In our latest Q and A, meet bestselling children’s author Michelle Harrison. Her first novel, The Thirteen Treasures, won the Waterstones’ Children’s Book Prize and has been sold in over sixteen territories. It is followed by two sequels, The Thirteen Curses and The Thirteen Secrets. An expert in fairy lore, she often wears red – a colour traditionally associated with keeping fairy curses at bay.
Michelle will be talking about her life and her latest book, ‘One Wish’ at the Memorial Hall, Pateley Bridge, 2-3pm Saturday 25 July.
Here is her Q and A:
1. What inspired you to write your latest book?
My most recent book, One Wish, was less ‘inspired’ and more ‘requested’ by my publisher as a continuation of my previous work! But its portrayal of the fairy world means there are wild rivers with dangerous water hags below the surface ready to grab unsuspecting swimmers, as well as a whimsical wishing tree inspired by one I saw in Glastonbury a few years ago.
2. What is the relationship between your writing and the natural world?
Four out of the five books I’ve published so far have been about fairies, and as they’re the type of fairies that are animalistic and wild, they’re strongly linked to nature and as such, my view of it. In a broader sense I like to go for long walks when I get the chance. There’s nothing like a bit of fresh air and greenery to stimulate the brain – it’s great thinking time, especially if I’m stuck on a particular part of a story.
3. Do you have a favourite passage of ‘nature writing’ (in the broadest sense) from your own work?
I had a lot of fun writing about the wishing tree in One Wish. Here’s a short passage from when it makes its first appearance:
“Glass bottles and jars hung from the branches above. She reached for one of the lower hanging ones, a small, tear-dropped bottle of pale blue. Inside, rolled tightly and bound with string, was a piece of paper with something written on it. Are these messages? Tanya wondered. If so, who are they for? The harder she looked, the more she saw; it seemed that every little twig was adorned with something. And that was not all, for there were also ribbons and strips of torn cloth tied to the tree, too.
Tanya stood there, drinking it in with her eyes. It was the most beautiful tree she had ever seen, and it seemed to her to be curiously magical, too.
And as she held that very thought, the knots in the gnarled tree trunk twisted and rearranged themselves into newer, strangely familiar shapes. Two of the knots opened . . . and blinked. Below them, a third knot puckered before opening in an enormous yawn.
Tanya stood rooted to the spot, unable to tear her eyes from the face in the tree. The tree-eyes – dewy and green – fixed upon her and the mouth opened once more to reveal a twiggy, crooked set of teeth.
‘One wish, what’ll it be?’ it said. ‘For you have found the Wishing Tree.'”
4. Do you have a favourite author whose work celebrates nature, or piece of writing about the natural world?
The following is from Possessing Rayne by Kate Cann. It came to mind immediately, and I think it’s stunning:
“Shafts of sunlight came filtering down through the trees into the medieval garden, lighting up the wet plants and shrubs. Spiders’ webs glittered like necklaces. A soft mist curled along the ground near the trees, playing along the dark edges.
Rayne stepped barefoot on to the grass.
The ground was cold and wet under her feet. The earth gave beneath her. The air smelt fresh. Everything around her was flourishing, healthy and rooted.
The garden was laid out in long, symmetrical beds with narrow grass paths in-between them. Curved shapes had been cut out of each bed corner, so that grass clover leaves were formed. It was very pleasing. Rayne walked slowly along the paths between the beds, toes flexing in pleasure, pyjamas getting soaked up to the ankles, and ended up by a wall at the end where three small apple trees grew, sheltered and laden with early fruit. She reached out and pulled an apple from its stalk and sniffed the fresh, fragrant smell of it before sinking in her teeth. Juice squirted in her mouth, and she realised that all the fruit she’d eaten in her life before had been stale.”
5. Do you have a favourite wild place or natural landscape? (What? Do you mean it’s not the Yorkshire Dales?!!)
One of my favourite places is Hangman’s Wood in Essex, near to where I grew up. I used it as a setting in my Thirteen Treasures books due to a number of mysterious ‘deneholes’ (underground caves) it has. They’re believed to be old chalk mines and are so deep they’re fenced off for safety reasons. I love anything a bit spooky.
6. What is your earliest or fondest memory of being out in nature?
I was quite lucky to have lots of holidays abroad as a child, mainly to the Greek isles. Even as a toddler I’d happily entertain myself for hours on the beach, paddling in crystal clear water with fish inches from my toes, pulling sticks through the sand to leave a trail on walks along the shore with my aunt and uncle, and collecting shells, pebbles and pieces of mother of pearl that had washed up from the sea. It was magic in its purest form.
7. Do you ever write outside?
If the weather is nice then I might take a notebook outside, but I find working on a laptop in bright sunshine almost impossible. If anything, I prefer reading outside – bliss.
8. What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a new novel for the 9-12 age group. It’s about unfinished stories lurking under beds and in drawers, and how some of these stories are so powerful they literally come to life to haunt the writer if they are left incomplete.
9. What are your three ‘desert island’ reads and why?
The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen. It’s one of my favourite fairy tales and reading it might cool me down if I felt too hot! Also The Lore of the Land by Westwood and Simpson. This is packed with folklore and would keep me going for ages, as well as no doubt inspiring new stories. And the last one is a bit of a cheat but it would have to be whatever manuscript I’m currently working on to keep my head on my work.