Joanne Harris

Joanne Michèle Sylvie Harris, MBE is an English author especially known for her award-winning novel Chocolat (1999) which was adapted the following year for the film Chocolat.

Joanne Harris

Harris at King's Chapel during the Gibraltar International Literary Festival in 2013
BornBarnsley, Yorkshire, England
Genreliterary fiction
magic realism
Notable worksChocolat
Blackberry Wine
Five Quarters of the Orange
Gentlemen and Players
The Lollipop Shoes
Peaches for Monsieur le Curé
SpouseKevin Harris


Harris was born in Barnsley in Yorkshire, to an English father and a French mother. Her parents were both 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.

Early life

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 medieval 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 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 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 (re-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 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.

In 2011 she contributed a short story, Never Cut A Hawthorn, to Why Willows Weep  an anthology which supports the Woodland Trust.

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, 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:

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.[6] 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 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's home village of Almondbury.[7]

Awards and honours

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

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 Catherine's College, Cambridge.

She is an elected member of the Management Committee of the Society of Authors.

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,[8] 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 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.[9] 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.[10]
  • Gentlemen & Players: Shortlisted for the Edgar Award, 2007 (USA)[9] and the Grand Prix du Polar de Cognac (France).[11]
  • 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.[12]

Harris works from a shed in her back garden [13] 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.


  • The Evil Seed (1989)
  • Sleep, Pale Sister (1993)
  • Chocolat (1999)
  • Blackberry Wine (2000)
  • Five Quarters of the Orange (2001)
  • The French Kitchen, A Cook Book (2002)
  • Coastliners (2002)
  • Holy Fools (2003)
  • Jigs & Reels (2004)
  • Gentlemen & Players (2005)
  • The French Market (2005)
  • The Lollipop Shoes (2007) (US title: The Girl With No Shadow, April 2008)
  • Runemarks (2007 in the UK, 2008 in the US)
  • Blueeyedboy (1 April 2010 in the UK)
  • Runelight (September 2011 in the UK)
  • Peaches for Monsieur le Curé (May 2012) (US title: Peaches for Father Francis, October 2012)
  • A Cat, a Hat and a Piece of String (October 2012)
  • The Gospel of Loki (February 2014), as Joanne M. Harris
  • The Little Book of Chocolat (March 2014), with Fran Warde
  • The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Time Traveller (October 2014) Dr Who novella.
  • Different Class (2016)
  • A Pocketful of Crows (2017) a folklore-inspired novella
  • The Testament of Loki (2018)
  • The Strawberry Thief (2019)

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 | Books | The Observer". London: Guardian. 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". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  5. Anne. "THE STRAWBERRY THIEF | Joanne Harris". Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  6. Williams, Andrew (23 August 2012). "Chocolat author Joanne Harris talks about her latest novel Blue Eyed Boy". Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  7. Trees (4 October 2011). "British Tree Week: Best woodland walks". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  8. "Writing on the Edge: Great Contemporary Writers on the Front Line of Crisis: Dan Crowe, Tom Craig: Books". Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  9. "Mrs Joanne Harris Authorised Biography – Debrett's People of Today, Mrs Joanne Harris Profile". Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  10. Syntrx Solutions, "2010 World Food Media Awards". Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  11. "Le Rocher de Montmartre – - Joanne Harris | Editions Points". 26 November 2009. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  12. Institute of Advanced Study (3 August 2012). "Institute of Advanced Study : Lecture 5 – Durham University". Retrieved 30 August 2012.
  13. alex johnson (23 February 2011). "Exclusive: interview with shed-working author Joanne Harris". Shedworking. Retrieved 30 August 2012.
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