Some writers are circumspect about their early work. The Nobel Prize laureate Patrick White banned his publishers from reissuing his first novel, Happy Valley, fearing it would diminish his name. Sylvia Plath initially published under pseudonyms. Joanne Harris had the luxury of plain old obscurity when her novel Chocolat became a best-seller. Many assumed it was her first novel. Her first two books, The Evil Seed and Sleep Pale Sister, written while she taught French at a boy's school in Leeds, northern England, had been forgotten. But the demand for more of Harris' writing led to the reissue of Sleep Pale Sister. The book, while having its own niche fan base, is an overblown Victorian gothic tale of the supernatural. Harris is well aware that it's less accessible than her later work. 'I didn't really intend to reissue it, but when it came out it had a number of fans,' she says. 'A rather small number. They were very vocal and they've been campaigning to get it back. Plus, I think it's always intriguing for people when they have liked an author to go to what the author did right at the beginning. 'Sleep Pale Sister was extremely overwritten Gothic, it was deliberately overwritten. I suspect a lot of writers get rid of their early writing, but I don't see the point in that. I'm not interested in creating a sort of mystique around me. I don't believe in authors springing fully formed from the brow of Zeus. I don't think it really happens. They may pretend it does afterwards.' Harris, a softly-spoken woman, has lived for years with her husband and their daughter, now 11, in the old Yorkshire industrial town of Huddersfield. She started writing in her spare time. She published The Evil Seed in 1989 in her 20s. It's a posh vampire tale that she has no intention of republishing. 'What's the point?' she says. 'It was a piece of juvenilia.' After that came Sleep Pale Sister (1994), and then a decisive five-year gap until the release of Chocolat. Harris moved away from Victoriana and gloomy atmospherics, while retaining some of the mystical elements of her early writing. Imbuing the book's culinary theme with a folkloric primacy she hit on the right note to give it broad appeal. 'I feel as if I'm under alien control most of the time when I'm writing. I get into characters. It can be a bit like method acting. I do understand that when I've written a bit too much as a certain character, I have to stop. Otherwise, I become difficult to live with.' The hype around Chocolat, which was made into a hit film with Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche, changed Harris' life. Whereas before she got an occasional letter from a fan, after Chocolat she got sacks full. She's on the road much of the year talking about her stable of books - Blackberry Wine, (2000), Five Quarters of the Orange (2001), Coastliners (2002), Holy Fools (2003) and Jigs and Reels (2004) - and gently complains that she finds little time to write. The reward is that she's no longer neglected, and Sleep Pale Sister has been moved off the horror shelves alongside the likes of Dean Koontz and Anne Rice. Harris is published in 42 countries and is on the judging panel for this year's Whitbread Prize. 'I have a very low boredom threshold,' she says. 'I'm not that interested in being a brand, otherwise I'd still be writing Gothic novels and probably getting somewhere these days because now is the time for the Gothic novel to come back. 'The rise in interest for what is essentially fairy stories is directly a result of people finding it increasingly difficult to cope with life and what's going on. Originally, fairy stories weren't written for children. They are direct coping mechanisms, to persuade people monsters can be overcome and that sometimes love can save you and sometimes there's a happy ever after. 'You're dealing with fear. Nowadays, people don't believe so much in vampires, but they do believe in the paedophile who might abduct their child. The nature of fear hasn't changed all that much. The nature of the desire for escape and the happy ending hasn't changed much, either.' Having almost finished her latest novel, which is set in a boy's grammar school in the north of England, Harris has turned her attention more to the Whitbread finalists - and says she's less than impressed with the standard of contemporary fiction. 'I don't know whether it's prizes, generally, or the nature of publishing today, but there are an awful lot of clones,' she says. 'There is so much self-regarding tosh - two lesbians living in a crack house in Glasgow or some kid being abused by priests in Kerry. And it's just been done to death. There's a kind of division between what the reading public enjoys and what a very small circle of influential critics believes is good main-stream literature. 'The mainstream now tends to have the reputation of being peopled by luvvies with no conceivable idea of what the public wants to read.'