An Interview with Sophie McKenzie

by Penny Kendal

Sophie’s first book, Girl Missing, was published in 2006 and won numerous awards including the Richard and Judy Best Kids’ Books 2007 (12+ category). Since then she has published 15 more novels including thrillers and romances, and has won many more awards. This year Hit Squad, part of the Medusa Series, won the older children’s category of the Red House Children’s Book Award.

I first met Sophie when we were both students at the City Lit ‘Writing Children’s Books Workshop’ in 2005. It was lovely to meet for a coffee and chat to Sophie about her writing and her success.

Tell me about your writing process. 
I see the three different stages of writing a book – planning, writing and editing as all very different and using different sides of the brain. For the planning there is a lot of thinking, when writing I am ‘in the story’ and to edit I have to take a step back and look at the story from the outside. I spend 5-6 hours a day on writing but that could involve different periods of time on different stages. I often work on more than one project at a time – for example I might be writing one book while editing another.

I write about extraordinary things happening to ordinary people.

I have tried all kinds of approaches to planning, from writing with no written plan to writing a detailed outline first. Through trial and error I have arrived at a process which works for me. I write an outline with about five key turning points in the story- A, B, C, D, E. Then I plan in detail how to get from A-B. I write this section and then I plan the next section – B-C. Doing it this way, I don’t feel like I have a mountain to climb, just small hills.

My writing is all rooted in the contemporary world so doesn’t require much research. I write about extraordinary things happening to ordinary people. While writing the first draft I keep reading over what I’ve written and tweaking it. I occasionally junk a complete scene or chapter. On average, a book takes me four months – two to three months of hard writing, then several weeks of editing and revision - but some books do take longer.

This year Hit Squad, part of the Medusa Series, won the older children’s
category of the Red House Children’s Book Award.

How did you begin? 
I began at City Lit, by doing the ‘Introduction to Writing for Children’ with Elizabeth Hawkins in 2003-4 and joined her ‘Writing for Children Workshop’ 2004-5. I went on to teach at City Lit for a few years. I learnt so much from Elizabeth – but the key thing is that ‘Story is Everything’. I am still part of a critique group now. Getting feedback on my writing early on was the single most valuable thing I ever did. And it’s still very important to me now. It is so hard to judge your own work. Being prepared to listen to the feedback is also vital.

Read the kind of books you want to write. It is a craft – you need to study it. 

 What advice would you give to ‘not yet published’ children’s authors?
Read the kind of books you want to write. It is a craft – you need to study it. Analyse books that you like. I once analysed an Alex Rider book page by page to see how Anthony Horowitz structured his plot. Join a writing group or workshop – get feedback on your writing. Read books about writing. See the ‘Writing Tips’ page on my website for more advice!

You write in different genres. Do you have a different readership for different series or the same?
Some readers read all my books; others read the romance or the adventure. Going by the feedback, boys read the adventure books and girls read everything. My readers range from 7-25s, but my typical reader is a 12 year old girl.

Richard and Judy Best Kids’ Books 2007 (12+ category)

What do you think have been the key factors in your success?

I think determination, not giving up, listening to feedback. Being prepared to listen is so important. You have to have self-belief and the humility to be open to improving. I think my first book ‘Girl, Missing’ tapped into something that teenagers can relate to. The success of my first book has been a springboard for everything, enabling me to keep writing which is what I love to do.

How do you feel about using social media?
I find it a great opportunity to interact with readers but it can take over your day so you have to be disciplined! I love Twitter but have a rule – no tweeting until after lunch! I try to leave emails and Facebook, and any admin until after lunch as well. On ‘Good Reads’ I had a post from a girl who was outraged by the ending of one of my books which had really upset her. The next day she wrote another post apologising and explaining just how strongly she’d felt about the story. I love the immediacy of this kind of response – which I don’t think would have been the same if she’d had to sit down and write a letter. I try to respond to as many messages as possible.

What are your hopes for the future?
To carry on writing! I want to continue writing for children and adults for the foreseeable future. I am very happy writing! 

Penny Kendal
Penny Kendal lives on the Hertfordshire/London borders and is a published children’s author, writing for all ages. Her books include five mystery novels for older children published by Andersen Press and ‘Merbaby’, a book for 6-8 year olds published by Evans. She has also written for Heinemann. She runs the ‘Writing Children’s Books Workshop’ on Thursdays at City Lit in Covent Garden and also does workshops for schools. Penny's worked as a Primary School Teacher, Reading Recovery Teacher and Family Learning Tutor. She's married with two young children and her youngest has just started nursery giving her some precious writing time!


  1. A really interesting interview, thank you. I'm tempted to try out Sophie's five point outline plan myself!

  2. Great practical advice. Thank you, Sophie & Penny. And yeah, I like the idea of five turning points too.

  3. Fab interview! I wish I could write a book in 4 months - that's impressive!

  4. Great interview Penny. Sophie is another example of a City Lit pupil going onto great things. Maybe she will be a future Children's Laureate, following in Malorie Blackman's footsteps.
    If anyone is thinking of paying for some writing classes I strongly recommend they check out the City Lit and compare the prices to the courses offered elsewhere. You will be pleasantly surprised.

  5. Good stuff. I think these are qualities to look for in any corporate writer, full-time or freelance. I recommend a blog complete sentence checker for all students and author and writer. Who found difficulty in writing.This site helps them in checking their sentence.


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