Whether you love or hate the genre often referred to as chick lit, you have to agree that Sophie Kinsella is pretty much the reigning queen. She’s published several stand-alone books featuring plucky protagonists that we can all relate to, but she truly became a household name when she created the Shopaholic series. The first book, published in 2000, introduced the world to Becky Bloomwood, a young journalist who loves shopping more than anything in the world, and often finds herself in trouble (and debt) because of her urge to splurge. Women around the world responded to the character and the fun tone of the novel, and now every time Kinsella comes out with a new book in the series, readers rush out to get their hands on a copy.
In October of this year, Kinsella came out with the ninth installment in the popular series, entitled Shopaholic to the Rescue. Now, we won’t spoil it for those of you who haven’t read it, but let’s just say that Becky is in Las Vegas… enough said!
We’ve all been entertained by the fun and hilarious worlds that Kinsella creates, but who’s the woman behind the pen? Honestly, she seems like the type of woman that we’d die to have a cocktail (or a few) with, and just pick her brain.
Here are 12 things you may not have known about author Sophie Kinsella.
12 She writes under two names
The concept of a pen name isn’t exactly unheard of for bookworms – countless writers have gone by a name different than their actual name over the years, and Kinsella is one of them. She began her writing career in about 1995, publishing a series of books under her real name, Madeleine Wickham. They were well received dramas focused on characters from all walks of life (with, of course, a splash of humor), but after awhile, she wanted to try her hand at something fun. The different tone required a different name, so she came up with Sophie Kinsella – a name crafted from her middle name and her mother’s maiden name.
11 She’s a skilled musician
There’s no doubt from her countless best-selling novels that Kinsella is a skilled writer, but did you know that she’s also an incredible talented musician? The British novelist was a very talented pianist in her teenage years, and actually went to Oxford University to pursue music. Sometime along the way, though she still loved music, she realized that she wanted to be studying something else, and switched to a degree in politics, philosophy, and economics. We can’t help but wonder if she’ll use her own experiences and create a novel focused on a character who is a skilled musician – after all, allegedly Kinsella loves shopping just like Becky, perhaps art might imitate life once again.
10 Her younger sister is a writer as well
Kinsella initially began writing under the name Madeleine Wickham, but while that is her true name, it isn’t her maiden name – she was actually born Madeleine Townley. Does the surname ring any bells? For chick lit fans, it just might – that’s because her younger sister, Gemma Townley, is a novelist as well, writing books that are not unsimilar in tone and subject matter to her sisters works, including The Hopeless Romantic’s Handbook, Little White Lies, When in Rome, and more. Apparently a skill with words runs in the family! We wonder if the Townley sisters ever meet over coffee to brainstorm book ideas?
9 She has five children
Some of the protagonists in her novels have children (Becky Bloomwood, turned Becky Brandon, has one daughter, for example), but Kinsella isn’t exactly what you picture a typical mom to be. After all, she’s constantly touring to promote her hugely successful books and popping over to film sets, all while dressed in gorgeous designer clothes. However, she does have children of her own – a brood of five, to be exact! She married her husband, Henry Wickham, when she was fairly young, and over the years had four sons (Freddy, Hugo, Oscar, and Rex) and the youngest, one daughter, Sybella. Okay, we’re just going to say it – it’s absolutely amazing that she finds the time to churn out roughly a book a year while running such a big household!
8 She initially submitted her Shopaholic series under a different name
After she had published a few books under the name Madeleine Wickham, Kinsella was itching to try something a little bit different, a little bit lighter in tone. It would have been easy to simply come to her publisher with her idea – after all, she had a fairly successful track record. However, Kinsella wasn’t quite sure she wanted to pitch the fluffy Shopaholic to her publisher. So, instead of submitting it as herself, she submitted it as an anonymous author, Sophie Kinsella. The publishers loved it, and the pen name was born! We’d have loved to be in on the meeting where her publisher discovered that Madeleine Wickham and promising new novelist Sophie Kinsella were the same person!
7 She injured herself writing
Novelists have the same health risks as many office workers – simply put, it’s not always great for your body to be hunched over a desk for hours and hours at a time, working on whatever project is on your plate at any given moment. Kinsella learnt that the hard way – a combination of poor posture and long hours at the computer led to a repetitive strain injury. Kinsella expresses how frightening the diagnosis was, as her entire livelihood comes from typing up those stunning stories. Luckily, she manages to keep her injury at bay with physiotherapy and Pilates.
6 Like Becky, she was a financial journalist
While Becky goes through some career changes in the latter books within the Shopaholic series, for the first few books she works as a financial journalist. It’s one of the funniest parts of the early series – the strange irony of Becky being a journalist skilled in all things money, while simultaneously racking up debt because she can’t seem to control her own finances. So, how was Kinsella able to write about the dry world of financial journalism so convincingly? Easy – she herself got her start as a financial journalist. She was still working as a journalist when she wrote her first book, and eventually made the switch to the life of a full time (not financial) writer.
5 She was formerly a headmaster’s wife
Her husband’s name is incredibly British sounding – Henry Wickham. I mean, it’s the type of name that characters in BBC mini-series get. But wait, it gets better – not long after meeting, she moved with her husband to Hertfordshire when he got the post of headmaster at a boys’ preparatory school. It isn’t just a job in the movies – it’s an actual role that some teachers take on. The glamorous, well-dressed, career woman doesn’t exactly seem like the typical headmaster’s wife, but she supported her husband throughout his career. Nowadays, he’s hung up his headmaster’s cap as he helps manage his wife’s thriving chick lit empire.
4 She wrote her first book at just 24
Many authors don’t get published until later in life, but the precocious Kinsella had inked a book deal before her 25th birthday. While working as a journalist, she began writing the first book she would initially publish under her real name, Madeleine Wickham. It’s tough to write a book, but it’s even tougher to get it published, particularly as a debut. Many young writers spend years submitting query letters and trying to get the attention of the publishing world. Not Kinsella, though – her skill must have been apparent, as her first novel almost immediately sparked a bidding war and won her representation.
3 She met her husband on her first night at university
Kinsella’s protagonists are always meeting their future romantic interests in strange and quirky situations, so fans are probably dying to know how Kinsella met her husband, the man she’s been with for over 20 years. Turns out she married her college sweetheart – and she didn’t exactly have to wait until graduation day to meet him! Kinsella met her husband on her very first night at Oxford. Her slightly older husband was in his fourth year at the time, just about to graduate, but the two made it work and have been going strong ever since.
2 She’s a coffee shop plotter
It can be fascinating to find out more about how authors work – their processes are often incredibly varied, despite producing equally admirable works. Well, it turns out that Kinsella isn’t exactly the type to demand silence when she’s working. She prefers to plot out potential storylines and let the ideas flow while sipping away at cappuccinos in coffee shops near her home. When it comes time to do the actual writing, Kinsella sequesters herself at home and blasts music while typing up a storm. It seems every coffee shop has at least one aspiring writer working on their latest project – in Kinsella’s case, it’s just another writer working on her next bestseller.
1 She counts Jane Austen as one of her biggest inspirations
While many chick lit authors support one another, and Kinsella has said countless lovely things about her contemporary female writers, there’s one writer from a different generation that has had a huge impact on Kinsella – Jane Austen, of course. As she told Hello!, “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.”