'Chick lit' writer wants to win over men

Jojo Moyes, author of Me Before You, is also the screenwriter of the movie of the same name.
Jojo Moyes, author of Me Before You, is also the screenwriter of the movie of the same name.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Writer E.L. James' infamous feud with director Sam Taylor-Johnson on the set of last year's 50 Shades Of Grey adaptation has become a cautionary tale, especially for film- makers looking to work closely with authors.

However, Jojo Moyes, who turned screenwriter for the movie version of her 2012 book, Me Before You, appears to have got on swimmingly with the movie's first-time director, Thea Sharrock.

Moyes, 46, and Sharrock, 39, were well aware of the 50 Shades Of Grey debacle when they began working together, but they say they got along so well that there was no chance of them repeating it.

"We'd all heard the horror stories," Moyes tells The Straits Times, referring to the widely reported spat between James and Taylor-Johnson over the erotic drama, which resulted in the director eventually bowing out of the franchise after she and the author "battled all the way through" filming.

Moyes, who got a screenwriter friend to give her a list of dos and don'ts on how to behave on the set of Me Before You, says: "I felt a huge responsibility to writers everywhere not to mess it up or go in there being precious or hard and heavy about stuff."

The ex-journalist has twice won the Romantic Novel Of The Year award given out by a British association of romance novelists, yet she says "romance novelist" is "not a term I tend to use about myself".

"I feel like I write stories that happen to have a love story running through them."

The success of Me Before You - which charts the friendship between a young woman and a quadriplegic man who is losing the will to live - continues to surprise her, especially given its exploration of serious themes such as assisted suicide.

"The scale of the popularity of this book shocks me daily because I wrote this thing thinking it is possibly going to have no audience or definitely a limited audience. And now, we've sold more than six million copies in 41 countries," she says.

Yet, despite glowing reviews in major publications of her work, there remains a certain literary snobbery towards romance novelists and other writers of commercially popular fiction.

"It bothers me a lot less since I sold all the books," the author says with a smile.

"I think people who criticise or who are snooty about crime thrillers or romance, or what I call commercial fiction, tend to be people who don't read it very much.

"The mistake that the more literary end of the community makes is thinking anybody could write it. But the people who are at the top of their game, like British thriller writer Lee Child, are in my opinion, brilliant. If anybody could do it, we would all be living in Child's amazing duplex in Manhattan," she quips.

Another sometimes sceptical group Moyes hopes to win over is men, whom she finds are often just as moved by her so-called "chick lit" stories as women.

After a recent press screening in New York, "every single man who saw it has been completely open with me about the fact that they have laughed and cried. It's actually been really lovely hearing about it".

Moyes also writes with an eye on what she wants her 18-year-old daughter - one of her three children with journalist husband Charles Arthur - to take from it.

That is why she is "interested in writing female characters who do things rather than buy things or who hold out for a hero".

"What I like to see is a flawed character who goes on her journey. Even if my characters behave badly or do something daft, they're women whom you could get something from, who have kindness or integrity or just are careful in their treatment of the people around them."

Alison de Souza

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2016, with the headline ''Chick lit' writer wants to win over men'. Print Edition | Subscribe