The highlight of my writerly life – the day I met Joanne Harris

Last weekend, the World Fantasy Convention was in Brighton. I’d known about this since earlier in the year, and I tweeted the friend of Plot Bunnies, first-ever Q&A victim, Joanne Harris, to ask if we could perhaps meet up while she was in town. Yes, she said, that would be lovely. She asked me to email her nearer the time. (We’d been corresponding via Twitter & re Plot Bunnies for a while, by this time.)

The time came, and I did indeed email her, but her PA replied telling me that she would be far too busy to meet. Shit. Well, I tried again. Maybe she had a few minutes afterwards. No, she didn’t. Oh.

Never one to be deterred, I tweeted Joanne directly and she said she was still not sure what she was doing and to give her a shout if I saw her. I knew I wouldn’t simply bump into her – I wasn’t attending the convention – so I bit the bullet and emailed her my phone number on the Tuesday, saying that if she was comfortable ringing to give me a call and we could meet up for a few minutes.

I heard nothing back, but she did what I was hoping she would (and perhaps what I myself would have done in a similar situation) – on Thursday, before the con got started, she sent me a text inviting me to the Hilton, where the con was taking place, for breakfast.

Rarely have I been so keen to get out of bed. Thankfully, I had brought one of her books with me, on the off chance (I crashed at a friend’s place after late training on Wednesday), and I wrapped it carefully so it wouldn’t get damaged in my bag (I’m a bit neurotic when it comes to hardbacks, especially), then made my way to the hotel in the rain. Yes, I had failed in my endeavour to hold back the rain using my bunny powers.

Anyway, I sent her a text to say I was in the lobby and waited. It was while I was looking in the other direction, of course, that I heard a voice behind me. ‘Are you Dawn?’ ‘Yes, hi.’ ‘I’m Joanne.’ So, we found somewhere to sit and drink coffee, in Joanne’s case tea, and the waitress brought over a little hourglass thingy with three different coloured sands: white, green and black. Joanne waited until the black sand was through (last, naturally), counted down: ‘Three, two, one… OK,’ then poured.

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This was something very, very special for me. (Meeting Joanne, not the tea.) I have been a huge fan of her books since I first read Chocolat as a proof copy when I was working in a bookshop back in 1999. I haven’t yet read her Rune books, but I promised her I would, though she understands that not everyone likes everything she’s written. Still, I will read them.

I had a little fangirl moment while she signed my book for me, and then we carried on talking. And talking. And talking. It was a great opportunity for me to completely geek out about writing and books, and even martial arts (yes, really). Joanne told me stories of what people have said to her when they’ve met her (’Who are you, actually?’ ‘Joanne Harris.’ Pause. ‘Not the Joanne Harris?’ ‘Well, which Joanne Harris do you mean?’ ‘The writer.’ ‘I am a writer, yes.’ Yak-yak-yak. ‘Who are you again?’ And so on.) And she told me stories of random people she’s encountered during her numerous journeys on the East Coast Mainline (the man who dissected his prawn salad sandwich was a particular highlight).

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It was good to know that we agreed about writing and what it entails, that I, a mere amateur (as yet, anyway), was able to discuss writing and the publishing industry with some degree of authority with a lady who has been immersed in it for more than a decade. We discussed the merits of swearing (or not), depending on whether the piece demands it, and people’s reactions to it. And I spilt my coffee. Yes. I felt like a complete prat, of course, but Joanne was unfazed, opining that cups like this one were designed so that one cannot help but spill the contents.

We laughed. A lot. Joanne is a very funny lady. I felt relaxed in her company. Even though she’s my favourite writer and is my writerly equivalent of a fucking rock star, any nerves I felt on meeting her were quickly dispelled. Even if I did feel like a twat when I spilt coffee everywhere.

Thank you so much, Joanne, for a very memorable two hours. And I hope you weren’t too late for your interview.

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