Here’s a little Q&A with Jojo Moyes. Enjoy.
Jojo Moyes, author of
ONE PLUS ONE
Your characters are fun and quirky and so real. Tell us a little about where your ideas for your characters and their stories come from.
Thank you! Most of my books are inspired by different snippets of things, whether they be news stories or things people have told me. In the case of ONE PLUS ONE I’d wanted to write a road trip for ages—and then when I started thinking about the differences between today’s haves and have-nots, it suddenly seemed like the perfect thing to put some very different people together. Anyone who has sat next to a stranger on a long haul flight knows that there’s no better way to really find out who someone really is than to be shoved together in close confines travelling for any length of time.
ONE PLUS ONE is a novel in a contemporary setting, just like Me Before You and some of your other novels are historical, such as The Girl You Left Behind. Do you prefer writing one over the other? How do you decide where and when to set your books?
I often write one in reaction to the last. So The Girl You Left Behind was a huge, sprawling romantic epic that crossed a century and took all sorts of historical research. After that I just wanted to write a tight little emotional comedy set in the modern day with very little research in it. It’s entirely possible that in a book or two I’ll be back to doing something on an epic scale again.
Like Me Before You, ONE PLUS ONE has a love story between two people of very different socioeconomic backgrounds. What draws you to explore that disparity?
Well, Me Before You was basically about class and aspiration. Lou came from a background where you were encouraged to have little of either. ONE PLUS ONE, on the other hand, is simply about money. I’ve been watching the difference between rich and poor in society grow ever wider, and with ONE PLUS ONE I guess I wanted to ask: what happens if you have the aspiration, or the talent, but simply don’t have enough resources to be able to climb up to the next rung of the ladder? We’re always being told you can have anything if you work hard enough. Well what if the deck of cards is really stacked against you? Does that truism still stand?
When you form characters do you ever incorporate aspects from people you know?
If I do, I do it unconsciously! It’s the fastest way to lose friends or upset people that I know. But I am an inveterate people-watcher (a polite way of saying I’m nosy) and I think I’m always wondering about people I know or know of, and wondering why they do what they do, and what effect it has on those around them. So I think I pick up a lot of characteristics almost by osmosis.
While the stories and circumstances are completely different, Ed in ONE PLUS ONE and Will in Me Before You are successful men in their fields who have a devastating setback, either professionally or personally and each meets a woman who helps add some color into their lives and helps them figure out their lives. Is this a coincidence?
I suppose in the case of ONE PLUS ONE I very much didn’t want Ed to ‘save’ Jess, even though he was financially able to. I wanted her, in the immortal words of Pretty Woman, ‘to save him right back’. If there is a theme it’s that we all have something to offer each other, if we can bear to open up a little, even if it seems very unlikely initially. I don’t think Ed has any shortage of colorful women (see his ex-wife!) but he is a man with no self-awareness until he meets Jess. She has many more of the traditionally ‘male’ traits—she’s practical, resourceful, fierce and protective—and she’s good at DIY.
Your novels don’t fit a pattern, yet there’s always a love story and often a social issue in play. They are issues many of us face in real life (such as being different and bullying in ONE PLUS ONE and assisted suicide in Me Before You) and you write about them with humor and present them in a palatable manner. What piques this interest?
I think you’re a pretty blinkered sort of novelist if you can ignore some of the social issues we see around us today. I think it’s possible to write ‘commercial’ fiction (horrible phrase) and still tackle serious issues. But I’ve found over the years that if you leaven it with a little humor, readers are often much happier to tackle the darker subjects, like suicide or bullying or serious disability. That’s how life is, after all—ask any member of the emergency services; they always have the best jokes.
Jess teaches her children to be morally upstanding, but makes one questionable decision, which threatens to ruin her relationship with Ed. Do you think it’s ever okay to do something ethically wrong, if it’s for a “good” reason?
I have no answer to that question! But it’s one that I do find fascinating. I asked the same thing essentially in The Girl You Left Behind, when Sophie has to decide whether to sleep with the German Kommandant in the hope of winning her husband his freedom (and possibly his life), even though she knows that doing so will probably lose her his love. I would argue that most people who do bad things think they’re doing them for a good reason. History is littered with examples.
ONE PLUS ONE has such a cinematic feel, it would translate really well to film. You wrote the screenplay for Me Before You. Did that experience change the way you write novels? Do you imagine how they would work as a movie as you write?
It certainly made me realize how much slack we leave in them! I have always written ‘visually’—i.e. I have to play a scene out in my head, almost as if I’m acting it, before I write it, to see if it works. I don’t think the way I write books has changed, as I still do the same thing, but I do perhaps make every scene work a bit harder—asking myself: does it move the story forward? Does it tell us something about the character?
Your main character, Jess, is a single mom with a blended family. What are some of the challenges this brings her in ONE PLUS ONE?
I think most families today contain some element of blending. I come from one. But I wanted to write something in which this was not necessarily an issue in itself, just an every day reality. Likewise, I wanted to write something where the mother was not either a) dead (check most children’s fairy tales) or b) problematic or c) irritating or interfering in some way. I just wanted to write about a family that might not be made up in a conventional nuclear form, but was loving and close and a bit different. And as a mother, I really wanted to write a mother who might be flawed, but was loving and resourceful and smart and protective—like most of the mothers I know in real life.
Jess’s daughter, Tanzie, is a math prodigy. Girls in the US still struggle against the stereotype that women are inherently worse at math. Is this also true in the UK, and do you hope your book will help to empower girls in overcoming this social obstacle?
Yes! And I say that as someone who is pretty hopeless at math herself. The more books I write, the more I realize I don’t want to write stories in which girls fixate exclusively on how they look or what they buy or who they fall in love with. I try to write female characters that someone like my daughter might ultimately be inspired by—girls who actually do things, or get joy from learning or building or travelling. Tanzie, for all her oddness, is completely comfortable in her own skin, almost more so than anyone else in the book—until circumstances tell her strongly that she shouldn’t be.
There are some steamy scenes in ONE PLUS ONE! How do you approach writing sex (or near) scenes?
Well, if my editor had got her way, they would have been a fair bit steamier. I do struggle with sex scenes, mostly because of the language. Either you employ biologically accurate terms, which tend to pull the reader up short, and can sound a little startling, or you go with awful euphemisms that make your toes curl. I’m getting a little braver with every book—but it’s hard when you live in a small village. Everyone assumes that you base the scenes on your own life… weirdly. they never do that with anything else I write about.
What do you hope readers will take away from ONE PLUS ONE?
Firstly, as with all my books, I hope it just gives them a few hours’ escape to somewhere they hadn’t expected to go—that’s certainly what I want from a book. I hope very much it makes them feel something, whether it’s laughter or tears. On a wider note, perhaps they might not judge or dismiss those around them quite so swiftly—I heard a really good saying the other day, along the lines of “be kind, for everyone is battling something you don’t know about.” And I suppose I’d like my books to have a similar message. Although saying my books should have a message makes me sound unbelievably pompous. So maybe just a good read….