It would be very easy to be envious of Cecelia Ahern. She’s quick, she’s funny, she vibrates with creative ideas, and she sports a supercute short haircut. But I’d recently read one of Ahern’s new stories from Roar—“The Woman Who Thought the Grass Was Greener on the Other Side”—and so I put aside such musings with a little laugh at myself.
The author of PS, I Love You and Love, Rosie recently released a collection of 30 hilariously surreal stories with titles such as “The Woman Who Returned and Exchanged Her Husband” and “The Woman Who Wore Her Heart on Her Sleeve” and “The Woman Who Found the World in Her Oyster.” Sparking with wisdom, humor, and empathy, Roar is a keyhole through which readers can peer into everywoman’s life—the high moments, the low, and the multitude of confusing moments bubbling in between.
Adrian Liang, Amazon Book Review: You’re well-known for your novels. How did this collection of short stories come about?
Cecelia Ahern: Well, it’s almost six years since I wrote the first story, and I didn’t have any plan to write a collection of short stories. I just sat down during a break on a holiday to write one story, which was the first story in the collection, which is “The Woman Who Slowly Disappeared.” It was a loving moment. The story was a real pep talk almost to myself, and a few weeks later I wrote another. Later, I wrote another. It took me a while to realize that they all belonged together and that they were linked. I thought, “I cannot separate these,” and that’s when I realized I had a collection of my hands. But it took me a long time to gather them and to realize how I was going to send them out into the world.
Most of the women protagonists in the stories don’t have names. Can you tell me about your decision behind that?
While I was writing the stories, some [women] had names and some didn’t. At that moment when I realized I had a collection, that’s when I looked at them and said I would really rather them not have names…. I liked the idea that they could be anyone, and I wanted readers to feel like it could be them. I also liked to breaking the rules in this collection because they’re such a surreal, unusual mix of stories told from an unusual perspective.
At what point did this collection become less of a personal project that you were doing very much for yourself and more like something that you wanted the rest of the world to see?
As well as writing novels, I work regularly on TV development and TV shows. I was trying to pitch to TV producers the idea that each story [that would later become Roar] would be a different episode, like Tales of the Unexpected or The Twilight Zone—TV shows that I absolutely adored when I was growing up. I was so passionate about it. I just kept talking about them for years and years and years, but I think they were so unusual and so quirky that they couldn’t find a place. [When I was in] LA two years ago and I was there to talk about other film and TV ideas, the one thing they asked me was, What are you most passionate about now? Some amazing people felt that there was a natural home in television for the stories. Because that was going to be happening, we decided these have to be a collection of short stories as well, because that was how they were born in the first place.
What I love so much about these stories as how they’re delightfully absurd and literal at the same time. So “The Woman Who Was Kept on the Shelf” is literally a woman put on a shelf near to her husband’s trophies until she realizes that she’s gotten dusty and forgotten up there, so she climbs down again. When you were creating these stories, were you actively pushing yourself to come up with these ideas, or did most of them spring into being when your brain snagged on something that you had heard or seen?
I couldn’t stop coming up with these ideas… A lot of the time it was a title that inspired the story. I was examining a lot of these phrases and metaphors and asking, Well, what does it mean? and What would happen if they were true?
One of the other things that I loved about these stories is that they’re not man-hating stories. We’re in a moment right now where a lot of women-focused stories tend to flip very quickly to being man-hating. But you have stories like “The Woman Who Walked in Her Husband’s Shoes,” and she sees better both the pros and the cons of being a man—or at least of being her husband specifically—than she did when she was wearing her own shoes.
I’m so glad that you brought that up because it was very important to me from the very beginning. I’ve always been a feminist, and one of the things that bothered me was trying to explain to people what feminism is, and it’s not about hating men or blaming men. It’s about trying to just be on an equal footing. That’s certainly what I want to do with this collection. Just because I’m celebrating women it’s not at the expense of men. And because I’m talking about difficult situations that women have found themselves in, they’re not blaming their male partners. If anything, they’re taking responsibility and saying, “Well, I got myself here. I’m going to get myself out of here.”
I think it’s important to be true to yourself and find your own journey, and men have to do that as well. They also have to behave in a way that’s comfortable for them…. I tried to look at every situation from different perspectives with empathy and tried to be understanding.
You mentioned to me earlier that “The Woman Who Found Bite Marks on Her Skin” expanded out of a very personal place for you.
Yes, I think that story is probably the most personal that I have of all of them. I wrote it when I had two little young children. I dropped one off to Montessori, and she cried her eyes out. I’d left my baby at home, and he cried his eyes out. And I sat in the car and I just cried my eyes out. It’s one of those moments, right? You think, Why am I doing this? Why am I going to work? Why am I leaving everybody? But then I went to work and spent the day writing a novel, and then, at the very end, I wrote that story, fighting the guilt that had overtaken me that day... If you let the guilt eat you alive, then you’ll just never be happy in any area of your life. It’s natural for it to overtake on some days, but you can’t let it stop you from doing what you’re doing. That was certainly a very personal story and it’s amazing that it’s touched so many people. I think people who have young children are really connecting to that one.
Are there any other stories that readers have been glomming onto as favorites?
Everyone has a different favorite, and it’s usually tied to something very personal in their lives. But “The Woman Who Slowly Disappeared” certainly speaks to a lot of people and not just women who are aging, which is what the story is about. A very young woman—she must have been in her 20s—said that that was her favorite story because she felt that she wasn’t seen for different reasons. [People find] “The Woman Who Grew Wings” very moving. “The Woman Who Roared” was the last story in the collection because there’s so many different women from so many different backgrounds and all of them need a moment to roar. So I think everyone could identify with that.
Thank you, Cecilia. Thanks for writing this book Roar, and thank you for talking to me about it. I really appreciate it.
Thanks very much.
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