Sophie Kinsella: 'Can You Keep A Secret?' book feels 'fresh' as film

By Fred Topel
Sophie Kinsella: 'Can You Keep A Secret?' book feels 'fresh' as film
Author Sophie Kinsella speaks with UPI about the film adaptation of her 2003 book "Can You Keep a Secret?" Photo by John Swannell

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 13 (UPI) -- After Sophie Kinsella found success writing the Shopaholic books, she wrote her first standalone novel, Can You Keep a Secret? , which was published in 2003. The movie adaptation, in theaters Friday, comes some 16 years later, but Kinsella found the subject remains timely in 2019.

In the film, Alexandra Daddario plays Emma, a businesswoman who panics during air turbulence on a business trip. She confesses all of her secrets to Jack (Tyler Hoechlin) before the plane rights itself. Emma is further mortified to learn that Jack has taken over her company and now is her boss.


"I think that it transitions very well and it feels very fresh, very contemporary," Kinsella told UPI in a phone interview. "They tweaked some of the elements of the setting to make it feel very modern."

One of the updates was to Americanize Kinsella's British novel. In the film, Emma's business trip took her to Chicago. Kinsella's other film adaptation, Confessions of a Shopaholic, moved her British story to New York.


"I think it's quite a universal story," Kinsella said of Secret. "I love London and my characters are definitely British because I'm writing them and I'm British [so] I bring that voice and quality to them. I think the dilemmas they face are universal dilemmas which is maybe why they have such a global appeal."

Emma struggles to figure out her career and love life. One of Kinsella's subplots involves male colleagues taking credit for Emma's ideas and other colleagues accusing her of sleeping with Jack.

"Again, this is universal," Kinsella said. "This is a book I wrote years ago, but I think some things never change. Trying to make your mark is and always will be full of obstacles."

The Can You Keep a Secret? film comes when issues such as gender pay gaps and workplace harassment are more in the news.

"Some of the scenes in it have almost amplified in the time," Kinsella said. "They haven't gone away. They've just become more so, and there's more dialogue about them. So all of that felt incredibly fresh. For me, it's amazing how the story feels like it could have happened yesterday."

On a more superficial level, the firm for which Emma works has been updated, too. The cola company in Kinsella's book has become an organic energy drink manufacturer.


"[That's] fine by me," Kinsella said. "It seemed exactly the kind of company that Emma would be working for."

Screenwriter Peter Hutchings invented new secrets for Emma to spill, too. Kinsella credits Daddario for adding a few of her own, which director Elise Duran included in the final cut.

"There are a couple of secrets that I think probably came out of improv, which I must say were absolutely hilarious," Kinsella said. "People have so many secrets, I don't think I could have pushed them all into the book. There's an infinite number of secrets, really."

In the film, Emma says she wonders what it would be like to pee standing up, and Daddario even filmed the attempt.

"In the book, she never wonders what it's like to have a penis, which is fair comment," Kinsella said. "Who doesn't, right?"

Emma's boyfriend, Connor (David Ebert), also survives the adaptation, with some tweaks. In Kinsella's book, Connor appeared to be perfect and Emma kept her reservations to herself. In the movie, she's clearly settling for a man who doesn't make her happy.

"In the film, he's more of a comedy character right from the word go," Kinsella said. "I guess that's just because you have a very visual medium.


"In the book, of course, you have Emma's inside thoughts and then you have what goes on on the outside. You have more layers to play with. So they went with Connor being just a broad comedy guy. I have to say, I really did enjoy his performance. It is a tad different, but I think it's very funny."

Kinsella is about to release a new novel in the Shopaholic series. Christmas Shopaholic finds Becky Bloomwood with a seasonal prerogative to buy things.

"It's almost a license because everybody shops at Christmas, though the shopaholic has slightly updated her ways. She's trying to resist consumerism. She's trying to be as ethical, she's discovered ethical shopping. Of course, with her, she discovers ethical shopping and then she goes overboard," Kinsella said.

Online shopping is another thing Becky has learned.

"The very first scene is her shopping online," Kinsella said. "She's told her husband that she's doing her mindfulness meditation, which is running on the screen, but she's also engaged in finding online [bargains]."

Christmas Shopaholic will be the ninth Shopaholic novel, and Kinsella sees no end to the series.

"I can't imagine saying goodbye to her," Kinsella said. "The truth is, she's alive in my head, even when I'm not writing the book, so personally I'll be with her for good."


Emma is tempting Kinsella for another story, too, if only because the title writes itself.

"The title Can You Keep Another Secret? has already crossed my mind," Kinsella said. "All of my standalones, I feel like they had a beginning, they had an end, that's it. Leave that heroine where she is."

Aside from a title, Kinsella has not thought about a follow-up to Can You Keep a Secret? With Christmas Shopaholic ready for stocking stuffers, Kinsella is ready to plan her next standalone book.

"If you look on my Instagram page, you'll see my bullet journal task," Kinsella said. "Task: Write book and I have sub-tasks like 'Think of a plot, think of a character.' That's the stage I'm at. It's not an entirely serious bullet journal on how to write a book."

She can be cheeky about her writing process, but Kinsella does like to outline ahead of writing.


"I go and sit in a coffee shop with a notebook, and that's where I kind of just think and plan," she said. "I want the story to be really ready to tell before I sit down at the computer."

Once she has an outline, Kinsella aims for 1,000 words every day.

"I figure if you write 1,000 words every day, you'll end up with a book," Kinsella said. "That's my logic. It has worked so far but I also plan for a long time.

And then, hopefully, as I write, my characters change or I get new ideas and then it'll be a different story and hopefully a plot twist I haven't thought of before."

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