I was born in Bloomsbury, London in 1974 and until I was nearly two lived in a mansion block overlooking the Foundling Museum, Coram Fields, and Mecklenburg Square.
When I was nine months old my father Phil, who wrote thrillers but was also a successful paperback publisher (he worked with, amongst many others, Delia Smith, Jack Higgins, Jan Morris, John le Carré and David Niven, with whom he became great friends) had a serious accident on his way back from a trip to New York when his car hit a lamppost. He nearly died and when he eventually came through was in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. It obviously changed everything including my parents’ plans but they were very determined to carry on as if everything was normal and we moved to Chiswick to the red-bricked house with the District Tube line at the end of a long garden. My sister was born in 1977 and Mum and Dad owned that same house until just before my dad died in October 2021.
Chiswick in the 70’s and 80’s was more full of people wearing quilted waistcoats with tiny mirrors, penniless actors and patchouli oil than it is now. It was a suburb full of ordinary families, a bit like the Shirley Hughes books: I loved reading them to my children years later because they remind me so much of my childhood. We walked to school along by the river Thames and used to mudlark, picking out blue and white china shards and old penny bits.
At school I did lots of music especially singing. I loved different types of media: old cinema, comedy programmes, audio and magazines but most of all I loved thinking up stories and losing myself in books, they were truly my refuge from the world, as a big worrier. When I was 18 I went to Bristol to study Classical Studies. I loved university, it was a revelation and I had a total blast. When I left I didn’t know what to do and after several mis-steps I heard on the grapevine about a job at a publishers which I applied for and by some miracle got, I think because I was enthusiastic. Enthusiasm will get you further than you think. It’s responsible for about 80% of my career!
The moment I started in publishing, at Heinemann in 1996, was a revelation. I felt for the first time everything made sense and I was in the place I wanted to be. I am left-handed; left-handers will know that strange feeling sometimes of adapting yourself to a right- handed world; when I joined my first publishing company I felt as if I utterly belonged for the first time. Being in book world talking about books for twelve years, at Reed, then Penguin, then Hodder Headline, I was blissfully happy. I became an editor, then a publisher, serving on the board of my last company, and worked with some amazing authors from Sue Townsend and Penny Vincenzi to escorting Dick Francis outside during a fire drill, getting a fax from Tony Curtis, meeting Lauren Bacall, shaking hands with Martin Johnson after England won the Rugby World Cup, having my photo in a Jamie Oliver book and making coffee for Harry Enfield.
In 2005 my first novel GOING HOME was published. I had written it in secret and didn’t have the confidence to do anything about it for a long time until I finally plucked up courage to send it to an agent under a pseudonym. I have been so lucky to have written fourteen books, been a top ten bestseller, a Richard and Judy book club selection twice, won the Good Housekeeping Book of the Year, been published in America, when I got to see my book in a Barnes and Noble in Union Square before taking a yellow cab to my launch party in Grand Central station. I think if the nervous girl who used to throw up all the time and drive herself mad with anxiety who had no self worth could seen herself in that cab on that autumn evening she’d be pretty amazed. I gave up working in publishing in 2009 to write full time, making up stories, building worlds, editing, rewriting, cutting. Writing is a strange job to have – last week I went from not having spoken all day to talking live on the radio to several hundred thousand people. It requires very different mindsets and energy and that’s partly why I love it – I am an extrovert but at heart, really like being on my own: I am happiest when I am writing, like most writers.
Now I have two beautiful gorgeous amazing daughters and a partner, Chris, aka the Luckiest Man in Bath. In December 2019 just before the pandemic we moved here from London. I love Bath and being closer to green spaces, butterflies, wild flowers, new stories, but mostly I love walking down the streets past people wearing Jane Austen costumes because it’s Tuesday and why the hell not?
In addition to my writing I was elected to the board of the Management Committee of the Society of Authors last year and am proud to work representing authors’ rights in these strange times. I am an Ambassador for the London Library and a volunteer for Inspiring the Future, a fantastic organisation that goes into schools and works to give children the chance to aspire as high as possible. I passionately believe we need to read and hear different stories and experiences now more than ever and work urgently to close the widening gulf in literacy developing in this country as a result of years of underfunding in schools, libraries and literacy programmes. As a child from a publishing background and as a former publisher and with my SoA hat on I am really keen to widen the pool of voices going into both publishing and writing.
Love and owls, Harrie