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JoJo Moyes: Discussion on The Giver of Stars

JoJo Moyes came to Louisville on October 12, 2019, to discuss her latest release, The Giver of Stars, a gorgeous novel about the horseback riding librarians who serviced the destitute and reclusive areas in Eastern Kentucky. This may sound like a familiar topic, as local Kentucky author Kim Michele Richardson published a novel back in May, 2019 on the same topic. Both women, fascinated by the history that surfaced about these courageous librarians and Kentucky’s colorful history, decided to tackle the subject. Invited by the The Louisville Women’s Club in conjunction with Carmichael’s Bookstore, moderator Emily Bingham discussed the details of the novel with Moyes.

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Society frames women as competitors rather than champions of one another and this isn’t the experience of most of the women I know. The Giver of Stars aims to celebrate these relationships.

As a member in the audience, I was hanging on every word. I loved Book Woman, so I was interested to see what Moyes thought about the controversy, and was pleased at how professionally (and realistically, in my opinion) she addressed the drama. As she continued with her discussion, I found myself adoring the writer as much as I’ve adored her novels. I have just finished reading The Giver of Stars as I write this post, and I’m eager for you all to read about the wonderful characters she introduced and discussed.

Doing my best and most honest transcription, here are most of the questions and answers from Bingham and Moyes. I have changed the order of the questions asked, so that it flows a little better as the information is revealed.

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1. Can you talk a little bit about the genesis of pack horse librarians? 

Sure, so they came about actually in the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which was a New Deal economic assistance work program that FDR and his administration cooked up to heal with the crisis after the Great Depression. It impacted over 100,000 families in a seven to eight year period, and you know, had a pretty good reach for a bunch of women on horseback. It came about as I understand it because Roosevelt was concerned that people spent so much time and energy staying alive during the depression that they forgot to, as Eleanor put it, “feed their minds”.

Roosevelt was afraid that without tracts of knowledge, rural families especially remote communities who were prey to snake oil salesmen and religious fundamentalism, and people who believed facts were facts. And I thought, I can’t possibly understand how this could happen today {Audience titters and laughs} and then when I read more about these women and the fact that there was some resistance at first, as there were families who thought you should only read the Bible, they felt the women’s place was solely in the home and that they shouldn’t be sitting around reading, that they should only be doing actual work. In an innate way, I certainly felt that with women’s rights being pushed back against, that also resonated with me. It felt like a modern story to me, and we just keep hearing it.

2. Were they {the packhorse librarians} all women? Was there a reason for that?

Most of them were, because I think the men were involved in the work. But there was also an article I found that suggests that in general it was felt that they were a less intimidating presence to go into people’s homes. These were families who were known to the communities, and that they would be more likely to let them in.

3. How did you handle the stereotypes and the challenges of what many think of when they discuss Appalachia America? Can you speak on the power dynamics of a region that has been such a subject to detraction and exploitation, and economic inequality, and how those are themes or pieces of your story?

Especially as an outsider, the first thing I was concerned about was not to contribute to the stereotype. I didn’t even want to think of that as a popular view because you know, we were seeing TV programs with hillbillies and moonshine and the rest of it. Of course when you actually visit somewhere, everything is more than you guessed.

And I have to say, when I came to do my research the first time, I googled Beattyville, and the first article that comes up is article newspaper read of something called “Beattyville: The Town Abandoned By America’s Economy Swallowed By Drugs” and my husband was like, and you’re still going there? And of course I get there and it’s just a perfectly nice town with some perfectly nice people and they’re already pissed off that every time a reporter comes there, they use that and recycle it and use the same film. The joy of staying at a bed and breakfast communal dinner table and breakfast table is that you get to hear and awful lot of opinions, and one of the first things I learned was that I did not want to contribute to that stereotype, and in fact, Barbara will tell you that I sent the manuscript to her before I sent it to my editor because I knew she would tell me if she thought that I had fallen into that trap. And, she doesn’t mince her words. She gave me some linguistic pointers but she felt that it was a respectful and nuanced portrayal. Yes, there is some impropriety and some violence in this book but there is also people who I was inspired about by the people I read about, who were inspired by books and loved books and were desperate to read.

