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Joanne Harris

Joanne Harris
Joanne Harris at King's Chapel during the Gibraltar International Literary Festival in 2013
Born (1964-07-03) 3 July 1964
Barnsley, Yorkshire, England
Occupation writer
Nationality English/French
Genre literary fiction, magic realism, mythpunk, fantasy, gastromance.
Notable works Chocolat, Blackberry Wine, Five Quarters of the Orange Holy Fools, Coastliners, Runemarks, Runelight, Gentlemen and Players, The Lollipop Shoes, Blueeyedboy, Peaches for Monsieur le Curé, The Gospel of Loki.
Joanne Harris's voice
Recorded December 2011 from the BBC Radio 4 programme Woman's Hour

Joanne Michèle Sylvie Harris, MBE (born 3 July 1964) is an English author, best known for her award-winning novel Chocolat which was later turned into a successful film.


  • Biography 1
  • Early life 2
  • Books 3
  • Recurrent Themes 4
  • Awards and Honours 5
  • Bibliography 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Harris was born in Barnsley in Yorkshire, to an English father and a French mother. Her parents were both academics, teaching modern languages and literature at a local grammar school. Her first language was French which caused divisions between her English family, where no-one spoke French, and her French family, where no-one spoke English. Both families had turbulent histories and a tradition of strong women, kitchen gardening, storytelling, folklore and cookery.[1]

Early life

Her writing began at an early age and was strongly influenced by Grimms' Fairy Tales and the tales of Charles Perrault, as well as local folklore and Norse mythology.[2]

She was educated at Wakefield Girls' High School, Barnsley Sixth Form College, and St Catharine's College, Cambridge, where she studied modern and medieval languages. After a single, unsuccessful year as an accountant, which she describes as "like being trapped in a Terry Gilliam movie",[3] she trained as a teacher at Sheffield University, and for fifteen years she taught modern languages, mostly at Leeds Grammar School, a boys' independent school in Yorkshire. She also taught at Sheffield University, lecturing on aspects of French literature and film. During this period, she worked on a number of book projects, three of which (The Evil Seed, Sleep, Pale Sister and Chocolat) were published before she left teaching to become a full-time writer.


Her first novel, The Evil Seed, was published in 1989, with only limited success. A second novel, Sleep, Pale Sister, shows the way in which her style developed from horror-pastiche to literary ghost story. In 1999, her third novel, Chocolat, a darkly magical modern folk-tale, thematically based on food and set in the Gers region of France, reached No. 1 in the Sunday Times' bestseller list. The book won the Creative Freedom Award in 1999 and was shortlisted for the 1999 Whitbread Novel of the Year Award. The movie rights were sold to David Brown and developed by Miramax Pictures. The success of the motion picture, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp, brought Harris worldwide recognition, and in 2012 she became one of only four female members of the "Millionaires' Club," the elite group of authors who have achieved a million sales of one book in the UK since records began.[4]

Since then, all Harris's books have been UK bestsellers. Her wide-ranging choice of subject matter means that her work often defies categorization, and she has a predilection for difficult or challenging issues. She has written two more novels in the Chocolat series, continuing the adventures of Vianne Rocher; The Lollipop Shoes (re-titled The Girl With No Shadow in the US) and Peaches for Monsieur le Curé (Peaches for Father Francis in the US), as well as two French cookbooks (co-written with Fran Warde), two collections of short stories and a number of dark psychological thrillers, including Gentlemen and Players and Blueeyedboy. In August 2007 she published Runemarks, a mythpunk/fantasy novel based on Norse mythology, aimed at both children and adults. The sequel, Runelight, was published in 2011, and since then, the Rune books have acquired an enthusiastic following alongside the fans of Vianne Rocher. Continuing the Norse mythology theme The Gospel of Loki was published in February 2014. This book tells of the rise and fall of the gods of Asgard from the point of view of Loki the trickster.

Recurrent Themes

Some of Harris's recurrent themes are: issues of identity; mother/child relationships; the emotional resonance of food; the magic and horror of everyday things; the outsider in the community; faith and superstition; the joy of small pleasures. She has spoken out against entrenched sexism in the literary field, and she has discussed how she weaves a critique of sexist attitudes into her fiction:

