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Author of the Month, Sophie McKenzie

Sophie McKenzie cements her status as the queen of teen thrillers with her latest nail-biter, Hide and Secrets.

Fast-action plots are the hallmark of Sophie McKenzie's thrillers. Her 2005 debut Girl, Missing was inspired by the true story of a missing child and began a gripping trilogy with terrifying twists and shocking secrets that kept teenagers reading late into the night. She followed with a series of tense thrillers, Every Second Counts, Split Second, The Fix and The Medusa Project, winning a string of awards and picking up a loyal fan base. 

She has also written two teen romance series; the Luke and Eve stories and the Flynn series, and a wonderful 21st century re-imagining of Little Women, Becoming Jo.

Sophie's latest novel is a twisty edge-of-your-seat thriller in which a teen girl battles to solve the mystery of her missing dad. Our Kids Reader Review Panel have been gripped...

"Great book with many twists and an unexpected ending. Couldn't put the book down!"

"Amazing and heart - warming book with plot twists you never expected coming."

"This story is incredible in the way it entrances the reader and instantly surprises them with the unanticipated story line."

We were delighted to get the chance to ask Sophie about the storyline and characters in her new book Hide and Secrets. 

With such energy and tonnes of twists, Hide and Secrets reads like it was a lot of fun to write. How did the experience compare to writing your previous novels?   I always enjoy working on a new novel and Hide and Secrets was definitely no exception. There were several characters I loved developing through the story, such as Cat’s celebrity astrologer mum – eccentric characters are a lot of fun to write!

What inspired the story? Any real-life news stories?   Hide and Secrets developed out of a few ideas I’d had floating around for a while. The main plot is totally made up but more emotional elements, like how Cat feels isolated from her family and friends after the loss of her dad, were inspired by people I’ve been close to in real life. It’s sad, but often true, that when families experience trauma each individual processes their emotions in their own way – and this sometimes leads to family members feeling very alone.

Cat’s little sister, and the sisters’ relationship, are brilliantly evoked. What was your process for researching traumatic-mutism?   Thank you. I loved writing Bess and tried to research selective mutism carefully. I wanted to be as sensitive to this condition as I could. My limited understanding is that the ‘choice’ to stop speaking isn’t usually a direct response to trauma, as is popularly believed, but more a strategy that younger children sometimes use to try and exert some control over their lives.

Who was your favourite character to write? And who was most challenging?   That’s a tricky one! I loved writing ALL of them: you always feel close to the main character – in this case, Cat – but I also really enjoyed exploring the character of Tyler, and Cat’s relationship with him. Cat’s Mum, as I’ve said, was also lots of fun to write. Bess was probably the most tricky character: in my first draft she came across as more passive than I intended, probably because she didn’t speak, so I had to work on her character in the next draft and make sure I gave her more agency.

This may be tricky to answer without spoilers, but did you consider alternate endings, or were the twists (pretty much) mapped out from the start?  A couple of the big twists were in place from the beginning, but I did rework the ending in regard to one of the key characters, to make their journey more rounded.

Audio books are so popular now - have you joined the audio book movement?  Absolutely!  It’s still great to read print versions of course, but I love being able to listen to a novel. For me, audiobooks mean more stories, more often, which is exactly what I want!

And who would you choose to narrate Hide and Secrets?  I have no idea! Someone with a real feeling for the story and the characters – and a young (or young-sounding) voice, to reflect the age of the narrator/main character.

One in three of all books sold is a children's book yet children's books only get 4% of review space in the media. Why do you think this is - and what can be done?   It seems a bit short-sighted: after all, adults are often the ones buying the stories for their kids or grandkids. Having said that, if your statistic is true, it kind of suggests that children’s books don’t need reviews to still sell well!

What are you currently reading and which books are in your to-read pile?  I recently read My Sister, the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite, which I really enjoyed and I have several books lined up, including Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet and The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood.

What does LoveReading4Kids mean to you?   For me, the most important word there is ‘love’. Reading for pleasure is one of life’s great gifts and doesn’t only help children develop their ability to navigate the world around them, but will hopefully become a habit that brings them happiness for the rest of their lives.

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You can read all our reviews for Hide and Secrets in full here plus download the first chapter of the book.

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