Sophie McKenzie: The Challenge of Writing an Adult Book
Sophie McKenzie is the bestselling author of more than 15 novels for children and teens in the U.K., including the thrillers Girl, Missing and Sister, Missing. Girl Missing was named one of Richard and Judy's Best Kids' Books, and her books have won numerous other awards and twice been longlisted for the Carnegie Medal. McKenzie lives in London and writes full-time.
Close My Eyes is full of twists, left turns and layers of deception that keep the reader guessing until the very end. Did you know how the novel was going to end when you began writing it, or were you surprised by the way the plot developed?
I began work on Close My Eyes so many years ago that I can't now remember exactly how much of the story was planned from the start! The main narrative to do with Gen's loss of her baby and what, exactly, has happened to the child was definitely always there. However, almost everything else developed as I wrote. The final page was a total surprise. I hadn't realized I was going to finish the book that way until I got there--then I went back and added additional scenes in order to make sure the ending I wanted would work.
Geniver Loxley is a complicated character; she is filled with grief and longing yet, as a writer trained to filter her life through the lens of fiction, also able to distance herself from her emotions. What was it like to inhabit this character? What aspect of Geniver was most challenging for you to write?
I loved writing from Gen's point of view. As this was my first (daunting!) excursion into the greater complexity of an adult novel, I decided to make several aspects of Gen's life similar to my own. She is a writer and a creative writing teacher because I am/have been those things, and so I didn't need to worry about getting the references right. She lives in the same town as me for similar reasons. However, Gen is very definitely not based on me at all. My biggest challenge when writing her was probably the delicate balancing act between making her sufficiently unreliable as a narrator for readers to suspect she might genuinely be unhinged, while at the same time trying to ensure she is also believable and sympathetic.
The nature of friendship--and the counterpoint between the friendships women have with one another and those they have with men--is an interesting theme in Close My Eyes. What, in your opinion, makes female friendships different from the friendships between women and men or the friendships that men have with one another?
That is a big question! There are the obvious differences, of course; I am generalizing massively here, but I do notice that with my female friends the conversations often revolve around how people feel while with men the chat generally focuses on what people do. However, with true friendships, the same qualities are always present: acceptance, loyalty and a willingness to listen and support each other. Most essentially, the two people must trust each other. In Close My Eyes, various characters keep secrets from Gen, thereby proving themselves untrustworthy. In all cases a need to save face (presented frequently as a desire to protect Gen in some way) is at the heart of their decision.
You have written series fiction and standalones for teens and for adults. I won't ask you to pick a favorite, but can you tell us what you find most rewarding--and, conversely, most challenging--about each?
I love working on all of them! The brilliant thing about writing series fiction is that each time you come to a new book, you get a chance to reconnect with the old friends you met in the one before. With standalones, there's the opportunity to start something fresh which is always really exciting. I am very much at home writing from a teenage point of view but I love the challenge of adult books, too. Essentially I don't think about the age of the reader as I write; I'm primarily writing for myself. However, I really enjoy the challenge of developing a longer story through a more complex plot and more layered characters. It's all good!
Interview by Debra Ginsberg. First published in Shelf Awareness; reproduced with permission of the publisher.