Jojo Moyes: Horseback librarians tale was a strong women's story I just had to write
Best-selling author Jojo Moyes talks about the movie prospects for her latest novel, life after the hugely successful Me Before You and how she may bring Lou Clarke back one day
SHE'S as bubbly and heart-warming as her characters – banging the drum for the sisterhood and women supporting each other through good times and bad, just as she so eloquently illustrates in her novels.
Jojo Moyes (50) made her name with her poignant love story Me Before You, in which young Louisa Clark takes a job caring for quadriplegic Will Traynor, with whom she forms an unlikely bond. Moyes wrote the screenplay for the 2016 film adaptation starring Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin, which took more than $200 million at the box office.
Two sequels to Me Before You – After You and Still Me – followed, but now Moyes is back on the stand-alone trail, this time with The Giver Of Stars, a fictional story based on the real horseback librarians of Kentucky, a group of women who joined forces to deliver books to remote regions in the Appalachian Mountains in the 1930s.
It's another tale set for movie stardom. Universal has already bought the rights to this story of sisterhood, as the women discover freedom and friendship on their trail, developing newfound confidence to face their own problems.
In many ways, the book is a metaphor for female empowerment and indeed, Moyes loves writing about strong women.
"With The Giver Of Stars I thought, this is so much a book but I felt it would make a great film as well."
She continues: "We have the brilliant writer and director Ol Parker [known for Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again! and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel]. He's working on the script and it's really exciting."
Moyes will be an integral part of the production, as she was with Me Before You.
"I'm not writing the screenplay but I do have a lot of input and I'm an executive producer, which I think just means that I get to sit around in a fancy chair and offer an opinion."
She came across the story in 2017 of these amazing women who would ride across the wilds of the Appalachian mountain forests to take books to the poor.
"I had this gut feeling that this is mine, I have to write about this. I thought it was filmic, I knew what I could do with these women and it fitted with something I'd wanted to do for a long time which was to write a book about women's friendship and the way that women support other women because the older I've got, the more I've found that women are our greatest allies."
She visited Kentucky three times to research the locations the women had visited and she rode the routes the women would have taken, immersing herself in the location's sounds, scents and sights.
"I got two flights to get to this remote part of mountainous east Kentucky and I couldn't find a decent hotel, so in the end I stayed in a bed and breakfast about five miles down a dirt track in the middle of nowhere and I met this amazing woman, Barbara, who's now about 72, who became the real spirit of the book because she's fierce and resourceful."
There were some scary moments, though, Moyes recalls: "The first night I stayed in the tiny log cabin, built in the 1830s, where there's no TV, no Wi-Fi, no phone, I thought, 'This is charming.' Come night-time, the mountain took on a different feel. Looking out of the window at the black woodland opposite, I thought, 'Oh God, this is like Deliverance! I'm going to be murdered in my bed!'
"But just when I was getting spooked, Barbara called out to me to go out on the porch and from there I found that the whole of the mountainside had come alive with fireflies. It was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. The trees and the sky were illuminated by these brilliant pulsing white dots and from that moment I stopped being afraid."
The book shows how the value of reading can change lives.
"Reading changed my life. I grew up in Hackney and my parents didn't have a huge amount of money but were big readers and they made sure that I went to the local library every week and got the maximum amount of books out that I could. I was the traditional 70s bookworm."
Several of her other books are currently being filmed – The Last Letter From Your Lover and The Horse Dancer.
"I now write scripts almost as a second career. As a result of Me Before You, I've ended up adapting a few of my own books and some of other people's.
"It's always a miracle that anything ever gets made because there are so many elements that have to fall into place, but there are always things buzzing around."
To date, she has sold more than 38 million books translated into 46 languages, yet Me Before You remains her biggest seller by far.
"People say to me, 'Do you feel you're never going to get beyond the success of Me Before You?' and I think, 'Why would I?' I was unsuccessful for eight books. The fact that I had a book which sold all over the world was so far beyond my expectations that I'm only ever going to be delighted. If people want to talk about Me Before You until I'm 92, I'll be very happy to do so."
From novel writing in the daytime, to scriptwriting in the evening, Moyes admits she doesn't have much of a social life. She and her husband, journalist Charles Arthur, with whom she has three children, live in 22 acres of land in a 17th century house in Essex.
"It's a constant juggling act, like it is for most women. I keep saying to my husband, 'OK, next year I'm not going to do all this' and he says, 'That's what you said last year and the year before'. At some point I will establish a work-life balance. But the difficulty is I really like it and it's really hard to say no to stuff when you are conscious about what a great job you have."
So, with the scriptwriting career, are the sequels to Me Before You likely to be brought to the big screen?
"We've talked about it but we all feel that we would want it to be the same team. It would only make sense if Emilia [Clarke] was Lou and Emilia would only do it if Thea [Sharrock] would direct it, and the problem is that once you get off the initial film treadmill, everybody's busy doing other things.
"And Emilia, as you know, has been busy with this little thing called Game Of Thrones. None of us have ruled it out, but logistically it would be really tricky."
When she finished the last of the trilogy (published in 2018), she missed the character of Lou Clark terribly, she admits.
"I felt so attached to her by the time I wrote Still Me. She's been a huge part of my life for 10 years and I don't think it really hit me that I was saying goodbye to her until I wrote the very last pages.
"But I feel like I carry her with me anyway and it's been really overwhelming how much she's resonated in other people's lives."
Moyes hasn't ruled out bringing Lou back again, perhaps in a short story.
"That's my way of telling myself I don't have to say a full goodbye to her yet."
:: The Giver Of Stars by Jojo Moyes is published by Michael Joseph, priced £20.