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CECELIA AHERN, bestselling author of PS I Love You, has written her first book for YA readers, FLAWED, about a society where being seen as anything less than perfect can destroy your life. Those who are not deemed perfect are deemed as 'Flawed'. When good-girl Celestine is denounced after an act of kindness towards one of the Flawed, it sets off a chain of events that leaves Celestine fighting for survival and society starting to question their ideas of 'perfection'.
We asked Cecelia Ahern to answer the following questions for us:
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your move into writing for YA readers after such a successful career writing for adults?
A: I had no grand plan to write YA, what I did and what I always do is to write whatever story is most powerful in my head at the time. My novel THE BOOK OF TOMORROW was seen as a crossover book for YA and adult and I have had younger readers ever since I wrote PS I Love You so I didn't feel like I was taking a great leap or that I had to adjust my writing.
What was different was the concept of the story, the pacy thriller-like feel, the fact that it is saying a lot about the society that we are living in while maintaining the same feel as my other novels. I didn't have to adjust anything about my writing, I just got into the head of my character Celestine and saw the world from her eyes. I wrote the first draft in six weeks, it just flowed from me, I wrote it with passion and rage and with so much heart. This book had to be written, I had no choice in the matter! My heart was pounding the entire time, it was an overwhelming story to write from start to finish.
Q: How close do you feel to your teenaged years? Is there anything that pulls you back there, for example, looking at old diaries, photos or music?
A: What has pulled me back to being a teenager was not necessarily writing about it but promoting the novel and being asked about it. What was I doing at Celestine's age has been the big question but I wasn't even thinking of that when writing, I was just zoned in on writing her story.
Also doing school events has brought me back to that time in my life, I'm quite glad to be out of that time to be perfectly honest. I wasn't the greatest fan of school, despite working hard. I didn't like being told what to do, or treated like I was irresponsible when inside I felt responsible.
At Celestine's age I was singing and dancing, performing in shows, pantomimes and teaching kids' dance classes. It was the year I finished school and began a degree in journalism and media communications so it was a year of big changes in my life.
Q: Have you read much YA writing and do you have favourite YA novels?
A: Yes I read a lot of YA. I recently finished the Red Rising series by Pierce Brown, I loved the Hunger Games and the Divergent series. One by Sarah Crossan is a beautiful story. And I'm a fan of Matt Haig & John Boyne.
Q: In the world you have created in FLAWED, one misjudgement or 'imperfection' can destroy a person's life. Was the concept of being 'Flawed' the starting point for the novel?
A: I was inspired by the fact I believe we live in a judgemental world, one that is quick to publicly shame people, to finger point and hold people accountable for their mistakes, or for their decisions that society deems to be a mistake. Society mocks and judges, and the opportunity for second chances is rare.
Q: How did you go about creating the world, with the Flawed system separate from the political / justice system. How did you feel writing about politics, as you are more familiar than most with this environment?
A: I felt very comfortable writing about it. This book was written with passion, rage and a lot of heart and so I put my beliefs, knowledge and experience into writing it.
Flawed is not set in the future, it is today, it is our modern world, contemporary society. It is everything we say and do to each other now, we already label people so I took it one step further by creating an actual morality court where The Guild and its three powerful judges reside.
Q: How did you develop that sense of the 'Flawed' being untouchable - were you reading history or today's papers for insights into those perceptions?
A: Yes. I had my own ideas but almost to back myself up I would go online to see what the world was saying about its people and knew I was on the right track. When I was writing it the marriage referendum hadn't come into effect in Ireland though there was much talk about it and even in my own country I was living in a society that had its citizens who did not have equal rights. I didn't have to search far for real stories to back up what I was saying.
Q: Do you feel teenagers have an interest / should be interested in politics? Should politicians pay more attention to young people's views?
A: I think the marriage referendum in Ireland showed that young people have a voice and were willing to get involved because they care about the society they live in. I think politicians became excited about the energy and we're hoping to keep the support they'd gained. They need to work harder to engage with younger people.
Q: Did your degree in journalism help in creating the journalist Pia and the 'spin' that holds together the Flawed system?
A: I had no experience in being a professional journalist though I did study it. I remember one essay that really stays with me on whether media reflects society. I remember my assignment being against that and that feels true to me today. Media is not always a true reflection of what society thinks.
Q: Can you tell us how your main character, Celestine, evolved and her journey from seeing in 'black and white' to shades of grey - was it a difficult journey to get right?
A: I like that Celestine follows her gut instincts. She didn't do this at the beginning, she listened and obeyed the rules but when trouble is brought to her doorstep, when it becomes personal, it rattles her. She is a logical person and so uses this logic not just for her studies but instead for her life. She is compassionate in a society that has lost its compassion. She is logical, sensible, emotional. She doesn't just think her way through her new problems, she feels.
This emotional journey is what separates her from others I think. This is not a story that involves physical fights, it's about thinking, decisions, feelings... the premise of a society that doesn't tolerate imperfection, makes choosing a 17 year old who strives for perfection, who wants to fit in, doesn't want to be cast out from society, seem the perfect character to place in this world. It's an age of firsts, such a raw time in our lives.
Q: Why have you written her story in the first person, and what challenges did this present?
A: I mostly write in first person because when I'm writing, I'm in the character's head and i'm seeing the world from their eyes. First person makes it easier for me to feel what they're feeling and see what they're seeing.
Celestine's parents are an important part of her journey, family are an important part of everybody's life - whether they get along or not - but in Celestine's case her positive relationship with her parents is tested when she's accused of being Flawed and I felt it was important to go there. Every aspect of her life is tested.
Q: Did you enjoy creating Judge Crevan; did anyone help inspire him?
A: Yes plenty of people who will remain nameless!
Q: You have introduced two romantic threads to the story - can you give us a suggestion of where this will lead in the second book; will Carrick and Art both be around?
A: Yes they're both in Perfect!
Q: Can you tell us more about what we can expect to see in the second book?
A: In Flawed Celestine has lost her way, her voice. Her world has shattered, her relationships shattered. In Perfect she finds her voice, her feet, her way, learns to embrace her new world and grows in confidence. It is a thrilling journey she goes on!
Q: Where do you do your writing and how does your writing day go?
A: I write four or five days a week from 9.30-5.30 in an office outside of my home. I love my room, I have created a perfect space for me to be creative but it also means I close the door and say hello to my life and goodbye to fiction.
Q: And finally, what is your favourite escape from writing?
A: My family. I have 2 children; a six year old daughter and a three year old son and every second I'm not writing is spent with them.