Interview: Sophie Kinsella, Author Of 'I Owe You One' The author of the bestselling Shopaholic series is back, with a new novel about a woman who's addicted not to shopping but to fixing the lives of the people around her — at the expense of her own.
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A Chance Meeting Changes Lives In Sophie Kinsella's Latest

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A Chance Meeting Changes Lives In Sophie Kinsella's Latest

A Chance Meeting Changes Lives In Sophie Kinsella's Latest

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The new book "I Owe You One" centers around a family shop in London and a young woman trying to make her way and find love while dealing with her self-centered siblings. It's written by the author known as Sophie Kinsella. She's sold over 40 million copies of her books. They've been translated into more than 40 languages. And you may have heard of some. I'm thinking "Confessions Of A Shopaholic." Her real name is Madeleine Wickham. And she joins us now. Welcome to WEEKEND EDITION.

MADELEINE WICKHAM: Hello. So nice to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So the main character in this book is 27-year-old Fixie Farr, which is a great name.

WICKHAM: Oh, thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell us about her.

WICKHAM: Well, I mean, her name explains it all. It's her nickname, in fact. And it comes about because she is a girl who has to fix everything. She's the girl who comes into your house and sees that your painting is crooked and has to straighten it. And, as you say, she is slightly downtrodden in her family situation. And she's a girl who needs to find her voice. So she doesn't assert herself enough. She doesn't stand up for herself. She doesn't fix her own life. And what happens in the book is that she has a chance encounter with a stranger in a coffee shop. So she does a favor for him. His laptop is nearly - well, I won't say exactly what happens. But anyway, she saves his laptop.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. I was about to say, enter the hero.

WICKHAM: Yeah - from some sort of peril. And so two strangers, who otherwise would have just gone their separate ways, become linked because our hero is really grateful to her for rushing in and saving the day as she always does. And she doesn't want anything in return. But he says no, I always pay my debts. I owe you one. So he gives her a coffee sleeve on which she has written IOU on and fixed his business card.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Hence the title of the book.

WICKHAM: And she thinks to herself, yeah, I owe you one. She thinks, like, I'm never going to go and claim a favor from a stranger. You know, nobody does this. But then things take a turn. And she does - except it's on behalf of somebody else. She reconnects with him. And through these trading favors with this handsome stranger, she learns to look at her own life again. He kind of helps her to find her voice. And so it's a love story. But it's also a girl finding empowerment.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. I have to say, while I was reading the book, I was shouting to myself, stand up for yourself.

WICKHAM: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Come on.

WICKHAM: Yeah. Well, she starts off - I mean, she - what's interesting about her is that in some of her life, she is on top of it. She runs a staff at her family store. And she's assertive. And she has great ideas. And then she gets back into her family situation and she goes to pieces because she is slightly awestruck by her older siblings. And they are...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Her handsome...

WICKHAM: ...Totally self-centered.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Brother...

WICKHAM: She's...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Beautiful...

WICKHAM: Yeah. And her...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Sister.

WICKHAM: ...Beautiful sister. They've become kind of stuck in family roles. And it was a satisfying storyline to write.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. You continue to write about 20-somethings and their travails even though you are a mother with five children now...

WICKHAM: I am.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...And have moved on from that particular era. What is it about that time of life?

WICKHAM: Well, I just think there's something exciting about the time of life where you're on the lookout for opportunities in all directions. You're looking at your career. You're looking at finding someone to love. Everything is ahead of you. And for me, the - kind of the wide, open horizon is so exciting. There is something exhilarating about meeting a stranger in a coffee shop and thinking, where's this going to go?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What inspired this?

WICKHAM: I wanted to tell the story of a young woman who finds her voice because I think there's something incredibly empowering about that. And I related to that. I used to struggle sometimes in standing up for myself or having my opinion voiced when I was, you know, younger and at university. I would sometimes be too perfectionist about thinking what I said. So that was my kind of character. And then I loved the idea of two strangers meeting. I just - there's something magical about the feeling that you're in a big city. And you go to a coffee shop. And there's a guy opposite you. And in one version, you just walk away and never see him again. But in this version, you become connected. And I have to say it somewhat came out of real life...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh.

WICKHAM: ...Because - yeah. I had had the idea for a long time. I wanted two strangers linked by a series of favors. I thought this would be a really interesting dynamic - backwards and forwards. You know, I owe you one. No, I owe you one. But I didn't know how they met. And I was sitting in a coffee shop. I was literally with my notebook and my pen, thinking, you know, how can they meet? How can they meet?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

WICKHAM: And there was this handsome - I have to say - handsome American guy sitting opposite me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well.

WICKHAM: And I think that's very relevant that he was handsome and American. And he looked up. And he said, I'm going to try an American accent now, so you can laugh at me. He said, oh, excuse me ma'am. Could you look after my laptop while I step outside? Off he went. And I just sort of stared into space thinking, I have it. This is how they meet. He asks her to mind his laptop. And she says of course. And then in my version - in real life - he came back, and we never spoke again. And that was the end of it. And in the book, of course, that's not very exciting so...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Handsome American in a coffee shop. This - we need to find you now.

WICKHAM: I know.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter).

WICKHAM: I owe him one. I really, really do.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You owe him one.

WICKHAM: (Laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your book has him as a central character.

WICKHAM: Yeah. Well, he was a wonderful character to write because he was so - he had such integrity. He's so honest. He calls Fixie out on stuff. And so it's very much a dual partnership, very equal. They help each other in different ways. And what starts as just sort of a jokey trading of IOUs turns into something really meaningful. And the IOUs themselves turn into, you know, from almost a joke some, you know, life-changing, life-saving - some of these favors. So they become very entwined with each other. And there's a lot in the book about what do we owe people that we love, which I had to kind of really think about.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Madeleine Wickham, aka Sophie Kinsella. And her new book is "I Owe You One." Thank you so much.

WICKHAM: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF PANDREZZ, L'INDECIS, J'SAN AND EPEKTASE'S "ORION")

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