And as I said, these librarians were eventually beloved by the community. Children would follow them down the road begging for books. There was an appetite for reading materials, and it’s what I wanted to portray more than anything else.

4. What surprised you most about coming here to Kentucky?

Oh gosh, so many things. I can’t narrow it down to one thing.

One is the beauty of the place, it just, it’s become my happy place. You know when you’re having a bad day, and you have to picture yourself somewhere, I go to the bed and breakfast where I stayed. I always ask them to leave me space to come back to. There’s just something about dawn with all the birds and the cacophony of sounds, just that peace that comes with no digital distraction, it just…something in my soul just eases. And I’m not one of those particularly spiritual woo-woo types but something speaks to me here, and I’ve never had it anywhere else- and I’ve traveled the whole world, pretty much.

Also, the charm of the people. I didn’t realize that Kentucky people have storytelling in their DNA. I’ve heard and laughed at more stories in Kentucky than I have… {Audience giggles} and this is one gig where I’m not going to try my Kentucky accent {Audience laughs}, but I have entertained a lot of people in England, Scotland, and other parts of the States with my Kentucky accent, trying to reproduce some of the funny stories I’ve heard at the table- my favorite one being about the dead deer at the bus stop. {At this point, Moyes asks the audience if they want to hear the story, and if she should do her accent- to unanimous agreement- and then makes us promise not to record it! But I’ll tell you the gist of the story if you ask in the comments!}

When on a return trip to Kentucky, my friend that I was traveling with told me that I couldn’t stop beaming as soon as we landed. It was like, Ah, I’m here again.

5. Do you have a signature alcoholic drink? {Thank you, KY Bourbon fans, for asking this important question…}

It depends on what you’re asking- if you mean in reference to Kentucky or this book, I’m not much of a bourbon fan, but I really like Apple Pie Moonshine! {Audience laughs appreciatively} The person who introduced it to me is actually sitting here in the front row! The first time I drank it, my pulse raced for about 2 hours but it is delicious and I managed my proudest moment, which was I came with my friend to one of my {Kentucky} visits and bought a bottle of whiskey for my husband and two bottles of moonshine and she bought some for herself, and she got hers confiscated in the airport and I didn’t! {Audience laughs} And so now we’ll occasionally drink it at home but often we use it as a base for cocktails or sauces, but yeah I learned a little goes a long way.

6. Can you share with us an experience or archival find that really ended up shaping or changing the storyline of this novel?

Well, I found this article in the Smithsonian magazine which, might make me a nerd but I thought was quite beautiful, back in 2013, which was about the packhorse librarians of Kentucky. It was illustrated by these amazing black and white pictures of these young women, and some were all wrapped up in clothes, hats, and heavy coats, and taking packs of books on their horses. And these pictures were set against this vast, mountainous, and incredibly intimidating, to me, backdrop. And every now and then you get a story you just know in your bones that you want to write, and basically it contained all my favorite things, which were female friendship and solidarity, teamwork, horses- I’m kind of nuts about horses, have been since I was a kid- and wild country.

So, within a couple of months I booked my flights out here because I had kind of narrowed down my research to an area that you know, I found fit. I found Beattyville and the area around the Red River Gorge as a hub of activity, and I thought I can’t possibly write about this area and write about the experience of the senses, which is what this would be, without actually experiencing it. So, I knew nothing about Kentucky, apart from the fried chicken and Mitch McConnell {Audience laughs and titters} so I googled 5-star hotels within 50 miles of Beattyville and Google went, nah. {Audience laughs}. So then I googled 4-star hotels and got the same results. So I contacted the Kentucky tourist board and they told me about a bed and breakfast that I should try. And you asked me if there was a kind of archive that was really my main spur or muse for this book, and it was actually this bed and breakfast- and the owner is here today, right there! {Audience applauds and cheers}

And so I got to stay in a holler, and gosh even saying that word sounds peculiar, but that was the place that really infused the book. I mean, I did my research as well but I don’t think you could write about Kentucky without hearing the language spoken, listening to the stories, and just observing the life here.

img_92377. I think that we’re fortunate in that this novel’s subject of the pack horse librarians has captured the attention of a Kentucky author also, named Kim Michele Richardson. She’s published a book in May called The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, also based on this history. The book has gotten great response and I know it is tricky when you come across a topic as exciting as this and you hear at some point someone else might be writing about it. I just wondered, how you were handling that or what were your thoughts?

