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. I have always written from an early age as a hobby, as therapy and a way of figuring things out, but I came up with the idea for PS I Love You I knew it was different from everything else and it took over my life. I put pen to paper and couldn’t stop. I was writing the story for me, just as I did with all of my other stories, with no intentions of having it published. I was writing from 10pm till 6am, longhand, then typing it by day. I hibernated for three months and completed the book. I poured my heart and soul into the novel, and seeing how seriously I was taking it, my mother encouraged me to show it to somebody in the publishing world. I found an agent Marianne Gunn O’Connor who wanted to see three chapters, then after ten chapters she agreed to represent me, she sent my chapters to publishers and within two months I had my first book deal, film deal and rights were sold to forty seven countries. It was incredibly overwhelming and exciting. I wrote because I was passionate about the story I was telling, because I’m passionate about writing, and it changed my life.
PS I Love You really struck a chord with people all around the world and I believe it’s because they connected emotionally with it, so they are the type of books I write. When I write something funny, I need to laugh at my desk. When I write something sad, I need to be crying at my desk. I must believe in and be moved by my work. I write about characters who we meet at their lowest and darkest point in life and the stories are about taking them on journeys of self discovery, using these tragic moments to actually become stronger people who are more aware of themselves. I find that when we’re happy we don’t ask questions but when we’re going through difficult times, we analyse everything. We can become stronger in these moments and my novels are about the strength of the human spirit – and while they’re quite dark, I like to inject them with humour as that’s what I do in life and it’s important to balance the light and dark, the funny and sad.
I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?
For the past ten years I’ve been writing longhand. Each time I begin I date and time the page as I really like to document the journey I’m taking while writing – it’s like a diary only I’m not writing about me! I write a chapter, then type a chapter straight after and I edit that as I go so immediately it’s a second draft. I like to light a Jo Malone candle, have a decaf latte and then I get lost in my own world. I used to work at night time as it was my most natural time but since having children I work regular office hours but still feel that I can be as creative as I was. Thankfully…
People live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time? What impact did telling this story have on your life? Did you find that it had changed you?
I consider myself an honest writer. I write about what moves me, what I feel connected to, I don’t write for other people, for publishers, even for the readers. I think at the beginning many people wanted me to write a different version of PS I Love You for every novel, but for me, to be creative, is to be free to do whatever it is that my instinct is telling me. I don’t believe you can know what people think is going to be a good story, I don’t like it when stories are twisted and turned and contrived to become something that isn’t natural – and when stories are messed with so much that they lose their heart so One Hundred Names was very much me expressing those opinions. Kitty has lost her way and she has lost the ability to write a story with heart. She has spent too many years writing for a market, digging for dirt, looking for the story that people don’t want to tell that she has forgotten to listen to the everyday stories that people do want to tell, that people have forgotten are important. One Hundred Names is my mission statement!
What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors? Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?
I’m currently reading my way through the Divergent series because I want to see the film but need to read the book first. Previous to that I read and loved Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt which was one of my all time favourites. I love quirky stories from authors Aimee Bender, Audrey Niffenegger and Andrew Kaufman. The authors whose books I most look forward to each year are Karin Slaughter and Lee Child. I like crime thrillers, and these authors pay very close attention to creating rich, strong characters as well as having clever plots.
In the past I have visited a blog called Daily Routines and it’s all about the schedules of writers and creative people. What does a typical day look like for you and how do you manage a busy schedule?
Everyday is different for me but I work from ten till 6pm. I write my novels from January until June, I edit June, July and August, and they are published around the world in October so I travel for Sep, Oct , Nov and Dec. I’m either writing my book, editing my book, creating TV shows, reading film and television scripts, or doing interviews. Everyday is different.
If you could have everyone read five books, which ones would they be?
‘The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger; The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kauffman; The GoldFinch by Donna Tartt; The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield; The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender
Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be? How involved were in choosing the name of the book?
The title was incredibly important to me as it was the title that inspired the entire idea. I was half-watching the MTV awards and an actress appeared onscreen to announce exclusive trailer for her new movie, One Hundred Names. As soon as I heard the title my mind went on overdrive. I loved the title, I started thinking of what it could be about and in that short space of time I had created the idea of a journalist who comes across a list of one hundred names and has to track them down and hear their stories in order to write a career saving article. As it turns out, I had misheard, the movie was called The Hunger Games!!
Do you ever look back at your early work? How do you feel your writing style or approach to writing has evolved since you first began?
I was twenty one when I wrote my first novel so I have definitely improved with each novel and I can see the journey from the first book to my tenth novel. I hope to continue to improve over the next ten books…
Where do you most love to write? Are there places where it comes to you easier than others?
I have an office which is outside of my home, and I have made it my calm creative space where I can light candles and work in silence – although there is currently a Pilates class going on beneath me! I also like to write by the sea.
My tenth novel is called How To Fall In Love and I have just completed my eleventh novel! Love, Rosie, a film adaptation of my second novel will be out in October starring Lily Collins and Sam Claflin and I’m continuing to develop TV series for ZDF network.
About Cecelia Ahern: Before embarking on her writing career, Cecelia Ahern completed a degree in Journalism and Media Communications. At twenty-one years old, she wrote her first novel, PS, I Love You which instantly became an international bestseller and was adapted into a major motion picture starring Hilary Swank. Her subsequent novels, Where Rainbows End, If You Could See Me Now, A Place Called Here, Thanks for the Memories, The Gift and The Book of Tomorrow were also bestsellers along with her collection of short stories, Girl in the Mirror.
Cecelia co-created the ABC Emmy Award winning TV comedy Samantha Who?, Hallmark’s Three Wise Women, and adapted her own novella, Mrs Whippy, for the stage. Cecelia’s books are published in forty-six countries and have collectively sold over 13 million copies. She lives in Dublin with her family.