Sophie Kinsella: 'For one moment, I was Cool Mum!'

12th Feb 19 | Lifestyle

The bestselling novelist and mother-of-five talks about staying young as an older mum and how, with age, she's become more relaxed about parenting.

With a string of bestsellers under her belt, it’s fair to say Sophie Kinsella knows a thing or two about being busy.

The author – who rose to fame with her bestselling novel The Secret Dreamworld Of A Shopaholic, published in 2000 (and later adapted into 2009 movie Confessions Of A Shopaholic, starring Isla Fisher) – has just released her latest book, I Owe You One.

And a lot has happened for Kinsella, since those early chick-lit days.

For starters, she now has five children with her husband Henry Wickham, and her career is still flourishing. Her 2003 novel, Can You Keep A Secret?, is set to be released as a movie, starring Alexandra Daddario, in the not-too-distant future, and she’s branched out into YA and children’s books.

Kinsella, who turns 50 later this year, says that her four sons and daughter – the eldest is 22, the youngest, seven – keep her young.

She’s certainly keeping pace with the younger generation, posting pictures on social media of her recent attempts to surf in Tenerife for the first time – a pursuit she loved – and with more than 38,000 followers on Twitter and 53,000-plus on Instagram, even her children are impressed. “I remember once, they saw one of my Instagram posts and said, ‘Wow! That’s a lot of likes!’ Just for one moment, I was ‘Cool Mum’!”

Here, Kinsella, who started her career writing under her real name of Madeleine Wickham, talks about her approach to parenting and family life…

Has having a large family changed you?
“I’ve got more confident as the years have gone on. Having a family has grounded me and given me perspective. When you have a large family and are concerned about so many lives, your own life just becomes being one of the family.”

This has helped her keep a sense of perspective as her success has grown. “What’s the worst thing that can happen? I walk on to a stage and fall on my bum? I’m very clutsy. I’ve knocked water over journalists, I’ve tripped over. I once arrived at an interview and I hadn’t done up my dress, which was completely open. But are my children going to love me any less because I did this stupid thing? No.”

Did you always want five children?

“I always had romantic notions about having a big family, like in The Waltons, although the practicalities were different.

“We had two children and for a long time, I thought, ‘That’s it, we’re too exhausted to have any more’. But we started quite early, which meant that after some time had gone by, we were able to consider that we did rather love bringing up children and we had time to have another one. And somehow another one turned into three more.”

Are you more relaxed now as a mother?
“Definitely. Having seen two children through education, you realise that everything will be fine and not to get too stressed out about these tiny things that seem so important when you’re doing it. The important thing is that they are happy and well-balanced.”

Did having a daughter make a difference?

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Everyone needs a workout buddy #ballet #barre #tutuenvy

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“Having a daughter, I have an additional factor in that I feel that I’m a role model, a representation of what it is to be a woman. I’m aware of that. I’d never say anything about body size or weight, I try not to use my phone too much. I’m more conscious of my behaviour.”

Do you set phone limits?
“My three younger children – aged seven, eight and 13 – don’t possess phones, although I’m sure they will eventually.

“We now try to charge our phones somewhere that isn’t the kitchen, so that they are not on view all the time. At one stage, we had like a charging centre, with laptops, iPads and phones, and it made our family space into a tech corner. I said, ‘Let’s just remove them’. When we are together as a family, that’s who we are.

“Children themselves do understand that these are issues. I’m getting a sense that schools are helping with this and we are trying to be on the same page. Children are aware that being on screens for a long time isn’t good for you.”

Are you strict?

“I do have boundaries but I say to my children, ‘I’m going to explain to you why I have these boundaries and why I think they’re a good idea, and I’ll offer you a chance to discuss it’, which is what they hate. They’d rather just have the boundaries.”

Do you teach them about wellbeing?
“They are becoming aware of nutrition. I didn’t know anything about carbs or fish oil when I was a child. We’ve all had to learn this together.

“Everybody should be aspiring to be strong, mentally and physically. But it isn’t defining what you look like. It’s defining an attitude. Your body should be there for you, and so if I do exercise at home, I try to talk about muscles and being strong, as opposed to, ‘I want to lose weight’. It’s much better to say, ‘I want to be strong’. My kids are all healthy, they spend a lot of time outside.”

You were 42 when you had your daughter. What’s it like being an older mum?

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It's still summer, right? #saturdaynight #octoberheatwave

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“I feel very lucky to be enjoying motherhood at this age. With my first baby, I was the youngest in the NCT group. Now, I would very much be the oldest. I was concerned if I could physically manage it but I was fine.

“But I do want to take care of myself more as a result, because I want to have the energy to be the mother of young children. But it’s lovely for me to be able to do this again. It feels like an absolute blessing and it keeps you young.”

Are you worried about turning 50?
“I’m sure it will hit me, and I will suddenly have a bit of a jolt, but I really don’t feel there will be a massive change in my life. It’s how you feel inside that matters, and I feel about 27.”

I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella is published by Bantam, priced £20. Available now.

© Press Association 2019

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