She made us weep with PS. I Love You and had us captivated in If You Could See Me Now. When it comes to literature aimed at women, aka Chick Lit, best-selling author Cecelia Ahern has to be one of the best. Today sees the release of her latest novel How To Fall In Love, and we have an exciting extract to whet your appetite.

Before you start, here’s a brief synopsis by Harper Collins to keep you in the loop:

“She has just two weeks. Two weeks to teach him how to fall in love – with his own life.

Adam Basil and Christine Rose are thrown together late one night, when Christine is crossing the Ha’penny Bridge in Dublin. Adam is there, poised, threatening to jump.

Adam is desperate – but Christine makes a crazy deal with him. His 35th birthday is looming and she bets him that before then she can show him life is worth living .

Despite her determination, Christine knows what a dangerous promise she’s made. Against the ticking of the clock, the two of them embark on wild escapades, grand romantic gestures and some unlikely late-night outings. Slowly, Christine thinks Adam is starting to fall back in love with his life. But is that all that’s happening… ?

A novel to make you laugh, cry and appreciate life, this is Cecelia Ahern at her thoughtful and surprising best.”


CHAPTER 4: How To Hold On For Dear Life 

The streets of Dublin city were quiet on a Sunday night in December and it was bitterly cold as I made my way to the Ha’penny Bridge from Wellington Quay. Snow was threatened, but hadn’t come yet. The Ha’penny Bridge, officially known as Liffey Bridge, the charming old footbridge with its cast-iron railings spans the river, connecting the north of the city to the south. It came to be known as the Ha’penny because that was the toll when it was constructed in 1816. One of the most recognisable sights of Dublin, it’s especially pretty at night when the three decorative lamps are lit. I had chosen this place because as a part of my college degree, Business and Spanish, I had to live in Spain for one year. I don’t remember how close we were as a family before Mum died, but I most certainly remember us tightening our bonds afterwards and then, as the years went on, it seemed unfathomable that any of us would ever leave the fold.

Going into my college course I knew that the Erasmus placement was an inevitable, unavoidable reality and at that stage I felt the overwhelming desire to sever those bonds and stretch my wings. As soon as I got there I knew it was a mistake, I cried all the time, couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep, could barely concentrate on my studies. It felt as though my heart had been ripped from my chest and left at home with my family.

My dad wrote to me every day, witty musings of his and my sisters’ daily life which attempted to lift my spirits but only fuelled the homesickness even more. But there was one postcard in particular that helped me snap out of the chronic homesickness. Or rather, the homesickness was still there, but I was able to function. That postcard had been of the Ha’penny Bridge, at night time, with the Dublin skyline lit up in the background and all the colourful lights reflecting in the Liffey below. I had been enchanted by the image, I’d looked at the pixellated people and I’d tried to give them names and stories, places they were going, places they were coming from, familiar names going to and from locations I knew. I pinned it to my wall when I slept and carried it around in my college journal during the day, I felt like it was a part of home with me at all times.

I wasn’t stupid enough to think that this exact feeling would be replicated the moment I saw the bridge, because I saw the bridge almost every week. By this point I was well seasoned at searching for my happy place and knew it wouldn’t be instant, but I was hoping I could stand there and at least recall the emotion, the experience, the feelings. It was night, the skyline was lit up in the background, and although the new buildings along the docks created a different image from my old postcard, the reflection of the lights in the dark river still seemed the same. It had all the right elements of the postcard.

Apart from one thing.

A lone man, dressed in black, clinging to the outside of the bridge while he looked down into the cold river that ran swift and treacherous beneath him.

On the steps of the Wellington Quay entrance a small crowd had gathered. They were standing looking at the man on the bridge. I joined them in their shock, wondering if that was how Roy Cleveland Sullivan had felt when he was struck by lightning for the second time: Not again.

