As she publishes her 17th novel, Freckles, Cecelia Ahern speaks to Andrea Byrne about her life in lockdown and the upcoming Hollywood adaptation of her shorter stories.

A mid-morning Zoom interview with Cecelia Ahern begins with us both pre-apologising for probable intrusions from little people, who were making the most of the last few days before the return to school. "My niece is in for an hour while I do this," the author laughs. Well, Haribo is minding mine, I admit.

However, never doubt the ability of the treat press, because with the exception of Cecelia's dog needing to be let out, our chat to discuss her latest novel, Freckles, is interruption-free.

This is Cecelia’s 17th novel, her 18th book in total, and as we've come to expect from the best-selling author (more than 20 million books sold worldwide), the plot is clever, thoughtful and well-conceived, drawing the reader in from the outset.

"It's about a young girl (Allegra Bird), who is nicknamed Freckles, and she hears this phrase, 'You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with’. She is a very routined person. She takes things literally, so when she hears this expression, she immediately starts looking at the five people in her life, and what those five characters say about who she is. Not content with those five people, she realises that she can curate her life, and become the person she wants to be. It’s about her reaching out to those people. She is a very unusual, quirky person. A joy to write: an outsider who is searching for belonging," she explains.

The phrase that inspired the book was actually first made known to Cecelia by her brother-in-law Nicky Byrne, who had commented that she had become so like her mother, Miriam. Naturally, Cecelia is now asked who her five people are.

"It’s not what it’s about," she says with a smile. "The idea is that if there is any toxic relationship that is unhealthy to you or really draining, don’t let those people be one of your five. Find the people that make you happy, not necessarily five yes people, but someone who can inspire, someone who can encourage, someone who can ground you."

We need your consent to load this Instagram contentWe use Instagram to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

Freckles was written pre-pandemic, or what to Cecelia, feels like "another lifetime ago". She was pregnant with her third child.

"I felt so nauseous for so long. It was one of the hardest books I’ve ever had to write. But I got there in the end, and after the baby was born, and I started editing, I immediately felt nauseous again. This is the amazing thing about writing; when I was reading it, I was immediately brought back to who I was at that moment, so I had to edit out the nausea," she laughs quietly. "I remember that everything was disgusting, every smell, so I had to edit the ‘ick’ out."

I commend her dedication, but then I suppose, you don’t write 18 books in 17 years without being very disciplined. Cecelia nods in acknowledgment. "I am really organised. I don’t waste any time. For the last two years, I have just grabbed moments when I can, but it’s amazing what you can get done when you have to. I have become more efficient since I’ve had kids."

We need your consent to load this Instagram contentWe use Instagram to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

Married to David Keoghan, a former athlete-turned-actor, the couple have three children, Robin, (11) Sonny, (9) and Blossom, who turns 2 next month. Blossom was only three months old when Covid changed the world.

"That was a nice timing for me; I was already on maternity leave. Maternity leave is like a lockdown anyway; you’re in the world, but you’re not really." Cecelia giggles. "I actually brought her into a hair salon the other day, and anyone who tried to touch me, she was like, ‘NO! My Mammy!’. She has had us all to herself for so long, she’s not used to this big bad world. There are ten years between her and my eldest. It’s been lovely for all of us."

We talk about lockdown life. While she found the second lockdown in January quite difficult, Cecelia has drawn many positives from the last 18 months. "A lot of the pressures that I had beforehand were taken away. I couldn’t travel, couldn’t go anywhere, which for me was great, because even though it’s great to work and travel, it’s stressful when you have kids at home. I love that we can meet like this. It’s lovely to meet people in person, but it’s hard with a young family. Before, I had to fly to London for a meeting, or fly to L.A to pitch something; now I can do it like this. The pressure of having to be in the room is gone, which gives more time to breathe and think."

We need your consent to load this Instagram contentWe use Instagram to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

Having taken up boxing before she got pregnant ("I’m hooked. I miss it so much. I love how it shaped my body, but also how it shaped my head"), Cecelia can’t wait to get back to sparing. Keen to maximise her time, she’s also cut out alcohol.

"Yup, no alcohol. I’ve no desire. I was pregnant, couldn’t drink, had a baby, straight into lockdown, no one to hold the baby if I was hungover. So, I kept it up. Before lockdown, I was really enjoying doing loads of different things. I just decided I don’t want to sit in a pub, I want to live."

"We were going to lots of theatre. I was going to roller-skating discos. I felt I was really active and having loads of fun. Maybe it was to do with the fact that I was heading towards 40 and I just wanted to be fit, healthy and live. I don’t want to sit in a pub until 4 in the morning and feel crap the next day. That’s the buzz I’m still on."

As hard as it may be to believe, the still baby-faced Cecelia turns 40 at the end of this month. There will be no big party, no fanfare, but instead, a hike up Croagh Patrick. "There is something metaphorical about it, I want to walk up that mountain with some girlfriends, stand up at the top, after the few years that we have all had, and achieve something, and then maybe, I dunno, they can carry me back down."

We need your consent to load this Instagram contentWe use Instagram to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

It's not just a big birthday that Cecelia is celebrating; professionally she has some incredible things happening, including a movie adaptation of Postscript (the sequel to the very successful PS, I Love You, which catapulted Cecelia to literary fame), as well as the TV development of her recent short story collection, Roar, which Nicole Kidman has worked on as an executive producer.

"Roar has actually just wrapped in the last couple of days. They filmed eight 30-minute episodes for Apple TV +. It’s fantastic. It really is. Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch are the creators and show runners – they created Glow and Orange is the New Black – they’re so strong at real subversive comedy. I said in our pitch to Apple, that my roar is a mere whisper compared to what they are going to do to this. They’re so brave and daring and talented," she pauses,

"Then Postscript is very early stages; we’re just at the script stage. But it’s all very exciting."

Freckles, by Cecelia Ahern is published by Harper Collins