Well actually, there were two other books released earlier this year as well- there’s one called something like “Between the Blue and Green” and I don’t remember the exact name of other. You know, as soon as I saw this topic, I knew. And if I felt like that about it, other writers were going to feel that way about it. I remember messaging my editor a couple months later because George Takei, he used to be in Star Trek and I promise there’s a link here- he has 10 million followers on Facebook, and he made a little film about the horseback librarians, and I looked at it as the views went up and went NOOO! {Audience laughs} Because 8 million people saw it. So I was like okay, I know I’m not going to be the only person to write about this. Here’s the thing: you know, it’s a really good topic, and it’s perfect for everybody, and funny enough, when I wrote Me Before You, about three other books and films came out around the same time about the right to die. And then another book I wrote about ten year ago, which has a main plot-line about memory loss, is about a woman who wakes up and doesn’t understand where she’s been her whole life, and there were several other books that came out around the same time. It’s kind of zeitgeisty. And if I saw the other bottom lines and parallels of the story, I’m pretty sure that other writers did too. I think we all got very different takes on it, and it’s for everybody.

8. In your book, you talk about how many of these librarians were women, riding alone into the hills spending a great deal of time alone. We look back at that kind of solitude with a certain kind of awe…Why?

Right, I think that’s one of the things that appealed to me most. We live in an era where we have never been more observed. I mean, there are security cameras everywhere, you can’t spend money without leaving a trail, it’s almost impossible to be unobserved now. As women, I think we grow up almost unconsciously monitoring ourselves all the time- how we look, how we behave, how we talk to people, how we are acceptable. It’s just a question of how are we taught, to ask in a way that we’re almost not aware of. Margery makes a point that up in the mountains, it’s just you and the eyes of God. Nobody sees you and you get to look outward, rather than worrying about how you feel about you. It’s quite a radical thought, to stop worrying about how you look to everybody else and just think about what you are looking at. That’s something that, I have a 21-year-old daughter and that’s something I try to tell her. You know, are they really looking at you or are they worrying about themselves? Look outwards! What’s the thing that’s interesting?

9. You’ve gone from journalism to being a fiction writer. What are some of the challenges involved in writing fiction as compared to what you were doing earlier in your career?

Um, well the answer is very badly and very slowly. I wrote three books while I was a journalist before I got one published, and then I wrote eight books before I had a bestseller. So I am some way from being an overnight success, and I can’t say that I’m a huge recommendation in terms of switching from journalism to books.

But, I will say that journalism gave me the most almighty help in writing fiction in that it helps you research stuff really quickly. It means that editors have a certain amount of confidence that you can say the things you’re promising to say, delivering content on time. Most importantly, journalism teaches you to see stories everywhere, and to listen, which is a surprisingly rare skill.

One of the things we used to get told to do when we were in training for journalism, we used to have a little book of maps of a town, and we had a page ripped out from it, and they’d say, go out to that town for a day and come back with two stories from your page. And so you’d end up looking at houses and cars for hours going, why is that house’s curtains drawn, why has that car got three tires let down, what is this poster of a missing cat, you know… we’d stop to actually see the world in a different way, and I feel like because of that training, as I spent ten years doing that, I always have ideas stacked like planes waiting to land. Some of them are great, some of them are terrible, but I’m never short of things to write about.

