Joanne Harris: Life in the middle of nowhere
'Chocolat' author Joanne Harris loves the fact that her house is in the country: there's silence to write, and she can make loads of noise without the neighbours complaining
Wednesday 07 January 2009
I'm not fond of cities: the constant activity and swarms of people. Where I live now is in the same rural area in which I grew up, and I can't imagine living anywhere else. There's a wide diversity of people in the village, which is just the right size. There are a few shops and conveniences: a post office and a little supermarket, so I don't have to go far afield, but there is also the sense of being in the middle of nowhere.
I first fell in love with the house for its outdoor space; it's surrounded by grounds of five acres, including a Japanese garden with a waterfall, ponds, orchards, a vegetable garden, a landscaped area and a little woodland at the back. For someone who was used to living so close to the street, it's nice to finally have a barrier from the rest of the world. I have a huge greenhouse where I take my laptop and work, surrounded by a multitude of gold trees; it's one of my favourite places to be.
We moved here at Christmas time, and it wasn't warm, comfortable or dry. When we bought it, the place was the result of an accumulation of decades of neglect. There were buckets strategically positioned all over the place. It wasn't in a shocking state aesthetically, but it still had Victorian wiring and outdated plumbing. It took an age to finish the basics – you know that when your electrician starts sending your daughter birthday cards, the work has gone on too long.
From the outside the place looks a lot bigger than it really is. Inside, there's a lot of clutter. I got into collecting paintings in a small way recently, so there's a portrait of our daughter in the main bedroom, and a few nice little things scattered about. My husband's far tidier than I am. I tend to accumulate debris, but in the confined space of my library/study, not covering every surface. I like to think of this as creative clutter.
It's nice to have my space filled with a collection of things that mean something to me. I get ideas all over the place, but the library is the nicest room to work in; it's the warmest in winter, which is important. Given the incredibly high ceilings, it can get chilly in other parts of the house. As I spend so much time in here, it's important that this space is comfortable. A statue of the Virgin Mary which belonged to my grandmother is kept in here. It's the one thing she treasured throughout her life. I have a few things from the set of Chocolat: objects that seemed like a good idea at the time.
A book press dominates the room – when I found it I had gone out in search of a coffee table, but these things happen. For instance, I was going to get a proper desk with a blotter, but instead I picked out a Victorian child's desk. I'm not sure what I would have done with a real writer's desk anyway; after years spent as a teacher, I feel much more comfortable with the one I now have.
Our dining hall has very little furniture, but it does have a vast fireplace with extraordinary woodwork and a statue, which was possibly pulled out of a church. It's all a bit grand in some parts of the house. But, overall, the place is a true hybrid, given how much renovation and extension work has taken place since the original house was built in 1840. There is plenty of art-deco detail, such as deep bay windows, stained glass and wood panelling, as well as elaborate mouldings in the ceiling, which I love to gaze at; these date from around the same time.
There is a music room at the side of the house which has no heating. This is where my husband and I get together with friends on a Saturday night and make a noise. Kevin plays the drums, and we have a band area set up on a permanent basis. With the luxury of having no neighbours, we can make a racket until 2am. Our daughter has a suite to herself, so she isn't bothered by the noise. In all, this house suits us perfectly, although it is too big for our purposes. We are not remotely interested in moving – we're very happy where we are.
Interview by Charlotte Philby
Joanne Harris, 44, is the author of 14 novels, including 'Chocolat', 'Blackberry Wine' and 'Gentlemen and Players'. She lives near Huddersfield with her husband, Kevin, and their daughter, Anouk, 6. Her first novel, 'The Evil Seed', has been reissued, published by Black Swan, priced £6.99.
Joanne Harris: Get the look
Four-poster bed: Prices vary (0121-777 0836; www.samfurnishingltd.co.uk )
Victorian mahogany desk chair: £1,500 (01202 718 618; www.stocksandchairsantiques.com )
Moroccan leather pouffe: £95 (0845 257 1104; www.cocomale.co.uk )
Tiles: Prices vary ( www.maerimceramic.com )
Drum kit: £849.99 (0161-480 5252; www.drummin.co.uk )
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