The brilliant Sophia Money-Coutts joins me in this video interview at the virtual lit.Love 2020 for a talk about books and travel. Sophia talks about juggling her work as a journalist and a writer, her novels and we swoon about one of her hero’s. I hope you enjoy this chat as much as I did.
Eyes of Owls: So, I’m a book blogger and I am always curious, do you enjoy reading reviews?
Sophia Money-Coutts: That’s such a good question. I love that. I am really nervous about reviews. I am very wary what people say online about you. The first ever review I was tagged in, was about The Plus One and it was sort of fine and it had a few criticisms in it and I found it really hard. I’m not thick-skinned enough. You only remember the bad stuff. I am thrilled and so delighted to read the good reviews, but I find reading negative stuff about myself really difficult, because then I sit here for days going “but i should have done this” or “I should have done that” and “I’m not good enough”.
I think it’s amazing that you have written three books in three years, which to me sounds just mad. And you’re a journalist as well, so how do you do it?
So, basically for the past three years, I’ve been trying to juggle journalism and book writing and then this year I’ve done a podcast as well about egg freezing. I feel like I am not managing the balance at the moment. I don’t think writing books in two to three months at the end of the year is a sensible way to go about. I really loved sitting down on a Friday night and getting the luxury of working on my characters. So i just want to make sure i can go and do that forever.
Do you take your inspiration for your books out of real life and people you meet?
Yes, definitely for The Plus One I did. I think, when you come to your first novel, they often tend to be part autobiographical, because you write what you know. I think, we all have a fiction storytelling muscle in our brain and when we’re small that storytelling muscle is really strong and when we grow up that muscle dies a bit.
I can tell that I’m much better at seeing something tiny in real life or reading the newspaper and thinking that I can develop that and I do think that the muscle gets better. The more you use it, the more creative your brain becomes. That’s when you pull less things from real life, as it’s coming from your imagination rather than your friend or ex-boyfriend. Hopefully I just get better and better at that.
In your third novel, The Wish List, Posh! magazine that Polly works for in The Plus One is mentioned, which I think is really amazing, because I always love it when you feel like even though they are stand-alone books, they are somehow connected.
They’re called easter eggs, aren’t they?
Yeah. I think it’s really cool, because I always then tend to imagine that maybe if Polly gets a kid, maybe Lil is her teacher at some point or something like that.
In fact, my character in my new book is called Mel and she was gonna meet with Polly or Lil, but I’m still working that out. But I like the idea to have a bit of a mention like Florence works in the bookshop, that kind of thing.
I always love that, because I think it’s so rewarding as a reader, if you read all the books and you’re like, “Yes, I know that person”.
Oh, I love that you said that. I have to remember that, that’s great.
In The Wish List, there is this really sweet moment when Zach gets Flo the kitten.
Aw, I’m glad you liked that. I actually cried when I wrote that.
It was so sweet, while reading I had this genuine question, does a guy like that exists? Because I want one.
I imagine that would play lovely in real life, but I don’t know if someone like that does exist. I wanted him on the doorstep with a box and I wanted this little kitten to be in the box. That was actually one of the first scenes I wanted to write.
It’s such a good scene, I love that so much.
Oh, good, thank you. Maybe we will both find our Zach one day. He’s out there, somewhere.
You started this podcast called Freezing Time, which I think is amazing.
Oh, you’re listening, that’s so sweet, Sophie, thank you.
Is that ever something you would put in a book of yours in the future?
There is talk of me doing a non-fiction, sort of memoir book about it. But otherwise I really would, because I really think things like fertility need to be more discussed.
It feels like women, when we hit our thirties, we have to make really big life decisions a lot earlier than men and I just think that is all a really fertile ground for a novel to explore.
There is a little bit of that in What Happens Now? because Lil finds herself pregnant. There is this scene where she lies in her bed and plays this game called fertility math, busy working out like, “I’m pregnant now and actually earlier than I thought, but if I work it out based on fertility…” So, I’m endlessly fascinated by all this and it probably will come into more books.
Yeah, I think it’s great when it’s in books, because then it kind of normalises it.
I hope so.
I think it’s one thing to have in real life and talk about it like you do on your podcast, but I always think if I read it in a novel it reaches so many more people.
Yeah, you’re right. I don’t know if the non-fiction book is gonna happen, if not then book 5, maybe.
I think there is a romantic comedy with Jennifer Lopez where she goes the embryo route and then she meets a guy, I think it’s called The Back-up Plan (German: Plan B für die Liebe).
Alright, I’m gonna look it up.
Interestingly, I joke about Dr. James in my podcast. He’s divorced, he’s told me many times now that he’s divorced, so I keep joking with my girlfriends, guys maybe I could get a drink with Dr. James. And how hilarious would that be, that’s a rom com novel in itself. So, we’ll see. Watch this space.
I will. I started reading your books only 2020, but i read them all in the span of three months and I loved them so much.
