Me & Joanne

Reading & Writing


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.

5 comments on “Me & Joanne”

  1. Ness says:

    Joanne may be pleased to know that “Chocolat’ was one of the last one of her novels I read. My favourite is Gentlemen and Players and her different writing styles helped me when I was teaching librarians about reader development. In a kind of ‘blind’ reading, no one identified “Gentlemen and Players” and “Five Quarters of the Orange” as being by the same author. I helped people see beyond one title and she is no longer the Chocolat author in my reading circles. You and Joanne are part of my crusade to stop people reading narrowly within one category or genre and ignoring the talent that is out there, that may be harder to define but more enjoyable to read. I have “Different Class” and “Strange Tide” on my bedside table, competing for attention. A thoroughly happy dilemma to have.

  2. Vivienne says:

    Well, I have to confess I have only associated Joanne with Chocolat, but am more than pleased to be enlightened. But, oh, more books to add to my list.

    As a different Fowler genre, I’m now reading Film Freak, purchased at the most wonderful Cinema Museum (all of you who missed Admin’s Desert Island Discs – highly informative and entertaining and not too full of Wisdom – should still make a pilgrimage to this fantastic place, a bit hard to find, but a real treasure trove and in need of support as are all museums). Film Freak is both hilarious and rather unnervingly reminiscent. Glad to have a mention of A for Andromeda. I wrote to the star (male) to ask what colour his jumper was – at this time it seemed vitally necessary to know this. I believe I was sent a photo that was also black and white like the TV.

  3. admin says:

    The problem of authors being tarred with their earlier successes never goes away and is, I suppose, to be expected. My problem, even more than Joanne’s, is that I dart about between genres and types of book constantly. As my teacher used to say; ‘Nobody likes a good all-rounder.’

  4. Steve says:

    I enjoyed very much both paper boy and film freak… And I love the cover of film freak!
    I bought a ticket for saturday evening but didnt make it – was working 🙁 What a shame as I’m not so often in Lndon with free time. I hope Admin is going to tell us one day what the 10 films were (or did i miss it?)
    Only one episode of A for Andromeda still exists at the BBC but rumour has it at least one more episode exists in the hands of an american collector… Julie Christie’s first tv! By the way, the basic idea of AforA has been endlessly reused since, in film tv and book, sometimes quite blatantly.
    First book of Chris’s I read was Disturbia – good cover. My first encounter with B&M. Little did I know…

  5. Jan says:

    Funnily enough I’ve just read A peach for Monsieur le Cure. – apologies if I got the title wrong.
    I’ve read a few of Joanne’s stories but found them a bit too whimsical. Enjoyed Blackerry wine,that’s a bit crazy really that being the most whimsical of the ones I read. Really enjoyed the short stories though the one where the disabled girl became like a mermaid at the swimming pool was brilliant.

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