Sophie McKenzie reaches out to a more grown-up audience

Sophie McKenzie, author of Close My Eyes

Sophie McKenzie, author of Close My Eyes - Credit: Archant

The writer best known for young adult novels is now focusing on parents and the grief of losing a child

Having built her reputation as a novelist for young adults over the last seven years, it would be understandable if Sophie McKenzie wanted to stay within that familiar market. However, when she came to write her latest novel, Close My Eyes, the Crouch End resident found she was writing for adults without even thinking about it.

“The idea very much came first,” she says. “The background of the story is about a woman suffering a stillborn birth, so she wasn’t going to be a teenager. In my mind, I’d never thought of sitting down and trying to write an adult book for the sake of it.”

Close My Eyes is the story of Geniver Loxley, an ex-novelist who thought she’d lost her daughter Beth shortly after giving birth to her eight years ago. While her husband Art continues to build his business, Gen can’t let go of what happened with Beth, only for someone to turn up at her door one day to say her daughter is, in fact, alive and well.

What follows is a search for the truth as Gen’s attempts to find her daughter send her down a path of hope, fear and paranoia.

Richard and Judy favourite

The signs are already encouraging for McKenzie, with the book being named as one of the Richard and Judy Book Club’s summer reads. So how did the idea come about?

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“There were a lot of starting points for me writing the novel, but one of the main themes is about how women can get really obsessed about having children. To have someone come up to Gen and say her daughter is alive, well, it sounds insane, impossible even. But because she’s not been able to move on, she’s so receptive and has to believe it.”

When starting out as a novelist in 2006, McKenzie made her name with her hit young adult novel Girl, Missing. Considering its plot, centred on the plight of a young girl snatched away from her family as a baby, the two books at a glance look like two sides of the same coin – something their author has also considered.

“It wasn’t a conscious thing actually. But I agree, if you stand and take a step back, the concept of a young child having her rights taken away has definite parallels. Once you get deep into Close My Eyes, though, you realise the big differences between the two and that they’re not nearly as similar as they look.”

Nonetheless, McKenzie is certainly developing a style of sorts. Citing her love of psychological thrillers, she believes that the genre is often split along gender lines.

“I heard someone describe the type of stories I write as female noir, which I actually thought was a nice theme. I write thrillers, but it’s not spies jumping out of planes – it’s based around family relationships, domestic situations.

“Then again, in many ways, I don’t like having these labels. There’s a kind of culture which suggests only men can do those spy stories and only women can write about relationships. I don’t follow that. I guess the best way to describe my novels is that I put ordinary people in extraordinary situations.”

Now working on various book contracts at the same time, McKenzie had to pen Close My Eyes in the space between her other projects. This meant it took nearly five years to complete – a stark contrast to the usual four months her young adult novels take.

With another novel, Trust In Me, due next year and her next young adult thriller, Split Second, set for release this September, time truly is of the essence.

“I don’t get to read as much as I used to, in truth, so I’ve become as much influenced by watching TV dramas. Something like Homeland – the first series of that was very psychological, about finding the truth in a relationship.

“So much great stuff is on TV and it can be an influence for a novelist. It’s like my son – he has a phone, TV, laptop, but doesn’t see them as separate devices, they all serve as part of the same function. I don’t care whether it’s a show, film or audio book, there will always be something to draw from.”

Close My Eyes by Sophie McKenzie, is published by Simon & Schuster, at £7.99. For more information, visit