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Jojo Moyes: 'I try to avoid clichés - but sometimes I go too far'

She has not one but two books among Germany's 10 bestsellers of the year. Why do readers love her romance novels so much? DW asked the British author to reveal the secrets to her massive success.

DW: Your new book "After You" went directly to the top of the lists of bestsellers in Germany as soon as its translation was published in September 2015, and it has kept that position since. Why are your books so incredibly successful?

Jojo Moyes: I have no idea. I think you would have to ask German readers what it is, because if I knew how to do it, I would have done it 10 years ago.

I tend to write about people that readers can identify with. These are not people with amazing careers; these are not necessarily people who have huge ambitions or extraordinary things happening. They're just ordinary people, often in slightly unusual circumstances.

"After You" is the sequel to your international bestseller "Me Before You" which was one of the most successful love stories ever written. It had a tragic ending. In your new book, the female main character Louisa is still recovering from those tragic events. Is your new book about mourning?

Jojo Moyes: After You - Copyright: Penguin

Jojo Moyes' new bestseller, "After You"

I hope it's funny as well as sad, because my own feeling is that readers will tolerate tragedy as long as you can put humor in there as well and make them laugh. So I'm hoping that it's not just a melancholy book - that the two things are intertwined.

What makes your romance novels different from other love stories?

I don't know. It's very hard for me to say anything without disparaging a romance novel. What I would say is I know that a lot of contemporary romance novels are written to a formula. I like when there are a couple of twists, or when the book is about something other than just love. There is hopefully always something else going on in there as well. That said I think that all the greatest books have love stories running through them. So I wouldn't want to say that I'm not writing love stories, because I think that's what fuels us all.

I work very hard to avoid clichés, sometimes more successfully than others. I think in my early career I went too far the other way. For example, my first every romantic hero was a one-armed Irish jockey. It's quite hard to make people fall in love with a one-armed Irish jockey.

Do you pay a lot of attention to language?

I'm very careful with language. I read everything that I write out loud, because rhythm and the sound of the sentence are very important to me. I get very upset in the editing process if an editor has cut things so that, to me, they have no rhythm. Sometimes things can be not perfect grammatically, but have a much better rhythm. That's very important to me.

The only other thing that maybe separates my books from other contemporary romances is that I think very hard about the theme of a book, as well as the plot and the characters. What I try to do is to add an extra layer. The question I'm asking myself when I'm writing is: What is this book really about? "Me Before You" is about a woman and a man and how she tries to change his mind. But it also asks another question: How much can you impose your own feelings on somebody else? How much do you have a right to tell others how their lives should be lived? These are bigger questions.

In "The One Plus One" I tried to look at poverty gap. It's not just a funny road trip and a romance; it also takes quite a hard look on what's happening in Britain and in many other countries, which is the division and polarization of life chances between rich and poor people. I think you can do that in a way that is light and readable. It doesn't have to be a political polemic. But my favorite e-mails are from readers who tell me: "Oh, I loved your book and it made me laugh - but it also made me think." That's what I try to do, I guess.

Your books are love stories and tend to be apolitical. Within the current European and Middle Eastern context and the threat of terror in the world, could you imagine writing a future book dealing with a more realistic topic?

I don't think that just because you write commercial fiction, which is a slightly disparaging term, you can ignore world events. I feel like the thing that works best is to write about the issues in front of your mind.

Our political und geopolitical landscape is changing, so in all likelihood in five years time we're going to have a hugely different makeup of society, because that's what is happening. I feel like there must be a way to reflect that in fiction. The trick for me is how to do it in a way that is not depressing, that you have "some grit in the oyster." It means that hopefully you can address it with some seriousness but also give enough entertainment so that people don't look at the cover and go: "Oh gosh, I don't want to read about this, there's enough of it in the news already."

Women are central figures in your books. Do you write for women?

Jojo Moyes: Me Before You - Copyright: Penguin

"Me Before You" sold five million copies

I love it when men message me to say they read the books, because I don't want them to be purely for women. But by their very nature and the way that they are marketed, there tend to be more female readers.

But what I'm very careful to do when I write is that I try to ask myself all the time: "What message would my teenage daughter take from this book?" And so you will not find in my books women belittling each other at work or in competition, or school mums versus working mums; all these narratives that we've had, that women always must be in competition with each other. I don't believe that, I don't think that is my experience.

I try to say in my books that women can achieve good things, you can be kind, and you can be smart. Your worth does not depend on the man you have or the design of a handbag or your pair of shoes. Those are the things I try to stir away from.

Before you started writing novels, you spent 10 years working as a journalist. You lived in Hong Kong, worked for the "South China Morning Post" and, back in Great Britain, "The Independent." Then you left journalism, started living in the countryside with your family and writing books which were rewarded with praise and success: It's a dream career. Is it as easy and fantastic as it sounds?

I'm going to be honest: It's definitely fantastic. I would say there has not been a day in the last four years I haven't woken up feeling like somehow someone is going to snatch this all away, because I've been a journalist for a long time and your time is not your own. I've done all sorts of jobs; I've been a barmaid, a cleaner, a minicab controller [Ed.: dispatcher for taxis]. I know how easy it is to slide back down in those places. So yeah, every day has been fantastic! If my 14-year-old-self had seen how my life would end up, I don't think she would have believed it.

That said I work really hard. This is the first time I've started to slow down these last few weeks in almost four years. I've missed a lot of things with my family, I have not had very many holidays, my kids would probably say they don't see enough of me right now, so next year I'm traveling a lot less. It's a trade-off - you can't have everything. But I feel really lucky.

What will your next book be about?

I don't know yet! I'm still thinking on it. I probably won't start writing until after Christmas, because I found that the better you've thought about things before you start, the better the books tend to be. So I like to marinate an idea for a while before I even put a pen to paper. I like to test it, to throw things at it and to see what sticks. And I have a screenplay that I need to send out. And we have the "Me Before You" film coming out in spring, so there's quite a lot going on still.

Is the film already finished?

Yes. I think the release date for England and America is March 4 and we're not sure what the date is for Germany yet, but hopefully not far behind.

Jojo Moyes (born 1969) is one of only a few authors to have won the Romantic Novel of the Year Award twice. Her first huge success, "Me Before You," has sold over five million copies worldwide and has just been turned into a movie with Emilia Clarke und Sam Claflin as leading actors. She lives on a farm in Essex, England, with her husband and their three children.

-"Me Before You", London (Penguin Books), 2012, 528 pages

-"After You," London (Penguin Books), 2015, 409 pages

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