In an exclusive interview, international bestselling author Sophie Kinsella discusses her new novel, her writing process which surprisingly is quite similar to Sudha Murty’s, going back to her popular Shopaholic series, her book recommendations, and more. Excerpts:
1. What was the inspiration for writing your new novel ‘The Party Crasher’?
When I was writing it we were in the middle of a pandemic and lockdown. And writing this story felt like an escape from that situation. I wanted to write escapist fiction and it felt all the more important to give people a slice of life that transported them away from all this misery surrounding us. So I wrote about this big party and I thought to myself ‘Do I need to set it in the pandemic, where people are wearing masks?’. But then I was like ‘No, no masks!’. Instead, it is going to be a parallel universe… But when I was writing, I didn’t realize that it’s going to be this intense book about a dysfunctional family, with people locked in a house, and all those family secrets. So in a way, I was writing about a lockdown! I feel ‘The Party Crasher’ is both– an escape from the lockdown situation, and also a representation of what a lot of us have been through with our families during the lockdown.
As soon as I thought I would write about a party, I loved the idea of somebody being a fly on the wall– of being at the party but not in the party! And so the idea hatched of a heroine who is hiding at her family party. I then thought of adding about the broken family. I delved into some of the issues of what grown-up people feel when their parents get divorced. And then I thought of all the funny situations that would happen (in the party). I like writing comedy and this book was all about hiding at a party, and I had fun writing it.
2. How difficult was it for you to write humour during the pandemic, when there is so much gloom around us?
I always live a kind of double life when I’m writing– I have the real world going around me and I have the fantasy world. And I have to protect my fantasy world quite strongly, otherwise, it just gets dissipated. So I’m used to building big walls while I’m writing to protect it. And with the pandemic raging around us, I felt kind of lucky that I had a place to go.
3. Tell us about your writing process, especially during the pandemic.
It was a challenge to write in the pandemic, especially because I’m used to going out when I’m writing. I don’t just sit in front of the screen to help me get inspiration; that doesn’t work for me. I go to coffee shops or pick up the bars, which I couldn’t do when the pandemic was happening. So I would just go to a different room, put up some music and try to transport myself out of this situation. I had all five children at home, their home-schooling was going on, there was work from home– it was quite complex. And so, I ended up picking little corners in the house for privacy. I ended up working in the bedroom and finishing the book because all the other corners of the house were taken up. It wasn’t perfect but it was my safe haven! But the basics were still the same; I plotted the story out. When I’m writing, I write a thousand words a day, I start first thing (in the morning) and I just keep going. It is simple math that if you write a thousand words a day for enough days, you have a novel. And that’s my theory.
4. In an interview, popular Indian author Sudha Murty shared that when she is writing she needs to let her thoughts simmer, just like a pot of milk kept for boiling on slow flame… Tell us about your writing process? Do you plan and plot your story or does it develop as you write?
I feel similar to her– that idea of the milk bubbling. I plan until the story is really bursting out to me. I jot down the dialogues which I think my characters would say, I try to fill my thoughts in what they would feel, and I structure the plot. I spend ages to plan this… For me writing is everyhing– from the first idea to that random thought you had in the bath, to actually putting words on the pages; it is all part of the same process. I don’t like hurrying the planning because once I start writing, I’m quite impatient. Sometimes the story does take me in a different direction and I add it to the story; but I like to have a roadmap.
5. Which character do you relate to the most from your new novel ‘The Party Crasher’?
In my family, I’m Bean the eldest sister in ‘The Party Crasher’ and I’m quite a negotiator, naturally as a person. But I also relate to Effie, the protagonist, for being stubborn; I can be quite stubborn when I think I’m right.
6. Your last book in the Shopaholic series ‘Christmas Shopaholic’ released in 2019 and since then you have written two standalone novels. Do you plan to write more books in the series?
I would like to explore more stories in the immediate future. But I’m not sure I could ever say goodbye to Becky from the Shopaholic series. I think I will return, I’m just not sure when. I also wrote some pandemic Becky diaries which was great fun. But I think I want to wait till everything setlles down a bit, see where we all are and I think I’ll be able to write more easily then.
7. Tell us some of the best books you read during the pandemic.
‘The Beloved Girls’ by Harriet Evans is a lovely book, set in the present day. Also Jenny Colgan’s whole series. Her latest novel ‘An Island Wedding’ is set on a Scottish island and it comes out next year… More recently I read a brilliant book ‘Sorrow and Bliss’ by Meg Mason. It is funny and painful, exactly the kind of book I like. It is about a woman with mental illness. It sounds dark but it’s really funny and I really recommend it.