Thursday, 14 October 2010

Interview with Award Winning Author; SOPHIE McKENZIE

Sophie McKenzie is the award-winning author of several books for young people. Her debut novel GIRL, MISSING won several awards including the Richard and Judy Best Kids’ Books 2007 (12+ category), The Red House Book Award and The Manchester Children’s Book Award. She was also longlisted for the Branford Boase award and the coveted Carnegie Medal.

Sophie has kindly agreed to visit tall tales & short stories to talk about writing and her latest book, BLOOD RANSOM – the sequel to BLOOD TIES.


Theo gives his bodyguard the slip once too often.  Rachel receives a weird text from her father.  So begins a highly dangerous search to unravel unanswered questions about their past.

Linked by the firebombing of a research clinic, Theo and Rachel fear they are targets of an extremist group, who will stop at nothing to silence them.
  Awaiting them are startling discoveries about their identities which will affect their future in dramatic and life-altering ways...

BLOOD TIES was published in 2008 and was longlisted for the Carnegie Medal, it was also:

Winner of the Portsmouth Book Award 2009 (Longer Novel section).
Shortlisted for the Southern Schools Book Award (SSBA) 2009.
Shortlisted for the Staffordshire Children’s Book Award 2009.
Winner of the Leeds Book Award 2009 age 11-14 category.
Shortlisted for the Berkshire Book Award 2008.
Winner of the Spellbinding Award 2009 (Cumbria Schools Library Service).
Winner of the Lancashire Children’s Book Award 2009.
Overall winner of the Red House Children’s Book Award 2009Winner of the Red House Book Award



Clones Rachel and Theo now live thousands of miles apart.  They keep in touch regularly via the internet, but things just aren't the same.

When Rachel discovers that evil scientist Elijah is still working in secret for a section of the government and about to murder Daniel, she sets out to rescue the little boy, but her plans backfire with disastrous consequences.

Across the Atlantic, Theo becomes suspicious when Rachel misses their weekly internet chat. He discovers a report online saying she's killed herself and travels to Scotland to find her, certain that she's been kidnapped. A clue leads him to Elijah's mysterious clinic, where ths sinister Aphrodite Experiment is underway. But why does Elijah need to track Rachel down so badly? And what is the ultimate ransom that he demands for her?


*What inspired you to write Blood Ties and its sequel Blood Ransom?

I've always been interested in the subject of human cloning - not so much from a scientific point of view but in terms of the emotional impact. What would it be like to know there were other people around who looked exactly like you? How would it feel if you discovered you'd been created as a replacement for someone else? Blood Ties grew out of my fascination with these and other, related, questions. Once I'd started writing about Theo and Rachel I became extremely fond of them, so I always hoped I'd get the chance to come back and write about them again!

*In Blood Ties and Blood Ransom, you tackle the controversial subject of genetic cloning. How much research did you do for the subject matter and do you enjoy this part of the writing process? Do you think it’s important to be as truthful as possible or do you give yourself some creative licence?

I'm not a scientist, so my research into the technical aspects of the subject were inevitably limited. I hope I did enough to explain some of the basic cloning procedures - but, as I say, my interest was in the emotional impact of creating and being a human clone. I do enjoy research, when I'm gripped by the subject matter, but I'm not particularly into it for it's own sake! I tried to be as accurate as possible when I was dealing with known techniques and terminology, but obviously as no known human clones exist, I allowed myself free rein to imagine their thoughts and feelings.

*What, if anything, do you think writers should bear in mind when writing thrillers for a younger audience? How far do you think a writer can go and were your publishers open to all your ideas or did you have to censor yourself?

For me, the principles of thriller-writing are the same whoever you're writing for! Personally I think that the story is 'king' and if you keep your focus on making sure everything you write serves the core story then all the rest follows on from there. My editor totally gets the way I write and is very open to my ideas. She offers brilliant advice and comments on the first draft of the work I send her. I'd say I probably take on board about 90 per cent of her suggestions.

*If I think about Girl, Missing; Blood Ties and Blood Ransom, you seem to have a recurring theme of ‘identity’ and dysfunctional families. Although in your books these become highly-dramatised themes within the context of the larger-than-life scenarios, is it a conscious decision to reflect the everyday reality of many children brought up in broken homes and, perhaps even, a reaction to the fact that some children sometimes wish they were someone else or belonged to a different family?

You're right, identity is a recurring theme in my books! I don't know why I'm so often drawn to this issue, but trying to work out who we are and why we're here seem to be big questions that affect us all one way or another! I don't consciously write about children from broken homes but my parents separated when I was ten so, to me, that's a normal background. I think a lot of children fantasise that they belong to a different family - it's part of growing up... part of the gradual process of moving away from your childhood to establish yourself as an adult individual.

*You are a multi-award winning author and many of the awards are chosen by your readers. How does it feel to have your work appreciated by your intended audience and what, if anything, have you learned from your readers’ reactions?

It feels brilliant - hugely rewarding and validating and encouraging! I learn a lot from readers... I actually changed the first chapter of The Hostage in response to reader criticisms. I'm very open to any suggestion that will improve on what I've written and sometimes younger readers offer a perspective that adults will miss.

