Sophie Kinsella captured the hearts of millions of readers with her Shopaholic series. A short while ago Sophie Kinsella visited the Netherlands. Miriam, Manon and Leontine took the opportunity to interview her during the Bookspot Meet & Greet hosted by Daphne Deckers.
You write romantic comedy. Why is that?
I just write books that I really enjoy reading myself, that’s always been the way I’ve written. It’s what I say as well to people that come up to me and say: “I’d like to write a book, what’s your advice?” I always say: “Imagine yourself going into a bookshop and you see the perfect book and you just have to pick it up, what would that be? Write that book. Try to visualize that book.” And that’s what I do. I just write a book that I would love. And I love a love story, I love to laugh, I love to learn something about life or learn about myself. I think the best comedy comes out of truth. So, it can’t be just silly. It’s got to have a kind of underlying message, sounds a bit preaching. Comedy quite often comes out of pain. So that’s what I try to put in my books but do it all with a light touch, so people keep turning the pages.
How do you keep it like this? Every book has such a high level of comedy. Aren’t you afraid to repeat yourself?
I’m not really worried of repeating myself. I think the world is plenty complicated enough to find enough situations. I rewrite my comedy a lot. For me there’s a big difference between saying: “It was so funny, they walked in and fell over and they felt so embarrassed.” And no one is laughing. You actually have to describe that in a way to create laughter and for me it’s all about timing, where you put a line, how you set up a joke, where the punch line comes. That’s something I do work out. Because I look at a scene and say: “You should be funny, why are you not making me laugh?” You know? It’s not quite right yet. So, I rejig and rejig. When it makes you laugh, it’s good? Exactly. And sometimes when I’m walking down the street and think of an idea for my book and it makes me laugh out loud, I think: Okay, that’s going in. You just have to see the funny side of life, you know?
When you are writing, is there someone that reads along with you?
My husband, who luckily enough has a very loud laugh and has the same sense of humour as me. So, he’s the first reader and I kind of pace around downstairs, hoping for a laugh. And he’s very obliging that way, he laughs loudly. Does he say this wasn’t really good, does he let you know that? He would have constructive suggestions. He would always start off by saying it was absolutely brilliant, brilliant and then leave it for half an hour or a week and say, “Just one thought”. He’s really tactful like that. But he’s a man, while I think your books are more often read by women – he has a man’s perspective. Does that work for you? That’s true. Some of the jokes he might not get as much. But he has the same sense of humour and I’d like to think that comedy is universal. Even if you don’t experience it yourself what a character is experiencing you can still find it funny. And then it goes to my editor and my agent and they are women so they can be the women’s front.
Do you get nervous before a book release? Do you still get nervous when a book goes out to the public?
I do. I hope that everyone will enjoy it. But I often think to myself I’ve done my best; I’ve tried my hardest and if people don’t like this one, I’ll find out why and try to learn from that. You just have to do your best and see.
What’s Becky’s secret? Why is she so popular?
Interesting. I don’t really know. I think from what people say to me she thinks the way a lot of people think, but she goes further than they do. They recognize themselves but then they think at least I’m not a bad as that. And I think she also has qualities that we all aspire; she’s very warm, she’s very kind, she’s very ingenious, she’s always finding the solution to the problem, she never gives up. She has that combination of being very flawed as well. She makes us feel better about ourselves, because we’re not as bad as her. And she’s sometimes misguided, but she always redeems herself by pulling off something spectacular that makes all the previous mistakes redeemed.
How would your best friend describe you?
Oh! Err, I think optimistic. I try to be optimistic; I think that’s something I have in common with Becky. My sisters think I’m a bit too optimistic, a bit too Pollyanna. I romanticize things. I would really like the world to be as it is in my books so I’m always really trying to romanticize things, so that everything’s really cool and perfect. My sister’s much more of a realist. She’s like, “Oh, for God’s sake”.
When you started to write Shopaholic, did you expect to write more than one novel in that series?
No, not at all. I’d written a book and I didn’t know if anybody would understand it, enjoy it, like it, nothing. I knew that for myself and I could see more stories for the character, but I didn’t know if anybody would be interested. It was just very exciting for me when my publisher said: “Do you feel like writhing another one?” At that stage, I could see that she just could go on for a long time, because there was just so much potential. When I’d written the first book, I didn’t know if it would get published, if anybody would understand it. So, I certainly wasn’t planning out all the sequels.
When you’ve finished a book, is it difficult to let go of a story?
