You’ve just had your first number one, have the last two years been a whirlwind?
Yes, my feet haven’t touched the ground. I got the chance to write the screenplay for Me Before You and last year I did four US tours alone, as well as writing The One Plus One (out now). Balancing that with three children was quite a hard a task, but having been a mid-list author for so long, you don’t mess around when opportunity knocks; you really have to take the chance.
I wrote three books before I got one published and my publishing career has been slightly chequered. One of the things I’ve learnt to do over the past few years is to take a step back and ask: “Is this working?” I have writer friends who just can’t do that, who I see writing in the same vein even though they are not getting the results they want, or sticking with the same agent or the same publisher. Actually, sometimes you have to be brave enough to cut some strings - whether it is what you want to do or who you want to work with.
Moving to (publisher) Penguin changed my life, but it was a big risk. I went to Penguin on a fraction of the money I had been on at Hodder, a terrifying fraction, but things couldn’t have continued as they were. And I would rather take a gamble and go all guns blazing, writing the things I wanted to write rather than just fizzling out. Madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results and that was what I would have been doing. But it is a terrifying thing to do and for me I’m lucky that it paid off, but I’m conscious that luck had something to do with it.
Was there any pressure writing The One Plus One after the success of Me Before You?
The good thing about writing eight books before Me Before You was that I can really just do my thing. I work from the basis that, as a writer, I am really lucky to have had a global hit, and if that never happens again, I’m ok with that. I’ve had it once and that is amazing. It is so far beyond the realms of what I ever expected, that anything that happens post-that is fine. I had already written half of The Girl You Left Behind before Me Before You even came out, so that took some of the pressure off, but when we hit 100,000 sales I was relieved because you don’t want to feel you only have one book in you. Although I wouldn’t necessarily choose to have eight books that didn’t sell that well, I’m kind of glad they didn’t in a way.
Did you feel when you were writing Me Before You that you had learnt your craft a bit more as a writer?
I was conscious of pushing myself a little bit harder. It is really easy if you’re not Donna Tartt writing one book every seven years to fall into patterns with your writing, but I have such a horror of the formulaic. I question myself all the time to see if I am doing the easy thing. I don’t want anyone to read one of my books and feel short-changed, that worries me more than bad sales.
Also, I’m a strong believer that you should write the book that is at the front of your head, even if it is not a topic that is particularly fashionable or attractive. You just have to trust that the story is strong enough to see it through. I sort of just knew with Me Before You that I could make that story work. Even if all I did was put it out as a free e-book, I just had to do it. Personally I would rather sink than write to a formula, but then everyone has bills to pay.
Do you have a group of early readers you show your work to?
It used to be my husband, but he would always speak as he finds and then I would get terribly upset for two days, so it didn’t quite work. But, the person that has helped me the most recently is (the author) Lisa Jewel. We have problem-solving sessions and I respect her so much as a storyteller. You need someone who is going to give you tough advice without crushing you.
Tell us more about writing the screenplay for Me Before You.
I can’t even convey to you how much my life has changed in two years. Writing the screenplay myself was a brand new thing. It’s a whole new and seductive world. It was a very hard and steep learning curve but I really enjoyed it. I’m a writer who writes visually anyway, so I’ve already had a couple of ideas of other screenplays, but my biggest problem at the moment is time.