Joanne Harris (MBE) was born in Barnsley in 1964, of a French mother and an English father. She studied Modern and Mediaeval Languages at Cambridge and was a teacher for fifteen years, during which time she published three novels, including Chocolat (1999), which was made into an Oscar-nominated film starring Juliette Binoche .
Since then, she has written 15 more novels, two novellas, two collections of short stories, a Dr Who novella, guest episodes for the game Zombies Run, the libretti for two short operas, several screenplays, a musical and three cookbooks. Her books are now published in over 50 countries and have won a number of British and international awards. She is an honorary Fellow of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, has honorary doctorates in literature from the universities of Sheffield and Huddersfield, and has been a judge for the Whitbread Prize, the Orange Prize, the Desmond Elliott Prize, the Betty Trask Award, the Prima Donna Prize and the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science, as well as for the Fragrance Foundation awards for perfume and perfume journalism (for which she also received an award in 2017) .
She is a passionate advocate for authors’ rights, and is currently the Chair of the Society of Authors (SOA), and member of the Board of the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS).
What does success mean to you? Has your definition of it changed over the years and if so, why? | It means – and always has meant – security for my loved ones and the opportunity to make a living doing what I love, and for my work to be appreciated.
What drives you? | Curiosity.
Where do you think your ‘MAGIC’ comes from? |Magic is simply a way of perceiving the world, and our place in it. That’s why so many words for magic also apply to human characteristics: glamour; enchantment; charm. All of that comes from within the human mind and its endless capacity to re-imagine the world.
What is your LIFE-MISSION in one sentence? | Never lose your sense of wonder.
What do you think is often the difference between people who are good at what they do and people who are great at what they do? | Talent: practice: perseverance.
What has been your biggest failure / learning experience? | Forgetting that, where money is concerned, the people you work with can never really be friends.
What is one talent or strength of yours, which has been critical to your success? | Imagination.
What do you believe are the characteristics, actions, habits and behaviours that you both have and use, that have helped you achieve what you have been able to achieve? | The ability to learn from failure; the discipline to embrace hard work and the ability to take pleasure in what I do.
When you get / got STUCK, what caused it and how did you get going again? | Everyone gets stuck. It can be caused by lots of things, including illness, mental health issues, or a lack of exercise, company, sleep, food, inspiration, research. First, work out the cause. Then address it. This is particularly true if the cause is something to do with self-care. Address the cause. Get help if you have to. The work will still be there when you’re ready to get back to it.
What are the principles and values that you believe are important to live by? | Honesty: compassion; perseverance; hard work.
What are the critical skills that you have used and worked on improving, in attaining your success? | The ability to learn from mistakes, to take advice where needed (and to reject it); humility and open-mindedness in the face of criticism; flexibility of thought.
What is your biggest weakness? | The inability to say no.
On a psychological or mind-set level, how do you use your mind and how do you think in a specific way to help you achieve your goals and realize your ambitions? | I ignore them. I’m not ambitious in that way, nor do I see my achievements as “reaching targets.” The book business is too unpredictable for that kind of thinking to work for me. I like what I do. Regardless of success, I would be doing it anyway.
What are the most important lessons you have learnt so far, in your career or life journey? | Always have your contracts independently checked. Join your union. Get everything in writing. Don’t assume that people who are nice to you in person are automatically on your side. Don’t follow trends: create them. If you don’t enjoy your work, no-one else will either.
How do you deal with self-doubt, fear or negativity? Can you share a time in which you either doubted yourself the most or had great fears, yet faced up to them and conquered them? | I face those things daily. I’ll tell you when I’ve conquered them.
What are you most afraid of right now? | Losing the people I love.
What do you want to achieve next and what’s in the way? | I’d like to run a 5-k without stopping. I’m getting there, with practice.
How do you ensure you are always feeling energised and performing at your peak? | I try to eat well and exercise, not to expect too much of myself, and to do things for myself every day. Most authors have a very sedentary lifestyle: I force myself to exercise every day, and it helps.
What resources (people, books, environments, movies, music etc) do you use to keep yourself inspired, informed and growing? | My garden. My library. All kinds of art, movies, music. Social media, which is the way I connect with people most at this time of lockdown. The natural world, which always nourishes me.
As a high performer have you ever had to struggle with happiness and contentment? | Sometimes. I think it’s often very easy for people who would like to be in my position to equate professional success with happiness. I have to remind them that if you have issues with self-doubt, imposter syndrome, body image issues, anxiety, relationships, etc. those things won’t go away with fame or fortune.
What is the best advice you have ever received? | It’s okay to be you. You are not in the world to live up to the expectations of others.
What’s one deeply honest thing that most people don’t know about you? | I’m incredibly conflict-averse. I hide it well.
Who inspires you and who are your role-models? | I don’t really have role models, but I’m very impressed with my 27-year-old daughter and her friends: they are so much more emotionally articulate than my generation ever was. I admire their activism and their passion to change the world for the better.
Would you consider yourself a happy person? If so, how do you cultivate your daily happiness? | Happiness is not a steady state. To aspire to be “happy” is to be perpetually dissatisfied. I enjoy happiness when it happens, and when it doesn’t, I try to accept that it’s like sunshine: it’s not normal for it to be around all the time.
Useful Links |
Website: Joanne Harris