*Before becoming a novelist you worked as a journalist and magazine editor, do you think this has influenced your writing in anyway?

Being a journalist and an editor has had a huge impact on my writing but not in the way you might suppose. The main quality that a background as a professional writer gives me is discipline. I treat my writing as a job - I get up and get going as if there's a news editor inside my head asking when my copy will be ready! I think that's had a huge and positive impact on my work.

*How long did it take you from initial inspiration to finally achieving publication of Blood Ties?

I had a few ideas in my head for months before I finally worked out an outline for the story and got down to writing it. From finishing the first draft to publication was about three years.

*Do you plan your stories in advance, or do they happen on the page?

I do plan in advance... without an outline of the story I find it's very easy to wander off at a tangent! This is not only indulgent for me but potentially either boring or confusing for the reader. However I don't like to pin everything down. It's no fun to write if you know exactly what's going to happen. I create a basic structure - a few bullet points about the plot - then fill in the rest as I write.

*Rewrites and Revisions: How much do you do throughout the writing of your books?

I keep going over what I've done so far as I write though I try not to get too bogged down in making changes at this point. I leave myself notes such as 'this bit doesn't work' or ''this dialogue needs more' or 'maybe use this later'. Once I've written something I'm moreorless satisfied with I ask a few writer friends to take a look - then of course my editor will suggest her ideas too. I rarely find I'm rewriting whole chapters but I do make significant changes in response to their comments.

*Do you use your son or any other young readers as a ‘sounding board’ for your books?

Yes! Right now I'm working with the daughter of one of my writer friends, Lily Kuenzler. Lily has looked at every book in the Medusa Project series - and Blood Ransom - and given me the most excellent feedback!

*How long on average do you take to write a book and do you ever have more than one project on the go? If you do have more than one project how do you divide your time?

It takes about three or four months for me to write a book. I only write one at a time but, quite often, I'll be dealing with other stories at different stages at the same time. For instance, in July I was out and about promoting the latest Medusa book - The Rescue, while dividing the rest of my time between writing the next one, Hunted - and checking over proofs of Blood Ransom.

*Before getting an agent and achieving publication did you have to deal with rejection along the way? Could you tell us about your journey to publication?

I was very fortunate. I sent my manuscript off to six agents and within a couple of weeks I was signed up by one of them. Several publishers were offered and rejected my first book, Girl, Missing, but Simon & Schuster had me under contract within a month of receiving the story. So the journey from first sending out my writing to having a four-book deal was extremely quick - about six weeks. However, you could say it had taken all my life up to that point to produce a book that anyone was interested in publishing!

*What made you think ‘I want to write for teens and young adults?’ Is it a genre you enjoy reading?

I never thought that. I wrote - and write - for myself. It just so happens that I'm often drawn to stories with teenage main characters, though I've tried writing for and about smaller children and have published two books (Arthur's Sword and Time Train to the Blitz) for younger readers. I don't generally like young adult books more than any other kind. The story and the characters and the way the book sucks you into its world matter more to me than which genre it fits into or at which age group it is aimed.

*Which authors/stories did you enjoy reading as a child/teenager? How do you think they compare to the children’s novels available today? What do you think children of today want to read?

I read avidly as a child and particularly loved books by Elizabeth Goudge, Nina Bawden and E. Nesbit. I also adored the older series fiction produced by Enid Blyton, Laura Ingalls WIlder, Willard Price and many, many others. However I stopped reading completely between the ages of 13 and 16 because there were no stories that I could relate to as a young teenager. I only started picking up books again once I'd found my way into the classics (through school) and contemporary adult fiction.

I think the world of children's novels today is unrecognisable from the one in which I grew up. There's so much wonderful writing out there.

*Would you recommend having an agent and, if so, why?

An agent is definitely a great help in getting through the door of any publishing house and negotiating a good deal. Many publishers no longer view unsolicited manuscripts so, yes, I would certainly recommend having an agent!

*Words of wisdom and advice to any aspiring writer?

Read a lot. Write a lot. Be prepared to revise a lot. And don't give up.


Other books to look out for by Sophie McKenzie

Lauren is adopted and eager to know more about her mysterious past.  But when she discovers she may have been snatched from an American family as a baby, her life suddenly feels like a sham.
Why will no one answer her questions?
How can she find her biological mum and dad?
And are her adoptive parents really responsible for kidnapping her?

Lauren runs away from her family to find out the truth, but her journey takes her into more and more danger - as she discovers that the people who abducted her are prepared to do anything to keep her silent.


Fourteen years ago, four babies were implanted with the Medusa gene - a gene for psychic abilities. Now teenagers, Nico, Ketty, Ed and Dylan have been brought together by government agents to create a secret crime-fighting force: The Medusa Project. Since their existence became known to members of the criminal underworld, they have been hidden away in a secluded training camp in Spain, where their identities are being kept secret. Life in camp is hard enough, but then things take a turn for the worse. Ed is blackmailed into using his mind-reading powers - and in doing so he threatens to endanger the whole Medusa Project…


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