Jojo Moyes talks about ‘Someone Else’s Shoes’


Best-selling British author Jojo Moyes made her name writing about relationships. But ever since “Me Before You” (2012) put her firmly in the literary spotlight, her own relationships stayed out of it. She’s a private person — and her relationships were smooth. But in 2019, she hit choppy waters as her marriage of 22 years ended. During the pandemic she went through a divorce, lost a parent and found herself unable to do what she could always do so easily: write.

When inspiration called, Moyes wanted to deliver something a little closer to home. Her new book, “Someone Else’s Shoes,” centers on female friendships, unexpected love and redefining yourself — in other words, things that helped Moyes herself get through. In a video phone interview last month from her home in the English countryside, Moyes spoke about how she coped and how and why she wrote her latest novel. (This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)

Q: Do you think your approach to writing romance has changed since you’ve gotten divorced?

A: No. I think the difficulty in answering that question is that I never thought that I wrote romance. I write stories that have love in them. The most romantic thing that happens in this new book is a guy cooks a woman a plate of eggs.

What intrigues me is human relationships. I’ve been in therapy on and off for 20 years, and what fascinates me are the patterns we get into and how our behavior so often goes back to childhood. If I didn’t write books, I would retrain in psychotherapy.

In Jojo Moyes’s ‘The Giver of Stars,’ the heroes are librarians on horseback

Q: In “Someone Else’s Shoes,” there is a pair of heels that serves as a type of armor. How did you decide on that part of the plot?

A: When I started writing this book, I was going through a lot. I had planned to give myself 2020 off because I had become a workaholic in the worst way. I was writing books during the day, working with a team in Los Angeles on a movie adaptation in the evening, then did a really heavy book tour. I fell apart at the end of it. My marriage of 22 years was also falling apart, and my mum was dying of blood cancer; 2020 became about survival. I have never been someone who struggled with mental health, and suddenly I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t write.

Q: Having armor helped you through?

A: You make your bed, wash your hair, put some lipstick on — because it’s those things that give you a tiny sense of achievement to get through the morning. It’s all for myself, because I live in the middle of nowhere.

Q: There is an element of psychotherapy in this book with the character Phil, who is struggling with the death of a parent.

A: I wanted you to think, “This guy needs to kick himself up the backside and get on with it.” But you start to understand that his just showing up is the bravest thing. When my mum was dying and I was agonizing over not having done enough, someone said, “It’s an intolerable situation and you showed up every day and that’s love.” It completely reframed it. I wanted to give this emotional journey to a guy; we’re always showing women doing the work.

Jojo Moyes talks about the big-screen version of ‘Me Before You’

Q: I think one of the saddest moments is when the character Nisha finds herself in dire straits and has no one to call. I immediately made a list of who I would call.

A: We call them M4 friends here. When you’re on the M4 motorway, which leads to nice places in the West Country, and a friend calls and says, “I’m in bits, can you come back?” and you turn around without even thinking. Those are your M4 friends. Nisha has absolutely subsumed her own needs and left herself with no M4 friends.

Q: That’s part of her journey. But there are also journeys centered on agency and confidence.

A: I don’t think I had proper internal confidence about who I was and how I felt about the world until my late 40s. And you have to let things go — like my face. In the morning I look like that old lady who drinks lager outside the tube station. What the hell happened? But, equally, I know who I am, I know that the people who love me know who I am, and beyond that, what people think of me is not my business because I have stuff to do.

Q: As your life was changing so quickly, did you feel like you had to form a new relationship with yourself?

A: Yes. I went on anti-depressants because I just spent a good portion of the day crying. I lost a lot of weight and couldn’t sleep or work. So I stopped and rebuilt. I got a rescue dog and we just walked and I listened to audiobooks because I couldn’t read very well. I’m trying to shed habits and rebalance my life. I’m never going to work at the rate I did before. I understand now that it wasn’t good for me.

Review: ‘A Woman of Intelligence’

Q: I feel like a lot of people in midlife think it’s too late to change their habits or love life.

A: I absolutely disagree. I’m not going to lie, when I was divorcing, there were a number of girlfriends my age who thought I was crazy to start over … But I did it because I had stopped feeling joy. Even if you’re by yourself, you have the chance to find joy. And in the end, I did. I reconnected with an old friend who I’d known in my 20s and we started dating and it has been a kind of revelation.

Q: I love that you’re talking about it.

A: I was private for so long, and recently I said, why am I hiding anything? I think there’s liberation in being honest and you find out other people might have a use for it.

Q: Do you wear Louboutins, as Nisha does in your book? (She shows me her shoes. A trendy Doc Martens-style boot).

A: It’s actually Jimmy Choos with a spike heel that I love. The annoying thing about being 53 is that if I wear them I have to wear trainers for days after, but there is a power in it. I’m not sure it’s entirely feminist but it’s fun, and feminism is about choices and being free to make them.

Karin Tanabe is the author of six novels, including “A Woman of Intelligence,” “The Gilded Years” and the forthcoming “The Sunset Crowd.”

Pamela Dorman Books. 448 pp. $29

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