image in conversation with Sophie McKenzie

Sophie McKenzie was born and raised in London, where she still lives. She has worked as a journalist and a magazine editor, and once she started creative writing she quickly became a bestselling author. She has published more than 15 novels for children and teens, including such bestsellers as Girl, Missing and Sister, Missing. Sophie has won numerous awards, including twice appearing on the longlist for the prestigious Carnegie Medal. Her latest novel, Close My Eyes, is a new venture into adult psychological thrillers. If you are a fan of this genre and you enjoyed books like Before I Go to Sleep, Close My Eyes this is your next must-read. However, be forewarned: this is a book that will keep you reading all night long. We were lucky enough to catch up with Sophie recently and ask her a few questions, not only about Close My Eyes but also about her favorite books and the secrets of a great thriller. closemy eyes big banner What is your earliest memory of reading? I have several snapshot memories of books from when I was very young, but there was one story called ‘Fish and Chips’ which I definitely remember reading when I was about five or six. I found the book buried on a shelf at my mum’s house a few years ago, and without looking inside I knew the story: of a little boy who goes to spend the day with his uncle and aunt at their fish and chip shop then returns home in the evening to find he has a new baby sister! If you could be one fictional character, who would you choose to be and why? Goodness, that’s a tough one. I think I’m going to be really sappy and pick Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice because, (a) she’s smart and interesting and, (b) she gets Darcy, who is totally my cup of tea. However, I must stress that I wouldn’t last a day in Regency petticoats or without my iPhone! You are a well-respected and much-loved author of children’s and YA novels, but Close My Eyes ventures into the entirely new field of psychological thriller for adults. Did you set yourself from the start to write an adult book or was this prompted by the choice of your subject? I didn’t set out to write an adult book. The idea came first and it was immediately obvious that a story based on a older, female central character who has experienced a stillbirth eight years ago wasn’t going to work as a teen novel. And talking about the subject, how did you come up with the idea of this particular, rather twisted idea?  Back in 2007 I wrote a short children’s book based on one small aspect of the Arthur legend. The research I did left me hungry to find a way of writing more about the story. However, the original material has been reworked hundreds of times over the years, plus I wanted to find a way of telling the story from a contemporary, female point of view. A lot of the names in Close My Eyes have parallels with those in the legend – and of course there is a love triangle between the Arthur/Art, Guinevere/Gen and Lancelot/lLorcan characters. The single most significant idea behind my book was that of children being a ‘holy grail’. I knew from experience that, for some women, having a child can become an absolute obsession and it was really at this point that the story (then actually called Grail) started to form in my mind. You start Close My Eyes with a pretty big punch and then you follow up with even bigger revelation – do you plan the whole plot ahead or do you let your characters guide you in development of your story? 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 subject of your novel is a worst nightmare for any mother, have you had any feedback from men reading this story? Where do you think their empathy would lie? Several male readers have commented that Art is recognisably masculine in his desire to want to ‘solve the problem’ of his and Gen’s infertility by moving on and pushing for another round of IVF, while his wife is still struggling with her emotions. However, I think just as women can empathise with men, so can men empathise with women. I hope that any reader – whether male or female – would be caught up in Gen’s story, eager to find out the truth about her baby. Is there a particular phrase, sentence, image or section of this book that you are especially proud of or have a special memory of creating? The last page of the book is my favourite. When I had the idea for this final monologue it sent a chill down my spine and I immediately went back to the earlier related passages to make sure that the final revelation would be properly set up. After this, I felt more confident about the book overall and the hope that my planned ending would come as a chilling shock to readers made the rest of the story easier to write. Often what gets edited out of a book is just as fascinating and revealing as what the final book turns out to be. Did you edit anything major from Close My Eyes? This was actually a book that had more added to it as time went on! One interesting thing that happened was that I tried to base one of the characters on a real person but that the more I wrote the fictional character, the less like his real-life counterpart he became. I guess characters are defined by their story and how they respond to it; they don’t exist in a vacuum.  What do you think makes a perfect thriller? I don’t really think in terms of genres. Obviously a thriller needs to thrill and provide its reader with some kind of mystery as well as compelling characters and plenty of twists and turns. But, essentially, the secret of a great thriller is – for me – the same as for any book: a strong story, well told, through characters I care about. Have you recently read a thriller that really stayed with you and what was it?   I recently read and enjoyed Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I loved the way the perspective shifted between the main characters and found it fascinating that, though I didn’t really like either of them, I was still very drawn to their story. Thank you, Sophie, and congratulations on such a great book – it truly is a fabulous page turner.    

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