Don’t Call It Chick Lit

Cecelia Ahern seems to have the luck of the Irish. Her latest book, "Thanks for the Memories," will be published across Europe next month, and if it's anything like her last four, it's certain to become an international best seller. The plot revolves around two people who become linked by blood: a woman who survives a terrible accident, and a recently divorced art lecturer who donates the blood that saves her. After the transfusion, the woman begins to experience memories of events she never witnessed. The novel blends elements of a thriller with traditional chick-lit themes like romance, friendship and adventure. But it also touches a deeper plane, musing on such topics as grief, mental confusion and childhood loneliness. "Chick lit isn't a nice term," says Ahern, 26. "Just because something is heartwarming and appeals to women does not mean it lacks intelligence."

Whatever you call it, Ahern's work certainly has marketing smarts. Since her first effort, "P.S. I Love You," was published four years ago, her books have sold a total of 6 million copies in 46 countries. In addition, all have been optioned as films or TV series. "P.S. I Love You," starring Hilary Swank as a young widow and Gerard Butler as the dead husband who sends her letters from beyond the grave, hit screens earlier this year, and her second book, "Where the Rainbow Ends," written as a series of e-mails, instant messages and letters between two childhood friends who later fall in love, was optioned by a London film producer in February. Her third novel, "If You Could See Me Now," is being made into a musical film starring Hugh Jackman, while the fourth, "A Place Called Here," is being developed as a TV drama series in the United States. Ahern is also the creator and a coproducer of the hit U.S. television series "Samantha Who?", about a psychiatrist with amnesia, which recently won the People's Choice Award for best new comedy. Indeed, it's a true measure of her literary success that she's better known for her writing than her status as Ireland's first daughter: her father, Bertie Ahern, is the country's prime minister. "Cecelia Ahern is an Irish success story," says Caroline Walsh, literary editor of The Irish Times. "With its economic transformation, Ireland has fast progressed from a victim culture to latte culture. To some extent, the women popular fiction writers have best encapsulated this, with Cecelia serving as her generation's head of this school."

Ahern has been writing all her life. At 14, she tried to write her first novel but eventually veered toward journalism, earning a degree from Dublin's Griffith College. Soon after, however, she returned to fiction. She wrote "P.S." in three weeks, spurred on by her mother, who had read the opening chapters and couldn't wait to see what happened next. Ahern sent a partial manuscript to literary agent Marianne Gunn O'Connor, who says she cried when she read it—then got Ahern book deals in both Britain and the United States. "I knew there was something special about her because she writes about the complexities of the human spirit in an accessible way, with a sense of strength and humor," says Gunn O'Connor.

Her books also tend to have an element of magical realism. In "A Place Called Here," for instance, the main character, Sandy, is a detective who gets lost in a land where all missing things—from socks to people—end up. "[My books] do come from that place with a slight bit of magic in them," Ahern says. "There is a thread in all the books where I take someone who has gone through a really difficult situation, catch them just before they fall and bring them through it." That thread seems to resonate with readers of all generations; Ahern says that one of her most devoted fans is a widower in his mid-80s who has read "P.S." seven times.

Her work appeals to her father as well; he has already seen the film version of "P.S." three times. She scoffs at cynics who claim her political connections give her an unfair advantage as a writer. "I grew up my entire life around politics, where everything you did was questioned, so I was prepared," she says in a slight Dublin brogue. "There are still people you can never convince. But they wouldn't make a whole movie or develop a television series just because of who my dad is." Walsh agrees, acknowledging that though there were rumblings when her first book deal was signed, she has proved her critics sorely wrong. "This is a rather small country, and publishing is a huge global business," she says. "Any idea that she swept to success because she was a prime minister's daughter is misconceived and is not linked into market forces." Ahern says someday she might even pen a political tale—"I never say never," she says. A magical tale set in the shadowy hallways of Dublin? Filmmakers, take note.