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Michelle Harrison Interview

Posted on 16 March 2009. © Copyright 2004-2018 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to Michelle Harrison, whose debut novel for young readers recently won the Waterstone's Children's Book Prize

Tell us something about your background.

My first novel for children, The 13 Treasures, has just been published and Iím now working on its sequel, The 13 Curses. Iím currently two thirds of the way through it.

I work full-time as an editorial assistant for a childrenís publisher, which Iíve been doing for nearly a year and a half now. Itís my first publishing job and has been a real insight to me as an author to see the process a book goes through from acquisition to publication. It makes you realise why publishers need material so far in advance of publication for one thing - for the various departments to be able to get to work designing the cover, planning marketing strategy and selling it in. Itís also made me a lot more open to editing on my own work!

How did you start writing?

I first began writing when I was a teenager, and this was inspired purely because I loved reading so much. It made me want to write stories for other people to enjoy and lose themselves in. I wrote lots of short stories, most of which were horror, and attempted a novel which didnít progress past the first four chapters. I also took any writing opportunities that came my way, such as school magazines and newspapers.

Who are your favourite writers and why?


Roald Dahl for his dark humour, Enid Blyton for her sense of adventure, Anne Cassidy for her grit and skilful story-weaving, and Julie Hearn for her prose

Whatís specific to writing for children/young adults?

I think the key thing is to hook a young readerís attention from the first line, and to keep it. Make every sentence count and leave chapters on a cliffhanger. Younger readers are less likely to stick with something thatís slow to start. Adults will hold out for a bit longer before moving on to another book. Another important thing is to not Ďtalk downí to a young reader.

How did you get your first agent/ commission?

With a lot of perseverance! I had quite a few rejection letters, which resulted in me doing three major re-writes, the last of which got me my agent. As I finished that re-write I felt confident that Iíd finally got it right. The other thing was that I spent an entire evening working on my covering letter, something Iíd never done before that point. I re-formatted it totally to make it as appealing and attention-grabbing as possible, and it worked.

What's the worst thing about writing?


Thereís not really much that I donít like about it. My only niggle is thinking youíve got a good idea or plot-line only to find that someone else has already done it. This has only happened to me once and luckily it was with a very small part of the story, but it can still be frustrating.

And the best?

Knowing that the only limit is your imagination; it can take you anywhere. Also hearing from people that have enjoyed your work is brilliant!


Tell us what kind of responses you get from audiences\ readers.


Itís been a very positive response so far. Iíve had messages from both adults and children who have enjoyed the book, and winning the Waterstoneís Childrenís Book Prize is also a real boost. It has affected my writing in two ways: firstly itís given me more confidence. But I also feel more conscious of how my second book will be received. Itís interesting to read comments where people have written that they want to know more about a particular character, which varies from person to person. I think in the end you just have to write the story in your head Ė if you tried to cater to everyoneís needs youíd end up going a bit mad!



A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.


Michelle Harrison is represented / published by:
Simon & Schuster UK Limited






Comments by other Members



NMott at 10:07 on 17 March 2009  Report this post
Welcome to WriteWords, Michelle

"Youíre walking on a path in a wooded area. Suddenly, you come to a clearing and see an object on the ground. What is it?..."

Oh, yes, I recognise that exercise. Our CW tutor had us doing it as a visualisation execise at the star of the course, making us close our eyes and relax as she went through it. I can still remember it very clearly one year on.

The 13 Treasures was mentioned recently on the Childrens Forum and I'm lookng forward to getting hold of a copy to read (actually, I'm sneaking off to Waterstones this morning)


- NaomiM

<Added>

oops, typo: start

MHarrison at 20:26 on 17 March 2009  Report this post
Hi Naomi

Thanks! I'm still learning my way around and enjoying skulking on the forums.

I did that creative writing exercise over 10 years ago at college and it still sticks in my mind for some reason. I do remember enjoying it, though it started off in the same way as yours (being told to close our eyes and concentrate on our breathing etc) but once I got over feeling silly it was fun.

Hope you enjoy The 13 Treasures!

Michelle

Nik Perring at 00:55 on 18 March 2009  Report this post
Yup, great interview, and also great to see you here.

Your Twitter chum

Nik

Myrtle at 06:05 on 18 March 2009  Report this post
Congrats on the award and thanks for the interview.

Emily

CarolineSG at 14:21 on 18 March 2009  Report this post
Really interesting stuff, thanks Michelle, and well done on that prize!

nessiec at 15:22 on 18 March 2009  Report this post
Lovely to see you on here, Michelle. Look forward to hearing more about the new book as and when.


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