Monday, January 7, 2013

My First Time: Jojo Moyes

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands.  Today’s guest is Jojo Moyes, author of Me Before You, a love story which USA Today has called “by turns funny and moving but never predictable.”  She is also the author of several other novels, including The Girl You Left Behind, The Last Letter from Your Lover, and The Horse Dancer.  She studied at Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, London University.  She worked for The Independent for 10 years (except for one year, when she worked in Hong Kong for the Sunday Morning Post) in various roles, becoming Assistant News Editor in 1988.  In 2002 she became the newspaper's Arts and Media Correspondent.  Moyes lives on a farm in Saffron Walden, Essex with her husband and their three children.  Visit her website here.

My First Publication

I didn’t always want to be a writer.  I always wanted to write; but the job description “writer” seemed like something that applied to a different sort of person.  A person living in Paris, perhaps, in a garrett.  Wearing black and looking anguished.

And then, two years after everyone I knew, I quit my admin job and went to university.  There I rediscovered the joy of words, and with that came the vague idea that writing might be something I might qualify to do, too.

I went to work at a local paper; the now defunct Egham and Staines news, where a handful of people jostled for space in two tiny upstairs offices, and the stories were typed on three sheets of paper, interlaid with carbon: one for the journalist, one for the subs, and one for the record.  I made tea, photocopied things that needed copying and tried to make myself useful enough that nobody would say I was actively getting under their feet.

After several months, the editor threw a bit of paper at me.  “Here.  Go and see if you can get a story out of this.”

And so it was that the following week, after hours of careful crafting of words and numerous ruined pieces of inky carbon paper, my name appeared in print, for the first time.  I rang my mother and father.  They were both thrilled for me.  “I’ll send you copies!”  I exclaimed.

They were slightly less excited when they saw the stories.  No Watergate here.  No exposure of Thalidomide, or essay on the overarching themes of Paul Auster’s latest work.

“Man grows grapevine with aid of a pint of beer a day,” read the headline.  It was accompanied by a picture of a possibly bewigged gentleman, holding a pint of beer, beside said vine (it did look very healthy).  He may have given a thumbs-up.

I didn’t notice the slightly too long gap before they offered their congratulations, when they called.  I didn’t hear the conversations that no doubt went on after I put down the phone.  I just knew that I had written a story that nobody else had written, and that it was out there, being read by people I didn’t know.  And that feeling made me giddy with pleasure.

I have covered riots and royals, watched governments rise and fall during a ten-year newspaper career.  I have written eleven books and three unpublished ones, since that story.  But I still remember the buzz that came with telling a story, in public, for the first time.  For telling stories is a drug.  And putting your name to a story is a privilege, whether it be fact or fiction.

Photo by Phyllis Christopher

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