When we first meet Becky Bloomwood in Sophie Kinsella's Confessions of a Shopaholic, she's a financial journalist in London who's quickly realizing that though she may be a writer for Successful Saving magazine, she could use help practicing what she preaches. She's helplessly driving herself into debt buying things she can't afford, at one point rationalizing that buying something 30 percent off is actually saving money. Becky was a hit with readers and spawned a franchise for Kinsella. In subsequent books, readers have followed her through a temptingly whirlwind series of adventures, with her best friend, Suze, and Luke, the love of her life, often along for the ride.
The Shopaholic books are little tours of fabulousness, where objects are introduced not as incidental to the story but as key players. Becky may not attend to certain life details such as bills or space to store all of her purchases, but she knows how to pay proper homage to the details in a dress or a vintage cocktail table. When she packs for a trip, we get the list of what she's bringing. What's more, she rationalizes and justifies purchases before you can say, "Credit or cash?" (The answer for Becky, by the way, is usually credit.)
Those who value integrity or depth in their fictional characters would be well advised to steer clear of Becky; but Shopaholic fans identify with her weaknesses, finding her more sympathetic than sinister. She can be maddening in her lack of discipline or self-reflectiveness, but Kinsella has taken a cue from Jane Austen's Emma by infusing her character with enough optimism, heart, and generous spirit to overcome her faults. Becky always reassuringly lands right-side-up, making these books a fun flight of fancy.
The author has interspersed her popular series with a handful of stand-alone confections featuring protagonists as charming and deliciously funny as the Shopaholic. Fortunately for her many fans, Sophie Kinsella has a seemingly inexhaustible supply of affection for her characters. May it fuel many books to come!
Good to Know
Back to Top
Some outtakes from our interview with Kinsella:
"I am a serial house mover: I have moved house five times in the last eight years! But I'm hoping I might stay put in this latest one for a while."
"I've never written a children's book, but when people meet me for the first time and I say I write books, they invariably reply, 'Children's books?' Maybe it's something about my face. Or maybe they think I'm J. K. Rowling!"
"If my writing comes to a halt, I head to the shops: I find them very inspirational. And if I get into real trouble with my plot, I go out for a pizza with my husband. We order a pitcher of Long Island Iced Tea and start talking -- and basically keep drinking and talking till we've figured the glitch out. Never fails!"
"Favorite leisure pursuits: a nice hot bath, watching The Simpsons, playing table tennis after dinner, shopping, playing the piano, sitting on the floor with my two small boys, and playing building blocks and Legos."
"Least favorite leisure pursuit: tidying away the building blocks and Legos."
Back to Top
In the fall of 2004, Sophie Kinsella took some time to talk with us about some of her favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
My earliest, most impactful encounter with a book was when I was seven and awoke early on Christmas morning to find Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in my stocking. I had never been so excited by the sight of a book -- and have possibly never been since! I switched on the light and read the whole thing before the rest of my family even woke up. I think that's when my love affair with books began.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you? Emma by Jane Austen -- I love this book so much, I have to stop myself reading it too often. Jane Austen's wit and observation is just unsurpassed; I almost prefer the minor characters to the main ones. Every time I read it I find something new to enjoy.
Agatha Christie novels -- all of them! -- I adore all Agatha Christie's books and turn to them whenever I'm ill or need cheering up. It's such a treat to lose yourself in that world of butlers and country houses. I'm also very lucky that I never remember the plots in any detail -- so I'm always surprised by whodunit!
The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E. M. Delafield -- This is a gem of the 1930s, with one of the most endearing, funny characters in British literature. The heroine is a country lady with a wry sense of humor; her witty, self-deprecating commentary on life always makes me smile.
Dorothy Parker's short stories -- Dorothy Parker's stories are simply stunning. I love the precision, the wit and the pathos, and that dark, dark humor.
Frost in May by Antonia White -- I read this book as a teenager and it had a huge effect on me. It's a meticulously observed account of a girl's life in a convent school dedicated to turning children into pious "Soldiers of Christ." It's based on the author's own experience, and rings with truth. The intense, distilled atmosphere envelops you as you read, and you gradually see the way the nuns are working on the girls' minds. It's quite chilling.
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman -- I was absolutely blown away by this trilogy, in particular The Amber Spyglass. The world Philip Pullman evokes is staggering in its imagination and ideas -- plus it's the most fantastic, epic story. I can't remember being so riveted to a book for years, and was in tears at the end.
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy -- This is a most wonderful, intricate, poignant book. I come back to it over and over because of the stunning language and descriptions; every page is like a painting.
Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll -- I read both Alice books as a child and always preferred the sequel. It is full of the most fabulous mind games and riddles, and I'm particularly fond of the Red Queen and Humpty Dumpty!
Small World by David Lodge -- This is an old favorite of mine. It takes what might seem a dull subject -- academia -- and turns it into a riotous comedy full of larger-than-life characters, who spend their lives jetting from conference to conference, pinching each other's ideas, and vying for highly paid professorships. And of course, sleeping with each other while discussing literary criticism. (As you do.) A perfect combination of cleverness and comedy.
The Garrick Year by Margaret Drabble -- Margaret Drabble is one of my favorite writers -- and this is one of my favorite books by her. It's the story of Emma and her actor husband, whose relationship is like a kind of love-hate battle. It's an incredibly honest, insightful, intelligent, and humorous look at marriage, and although it was written 40 years ago it feels totally fresh today.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?Brief Encounter -- Who could forget that soundtrack, that train station, those stiff upper lips? It's just the ultimate romance and I've watched it again and again.
The Great Escape -- I grew up on this film, watching it every Christmas. It's so exciting, and has one of the most poignant, tragic twists of an ending I know.
North by Northwest -- This is my favorite Hitchcock film. I love everything about it, from the title sequence onward. Cary Grant is wonderful, the crop duster scene is unforgettable, and again, the soundtrack is absolutely exhilarating.
A Room with a View -- I could wallow in this forever. It's so beautiful and clever and funny, the performances are impeccable, and it reflects E. M. Forster's book perfectly.
Legally Blonde -- When I need a real lift, I watch this movie. It always makes me laugh!
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I am totally fickle when it comes to music. I was trained classically, so I love to listen to opera, especially Mozart. And I adore the ‘30s songs of Gershwin and Cole Porter. But when I'm writing, I listen to the loudest, most thumping music available. Robbie Williams is good, also Sister Sledge, Anastacia -- anything with energy. It almost becomes a soundtrack to the book.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading –- and why?
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. For anyone who has read this book, going back to it is a treat; for anyone who hasn't, it is an absolute joy to come. The characters in this book are the most fantastic creations with resonant names to match -- the Murdstones, Peggotty, Uriah Heep. Mr. Micawber alone, with his comical financial troubles, has to be one of the most memorable characters in fiction. The storytelling is consummate, and the book is so rich with themes and ideas and sentiments that you could spend years discussing it, never mind a single meeting!
What are your favorite kinds of books to give – and get – as gifts?
I find giving and receiving fiction quite difficult -- judging people's taste is tricky! But it's wonderful when you feel you've made a discovery they may not know about -- this Christmas I'm going to give The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger to family and friends. Otherwise I like to give and receive silly, funny books. I was just given The Pig of Happiness by Edward Monkton, which is a very silly picture book. It sits in my downstairs bathroom and makes guests smile.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
I need to make a cup of coffee before I start, otherwise I'm always thinking, When shall I make my coffee? instead of concentrating on my book. I switch off all the phones. I turn on the music loudly. If I'm feeling really energetic I might have a little dance around the room. (I'm very glad no one can see me!) I always want to feel upbeat when I'm writing. Then I sit down and begin.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
I've been writing for years, but not always as Sophie Kinsella! I wrote several books under Madeleine Wickham before finding a new voice and realizing how much I loved to write comedy. I already had a publisher but I submitted the new book anonymously -- I wanted them to judge it for what it was. Luckily they liked it! As writers we are free to experiment and reinvent ourselves -- and that is a tremendous gift.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Don't be afraid to try different things -- you may not find your best voice or genre straightaway. Make sure you're enjoying whatever you write. And write exactly the kind of book you'd love to read yourself.
Back to Top
|Sophie Kinsella Home
Good to Know
|In Our Other Stores|
Signed, First Editions by Sophie Kinsella|
|Tennis Party (As Madeline Wickham), 1995|
|Desirable Residence (As Madeline Wickham), 1996|
|Swimming Pool Sunday (As Madeline Wickham), 1997|
|The Gatecrasher (As Madeline Wickham), 1998|
|The Wedding Girl (As Madeline Wickham), 1999|
|Cocktails for Three (As Madeline Wickham), 2000|
|Sleeping Arrangements (As Madeline Wickham), 2001|
|Confessions of a Shopaholic, 2001|
|Shopaholic Takes Manhattan, 2002|
|Shopaholic Ties the Knot, 2003|
|Can You Keep a Secret?, 2004|
|Shopaholic and Sister, 2004|
|The Undomestic Goddess, 2005|
|Shopaholic and Baby, 2007|