Author Cecelia Ahern discusses her writing process, character philosophy, and moral implications of her new YA novel Flawed.
Celestine North lives a perfect life. She’s a model daughter and sister, she’s well-liked by her classmates and teachers, and she’s dating the impossibly charming Art Crevan.
But then Celestine encounters a situation in which she makes an instinctive decision. She breaks a rule and now faces life-changing repercussions. She could be imprisoned. She could be branded. She could be found FLAWED.
In her breathtaking young adult debut, bestselling author Cecelia Ahern depicts a society in which perfection is paramount and flaws are punished. And where one young woman decides to take a stand that could cost her everything.
Interview with Cecelia Ahern
What was your initial inspiration for Flawed? Did the story change much through the writing process?
I was inspired by the fact I believe we live in a judgmental society, one that is quick to finger point and publicly shame. We give people very little opportunity to move on from their mistakes, or decisions society deems as mistakes, and as society already labels people I pushed it one step further by creating a morality court that deems people Flawed by their decisions in life. A scary thought.
The story remained as I had planned but it intensified with each draft. It became more pacy, tighter, meatier. Many people have said “I can’t believe you went there.”
I absolutely went there.
Tell us about writing Celestine. Why did you decide to tell this story through her eyes?
It felt right, it was never going to be told by any other voice. The premise is a society that doesn’t tolerate imperfection, that brands people by their mistakes. Choosing a 17 year old who strives for perfection, who wants to fit in, doesn’t want to be cast out from society seemed the perfect character to place in this world. It’s an age of firsts, such a raw time in our lives, Celestine’s voice is the only way I could tell this story.
How do you approach writing your villains and antagonists?
The villains are humans too. They can’t be too cartoonish because they are motivated by legitimate fears and beliefs. These motivations have got to be realistic and credible. For Judge Crevan he is not being nasty for the sake of evil, he genuinely is trying to save his country from going down a route of economic crisis and mayhem that the country suffered in the past. He sees himself as a hero, a savior, someone who is doing good but his methods are misguided. He sees himself as having a father-like role in society, the dad that punishes for the greater good. He spirals out of control after the death of his wife, he becomes lost in his grief and loses focus even more so.
How did you build the world and tonal environment for Flawed?
Flawed is set in a fictional country called Humming. The capital city is Highland which felt to me like Prague as I visited the city while writing Flawed and I had a strong sense that Humming would have the same historical richness and culture, also one that has suffered hugely. It is trying to do its best to suffer no more. It is set in the present day because I believe we do not have to look far to find such horrific regimes in our modern world. This is a story inspired by what has happened in the past and present in our world.
As an established author, is your process the same for every book you write? Did Flawed offer any unique challenges or surprises?
Yes I always come up with the premise first and then try to figure out what kind of character would find themselves in that situation, find where the conflict lays. I watch the story in my head first, as if I’m watching a film — a lot of day dreaming and staring into space but really seeing so much more — and then I write long hand. I write a chapter then type a chapter, first writing with the heart and then with the head.
Which is easier to write: The first line, or the last line?
The first line swims around in my head for some time before I start writing. It sets the tone, the voice, everything comes from the first line and it never changes in an edit.
What one mistake do you think would mark you as Flawed?
I think like Celestine. I’m not as clever as her mathematically, but I use compassion and logic. I’m open minded and grounded at the same time and in a society like in Flawed, empathy is something that is seen as a weakness. It’s not. I think it’s what keeps us together.