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Bestselling author Jojo Moyes on inspiration she took from pioneering horseback librarians

The pioneering woman librarians on horse-back would travel up to 120 miles a week to bring books to the poor. Credit: University of Kentucky Archives

Bestselling author Jojo Moyes said powerful images of horseback women delivering books to rural communities in 1930s America inspired her so much she put pen to paper.

The romance novelist - behind bestseller Me Before You - told ITV News the endearing tale of female solidarity and resilience struck a chord with her and said the story "has an amazing resonance for today."

The pioneering women - who became known as the Packhorse Librarians of Kentucky - would ride up to 120 miles a week and deliver books to poor communities and families who could not read.

"These very sombre young women on horseback set against this incredible rugged backdrop of the Kentucky mountains...it just spoke to me," Moyes said.

"Sometimes as a writer, you just see a story that you feel you have to write."

Moyes' latest novel - The Giver of Stars - was inspired by the treasure trove of images she had studied.

"The women would help to teach them to read...and just bring knowledge to families who might not otherwise have had it," Moyes said.

From bed-ridden coal miners suffering from 'black lung' to schoolchildren with just the Bible as their only form of the written word, the women brought their love of books to the rural communities.

Moyes described the women as being like a "postal service" and they would check up on people who may have gone weeks without any outside contact.

She said: "This scheme lasted for seven to eight years and no system like it has ever existed in Kentucky since."

The powerful images of the sombre women against the rugged Kentucky mountains inspired Moyes. Credit: University of Kentucky Archives
The women would read to bed-ridden coal miners. Credit: University of Kentucky Archives

The Giver of Stars' plot focuses on Alice Wright who marries a wealthy American and finds herself in Kentucky, feeling claustrophobic and needing an escape.

She meets Margery O'Hare, a woman on a mission to spread her love of books, who recruits Alice and the pair take to the Kentucky mountains delivering books as part of a travelling library.

Moyes delved so deep into the world she decided to replicate the women's journey herself, before she put pen to paper.

Jojo Moyes spent time in the Kentucky mountains, living as the librarians had. Credit: Jojo Moyes

She stayed in a tiny log cabin, with no WiFi, TV or radio and lived as the librarians did, riding horses along the Creek beds and around the Kentucky mountains.

"[It was] extraordinary because you really get a sense of the isolation and the peace and quiet of the place, of how easy it would be to get lost," Moyes said.

"I got to talk to the people, because Kentucky has a very specific rhythm. It's almost a musical language and a great oral storytelling tradition and I felt it was really important...to carry some of that into the book with me."

Moyes stayed in a tiny log cabin, with no WiFi, TV or radio. Credit: Jojo Moyes

Just as the librarians had delivered books to the poor and illiterate in 1930s America, Moyes has kept a scheme running which provides books to adults struggling to read.

The author is funding the adult literacy scheme for the next three years, after sponsor Galaxy pulled out of the initiative.

Quick Reads has distributed more than 4.8 million copies of short novels written by popular authors to adults with lower literacy levels.

The books are sold for £1 at libraries, prisons, colleges, hospitals and adult learning organisations.

"What these books are, is a very easy gateway...into bigger books and the enjoyment and mental rest that comes with really getting lost in a good book," Moyes added.