Joanne Harris

If you think you’re familiar with Joanne Harris, our author-of-the-month for July, you might want to think again.

While she’s best known for her multimillion-seller Chocolat, Harris’ books don’t tend to neatly fit within one genre. Perhaps uniquely among best-selling authors, her books dip into a multiplicity of topics such as food, romance, France, psychological thrillers, vampires, Norse mythology, fairy tales, author self-help – and Dr Who.

In a recent interview with the Hampshire Libraries’ podcast Love Your Library (available later this month), Harris explained: ‘Much as a I understand the convenience and the financial interest of being a brand who does the same thing predictably every year, I just couldn’t do that. What drives me is an element of discovery and of risk.’

It’s the above-mentioned Chocolat (made into an Oscar-nominated film featuring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp), which first gave her a taste of success. It’s now sold more than 33 million copies worldwide and in 2012 she became only the fifth British female novelist to join the book industry’s “Millionaires Club”: an exclusive list of authors who have seen at least one of their books pass the million sales barrier in the UK since the 1990s.

Joanne Harris (MBE) grew up with her English father and French mother in Barnsley, South Yorkshire and started her career as a teacher, pursuing writing as a hobby. Her first novel, The Evil Seed, is a dark gothic romance which had limited commercial success. She spent more than 12 years teaching French at Leeds Grammar School, the inspiration behind her St Oswald’s series of books, the latest of which, A Narrow Door, is to be published next month. This darkly comic novel continues the story of eccentric Latin Master Roy Straitley, and follows Gentlemen and Players, and Different Class.

She said: ‘In a sense I’ve been writing about teaching since the start. I tend to write about small communities and the pressures they undergo, and the changes new arrivals make – and how the volatile chemistry of the small community can be utterly disrupted by what seems to be a relatively trivial change.’

Harris writes intelligently with a dry humour, and while her work is sometimes described as captivating or enchanting, her novels can frequently be darkly funny. Settings play an important role in her books and she often writes in a first-person, dual-narrator structure with complex characters who may be psychologically damaged or morally ambivalent.

She’s already published two other books in 2021: The Strawberry Thief (the fourth in the Chocolat series, including Chocolat, The Lollipop Shoes and Peaches for Monsieur le Curé), a bittersweet story of motherhood and learning to be yourself; and Honeycomb, a novel built from stories in which every chapter tells a standalone tale, which sits within her folklore/fairytale collection (A Pocketful of Crows, Orfeia and The Blue Salt Road).

This achievement is all the more admirable since, alongside the normal difficulties of living through lockdowns and Coronavirus, Harris was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of last year. With typical generosity, she has decided to share her experience to ‘make it more mundane’ and talks about her diagnosis as ‘Mr C’, a fictional character who has outstayed his welcome: her Twitter updates include the hashtag #GoodbyeMrC.

Harris still lives in Yorkshire, she plays bass and flute in a band first formed with her husband when she was sixteen, and works in a shed in her garden.

If you like Joanne Harris, you might also like Tracy Chevalier, Louis De Bernieres, Helen Fielding, Sebastian Faulks, Kate Atkinson, Salley Vickers, William Boyd, Anne Tyler, Barbara Kingsolver and Edward St Aubyn.

Written by Kate.

Fairy Tales and Fables to Share from Bookstart Bear

Bookstart Bear reading a picture book

For many of us, the stories we remember most from our childhood are fairy tales, fables and traditional stories.  Those stories may vary, depending on our backgrounds and heritage, but they all play a big part in developing our imaginations and building a sense of wonder.

In your local library you will find a wide variety of fairy tales.  Many follow the traditional stories handed down from generation to generation.  Others put a new spin on those tales, or combine them in unlikely ways.  Here are a few suggestions to get you started.


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The Lion & The Mouse – Jerry Pinkney

The only words in this version of Aesop’s tale are animal noises.  Beautifully illustrated and ideal for encouraging children to tell their own version of the story.

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Each Peach Pear Plum – Janet & Allan Ahlberg

A much loved picture book which introduces young readers to characters from traditional and nursery tales.  It is exciting for children to try and guess who will be next and they are assisted in this by the gentle rhyming format.

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The Great Fairy Tale Disaster – David Conway & Melanie Williamson

This amusing book has the Big Bad Wolf bringing chaos to lots of well known fairy tales.  A great book for encouraging discussion with children who are familiar with the original stories.

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Princess, Fairy – Penny Dale

A modern story with a Princess, a frog, some magic and a happy ending!  It is very ‘girly’ – ideal for fans of pink, glitter and sparkles.

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The Emperor’s New Clothes – Susanna Davidson & Mike Gordon

An amusing retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s story.  The pictures are especially good.

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Cinderella – Nick Sharratt & Stephen Tucker

This is one of the traditional Cinderella stories, but it’s told in rhyme.  The illustrations are fabulous and there are lots of flaps to lift and explore.  It may be a bit on the wordy side for very young children.

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The Giant Turnip – Henriette Barkow & Richard Johnson

This modern retelling of a traditional story is available as a dual language books.  There are more than a dozen different community language versions available from Hampshire Libraries.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears – Nicola Baxter & Ailie Busby

Another modern retelling of a well loved story.  This version has a rhyming text and lots of word repetition – brilliant for encouraging emerging readers.

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The Three Billy Goats Fluff – Rachel Mortimer & Liz Pichon

This book gives a funny twist to a classic fairy tale.  Like all the best stories, it ends with everyone living happily fluffily ever after.

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The Elves and the Shoemaker – Lorna Read & Jan Lewis

A lovely retelling of a traditional tale.  Ideal for reading aloud and sharing with young children.