Ali Harris grew up in Norfolk and was a book and magazine-addicted musical theatre geek. When she was eighteen, she moved to London where she studied performing arts whilst working as a waitress. Inspired by authors such as Helen Fielding and Lisa Jewell, Ali found herself writing in her spare time. Six months later, she sent three chapters to ten agents and got nine rejections plus a flicker of interest from the tenth. Giving up the waitressing, she began to her dream career as a journalist at Company, Ali then went onto write at Cosmopolitan and ELLE whilst trying to write her book, but the writing bug persisted and within months of marrying and having her first baby, Ali’s first book ‘Miracle On Regent Street’ came out in October 2011, followed by ‘The First Last Kiss’ in January 2013 and now her third novel ‘Written In The Stars’ is now in the shops
- Your new book is called ‘Written In The Stars’, can you tell us a bit about the story and what inspired you to write it?
Itâ€™s the story of Bea Bishop, a woman who has been paralysed with fear for years, not making any decisions for herself, instead piggy-backing along her life path with the help of her family, friends and boyfriend of seven years, Adam. We first meet her on her wedding day when she is waiting outside the church and is about to walk down the aisle to marry Adam. She knows she loves him â€“ everyone believes theyâ€™re the perfect match – but still, she isnâ€™t entirely sure that sheâ€™s doing the right thing. But, she pushes away her concerns and tells herself everyone feels nervous on their big day. When the wedding march begins, she takes a deep breath and walks towards Adam and what she hopes is the happy ending she is desperate for. Suddenly she spots her ex boyfriend, Kieran, in the congregation and the shock of seeing him makes her slip and fall over and she is knocked unconscious. At this point in the story Beaâ€™s entire world (and the story) splits and we see her make two entirely different decisions. In one story, she gets up, brushes herself down and marries Adam, determined to focus only on her new life as Bea Hudson. In the other, Bea Bishop (as she remains) runs out of the church and sets about facing up her past, something she knows she has to do in order to completely move on. We see each story, each path, each version of her life played out in parallel throughout the course of a year. But do the end up in different places? And which one will give Bea the happy ending she longs for?
I was inspired to write this book by the idea that in this day and age, with social network playing such a big part in our lives, it is pretty impossible to completely let go of our pasts. Through Facebook we are given us daily, sometimes hourly reminders of what our life could be like by connecting us with ex colleagues, old boyfriends and school friends. Thatâ€™s why I decided to use Facebook status updates as the device by which we know which story we are following. Bea Hudson for the married version, Bea Bishop for the single. I was particularly interested to explore whether the choices we make have a big impact on our futures, or if they are alreadyâ€¦ ‘Written in the Stars’ (see what I did there!)
- To the readers of the website, that may not be familiar with you or your writing, can tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing?
Oh thatâ€™s hard. Ok, so I once dreamed of being an actress and did a degree in Performing Arts (which means I basically have a 2:1 in Jazz Hands) Iâ€™m a magazine journalist who has written for ‘Glamour’, ‘Marie Claire’, ‘Cosmo’, ‘Red’, ‘Compan’y, ‘Stylist’â€¦ all the greats, basically. I have singing tourettes when interviewing celebrities, which is painfully embarrassing for all involved. Iâ€™m a die-hard romantic and a total technophobe. I love musicals. I have seen Barry Manilow in concert more times than I care to mention. I have a husband, two small children and a ridiculous pet house rabbit called Miss Lulu Lop Ears who thinks sheâ€™s a dog. I have over active tear ducts. I love a statement ring and have a weakness for Marc Jacobs handbags.
As for my writing I think particularly since the success of my last novel ‘The First Last Kiss’, I have come to be known as an author who writes highly emotional, thought-provoking and heart-breaking books that may have helped to keep Kleenex in business for the past few months! Thatâ€™s what people tell me, anyway!
- What authors do you admire?
So many! J.K Rowling, just because sheâ€™s a legend and I cannot imagine carrying that enormous, perfectly layered and plotted and story, that carefully drawn and brilliantly imagined world, the entire history and characters inside her head for so long. I admire Helen Fielding for single-handedly paving the way for so many women writers to write about modern women with humour and heart in a genre that still sells millions of copies. I love Jennifer Weiner as sheâ€™s one of the many female authors who inspired me to start writing. She writes humour and pathos and deep emotion so brilliantly â€“ and she also is famously championing that contemporary womenâ€™s fiction should be taking more seriously. Also, on a more personal level, I am in awe of my friend Paige Toon because she writes brilliant books and characters that come to life seemingly effortlessly whilst I appear to go through torture and a much slower and more painful process to get to the same place. I am inspired to get to her level of confidence, certainty and turnover!
- What’s your favourite book of all time?
Oh itâ€™s hard â€“ too hard! There are so many for a multitude of different reasons. I adored ‘Labyrinth’ by Kate Mosse when I read it a few years ago and itâ€™s one of the only books that I long to read again. If only I had more timeâ€¦
- What do you find the hardest in the writing process?