Cecelia Ahern How To Fall In Love:

Someone had called the police and they were discussing how long it would take them to arrive, and how they might not get there on time. They were all debating what to do. I couldn’t help but see Simon’s face before he pulled the trigger and then afterwards, in intensive care, replaying the way his face had changed in his apartment before he picked up the gun. Something had triggered that moment. Could it have been what I said to him? I couldn’t remember the words I’d spoken; maybe it was my fault. I thought about his two little girls, waiting for their daddy to wake up, wondering why he wouldn’t wake up like he always did. Then I looked at the man on the bridge and thought about the countless lives that would be impacted by his need to end his pain, his inability to see another way out.

Suddenly, adrenalin pumped through my body and there was no other decision that I could make. I had no choice: I had to save the man on the bridge.

This time, I would do it differently. Since Simon Conway I had read a few books, trying to figure out what I’d done wrong, how I could have talked him round. The first step would be to focus on the man, ignore the commotion around me. The three people beside me were starting to argue about what to do, and that wasn’t going to help anyone. I put my foot on the step. I could do this, I told myself, feeling confident and in control.

The icy wind hit me like a slap across the face, telling me, ‘Wake up! Be ready!’ My ears were already aching from the cold and my nose was numb and starting to run. The tide was high in the Liffey, the water was black, murky, malevolent, uninviting. I detached myself from the people waiting expectantly behind me, and tried to forget that every word I said and every shaky breath I took could be carried on the breeze to the spectators’ ears. My view of him grew clearer: a man in black, standing on the wrong side of the railings, his feet on the narrow ridge above the water, his hands clutching the balustrade. It was too late to go back now.

‘Hello,’ I called gently, not wanting to give him a fright and send him into the water. Despite trying to be heard above the breeze, I kept my voice calm and clear with an even tone and soft expression, remembering what I’d read: avoid sharp tones and maintain eye contact. ‘Please don’t be alarmed, I’m not going to touch you.’

He turned to look at me, then his eyes went straight back down to the river again, staring intently at the water. It was clear that I had barely penetrated the thoughts running through his mind; he was too lost in his head to notice.

‘My name is Christine,’ I said, taking slow, steady steps towards him. I stayed near the edge of the bridge, wanting to be able to see his face while I spoke. ‘Don’t come any closer!’ he shouted, his voice revealing his panic.

I stopped, happy with the distance; he was an arm’s length away. If I absolutely had to, I could grab him.

‘Okay, okay, I’m staying here.’

He turned to see how far I was from him.

‘Keep focus, I don’t want you to fall.’

‘Fall?’ He looked up at me quickly and then down again, then back up at me and our eyes locked. He was in his thirties, chiselled jaw, his hair hidden beneath a black woollen hat. His blue eyes stared back at me, big and terrified, pupils so large they almost took over his eyes and I wondered was he on something or drunk. ‘Are you for real?’ he said. ‘Do you think I care if I fall? Do you think I got here by accident?’ He tried to zone me out again and concentrate on the river.

‘What’s your name?’

‘Leave me alone,’ he snapped, then added gently, ‘Please.’

Even in distress, he was polite.

‘I’m concerned. I can see you’re distressed. I’m here to help you.’

‘I don’t need your help.’ He blocked me out and focused on the water again. I watched his knuckles, wrapped around the iron, going from white to red as he tightened and loosened his grip. My heart hammered each time his grip loosened and I dreaded them letting go completely. I didn’t have much time.

‘I’d like to talk to you.’ I moved a tiny bit closer.

‘Please go away. I want to be on my own. I didn’t want any of this, I didn’t want a scene, I just want to do this. On my own. I just . . . I didn’t think it would take so long.’ He swallowed again.

‘Look, nobody is going to come near you unless I say so. So there’s no panic, no rush, you don’t need to do anything without thinking it through. We have a lot of time. All I ask is for you to talk to me.’

He was silent. More gentle questions led to no answers. I was ready to listen, ready to say all the right things, but my questions were being met by silence. On the other hand, he hadn’t jumped yet, at least there was that.

‘I’d like to know your name,’ I said.

