Zibby is joined by #1 New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You, Jojo Moyes, to discuss her latest novel Someone Else’s Shoes, which tells the heartwarming and humorous story of two very different women and the gym bag mixup that brings them together and changes their lives. Jojo reveals the inspiration behind this novel and explains why she had to take some serious time off (3.5 years!) before writing it. After 10 years of overworking herself and reaching a breaking point, she finally learned how to take a step back and prioritize herself. The two also discuss Jojo’s persistence (she wrote 8 books before having a bestseller!), her incredible talent for weaving humor and grief into her writing, the book that recently made her cry, and her best advice for writers.

“A heartwarming, humorous and oh-so-human story.”

—Zibby Owens for Good Morning America.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Jojo. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Someone Else’s Shoes, your latest novel.

Jojo Moyes: Thank you for having me.

Zibby: I’ve been a fan of yours for so long, like everyone in the world. I read Me Before You and cried my way through and watched the movie and have followed all of your books and everything. This is a huge joy for me, so thanks.

Jojo: Thank you. That’s so lovely to hear. Thank you so much. I’ve been out of the loop for about three and a half years, so it’s a nice reminder that people actually do read the things I write.

Zibby: Absolutely. I was so excited when I saw you had a new book out and couldn’t wait to gobble it up. Can you tell listeners what Someone Else’s Shoes is about?

Jojo: It’s a book about two women who are very different, who are at very different points in their lives. One is a wealthy American married to a very wealthy and probably quite selfish man who has just discovered that he plans to divorce her. The other woman is a rather downtrodden midlife woman whose husband is depressed, whose boss is a bit of a bully. She’s just — in England, we call it the squeezed middle. She’s a woman who’s trying to cope with the demands of fractious elderly parents and her daughter and work and juggling and just trying to keep on top of it all.

Zibby: I have to say, we were just talking about another book about divorce before we started, but in terms of divorce, this is pretty mean. This is aggressive treatment. I feel like my heart broke when Nish was at the divorce lawyer trying to make sense of how unfair the treatment was from this —

Jojo: — I had a couple of dinners with a very serious divorce lawyer over here. She told me the many ways in which very wealthy people basically divorce, usually, the wife and the games that they play. It was horrifying. The stories I heard — what I’ve actually written is not as bad as some of the things she told me because I thought you would consider them unbelievable. For example, in one case, a man had brought in his wife of thirty-five years and got her to agree to a prenup, or a kind of post-nup prenup, in which she agreed, if they ever split up, to receive a kilo bag of sugar. She agreed.

Zibby: What?

Jojo: Yeah. You’re just thinking, what is the thinking here? The divorce lawyer said, “I knew what was probably going to happen down the line, but if this woman agrees to it, all I can do is advise her. I can’t stop him doing it.” And stories of men who, if they lose what they consider to be a hefty amount, they pursue it through the courts globally until nobody has any money left because they just cannot be seen to lose.

Zibby: Even his own money? He’d be willing to go bankrupt just to —

Jojo: — Yeah, because a lot of these high-net-worth men especially, it’s about winning and losing. Their whole lives are about winning and losing. They cannot bear to be seen to lose. Carl Cantor, my male lead in this story, is one of those guys.

Zibby: Wow, rather unsavory.

Jojo: Yes. Everybody else is pretty nuanced, but he’s just an out-and-out bad guy. The thing is, I had so many of these stories. My editor said to me at one point, “Is he just too bad?” I said, “Honestly, compared to the stories I’ve heard, not really.”

Zibby: Gosh. Is that where the idea even came from, or was that research that you did once you had the idea for the story?

Jojo: No, that was research. The idea originally came from a short story I wrote about fifteen years ago just about a rather downtrodden woman picking up the wrong gym bag and how it changed her day. I’d been asked about this story in Hollywood a few times by different production companies who wanted to know if I could do anything with that story because it just seemed to be something that appealed to people. I could never see it. Then a couple of years ago, I woke up thinking about that story. I thought, what happened to the woman whose bag was taken, the woman who owned the fancy shoes? As soon as I saw it as a story of two women whose lives intersect, I saw it like Vanity Fair or — have you seen the film Desperately Seeking Susan, Madonna’s first film?

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, yes, one of my favorites.

