By Lois Alter Mark
“On my last book tour, I had a day off in Portland and it was very nice,” said bestselling novelist Jojo Moyes at a luncheon recently held at the Del Mar Country Club. Then she paused, looked around and added, “But I can tell you a day off in La Jolla is better.”
The British author definitely knows how to please an audience – as evidenced not just by the warm welcome her comment received from the dozens of fans who came to hear her speak at the Warwick’s-sponsored event at the Del Mar Country Club, or by the fact that this is her third visit to San Diego in as many years, but, most tellingly, by the millions of books she’s sold.
At the age of 45, Moyes has already written 11 novels, including the beloved “Me Before You,” an emotional roller coaster of a novel responsible for passionate book club discussions and plenty of tears all around the globe.
But she was here to talk about her latest novel, “One Plus One,” and she started out by explaining the inspiration behind it.
“I wanted to write a book about a mum,” she said. “I feel that mums get quite the raw deal in literature. In fairy tales, they’re usually dead. ‘Harry Potter?’ Dead. Oh, one of my favorite books, ‘The Goldfinch’ – chapter one? Dead.
“So I wanted to represent the mothers I know who are really kind of heroic. They’re just getting on with life, they’re putting food on the table, they’re cheerful, they get a multitude of stuff done. I also wanted to write a book about a family that was not necessarily a conventional family. Because, while my husband and I might be a conventional family – there’s me, him and our three kids – my own family is, I think the modern term is, blended. So I have stepbrothers and half sisters. We have relationships in our family that we can’t even work out what the word is.”
In “One Plus One,” Jess is basically a single mother although she’s still married. Her husband went off to find himself a couple of years ago, and she’s working two jobs to try to get her math whiz daughter into private school and keep her mascara-wearing son away from the neighborhood bullies.
“She just wants to keep her kids on the straight and narrow,” explained Moyes, “and she’s faced with the same problem all mums face, which is how do you give enough time to your kids when you’re busy working?”
Moyes credits her husband for helping to provide that balance in their own lives. “I wake up at six, and he wakes up at five to six,” she said. “He makes the coffee, brings it upstairs with my laptop, moves my head, puts a pillow behind me, puts my laptop on my lap, opens it up, hands me the coffee and says, ‘Go.’”
Once the stunned audience finished picturing their own husbands doing all that, the questions came flying. Many were about Moyes’ writing process. She usually writes at least 500 words a day. A former journalist, she never saw herself becoming a novelist but always loved telling stories. Her best advice for aspiring writers? “Just do it. Don’t think of the big picture. Just sit down and say to yourself, ‘I’m going to write one page today.’ By the end of the year, you’ll have a 365-page book. Even if it’s rubbish.”
And, of course, her fans wanted to talk about “Me Before You.”
The plot revolves around a news story Moyes heard back in 2008 when she was driving her kids home from school. After several years of living as a quadriplegic, a young man had persuaded his parents to take him to a Dignitas – a center for assisted suicide.
“I was just profoundly shocked because I couldn’t believe that any parent would agree to help a child end their life,” said Moyes. “So I did more research and realized that, as much as I wanted this to be a black and white issue, with a right and a wrong, I just couldn’t make it work. It was a big gray area.”
Although her publisher was underwhelmed by the idea, the story felt important to Moyes, who was compelled to write it anyway. Three million copies and thousands of grateful emails later, the book has changed Moyes’ life and she is currently writing the screenplay for MGM.
So what’s next for the prolific writer?
“I’m writing another book but I can’t talk about it,” she apologized. “I’m really superstitious and, although I’ve written about 30,000 words, I’ve deleted about another 60,000.”
She did admit that she had figured out a key plot point since she’d been in San Diego, so who knows? Maybe her next book will be titled, just like the blog post she just wrote on JojoMoyes.com, “The Joys of La Jolla.”