We are massive fans of YA here at Missy. So, we were really excited to hear that bestselling Irish author Cecelia Ahern was writing a YA series. Fast forward to now and Cecelia has written two books in her first YA series, Flawed and the soon-to-be-released Perfect. We had the chance to chat to Cecelia about the series as well as becoming an author, breaking rules and the importance of find your own voice…
Growing up did you always want to be an author?
I never knew that I wanted to be an author, but I loved writing from a very early age. It was something I did privately and never showed anybody else, and I never considered that it could actually be a job. I wrote a diary every day which I found was really important to help me figure things out. I also wrote songs and poems. At fourteen I attempted my first book ‘Beans on Toast and a Bottle of Beer’ but when my English teacher discovered I was writing it, and wanted to read it, I stopped writing because I was so embarrassed. I studied a degree in Journalism and Media Communications in college and so I always knew I liked writing and that I wanted to tell stories but never thought about writing books as a career.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow in your career footsteps?
Write as much as you can. Write because you enjoy it, not just because you want a book on the shelf. For most writers it’s not an easy career to make a living from and so I think that your passion for writing has to be the number one reason. If you want to take it seriously, I recommend seeking out an agent to represent you because the agent will be best at finding a publishing house for you. It’s a very confusing big industry and I’m still trying to figure it out. Write what moves you, not what you think other people want to read. Write with your own voice and immediately you will be unique, because nobody thinks exactly like you and therefore nobody can write like you. Be brave with your writing. Break all the rules that those writing classes teach you!
Who inspires you?
I’m inspired by people who are independent thinkers, creative people, people who follow their own path and use their own voice. I love positive people, and I get great energy from kindness. I love meeting with artists and designers, my good friend is a sculptor and I love that we can talk about our creativity without sounding weird to others. Hearing how they work and view the world inspires me. My husband is a great out-of-the-box thinker and we can have the best ‘what if’ chats.
What advice would you give your teenage self?
It’s all going to be okay. I worried about a lot of things, I always felt left out and I think I turned to writing to try to understand all of those feelings. I didn’t feel like I thought like everybody else and that can be alienating, but I realise now that that is a strength. It’s good to be unique, it’s good to have your own ideas, thoughts and opinions.
Before Flawed you focused on Adult Fiction. What made you decide to start writing YA?
The story decided it for me! The idea for Flawed and Perfect arrived with a bang in my head one day, Celestine arrived fully formed. I held the pen but honestly, these books wrote themselves. I couldn’t write fast enough, I was so excited, and loved every second of writing these books.
Where did the idea for Flawed come from?
I was inspired by the fact that I believe that we are living in a very judgemental society, one that is quick to point the finger at others, that there can be witch hunts for people who make decisions that the rest of society frown upon. It feels like we already have the court of public opinion and I wanted to make that a reality in the story. We already brand people who have done something that is frowned upon, I just decided to make that branding a physical thing part of a society that is afraid of making mistakes.
Although Flawed and Perfect are set in a dystopian future there are a lot of similarities in society today, especially with the pressures to be perfect. Was that something that was important for you to focus on?
I have always argued the dystopian label because what I wrote is based on what’s happening in the world now. It’s also inspired by history, by apartheid, by world war 2, by penal laws in Irish history and so it’s impossible to read this book and say ‘that could never happen’ because it’s already happening. I’m not sure if the pressure to be perfect is more important now then it ever was, I think societies have always been judgemental on each other, but I think with social media, online media, the world is a very small place and one little thing becomes huge, one small mistake becomes enormous and it gives people little opportunity to have a second chance.
For teenagers, without a doubt there is more pressure to appear physically perfect, and that is so wrong on so many levels. It’s a strength to be different, it’s a strength to be unique, and there is no such thing as perfection. Everybody makes mistakes. The only way you can become better is by learning from them. I wish we could all know this at birth, but we have to figure it out the hard way!
How do you think readers will relate to Celestine?
Celestine begins as the perfect girl. She’s an A grade student, she has a boyfriend, she is popular, she is confident, she really has no anxieties. But when her piano teacher and neighbour is dragged from her home by the Whistleblowers, and branded Flawed, suddenly her viewpoint starts to shift. She starts to question things she always accepted. When Celestine is branded Flawed she starts to see things as they really are. She finds her own voice. She stops listening to the authorities in her life who she always trusted and realises that she has her own thoughts and her own developing opinions. When she just wants a normal teenage life, she is forced to speak up; she’s brave, she uses her logic and compassion to give a voice to those who are second class citizens. She is so inpsiring to me.
What’s the one thing you would like readers to take away from following Celestine’s journey?
Find your voice. Don’t follow the herd. Don’t be judgemental. Try to think of what it’s like to walk in other people’s shoes. Be kind. Be aware of injustices and right them when you can. And most of all, don’t stress about not being perfect. Nobody is.
Have you any plans for any other YA novels?
Yes! I have SO many ideas for YA novels there just isn’t enough time to write them. I have to focus on my adult novels for a while but as soon as I get a free few months, I’m getting straight to work on all of these other ideas, or my head will explode.