Jojo: Mine too. I just watched it again the other night. It was so good. I just wanted it to be a story of ups and downs and crisscrosses and much more of a farce than my normal books.

Zibby: That’s so funny. I remember my grandparents didn’t want to let me see that movie in the theater. I was staying with them for the weekend when it came out. I was like, “No, it is so important. I have to see Madonna’s movie. This is amazing. It’s her acting debut.” I remember it like it was yesterday. Crazy. So it came from a short story. Wait, but go back to what you said originally, which is, you took this three-and-a-half-year break off. What was that about?

Jojo: I have worked around the clock for about ten years, which I have loved. Ever since the success of Me Before You, I kind of yes to almost everything I was offered, partly because I had been an unsuccessful novelist for ten years before that. My books got published, but I never once charted. I never made it into the best-sellers lists. When you finally get the big one, if you’re lucky enough to get the big one, I just felt obliged to work harder and capitalize on that. I did that for about eight, nine years. Because I started working in movies as well, I would start work writing books early in the morning. Then often, I would hit LA time at my teatime. Then I would work into the evening. I was touring a lot, especially in the States, A, because I love it, but B, because it’s important. It builds your readership if you actually meet people. I lost track of my work-life balance pretty spectacularly. I hit a number of things in my personal life. My marriage of twenty-two years started to fall apart. My mother was very ill and diagnosed with a terminal illness. Two of my kids were leaving home. Suddenly, I just thought, I can’t keep on at this pace. I can’t manage everything. Typical forty-something woman at the time just trying to juggle everything and realizing that it was starting to crumble around me, so I gave myself a year’s sabbatical. I decided that I would take 2020 off and see my friends and travel and regain a work-life balance. Then we had a pandemic. Basically, in that one year, I got divorced, my mom died, and we had a pandemic. I didn’t work for a year, but it was not for the slightly joyful reasons that I’d planned. It was just really a time of taking stock and getting through and looking after my family.

Zibby: I’m so sorry about your loss. Coming back to it, do you have this renewed energy like you hoped, or are you grudgingly getting back, like, “Okay, I have to go do this”?

Jojo: I do now, but I definitely needed a year away from everything. I know some writers — I’m friends with Jodi Picoult. During the pandemic, she was prolific. We would speak by email. She’d have written another book. What is going on? I had to just take the time. My brain was like cotton wool in that year. I just couldn’t do it. What’s been lovely is once I realized what I wanted to write, which was something lighter than normal — I’m known for someone who makes people cry. What I found during that period was I couldn’t read or watch anything dark. I needed rom-coms. I needed joy. I needed light. I needed laugher. As soon as I realized that was what I wanted to write, it was fine. It was fun. It felt like rediscovering a part of myself just to get back into it. If anything — today, I’ve actually been having a conversation with my agent about the fact that now I’ve got my appetite back. Things are coming in. I have to be careful not to overcommit again because I can see it all starting to creep up again. Now I’m making sure that in my working day, I take an hour and a half out in the morning to walk my dogs, that I maybe meet some friends for coffee or get a massage, actual self-care, which I think it’s really easy to forget when you’re a mom or when you’re of certain years and you’re trying to take care of a lot of people.

Zibby: Do you wish that you hadn’t said yes to so much? Are you okay with how it all played out?

Jojo: No, I’m really okay with how it all played out. I wouldn’t wish that particular year on myself again.

Zibby: Right, but you know what I mean.

Jojo: No. I’ve ended up with a career that is so far beyond my own wildest imaginings that there is literally not a day that goes by where I don’t marvel at it. I’m grateful for it. I think by putting in the hours for those years and meeting people and doing the traveling, it’s enabled me to, perhaps, have a slightly healthier balance now but still get to do the thing that I love, which is writing.

Zibby: What about the balance with the film stuff? Are you still loving that? Is that not your true love? Are they co-loves?

Jojo: It’s a really lovely balance. From other writers I know who’ve been involved in adaptations, it is tricky. It’s much more about people and having to navigate an uncertain diplomatic process, whereas writing is so solitary. What I love about working in film or TV is that, actually, you’re not the only one problem-solving, which is really nice. Honestly, being on a set when your film is being made is about the most fun you can have in a professional career. It just is. I may have been lucky with the two that I’ve been involved with so far, but I absolutely loved it. I’m still friends with a lot of the people that I met then. At the same time, there comes a point where it gets political or it gets overwhelming or it’s just a lot. Then I quite like to be able to retreat back into my world where I can play master of the universe and move my lives around as I want. I’m the one who gets to say whether there’s a rain shower here or a romance there. I’m not dependent on a special effects department or whether the budget will allow it. I can just go crazy.

