British author Jojo Moyes’ best-selling novel Me Before You is due out next June and stars British actors Sam Claflin and Emilia Clarke, who appeared in Game Of Thrones.
Hollywood may beckon, yet little more than three years ago, Moyes, now 46, was a moderately successful author with eight novels under her belt. “I’d got to the stage where I was thinking about alternative careers,” she admits. But while driving her children home from school, she heard a news story on the radio about a young rugby player who had persuaded his parents to take him to Dignitas after several years with quadriplegia. From this, Me Before You, her most successful book to date, was born.
It centres on Will, a quadriplegic who wants to die, and his carer Lou, who agrees to accompany him on his final trip. “The issue of quality of life was very high in my head. At the time, I had two close relatives who both required 24-hour care to stay alive,” she recalls. “One had dementia and injuries, the other had multiple sclerosis. To watch someone diminish and know they hated every intrusion, and all the stuff that has to be done to you, is awful.”
The book became a massive success and catapulted her career. Some nine million copies have now been sold worldwide. “It became a word of mouth book, and as a writer that’s just the holy grail. I would say its sales are 50 per cent word of mouth.”
She wasn’t planning to write a sequel – After You, out now – but the characters had never really left her head, thanks to the stream of emails, tweets and letters which kept coming from readers telling her their own stories and asking what happened to Lou, and the fact that she had written the screenplay for the forthcoming film. “I started to ask myself what would have happened to Lou. I didn’t think you could go through that and be unscathed.”
The book is essentially about grief and what happens if you are left in the slipstream of somebody else’s life decisions. “The characters are all struggling in their own ways with losses that other people have imposed upon them. Lou and her family and Will’s family are all having to deal with the aftermath of life without him. I’m interested in what you want and what you are duty-bound to do to the people around you.” The theme of euthanasia has also made her reflect on her own life. “It’s made me do a lot more things that I was probably too anxious to do. I fly all the time now, whereas in the past, I would do anything not to go on a plane. I’ve learned to drive a lorry, I’ve taken my advanced scuba diving licence. I do things that push me out of of my comfort zone, because the message of the book stuck with me. Sometimes your characters teach your things about yourself. I would rather fall out of the sky in a plane than spend 10 years staring at a wall in a care home.”
She is now on a month-long book tour and is considering a follow-on to the follow-up, but it may not happen for a couple of years. “Next year, I’m going to do very little travelling, and very little of anything apart from trying to focus on the next book.”
• After You, published by Michael Joseph, £20.