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INTERVIEWS

Philip Ardagh
Malorie Blackman
Kevin Brooks
Robert Cormier
Cormier & Burgess
Sharon Creech
Joseph Delaney
Berlie Doherty
Anne Fine
Jack Gantos
Sonya Hartnett
Michelle Harrison
Tanuja Desai Hidier
David Levithan
Graham Marks
Chris Mould
Anant Pai
Mal Peet
Philip Reeve
Chris Riddell
Marcus Sedgwick
John Singleton
Robert Swindells
Nick Ward

FIVE n FIVE

ACHUKA opens a new season of short interview features, asking five questions about one book, followed by five more general questions...

First up, Michelle Harrison, recent winner of the Waterstone's Children's Book Award with The 13 Treasures.

MICHELLE HARRISON

author of

 



Your book is a quintessential child-sent-to stay-with-grandmother-in-country-mansion story. Are the house and surrounding grounds based on anywhere you know?

Parts of the house and the grounds are based on real places: I once visited a country house belonging to a friend of the family, which was very isolated and had dressers crammed with stuffed game and a creepy cellar. That place made an impression on me. The servants’ staircase in the story is based on one that’s exactly the same as I’ve described, in an Essex pub called The Boar’s Head. As soon as I saw it I was intrigued about why it had been blocked off. Finally, the forest in the story, Hangman’s Wood, with its deneholes, is inspired by an area of woodland of the same name that I grew up near to, although the real-life wood is much smaller than the one in the book.

Is the fairy ‘lore’ included in the novel entirely fabricated or based on research into fairies?

It’s a mixture of both. Many things in the story are based on real beliefs people used to have about fairies, such as wearing red and the other deterrents Tanya uses to try and keep the fairies at bay, although I’ve slightly tweaked some of them. The Thirteen Treasures is part of an old Arthurian legend, though I did read about it first in a fairy folklore book. There are many references available in books and online, although the list of treasures differs in each. I invented my own list of items, and the back-story involving the faerie courts to this legend.

To what extent was the content of each chapter predetermined. For example, the amazingly unsettling chapter about the unstoppably growing hair – did this arise out of a sudden instance of inspiration, or did you always know that this scene would be part of the story?

I tend to plan a few chapters in advance, just with a few bullet points about what I want the chapter to contain, so the hair-growing scene was planned. In the first draft though, it didn’t happen to Tanya, but to another character who never made it into the final version of the book. Most of the things that occur in the book were planned, but I don’t like to plan too rigidly as ideas will often arise as I’m writing.

What was the hardest sequence of the book to write?

The revision process was probably the hardest part of writing the book. The middle section didn’t work as well at first, and so I ended up re-writing it quite drastically about three times. The biggest change was when I cut out the character mentioned in the previous answer, and replaced her with another character – Red – who was the last character to make it into the story. I had been saving Red for another book, but in the end felt the story needed a stronger middle section, which is why I introduced her. It was this change that got me an agent.

Your chapter opener illustrations are exquisite [click the examples for fullsize view]. Was there ever any discussion about having more substantial illustrations of the narrative in the book. Would you have liked there to have been?

Thank you. There was never any discussion about the level of illustration in the book, no. I always envisaged the book having illustrated chapter openers, although I didn’t produce the images until I’d spoken to my agent about it and shown her some samples, and so that was how it was submitted to the publishers. I’m happy with the level of illustration in this story, but am hoping to discuss stepping it up in the future.


You are currently writing a sequel to The 13 Treasures. Do you foresee that the fairy world will be your ‘thing’ for a little while?

Up until the sequel is released, yes. And it’s highly possible that I’ll return to the fairy world for more stories, but I have an idea in mind which I’m excited about, and it’s quite different. There are no fairies involved but it does have a supernatural edge.



When do you do your writing and how much do you normally write in one sitting?

I work full-time so my writing is done in the evenings and at weekends, and sometimes even in the library on my lunch break. The amount I get done varies – it’s normally between a few hundred words to about 2000. I’m not a very fast writer, although I’ve been more prolific recently. I probably stop too often for cups of tea.


How does working as an ‘editiorial assistant’ impact on your writing? Does it make you more or less open to editorial input from your own publisher?

It definitely makes me more open. If an editor raises a point about something within a story, whether it’s large or small, it’s always for a reason. It can be a little disheartening at first, to see queries about the story you think you’ve knitted so tightly, but it all goes towards making it so much better in the end.


How did you react to winning the Waterstone’s Award and what impact do you think it will have on your career as an author.

I am really, really happy - and surprised - to have won. I didn’t think a story about fairies would win, and had tried not to get my hopes up. In terms of career impact I think it has already served to raise my profile and created a lot of publicity surrounding the book, which is brilliant.

Author's website


Recently, Michelle has been...

Reading... Watching... Listening to...

Knife by R.J. Anderson

 

Shameless (currently on series 3)

 

Moon Safari by Air

 

Numbers by Rachel Ward

 

Skins – series 1 & 2

 

The Second Coming by the Stone Roses

 

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

 

Lost – series 4

 

All About Eve by All About Eve

 



Editor: Michael Thorn
Contact: 07803605045 or email
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