Aw, thank you. I’m really thrilled because I’m always worried that the sense of humour is so English that it doesn’t translate, so I’m glad.
So, now I want to talk a bit more generally about books. What kind of books do you like to read in your free time?
I read a real mix I have to say. At the moment I’m reading a nonfiction book about The Beatles [One Two Three Four: The Beatles in Time] that a really brilliant British writer called Craig Brown just put out. I’m just finishing it now and it’s really funny.
Weirdly, I tend to try and not read too much of my own genre. I love Marian Keyes and Sophie Kinsella, but I just think, particularly when I’m writing, it’s not just helpful. So I try to avoid that.
It really varies between fiction, nonfiction, contemporary and older fiction. I sort of hop around a bit. Actually, I’ve just read three in a row, books by Sarah Waters. So, my mum told me to read Fingersmith and then I read Tipping the Velvet and I just bought The Night Watch. I love Victorian England. One day I’d love to maybe try and do a period novel, because I’m just obsessed with Victorian England. So I quite like to tackle that maybe at some point. We’ll see.
Yeah, there is this whole thing about historical novels now, where they do a part in the past and a part in the present times and they’re sort of intertwined.
God, how do people do that? Because my forth book is about first love, so it starts when they’re children, my hero and heroine, and then it jumps to years later. That’s obviously different to my first three novels. So I’m trying to graduate a bit and get to the next level. And how people interweave through timelines or periods of history, I have so much respect for. It’s a lot of work and it’s so clever.
Do you have a favorite book of all time that you would recommend to just anyone?
Either Sense and Sensibility [by Jane Austen], because it’s still one of my all time romantic favourites or Bill Bryson.
Oh, he’s so funny.
Just because he is so, particularly at the moment, really funny and escapist. There is a real snobbery around Bill Bryson that he is not intellectual or not that clever, but it’s nonsense. He sold so many books and he’s so funny. He’s written about everything from travelling to basically the history of the universe and he has that really light touch. I normally always have a Bill Bryson on my table, because it means if I can’t sleep that I can just dip into a Bill Bryson. P.G. Wodehouse is the same. So, P.G. Wodehouse, Bill Bryson or Sense and Sensibility.
You mentioned at a lit.Love talk that you like to travel. What’s your favourite place you’ve ever been to?
It’s cheating slightly, but my dad and stepmum live in Spain, in Catalonia. They found this ruined farmhouse, 20 years ago, and they did it up and it’s on top of a hill in the middle of an olive grove, you can see the Pyrenees. It’s the most magical place.
That sounds so idyllic.
It’s really beautiful. And they’ve done it up so well and there is nobody around there, it’s very remote. The food is amazing. I love Catalonia, it’s really special there.
When I worked at Tatler I used to travel a lot. I got to go to Utah – amazing, the Bahamas – pretty amazing, Miami, New York, LA. But I still think Northern Spain is pretty cool.
I actually got to go to Vienna for a press trip, that was really cool. When I lived in Dubai, Emirates launched their route from Dubai to Vienna and I was invited on a press trip. It was absurd. They sent a limousine to collect me from my apartment in Dubai, then we had business class flights to Vienna and we stayed in the Hotel Sacher. We ate so much food. We went to the beautiful palace of Schönbrunn and the flea markets. I really loved Vienna actually. It was very cool.
Yeah, it is such a beautiful city and I love that everywhere you go you can see the history.
Yeah, the architecture is amazing. I really want to go to Salzburg and, I have to admit, partly because of the Sound of Music. I’ve been desperate to go to Salzburg forever,
It is really beautiful there.
Yeah, is it better to go in summer or to go to the Christmas markets?
The Christmas markets are always fun, but I think in the summer the weather is nicer.
Maybe next summer *crosses her fingers*
What place is on your bucket list that you really want to go once the pandemic is over?
So, I’ve been to India before, but I haven’t been for ages and all my family loves India. My brother has a Hindi tattoo on his head, he spent a lot of time in India. So, India I miss, and I want to go back to. South Africa I would really like to go to. I think just somewhere really exotic and different, having spent all year in London, I just wanna go to India, to Mumbai, somewhere that feels so different to London.
You live in London, what is your favourite place there?
I recently moved to an area called Crystal Palace. So I’ve lived here most of 2020 in my sister’s house. My sister lives about 10 minutes away. There is the most amazing park. It is the highest point in London. The views of the city are amazing. I found this really great apartment with amazing ceilings and windows, so I have to say at the moment my favourite place in London is Crystal Palace. And a lot of people really don’t know about it but it has this amazing history, pretty cool antiques shops and just the park and the woods. It feels like you’re in London but you’re removed and there’s more space.
Thank you so much.
Thank you, Sophie.
Thank you to Penguin Verlag and especially Laura Austen for this opportunity to interview Sophia Money-Coutts virtually at lit.Love 2020. Danke an den Penguin Verlag und besonders Laura Austen für die Gelegenheit Sophia Money-Coutts virtuell auf der lit.Love 2020 zu interviewen.