My Life In Books: Cecelia Ahern

Next up in SL’s ‘My Life In Books’ series is Cecelia Ahern, the bestselling author who brought us some of the biggest chick-lit bestsellers around, including P.S. I Love You, Where Rainbows End and Love, Rosie. To celebrate her first foray into short stories, with new book Roar published this month, we sat down with the Irish novelist to hear all about her life in books…

What are you reading right now?

I’ve just begun When All is Said by Anne Griffin. It’s about an elderly farmer who buys five drinks to make five toasts about five people in his life, and through these toasts and tales we learn about his life.
Best book you’ve read this year?

I’ve read so many diverse and wonderful books this year, but the one that has stayed with me long after I closed it is Holly Seddon’s Love Will Tear Us Apart which is intriguing, dark and romantic.

What book from childhood will always stay with you?

Under the Hawthorne Tree by Marita Condon McKenna. It’s the story of three children growing up during the Irish famine in 1845. When their mother leaves them alone to search for their father who's working on the roads but doesn’t return, they decide to make their way across the country to find great aunts they’ve only heard about in stories. The three siblings bravely defend themselves during a heartbreaking and challenging time. I read this at around nine years old and it was the first book that dealt with heartbreaking and real life issues and opened my eyes to the world.

When and where do you read?

On planes, on beaches, by swimming pools. On the couch. I binge read while travelling and on holidays, the rest of the time I take my time, sometimes going long periods without reading but then gobbling them up quickly when I’m hungry for stories.
Where do you buy books?

Bookshops and online. I go online when I’m looking for something specific, I go to bookshops when I don’t know what I want and I want the right book to choose me. All the best books I’ve read have come from bookstores, when I’ve wandered the aisles and searched for something different.
Print or Kindle?

Print. For the short time I read on Kindle I found that if I really enjoyed a book I’d also buy the hard copy. I like the feel of a book in my hand and also like to treasure the ones that mean something to me, for example if I’ve been gifted a book with a message inside from somebody special. You just can’t get that sentimental value with a Kindle.
How do you choose what to read?

There are particular publishers whose lists I follow and as soon as they announce a book that I feel I’d enjoy, I buy it immediately. But mostly I love browsing through book stores and finding a book that suits my current mood. My choices always have to be linked with what I’m in the mood for, I can’t read literary fiction if my soul needs a satisfying crime and vice versa, but what I love most of all are translated novels of stories from all around the world. I want escapism and I want to hear a story from another perspective.
Favourite biography?

Miscarriage of Justice by Anne Maguire. She was part of the Maguire Seven who were imprisoned for the Guilford Pub bombings in 1974, and released when the convictions were overturned after 15 years in prison. Anne was 40 years old and her family were torn apart when they were wrongly convicted. Her story is harrowing.
Any autobiographies you love?

I know that a memoir isn't an autobiograph, but I rarely read non-fiction and so I’m not drawn to autobiographies. I really enjoyed I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell which is about the author’s 17 brushes with death throughout her life.
Do you have a go-to comfort read? 

Not necessarily the same book, but Lee Child and Karin Slaughter are my go-to writers for comfort reads. They’re not necessarily comfortable stories, as they’re violent and graphic, but because I’m so familiar with their writing and characters, reading their stories does feel comforting and as though I’m sitting with a friend when I return to their world.
Any guilty pleasures?

Nope – nothing to feel guilty about!
Are there any books that you always give as a gift?

My friend and I are huge Karin Slaughter fans, so whenever her books are published I read it first and pass it on. It’s an unspoken rule!
Which book have you re-read the most?

The Diary of Anne Frank is my most read book. I read it when I was around the same age as Anne Frank, I too grew up writing diaries and could identify so much with who she was and how she felt, yet our personal circumstances were obviously wildly different. Her voice comes to life so vividly in her writing, and for someone so young, and despite the tragedy and trauma of her circumstances, she was still always looking for the good in people. If she only knew the impact her thoughts would have on the world after her death.
What was the last book that made you cry?

One by Sarah Crossan made me ugly cry. It’s a YA novel written in free verse about conjoined twins Tippi and Grace who weren’t expected to live long, but defied the odds, and now as teenagers their lives are about to change. Read with tissues.
Any recommendations for laugh out loud books?

This question has just made me realise that I don’t read very funny books. I like witty and whimsical, but I can’t recall a laugh out loud book since reading Bridget Jones’s Diary 20 years ago!
Are there any books that have helped you through difficult times?

The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield helped me through a transitional time and opened my eyes to a world of possibilities. It’s a fictional novel but has a spiritual outlook. The main character travels to Peru to search for an ancient manuscript which teaches the 'Nine Insights', taken from ancient Eastern cultures and traditions. The manuscript goes missing and it becomes an adventure, so throughout his journey he's meeting new people and learning directly of the nine insights which deal with things like synchronicity and energies.
Favourite literary character?

Jack Reacher by Lee Child. It used to carry the awful pitch 'men want to be with him and women want to be with him', but I recently read Lee Child saying that he realises now that women read Jack Reacher also want to be like him. He can do no wrong, and has a enviably talent of observing people and quickly assessing everything about their characters. I love that he's so smart and the women he partners up with are layered and super smart too. They're not the cause of the problems, they help him fix them.
Can you choose a favourite book of all time?

The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. It’s a fictional novel with science fiction elements, which I describe as a dark love story. It’s about a woman named Clare whose husband Henry has a rare genetic disorder where his body clock resets itself causing himself to jump back and forth through time without his control. Clare must spend many days and weeks during their relationship waiting for him, not knowing where he is or if he’s safe, and I believe it's a metaphor for the distance that can occur in a relationship. It’s about love, loss and asks larger existential questions. Very smart plot, beautifully written.
Are you most proud of any one of your books?

I’m particularly proud of ROAR because it was a passion project that I spent five years writing which I had to fight a little harder to have published. 
Do you read poetry?

I regularly dip into The Sun and Her Flowers and Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur. I’m also a huge fan of Sarah Crossan, who writes novels in free verse.
What can you tell us about your new book?

Roar is a collection of 30 stories about 30 women. All the women are diverse – different age groups and from different backgrounds – but all are going through a transitional pivotal moment in their life, where they’re realising that something isn’t quite right in their world and they need to step up, take responsibility for themselves and where they are in order to make a change; hence their ‘roar’ moment.

The stories are surreal and whimsical, but hopefully moving, and the themes and issues are grounded in real life. From ‘The Woman Who Slowly Disappeared’ about a woman who starts to fade away as she ages because she doesn’t feel society values her or sees her, to ‘The Woman Who was Kept on a shelf’ which is about a trophy wife that’s kept ornamental style on a shelf by her husband, to ‘The Woman Who Found Bitemarks on Her Skin’ which is about a mother returning to work after maternity leave and discovers that the guilt is quite literally eating her alive. The 30 stories represent the different facets of women’s lives and our daily issues and I hope readers will identify with the themes.
Buy Cecelia Ahern’s latest book, Roar, here.

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