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a life in architecture Joanne Harris

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Joanne Chocolat Harris, as her American publishers introduce the best-selling author, confesses to 'an addiction to churches and cemeteries'. She recalls watching a funeral at Montparnasse some years ago, then discovering that the playwright Samuel Beckett was being buried secretly.

Her favourite building? 'I keep going back to the mad Duomo in Milan (above). It is wonderful. A number of people pooh-pooh it but I like it. It's preposterous.'

Mervyn Peake was Harris' first literary influence and she says she has been looking for Gormenghast ever since. Her room in the bell tower of the school in Leeds where she used to teach looked out at gargoyles 'just like the Duomo. I love decrepitude and tastelessness - the antithesis of the clear lines of modern architecture.'

With a lack of concern for safety, the Italian public is allowed onto the walkway round the roof of the Duomo, and Harris says: 'I love standing in the middle of a forest of ornate Christmas trees looking down at huge statues of saints, in turn surrounded by smaller ones.'

Of the statues of popes and bishops inside the building, she says: 'I like the extravagance of what appears to be competition between them.'

As a second choice, Harris nominates Baker Street Tube station. 'I am a fan of the Underground. I like the original tiling and the smell of it. It is one of the oldest and least refurbished of all the stations. I like places that have atmosphere.'

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