Me & Joanne
Both Joanne Harris and I started in the rougher end of murder and mayhem. She began writing with ‘The Bad Seed’ and ‘Sleep, Pale Sister’, two darkly horrific novels. I began with books like ‘Roofworld’ and ‘Spanky’, mixes of dark satire, fantasy and horror. We have both tackled other genres, Joanne with ‘Runemarks’, me with ‘Calabash’, and we’ve both arrived at crime, her with ‘Gentlemen & Players’ and ‘Different Class’, me with the Bryant & May mysteries.
We’re unlikely friends. I reviewed her first book for Time Out (back when it had a literary section) and she asked me to be her lookout in the big city. She taught me about the life in Yorkshire and I showed her how to flag down a taxi in the rain. We’ve written to each other – proper fountain pen & typed letters – for over countless years on a semi-regular basis, and now I’m her London neighbour.
It’s the sheer unlikeliness of our friendship that keeps it fresh. I recommended the novel ‘Chocolat’ to my agent and watched Joanne’s career soar, feeling a sort of proprietorial pride as she moved from Leeds French teacher to global phenomenon. I have since taken vicarious pleasure in her rising fame. Bumping into her the morning she went off to receive an award from the Queen, I think I was more excited than she was. It’s thrilling when a friend who has worked so hard makes into the mainstream; most of us don’t. Writers draw friends from their own milieu, and there’s a ludicrous hierarchy, so that Fiction looks down on Crime, and Crime looks down on SF.
Like all writers, we’ve both had our regrets and envies. She has to live with the word Chocolat firmly wedged into her name no matter what else she does, yet her new crime novels are among the best work she has ever produced. I fight to get recognition of any book that isn’t a Bryant & May novel. I certainly wish I’d not been branded ‘hip’ at an early age and had taken my writing more seriously back then. But we’re both in one of the few careers where, if you stick at it, you can have more success at a later age, even though it never gets any easier. Writing is like playing the piano – you practice all day every day and surrender a lot by being so single-minded.
We’re so comfortable and chatty together I wonder our spouses don’t get jealous. Recently we’ve taken to talking together on stage before audiences. Organisers ask us what we’ll be talking about and we tend to burst out laughing. We haven’t a clue what we’ll discuss in advance, but we know we’ll never run out of subjects to discuss.
Which is why you’ll find an introduction by Joanne at the front of all my rereleased Kindle novels this month, along with my own fresh intros for ‘Roofworld’ and ‘Spanky’. Some while back she made it her mission to get me better known – just as Joanne has to live with ‘Aren’t you the Chocolat lady?’ I get ‘Didn’t you write horror stories?’ Like musicians, writers now spend as much time on social media as they do writing. Better far to make a friend of someone in your peer group.