There was nothing from him.

I pictured Simon’s face as he looked me in the eye and pulled the trigger. A wave of emotion rushed through me and I wanted to cry, I wanted to break down and cry. I wasn’t able for this. Panic welled inside me. I was on the verge of giving up and returning to the small crowd of spectators to tell them I couldn’t do it, that I didn’t want to be responsible for another victim, when he spoke.


‘Okay,’ I said, relieved he was engaging with me. I remembered a line in one of the books that said the person attempting suicide needed to be reminded that there were others thinking of him, loving him, whether he felt it or not, but I was afraid it would send him the opposite direction. What if he was here because of them or because he felt he was a burden on them? My mind raced as I tried to figure out what to do; there were so many rules, and all I wanted was to help.

‘I want to help you, Adam,’ I said finally.

‘There’s no point.’

‘I’d like to hear what you have to say,’ I told him, remaining positive. Listen thoughtfully, don’t say don’t, don’t say can’t. I ran through everything I’d read. I couldn’t get it wrong. Not one single word.

‘You can’t talk me out of it.’

‘Give me a chance to show you that even though it may feel like this is the only option, there are many more. Your mind is so tired now – let me help you down. Then we can look at the choices. They may be hard to see at the moment, but they do exist. For the time being though, let’s get off the bridge, let me help you to safety.’

He didn’t answer. Instead he looked up at me. I knew that look, that familiar look. Simon had worn that expression too. ‘Sorry.’ His fingers loosened on the iron bars, his body leaned forward, away from the railings.

‘Adam!’ I dashed forward, pushed my arms through the wide railings and wrapped them tight around his chest, pulling him back so hard that he slammed into the railings. My body was pressed so close to the railings that his back was tight against my front. I buried my face in his woolly hat, squeezed my eyes shut and held on tight. I waited for him to pull away, wondered how I would keep my grip on him, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to for long if he used his strength to resist me. I waited for a spectator to come running and take over, hoped that the gardaí were nearby so that the professionals could step in. I was out of my depth, what did I think I was doing? I squeezed my eyes shut, rested my head on the back of his head; he smelled of aftershave, clean, like he’d just taken a shower. He smelled alive, like someone who was on his way somewhere, not someone who had been planning to jump off a bridge. He felt strong and full of life too; I could barely wrap my arms around his chest he was so broad. I held on to him, determined never to let go.

‘What are you doing?’ he panted, his chest heaving up and down.

I finally looked up and checked on the crowd behind me. There was no sign of garda lights, no sign of anyone coming to help me. My legs were trembling as if it was me that was staring down at the depths of the Liffey’s darkness.

‘Don’t do it,’ I whispered, starting to cry. ‘Please don’t do it.’

He tried to turn around and see me, but I was directly behind and he couldn’t see my face.

‘Are you . . . are you crying?’

‘Yes,’ I sniffed. ‘Please don’t do it.’

‘Jesus,’ he tried again to turn and look at me.

I was crying harder now, sobbing uncontrollably, my shoulders jumping up and down, my arms still wrapped around his chest, holding on for dear life.

‘What the hell?’ He moved some more, shuffled his feet along the edge of the ledge so he could turn his head and see my face.

Our eyes locked together.

‘Are you . . . are you okay?’ He softened a little, coming out of whatever trance-like state he had been in.

‘No.’ I tried to stop crying. I wanted to dry my nose, which was running like a tap, but I was afraid to let go of him.

‘Do I know you?’ he asked, confused, searching my face, wondering why I cared so much.

‘No,’ I said, sniffing again. I squeezed him tighter, hugging him like I hadn’t hugged anyone for years, not since I was

a child, not since my mother held me.

He was looking at me like I was crazy, like he was the sane one and I had lost it. We were practically nose-to-nose as he studied my face, as if looking for far more than what he could see.

The spell between us was broken when some idiot watching from the quays shouted ‘Jump!’ The man in black started trying to wriggle out of my grip with a renewed anger.

