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Sophie Kinsella talks shop

The ”Shopaholic” author muses about her past career as a financial journalist, opening up credit card bills, and working with Hollywood

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Surrounded by patent leather miu miu pumps, metallic Gucci stilettos, and sky-high Prada espadrilles, Sophie Kinsella is lost in a retail-induced euphoria. ”These are the shoes I’m going to buy post-baby,” trills the six-months-pregnant author, waving a pink, strappy, bow-accented heel. ”For my reward after I’ve lost the blubber!” She puts the shoe down wistfully, but is quickly distracted by a pair of black wedges encrusted with silver and gold sequins. ”These would be perfect with jeans,” she says, trying them on in the middle of Selfridges’ — London’s equivalent of Barneys — cavernous shoe department. By the end of the afternoon, Kinsella, 35, has hit the Alice Temperley racks, the Origins makeup counter, and the Marc Jacobs handbag department. Not to mention off-campus excursions to trendy Jo Malone, Reiss, and Fenwick. But can you expect any less from the woman behind the best-selling Shopaholic series?

If the first edict of novel writing is ”Write what you know,” Kinsella wholeheartedly relied on personal experience. Confessions of a Shopaholic (2001), which chronicled the escapades of label-loving Londoner Becky Bloomwood, has already spawned three hugely successful sequels (along with Confessions, Shopaholic Takes Manhattan, Shopaholic Ties the Knot, and Shopaholic & Sister have more than 4 million copies in print), with a fourth in the works. Her non-Shopaholic offerings are almost as popular: Last year’s Can You Keep a Secret? has nearly 600,000 copies in print. And her latest, The Undomestic Goddess, out last week, has almost 300,000. In other words, Kinsella enjoys the kind of success that can buy a lot of Manolos.

And she’s inspired a full-on shopping spree in Hollywood: Kate Hudson and Lynda Obst, along with Paramount, are developing Secret — about a twentysomething who spills her secrets to a fellow plane passenger when their flight goes terrifyingly turbulent — with Hudson slated to star. Jerry Bruckheimer scooped up the option for the Shopaholic series (we can see it now: Becky gets taken hostage by gun-toting terrorists in a mall!). And just this past March, Robert De Niro and Jane Rosenthal’s Tribeca Productions teamed up with Universal to develop Goddess — about a neurotic lawyer who leaves her fast-track career and becomes a housekeeper — months before the book was even published. ”Sophie writes delicious women in harrowing and hilarious predicaments that they somehow, in the most unpredictable ways, manage to get themselves out of,” says Obst. ”I read [{Secret}] overnight and laughed out loud. I sent it immediately to Kate and she felt the same way.”

Kinsella’s success is a fairy-tale scenario for an Oxford-educated journalist who used to write about pensions for a living. ”The writing was on the wall pretty much as soon as I started. . .[financial journalism] just wasn’t for me,” Kinsella admits over lunch at Selfridges’ in-house café. ”I was working at Residents Abroad: The FT Magazine for Expatriate Investors. Catchy, huh?” After reading a paperback novel during her commute and thinking she could do the same thing, Kinsella spent every free moment working on her debut novel, 1996’s The Tennis Party, which she published under her real name, Madeleine Wickham. Party — about a group of thirtysomethings who ”drink far too much alcohol and behave very badly” — was successful enough to warrant several sequels, but in 2000 Kinsella had an epiphany, appropriately enough, in a shop.