Zibby: The unlimited budgets of fiction writing, who knew it would be a huge perk? Wow, that’s so interesting. When you look forward and you want to make sure you keep everything in line, are you changing the — maybe you don’t have a plan. You don’t have to answer this. Is it the pace of how quickly you’re writing books? Are you slowing down the pace of writing? How are you thinking about the book production engine?

Jojo: There was a period where I did a book a year. There’s just no way on earth I could do that again now. I don’t know where I got the energy. I don’t know where I got the ideas. I think it will be at least eighteen months between books now. This has been three and a half years, which has felt quite strange. I’m quite glad to be back in it because like a lot of writers, I get a bit untethered if I’m not working. We process the world by writing it. If I’m not writing, I don’t know about you, I get a bit scratchy. I need to be doing. I probably have slowed down the pace a little. It’s just more about building in human stuff. I had a male friend, a director, once said to me, he said, “You’re a machine.” I was proud of that in quite an unhealthy way. I just felt like I had this work ethic, and I could do it. What the pandemic forced me to do was actually sit with my feelings instead of running away from them on another tour or burying them in work, which is what I think a lot of us do. Writers are especially bad at work-life balance because we love what we do, so we think, how can it be workaholism when we love what we’re doing? It doesn’t make any difference. You can still do too much. I hope that I get to write for the rest of my life. That would be my dream. I’m going to make sure from now on that I build in normal lunches. I never took lunch before. I just didn’t. I could never go and have dinner with a friend because I said no. I either have to be with my kids or I’m working. Now I’m building in all that other stuff. I love it. I do love it.

Zibby: Jojo, I feel like my husband talked to you before this podcast and told you to tell me all this stuff.

Jojo: Is this what you do?

Zibby: Yes. I’m like, I work all the time, but I love it. People say I’m like a machine. I do this and this and this. I’m either with my kids or I’m working. I say all these same things. It’s so crazy to hear you say it and that you’ve hit the end of this path and what the cost is. That’s why I was asking, would you do it any differently in the moment? Would you have slowed down?

Jojo: A friend once told me about five years ago, her life advice was, “If you’re a mother, you can only do one other thing well.” I really took that to heart, so I contracted out everything that I could. I had a cleaner. I stopped trying to be Nigella Lawson in the kitchen. I had a trainer once a week just to keep fit. Beyond that, I didn’t do anything other than the things that I had to do to stay functional. Now I don’t think that advice was wrong, but I think you can do one other thing well plus find some time for yourself. It creeps up on you. I’m just going to say to you, make sure you build in an hour of me time. Sorry, that’s such an awful expression, but an hour for yourself every day of lying on the carpet doing nothing, meditating, or watching a favorite TV show. Actually, I think it’s as good for your brain as sitting in front of your laptop. I really do. I think it’s going to help your writing.

Zibby: This is so crazy. This is not where I thought this podcast was going at all.

Jojo: Sorry, I’ve turned it into a kind of therapy session.

Zibby: No, it’s amazing. Turns out I’ve gotten therapy for myself. I did not even mean this. Thank you. I sincerely appreciate the advice. I feel like I’m going to listen to you more than I have anybody else.

Jojo: I don’t know. Who knows? The older I get, the more I realize I know nothing. I just know that doing it that way didn’t work in the long run. It worked in terms of giving me a career platform, but you cannot sustain that level of work. If you’re doing what I’m doing, I’m going to say, learn smarter than I did. Build in some other stuff now.

Zibby: Okay. I did take a walk today. I was like, wow, I haven’t walked in so long. I was looking around. I’m like, it’s really loud on the streets here in New York.

Jojo: Here’s a question, though. Did you then monitor your step count?

Zibby: Yes.

Jojo: Yes. This is what I mean. This stuff is so engrained. This is in the book. I just said, is it only women who are so deeply — it’s engrained in us to be useful or productive the whole time. I take a walk, but I can’t help noticing how many steps I’ve done in that walk. Therefore, it is contributing to whether my butt hangs around my knees or not. Just take the walk to be a walk, but it’s so hard to do. It’s so hard to do.

