Monday 19 February 2018

Mums the word for Sophie Kinsella

Hannah Stephenson

The chick-lit author Sophie Kinsella's life was dominated by her four sons, until baby Sybella came along last year. .

She's as bright and bubbly as her bestselling books and as uplifting to talk to as she is to read.

Sophie Kinsella, the queen of the chick-lit novel, whose Shopaholic adventures starring Becky Bloomwood have sold in their millions, is one of those women who appears to have seamlessly merged a hugely successful writing career with having five children, a happy 20-year marriage and a life filled with laughter.

In December she had her fifth child, a daughter Sybella, sister to her four sons, and plans to take some time off now that her latest stand-alone novel I've Got Your Number - about a young woman who finds a mobile phone and becomes entangled in its previous owner's life - has just been published.

Of course she isn't superwoman, she insists. She has a lot of help from her nanny/housekeeper, husband and wider family.

But she never hesitated about having another baby, even though she was 41 when she fell pregnant with Sybella.

"In principal, I'd always liked the idea of a big family. But I couldn't have had five close together," says Kinsella, whose eldest son is 15.

"It's been more of a case of realising that our first two, who are close in age, were growing up really quickly and so there was a bit of, 'Are we done with being parents? No, we're not' involved."

Having a daughter will add a completely different dynamic to the family, she admits.

"When I was told it was a girl, I either got the reaction of, 'How lovely, friend for life, you can go shopping', or those who said, 'You don't know what you're in for'. It's a challenge, but bring it on," she laughs, although she says she won't be having any more children.

"In many ways writing is the ideal job for motherhood because you can do it from home and have your own flexible hours. If there's a drama, most of the time I can drop what I'm doing for them, although writing a novel is a full-on, all-consuming thing.

"There are times when I might be present but my head's not there, it's with my characters. But my children have got used to that."

Kinsella relies upon her family to help maintain a trouble-free home.

"My husband is a really hands-on father and my mother comes round every day. If I didn't have that I would probably find it impossible."

The story of how Kinsella met her headmaster husband, Henry Wickham, at university, has a touch of the chick-lit about it.

"He used to be a singer and I saw him in a concert. I knew of him, I'd seen him around and when he started singing, that was it. I thought, 'I have to have him'.

"To meet him properly, I did all the things you do. I bumped into him 'accidentally' all the time, I fabricated reasons to go and ask him stuff.

"I wheedled my way into his life, so he didn't really have a choice. I felt absolutely certain he was the one, but I didn't have much to go on. I got married at 21, which these days seems ridiculously young. I'm just quite lucky it worked out.

"When we got married I had no idea what I was going to do and Henry was a singer. Now, here I am a novelist and he's a headmaster. Like a roller coaster, you have to think, 'We're in this together'. While one person is screaming, the other is holding their hand."

She also writes under her real name of Madeleine Wickham, but they are different types of novels. Her Kinsella work seems to more reflect her own happy persona.

"I'm a romantic. I love a happy ending - it makes you smile and feel good. It's an optimism. When I'm writing I feel like it's an escape from real life, where everybody can say the right thing, make the right decisions and it can all work out for the best."

The daughter of teachers, Kinsella was brought up in London and studied music at New College, Oxford, but after a year switched to politics, philosophy and economics, and started her writing career as a financial journalist before turning to fiction.

At the age of 24, she wrote her first novel The Tennis Party, under her real name of Madeleine Wickham, which did well. Other successful Wickham novels followed but she later submitted her first Sophie Kinsella manuscript, The Dreamworld Of A Shopaholic, to her publishers without telling them it was actually by Madeleine Wickham.

"When I came up with the idea for the Shopaholic book, I knew how I wanted to tell the story. It had to be first person, it had to be funny and present tense, seeing the world from her eyes in a confessional way.

"The Madeleine Wickham books are much more like an ensemble piece, told in the third person, going backwards and forwards with different elements."

She has enjoyed greater success as Kinsella with her Shopaholic novels, featuring the misadventures of Becky Bloomwood, a financial journalist who cannot manage her own finances.

Confessions Of A Shopaholic was adapted into a film and released in February 2009, with Isla Fisher playing an American Bloomwood and Hugh Dancy as Luke Brandon.

Kinsella loved the film version although it is very different, she says.

"It's never going to be the book magically turned into a movie with nothing changed. I thought pragmatically - the book was mine, the film was not mine - just enjoy it. And Isla Fisher was brilliant.

"I hadn't been involved until they started shooting and invited me out there. Then eventually I was associate producer.

"It was a very unreal time of my life. Suddenly it was about red carpets, paparazzi, outfits and talking to TV cameras. It was an amazing experience."

She's unsure if there will be any follow-ups, although she's sold the option for more.

"The first film took 10 years to make, so I haven't bought the premiere dress yet," she says, wryly.

Also, she's aware that the time spent involved with movies eats into her writing time.

"It does take over your life, so it's making the decision whether you abandon a book for that, or not. But we've just done a deal with an Indian company to make a Bollywood version of Can You Keep A Secret? That would be hilarious and you wouldn't keep me off that set. I'd have to be there!"

:: I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella is published by Bantam.

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