Me Before You by Jojo Moyes Delivers Emotional Punch –2013 Release
An Exclusive Authorlink Interview with with Jojo Moyes,
Columnist Anna Roins
| Me Before You
by Jojo Moyes
Buy this Book
Imagine the only way you could stop your son from committing suicide, was to agree to his plans to be euthanized.
Me Before You (re-released on 30 July 2013) tells the story of two people who come from very different worlds and the impact they had on each others lives: Louisa (Lou), a small town girl with no real direction and harboring a secret, is caught between dead-end jobs, and Will, a successful man with a high profile career and a glamorous girlfriend, involved in a terrible road accident.
Will no longer wishes to continue with the life he now finds himself in. When Lou is hired to be his new caretaker, the two get off to a rocky start. However, Lou becomes determined to prove to Will that life is worth living. As they embark on a series of adventures, they each find their world changing in ways neither of them had expected. Quickly landing on The New York Times bestseller list and MGM securing the rights to a feature film, Me Before You is one of the most daring and engaging love stories written in recent times.
|“. . . what I wanted the reader to do was examine their own beliefs, and perhaps not to judge choices made by other people . . . “
AUTHORLINK: Hi Jojo, thank you for your time on this interview, especially during a busy book tour! We thoroughly enjoyed your novel, Me Before You; it’s the kind of book that remains with you after you’ve finished it.
It raises the idea of euthanasia in a respectful and sensitive light without pushing the reader in one camp or another. How did you manage to write about it in such a neutral way?
MOYES: I was very clear before I started writing this book that I didn’t want it to take a viewpoint one way or the other; what I wanted the reader to do was examine their own beliefs, and perhaps not to judge choices made by other people in an extreme situation. Using different characters around Will to tell their stories helped me do that.
AUTHORLINK: Yes, and rather effectively. You have a talent for displaying the subtle changes in body language when an attraction develops between two people. It was enjoyable to read the first time Lou and Will had an intimate connection in the shaving scene. Do you use a notebook to jot down observations of human behaviour or do they materialise out of your imagination when it’s time to write?
MOYES: I would love to be organised enough to carry a notebook! No, the scenes do materialise out of my imagination, but I tend to act them through in my head before I write them. And I am an inveterate people-watcher. I love to try and work out what makes people tick, why they act the way they do. If I wasn’t a writer, I would like to train as a psychologist.
|“I try to take half an hour to clear my mind before writing different characters and ‘think’ my way into their heads.”
AUTHORLINK: In your book, each character’s point of view has a remarkably distinctive voice. For example, Lou uses quirky, short sentences, and Camilla uses dry, over-wordy sentences as you would expect a person in the legal field to use. How were you inspired to ‘get into character’ before writing each voice? Did you employ the use of music, setting etc?
MOYES: I do use music, but only instrumental or ambient – I can’t write if there are lyrics inside my head. I try to take half an hour to clear my mind before writing different characters and ‘think’ my way into their heads. Then hopefully, if I’ve done my homework, their voices will come naturally.
AUTHORLINK: You have a quiet genius in the way you weave the variations that exist in relationships, and all layered upon a platform that depicts the differences in their social class. You construct them in such a true-to-life manner, that the reader becomes emotionally engaged. Is it fair to say that the characters, whom we understand you felt were, ‘fully formed’ as you began to write the book, almost wrote themselves, or was there a bit of editing required to make the interplay between them so ingeniously deft?
MOYES: Thank you so much. This – more than any of my other books (and I’ve written 11) – was a book where the characters fell into my lap fully formed. I could put Lou and Will in almost any situation and know how they would react to it – and to each other. It made writing this book a joy, because believe me, that doesn’t often happen.
AUTHORLINK: It seems you were meant to write this book! Me Before You makes a strong social comment (with a light touch) about how many public places are not conducive to wheelchair access. Did you realize when you were writing this book that you might be instrumental to forging ahead positive changes in this area?
MOYES: It’s a nice thought, but I’m not sure I’m responsible for any change, other than perhaps people thinking a little more about what it means logistically to try and get around in a wheelchair. I have had two people close to me who need the use of a motorized chair to function, and it made every outing a matter of careful preparation – are the restrooms on the same level as the restaurant? Is there a ramp? How do we transport the chair to the venue? A lot of people have emailed me to say they had never considered how hard it might be for someone who was not able bodied.
|“I knew when I started this book that it had to be funny, to balance out the tougher bits.”
AUTHORLINK: Well, it’s certainly changes one’s perspective. The humor, in this book, is laugh-out-loud funny. Like the way it’s conveyed in the natural repartee between Will and his nurse, Nathan, when Lou was dressing up for the concert; or the time Lou bit off Will’s collar tag. It was great to have this levity metered out on to such a grave theme. Did you set out to make it funny so that the real subject matter could be more easily digested?
