I have the pleasure of welcoming the fantastic new author Ali Harris to my brand new blog today in an exclusive interview! Ali's debut novel Miracle on Regent Street was one of my favourite festive reads of this year, (you can read the review here!) and one of my favourite books overall too, it was just so fantastic, I couldn't put it down. I had a chance to ask Ali some of my burning questions about the book and her road to becoming published, so here we go! Welcome Ali!
Chloe: Tell us about your new book Miracle on Regent Street.
Ali: With pleasure! But I can't tell you how weird it is being interviewed - it's usually me asking the questions! Miracle on Regent Street is about a sweet stockroom girl called Evie Taylor who lives an invisible existence unpacking endless boxes in the basement of Hardy’s – a department store that has seen better days. The stockroom has become her comfort blanket, where she can bury her past heartbreak and hide from her future. All that is threatened when Evie overhears that Hardy's is at risk of being sold unless it seriously increases its profits by December 26th – just 3 weeks time. Evie and Hardy's are both looking for a Christmas miracle to turn their fortunes around, but will it be in the form of the handsome American who has swept into town, along with the snow?
Chloe: 'Hardy's' sounds like a beautiful shop - did you base it on any shops you've ever visited, or is it entirely from your own imagination?!
Ali: It really is the shop I wish existed, especially at Christmas time so a lot of it is from my own imagination, but I drew inspiration from wonderful old department stores in London like Liberty’s and the sadly departed Dickens and Jones. I wanted to write about a place that had once been great back in ‘the old days’ but had lost its way. I like to think that Hardy’s is as much a character as Evie is, and actually, they’re a reflection of each other. They both just need someone to uncover their true potential.
Chloe: I absolutely loved Evie and her love of vintage clothes too - is Evie based on anybody, and are you a bit of a vintage clothes fan yourself? Did you have to do a lot of research into vintage to write about them so well?
Ali: Ahh thank you, I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for her myself! She is actually loosely based on someone I worked with many (many) years ago. My first job out of University was at Selfridges and at our morning staff meetings I was always intrigued by the stockroom girl. I didn’t particularly enjoy working there and I found myself envying the freedom of her job that meant she came and went as she pleased and didn’t have to deal with all the petty problems and politics of the shop floor. It occurred to me that although she probably felt invisible, she knew the stock better than anyone else. She was in the engine room, the heart and soul of the store and we all relied on her, whether we knew her name or not. And that’s where the idea for Miracle On Regent Street came from. And I definitely share Evie’s love of vintage clothes. Being a teen in the 90s (the decade that fashion forgot) I always longed to wear clothes from the past – when an outfit was a statement and you didn’t need an excuse to dress up. My sister and I used to spend weekends scouring antique centres and charity shops for vintage pieces just like our mum used to wear (who was a successful hairdresser in the swinging 60s) – and that’s never left me. I have lost count of the number of beautiful vintage frocks I have in my wardrobe but as much as I love the clothes themselves, it is the stories of lives lived before that appeal to me as much.
Chloe: Miracle on Regent Street is your debut novel - how did your book deal come about and how did you feel to finally see your first novel in print?
Ali: Oh my goodness, it feels completely amazing! I know it’s a cliché but it’s honestly a dream come true. After a lifetime of writing, wanting, hoping and dreaming about it, I finally got my book deal last June when my now-editor (the utterly wonderful Maxine Hitchcock from Simon & Schuster) offered me a two-book deal after reading the first fifteen chapters of Miracle on Regent Street. Sounds like it was easy, doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled! I’m the girl that’s been rejected by practically every literary agent and publisher in London (including S&S!). But the day after I received my last rejection on a book I’d worked on for three years and had secured a literary agent with (and after crying buckets of tears) I started writing Miracle on Regent Street. Three months later I had a book deal. I am living proof that if you want something badly enough and don’t give up, you will absolutely get there in the end.
Chloe: The cover for Miracle on Regent Street isn't what you would call a traditional Christmas cover, but now I've read the book, it suits it so well. How much input did you have into the cover, and is what you imagined the cover to be like?
Ali: It is better than I could ever have imagined and I adore it! Right from the start my editor, agent and I were on the same wavelength and it was a totally collaborative process. We wanted to give a nod to the time of year without putting the focus on the Christmas element of the story, as we didn’t want that to overshadow the story itself. Personally what was important to me was how Evie looked and that Hardy’s should feature on the cover as I see Evie’s main love affair being with the store (although, don’t worry, there are a couple of hot male love interests too!)
Chloe: What do you think about the whole press barrage on Chick Lit at the moment? Are you proud for your novels to be classed as 'chick lit'?
Ali: I am an unashamed, unsurpassed SUPER-fan of chick lit and I’m absolutely honoured to be a part of this genre. It upsets me how over the past few years, critics have turned ‘chick lit’ from a fun, positive way to describe a popular genre into a derogatory phrase that is used a weapon to criticize what is, unquestionably, still a hugely successful and exceptionally important part of the fiction market. No other genres are treated with the same disdain as the chick lit market now receives. But I guess that’s what happens in all of popular culture; pop music and rom coms still live on – as will chick lit! No matter what the naysayers think. So there! (sticks out tongue at critics)
Chloe: What do you do when you aren't writing books?
Ali: Um, right now? Potty training and pureeing! (my life is SO glam!) I’ve got two young children, my little boy is 2 ½ and my daughter is 7 months – so every minute I’m not writing, I’m mum – and sometimes I’m doing both. I also still freelance for magazines, so I’m currently juggling writing articles with writing my next book, The First Last Kiss whilst the baby naps and my boy is at nursery. When I have any spare time at all I can be found with my head buried in a book (or a glass of wine. Ok, mostly the wine).
Chloe: What would be your three desert island reads, and who are some of your favourite authors?
Ali: Ooh this is hard! They’d have to be a) really long and b) a mixture of old favourites and something new. I’d take Swallows and Amazons, which is one of my all-time favourite childhood books (and handily appropriate reading matter), Lord of the Rings which counts as one book as you can buy them in a volume! (I know - cheat!) I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in the world who hasn’t read the books OR seen any of the films as I can’t ever watch a film adaptation if I think there’s even a slim chance of me reading the books one day as it would totally spoil the experience. A desert island would be a brilliant place to finally read that trilogy. And my last book would be Riders by Jilly Cooper because it’s the ultimate beach read. As for my favourite authors – there are so many! I adore Marian Keyes, (who doesn’t?!) Jennifer Weiner is a long-time favourite and I also love Lisa Jewell, Cecilia Ahern and Kate Mosse. All brilliant writers. But there are a gazillion others I could mention too!
Chloe: Finally, are you working on your next book, and if so, could you please tell us anything about it?!
Ali: I am and it’s called The First Last Kiss. It’s a love story that focuses on Molly and Ryan, a young couple in their 20s who have always seemed destined to be together. It follows the ups and downs of their relationship and each chapter of the novel is a memory triggered by a kiss. The book examines if you can ever hold on to a love that you know slipping away from you. I’m really excited about it and hope lots of other people will be too!
Thank you so much Ali!! You can follow Ali on Twitter here and become a fan of her on Facebook!