Oh, it’s so hard! I miss the characters. I miss the book. I feel really protective of it. I’m kind of desperate that the people love the characters that I love and kind of enjoy it. So, it’s really hard. You live with it for such a long time. Is it different when it’s about Becky, because you can come back to her later? Actually, that’s true. With some of these standalones, I felt really bereft when I had finished. When I wrote Twenties girl (Wat spook jij uit?). That one has a bittersweet ending anyway, I just had grown to love Sadie so much. It just was really, really sad. Out of all the characters, I could never revisit Sadie. It was really “goodbye, Sadie” and I found it really hard.
Would you ever consider writing in a different genre, like a murder suspense type of situation?
Years and years ago I actually did try to write quite a gritty thriller. I sent it to my agent to ask what she thought, and she passed it to a thriller expert agent. He phoned me to say: “The plot was okay, but what is this world you’ve created? Everybody’s happy, they’re all charming and funny, but they’re committing gruesome murders. This won’t do.” He said: “If you really want to write this kind of book, why don’t you go undercover with some police people and shadow them, learn about the gritty underbelly?” And I thought, “Gritty underbelly. I don’t think so. No, let’s forget it, let’s do something else.” I do love a plot and I’m quite attracted to the idea off unfolding the clues, putting them together like a crossword puzzle, but I wasn’t attracted to the gritty underbelly.
What kind of books do you like to read? Thrillers or chick lit?
I try to read a bit of everything. My new thing is actually nonfiction which I never used to read. I’ve read Educated (Leerschool) by Tara Westover, it’s brilliant. It’s about this girl who lived in this family that kept all their children off the grid, didn’t let them get to school. They believed the government was very much against them and they were very religious. It’s about how she tried to get herself educated. I really enjoyed that. For novels, I kind of flit between kind of contemporary, a lot of my friends are novelists, so I try to read them, Jenny Colgan, Jojo Moyes and all of those. And then I go back to P.G. Wodehouse and Agatha Christie. And sometimes I read thrillers. It depends on my mood, really. Aren’t you afraid that when you read Jenny Colgan and Jojo Moyes, their works will get inside your head? Yes, I would never read those books when I’m writing. When I’m writing, I kind of have to save up and do all my reading in-between books. When I’m writing, I don’t read very much at all, because I have to keep my own voice fresh.
You have 5 children. How do you find the time to do anything?!
That’s a very good question! I don’t know. It’s a work in progress, we kind of find a way to make it work somehow. Every day is different. Some of them are grown up now, they’re living their lives. So, I haven’t got five tinies. That would mean no books. And I have a very supportive husband. He now works with me; he does a lot of the business side of things. That’s made a big difference. It gets to a stage where every day there are phone calls to be had, arrangements and decisions and this promotion and tour and so on. He does all that and I can write.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Sorry, I don’t understand that question. Not writing? I try to take up hobbies, but they never really stick. I like to exercise when I can, I like to walk, I like to play tennis with my kids. I occasionally have these crazes, where I decide that I’m going to start baking cakes, but they never last very long. I have kind of temporary hobbies; they come and go.
Do you read the reviews of your books?
I skim them. If someone sends me a review, I’ll read it. I don’t go searching on the internet for every single review because that could take a lot of time. I do read some of them or try to get the impression of them. I sometimes say to my husband, “can you kind of look at the reviews?”, because I’d like to learn from them. If someone says I’m missing this character or had any kind of pointers, I’m interested to know. On the other hand, I think it’s quite a rabbit hole to get down and Google yourself and start reading everything, I’m not sure how helpful that is.
Do you ever get stuck when you’re writing a story?
I have something to say about this, which I always say. When I was just starting out in writing, I did an event with another author, who was much older and wise and experienced. He said: “Whatever you say aloud your brain believes, even if you know it’s not true. Some part of your brain listens and digests it.” So, what I always say is: “I never get writer’s block, I never get stuck, this never happens.” I know it’s a self-fulfilling thing to say out loud. And if there is a sort of pause, I go for a walk. I think walking just clears the brain. And if it gets really bad, my husband and I go out and drink lots of cocktails and talk about it, until inspiration strikes. And I find the cocktails very helpful.
Do you have any dreams left when it comes to writing?
I always have the same dream. Just write a good book. You always want your next book to be better than your last book. Do you set the bar higher for yourself each time? I try to. It’s difficult to define what the bar is. I try and challenge myself. I’ve done a ghost story – which was quite complicated! And I try to bring in different issues. I try not to just write the same kind of boy-meets-girl love story, to always put in something I have to say about the world. I think that’s all you can do, really.
Interview / Foto’s: Miriam Bakker & Leontine Meijer-Tisseur / Pixabay
Transcription: Alexander Roessen / Yfke van Vuurden
Featured phot: The House of Books)