I’ve only read Jojo Moyes’s last three books, but I adored them all. I plan to read the rest – starting with the first, Sheltering Rain – this year. I’ve been thrilled and fascinated to watch the enormous success she’s been enjoying with Me Before You (it’s just been announced that MGM have bought the film rights), particularly since it came after she’d had eight books published. Jojo’s story is one to bring hope to many authors, I think. So I asked her on Twitter if she’d answer some questions for me and she very graciously did.
You mentioned on Twitter that the success of Me Before You has changed the way you look at life, not just publishing, can you tell me more about that?
For want of a better word, I think I’d just got used to feeling a bit stoic. I’d had eight books published, put my heart and soul into each, yet none ever seemed to achieve quite the success that everyone around me predicted they would. And I think I felt a bit that way about life too – that it was a matter of knuckling down and hoping for enough to go right so that you could just keep going. I counted my blessings – don’t get me wrong – but I didn’t have high expectations of anything really good happening.
And then it did. It started with Me Before You getting picked by Richard and Judy, and then it just kept going. The book kept selling. People wrote wonderful things about it. Creative people I admired wanted to talk to me. Readers started to pick up my backlist. In the early months I just kept waiting for it all to fizzle out. But it didn’t. And without wanting to sound like the most awful Smugger, life has just got better and better. I’ve had more lovely reviews, doors have opened, I’ve had amazing foreign trips, and I’ve been able to stop worrying about certain financial issues. It made me believe that sometimes, if you’re lucky, life can take the most wonderful and unexpected turns.
You had eight novels published before Me Before You. They were all successful, but then Me Before You has really taken you to another level. Did you know you had something special when you were writing it? At what point did you think this may be the book to change everything?
No! I wrote it without a definite home for it, and part of me wondered if, given the subject matter, I was about to kill off my career. And yet it was such a weirdly easy book to write, mostly because I felt really passionately about the storyline and had such a clear picture in my head of the lead characters. Which rarely happens.
The only real clue I had that I was writing something special was my husband. He reads all my books first, and usually we argue horribly and then I sulk like a child at his suggestions. But with this book he simply read it and said: “I love it.” No suggestions, no criticisms. (It made me wonder if he was actually ill.)
All your books are very different – did you feel a lot of pressure to follow up Me Before You with something similar?
No. When I moved to Penguin the whole team was very clear that I could carry on writing really diverse books. They said the thing they felt linked them was the emotional kick they delivered. So I followed MBY with a book set in 1916 Occupied France…
What’s been the best moment of your writing career so far? And the worst?
The best moment of my writing career was probably hearing that MBY had gone straight into the Top Ten at number 3. It was the first time in 10 years that I had hit the Top Ten. The worst was feeling, shortly before I moved to Penguin, like I couldn’t get arrested.
Do you ever feel like giving up and, if so, how do you convince yourself to keep going?
I never feel like giving up writing. I can’t. It’s how I translate my world. This doesn’t always mean that I find writing books easy. Often I find the easiest way to keep going is just to read a few pages of inspirational writing. Or I read The Bookseller and remind myself how many other people out there would be desperate to do this job…
Can you tell me anything about your next book?
It’s very different to The Girl You Left Behind. It’s a book about a cleaner who has a prodigal daughter, and what she does in her attempts to better her children’s futures. It’s about love, and bad decisions, and the apparent impossibility in today’s society of breaking out of your social stratum.
Have you got any abandoned manuscripts no one will ever see?
Three! I wrote three books before I got one published. Now, of course, I can see that they simply weren’t good enough.
If you had to live within the confines of one book, and only interact with its characters (but you would still be yourself), which book would you choose?
Oh – interesting question! The first that pops into mind is National Velvet by Enid Bagnold. That lovely, quirky ,realistic family. And that gorgeous horse.
Which three books would you take to a desert island?
It would probably change month to month. But today, Behind The Scenes at the Museum. Gone Girl. The Complete Works of Shakespeare (I realise this is a terrible cheat).
If a film was made of your life, who would you want to play you?
Who would I want? Naomi Watts. Who would be more suitable? I don’t know. Bagpuss.
Thanks so much, Jojo.