Cecelia Ahern Interviewed by Marisa Mackle
Oh what a difference a year makes! I first met Cecilia Ahern at the launch of
a Westlife last album. She was sitting in the Four Seasons Hotel with her mum Miriam and boyfriend David. Bryan and Kerry McFadden chatted nearby. They were still together. And Cecilia’s book ‘PS I Love You’ had not yet been published. I introduced myself briefly, wished her luck with the book and wandered off to the bar.
One year later I’m in The Merrion Hotel waiting to meet Cecilia again. This time there’s no mother, no brother and no Westlife members in sight. I can’t deny I’m curious to find out whether her phenomenal success has gone to her head. After all this is a girl who pretty much dominated the Irish bestseller charts for a year! She has been on the Late Late Show twice as well as the hugely popular Richard and Judy show. She’s got to have changed, I think to myself. Cecilia Ahern is not just a writer, she’s a household name now. Everybody I know has read her book and I really mean everybody. But instead of being greeted by the literary equivalent of Britney Spears, instead I meet a confident young woman with a radiant smile. Cecilia Ahern is prettier than ever and nothing short of charming.
I’ve been up until four in the morning reading Cecilia’s latest bestseller ‘Where Rainbows End.’ It’s the story of a unique love that blossoms between best friends Rosie and Alex. I ask Cecilia if she thinks men and women can ever just be friends. Personally I don’t believe it myself. Experience has taught me that true, uncomplicated friendship rarely exists between men and women. Cecilia strongly disagrees however. She says she has many good male friends although she admits ‘some of them are gay’. I tell her that I’d like to ask her the same question in ten year’s time. But for the moment the twenty two year old stands her ground, and we move on to the next question.
I ask her if she has ever seen anybody reading her book. ‘It’s funny,’ she answers. ‘When my book first came out my friends were texting me from their holidays, saying everyone at the pool was reading my book but when I went on holidays I didn’t see one single person reading it!’ I can relate to that. I once saw a woman pick up my book and followed her to the check out, barely able to breathe. I just couldn’t believe somebody was going to part with their hard earned cash for something I created in my head. Cecilia laughs. ‘Yes, I once saw a woman at the airport with my book and I was delighted. Little things like that mean so much more than doing publicity and eyeing sales charts. When I first get my books I can’t help staring at them. I even wash the dishes looking at them!’ she adds jokingly.
The author also remembers a highly amusing experience in a bookshop. ‘I was in the shop with my boyfriend and we were buying books. The assistant told us that Cecilia Ahern’s book was doing really well. Then she looked at me and said “I also believe Cecilia is going to be on the Late Late show tonight”. She didn’t have a clue who she was speaking to!’
That lack of recognition suits Cecilia who is keen to play down her level of fame. ‘I don’t really get recognised,’ she insists. ‘People might know my name but not what I look like. I don’t love being in the spotlight and I’m happiest when I’m writing.’
It’s hard to believe that somebody so young can be so happy locked away in her own little world. Surely most twenty-two-year-olds would prefer to be out partying non-stop? But Cecilia genuinely becomes alive when she talks about her characters. And when this author has a story to tell, absolutely nothing gets in her way.
‘Where rainbows end’ is a deeply touching story full of ‘maybes’ and ‘what ifs’. It’s the type of novel that makes you think that life is too short to make wrong decisions. In short, it’s a page-turner that makes you evaluate your own life, and urges you to do the things you really want to, and to live life to the full.
Cecilia herself is a perfect example of a young girl living life to the full. But, unbelievably, the success of the worldwide success of ‘PS, I Love You’ hasn’t turned her head a bit. ‘I don’t get swept away by it all. I appreciate everything that has happened. When I left college I had no job and no money. Now I have a career and I get to travel to different countries. I’m just back from promoting my book in Scandanavia where I had a wonderful time.’
She has been both praised and criticised by the press (although she stresses she doesn’t read the papers herself!), but no matter what anybody says, the girl has undeniable talent, and buckets of it. Hype can take a book so far but Johnny Punter will not part with his hard earned cash for a dud.
To an outsider it may look like Cecilia’s success is an overnight one, but she has in fact been writing since the age of fourteen. Even as a child Cecilia loved books. Her favourite book was ‘Under the Hawthorne Tree’ by Marita Conlon McKenna. ‘Before that I had read books like the Famous Five series but everybody I knew was reading ‘Under the Hawthorne Tree’ and it really grabbed me.’
Cecilia is still an avid reader, having recently read ‘A Gathering Light’ by Jennifer Donnelly (about which she says ‘It’s the type of book I wish I had written’) and ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night.’
Although the writer has appeared on many chat shows, she is not naturally an outgoing person and definitely not a huge fan of public speaking. ‘In school I used to hate reading in front of the class. And I’d rather have taken the day off than read a story aloud!’ Luckily for the book world though, she since changed her mind
Cecilia who receives fan mail from all over the world, puts her success down to fate. ‘I believe everything that has happened to me has happened for a reason,’ she says with conviction. ‘I’m a spiritual person and believe that all this was meant to be. At the moment I’m on a high but I’m also prepared for the ups and downs that life will undoubtedly throw at me. I’ve never had a plan. I just go with the flow and with whatever feels right.’
With her feet so firmly on the ground, it’s not surprising that Cecilia has taken the literary world by storm! In fact she is so passionate about writing, that she doesn’t even answer her phone while immersed in her novels. It’s obvious that Cecilia genuinely cares deeply about her family and friends. Her mother is her biggest fan and reads Cecilia’s books as she writes them. In fact Cecilia has even dedicated her latest book to her mum whom she fondly refers to as Mimmie. Suddenly it’s dark and I’m wondering where the time has flown. This interview was only supposed to be a short one but three hours’ later we’re still chatting! We say good-bye and finally part company. And heading out into the dark, wet winter’s evening, I’m totally convinced Cecilia’s fairytale success couldn’t have happened to a nicer person!