“ Sequels can be tricky beasts. What prompted you to write a sequel to Me Before You?
Lou’s voice just never left me in the way that other characters’ voices tend to; partly because readers wanted to talk to me about her and how she related to their own experiences. And then writing the [film] script meant that she was in my head daily. Finally, I found myself asking the question that other people were asking, which was: “What happened next?”
Your novels feature characters who are outsiders: the “leftovers”, as one character describes them. Why are you drawn to people living on the periphery, whether emotionally, physically or economically?
Because I think a lot of us feel that way. There’s not much interesting to me about people who fit happily into a group and whose life is fulfilled. I’m much more fascinated by the tension that comes from people not quite fitting with their surroundings. And I think most of us will spend some part of our lives feeling that we don’t.
Is that why so many of your female characters are often very ordinary, quite troubled, and in unglamorous jobs?
I feel like I’ve lived lots of different lives. Some of those lives involved doing some of those bottom-of-the-rung jobs and you learn an awful lot about human nature when you’re working in a minicab office late at night or serving drinks in a bar.
I’m not intrigued by gilded lives at all. I’m curious about what happens to those people struggling to get somewhere in a society that increasingly tells them they can’t succeed, where the odds are stacked against them.
There’s a grief therapy group in After You that’s both moving and funny, and feels very authentic. Is that something you’ve had experience of?
I had a couple of years of therapy in my 30s and I would say it changed the way I thought about myself in an absolutely fundamental way. I’m fascinated by people’s inability to recognise what is going wrong in their own lives or to analyse their own behaviour. The joy of writing fiction is that most people are self-deluding to an extent and I find that a rich source of inspiration.
Contemporary fiction by women is often perceived as less substantial than that by men. Is that something you find frustrating?
Just because a book is classified by that dreaded term “women’s commercial fiction” doesn’t mean that it can’t take a look at societal issues or address things that are going on in the world, whether it’s extremes in wealth or opportunity, or what happens when you’re working for a company that puts you on a zero-hours contract. If I can make people think while also being accessible, and possibly make them laugh and cry a bit at the same time, then, frankly, I don’t care what they call me. I’d like to be the Puccini of fiction. I’m unembarrassed by the joy of making people feel something.
Me Before You was your eighth novel. Has its success changed you as a writer?
I think it’s probably made me more confident. Because after seven books that didn’t sell terribly well you really do start to question whether yours are the books people actually want to read. And then Me Before You was such a success that people turned to the backlist – having those sales suddenly take off made me feel vindicated.
Recently you joined Patrick Ness and other authors in donating £10,000 to Save the Children for Syrian refugees. What made you get involved?
It was just a gut reaction. I felt the situation was unbearable. I’m a big follower of the “do as you would be done by” school, and I thought if we were subject to an invasion here and I had to pack up with my children and undertake a horrific journey, then what would I hope for from my fellow citizens? It would be kindness and generosity.”
PS: Moyes told the Wall Street Journal that she delivered a script for an adaptation of One Plus One. Have you read it? What do you think?