MOYES: Thank you. I knew when I started this book that it had to be funny, to balance out the tougher bits. Nobody wants to read a book that’s going to make them want to go back to bed and draw the curtains for the rest of the day. I had never really attempted humour before I wrote this book, and it’s been so rewarding how many people have contacted me to say they laughed out loud while reading it. Shamefully, I still laugh when I re-read the bit where Lou bites off Will’s collar tag. It’s probably not done to laugh at your own jokes.
AUTHORLINK: There’s no shame in it at all! Lou has a shocking secret that is not revealed until well into the book. Judging from the readers’ reactions it’s not focused on as much as the euthanizing issue. Do you think it’s because euthanasia, as an idea, can eclipse most other terrible things that people face in their lives?
MOYES: I have been surprised at how little readers have focused on that. And I think you may be right; to end your own life, or to believe it not worth living, is about the most awful thing that most people can imagine. And I think one of the reasons the book has had the success that it has is because people tend to ask themselves: what would I do if I were Will, and unable to do anything for myself, and could see no future? And then: What would I do if I were someone who loved him, and desperately wanted to keep him alive?
AUTHORLINK: Yes that’s true, it certainly makes you think. What do you think triggers people to cry in Me Before You – the idea of rejection (most people have been thwarted in love) or the actual subject matter of euthanasia?
MOYES: I’m honestly not sure. I just know that by that stage they are so invested in the relationship between the two characters that the idea of love not winning out seems to be intolerable to many people. We are used, in romantic fiction at least, to the idea of the power of love being all-conquering. I guess this book challenges that. Also, from the emails I receive a lot of women simply fall in love with Will…
AUTHORLINK: Yes, understandable really. We can’t wait to see who’s going to play him in the film! Now for some general questions so we can find out a little more about you. Who was the first person that told you were good at writing and how did they tell you?
MOYES: I’m not sure there was one specific person, although my parents were always encouraging. I just always loved making up stories – I wrote little books and comic strips from the age of around eight, and never really stopped. Working as a news reporter for years helped me find a voice, but it was when I was living in a shared house and my flatmates were reading chapters of a book I was working on as I wrote them, and asking for the next instalment, that I thought – ‘well, maybe this is something I could do for a living’. Of course it took me three books before I got one actually published…
|“I think I’ve missed one deadline in 13 years. And I’m persistent. I keep going until I get something right.”
AUTHORLINK: Yes, but the point is you were published. And you have many more years of publishing to come we imagine. So what is the most useful skill for your writing that you have learned in all of your years of study and employment?
MOYES: I’m very professional. I think I’ve missed one deadline in 13 years. And I’m persistent. I keep going until I get something right. But the thing I think journalism really taught me was the ability to listen. It’s a surprisingly hard skill to learn (we’re usually not listening, but thinking of the next thing we want to say). But if you do just listen you can hear the most amazing things. Every time I travel my husband jokes that people tell me their innermost secrets.
AUTHORLINK: Yes you’re right. Really listening is a tricky skill to learn. How do you handle personal criticism? Do you feel crushed and vulnerable like most writers or do you take it on the chin and try to learn from the experience? Or, both?
MOYES: You know, I don’t believe any writer who says they don’t read their reviews. And I think you should, even if they are crushing. Sometimes you can learn from them. In my early books, a good proportion of the Amazon reviews said things like: “I really enjoyed this book but it took a long time to get going.” Now if one person says that, that’s an opinion. If forty people say it, then it’s worth listening to. I made an effort to speed things up a little at the start of my books, and coincidentally or not, my sales have gone up – and my reviews improved.
That said, it’s hard to ignore the mean reviews. Most writers I know can always quote a bad one – but we rarely remember the good!
AUTHORLINK: Have you ever considered revamping your first three books (that weren’t published) by giving them a makeover and putting them out there again? How do you think you’ve evolved creatively since the first book you ever wrote to Me Before You?
MOYES: Nope. They are never seeing the light of day. They are simply not good enough, and I understand that now. I think my writing has evolved in that I understand now it’s not enough just to have a plot, or some great characters, but you have to dig a little deeper, and ask what is this book REALLY about? Me Before You, for example, is about the relationship between a disabled man and his carer, yes, but it’s also about quality of life, the right to self-determination, and what it means to really live.
AUTHORLINK: That’s interesting. Your writing is so understated and contains such graceful expressions that the fictive dream effortlessly flows up to the reader. Did journalism help in this regard? What in your opinion makes a great writer?
