Joanne Harris

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Joanne Harris

Harris at King's Chapel during the Gibraltar International Literary Festival in 2013
Harris at King's Chapel during the Gibraltar International Literary Festival in 2013
Born (1964-07-03) 3 July 1964 (age 58)
Barnsley, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
(now in South Yorkshire)
Genreliterary fiction
magic realism
Notable worksChocolat
Blackberry Wine
Five-Quarters of the Orange
Gentlemen & Players
The Lollipop Shoes
Peaches for Monsieur le Curé
SpouseKevin Harris

Joanne Michèle Sylvie Harris OBE (born 3 July 1964) is an English-French author, best known for her novel Chocolat (1999), which was adapted the following year for the film Chocolat.

Early life[edit]

Harris was born in Barnsley, Yorkshire, to an English father and a French mother. Both of her parents were teachers of modern languages and literature at a local grammar school. Her first language was French, which caused divisions between her English family, where nobody spoke French, and her French family, where nobody spoke English. Both families had turbulent histories and a tradition of strong women, kitchen gardening, storytelling, folklore and cookery[citation needed].


Harris began writing at an early age. She was strongly influenced by Grimms' Fairy Tales and Charles Perrault's work, as well as local folklore and Norse mythology.[1] She was educated at Wakefield Girls' High School, Barnsley Sixth Form College, and St Catharine's College, Cambridge, where she studied modern and mediaeval languages.

After a single, unsuccessful year as an accountant, which she describes as "like being trapped in a Terry Gilliam movie",[2] 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; The Evil Seed, Sleep, Pale Sister and Chocolat were published whilst she was still teaching.[3]

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 number 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 film 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 a single book in the UK since records began.[4]

Since Chocolat all of 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 three more novels in the Chocolat series, continuing the adventures of Vianne Rocher; The Lollipop Shoes (titled The Girl With No Shadow in the US), Peaches for Monsieur le Curé (Peaches for Father Francis in the US), and The Strawberry Thief – published 4 April 2019,[5] as well as three French cookbooks (co-written with Fran Warde), two collections of short stories and a number of dark psychological thrillers, including Gentlemen and Players, Different Class 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, with The Testament of Loki coming out in 2017. These books continue the tale of the rise and fall of the gods of Asgard from the point of view of Loki the trickster.

In 2011, she contributed a short story, Never Cut A Hawthorn, to Why Willows Weep – an anthology which supports the Woodland Trust. This is only one of the many stories she has contributed to charity anthologies.

She has also published three novellas, A Pocketful of Crows, The Blue Salt Road, and Orfeia, all loosely based on Child's Ballads, which were illustrated by Bonnie Helen Hawkins, and in 2021,Honeycomb, a collection of original fairytales, illustrated by Charles Vess. She has also authored three cookbooks.[6]

She is currently Chair of the Society of Authors, and sits on the Board of the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society.

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,[7] a collection of essays by noted literary figures, with photographs by Tom Craig, in 2010. She has also donated short stories for inclusion in anthologies published by a number of charities, notably Piggybank Kids, the Woodland Trust, the Stop Climate Chaos Coalition and Breast Cancer UK. In 2021, Harris was a guest on BBC's Desert Island Discs and talked openly about her diagnosis and ongoing treatment of her breast cancer in 2020. She also suffers from seasonal affective disorder.[6]

Harris who works from a shed in her back garden,[8] chose to take it as her luxury item on Desert Island Discs.[6] She is married and has a son Fred,[9] who came out as transgender in 2022.[10] She lives in Yorkshire with her husband, Kevin.


Harris was the guest on the long running BBC Radio 4 programme, Desert Island Discs in November 2021.

Recurrent themes[edit]

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, and 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:

For too long, women have been judged primarily on their looks rather than their abilities, and, even now – in a world in which we can hardly move for political correctness – men and women are still viewed slightly differently in the world of music, literature and the creative arts. There is a patronising smirk from the world of literature when a woman writes a romantic novel; but when a man does the same thing, he is being sensitive and insightful, making a valuable statement on the nature of relationships. In Runemarks, the same thing happens; a boy who reads is intelligent and will go a long way; a girl who reads is "clever", which is useless in a girl – even potentially dangerous.

— The Norse Mythology Blog's interview with Joanne Harris

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.[11] Her novels are often much darker than the film adaptation of Chocolat would 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 characterisation, 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's home village of Almondbury.[12]

Honours and awards[edit]

Harris was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2013 Birthday Honours and Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2022 Birthday Honours for services to literature.[13]

Harris 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. In 2022, she was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

In 2017, she won a Fragrance Foundation Jasmine Award for perfume journalism.

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.[14] 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.[15]
  • Gentlemen & Players: Shortlisted for the Edgar Award, 2007 (USA)[14] and the Grand Prix du Polar de Cognac (France).[16]
  • 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.[17]


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.


  1. ^ "Seven Miles of Steel Thistles: The Pied Piper of Hamelin". 20 April 2012. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  2. ^ Harriet Lane (14 July 2001). "Interview: Joanne Harris". The Observer. London. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  3. ^ "Joanne Harris, About the Author". Mostly Fiction Book Reviews. Retrieved 27 May 2008.
  4. ^ Book Reviews (18 May 2012). "The Millionaire Authors' Club". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  5. ^ "The Strawberry Thief". Joanne Harris. Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  6. ^ a b c "Joanne Harris, writer". Desert Island Discs. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 7 November 2021.
  7. ^ Writing on the Edge: Great Contemporary Writers on the Front Line of Crisis:. ASIN 0847832910.
  8. ^ alex johnson (23 February 2011). "Exclusive: interview with shed-working author Joanne Harris". Shedworking. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  9. ^ Joanne Harris [@JoanneChocolat] (17 August 2022). "And now, a picture of Fred's cat, Deimos. ..." (Tweet). Retrieved 17 August 2022 – via Twitter.
  10. ^ Joanne Harris [@JoanneChocolat] (16 August 2022). "I've known he was trans for awhile, but he came out publicly on June 1st, which is why I haven't mentioned it before. He's a million times braver, better and wiser than anyone on that nasty little thread. Anyone using him to attack me is utterly and forever beneath contempt" (Tweet). Retrieved 16 August 2022 – via Twitter.
  11. ^ Williams, Andrew (23 August 2012). "Chocolat author Joanne Harris talks about her latest novel Blue Eyed Boy". Metro. UK. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  12. ^ Trees (4 October 2011). "British Tree Week: Best woodland walks". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  13. ^ "No. 63714". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 June 2022. p. B13.
  14. ^ a b "Mrs Joanne Harris Authorised Biography – Debrett's People of Today, Mrs Joanne Harris Profile". Archived from the original on 21 January 2013. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  15. ^ "2010 World Food Media Awards". Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  16. ^ "Le Rocher de Montmartre – – Joanne Harris | Editions Points". 26 November 2009. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  17. ^ "Institute of Advanced Study : Lecture 5". Durham University. 3 August 2012. Retrieved 30 August 2012.

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