‘Get your hands off me,’ he said, struggling to shake me off.

‘No,’ I shook my head. ‘Please, listen . . .’ I tried to compose myself before continuing: ‘It’s not what you think it’s going to be in there,’ I said, looking down and imagining how it would feel for him, staring into that darkness, wanting to end it all; how bad things must be for him to want that. He was studying me intently again. ‘You don’t want to end your life, you want to end your pain, the pain you’re feeling right now, the pain that I’m sure you wake up with and go to bed at night with. Maybe no one around you understands that, but I do, believe me.’ I saw that his eyes were filling, I was getting through to him. ‘But you don’t want to end it all the time, do you? Just sometimes it passes through your mind, probably more often lately than before. It’s like a habit, trying to think of different ways to end it all. But it passes, doesn’t it?’

He looked at me carefully, taking every word in.

‘It’s a moment, that’s all. And moments pass. If you hang in there, this moment will pass and you won’t want to end your life. You probably think that no one cares, or that they’ll get over you. Maybe you think they want you to do this. They don’t. No one wants this for anyone. It might feel as if there are no options, but there are – you can come through this. Get down and let’s talk about it. Whatever is going on, you can get through it. It’s a moment, that’s all,’ I whispered, tears running down my cheeks.

I took a sidelong glance at him. He swallowed hard, he was looking down now. Thinking about it, weighing up his options. Live or die. Surreptitiously I scanned the bridge entrances on Bachelors Walk and Wellington Quay, still no gardaí, still no members of the public to help me. I was glad of that at this stage; I had managed to engage with him, I didn’t want anybody else to distract him, panic him, bring him back to that place again. I thought about what to say next, something that would make the time pass until professional help arrived, something positive that wouldn’t trigger any anger in him. But in the end I didn’t have to say anything because he spoke first.

‘I read about a guy who jumped in the river last year. He was drunk and decided to go swimming, only he got stuck under a shopping trolley and the currents swept him away. He couldn’t get out,’ he said, his voice cracking with the emotion.

‘And you liked the sound of that?’

‘No. But then it will be over. After all that, it will be over.’

‘Or it will be the beginning of a new kind of pain. As soon as you’re in that water, no matter how much you want it, you’ll panic. You’ll fight it. You’ll struggle to take in oxygen and your lungs will fill with water because, even though you think you don’t want to live, your instinct will be to stay alive. It’s in you to want to stay alive. As soon as the water is drawn into your larynx, another natural instinct is for you to swallow it. Water will fill your lungs, which will weigh down your body, and if you change your mind and decide you want to live and try to get to the surface, you won’t be able to. And the thing is, there are so many people around you right now, they’re ready to dive in and rescue you – and do you know what? You think it’ll be too late, but it won’t be. Even after you lose consciousness, the heart will carry on beating. They can give you mouth-to-mouth and pump out the water and fill your lungs with air again. They could save you.’

His body was shaking and not just from the cold. I felt him go limp beneath my arms. ‘I want it to end.’ His voice shook as he spoke. ‘It hurts.’

‘What hurts?’

‘Specifically? Living.’ He laughed weakly. ‘Waking up is the worst part of my day. Has been for a long time.’

‘Why don’t we talk about this somewhere else?’ I said, concerned, as his body went rigid again. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to talk about his problems while he was hanging off the side of a bridge. ‘I want to hear everything you have to say, so let’s get down now.’

‘It’s too much.’ He closed his eyes and spoke more to himself. ‘I can’t change things now. It’s too late,’ he said quietly, leaning his head back so that it rested by my cheek. We were oddly close for two strangers.

‘It’s never too late. Believe me, it’s possible for your life to change. You can change it. I can help you,’ I said, my voice little more than a whisper. There was no reason for me to project; his ear was right there, at the tip of my lips.

He looked me in the eyes and I couldn’t look away, I felt locked in. He seemed so lost.

‘And what happens if it doesn’t work? If everything doesn’t change like you say it will.’