In terms of the writing, mostly my books are almost too bold, because when you’re a journalist, you’re told again and again to get on with the story, don’t dress it up, don’t make it fancy, just tell the story. I’ll say this is the first book where I allowed myself to let go of that and tried to adopt a more lyrical and ornate way of speaking that I heard in that area, because it’s a very distinctive tone. It wouldn’t have suited say, the same voice I used in the Me Before You trilogy, it wouldn’t have worked. So that was fun, that was really fun, and I don’t know what I’m going to do next.

10. What are the struggles with writing historical fiction? What do you do when you just can’t make something historically accurate for the sake of the fiction?

Well, in my introduction I sort of touched on two things from this book, which would be Alice and Sophia. Everything else I think I managed to tie in to something that happened.

The floods were a big thing, which were huge and terrible and the pictures were just extraordinary as well. I was looking out my hotel window today trying to imagine what it must have been like. And so, the timeline for when the floods happen, the whole plot is built around getting that timing to happen. The trial that happens at the near end of the book, I based the detail from that on a genuine trial called the Trial of Henry Dearheart who murdered his fiance in the 1930s- he shot her.

There is a fantastic resource called JSTOR, which is an academic resource you can sign up for which has neat papers of pretty much anything, so if you want to know anything about prison conditions for women in Kentucky in the 1930s if they were pregnant, it probably will find you something! I utilized it like mad. And so it has these fantastic resources about a murder trial in the kind of small town I needed to do it in, and it gave me really lovely details like the women would be excused from the court five minutes before the men so that they could prepare them lunch {Audience titters}…. yeah… and they’d go home to prepare lunch so that when the men came out of court, lunch was ready. And you know, these were just observers, they weren’t just the judge or court officials, so it was nice they got their lunch. {Audience titters at the sarcasm} The mixed jail conditions and complete variations of service, that was all from those papers. Also people would try to save their places in the courthouse by lowering baskets to get their food up and down so they didn’t lose their places. All those details are what I think brings historical fiction to life.

For me, the other thing I do a lot is buy newspapers and magazines from the time period off Ebay, and literally plaster my walls with them. So the extracts at the beginning of some of these chapters that I’ve pulled out from “The Furrow” or “Woman’s Home Companion” or various other things. And what these women’s magazines give you is a really good idea of the occupations of the time. I discovered in the 1930s that women were obsessed with the softness or whiteness of their hands, mostly because they were always cleaning or scrubbing. So you would have these adverts of a slightly disappointed man coming in and going,’Darling, what’s happened to your hands?’, looking horrified! And also constipation, they were obsessed with constipation! {Audience laughs} But to me it’s really interesting because you get the names and the language, but you also get their occupations.

11. Do you have a favorite book that you have written, one that really tugs at you more than others?

img_8543It’s this one {The Giver of Stars}. I wrote this book…ah…most books are like pulling teeth, it’s you know, you have a whole love hate relationship with the process, where I hate it in the beginning, despair in the middle, love the ending, and then I’m heartbroken at the very end. I always feel like editing it is sort of God’s way of wanting them out of the house. But, I loved every minute of writing this book, I don’t know, whether it was writing in a new voice, or Kentucky, or the women I was writing about, or the fact that it was inspired by a true story…that voice just gave it a little extra something because you imagine your way in, imagine what it was like.

I just loved writing this, and I wrote during the weekend and I just resented any day that I wasn’t writing it. That is so rare for me, and the only other time that has happened for me was when I was writing Me Before You. And even in that case, it wasn’t an exciting subject matter, it was sad. The saddest thing about this book is that I’m done writing it, and I’d like to write a sequel or prequel or something to get back to it. In fact, when I first saw this story I thought, this would make a fantastic TV series. So I met with Sony Tri-Star, and I said I really want to do an updated Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, and I gave this whole spiel, showed the lady the pictures and she just went, ‘Yeah…’ and so I said you know what, I’m going to write it as a book and we’ll see what happens. I think they’re amazing, these women.

