Milly Johnson isn’t just one of our favourite authors, and a Sunday Times bestseller no less, she’s also an avid cruiser with a penchant for P&O Cruises. We recently interviewed Milly for the next edition of Into The Blue, but in the meantime we decided World Book Day was the perfect time to share our last catch-up.
Hi Milly, thanks for making time to chat with us amidst all the book promo. You’ve said in the past that “heaven is a cruise ship”. Will you be sailing into the sunset to celebrate the launch of your latest novel?
We have a week-long cruise to the Fjords booked at the end of August. It will be the first one my partner and I have taken without the children so it will be extra restful. I’m not sure I can live without a cruise in the sunshine though! Plus, I have another cruise book idea but I need to sail across the Atlantic first to write that with conviction as I have no experience of what that must be like. I’m thinking about trying a few different ships and cruise lines because I’d like to feel like a ‘newbie’ again so that will give me something to look forward to in between books 12 and 13.
Many of our readers will recognise you as the author behind ‘Here Come The Girls’, one of cruising’s best loved books. How did your love of time spent at sea influence the story?
Every time I went on a cruise I thought ‘I have to write a book about this’ and the urge became impossible to ignore after I tried the 17 day Venice/Dubrovnik itinerary. It was a very rich cruise in terms of the wonderful people we met, the places we visited, the fabulous atmosphere on board – and nothing can beat that first introduction to Venice! Whilst I was travelling, I had the idea of basing the book on a whole cruise door to door because I wanted to show readers what they could expect if they tried one for themselves. I wanted to show how the characters relaxed more day by day and fell in love with this way of holidaying, as I had done. Though the story is fiction, I’ve written a very honest account of a cruise holiday. I felt a responsibility to readers to portray it as it was, then if they booked a cruise because they were influenced by my work then there was no chance that they’d blame me for misleading them. It has remained a massive seller for me and I receive more letters about Here Come The Girls than any other book I’ve written.
You paint a very vivid picture of life at sea in ‘Here Come The Girls’ and also in follow-up novellas ‘Here Come The Boys’ and ‘Ladies Who Launch’. What is it about life on board that has kept you coming back for over 10 years?
Every cruise is a mixture of the new and the very familiar – a perfect balance, I always think. We know P&O Cruises ships very well now and so we are immediately settled when we get on board. We know our way around the ships, know the routines, know so many of the staff – it’s like going to our own timeshare. I love that my sons are safe on board and we can do our own thing and then meet up for a nice lunch. I love that there is so much to do – if I want to, but plenty of places to escape to for peace and quiet and reading time. I love that one day we can be in a bustling gorgeous French town and the next on a tiny Greek island. Without exception, we have met wonderful people on every cruise and remain friends with so many of them. Most of all I love that cruises are the only place when I can down tools and relax and enjoy doing very little without feeling guilty.
Your stories must have converted one or two reluctant cruisers over the years?
I am very proud to tell you that I’ve converted LOADS. So many people write to tell me that they a booked a cruise after reading my book and loved it – and have booked more since and they have converted people in turn. My friend’s partner refused to go on a cruise so she came with me for her first couple and loved them so much that she managed to persuade him to try one. They now do three cruises a year at least AND they got married on the Arcadia.
You literally ‘missed the boat’ in 2012, resulting in a three-day dash across Europe to meet P&O Cruises’ Azura in Korcula and inspiring the follow up novella to ‘Here Come The Girls’. It sounds like quite the adventure – tell us more!
I am a great believer in things happening for a reason. That goes a long way (at least in my head) to explain why I missed getting back on the ship in Malaga, because I had always been terrified of that happening to me. I used to wonder how ANYONE could be so daft as to miss a ship!
The crazy thing was that we didn’t really want to get off at Malaga. We only did to stretch our legs because we had been at sea a few days and it would be another three before we would be in port again. I presumed we were in Malaga for a full day, and set off back to the ship in – what I thought would be– plenty of time to see the Azura disappearing into the mist. I can still conjure up that feeling of terror now if I think about it. I had my two sons in tow, no passports – because we had left them ‘protected’ in our cabin safe but luckily I did have my visa card. The next stop the ship would make was the island of Korcula – not the easiest of places to get to- so we had to get organized. The P&O Cruises port representatives were fabulous and so very kind. The Spanish rep fixed us up in a hotel and the next morning we went to the consulate to get emergency passports. I can’t tell you the severity of the migraine I had that night! We found a shop in Malaga that sold EVERYTHING and bought clean underwear, toiletries and essentials and once we had passports and flights arranged – thanks to kind friends who looked up timings for us – we headed to the airport. I hate flying, which is why I cruise, but to get back to the ship we had to catch two planes. I got my flying mojo back that holiday, which was one positive. There was a lot of waiting about and many games of I-Spy but we eventually landed in Dubrovnik and then had a 3 hour bus and ferry trip across Croatia. The scenery was stunning. I had always wanted to stay a night in Korcula – so just be careful what you wish for because we did and it was every bit as special as I thought it might be. Getting back on board was the sweetest experience ever.
It cost me a lot of money and my stress levels were sky-high and I never want to go through anything like that again BUT it was an adventure and nothing is ever wasted when you’re a writer. I’ve dined out many a time on that story!
You first cruised as a single mum to two very young children. How did that first trip compare to your initial expectations and what would you say to anyone who may be considering family cruising but has yet to take the plunge?
I’ll be honest, I booked that cruise a year in advance and when the time came I thought I’d hate it. I was terrified that the children (aged 3 and 4 then) wouldn’t be safe and fall overboard. I thought I’d be bored rigid and if I could have had a refund, I would have taken it. Then we walked into the atrium of the Oceana and I fell in love. I had no idea
it would be so glitzy – or so big. The children weren’t really ‘the kids club’ types so I let them try it out for an hour and went back for them fully expecting them to throw themselves on me weeping.
They refused to leave. I had to drag them out for something to eat. They had an amazing time and I lazed in the sun and read books. It was the first time I relaxed since I gave birth. We enjoyed the port days together and we all arrived home so rejuvenated and smiling that I booked another one within hours of unpacking. To any family considering a cruise I would say just go for it. Whatever age your children are, they are so well catered for if you choose your ship wisely. Pick a ship that has renowned kids clubs and plenty for them to do because the happier they are, the happier you’ll be.
Which destination do you never tire of visiting and which remains on your ‘must-see’ list?
Oh that’s a tough one. BUT if I had to pick one, then it would be Kefalonia. I totally fell in love with the beach at Lassi and the café there sells the best Greek salad and yogurt with honey that I have ever tasted. And I didn’t want to leave Melissani’s beautiful underground lake. But then again, how can you tire of St Petersburg, and Venice and the beautiful bays along the Costa Smeralda…?
And finally, what are the all-important ingredients for a great holiday read?
Unputdownability. You need a book that pulls you into the pages and won’t let you go. Whether your genre of choice is horror, crime, comedy, biography or a love story a holiday read should enhance the enjoyment of your break the way that good weather, good company and good food and wine do. I’d like to think my books do that for people.