Q&A with Joanne Harris

First of all, we must thank Joanne for agreeing to this insanity.

Joanne Harris is the acclaimed writer of Chocolat. The sequel is called The Lollipop Shoes and she has just submitted Peaches For Monsieur Le Curé, the third novel featuring some of the same characters from both and which is due for publication at the end of May 2012. In between these, she has written several other novels, many of which feature food in the titles (including Blackberry Wine and Five Quarters of the Orange) and a mystery/thriller novel called blueeyedboy, as well as a couple of books for younger readers and several cookbooks.

Her writing space is The Shed, which is located at the bottom of her garden, and she often gets random visits from Vlad, the neighbour’s fat black cat. She drinks lots of tea and has a penchant for musical theatre. She has a husband, Kevin, and a daughter, Anouchka. She tweets regularly under the moniker of @Joannechocolat, and recently she was kind enough to answer a few questions from Brighton Plot Bunnies - she must be mad…

PB: What do you wish you could say to people who repeatedly ask, 'Where do you get your ideas from?' (Be honest, now - we’re all adults, here!)

JH: What do you mean, “wish”? I tell them: “goblins bring them during the night.”

PB: Does the Shed get jealous when you spend time in the house?

JH: No, it only gets stressed if I see other sheds.

PB: When you're writing, how many cups of tea do you get through per chapter?

JH: I don’t count chapters. (Or cups of tea).

PB: Has Vlad been the inspiration for any four-legged characters? If not, could he be in the future?

JH: Yes. Just read the next book…

PB: Do you aim for a minimum number of words per day, or do you take things as they come?

JH: The idea of counting words makes no sense to me. Nor do deadlines or work quotas…

PB: “Dear Joanne: My character never shuts up, except when I need her to tell me what happens next. Am I normal?” (Sorry. Couldn’t resist it!)

JH: Don’t you know? No-one who writes books is normal.

PB: Does your background as a French teacher have any influence on the way you use language in your books?

JH: French was my first language. I’m guessing it probably had some kind of an effect.

PB: There was a six-year gap between the publication of Sleep Pale Sister and Chocolat (your first big hit). This is the longest gap between any of your published novels. Is there any particular reason for this? (Blatantly leading question..!)

JH: Yes. I’d just had a baby, was working full-time as a teacher and working for the Oxford & Cambridge Exam board. Plus, no-one would publish me.

PB: As writers, we all need to develop a thick skin so negative comments bounce off us easily and painlessly. How long did it take for you to develop yours? Was there any particular comment about your work that made a real difference to you in this respect?

JH: No. I find that only the opinions of those I truly respect really matter to me. There aren’t all that many of those…

PB: We set monthly writing challenges to get our brains working hard and to expand our writing skills. Do you have a challenge to set us for an upcoming meeting? (Feel free to make it as awkward as possible!)

JH: Forget everything you’ve been told about expanding your writing skills or using your brain. Now try using what’s left…

PB: When reading fiction, are there any particular genres that you tend to avoid, and why? Are there any that you are especially keen on? What's your take on the concept of 'genre' itself?

JH: I think the concept of “genre” was invented by marketing people too lazy to actually read the books they sell.

PB: Have you ever been part of a writer's group? If so, did you get anything out of it?

JH: Never. I suspect I would have been a pain in the ass.

PB: Has a reader (reviewer or otherwise) ever made an insightful comment on your work, that perhaps made you look at it in a different way?

JH: Not really. I think literary criticism tends to say more about the reviewer’s ideas than the author’s.

PB: Having recently finished editing Peaches For Monsieur Le Curé, you said on Twitter that you wondered whether you could last a whole weekend without wanting to start another book. How long can you usually hold out before you start to get ants in your pants, and what was the longest period of time you’ve ever gone without writing? What happened?

JH: I always have something on the go. I can stop writing for a week or so, but usually after that I want to play with something new.

PB: One of your regular Twitter themes is your #WTF hashtag. What has been the biggest #WTF of your career to date?

JH: There are so many, but most of them are variants on the “will you give me stuff for free” theme. So far I’ve been asked by random strangers to: write novels for them (in which they supply the idea, I do the work and they get 50% of the money); pay their children’s private school fees; write a reader’s report about their novel; edit their novel; give them the screenplay/stage/translation rights to my books (for free); ghostwrite their autobiography (for free) and fly across the Atlantic to cook at their daughter’s wedding reception. Go figure. #WTF is the only response.

And finally:

PB: We’d like to invite you to become an honorary Plot Bunny. Do you accept?

JH: Sure, as long as it doesn’t involve doing any actual work…

Hope this helps!

If you want to find out more about Joanne’s work, visit her website here and if this Q&A session has been valuable to you, the best way to thank her is to go out and buy one of her books.

Thanks once again to Joanne for taking the time to answer our questions when she should have been writing.