Zibby: I know. I was like, I just want to see how long it was. I just want to check the distance. It must have been five miles. Of course, it was 1.9. I was like, what? I feel like I was walking forever. I did run into a friend who was going through a hard time. I was like, maybe this is why the universe put me on this walk today, so I could give this girl a hug.

Jojo: It was. You were meant to be there. as a result of it, so there you go.

Zibby: Going back to you and your work and how you were known for so long as, as you said, someone who makes people cry, what is that about? What is that about in your work?

Jojo: I don’t know. I think writers kind of have a layer of skin missing, generally. I think we’re a bit more porous than a lot of the general population. For me to write something, I have to feel it. What I discovered about Me Before You was that if I cried when I was writing something or laughed at my own jokes, then the reader was likely to as well. That was the first book I introduced real humor and real grief into. I wondered — I don’t know if it’s coincidence, but that was the book that took off after eight books beforehand. After that, I wanted to put more emotion in. When I read a book, if someone can make me feel something — I can admire amazing writing with a kind of analytical sense. I can read it and think, that’s a really beautifully crafted sentence, but if someone can make me laugh or cry — I remember reading Katherine Heiny’s Standard Deviation on a plane and laughing so hard that my kids were just mortified. I couldn’t stop. I had tears coming out of my eyes. She’s always been a favorite author of mine since because if someone can make me experience that level of emotion, I don’t know if it’s catharsis or what, but I’m in. I’m just in.

Zibby: I’m the same way. I just cried at a book yesterday. Now of course, I can’t even remember. I told whoever it was. I was like, “Your book made me cry. I haven’t cried in a while, so I know it was good.”

Jojo: The last book I cried at was a book I totally didn’t expect to love, which was Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, which is about gaming. It’s about computer game creation. Have you read it?

Zibby: I didn’t finish it, but I read most of it.

Jojo: Then you won’t know the chapter that I mean. There is a chapter really near the end where I sobbed for about an hour. I absolutely didn’t expect to. It was so original and clever. It was unexpected. I’ve recommended that book everywhere since as a result of that.

Zibby: It was Priscilla Gilman’s memoir, The Critic’s Daughter. That’s what I cried at. She had a little piece of Charlotte’s Web.

Jojo: That made me cry as a child.

Zibby: It always makes me cry. It was so perfectly timed in her story of losing her dad.

Jojo: Oh, my goodness. I don’t know if I’m ready to read that.

Zibby: It’s good. It’s interesting. When you wrote the first eight books and none of them hit the list — I’m sure they were still enough to keep you going and all of that stuff. Did you ever want to not do it? Did you ever just get so frustrated? Why is it not hitting? What am I doing? How did you keep going? How did you conceive of all that at that time?

Jojo: It was frustrating because every book you write, as you know, you put your heart and soul into. It’s impossible to write a half-hearted book. Maybe some people do, but I don’t know any. You put a year, two years of work into this thing. Then the cover wouldn’t be right. Something else would come out at the same time that just steamrolled everything. I never gave up hope. My agent was always a great believer in me. She kept saying, “We’ve just got to find the tipping point.” I’m not sure I believed her. My expectations had gone down and down and down to the point where I just wanted to be able to support my family until they were grown up — that was it — by writing. I wasn’t even sure I was going to be able to do that. I definitely have a streak of bloody-mindedness in me, or determination. I will keep doing something unless someone gives me a cast-iron reason why I shouldn’t do it. I tell my kids that my whole career has been built on resilience because I wrote three books before I got one published and eight books before I had a best-seller. I just think in publishing, it’s so strange as well. It’s so much about timing. It’s about luck. It’s about where your cover hits. It’s about whether one review suddenly makes something happen. I know so many writers who are great who have never had that moment. Sometimes the stars align. Sometimes they don’t. I can’t not write. That’s the best way I can describe it. It’s like I said to you, it’s how I translate the world. Even if I couldn’t get paid for it, I would still be doing it and putting them out on the internet. Not that I want you to tell my publishers that.

Zibby: Excellent. You have this free thing on the side with a pseudonym or something. You’re like, I’m just putting these little stories. No.

