#joaniegalboss: Interview with Author, Sarah J Harris
Our #joaniegalboss series continues and this time we got to catch up with author and education journalist, Sarah J Harris. In our exclusive interview, we get the low down on Sarah's new book (which is out this month!), her career and her style. Read on the full Sarah J Harris interview with Joanie...
Hi Sarah! You’re an accomplished author and your novel The Colour of Bee Larkham's Murder will be released in May 2018, can you tell us a little about it?
My novel is about a 13-year-old boy, Jasper Wishart, who has a condition called synaesthesia, which causes him to see the colour of all sounds. He also has face blindness and relies on the colour of people’s voices to help identify them. Jasper believes he is responsible for his neighbour, Bee Larkham’s death because he has seen the colour of her screams - ice blue crystals with glittery edges and jagged silver icicles - the night she disappeared from his street.
What inspires your storylines and characters?
I’ve been interested in synaesthesia for years, after coming across the condition during my work as a freelance education journalist. The central idea for the novel actually came to me in a dream – a young boy running across a suburban street at night, terrified by something he’d witnessed. When I woke up, I wondered if the colour of a sound could have traumatised him - the colour of murder. The book went from there. I did a lot of research into synaesthesia and face blindness, as well as parakeets and painting using acrylics, which are both central to my main character, Jasper’s life. I found the research totally fascinating.
Not only a novelist, you’re also a freelance education journalist, write for national newspapers and a mum of two – what’s a typical day like for you?
I drop my children off at school and then come home and work in my study or in a café if I want a change of scene. Most days I’m working on my latest book but I can also be interviewing someone about apprenticeships or career changes for an education feature I’m writing. I work until I have to pick up my children from school - and have longer, more productive days whenever they have after-school clubs. I’ll work on and off in the late afternoon/evening in between getting tea ready and ferrying my sons around to various activities. Often, I’ll start to work again from 10.30pm onwards and will sometimes stay up until 1am or 2am writing if I’ve hit my stride. I’ve previously had three Young Adult books published for teenagers - the Jessica Cole: Model Spy series - which I wrote under a pseudonym, Sarah Sky. The deadlines were tight - I had to deliver a book every six months - so there were definitely late nights involved during that publishing contract!
What’s been your personal career highlight?
Getting my book deal with HarperCollins for The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder was a dream come true, as I’ve always wanted to have an adult novel published. It was thrilling when my agent put my book out on submission and we gained immediate interest from different publishers. It was bought by HarperCollins in a pre-empt within a week, which was unbelievably exciting. I know my book is in the best possible home. My editor, Martha Ashby, is passionate about The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder and I’ve had huge support from the sales, marketing and publicity teams from day one. I feel very privileged to be working with such an amazing and talented group of people. I’m also extremely lucky to have a US deal with Touchstone Books, which is publishing the novel on June 12, and to have sold foreign right to countries including China, Hungary, Spain, Portugal and the Czech Republic. The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder is definitely my career highlight to date.
Do you have an all-time favourite book?
There are too many to choose from! As a child, my favourite book was The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken. I went on to love the Classics – particularly Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and Rebecca. Now, I enjoy a good thriller with lots of twists, but I read widely across different genres.
I always look out for books by Rachel Joyce, Sarah Pinborough, Kate Atkinson and Kate Mosse. I’ve also read lots of brilliant debuts this year including Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton, The Lido by Libby Page, The Rules of Seeing by Joe Heap, Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce and The Chalk Man by CJ Tudor. My TBR pile includes The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar and a proof copy of The Corset by Laura Purcell (both of which I’m dying to start reading) but it grows by the day.
What’s the best piece of advice you would give to aspiring writers?
Don’t give up. Getting published is hard and I’ve had many, many setbacks over the years. I lost my first ever agent after she suddenly decided to quit the industry. I went on to gain two four-book deals for children – Hurrah! And then the publishing house collapsed and went under, taking my eight children’s books with them ahead of publication. My agent at the time also lost her job as the entire children’s department was axed by the literary agency. I went from having an agent and an exciting book deal to nothing. I was back to square one again. At any point over the years I could have given up because the disappointment and the rejections feel utterly crushing. But you can’t give up if you are serious about being an author - and if you absolutely love writing. My advice is: keep writing, keep reading, cry if you need to after receiving your zillionth rejection and then get back up again, dust yourself off and try, try, try again.
As well as writing, we read that you enjoy martial arts – how did you get into that?
I started kickboxing many years ago as a friend from work had begun training. I really got into it and was training three times a week at one point and got up to green belt level. I enjoyed the fitness side of kickboxing, but also the confidence it gave me, knowing that I was capable of defending myself if I really had to. About five or six years ago, I switched to karate and I love it even more! I’m currently a black belt and hoping to grade later this year to become a 2nd Dan – if I manage to fit in enough training in between writing. I also recently went to a Krav Maga workshop, which I really enjoyed. It’s probably more hands-on than karate, learning how to disarm weapons and to get out of head and arm locks. I’ve looked into classes near me and would quite like to start training if I have enough time.
What else do you like to do for fun in your spare time – how do you let your hair down?
I read lots of books and enjoy baking as well as pilates and yoga. I love visiting antique fairs, charity shops and car boot sales to look for hidden treasures!
We’d describe your style as effortlessly classic. What are your go-to wardrobe staples?
I like to mix affordable High Street with vintage finds. When I’m writing at home, I’m quite relaxed. I live in jeans or black trousers along with a sweatshirt or a pretty blouse and cardigan. However, I like to look smart if I’m going to interview someone or if I’m doing something book-related. I’ve found the Joanie Toni fitted stretch dresses really handy as they’re comfortable and classic. I wore the blue dress for a HarperCollins social event in January, where I met lots of lovely independent book retailers, and the red one when I recorded a recent podcast about synaesthesia and face blindness. I love dressing up for the evening - and have far, far too many sequin tops and dresses. I’ve got the Uma sequin dress in rose and also green - it’s absolutely stunning! I wore the green dress for another HarperCollins event in February.
We hear that you’re already a certified Joanie Gal! What’s on your wishlist for the new season?
I love the classic, elegant style of the Thelma shirt dress in black check - it looks easy to dress up or down with different accessories. It would look great with a bright red lipstick and red nail polish. I could definitely see myself wearing this when I do bookstore visits.
I’m very tempted by the Pepper Swan print shirt dress - the swan design on the blue cotton is gorgeous. It looks like a really fun dress to wear and quite different. I like the length - it’s not too short. I always want to feel comfortable and not have to worry about a hem or neckline when I’m out and about.
I’ve been looking for a yellow sweatshirt and the Bronte is ideal. It’s the perfect pop of colour with jeans or navy trousers.
I’ve also had my eye on the Simmons Lips print shift dress for a while now - I’ve spotted some of the fashion bloggers I follow on Instagram really rocking it!