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Best-selling writer Cecelia Ahern urges authors to ‘find their voice’ ahead of Dubai’s Emirates LitFest

LONDON: Best-selling Irish author Cecelia Ahern will participate in the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai with a Feb. 3 talk highlighting her career and popular novels. In an interview with Arab News, she gave a thoughtful response when asked what advice she would give to aspiring writers.

“Find your voice. I know when I do a lot of these events, you see people with pen and paper waiting to hear a secret that will help them write their book — and the secret is always to listen to your own voice. You know that little voice that you hear inside your head? That’s the ‘you’ inside you talking to you, and that’s the voice you need to write with. Because as soon as you write with that voice, you will immediately be unique because no one thinks like you and no one will ever write like you,” she said.

Ahern had just graduated with her bachelor’s degree in journalism and media communications when she wrote her first book “P.S. I Love You” at the age of 21. Since its publication in 2004, her debut novel has been turned into a Hollywood film and she has written a book every year. She is published in over 40 countries in 30 languages and has sold 25 million copies internationally.

So what does it take, we wondered, to work at that pace?

“I’m very disciplined and it is about routine. What I’ve done for the past 20 years is I would begin writing a novel in January. It would be due for the end of May. I would edit over the summer and we would publish in the autumn — that’s in the UK and Ireland. I think ritual is the word for me. When I start a story, I can’t wait to get to the end. I do work very quickly. I still write by hand. I light a candle. I think am quite stubborn about doing it the way that I did it for the first book, about not losing the personal connection I have to writing,” she said.

Ahern showed an early instinct for expressing herself through writing. She kept a diary every day from the age of 10, only stopping when putting pen to paper became her career.

“It was a way of processing all of my thoughts and feelings. I did that just before I went to bed. It was a kind of ritual,” she said.

Along with writing novels, Ahern has created, produced and written original TV series. Her collection of short stories, “Roar,” is now in development for Apple TV+ with Nicole Kidman and Per Saari’s Blossom Films, Bruna Papandrea’s Made Up Stories and Theresa Park’s Per Capita Productions, along with Ahern’s own Greenlight Go Productions label. She has also written a TV series currently in development with Picturestart, and a feature film sequel to “P.S. I Love You” titled “Postscript” with Alcon Entertainment is also in development.

Growing up, Ahern would often accompany her father Bertie Ahern, who served as taoiseach (prime minister) of Ireland from 1997 to 2008, on his public engagements. These occasions proved great opportunities for observing how the media worked up close.

“My dad worked all the time and we would spend Sunday with him. My parents weren’t together, but we were very much part of his life and we would spend all of Sunday with him. I always thought I spent more time with my dad than many of my friends.

“A car would come and we wouldn’t know where we were going that day or what Dad was doing. We would accompany him on everything. Sundays were also about the media — the political shows were on Sundays — so we would go to RTE (Ireland’s National Television and Radio Broadcaster) and I think that’s where my love for watching the behind-the-scenes came from. I was always behind the camera watching him in the studio or at the radio center. I found it fascinating. I loved being with him and watching. People were nice to us but the attention was on him, so I felt I was the observer all of the time. I think I absorbed a lot of that.”

She has subsequently had the experience of seeing her novels turned into films and has learned that it is important to step back.

“I think you can be involved in all the conversations and they are still going to do what it is they want to do. I have learned that sometimes it’s more frustrating to be involved because it’s a collaborative process and your voice is not the loudest. Sometimes it’s just easier to step back and say ‘Well, this is someone else’s interpretation and I’m going to wait and see what this is.’ I think that’s the healthiest and best way to actually do it,” she said.

The prolific writer is looking forward to the Emirates LitFest, as it is affectionately dubbed by visitors, and explained that while she loves the opportunity to meet fellow authors, what she enjoys most is the chance to connect with her readers.

“No. 1 is meeting my readers because I am in a room (of) my own writing for me and then I travel and all of a sudden there’s a room filled with people from totally different cultures and countries and all connected. I love that feeling of connection that no matter where we’re from we feel the same thing. I think that’s important. It’s a great encouragement for me when I’m writing to picture a room of people who’ve come to visit me,” she said.

The Emirates Airline Festival of Literature runs from Jan. 31- Feb. 6, 2024.