Jane Harris biography

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Jane Harris
Photo: Jerry Bauer

Jane Harris

Jane Harris Biography

Jane Harris was born in Belfast, Ireland and raised in Glasgow, Scotland. Her short stories have appeared in a wide variety of anthologies and magazines, and she has written several award-winning short films. In 2000, she received a Writer's Award from the Arts Council of England.

She started writing by accident while living in Portugal in the early 90s. She says, "I had no TV, hardly any books, no money. And so, just to amuse myself, I started writing a short story. It was about an ex-boyfriend who happened to be a transvestite. I had such a great time writing that story that I immediately wrote another one, about another ex-boyfriend; all my early stories were about ex-boyfriends. I kept writing these stories and they were getting published in anthologies and magazines. By this time, I had moved back to Scotland, having decided that I wanted to be a writer."

She studied creative writing at the University of East Anglia, and then became writer-in-residence in Durham prison. It was there that she began her first novel, structured as a set of short stories. One of these short pieces was about a farmer-poet and a girl he acquires songs from. However, Harris says that as soon as she invented the voice of the girl, Bessy started taking over and she ended up ditching the farmer and focusing on Bessy and "Missus" - the woman who employs her as a maid.

The project ground to a halt at about 10,000 words when Harris started to write short scripts for her husband, film director Tom Shankland; two films, Going Down (2000) and Bait (1999), were nominated for BAFTA awards. When she rediscovered her novel in a box in the attic in 2003 she says that she couldn't believe she had abandoned Bessy. She sent the first 100 pages to publishers, and a bidding war took place between Faber, Fourth Estate and Hodder for UK rights. The Observations was published by Faber & Faber (UK) and Viking (USA) in hardcover in 2006, and Gillespie and I, her second novel, was published in 2011.

Jane Harris's website

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Interview

Jane Harris discusses many aspects of her first novel, The Observations, including why she chose to set the book half way between Edinburgh and Glasgow, and in what ways the heroine, Bessy, is based on Jane's mother.

It seems that everyone who reads The Observations is fascinated by the narrative voice of Bessy Buckley - by the freshness of her diction, the earthy glow of her humor, and her inventive use of slang. How were you able to devise a voice that is so coarse and untutored yet so thoughtful and engaging?

I think it comes mainly from my background, from my Irish and Scottish family and friends, in particular my mother, Kate, and my aunt Sheila and my friend Noeleen. Lots of Bessy's sayings and turns of phrase belong to them, as does her sense of humor. My mother, who was brought up in Belfast, is always saying "Jesus Murphy," for instance. I checked that these phrases would be historically feasible and then used them. Both my mother and aunt are great storytellers and have wicked senses of humor. And my aunt is a very optimistic person, so I gave Bessy that indomitable quality. In addition to what I used from family and friends, I found a few dictionaries of historical slang that were useful. There were also times when I simply made stuff up - so some of it comes from my imagination.


Your novel has prompted comparisons with Fielding and Thackeray. In the book's atmosphere of destitute but attractive ...

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Books by this Author

Books by Jane Harris at BookBrowse
Gillespie and I jacket The Observations jacket
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Readalikes

All the books below are recommended as readalikes for Jane Harris but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
How we choose readalikes

  • Peter Ackroyd

    Peter Ackroyd

    Novelist, biographer, and poet Peter Ackroyd was born in London on October 5, 1949.

    He graduated from Clare College, Cambridge, and studied at Yale University as a Mellon Fellow, where he completed Notes for a New Culture: ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    The Observations

    Try:
    The Lambs of London
    by Peter Ackroyd

  • Clare Clark

    Clare Clark

    Clare read History at Trinity College, Cambridge, where she was a Senior Scholar. She graduated with a Double First.

    She then spent eleven years in advertising, first at Saatchi & Saatchi and then, as a board director... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    The Observations

    Try:
    The Great Stink
    by Clare Clark

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