12. Who was your favorite character {in The Giver of Stars}?

Oh, it was Margery. Very few people have read this book, but I’ll tell you, she is one badass librarian. And I don’t get to say badass a lot {Audience titters}, and I was talking about her to the producers the other day and they got excited and started saying badass a lot too! {Audience laughs} It was so much fun! Sorry I’m digressing but she is one of the women that I kind of wish I was more like. She generally doesn’t give a hoot what anyone thinks of her and I think that is such a tough task, and I’m fifty, and still learning it. She’s resourceful and determined, kind, but she also discovers she needs other people, which is again, one of the important things in this book. She was so fun to write.

13. How did you name your characters, and how do they come to you as a character?

I’ve written fifteen books and I’ve kind of run out of names! {Audience giggles} So I decided to just go through my bookshelf and try to find names I haven’t used. But the more time I spent writing and through research and being in that part of Kentucky… the first time I came up from Nashville and drove through Knoxville, and crossed state lines, I don’t think I’ve ever felt more alien anywhere. I’ve been in many, many states and traveled extensively, and I suddenly thought, if I’m writing about this place from the point of someone who knows it really really well, it has to come from Margery, her family grew up in these hills and she knows everything there is to know about the area. It’s so interesting to see somewhere through the conflicting view point of someone who is alien. A lot of my books are about outsiders, about how communities react- especially in close-knit communities where someone is considered quite foreign or alien. With Alice, I was able to create a little tension with someone not being from the area, but also to see this landscape the way that you know, you all as locals see it.

14. What is your writing process, and has it changed over the course of your writing career?

Yeah… I have three kids and a lot of animals so basically having any sort of routine is shoved out the window! You know, someone gets sick or someone needs a vet or something peed in the house {Audience titters}, you know it’s always something. I used to get up really early, like half five, six and start work immediately to try to get a couple hundred words done before breakfast, and then my kids got a new school bus which started at 7:15, so that went out the window. So now, I don’t know, I think the joy of being an ex-journalist is that I don’t need a muse, I don’t need candles or wafty music. I can sit at my work station with my headphones on and… actually, what I do need is my quite expensive Bose noise cancelling headphones, and even when the battery wears out I still wear them because they keep people from talking to me {Audience giggles}. I just listen to silence or music and I can zone out and work pretty much wherever I can.

15. What role did the animals play in the novel?

The librarians often rented the horses from local people, and they couldn’t have done the job without them. Often they would lead the horse if the track became particularly impassable {while mounted} as those mountains were, and they would also tie the horse up and do the last rounds on foot, which again I think is kind of extraordinary. Often you would find stories of elderly women and men trekking that last few miles to meet the librarians as well because they appreciated them and they didn’t want to miss them or any chance of missing their books. It’s easy for us to forget, in our age of nonstop access, the hunger for books, reading, and information.

img_855016. The Louisville library system is deeply underfunded, and compared to other library systems, you could say chronically underfunded. There seems to be a general lack of appreciation for what the spaces really can mean for a community. I’m wondering, do you still go to libraries yourself?

Yeah, I do, but mostly to talk at people now. {Audience giggles} But this book is a love letter to libraries and librarians, because as you know, in England, they’re trying to make librarians volunteers because, you know, there’s absolutely no skill involved {said with heavy sarcasm}. I’d like to make those politicians get on a mule and ride a thousand miles a week, that would be fun! {Audience laughs and agrees}

17. Would you riff a little about your own experience with libraries and the technological resources now available at your fingertips (Google, JSTOR, etc) and how it all influences your writing?

Well I was raised in a library. I had bookish parents who had no money, and so my mom used to take me every week to our local library. You were allowed four books, and oh the agonies of trying to work out which books to choose each week, because I was always a really speedy reader. So I would debate, do I go for width or do I go for the thing I really want? It was just really hard!

But mom would let me also buy comic books, because she didn’t care what I read as long as I read, because it still warped into the same love for narrative and information about our world. And it meant that this kid from Hackney got to go to a new place every single week. I was a princess in Russia, I was a cowgirl in Wyoming, you know, there’s so many places you could go. I was a proper book worm because we didn’t have much TV where I grew up, so I just read all the time.