‘It will.’

‘But if it doesn’t?’

‘I’m telling you it will.’ Get him off the bridge, Christine!

He studied me, his jaw hardening as he mulled it over. ‘And if it doesn’t, I swear I’ll do this again,’ he threatened. ‘Not here, but I’ll find a way, because I’m not going back to that.’

I didn’t want him dwelling on the negative, on whatever it was that had sent him here. ‘Fine,’ I said confidently, ‘If your life doesn’t change, it’s your decision what you do. But I’m telling you that it can. I’ll show you. You and me, we’ll do it together, we’ll see how wonderful life can be. I promise you.’

‘It’s a deal,’ he near whispered.

Dread immediately flooded my body. A deal? I hadn’t intended on making a deal with him, but I wasn’t going to discuss it now. I was tired. I just wanted him off the bridge. I wanted to be in bed, wrapped up, with all of this behind me.

‘You need to let go of me so I can climb over,’ he said.

‘I’m not letting you go. No way,’ I said sternly.

He half-laughed, a tiny one, but it was there. ‘Look, I’m trying to get back on the bridge and now you won’t let me.’

I took in the height of the bars he needed to climb, then the drop below. This was going to be dangerous. ‘Let me

call for help,’ I said.

Slowly I removed one hand from his chest, not totally trusting that he was going to keep his word.

‘I got here by myself, I can get back on the bridge by myself,’ he said.

‘I don’t like the idea of this, let me ask someone to help.’ But he ignored me and I watched him trying to turn around, his large feet on the narrow ledge. He moved his right hand to a bar further away and shuffled his feet so that he could turn to face the bridge. My heart pounded as I watched, feeling helpless. I wanted to shout to the spectators to help, but shouting at that point would have given him a fright and sent him into the water. Suddenly the wind felt stronger, the air seemed colder and I was even more aware of the danger he was in after our brief respite. He angled his body to the right, twisting from his waist and preparing to swing his left foot over the water and turn to face the bars, but as he pivoted his weight on his right foot, it slipped off the narrow ledge. Somehow his left hand managed to grab the bar he had been reaching for just in time, leaving him hanging on with one arm. I heard the collective intake of breath from the spectators as I reached for his flailing right hand and clinging on tightly, used all my strength to pull him up. In that moment it was the fear in his eyes which terrified me the most, but on reflection it was that look that gave me strength, because the man who only moments ago had wanted to end his life was now fighting to live.

I helped pull him up, and he clung to the bars, eyes closed, taking deep breaths. I was still trying to compose myself when Detective Maguire came rushing towards us with a thunderous look on his face.

‘He wants to get back on the bridge,’ I said weakly.

‘I can see that.’ He pushed me aside and I had to look away while they manoeuvred Adam to safety. As soon as he landed on the bridge, we both sat down hard on the ground, all our energy spent.

Adam sat with his back pressed up against the railings, I sat opposite him on the other side, trying to stop my head from spinning. I tucked my head between my legs and took deep breaths.

‘Are you okay?’ he asked, concerned.

‘Yeah.’ I closed my eyes. ‘Thanks,’ I added.

‘What for?’

‘For not jumping.’

He grimaced, the exhaustion showing in his face and body. ‘Always happy to oblige. Seemed like it meant more

to you than to me.’

‘Well, I appreciate it.’ I gave him a shaky smile.

He raised his eyebrows. ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.’



He reached across and held out his hand. I moved from the railings to reach and as I took his hand in mine he held on tightly and looked me in the eye.

‘I look forward to you convincing me that this was a good idea, Christine. I think my birthday would be a good deadline.’

Deadline? I froze, my hand still wrapped in his. He’d said it softly, but it felt like a warning. Suddenly I felt faint, not to mention foolish, at the thought of the deal I’d agreed to. What had I done?

Despite wanting to take it all back, I nodded nervously. He shook my hand once, a firm single shake, in the centre of the bridge, and then he let go.


Cecelia at a book signing