Novelist Sophie McKenzie: ‘My greatest critics are in Crouch End’
The award-winning author of Girl, Missing tells Anna Behrmann about her latest novel, All My Secrets.
Sophie McKenzie might be an award-winning author, writing thrillers for teenagers and adults alike, but she says that her greatest critics are in Crouch End.
The 51-year-old writer has been part of the same writing workshop for 12 years, meeting once a fortnight at each other’s houses. Its six members originally met at the City Lit Writing for Children course, and have been scribbling away ever since.
Originally a journalist writing for trade publications, McKenzie broke through in 2005 with her debut novel Girl, Missing. When writing, she keeps one mantra in mind: “Every time I write a scene, I try to make sure it is both unexpected and convincing.”
In her latest book, All My Secrets, the main character is a 16-year-old girl, but McKenzie says that it was quite natural for her to start writing in her voice. “I just seem to find it easier to access what it feels like to be a teenager than to be other ages,” she explains. “My early 20s seems to be further away for me than being 14, 15, or 16.”
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In the novel, the main character, Evie, is left a significant inheritance, but in doing so realises that her parents have been lying to her for her whole life.
“I’m really fascinated by the fact that adults keep secrets from their children,” McKenzie says. “Sometimes they do it in a well-meaning way, for good reasons. But it’s always hard to discover that you’ve been kept in the dark.”
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“Certainly in my life I’ve had things kept from me. And I think that writing works like that. You experience an emotion in your own life – a sense of betrayal, or loss, or happiness – and then you can tap into it.”
As the mother of a 19-year-old, McKenzie is no stranger to weighing up what to tell a child, and this was thrown into sharp relief when her mother developed cancer.
“If my son had been a little boy, I wouldn’t have told him, because it would have just been so frightening and he wouldn’t have understood,” she says.
“But I told him that she had cancer because at 18, or 19, he’s been able to cope with the news, and as an adult it would be disrespectful not to give him the information.”
“It’s impossible to get it right all the time. One of the things that you have to do as a parent is allow the relationship between you and your child to change.”
All My Secrets by Sophie McKenzie is published by Simon & Schuster for £7.99. For more details, visit sophiemckenziebooks.com