HER BOOKS are sold in more than 40 countries; her debut novel – PS I Love You – has been filmed and others are already optioned, and she is the co-creator of hit US TV series Samantha Who?
Now Cecelia Ahern makes her first foray into theatre with Mrs Whippy which arrives in the west of Ireland next week as part of a national tour. Mrs Whippy will be in the Royal Castlebar Theatre on Thursday February 5 before coming to the Town Hall Theatre, Galway, from Tuesday February 10 to Saturday 14 at 8pm.
Adapted from Ahern’s 2006 novella of the same name, Mrs Whippy introduces us to Emelda, a 46-year-old, 220 pound mother of five, struggling to cope with life after her husband left her for a 23-year-old dancer.
Her five difficult sons worship their father and blame Emelda for his leaving. On top of everything else, she has to struggle with a new job at the local supermarket. For comfort she turns to her only true friend – ice-cream.
Sitting on her battered 25-year-old sofa, eating her way through another tub of ‘Ben and Jerry’s’, mourning all that she’s lost, Emelda suddenly hears the gentle tinkling sound that sends children rushing outside. The soothing sounds of a Mr Whippy van arrive at just the right time for Emelda, only now it’s not just the ice-cream that is her only true friend.
As Emelda herself declares: “The sound of that approaching van was the equivalent of hearing a rescue helicopter. Mr Whippy was my rescue team. Those tinkling fairground sounds saved me that day…The man in the van who called himself Mr Whippy brought smiles to everyone’s faces, caused parents and children to rush to his side. That man with the twinkle in his eye brought brightness into the life that for me had become so dark…And I immediately wanted to be Mrs Whippy.”
Speaking ahead of her play’s Galway visit, Cecelia Ahern describes how her debut as a playwright came about.
“I’d actually been thinking for a while that I would like to write a play and then Michael Scott, from the City Theatre, approached me with the suggestion of adapting Mrs Whippy,” she says. “He saw it as a one-woman piece which is how we’ve done it. Michael was very good to work with; we workshopped the script and it was fascinating for me hearing different actors doing Emelda, how they each brought something different to the character.”
Ahern reflects further on the experience of seeing her work done on stage.
“When you’re writing a novel you’re doing it for the reader but with the play-script you’re doing it much more for the actor - I found that process very interesting,” she says. “It was extraordinary seeing the audience reactions once the run began, how different lines would get a laugh from one night to the next. Or that people would respond seriously to different things each night.
“I think audiences are drawn to Emelda because she’s quite isolated at the beginning of the play but she slowly gets stronger as the story progresses. I really love the whole live feeling and buzz of theatre. I would certainly like to write more for the stage.”
Ahern comes across as warm and personable. Her writing CV to date also reveals the appetite for work and application which has played its part in her considerable success. Having debuted with PS I Love You in 2004, she has penned five further novels (most recently The Gift ) as well as various short stories – plus her work on the ABC series Samantha Who?
Does she have a set writing schedule that she follows every day?
“I pretty much write as and when an idea takes me,” she replies. “I often write at night then sleep during the day. Of course with the play it was a little different because there were specific deadlines that the script had to meet.
“Working on Samantha Who? has been different again; it’s a very different collaborative process. I work closely on that with co-writer/producer Donald Todd; basically we would devise and sketch out scenarios, story arcs and so on and then the team of series writers would fill them out.
“The people at ABC had approached me about doing something for them after reading PS I Love You and I was thrilled to do it - but I didn’t want to have to go and live in LA and work fulltime at that. I still see myself as primarily a novelist, so taking on a producer role with the TV series enables me to work on that while still having enough time to work on my books.”
Ahern reveals that she’s already working on a new novel, though she’s keeping its title and plot close to her chest for the time being. Given her unique perspective on Irish political life, as our ex-Taoiseach’s daughter, could she ever envisage drawing on that material for one of her books?
“Never say never!,” she laughs. “Up to now none of the characters I’ve written about have come from that world but it could happen; I would never rule it out.”
Ahern then makes a topical political link regarding Mrs Whippy; “ I was reading an interview with Michelle Obama where she revealed that on their first date Barack won her over with some chocolate ice cream so it goes to show that ice cream can affect even the lives of the most powerful!”
Mrs Whippy name-checks a range of ice-cream flavours as its action unfolds and one reviewer called it “the theatrical equivalent of a Maxi Twist,” – but which ice cream flavour would get Ahern’s personal vote? “Oh I’d be a vanilla girl,” she laughs.
Doubtless Galway audiences will relish lapping up Mrs Whippy’s winsome blend of ice-cream, laughter, and romance.
For tickets to the Galway performances contact the Town Hall on 091 - 569777. For Castlebar contact 094 - 9023111 or www.theroyal.ie