Her writing style focuses on the senses, especially those of taste and smell. This may be due to the fact that Harris has a form of synaesthesia, in which she experiences colours as scents.[5] Her novels are often much darker than the film adaptation of Chocolatwould lead us to suppose, and characters are often emotionally damaged or morally ambivalent. Father-figures are frequently absent, and mothers are often portrayed as controlling, harsh or even abusive, as in Blueeyedboy and Five Quarters of the Orange. Harris favours a first-person, dual-narrator narrative structure, often revisiting past events to cast light on current developments. This generally makes for complex characterization, and even minor characters are often unusually well-developed. Her books have a very strong sense of place, with settings that play as significant a role as do the characters themselves. The fictional French village of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, the setting of Chocolat and Peaches for Monsieur le Curé, also features in Blackberry Wine, and the fictional Yorkshire village of Malbry is the setting for both Blueeyedboy and Gentlemen and Players, as well as numerous short stories. Malbry is also the name of Maddy's home in the Rune books, and seems to bear a certain resemblance to Harris' home village of Almondbury.[6]

Awards and Honours

Harris's books are now published in over fifty countries and have won a number of UK and international awards, including:

  • Chocolat: Creative Freedom Award (2000); Whittaker Gold Award (2001). Shortlisted: Whitbread Novel of the Year Award (2000), Scripter Award (2001); film version nominated for 8 BAFTAs and 5 Oscars.[7] Whittaker Platinum Award (2012).
  • Blackberry Wine: 2000 Winner of both the Foreign and International categories of the Salon du Livre Gourmand (France).
  • Five Quarters of the Orange: Shortlisted: 2002 RNA Novel of the Year; Author of the Year 2002; WHSmith Award 2002 (UK).
  • The French Kitchen: (a cookbook with Fran Warde): 2005 Winner of the Golden Ladle for Best Recipe Book (softcover) in the World Food Media Awards.[8]
  • Gentlemen & Players: Shortlisted for the Edgar Award, 2007 (USA)[7] and the Grand Prix du Polar de Cognac (France).[9]
  • Flavours of Childhood: (a piece co-written for the Radio 4 series First Taste with poet Sean o'Brien) Winner of the Glenfiddich Award, 2006.[10]

In 2004, she was a judge for the Whitbread Prize (now the Costa), and in 2005, was a judge for the Orange Prize.[11]

In 2013 she was on the judging panel of the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books[12] and chaired the Desmond Elliott Prize.[13]

She is the holder of honorary doctorates in literature from the University of Huddersfield and the University of Sheffield, and is an Honorary Fellow of St Catharine's College, Cambridge.

She is a patron of the charities Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) and Plan UK, and has travelled to Togo and to the Congo to report on their work. An account of her visit to the Congo was published in Writing on the Edge,[14] a collection of essays by noted literary figures, with photographs by Tom Craig, in 2010. She has also donated short stories to a number of charity anthologies, notably Piggybank Kids, the Woodland Trust, the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition and Breast Cancer UK.

In 2013 she was awarded an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List.

She works from a shed in her back garden [15] and is active on Twitter, where she is known as @joannechocolat, and tumblr, ( ) which she uses, along with her website's message board, to answer questions from her fans. She is married, and lives in Yorkshire with her husband Kevin and daughter Anouchka.


Stories featured in the following anthologies:

  • Magic (2002) A collection of stories in aid of Piggybank Kids.
  • Bosom Buddies (2003) A collection of stories in aid of Breast Cancer UK.
  • Journey to the Sea (2005) A collection of stories in aid of Piggybank Kids.
  • Mums - a Celebration of Motherhood (2006) A collection of stories in aid of Piggybank Kids.
  • Dads - a Celebration of Fatherhood (2007) A collection in aid of Piggybank Kids.
  • In Bed With... (2009) A collection of erotic stories by well-known female writers.
  • Because I am a Girl (2010) Charity anthology in aid of Plan UK.
  • Stories (2010) A collection of fantasy tales, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio.
  • Writing on the Edge (2010) A collection of eyewitness accounts by well-known authors of extreme conditions and war-torn locations. In aid of MSF.
  • Why Willows Weep (2011) Charity anthology in aid of the Woodland Trust.
  • Beacons (2013) Charity anthology in aid of the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition.
  • Fearie Tales (2014)
  • That Glimpse of Truth - the 100 Finest Short Stories Ever Written (2014) edited by David Miller.
  • Time Trips (2015) A collection of DR WHO stories by various authors, including the Joanne Harris novella, The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time Traveller.


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  7. ^ a b
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  12. ^ Previous Judges, Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books. Accessed 12 June 2015.
  13. ^ Desmond Elliott Prize 2013: The Judges. Accessed 12 June 2015.
  14. ^
  15. ^
  • Authors at Transworld
  • Authortrek interview with Kevin Patrick Mahoney
  • Guardian feature, July 2001

External links

  • The Joanne Harris Website
  • RED interview
  • Norse Mythology Blog interview with Joanne Harris: Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
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