Madeleine Sophie Townley is known as Mrs. Wickham at her home in England, where she lives with her husband and their three sons. But to fans worldwide, she is known as Sophie Kinsella, author of the best-selling “Shopaholic” books. Confessions of a Shopaholic is the best known of that series, thanks in part to the recent film adaptation of the same name.
Her latest novel, Twenties Girl, focuses on a pair of twentysomething women living in different eras who forge a friendship that is charming and whimsical. Kinsella, 39, kicks off her book tour to promote the book with a Skype event Thursday at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville. She’ll answer reader questions from her home in England and might even let you take a quick peek at her collection of designer shoes — if you ask nicely.
Kinsella recently spoke to the Sun-Times about technology, chick lit, her creative process and more.
Q. Are you looking forward to using new technology for your book tour, and do you think it will change the dynamics talking via Skype vs. seeing your fans in person at the bookstore?
A. This is a whole new area for me, and I’m very excited. I just hope I don’t press the wrong button at the wrong time. I was amazed at how easy and immediate Skype felt when I did a rehearsal with my publishers, so I think it will be surprisingly intimate, given that we will be thousands of miles apart.
Q. Your books sometimes get categorized as “chick lit,” or as being similar to Bridget Jones’s Diary. What do you think about those descriptions?
A. I thought Bridget Jones was brilliantly funny so I have absolutely no problem with being compared to her. As for chick lit, it’s a term I’ve got used to over the years, and I feel fairly relaxed about it. If people say to me, “You write chick lit,” I reply, “I assume by ‘chick lit’ you mean intelligent, contemporary fiction with a modern heroine exploring themes relevant to today’s society. So, thank you very much, yes I do!” Having said that, I prefer the term “wit lit.”
Q. In your life, have you experienced unlikely friendships like the one between Lara and Sadie in Twenties Girl? Do you think you’d be friends with these women in real life?
A. I would absolutely be friends with both Lara and Sadie. I love them both in different ways — Lara is such a hopeless romantic and Sadie is just fabulous, full stop. I long to have a Sadie in my life. I don’t have any unlikely friendships, but I have had lots of unlikely people tell me their life stories on trains. I seem to be someone that people meet and then instantly start telling me all about themselves.
Q. How much of you is in your characters?
A. I write all my heroines in the first person, and although I think of them as all very separate individuals, I think a little of me can’t help seeping into each one. Many of my characters have a mildly obsessive nature, which is certainly true of me — I lurch from obsession to obsession, be it the book I’m writing or a pair of shoes I’m lusting after. They all attack life with vigor and get themselves out of their problems with an upbeat, determined and optimistic attitude to life. I hope that’s me, too.
Q. Do you think you’d want to write a nonfiction book?
A. I’ve never been any good at facts, which is why I was a rubbish journalist. I wouldn’t rule it out but I don’t think it’s very likely. I find making things up much more appealing.
Q. If you weren’t an author, what would you pursue as a career?
A. In my dream alternative life I would write songs and sing them at the piano — after a voice transplant — to worldwide acclaim. In my slightly more realistic alternative life I would do anything that scratched my creative itch. Maybe advertising copywriter, maybe playwright, maybe kindergarten teacher. I love crayons.
Q. How long did it take before your first book was bought and purchased?
A. I was very lucky. I think my first novel just struck the right note at the right time. I sent my first manuscript off to an agent who phoned up a few weeks later, suggested lunch and signed me up. Ever since then it has been like a roller coaster ride. I still can’t quite believe that my books have reached so many people or that so many people relate to my stories. I just feel so lucky to be able to do what I love for a living.
Q. What is the most challenging part of writing for you?
A. There is always a moment, at about chapter 14, when my plot has gone wrong, I can’t remember why I thought it was a good plot anyway. I hate all my characters, I hate writing and can’t think why I ever thought writing a book was a good idea. The challenge is getting past this moment.
Q. What are you feelings about the film adaptation of your book Confessions of a Shopaholic?
A. I thought the movie was great and Isla Fisher was tremendous.
Q. How has the success of the “Shopaholic” books changed your life?
A. In some ways it has changed my life hugely. I have found myself traveling the globe on book tours, doing photo shoots, on film sets and even on red carpets. But in other ways, not at all. I still write my books the same way. I’m still the same person. Being a writer is very grounding, I think. No matter how much hoopla you find yourself plunged into, at the end of the day it’s the books that matter and there’s only one way that they will come about — yourself and a pot of coffee and a computer and your ideas.
Q. What is your next book about?
A. My next book is going to be a Shopaholic book, but beyond that I’m not giving anything else away at this stage.