“Hopefully this story will bring more tears and more smiles.”
Cecelia Ahern’s debut novel P.S. I Love You was a hit both in the bookshops and on the big screen with its film adaptation.
The book told the story of Holly, who after losing her husband Gerry finds a bundle of notes he’s written — one for each of the months after his death. Each note, signed PS, I Love You, contains instructions to help Holly come to terms with her grief and move on.
Ahern was just 21 when she wrote the book, which was originally released in 2007. A film soon followed, starring Hilary Swank as Holly and Gerard Butler as Gerry.
Now, more the a decade later, Ahern is back with the sequel to P.S. I Love You — Postcript — and Stylist has got the first look at the cover.
We sat down with Ahern to talk about P.S. I Love You, where Postscript will take Holly, and more. Read that and see the Postscript cover below.
PS, I Love You was your first published novel, did you ever expect it to become so big?
I never expected it to be as big as it became. All I knew was that I was writing a story that was moving me beyond anything I had written before and I was taking it more seriously than anything else I’d ever written. I locked myself away for three months, writing by night and day, feeling my way through the story, and I’m just so glad that I found the confidence to share it and grateful that it touched so many people.
What inspired you to revisit the characters from P.S. I Love You? Have they ever really left you?
They did leave me! I wrote P.S. I Love You in October to December 2002 and since then I’ve written a novel a year, sometimes two, so while my characters mean the world to me at the time, I do quickly move on to the next story and immerse myself in that. Obviously the success of PS around the world, and the film success, has meant that people talk about it with me a lot, but since its first publication, and the movie promotion, I don’t think of the mechanics of the story in depth. I never had any intentions to write a sequel and was quite prickly about it when seriously asked. I had brought the characters to a place where I felt it was complete, plus I had so many other stories I wanted to tell; I wanted to explore different styles and characters which I’ve done for the past 15 years.
However, for the 10-year anniversary HarperCollins published a beautiful limited edition copy and I went back on the promotion trail for P.S. I Love You for the first time in a long time. I started thinking then about where the characters would be and after a trip to my solicitors to rewrite my will after my second child was born, I came up with the idea for the sequel. I knew it was right immediately, that if I was ever going to write the sequel, then this was the story. I felt it was a story that I could tell whether or not I had written PS, strong enough to stand on its own, and that was very important to me. It took me years to decide whether to write it or not, and then a few years ago I started writing it for myself to see if it would work or not. I really wanted to write the book first and see if it worked before committing to publishers that I would do it. I over thought this a lot, and it took on a few different forms in early drafts, but in the end, the most natural thing to do was to go back to the original intent and follow the story. It wanted to be told and I’m so glad I took on the challenge.
How did you find going back and putting on the page characters you first wrote so long ago?
I’m always looking for a challenge with each new novel I write and I think writing this sequel was the greatest challenge of all. I had to re-read PS and reacquaint myself with the characters. I had to remind myself I was writing the sequel to the book and not the film. I had to almost look for holes in my story, I had to find the gaps and spaces where there was room to grow. It felt like a study of my own work.
I also had to take a character I had written at 21 years old, 17 years ago, and bring her back to life as the writer I am now. I had to decide which characters to continue with and who to lose. Holly and her friends and family of course have evolved too over the past six years and so I had to look at who they are now and what has happened in their lives over the past six years.
It was important that I capture the tone of P.S. I Love You so that it’s familiar and in tune with the book, but also bring it forward to the writer I am now. It was also such an emotional journey writing the story as that book changed my life and represents a very important time in my life so I wrote almost every word with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat. It was a very interesting emotional challenge. I just hope people feel the emotion as much as I felt it when writing it.
What has happened to Holly since P.S. I Love You and where do we join her at the start of Postscript?
It’s been seven years since Gerry’s death and six years since Holly read his last letter. She has moved on, she has got a new job, she has fallen in love, her house is for sale, she really has picked up her life and is in a positive place. After speaking about her experience with Gerry in a podcast with her sister, she’s approached by a group who call themselves the PS I Love You Club. They’ve all been inspired by her story, and the letters Gerry left for her before his death. They too are terminally ill or have life-threatening conditions, and ask Holly to help them write their letters for their loved ones. By spending time with the group and trying to get to know their personal situations in order to curate the perfect letters, Holly finds herself in the unusual position of having to look at it all from Gerry’s perspective.
I wanted to flip Holly’s experience so she is now in Gerry’s position, helping to write letters for others. In order to give the PS I Love You Club a positive experience she needs to analyse her own. Was it all entirely positive? Would she change anything? She’s forced to look at the letters Gerry left for her in a new way; the reasons why he wrote them, what they really meant, and she examines if they were the right letters for her: did they help her or hold her back? She gets sucked back into the past again, back into her memories of Gerry and the year following his death and she struggles with managing the past and her present. I also wanted to bring Gerry back by adding new memories of their relationship, which explain why he left particular letters for her and I also go more into who they were as a couple.
And most importantly it’s about who Holly is now. Hopefully this story will bring more tears and more smiles.
Postscript is out on 19 September (HarperCollins, £16.99).
Images: Barry McCall, HarperCollins