A Marie Claire event – How to write a successful novel with Cecelia Ahern

10 Jul

Yesterday evening in the glorious sunshine, I went along to the beautiful Blue Fin buildings in Southwark for a Marie Claire event on successful novel writing.  The evening consisted of a talk with the writer, Cecelia Ahern, who has written such novels as ‘PS I love you’ and ‘The Time of Your Life’.  I have never actually read any of her books – I am not a fan of chick lit at all – but I was under the impression that the talk would cover the general novel writing process and would thus be useful to attend.

The venue was lovely and we stood admiring the panoramic views of London from the tenth floor whilst quaffing champagne.  There were all types of people there – the young, the fashionable (the ‘Oh hello dah-ling’ types) and the older who were looking for a career change. We were then seated in a sort of lecture theatre and the rest of the evening consisted of the Associate Editor of Marie Claire informally interviewing Cecelia on how she goes about writing her novels and what she finds useful.


Although the tickets were £40, I paid £20 knowing that prices for these types of events often get slashed the day before.  One of the ways they tried to entice people to the event was by advertising the fact that attendees would receive a goodie bag worth £60 – a clever PR exercise and as the evening progressed, it became clearer that Cecelia was no stranger to effective marketing and PR.  To be honest, I don’t think the night was worth £40 at all and even the £20 I paid was pushing it.

I did, however, find it interesting, as I always do, to find out how other published writers work and how they became published in the first place.  Ahern’s story is certainly incredibly impressive.  At 21, she started writing PS I love you and her journey to become a published writer is remarkably free of much of that painful rejection many other writers experience.  Her mother read the first three chapters and encouraged her to send it to an agent and after securing an agent, she got a deal with HarperCollins one month later! Slightly (OK – incredibly) envious there!

It was interesting to find out about the way she writes – she does so longhand and will write an entire chapter in one sitting as she views a chapter as a story in itself and doesn’t want to break her flow by stopping midway.  She is an incredibly speedy writer: after writing longhand, she then edits what she has written while typing it onto the computer.   She wrote PS I love you in three months and she is able to write a new novel every year which puts my goal of around 500 words a day to shame!

Quite controversially, perhaps, Cecelia stated that not everyone is a storyteller and implied that if you’re not good enough to get published, then you’re perhaps not cut out for it.  While I did find this refreshing to an extent – too many people assume writing is easy and everyone can write a worthy book – I found her a little too smug for my liking but then again, who am I to talk?  It has worked for her.  Not only has she managed to write successful, bestselling novels but one of them has been adapted into a Hollywood film (which, coincidentally, I found unbearably cheesy but then that was inevitable) and another one is in production at the moment.  What she writes obviously pleases the masses.

Before she writes, she has a clear plan of the beginning, middle and end of a story.  She stated that often, a long time before she reaches the end, she’ll write the final paragraph to capture the tone of the ending which gives her direction and something to work towards.  This organised and prescriptive approach highlights how pathetically disorganised and scatty I am.  Rarely do I know where I’m going.  I often have a vague idea but I tend to let things move in the direction I feel while I’m writing but then Cecelia’s novels tend to be high-concept, i.e. plot driven whereas I have always found character driven novels to be more absorbing.  Once I become intrigued by a character or feel I have connected with a character in some way, I find it difficult to stop reading.

All in all, interesting but not the most useful and definitely overpriced.  I found the event that I attended with Kate Mosse and Rachel Joyce (at the London Literature Festival) far more insightful and much more reasonable too, at a mere £10.

That said, the goody bag was pretty good 🙂

One Response to “A Marie Claire event – How to write a successful novel with Cecelia Ahern”

  1. jayeeta chowdhury September 26, 2013 at 6:14 am #

    awesome cecelia ahern:-)

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