Madeleine Sophie Townley, better known by her penname Sophie Kinsella, has returned this season with Christmas Shopaholic, the tenth novel of her hugely successful Shopaholic series. It explores the themes of ethical consumerism and responsible shopping. Sophie shares with Sucheta Dasgupta how the activity of shopping has changed in the West over the past two decades..
Why did you choose the genre of (quote-unquote) chick lit? Why didn’t you elect to write about little boys in first person, for example?
I chose to write as a woman because it is the lens through which I perceive the world. Many of the experiences that my character goes through I can relate to myself. I wanted to create a heroine who has these interesting and amusing experiences. And I decided to borrow my vision from life, so to speak, and so far, I haven’t run out of material. At the same time, I wanted to create a flow of some kind. My character is flawed and has vulnerabilities as a result of it, whether it is from shopping too much, or working too hard, or not standing up for herself, or overthinking, or being obsessive, and as a result, everything gets amplified around them, which, in turn, gives rise to adventures or at least a good story.
Family is an important theme in your stories. How has motherhood changed or informed your writing?
Yes, I so agree. Family forms the psychological basis of our lives and it is very vital to every interaction that we make, or even the work that we do; for instance, even in the case of a professional contact that you make, it will play its role because it will form the basis of what you bring to the table, in terms of what background you come from. And, to answer your question, motherhood has influenced my writing because it has made me observe the experiences of my children from the outside, and think of ways of how I can help, be a better mother, create the environment which they would benefit from, also see the world through their perspective, and that reflects in my writing, whether it is in terms of well-rounded characters or more stories — it has been a massive source of material.
What’s with the penname? What led you to adopt it?
Before I wrote Becky Bloomwood, I was writing in a certain style. When I created Becky, I wanted to try a new style. There was going to be more comedy, multiple points of view, more drama: I wanted to try a new voice. Becky was different from all that I had written so far; she was young and fun and silly, she loved shopping, she had a love for fashion, she was more intimate, so I decided to give her creator a new name as well.
Have you met the actress who plays Becky Bloomwood in the film (Confessions of a Shopaholic)? Tell us about the meeting.
Oh, Isla and I share a wonderful relationship. She first met me before the shooting of the film, and she was worried about whether she would be able to portray Becky properly, whether she would be able to do justice to her, and we hit it off. Since then we have shared many meetings. Like Becky, Aila, too, is a wonderful person, she is kind, she is funny, she is fun, and good to be around, though I must say that she doesn’t shop as much as Becky does.
Has shopping changed since the time you began writing? If so, how has it changed?
Well, much of it has gone online, though I feel that going there physically is important, without which shopping is not quite as magical. Of course, there are benefits to online shopping; it is more convenient, for one thing, and you have a greater chance of getting a good bargain, for another, so those are the pluses.
The other thing that has happened is that the nature of the consumer has changed in that sustainibility has emerged as a value. We are all now trying to be responsible as consumers, there is more awareness — people are now checking the origin of the product, buying less, recycling — consumers are now more ethical and shopping more carefully.
How does that reflect in your latest book?
It forms the lever of my story. It all starts with Becky going shopping for a gift for her sister, Jess, who is an environmental activist and very product-conscious, and she does a good job of it. But Becky being Becky has to find a way to mess things up. One thing leads to another and soon she is in the middle of a new crisis.
Has kleptomania ever figured in one of your stories?
Yes, it has, in one of my stories there is a shopper who is caught shoplifting described through Becky’s eyes. But Becky herself never has that tendency, not only because she is very honest but also because for her to be able to earn enough to buy the article she desires is like a sacred goal, connected to her pride. As an author, I don’t see kleptomania through the lens of adventure and fantasy.
What is the favourite article of clothing in your closet?
It is a fake fur coat in tiger print that I saw while I was being interviewed in a vintage shop in Amsterdam. It has been in my closet for a long, long time, so long that my husband kept asking me to get rid of it, he said it was very kitsch — and all the time I kept meaning to get it lined, and I have finally got it lined in black silk: it is my favourite article of clothing.
You studied music in college. Tell us who are your favourite musicians both in the classical and popular genres.
(Laughs) I did not quite see that one coming. I did study some classical music and on the piano I like Chopin, that’s one of my current favourites. Among bands, I listen to a lot of The Beatles and I want my children to listen to their music, too, because that kind of music is no longer being made and will soon disappear. But I am also guided by my children and one of their favourites and mine, too, is Muse. Overall, I am a big fan of eighties music, and everyone seems to like it, too; it is popular across generations.
What book do you wish you had written?
An epic novel with momentous events and sweeping emotions, like Pride and Prejudice.
What is your favourite word?
Fabulous, it has a good feeling around it.