Image of Sophie Kinsella book covers

Image:Alicia Fernandes / Penguin

 

After being educated at a series of thrusting girls’ schools, Sophie Kinsella – the nom de plume of the megastar author born Madeleine Townley – studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford, where she met her husband on her first night of university and married at 21.

Like her most famous heroine, recovering spendthrift Becky Bloomwood of the ‘Shopaholic’ series, Kinsella worked as a financial journalist before getting distracted by reading Joanna Trollope and Mary Wesley on her commute and thinking, “I could do that.” Her books have since sold more than 40 million copies and been translated into 60 languages.

She published seven novels under her married name, Madeleine Wickham, before moving over to romance, and taking a jazzier nom de plume combining her middle name and her mother’s maiden name. Her first novel as Kinsella, submitted to her Wickham publishers in secret, was a smash hit. The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic (now better now as Confessions of a Shopaholic after its film adaptation starring Isla Fisher) spawned a 10-strong series.

Kinsella published two further Shopaholic novels before revealing her identity to her publishers in 2003 during the publication of a standalone novel, Can You Keep A Secret?, now being turned into a film starring Alexandra Daddario. She has written a further nine standalone novels for adults, a young adult novel, Finding Audrey, and a children’s series called Mummy Fairy and Me, based on bedtime stories she made up for her daughters (she is mother to five children).

Kinsella is a regular on social media, but her bond with her fans is best demonstrated in the intimate, and very English tradition of her annual Christmas card competition, where she chooses 100 readers around the world to receive a personal card. In 2020, she opened this up to a virtual card for the pandemic. Her world is warm, funny – and bestselling. Here are five titles from her backlist to get to know her better.

The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic (2000)

Kinsella’s first outing under her new pen name was an experiment inspired by the massive increase in store cards and shopping culture that she saw taking over Britain. The hypocrisy of easy credit, coupled with her own background as a financial journalist, made for a fascinating tension in her leading character, Becky Bloomwood. The knots of debt remain especially relevant today with the continuing success of “buy now pay later” schemes aimed at women, but redrawn as features of an aspirational lifestyle rather than dangerous ways of getting drawn into further financial chaos.

The UnDomestic Goddess (2006)

Nigella Lawson might have had her tongue firmly in cheek when she wrote How to Be a Domestic Goddess in 1998, but the pressure on women to be all things to all people meant that domestic goddessery was something to be aspired to. Kinsella’s heroine Samantha is a hotshot City lawyer devoted to building up her career at the expense of,  well, everything else. When a multimillion-pound mistake threatens her life, she flees for the country and is mistaken for the new housekeeper of a grand mansion. Initially unable to wash or cook, she soon learns and finds peace in the different demands on her time – will she want to return to her old life when it comes calling? The UnDomestic Goddess is also on the cards for a film adaptation; Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Aline Brosh McKenna has written the script.

My Not So Perfect Life (2017)

Kinsella turns her coolly observing eye on the nonsense of perfectionism once again in this comedy of manners in the Instagram age. On social media at least, Katie has a perfect life, curated to within an inch of the truth. In reality, none of it is real. When she is sacked from her boring job by her glamorous boss, she slinks home to the countryside to help her dad run his new glamping business and is horrified when her ex-boss unwittingly books in to stay there with her own (apparently perfect) family.

Love Your Life (2020)

What really happens after a couple finds their happy ever after? Reality, that’s what. Ava gives up on the frustrations of online dating in favour of a writing retreat in Italy, where she is gobsmacked to fall head over heels with a handsome stranger from a neighbouring martial arts camp. Both utterly smitten (on each other, and the freedom of being away from home) their affair leads them to believe that they have a future together in the UK. But when they get back, it looks as though their lives and families aren’t compatible, and with the addition of an ex-girlfriend who’s reluctant to let him go, things look uncertain. With so much focus on single characters finding “the one” in romantic fiction, Love Your Life is an energetic and heartening look at the compromises that come from being in a relationship.

Finding Audrey (2015)

“I always fall in love with my heroines, but with Audrey I feel a special protective fondness, too,” said Kinsella when she launched her first YA novel. Her debut harnesses many of the themes found in her adult books: the damaging impact of perfectionism and comparison culture, and finding freedom through accepting the imperfect nature of life. Following a period of bullying, 14-year-old Audrey is a homebound recluse, bonded to her therapist and exasperated by the eccentricities of her family. When her brother brings home his friend Linus, Audrey slowly begins to fall in love, and open up. Audrey’s diagnosis of Social Anxiety Disorder led to a natural pairing with the influencer Zoella, who has documented her own struggles with anxiety, and chose Finding Audrey for her book club.

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