A Conversation with Jojo Moyes
1. In the book, Sarah’s London is very different from Natasha’s London, but like many cities around the world, Sarah’s poor neighborhood is becoming gentrified. Is this true of London? And how do you feel about those poorer neighborhoods disappearing?
I am concerned about the widening chasm between rich and poor, and also by the gradual erosion of mixed neighborhoods, the kind that I grew up in. I think they’re good for people. It’s true of many areas of London, and I don’t know what you do to stop it, as it seems to be to be a direct result of people only feeling safe putting their money in property. When I was fourteen I bought and kept a horse in a tiny yard in a rough area of London—one of many such stable yards. They are nearly all gone now, bulldozed for luxury flats. I don’t think many girls would have that chance today.
2. Cowboy John is such a great character. Can you talk a little about where the inspiration for him came from?
Some characters spring into your imagination fully formed, and Cowboy John was one of them. He is a loose amalgam of many of the horsemen I knew—not conventional horsemen by many people’s standards but masters of their domains and usually highly characterful! I loved writing him.
3. It’s well-known that the English love their horses and that they have historically been a huge part of the culture. Are they still? In what ways has it changed since you were Sarah’s age?
They certainly are where I live, in the middle of nowhere. In our last home more horses than humans came up our lane. I think the foxhunting ban may have thinned the equestrian landscape a little, but I do believe where there are teenage girls there will always be horses…
4. Why did you choose to make Natasha a lawyer? What kind of research did you do to understand her job?
I had a friend who was in child protection, and I was struck by the daily difficulties of her job, helping children who had been let down by the system from Day One, always worrying about who was falling through the cracks. And yet utterly constrained by the rules of her job. I was in awe.
5. You write about the foster parent system quite a bit in this book. Were you ever a foster parent or know anyone who was? Would you ever consider being one? Do you think the current system for taking care of these children is working?
I am friends with a woman who fosters children, and I take my hat off to her. Sometimes she receives almost no notice, or finds herself looking after a newborn baby with issues, or a child who arrives with no clothes other than those they are wearing. She will look after them with love, establish routines, make them feel cared for—and sometimes she then has to watch as they are passed back to parents with chaotic lives, and is not able to say or do anything other than be there should they need help again. I’m not sure I could do it. I’d probably want to take the child and run away! I don’t think my own lifestyle is suitable for fostering—my job takes up too much of my time—but I try to help in other ways, giving talks to school-age children, helping small charities.
6. You’ve had an enviable career and written many very successful books. How has your writing process changed since your first book?
Well, it never gets any easier! My most practical problem is lack of time. I travel a lot more, I write scripts for my books, and I now have three children (as well as numerous animals), so really it’s a matter of squeezing out whatever writing time I can each day. At the moment I’m back to my old thing of starting work at six a.m. because at least that way I’m guaranteed an hour or so of uninterrupted writing time.
7. In this book, Natasha struggles with her feelings about motherhood. As the mother of three children yourself, did you experience any of the same feelings before they were born? Do you think it’s getting harder or easier for working women to balance a career and children?
I was lucky in that I never went through the same conception struggles as Natasha. And I never had any ambivalence about being a mother or a working mother. I wanted my children, and when they were old enough, I wanted to keep working. I don’t know if it’s getting harder, but I do know it’s hard. I know hardly any women—stay at home mums or working mums—who feel they’ve got it right. We women are very good at guilting ourselves! The thing I do—without apology—is buy help where I can. If I only have limited time, then I’d rather spend that time hugging my kids on the sofa and chatting to them than ironing, or forever telling them “I’ll be with you once I’ve cleaned this floor.” I feel very lucky to be able to do that.
8. A part of Natasha and Mac’s marriage is described this way: “While Mac, during the holidays of their marriage, had loved road trips, stopping where the whim took them, driving all night if he had thought it would be fun, she had wished secretly for an itinerary. The uncertainty of not having a meal and a prebooked bed to count on disconcerted her; and her suburban outlook, as Mac seemed to see it, made her feel both inadequate and guilty for spoiling his fun” (p. 376). Are you more like Natasha or like Mac in this quote? Do you ever wish you had the opposite outlook? Why?
Oh, I’m definitely Natasha in this setup. I wish I wasn’t. But I’m a planner: I think as you get older it’s less fun to sleep in your car because all the local hotels are booked up for a conference! (This once happened to me and my husband in our early days—it was not a happy experience!)