Alumna and author impresses year 6-8

We were thrilled to welcome back alumna Sophie McKenzie to talk to year 6-8 students on Thursday 9 May about becoming an author and some of the works she has published, followed by a reading from her new book Becoming Jo – a Modern Retelling of Little Women, a Q&A by a panel of students, and book signing.

Sophie attended Sydenham High from Reception right through to sixth form, and actually had her first published works in the school magazines when aged 6 and 11. Sydenham High was also where Sophie had the first inkling that she might want to be an author when her classmates enthused about a piece of horror-writing she had written and read out in class, realising how much fun it was not to just enjoy reading but also to write and share that writing with others. Not having met any authors to see that they were just like other people, Sophie didn’t however think this was a realistic ambition.

After university, Sophie’s first job was in journalism which she enjoyed as she was using her love of words but it was not a perfect fit for her. Following a career break to spend time with her son, Sophie worked in business publishing, before finally embarking on her dream job of becoming an author, starting and abandoning 17 books before publishing the award-winning Girl, Missing in 2005. She has now published some 25 books across a variety of genres.

Sophie spoke about the importance of reading as much as possible across a wide range of topics, getting inspiration for stories from anywhere and everywhere, thinking about everything you experience, and always carrying something in which to write little snippets of ideas. She likened writing a book to making soup – made up of lots of ingredients mixed together to make a whole story.

Sophie told students her favourite character is Rachel from Blood Ties – a book in which the school Rachel attends is inspired by Sydenham High, and a character whose journey from unconfident to strong Sophie feels particularly close to.

When Sophie heard a number of authors were writing modern retellings of classics, she asked her publisher if she could bring a beloved book from her childhood, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, into the modern age. She had always loved this book, finding the character of Jo very relatable – a girl growing into womanhood who lives for stories, is clumsy, passionate, impulsive, and always well-meaning despite unintentionally upsetting others. Sophie knew she had to honour certain aspects of the original especially the very distinct personalities of the four sisters, but she changed their situations, experiences and manner of speech to fit today’s society and bring a new audience to the sisters’ tale.

We are very grateful to Sophie for taking the time to visit us and to Scholastic UK for arranging the visit.

To find out more about Sophie’s books, please visit her website https://www.sophiemckenziebooks.com/