What I noticed in England is that the government, without getting too political, but what they do is cut the resources to the libraries and then when people go to a library and they say, ‘oh I want so and so book’, and the librarians say ‘you’ll be this number on the wait list because we only have two copies’, so then the person will go buy it online or retail, and then the libraries are told they don’t have the same footfall they used to… it’s a vicious cycle. I keep saying to people, just use your library, just to keep your library going, go in and get something because it’s really important just to do the footfall. They’re one of the only resources we have left where information and entertainment are both free. If you don’t have literacy, you have nothing. You lack the earliest building blocks for success and right to life.

Somebody pointed out that a lot of my books have libraries in them, and Still Me, my last book, has a library in Washington Heights as a key block feature, and I visited a library that the one in the book was based off. One of my memories of visiting that library was not just of the security guards they had to have because it was such a diverse area and they were trying to protect the people in there, but of an elderly woman who came up the stairs as I was leaving, whose clothes has actually ragged, just holes hanging off, but she had her books, that she was bringing back to get some more, and that library was obviously a space that meant more to her than anything. It was a warm space in winter and a cool place in summer, a place where young people were going to learn computer skills and job skills, and being paid to teach other kids… you know it was just a community hub. I am so afraid that in my country, we’re losing this, that it’s a less emotive thing to cut than hospitals or other resources, you know, oh we’ll slice away at this library. It’s so short sighted and really wrong.

18. Horses and mules play a huge part in this novel, and have made appearances in your other novels as well. What is your experience with horses, and how did that impact this book?

Immediately in my head, or in a past life, I would have been one of these librarian ladies, riding a mule 100 miles a week. I was the horse obsessive child except I grew up in a city, London, with two artistic, hippie-ish parents who weren’t remotely interested in horses. So when I was fourteen, I had a series of cleaning jobs, and I bought myself a horse without telling them! {Audience laughs} I came home and told them, and they thought I was joking at first, and then they made like ‘well you can jolly-well go unbuy him then’! Only they couldn’t make me because I had raised the money myself.

I kept him under a railway arch in town, and I didn’t think this was unusual until someone told me ‘you did what?!’ and I explained the stables were under a railway arch, and then they were like oh. In London, we still had a bunch of tiny old Victorian stable yards with cobblestones, and now they’re all luxury apartments, but at the time it was a tough place to have a horse, and as a London child I felt under threat a lot because the area where I grew up, Hackney, was not a nice area- it’s jolly now but in the ’80s it wasn’t fun- but on a horse, I felt invincible because nobody would come up to me. So I just spent my entire teenage years trotting around London.

Now, I still have horses, two rescues and my daughter’s horse while she’s off at college. He’s a thug, but I still love him.

19. What was your first horse’s name?

Bombardier. He came with that name, and we tried to called him Bomber but if you lived in London, you couldn’t have a horse named that or you’d get in terrible trouble.

20. In the book, there comes a time when the townspeople are saying that the librarians have been circulating “improper” materials. Can you fill us in on your thoughts about that, about sex and sex education during that time?

I just thought that… we have a very well known book called Marie Stope’s Married Love which was quite a controversial text in it’s time, produced at the beginning of the previous century, and it tries to improve communication between husbands and wives, and explains in a fairly biological way, almost quite lyrical way, about the ebb and flow of desire in a marital bed, shall we say. The language is kind of extraordinary, and I’ll say the primal chapter is called “The Great Unfolding”. {Audience titters} I have no idea what kind of language to use to describe those scenes!

But words like “womb” were quite shocking for some at the time, and it had explicit text and pictures… but what it does do is touch on some things that a lot of people would’ve considered improper. It was banned in this country, initially, and then a federal judge overturned that ban, and it becomes an important point of reference. What happens when Margery secretly distributes this book to families under the disguise of other books, what she’s doing is empowering women to not just take charge of only their biology, but as it’s stressed, it’s not just the women that become happy, but a lot of cranky husbands who are a lot more cheerful because things are going well for them!

But again, there’s always going to be people for whom that is just too much information, and any kind of progressive society, you’ll find that women are suppressed and information is suppressed. You’ve always got that tension in between what certain people think is acceptable and what other people think is acceptable.