MOYES: Thank you so much. I believe passionately that so-called ‘commercial’ fiction can have literary merit too. I put a lot of effort into how I write as well as what I write, but I try to do it so that the book is a page-turner too. I read across all genres and I’m often maddened at how much-hyped ‘literary’ books have plots that simply evaporate. I don’t know what makes a great writer (I think if we knew, we’d all do it), but for me my favourite writers immerse me in a world I hadn’t expected to be in, or take me on a ride where the unexpected happens. I like it when I’m pulled one way or another, and yet I know I’m in safe hands. There’s nothing worse than a ‘meh’ ending, if you’ve really invested in a book.
AUTHORLINK: Too true! Who are your favourite writers?
MOYES: It changes week to week, but constant favourites are Kate Atkinson, Barbara Kingsolver, and Michael Chabon.
AUTHORLINK: Do you let the book stew – leave it for a month and then come back to it to edit? Other than your husband Charles, who is a journalist, who checks your work, do you have a separate editor that peruses your novel? Or do you do your own editing?
MOYES: I let a book stew for as long as is humanly possible (or as long as my schedule will allow). The more I’ve written, the more I’ve realized that this is as vital as the writing process itself. By the time you’ve finished a book you’re often too deep in to see the flaws in it; a month’s grace will allow you to see it with a fresh perspective. My editors at Penguin UK and US edit my work, and I’m lucky in that I trust their judgment implicitly, so editing really becomes a collaborative process. It’s very rare that we completely disagree about something; I believe there is no book that can’t benefit from some good editing.
|“. . . and I was lucky enough to talk to the executives at MGM when we agreed to the deal . . .”
AUTHORLINK: That’s good to know. MGM recently acquired the film rights which must be exciting. How did you react when you heard the news? We understand you’re writing the screenplay. You strike a successful balance between the issue of euthanasia, choice and the dignity of human life without falling into a pit of a saccharine-style story telling. Are you concerned that this balance could be potentially tipped over when it becomes a movie?
MOYES: Well, I’ve done everything I can to make sure it won’t! It is very exciting, and I was lucky enough to talk to the executives at MGM when we agreed to the deal, and also to the producer, so I feel like we share a view of how the film should work. I hope so, anyway!
AUTHORLINK: So who is the producer of the movie Me Before You, or is that under wraps for the moment?
MOYES: I’d rather keep it all under wraps for now. I’m horribly superstitious! I’ll just say that this has progressed far enough for me to be hopeful it will actually make it onto the big screen.
AUTHORLINK: Of course; understandable. When looking at your books as a whole, the common thread between them other than the genre is that they all deliver an emotional kick. It must be so wonderful not to be ‘type-cast’. You’re able to write a completely different style of book every time you put pen to paper. How significant is it to have publishers supportive of your vision, given the amount of self-publishing that goes on nowadays?
MOYES: Well, for a long time I thought that my inability – or unwillingness – to write the ‘same’ book twice was working against me. It made me very hard to market. What’s been lovely for me this last two years is that readers who have read one book don’t seem to mind that the others are different and simply work their way through my backlist. And I am lucky enough to be with publishers who say they don’t mind what I write as long as it delivers, as you put it, that emotional kick. It’s exciting to wonder what I’m going to write next…!
Jojo thank you so much for this interview. We wish you the very best for your future success and of course, the movie of Me Before You.
|About Jojo Moyes:||
Jojo Moyes is the twice-winner of the Romantic Novel of the Year Award. After a varied career including stints as a minicab controller, typist of Braille statements for blind people for NatWest, and brochure writer for Club 18-30, she did a degree at Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, University of London.
In 1992, she won a bursary financed by The Independent newspaper, to attend the postgraduate newspaper journalism course at City University London, and apart from 1994 when she worked in Hong Kong for the Sunday Morning Post, she worked at The Independent for ten years, including stints as Assistant News Editor and Arts and Media Correspondent.
Since 2002, when her first book, Sheltering Rain was published she has been a full-time novelist. She lives on a farm in Essex with her husband, journalist Charles Arthur, and their three children.
|About Anna Roins:||
Anna Roins was a Senior Lawyer with the Australian Government Solicitor before she embarked in a career in writing six years ago and moved to Greece. As a freelance journalist, she has contributed to numerous articles to local publications on various subjects on social and community issues. She has also edited a number of books, websites and dissertations, as well as, continued studies in creative literature with the University of Oxford (Continuing Education) and the Faber Academy, London. Anna is currently writing her first novel in the Young Adult genre based in Greece. Anna is a regular contributor to Authorlink, assigned to write interviews of best selling authors.