We often can’t help judging a book by its cover – but author Jojo Moyes says cliched cover designs are stopping potential readers from picking up books they might like.
Books, on the whole, are designed so readers think they know what they’re getting before they even read a word – especially when it comes to those by, or aimed at. women.
But Jojo Moyes, whose most famous novel Me Before You was a huge success, doesn’t want her books, or any books by female writers, to be judged in such a superficial way.
“So many women who write about quite difficult issues are lumped under the ‘chick lit’ umbrella,” she tells the BBC. “It’s so reductive and disappointing – it puts off readers who might otherwise enjoy them.”
The 48-year-old says she has been “lucky to get a wider audience” but wishes books were presented in a different way, avoiding that age-old cliche about book covers and judging.
“If it was up to me, we would all discover things in a huge massive jumble,” she says.
“The boundaries are being blurred with women writing domestic noir and thrillers. I want to see covers that are a bit more gender neutral.
“Supermarkets wanted things that are easily categorised, but people don’t want to read something pink and glittery.
“My favourite covers are just words on the front cover in very nice fonts, with just a tiny image, and it’s no coincidence that I have a lot more male readers who aren’t being put off.”
The Me Before You series follow the life of Lou Clark, a working class girl who ends up as a carer for paraplegic Will Traynor, a wealthy banker who is paralysed after a motorcycle accident.
The first book was adapted into a film in 2016, starring Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin, with the screenplay also written by Moyes.
The book series just been completed with its third and final instalment, Still Me, which sees Louisa move to New York to take on a new challenge.
Moyes explores many themes, with love being just one. From class divide and financial struggles to assisted suicide and depression, her books are far from defined by one plot line.
She says “you always need tension to propel a story forward” and for Me Before You, it’s class.
“There are groups of people who rarely cross into each other’s lives, Will Traynor’s will only meet people who clean their houses or do the garden and I like to put people together who wouldn’t cross paths and they find things in common.
“Me Before You was really a story about two polar opposites colliding and gradually changing each other’s points of view.
“I think we are becoming such a polarised society that it’s a theme I find hard to steer away from – it’s everywhere in front of you – in politics, in people’s economic situation, in their opportunities and outlooks.
“But by getting inside of the heads of each you have to acknowledge that we are more similar than we realise – and also understand that nobody necessarily has it all their own way,” she adds.
“I just try to tell a story which will maybe make people feel something, and perhaps think a little too,” Moyes says.
“Ultimately fiction is entertainment and no matter how beautifully or thoughtfully done, it succeeds or fails based on whether people are entertained.
“That being said, I find myself thinking more and more that as a writer you have a responsibility to think about what messages you send, especially if you have a readership with a high proportion of young women.
“I don’t want to feed into the idea that getting married is going to fix everything, or buying a handbag or pair of designer shoes. I might not be able to fix society’s ills, but I can try not to be part of the problem.”
The former journalist, who wrote for The Independent for nine years, wanted her writing to be more reflective of real life relationships, rather than romanticising them.
“We all have these grand ideas of how romantic things are going to be but there’s always a fly in the soup.
“I’m not interested in a handsome prince, I want one falling down the stairs then announcing he’s gay,” she says. “That’s the book I want to read.”
Moyes says she also “thinks very carefully about the messages” she sends when writing about women and love.
“I want to have a conversation where women’s romantic behaviour is not governed by someone else, coerced, controlled or bought by fancy cars and helicopter rides.
“We’re in a weird time for relationships between men and women and I would rather emphasise that you want to have a good time with them rather than a deeply problematic relationship.”
The conversation turns to dating apps, which do get a mention in Moyes’ latest novel but as something quite reflective of the shallow New York dating scene.
“How are you going to find out if you’re going to have a laugh with someone if you’re focused on them having sculpted abs?” she says.
“What you need is someone to take the mick out of you when you wake up in the morning and then hang out with you when you go clothes shopping.”
She adds that there is a growing “road of misery” that comes from young people being “hyper aware of themselves”.
Lou Clark, Moyes’ central character, is in her 20s, but her personality is expressed in her adventurous dress sense.
“It’s no accident that I don’t have Lou fretting about her appearance and she gets joy from wearing the clothes she wants to wear,” Moyes says.
“If you’re busy thinking about how you look, it’s a miserable way to exist, and so much of technology is geared up to make you judge yourself.
“Turn your gaze outwards and don’t be self-conscious.”
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