21. I think the one of the charms of {The Giver of Stars} is that romance fiction tends to put people together and sparks fly and everyone is just delighted and there’s never any awkwardness, but this book addresses that it’s okay to want help in that department.

Yes, the main character and her husband, neither of them have the information to articulate what is or isn’t going on in their bedroom, and so it just starts this terrible awkwardness between them. People often still don’t know how to talk about it. And so, Alice, the more informed she becomes, this book becomes a spur for her. Then she reads a piece of poetry which the book is actually named after by Amy Lowell, who was a gay poet at a time where you couldn’t be called gay, wrote this very beautiful two verse poem called “The Giver of Stars“. It’s sensual and gorgeous and kinda sexy but without any reference to anything sexy in it, but it really is, and it’s just a beautiful poem. Alice, who is so full of yearning and so desperate to kind of cross that bridge – I’m going to be full of euphemisms tonight {Audience giggles}- the combination of the Marie Stopes book and reading this poem triggers something and she decides to take matters into her own hands. It starts a series of events that leads to more catastrophic events.

22. Going back, asking about your influence on the film Me Before You, did you have a role in the casting?

Yes, well I didn’t have a role, but I had a say, and if I had disagreed with everybody I don’t know if they would have listened to me but, luckily we all agreed! They auditioned 300 different actors for those two parts {Louisa and Will}, and then when they narrowed it down to six of each, they did what is called a chemistry read where they pair different actors together. It’s really interesting, they can have some really, really big names acting closely together and suddenly it’s like oh, that doesn’t work, or it’s just not happening between them. Then you have two unlikely people and the whole scene just comes alive, and it made me understand, just… it was magic. I cried watching. They sent me the audition tape and I was sobbing because it was… and then they do a few key scenes and I’m just like “I just want them!”

23. Did you have input on the script, and how does it differ from fiction writing?

Screen writing to fiction are completely different forms of writing, and I did the script for Me Before You. MGM bought the rights to that and it had such a distinct voice that they wanted to maintain that, and so I was amazed that they asked me to write the script because traditionally, directors like to keep the writers as far away as possible. We’ve all heard the stories of you know, terrible writer/director clashes so you know, I was very flattered until a friend of mine who is a director pointed out that because they unionized, I was really, really cheap {Audience groans and giggles}.

But that was such a learning experience, I spent two years working on that script and film, and I learned so much. Not just about script writing but about the scenes and how to behave on a movie set. It was one of the greatest professional experiences of my life, and I’m really excited to be doing it again. You know, as writers we spend most of our time in a back room in our pajamas and it’s really not very glamorous, so it’s actually quite fun to go out and talk to people and basically be liberated. Oh, and patron trucks! I mean, patron trucks are really exciting! {Audience laughs}

The first thing I discovered about life on a movie set is everyone is obsessed by the food! You know, you walk in at seven in the morning and everyone says “Have you seen the puddings today? Have you seen the pudding?” None of the actors eat, they all live on you know, flavored water and rice cakes, but everybody else puts on two stones because they stand around eating all day! {Audience laughs}

img_854124. Do you have any new books in the works?

I am writing a book but I never talk about any new books until I’ve passed 20,000 words because I’m likely to destroy them up to that point, or realize they’re not good enough. But I am working on the film for The Giver of Stars! We actually sold the idea before the book was even printed to Universal Studios, and so I’m working closely with the director on the script.

25. Are you writing the script or consulting on it?

Well, he’s writing it and I’m breathing heavily down his neck. {Audience laughs} Basically, I’m executive producing it, which as far as I can see means I get a fancy chair and the ability to hire and fire people, so I’m quite excited because this is my first time I don’t have to do all the work {on the script}! But no, he’s a really talented writer and director and one of the things is that we definitely wanted to film in Kentucky, because I feel it’s really important. {Proud Kentucky audience applauds}

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: Author Events, Kentucky Reads

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1 reply

  1. Thanks for your efforts in transcribing this for us Amanda!

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