Ruth Elwin Harris (1935-) Biography
Personal, Addresses, Career, Member, Writings, Sidelights
Born 1935, in Bristol, England; Ethnicity: "Anglo Saxon." Education: Educated in Bristol, Switzerland, and London. Religion: Church of England (Anglican). Hobbies and other interests: Historical research, music (particularly opera), gardening, traveling.
Agent—c/o Author Mail, Walker Books Ltd., 87 Vauxhall Walk, London SE11 5HJ, England.
Novelist. Worked variously as a theatre stage manager, sailing instructor, secretary and personal assistant, personnel officer, civil servant, lecturer, and school governor.
British Society of Authors, Royal Air Force Club, Western Front Association.
The Silent Shore, Walker Books (London, England), 1986, reprinted, Julia MacRae Books (London, England), 2002, published as Sarah's Story, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.
The Beckoning Hills, Julia MacRae Books (London, England), 1987, published as Frances' Story, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.
The Dividing Sea, Walker Books (London, England) 1989, published as Julia's Story, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.
Billie: The Nevill Letters, 1914–1916, Julia MacRae Books (London, England), 1991.
Beyond the Orchid House, Julia MacRae Books (London, England), 1994, published as Gwen's Story, Candlewick Press (Cambridge, MA), 2002.
Also author of Choices, and numerous short stories for magazines and radio.
Growing up in England, Ruth Elwin Harris decided to travel and see the world, believing it would strengthen her writing. Moving to Canada at the age of twenty-one, she spent three years traveling throughout North America, then returned to England and worked in a variety of fields before penning her first children's book in the mid-1980s. Popular with young fans of historical fiction, Harris's "Sisters of the Quantock Hills" series has been published in both England and the United States.
The Silent Shore, The Beckoning Hills, The Dividing Sea, and Beyond the Orchid House comprise the "Sisters of the Quantock Hills" series and focus on four sisters who reside in a large house in rural England at the beginning of the twentieth century. Beginning with her focus on Sarah Purcell in The Silent Shore, each book follows the fortunes of one particular sister and is narrated from her perspective: Sarah, Frances, Julia, and Gwen Purcell in turn. "I use my writing to study in greater depth subjects that fascinate me or intrigue me," Harris explained to SATA. "I have always been interested in family relationships, for instance, and sibling relationships in particular. Writing four books about four orphaned sisters gave me the opportunity to explore, not only the effect position—eldest, youngest, middle child, etc.—has on character, but also the changing relationships between the siblings as they grow up…. The differing viewpoints, and the different way in which each sister sees the same incident seems to be an aspect of the books that has greatly appealed to readers.
"I started writing when I was very young—probably about seven," Harris recalled, "and illustrated my stories too. I still have a story I wrote when I was ten, which has very detailed imaginary maps so I was obviously interested in place, even then. During World War II my brother and I were sent to live with our grandfather in Somerset, to escape the Bristol blitz. Grandfather was eighty and his housekeeper not much younger; they must have been appalled at having to take charge of a five and six year old.
"I think my brother and I both started writing as a means of entertaining each other. I won writing competitions as a schoolgirl and dramatized a children's novel for a school production. Before starting on the "Sisters of the Quantock Hills" series, which I set in my grandfather's much loved home in the shadow of Somerset's Quantock Hills, I wrote short stories for the British Broadcasting Corporation and for magazines.
"I've written one adult nonfiction book, which happened almost by accident. Researching the background for Julia's Story I came across a collection of family letters in the Imperial War Museum in London, and wrote a book based on them: Billie: The Nevill Letters 1914–1916.
"Creativity is something else that intrigues me—the best definition I have found is that of an Englishman who wrote that talent was what a man possessed; genius what possessed a man. I've worked in both the arts and scientific fields; observing people with talent and people with genius, I came to understand that genius is not always comfortable to possess and can also be very difficult on those close to its possessor.
"I continue to be interested in family relationships. The novel I have just finished has a contemporary theme but also explores the effect the past (in this case the suicide of a grandfather) has on the following generations. And I love historical research—though I sometimes wonder whether I use it to postpone getting down to actual writing!"
Biographical and Critical Sources
Magpies, May, 1996, review of Beyond the Orchid House, p. 53.
School Librarian, November, 1994, review of Beyond the Orchid House, p. 165.
Times Literary Supplement, February 19, 1988, Deborah White, review of The Beckoning Hills, p. 200.
Voice of Youth Advocates, August, 2002, review of Sarah's Story, p. 191; August, 2002, review of Julia's Story, p. 191; August, 2002, review of Gwen's Story, p. 191; August, 2002, review of Frances's Story, p. 191.
Walker Books Web site, http://www.walkerbooks.co.uk/ (August 10, 2005), "Ruth Elwin Harris."
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