The first job I was ever aware of wanting to do, aged six, was to write children’s books. Then, aged eight, trying to make Wirrn slime with a friend’s Chemistry Set 4, I discovered chemistry… and writing went out of the window.
It took me a long time to get back to it. Funny how our six-year old view of ourselves can be uncannily accurate.
Here’s how it happened. (I’ll be zooming through the boring bits.)
The Mexico-Manchester Connection
I was born in Mexico City, where my parents failed miserably to get along, resulting in divorce – scandalous for both families who belonged to the strictly Roman Catholic, Mexican middle-class. My mother (also named ‘Maria’, about fifty-eight times better looking and more fascinating than I could hope to be even on a good day) threw caution to the wind and took off for Germany to work as a stewardess for Lufthansa with me (aged 4) and my baby sister, Pili.
I would have been raised as a little Deutscher madchen except for the fact that my ‘nanny’ – a young aunt who had been coerced to tag along with her big sister – decided that life in dreary Frankfurt was no fun (it wasn’t, poor Aunty), and with no warning, took herself off back to sunny Mexico… leaving four-year old me and little Pili “home alone” in our Frankfurt apartment for a day and night.
Horrified, our mother returned home from flying to find everything in order, except for an empty jar of Nutella. Hey, it wasn’t as bad as it sounds. I remember being thrilled at the prospect of unsupervised jumping on beds and unlimited access to the Nutella.
With no resident nanny, things had to change. Our mother agreed to marry her English boyfriend, a cellist with the Halle Orchestra: which is how my sister and I moved to Manchester, England. It was there that I first discovered the two principal passions of my early life: “Doctor Who” and Manchester United. At the age of twelve, “Blake’s Seven” took over from “Doctor Who”. ‘Avon’: sigh.
Mexico and the Maya
Pili and I continued to regularly visit our father in Mexico, the director of a copper mining company. When I was debating whether to become a scientist or to study cinema, he gave me this sagacious advice: “Your first duty is to be a person of the Renaissance.”
At fifteen, we visited for the first time the Yucatan region of Mexico, methodically visiting all the Mayan ruins in sweltering heat. In a Cancun hotel bookshop I bought “Mysteries of the Ancients” by Eric and Craig Umland – a non-fiction book positing the theory that the Ancient Mayan civilisation was a remnant of Atlantis, which itself was a colony of ancient extra-terrestrial visitors to Earth.
The idea fascinated me. One night I asked my step-aunt, a lawyer in Cancun, what she thought of the theory. “Of course”, came the sanguine reply. “Most of the locals here have known that for centuries.”
Back in Mexico City, Pili and I headed straight for the awesomely cool Museum of Anthropology, bought a stack of stout, sober archaeology books by the great Mayanist scholars. Thus began our life-long fascination with the field of Mayan archaeology.
College and Catastrophe
Meanwhile, for my “formal” education, I had begun to study biochemistry at St Catherine’s College, Oxford. The plan was to get a place in the subject for which I knew I’d achieve the best grades, and then to spend all my free time with the film-making society. Quite unpredictably, however, I fell madly in love with molecular biology to the exclusion of any other idea for a career.
Obsessed with molecular biology and its potential for the emerging industry of biotechnology, I immersed myself entirely in the world of science. Summer jobs with the hottest new biotech company in the country followed, then a doctorate, and then post-doctoral research fellowships.
In 1986, I arrived one evening in Mexico City with my sister, half-brother and mother to learn that my father had that day suffered a massive heart attack. He’d only survived because of the fact that his office was on the same street as a hospital. After a by-pass operation in Houston, Texas, it seemed as though our father would recover. Two weeks later back in Oxford, I learned that he’d had another attack. This time, he’d died.
Having lost the most significant influence in my life at the age of twenty, I took months to recover. The experience of bereavement, however, was to be something of a practice run. Six years later our mother was taken ill whilst visiting Mexico City as part of the Manchester Olympic Bid Team. Once again we arrived in Mexico to hear that a parent was at the point of death. Hours later, our mother died of viral encephalitis.
They’d both died aged 46, after being taken ill in the same part of Mexico City – Colonia Roma. They both ended up being interred in the same crypt in the church (Sta Cruz of El Pedregal) where my mother had been confirmed. Sometimes life throws up some pretty strange coincidences.
A Lucky Break
I began writing seriously in January 2005 after a ski accident in Gstaad forced me to spend many weeks recuperating. With a ten-inch operation wound and five long pins in my tibia plateau, merely getting out of bed was a challenge. My husband arranged a laptop on a chair by the bed and for the next twelve weeks, I wrote my first novel – a techno-thriller which combined my two intellectual loves – molecular biology and archaeology. Like most first novels it was rejected by every agent who saw it. Curses!
It wasn’t the first time it had occurred to me to write. I’d tried my hand at screenwriting from the age of eleven, once winning a runner-up prize in a Blue Peter competition for “Grange Hill”. I returned to screenwriting in 2004, just failing to shortlist in a BBC New Talent contest to write a sitcom. If not for the hugely encouraging letter which the BBC New Talent team sent me, it’s likely that I’d have given up any hope of being a writer.
After reading a totally engrossing book about the decipherment of Mayan writing, “Breaking the Maya Code” by Michael Coe, I had an idea for another story, that of a young boy who made an outstanding discovery about the origins of Mayan civilisation. After signing with my first literary agent, Peter Cox, I decided to rewrite this first draft. The result of another six month’s work was my first book: “The Joshua Files: Invisible City”.
In 2013 I signed with a new agent, Robert Kirby of United Agents, who supported me in my bid, along with Jamie Anderson, son of TV legend Gerry Anderson, to complete Gerry’s final creative project – GEMINI FORCE ONE. We chose a relatively new way to get this series of books off the ground, going direct to Gerry Anderson fans for initial funds, via the crowd-funding site, Kickstarter. In January 2014, Orion Children’s Books offered us a three-book deal to launch a new action-adventure series – GERRY ANDERSON’S GEMINI FORCE ONE, created by Gerry Anderson, written by MG Harris.
I live in Oxford with my husband and two daughters.
Posted on June 11, 2015 - by MG
This year Team Gemini Force descended on the tiny Welsh town, Jamie Anderson, Nina Douglas from Orion Children’s Books, me and my teenage daughter, Lilia. Martin Chilton, Cultural Editor of the Telegraph, was on board too, interviewing Jamie and me on stage for two events.
Posted on April 24, 2015 - by MG
Time for a quick recap on the launch of Orion Children’s Book’s edition of GEMINI FORCE ONE: BLACK HORIZON. The Blackwell’s cake party will be familiar. But this time, as a special treat for some Kickstarter backers and book bloggers, Waterstone’s Piccadilly also invited us to put on a London bash.