Jojo: Actually, that was the only thing I did in the pandemic when I couldn’t write. I did write in the depths of the loneliest lockdown. I wrote a short story called “Lou in Lockdown” where I revisited Louisa Clark from Me Before You. We put that out for free just to cheer people up. That felt like a lovely thing to do because it gave people who were stuck at home just a little boost in a day. That gave me such lovely feedback that it helped remind me why I do the thing I do. The strange thing over the last few years is not meeting readers. It’s when you meet readers again that you realize that people are sometimes actually affected by what you do. It has resonance for them. That’s so important if you spent ninety percent of your working life alone.

Zibby: Did you always know you wanted to be a writer from when you were little? No?

Jojo: No, I didn’t know any writers. My parents were in the arts, but they were visual artists. It was only when I’d been a journalist for five, six years that I started to think, maybe I have a voice, and started just trying. I think the first three books were really to see if I could get to the end of something and then to try and improve. I taught myself about pace and character and building a world. Again, now I look back and I think, how did I have the energy? I was doing twelve-hour shifts at the newsroom and then writing when I came home. Some of that was with a baby. Now I’m asleep on the sofa at half past nine.

Zibby: Do you ever read to escape? You must build that in, but you didn’t mention. Are you a big reader? Would you prefer to get away from the whole genre when you’re not writing?

Jojo: No, I love reading. My big love at the moment, though, is audiobooks because I do this dog walk every day, at least an hour and a half. I have spent a lot of time driving. I listen because I find it rests my brain in a way that listening to music or listening to the radio just doesn’t. Because I am now the person who falls asleep drooling on the sofa at nine thirty, if I wait to read in bed at night, I do that thing of reading a chapter and then forgetting what I’ve read by the next night. There’s such talented readers out there now for audiobooks. At least I can feel like I’m vaguely keeping up with what’s going on in literature if I keep listening.

Zibby: Then you can’t read any of the galleys.

Jojo: No. I struggle to read galleys, partly just because when I’m writing, I can’t have anybody else’s voice in my head. If it’s really good, then either I’ll just get intimidated and want to stop or their voice might be really strong and start influencing my voice. I only have so much energy. It’s mostly audio at the moment.

Zibby: Is there anything related to your parenting through all this or what kids have gleaned from watching you that you’re — just any advice or anything related to that, how they’ve internalized things or the work ethic or the writing?

Jojo: They’ve all seen what has happened because they saw me when I was unsuccessful. Now they see me when I’m more successful. I think if they had a complaint, given that I was home a lot, which is lovely for them — if I’d had an office job, I might have been gone for fourteen hours a day. I was present, but I was not always present. When you’re a writer, especially once you get halfway through a book, half your brain is always processing, what’s my character doing here? How am I going to unknot that plot problem? I remember being told by one of them, “Mom, be present,” and having to switch my attention back to them. It’s been a lovely job to have with children because if they’re sick, you can stay up with them all night and still squeeze in a thousand words somehow. I think they didn’t love me touring a lot. I don’t blame them, but it was necessary. Now they have benefited because I’ve been able to pay their college fees and things like that. I think now, they really appreciate it. When they were younger, I think they found it harder. I never put them in a book. That’s the key. Never put anything to do with your kids in a book. I’ve seen a couple of authors over here do that. It has been catastrophic for their families. I would never write anything that resembled a family member. It’s not worth it.

Zibby: Good point, very good. I wrote this one draft of a novel. My husband said, “What did you do with the mom character?” I was like, “I had the mom be dead because I just couldn’t worry about offending my mom in any way.”

Jojo: Do you know something? This is a beef of mine. In fiction, seventy percent of moms, I swear, end up dead in the first chapter. Every fairy tale, dead mom. The Goldfinch, dead mom. There’s so many where we have to get rid of the mom at the beginning so that we can just get on with the story. One of the things I really wanted to do with this book was to write a story between mothers and children where it was just functional, where they loved each other. It was complicated, but nobody died. Keep the mothers alive.

Zibby: Sorry, we barely talked about your book. Jojo, this was amazing. Thank you so much. Everybody, Someone Else’s Shoes, out now. Check it out. Thank you so much for all the advice and wisdom.

Jojo: Thank you so much for having me, Zibby. Take care.

Zibby: Thanks. Buh-bye.


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