You know in ‘The Great British Bake Off’ when Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry talk about â€˜soggy bottomsâ€™. Well, I often fall prey to a flabby middle in my books. It is usually at the half way mark that I start sinking a little, panicking that the story is not going where I want it to, that my characters arenâ€™t coming to life enough, that Iâ€™m not making the right decisions for them. At this point I have been known to chuck 40,000 words away and start again. Or at least I have to stop, regroup, change a few things and then try and push on till the end. I am happiest when Iâ€™ve finished the first draft and I LOVE the editing process. Itâ€™s such a relief knowing that someone else is going to read it and have some input so Iâ€™m not carrying it on my own anymore. I also tend to rewrite a lot off my own back at this point (much to my editorâ€™s dismay I think!) I just suddenly get these lightbulb moments once the story is out of my head that make me understand my characters so much more. I love going back and colouring in the characters, creating more light and shade. I just find I have so much more perspective at this point.
- What book did you read, that made you decide to become an author?
I have always written for my own amusement but reading ‘Ralphâ€™s Party’ by Lisa Jewell made me realise this was what I wanted to do for a living. Prior to this brilliant debut, I hadnâ€™t read anything that resonated with me so much. As someone who had always loved to read and write it definitely made me think I want, no â€“ I need to do this as a career. I loved Lisaâ€™s writing style (she is still one of my favourite authors today) and I completely engaged and related to the complicated lives of Jem, Ralph and co who were struggling to find their place in the world. Something I very much related to in my early 20s. I guess this idea continues to inspire me now particularly with Written in the Stars, this idea that all of us have moments when we wonder if weâ€™re making the right decisions, choosing the right careers, the right partners, living our life in the best possible way. That it isnâ€™t always smooth sailing and happy ever afters.
- If you were starting your writing journey again, is there anything you would do differently?
I donâ€™t think so. For a while I wished it hadnâ€™t taken me quite so long (ten years!) to be published. But then, I had a fantastic career in magazines prior to becoming an author and I wouldnâ€™t change that for a second. I also donâ€™t think I was really ready before. As you can tell, Iâ€™m not a big believer in regrets!
- What’s been your proudest writing moment?
Definitely publication day for ‘Miracle on Regent Street’. Itâ€™s such a clichÃ© but it really was a dream come true. My publishers had organized for a taxi to drive down Regent Street with me in it – and my book cover was emblazoned on the side. I kind of got mobbed in the street when I got out (mainly because my publishers were giving away free books â€“ but stillâ€¦) It was the moment I felt that finally, after years of false starts and lots of hard work and rejections, my dream had come true.
- What tips or advice would you offer an aspiring writer?
To have utter faith and confidence in yourself. You will need it to cope with the endless rejections. If you are lucky enough to be published quickly then you will also need this same self-assurance to not take bad reviews to heart. Also, it is so important to enjoy what you do and to write a book that you love and you could only do that if you believe in what you are writing. If you do if for more cynical reasons (money â€“ ha! Fame â€“ double ha!) not only will agents/publishers see through it â€“ you will also be sorely disappointed because (apart from a very small percentage of authors) there is not much of either in this business. You have to not just want to do it, but need to do it. I would also say that you have to write often. If you treat it as an occasional hobby, thatâ€™s all itâ€™ll ever be. It took me years to get a book deal because I let life get in the way, I threw myself into my career and social life, fell in love, got engaged, then married, renovated a house, wrote a few chapter here and there, when I had time, or thought that the â€˜museâ€™ might strike. It took me getting pregnant and telling myself it was my final deadline to really sit down and take it seriously. A year later I had an agent. And another year later, I got my book deal.
The last piece of advice â€“ and the one thing I always say to aspiring writers is to remember that all it takes is one â€˜yesâ€™. That and the determination to never give up.
- When sitting down to write, what is the one thing you always need beside you?
A latte. And a tidy desk. Iâ€™m the freak that finds it impossible to be creative unless everything is tidy! Yes, it is an avoidance techniqueâ€¦. Thatâ€™s why I have a writing shed â€“ so I can ignore the chaos in my house!
- If you were stranded on a desert, what three books would you bring with you to occupy your time?
Ooh thatâ€™s so hard. Iâ€™d say really, really thick ones so that I wouldnâ€™t run out of reading material too quickly. Letâ€™s say ‘War and Peace’, because I will never read it otherwise. ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogyâ€¦ (published in one enormous tome! Is that cheating?) because I never finished it as a child. My parents brought me it as one book and it was so heavy and that my 10 year old self could barely pick it up let alone lug it around! And last but not least Iâ€™d definitely take a book about Surviving on a desert island!
- And finally Ali, do you have any new projects coming up on the horizon?
Iâ€™m currently writing my fourth novel which I am super excited about as it is set on Broadway, both in present day and in 1955 during the golden era of musicals. So not only am I getting to geek out and doing lots of incredible research (me to husband: â€˜I really MUST go to New York on my own for a week and see lots of showsâ€) but I am also indulging my love of history in an era that I am completely fascinated by. Heaven!