When Sophie Kinsella released her first book, "Confessions of a Shopaholic," in 2003, "chick-lit" was a very new genre. But the book about romance, shopping sprees and friendship resonated with readers all over the world and even spawned a movie starring Isla Fisher and Hugh Dancy. It's been 11 years since that first release and four years since the last "Shopaholic" book, but Kinsella is now releasing the seventh book in the series next week (October 21). We talk to her about how writing for women has changed over time, the book's deeper themes and what's next.
It’s been four years since the last "Shopaholic" book! Why so long?
I was very eager to write another "Shopaholic" book, but I was also eager to write "I've Got Your Number" and "Wedding Night," two stand-alone novels I've written in between. Oh, and I had a baby along the way. Hence the slight delay...
How did you come up with the idea?
Sending Becky to Hollywood is an idea I've been mulling on for ages - especially since I was involved in the "Shopaholic" movie. All the time I was on set or in LA, I kept thinking 'What would Becky do?' How would she react to LA?' I knew she would go on quite a journey and I couldn't wait to write it.
“Shopaholic To The Stars” is definitely a fun read, but I think there is a deep theme of how women’s work is valued versus their husband’s work. Is this a discussion you wanted to spark for readers?
I never write any scenes deliberately to provoke discussion, but I do try to reflect reality as I see it. The struggle for any family to balance its breadwinning and parenting needs is definitely a big issue of today. Becky and Luke have a very real dilemma - they want to support each other, follow their individual ambitions but remain a tight family unit. It's a tough ask and I don't think there are any easy answers.
Has writing about Becky changed since the first book came out?
Becky has changed and grown and the world has moved on. When I started writing the first "Shopaholic" book, debt was not the topical subject it is today - in fact, I feel like I was ahead of the curve! Now we are all very aware - not just of our own personal debt but of our nations' debts. The financial crisis shook us all up and it was weirdly satisfying, writing Becky's response to it in "Mini Shopaholic." I think the world has been through its own shopaholic journey - borrow, spend, regret it, pay the price. We're all a bit wiser now, and Becky is too.
You were one of the first authors whose books were labeled as “chick lit.” Was that a label you initially embraced, or did you feel about it?
I'm fairly relaxed about the phrase "chick lit," partly because it's so nebulous. What does it even mean, exactly? No-one seems sure. But I do think it's a shame to categorise a readership as all-female before you even begin. I know I have some male readers, even if they hide the books behind sports magazines! So I'd prefer "romantic comedy" or the label I saw in a bookshop once: "wit lit."
Has the way you write to women or anything about the book market changed over time?
When I write, I don't really think about "writing to women" or the book market. I think that would distract me and anyway, I don't believe in trying to second-guess readers or markets. I just tell a story, in the best way I can, trying to write the book that I'd love to read myself. I haven't deliberately changed my style, although I have obviously noticed trends coming and going around me. (No, I am not planning a "50 Shades of Shopaholic"!)
Your books are such page-turners, but they are also quite long. Do you get overwhelmed when you sit down to start to write a new book?
Every time I start a book I say to my husband, "I'm going to make this one SHORT." But you get so involved with the characters, you have to round out their stories, and somehow you've written a long book before you know it. However, the next book I write, I will definitely make a short one. Definitely.
You leave things a bit open-ended in “Shopaholic To The Stars.” What can you reveal about the next Becky book?
It was a lot of fun writing the end of "Shopaholic To The Stars." While much of the story is tied up, there is a bit of a cliffhanger - I'm a sucker for a cliffhanger - but don't worry, I'm hard at work writing the sequel. Let's just say that Becky is on the road...
Sophie Kinsella book events:
Sophie Kinsella's Girls Night Out
October 20, 6 p.m.
The Red Door
200 Park Avenue South, 212-388-0222
For tickets, go to randomhouseevents.com/sophiekinsella
Free book signing
October 21, 12 p.m.
Neiman Marcus, Short Hills Mall
1200 Morris Turnpike, Short Hills, NJ
For details, go toshopshorthills.com/events
Book reading and signing
October 21, 7 p.m.
Boulevard Books & Cafe
7518 13th Ave, Brooklyn, 718-680-5881
For tickets and details, go towww.facebook.com/BoulevardBooksandCafe
Follow Emily on Twitter: @EmLaurence