In 2002 at the tender age of 21, Irish writer Cecelia Ahern published her debut novel, P.S I Love You. After the worldwide success of that book, its film, and her subsequent yearly offerings, she has now sold over 15 million books worldwide and has been published in more than 50 countries. Her unique voice inspires readers through her stories of characters facing challenges in their lives, sometimes helped (or hindered) with just a touch of magic.
Cecelia’s twelfth novel, The Marble Collector, tells the story of a young woman named Sabrina who happens upon a collection of marbles in her father’s possessions. The collection has been carefully catalogued and she discovers that two of the most expensive collections are missing. What begins as a mission to find the missing marbles becomes something greater. Sabrina discovers that her father is not who she thinks he is; that she grew up with a man who had many secrets and through shining a light on him, she begins to understand the mysteries of herself.
We asked the inimitable 34 year old author about what inspires her, and to what she attributes her phenomenal success.
The fabulous Irish sense of humour so ingrained in the dialogue of your books. What do you think it is about that particular aspect that millions of people around the world find so incredibly appealing?
I think we’re very self-deprecating. We don’t have any airs or graces and we are usually the butt of our own jokes. Irish tend to be awkward about being serious and so we make inappropriate comments at tense times just to break the atmosphere. Though we’re deep and often intense but we’re very informal and perhaps this is refreshing to people. I think that’s why I like to mix humour and sadness in my books. I like to balance the light and dark, it’s not just how I am as a storyteller but how I cope with things in my life.
Your career has gone from strength to strength following the success of P.S. I Love You. Having achieved such a meteoric rise at the tender age of 21, how have you managed to keep your feet on the ground?
I’ve taken all the positive things that have happened as encouragement. The success helped me grow in confidence and inspired new stories and ideas. PS I Love You gave me the opportunity to do what I love to do, as a career and so I’ve just embraced that, put my head down and kept on working. I didn’t start this journey for any other reason than to write and tell stories, so that’s what I’m going to keep on doing.
The central relationship in The Marble Collector is a father / daughter one. Do you deliberately try to explore a range of different relationships in your books, or is it more left up to whatever happens to inspire you at the time?
I suppose I don’t want to tell the same story twice but I don’t realise I’m actively doing this. I come up with the premise first and then try to figure out the characters next. This idea began as a short story called ‘The Woman Who Lost her Marbles’ which was a quirky story about a woman who actually lost her marbles and actually had to go on a journey to find them, through finding them she would discover herself. However the marble world was so fascinating and inspiring I realised it had to be world I set my new novel in. Marble playing is more for an older generation, in ireland, and so immediately I knew it would be her father’s childhood marbles that she was looking for. The story grew from there. Quite organic really, instead of sitting down and trying to figure out what story I haven’t told.
I understand that you set quite a regimented writing schedule for yourself. How do you deal with the pressure of having to come up with new book ideas on a yearly basis?
I begin a novel every January, it’s due in June. I edit during the summer and it’s published in Autumn.
This year and last year I broke the mould by writing two novels per year. Last year I had a moment of crazy inspiration where I came up with an idea for a YA novel. I had to write it immediately and then this year I followed it up with a sequel. They are called FLAWED and PERFECT. FLAWED will be published in March.
I find writing one novel a year intense, but I think quickly and write quickly. As soon as I begin writing it is like a race to finish, just as I feel when reading a book. However writing two novels a year is an entirely different ball game, I don’t recommend it to any authors, but I just couldn’t help it!