Author Sophie Kinsella on mental health, Isla Fisher and Harriet the Spy

By Nicole Carrington

After breathing new life into the chick-lit genre by taking her Shopaholic book series to Hollywood and beyond, British literary phenomenon Sophie Kinsella is ready for her next big adventure with the Young Adult novel Finding Audrey.

Blending the humour, heartbreak and romance underlying the everyday pains of adolescence, the book’s teenaged heroine also faces severe social anxiety – until love turns her life around. It’s an undeniable departure from the bubbly world of Sophie’s most famous character: Becky Bloomwood.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Sophie tells Hello! of the success of her bestselling Shopaholic series. “When you write a book you’re really not thinking about a potential massive audience, you’re thinking about your characters and you get lost in that world.”

Photo: © Getty Images

The misadventures of Becky – a charismatic West Londoner with an ever-expanding wardrobe, rocky romances and a tendency to abuse her credit cards – were quickly adapted for the 2009 blockbuster Confessions of a Shopaholic, starring funny woman Isla Fisher, and have grown to a 10-part series with Sophie’s sales soaring to over 6-million copies worldwide.

The mother of five found inspiration for Finding Audrey in her everyday life. “I’m a mother of teenagers. My eldest is 18, so I’ve been living in the teenage world for a while,” she explains. “I’m really hearing more and more about teens with mental health problems.”

While it might seem like a world inaccessible to some, Sophie’s signature wit and sharp storytelling skills lend a sense of ease and empathy relatable to all ages. Here, we talk to the author about mental health, good humour and her inspiration.

What prompted your switch to the Young Adult (YA) genre?
It was really the story. I wanted to write this character Audrey and it just felt very much a book about teenage issues… I just felt it would be really great to write something about their stuff at their level, rather than write an adult book where we all look at the teenager and say, “Oh dear, what a shame.” I sort of feel that it might be one of those books that gets passed between generations.

People aren’t always quick to address mental illness. Why did you feel it necessary to tell this story?
I always write what I see. I look around the world and I try to reflect the reality that I’m seeing. I’m really hearing more and more about teens with mental health problems. This just seems to be an issue. It was very interesting looking into social anxiety because I think it’s a very common form of anxiety for teens. I think it’s also something we can all relate to. I looked into it and I found it described as a really extreme version of shyness. And we can all relate to feeling shy.

How were you able to so perfectly strike that balance between humour and the seriousness of the subject?
I’ve always tried to sort of mix up my humour with something a little more grounded and painful, even if it’s sort of jokey as well... With this one I kind of took an issue and I pushed it further. To me, that was really liberating. I couldn’t write a book that didn’t have light and dark. It’s just not in me to do that, because that’s my mentality. When stuff is bad, still you laugh. For me it just feels instinctive.

Were you shocked by the massive appeal of the Shopaholic books?
I thought perhaps some other girls in West London who have Visa bills hidden in drawers might relate. I thought it was going to be one of those little local books and the idea that there are Becky Bloomwoods all over the world really blew me away! [ Laughs] … It’s been wonderful, the sort of fellowship that’s developed as I’ve travelled and I’ve met so many people who’ve said, “I’m Becky Bloomwood!”

Isla Fisher on the set of Confessions of a Shopaholic. Photo: © Getty Images

What was the experience like of having your book turned into a film?
It’s extraordinary enough that you write a book and then it’s going to get published, and then that it be turned into a Hollywood movie – it really gave me goosebumps. I was lucky enough to be on the set for some of the shooting and just seeing things like, you know, I had created the brand of Denny and George, and in my little study I just thought, ‘Oh, I need a name. What’s it going to be? I like that name.’ Then I’m standing in New York seeing Denny and George in huge great windows in a department store. It was tremendous fun.

How did you enjoy working with Isla Fisher?
I just thought Isla Fisher was wonderful. She’s just so spirited and funny but kind of got the sweetness of Becky too. She’s very, very funny. What she’s great at, actually, is physical comedy. And I was awestruck, really, by how she could walk into a door and make it look funny. She could fall over and make it look funny. She’s very gifted, I think.

Who inspired you growing up?
I wanted to be every single heroine that I ever came across. When I was maybe 8, I read Harriet the Spy... I got a notebook and a pen and I wandered around my neighbourhood trying to find interesting things to write about... I read a lot of an English author called E. Nesbit. When I started reading her again to my children I realized what an inspiration she had been to me. I hadn’t quite realized it. She has a very dry wit, she speaks to the children but she also speaks to the parents. That comedy was a big influence on me. Then, of course, Jane Austen. When I read those books I was in seventh heaven. They remain huge influences on me. I think partly because of the heroines themselves and also because of the small characters. That’s what I love in a book, when it’s not only about the main protagonist. It’s about that little character who comes on and says three lines and you’re in stitches.

What are you reading now?
I’ve just finished this book about tidying. I am naturally incredibly messy. It’s a Japanese book… The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Life changing!

Have you found it to be?
Well, I haven’t quite put it into practice yet. [ Laughs] … Talk to me next year. I’ll be very zen. I’ll have, like, three t-shirts.

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