Interview with Joanne Harris

Author Joanne Harris has written bestselling novels set in France, including Chocolat. She talks to Zo� McIntyre about her latest book, the country’s cuisine and her French addictions

In your new book, Peaches for Monsieur le Cur�, you revisit the village and characters we got to know in Chocolat. Why the welcome return?

I have written about Vianne Rocher twice, firstly in Chocolat and then in The Lollipop Shoes, when she moved to Paris and a lot of things in her life changed. But I think I have always had a feeling that she had something unresolved in Lansquenet and at some point she would have to go back and confront what it was.

Your story has a strong culinary theme. What inspires you about French cuisine?

France has always had this idea of a regional identity in food and cooking, which I don’t think Britain had for a long time, although it might be coming back a bit now. When you go into local communities in France there are still a lot of small entrepreneurs doing exactly what their grandfathers did, and ignoring the concept of globalisation, just selling to locals. But unless you go into local areas, you will never know about these regional specialities.

What do you choose to eat when you visit France?

I usually eat quite simple things. By the sea it’s always nice to have freshly cooked seafood; inland I like poultry and geese. I don’t cook anything like as much as people think I do, or anything as complicated, but I do like cooking. It’s always nice to enjoy things that are local, regional and in season.

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It is rumoured that your love affair with chocolate has ended?

I think people assume I eat nothing but chocolate. I do like it, of course. But over the years after Chocolat came out I think I got a bit overfaced with chocolate and my tastes have changed a little since then.

I’ve heard you are a perfume addict – is there a particular scent you bring back from France?

It is sometimes difficult to get Guerlain scents in England; even when you go to Paris there is only one place I know of, at the Guerlain shop which sells lots of things that I am unable to find elsewhere. I especially like L’Heure Bleue which is rather difficult to get hold of sometimes. So I suppose I do have an addiction to certain things that I have to bring back from France, such as proper foie gras and lentils in tins – tinned goods in England don’t compare with French ones.

What part of France has most inspired your writing?

I don’t write about one specific place all the time. I have written about where my mother’s family mostly comes from in Brittany, the west coast and the Vend�e, but I have also written about the south west and Paris. I wouldn’t choose to write about a place I knew nothing about. Usually these places have connotations for me, sometimes to do with nostalgia, sometimes something else.

Do you have a favourite French location?

For many years when I was a child and right up into my twenties I would spend my holidays on the �le de Noirmoutier (pictured below) where my grandfather had a house. I have written about it before and it’s a place I go back to with my own family. It has changed a lot; when I started going there it was a real island with a typical island community. Now it has a bridge and more tourism, but there is still plenty there to make it unique.

Are you an admirer of French literature?

I was brought up in a very conservative background with French reading. I read everything that was in my grandfather’s library: a lot of classics including Flaubert, Rimbaud and Baudelaire. My grandfather was obsessed with Victor Hugo and so I read a lot of his books and poetry as an adolescent. My grandfather didn’t speak English and so all his books were in French. I read a lot of English novels that had been translated into French, but didn’t realise they were translations; for a long time I thought Agatha Christie was French!

Will you keep returning to France for your writing inspiration?

I don’t have anything planned right now, but I certainly will at some point in the future. When? Who knows...

Peaches for Monsieur le Cur� is published by Doubleday, priced �18.99 (hardback)