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Building an identity; The author of Chocolat, Joanne Harris, has delved into the world of cyberspace in her latest work, as Diane Parkes discovered.

Byline: Diane Parkes

Author Joanne Harris may be best known for taking us into the quaint world of French villages in novels like Chocolat and t Lollipop Shoes but in her new novel she enters a s whole new community - cyberspace.

Blue Eyed Boy examines the ease with y which people can communicate in the modern age - and the ease with which they can deceive.

It tells the tale of Blue Eyed Boy , or BB, y and Albertine who strike up an internet friendship but neither emailer is quite what they seem.

Harris, whose best-selling Chocolat was made into a Hollywood blockbuster with Johnny Depp, Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench and Alfred Molina, says she wanted to set her new psychological thriller in a world of obscured identities.

"As I work I spend a lot of time on the internet and I am surprised by how much information people give to other people. They very willingly divulge information on the internet that they would not usually consider giving to a stranger.

"They will completely unburden themselves, they vent anger, they create confessional habits and they don't always see the consequences."

In some ways Harris believes the internet is a community much like Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, the village in Chocolat.

"People will tend to be on a website because they have a love for one thing and that one thing is what they have in common.

"They are inhabiting a world where they all share a purpose, for example a love of Star Trek f. But that is the only thing they share.

"That means those people can then build any identity around that.

"You are not seeing every facet of a person, just the elements they choose to let you see. And you don't know how reliable that information actually is. So for example in Blue Eyed Boy there are two y characters who are interacting but they are not necessarily what they appear to be."

It has been a busy few months for Harris because alongside Blue Eyed Boy she y has also written the short story Road Song for a collection of writing Because I Am A Girl published by international children's charity Plan.

A long-term supporter of Plan, Harris was keen to be involved in the book which aims to raise awareness of the charity's work in development programmes around the world.

So she spent a week in Togo in Africa visiting some of those projects and meeting families in an attempt to understand the issues faced there.

"I spent quite a while in one village and got to know one family particularly well," she says.

"I was cooking with them and collect-t ing wood with them and getting an idea of what life is like for them on a daily basis."

Because I Am A Girl also features sto l -ries, both fiction and factual, by Irvine Welsh, Kathy Lette, Tim Butcher, Deborah Moggach, Marie Phillips and Xiaolu Guo and later this month Harris and Moggach will be talking about the experience in Birmingham.

"This book isn't about celebrities. It is about writers writing about what they have seen," says Harris. "It is about mak-k ing people see what is being done.

"The talk in Birmingham will be the first of these events for Because I Am A Girl but when I have done these kinds of l things before with different charities they have been really interesting," she says. "People are interested in what we have experienced and in what they can do to make a difference."

Blue Eyed Boy is published by Doubley -day for pounds 18.99. Because I Am A Girl is published by Vintage for pounds 8.99. Joanne Harris and Deborah Moggach will be talking about Because I Am A Girl at l Birmingham Library Theatre on Wednesday, April 21 at 7pm.

Tickets are free and can be obtained from the box office on 0121 303 2323, or in person at Central Library reception.


Latest work: Blue Eyed Boy and Because I am a Girl, which features l one of Joanne's stories Joanne Harris in Togo researching for story in Because I Am A Girl
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 1, 2010
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