I write for both adults and children and try to create strong stories with plenty of drama featuring characters grappling with life-changing challenges and difficult moral choices. These are usually labeled psychological thrillers or suspense mysteries. But…
… underneath the labels and descriptions I’m really writing to please myself. Sometimes I’m writing for myself as an adult woman, fascinated (as in Close My Eyes) by an apparently stable marriage where the wife one day discovers her husband colluded with a doctor to fake the death of her stillborn baby eight years before. And sometimes for a younger version of myself, appalled when (as in SweetFreak) a teenager is accused of sending her best friend an online death threat.
Real life rarely makes it directly into my stories, though I use a lot of locations I’m familiar with to make it easier to plan and visualize my characters in those settings. For instance, a family trip to Rufus Stone in the New Forest, where King William II was supposedly shot with an arrow in 1100AD led to the setting for a showdown with bad guy Foster in Medusa Project series book two, The Hostage. And for the Scottish settings in my teen mystery All My Secrets I drew on an old memory of the Isle of Skye as inspiration for the island of Lightsea and based a scene at the start of the book in Rose Street in Edinburgh, which I know through regular visits to the Edinburgh Book Festival.
When it comes to people, I’ve only once deliberately tried to base a fictional character on a real person: that was Lorcan in Close My Eyes. It was a bit of an experiment and I learned a lot from the attempt. Mainly that the twists and turns of a story influence the behavior of a character as much as the other way around… we’re all a product of the events that form us, after all. The more Lorcan worked his way into the story, the less like the person he was based on he became. Ironically, when I wasn’t consciously trying to depict my own family it kind of happened anyway! In Six Steps to a Girl, sixteen-year-old Luke, his older sister Chloe and their long-suffering mum have a similar family dynamic to mine as a teenager. Indeed, like Luke, my younger brother fell for a girl in my class at school and tried to get her to go out with him…
Sometimes people provide material for characters in other, broader ways… footage of Hitler working a line of supporters and giving each one a long, meaningful look in the eye helped me create the evil (but charismatic) leader of the English Freedom Army in my teen thriller Split Second.
I have a longheld desire to declutter my life. I’m a sucker for books and programmes about how to clear out your house and for a long time my favourite book was Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler, about a woman who walks away from all the encumbrances of her life and begins again with nothing.
While I can’t imagine doing anything so drastic, I do have regular decluttering sessions and last year I managed to go round the world with hand luggage only. My top tip? Only take three pairs of shoes: something to walk in, flipflops for the beach and one pair of smartish ballet flats for going out in the evening.
If I wasn’t a writer I would love to have been a pianist. Unfortunately I’m hampered by a lack of skill, an absence of aptitude and pretty much zilch intention of practicing…
I still enjoy music though. Sometimes when I’ve been writing for hours and need to take a break, I play a power ballad (not a type of song I normally like at all) and sing along at top volume!
When I was a child my favourite television programme was the original series of Star Trek and my favourite book Little Women. My son, Joseph James, was named after characters from both!
Sophie McKenzie was born and brought up in London, where she still lives. She has worked as a journalist and a creative writing teacher, and now writes full time. Her debut was the multi-award winning Girl, Missing (2006), and she is also the author of Blood Ties and sequel, Blood Ransom, The Medusa Project series, and the Luke and Eve trilogy. She has tallied up numerous award wins and has twice been longlisted for the Carnegie Medal. Sophie's psychological thrillers for adults include Richard and Judy pick Close My Eyes, and her latest, The Black Sheep. Her new book for teenagers, SweetFreak, is about cyber bullying.