Monday 29 September 2014

An audience with Jojo and Daisy

Notes from the Henley Literary Festival... 

A few years ago an editor friend of mine at Headline Review sent me a copy of My Last Duchess because she thought I would enjoy it. She knew my tastes well: this tale of an American heiress who marries into the English aristocracy was right up my street. It has been described as Henry James without the boring bits. Today I got to meet the author, Daisy Goodwin, who has now written a second book, The Fortune Hunter, about the 19th century Empress Elisabeth of Austria.

Lucy Cavendish interviews Jojo Moyes and Daisy Goodwin at the Henley Literary Festival
Jojo Moyes is a regular guest at the Literary Festival
Daisy was joined by Jojo Moyes, the bestselling author of Me Before You, and between the two of them, they kept us riveted with a discussion of their characters, their craft and a few homey snippets. 

In her latest book, The One Plus One, Jojo writes about a single mother Jess who ends up embarking on a road trip with Ed - a man she barely knows - to enter her daughter into a maths Olympiad in Aberdeen. Inevitably love blossoms, although there are of course a few twists in the road.

Mother trouble

Jojo told us that her motivation to write The One Plus One sprang from the desire to portray a mother who has a positive relationship with her children. "Mothers in fiction are usually a nightmare," she said, or they get written off. She cited dead mothers in fairytales, the meddlesome Mrs Bennett from Pride and Prejudice and a mother in Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch who gets blown up in the first chapter. By contrast, she noted that most mothers in real life were "quietly heroic".

I couldn't help thinking that my own book, A Sister for Margot, features at least one tricky matriarch, as well as an orphan who loses her mother to a boat accident. Similarly, the mother in Daisy's My Last Duchess cuts an imperious figure (putting it mildly) so why do mothers get a raw deal in fiction?

Daisy revealed that she used her writing to explore a difficult relationship with her own mother. The "discord and tension" that come out of such a dysfunctional relationship often make for a compelling novel. She also pointed out that novelists were prone to writing mothers out of the book so that the main protagonist could develop autonomously as a character.

The One Plus One's refreshing take on motherhood is another winner from an author whose career nearly foundered before she penned the renowned bestseller, Me Before You. With her writing career in the doldrums, Jojo moved to Penguin and has since sold more than three million copies of Me Before You. She told the audience today she knew it was time to make the switch to Penguin when her previous publisher began to serve up cheap biscuits at a meeting. A friend had advised her: always watch the biscuits - when they stop providing them, you know your time is up!


The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes
A single mother sets off on a journey to ensure her quirky and brilliant daughter can study maths at the local private school. On the way, she falls in love with a disgraced software millionaire who is being investigated for insider trading.

For up-to-date snippets from the Henley Literary Festival, check out An Author's Notebook on Facebook or Google +.

Other 'Notes' from the Henley Literary Festival:
The quiet determination of Doreen Lawrence

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