Sophie Kinsella has a new book out, and it’s very different from the best-selling Shopaholic novels that have brought her such success. Finding Audrey is aimed at a teenage audience, and is a sweet, funny, smart account of a girl suffering from chronic anxiety.
The inspiration for this story, however, came from the same source as the rest of her novels, as Kinsella explains: “I think I just absorb things that are going on around me – whether it is people shopping and running up credit-card bills or people working too hard – and that’s what I write about.”
In the novel, Audrey can hardly leave her bedroom. She can’t even take off her dark glasses in the house. Social anxiety is crippling her. Kinsella, as the mother of five children aged between four and nineteen, has a great deal of first-hand experience in the lives of young people. “I’m lucky,” she says. “This hasn’t happened to any of my children. But I know how much of it is around, especially for girls.”
Kinsella’s insight into Audrey’s disordered thinking was informed by her own experience of serious anxiety, which was treated with cognitive behavioural therapy. “I had CBT myself,” she says. “After the birth of one of my children, I went through a phase – probably a postnatal thing – of getting very anxious about my children’s safety.”
It’s not all bleak – she has a lot of fun with the character of Audrey’s mother, who picks up health obsessions from the tabloids, tries to make her children read self-improving books and is engaged in a running battle with her teenage son about his addiction to computer gaming. “I’m like her,” she admits. “I appreciate that these games have incredible appeal and are cleverly made – but I just don’t get it. Audrey’s story tackles quite a dark subject matter, so I thought I would lighten it up by bringing in the battle between the generations about computer games.”
Audrey’s tiny steps towards friendship with her brother’s friend Linus are also very touching – and there is some useful insight in the book, both for those with anxiety and for the people around them.
“First and foremost, you just have to be there. I think learning to be patient with these things is the real issue. From doing research on this, I realised you can’t rush it. Audrey gets very impatient with herself, as a lot of people do, and wants to get cured instantly.” The reader never discovers what led Audrey to retreat from the world.
There’s a suggestion she was bullied, and she refers to her phone as a “toxic portal”, but the details are never revealed. “I think there is a great power in sometimes leaving a gap and letting the reader fill it themselves,” offers Kinsella. “There is room for imagination. The trouble with spelling it out is that some readers will think, ‘That’s not a big deal,’ and others would be traumatised. The focus would be on what happened, whereas this book is about recovery.
“I think when Audrey says, ‘Some things are private,’ that is a great message. I hope some teenagers will take courage from that. It is not necessarily healthy to reveal everything. Sometimes you have to protect yourself in order to be stronger.”
Words: Claire Smith
Picture: John Swannell
Finding Sophie Kinsella Garden Theatre, 14 August, 5.45pm