Thursday, February 19, 2009

Debut author takes Waterstone's children's book prize
Michelle Pauli writing in, Wednesday 18 February 2009

'There were times when I wondered if it was really worth it ' ... Michelle Harrison. Photograph: PR

A dark and gothic fairy story by a debut novelist has won the Waterstone's children's book prize. The Thirteen Treasures by Michelle Harrison is set in the present day but tells a classic, Grimm-style story of a girl who can see fairies, and tries to solve a mystery that has haunted her family for generations.
Harrison, 29, who began the book while in the first year of her illustration course at Stafford University in 2002, described herself as "overwhelmed" by the win.
"I used to work as a Waterstone's bookseller, and because it's an award that's chosen and judged by booksellers and because I've read for previous shortlists in the past it does mean a lot to know that booksellers are behind it," she explained. "When booksellers are behind something, they will hand-sell it to their customers and create a buzz behind it and that really makes a difference."
The Thirteen Treasures features 13-year-old Tanya, who has been sent to her grandmother's spooky house for the summer. There she teams up with the caretaker's son, Fabian, and they decide to discover the truth about a girl who vanished in some nearby woods 50 years previously. Tanya meanwhile is harassed by the fairies she can see and hear.

"I was drawn to the type of artwork I was being shown on my course, by artists such as Arthur Rackham. We did a module on Victorian fairy art and while most people's perception of fairy art is that it is twee and sweet, these were dark and sinister fairies and that caught my interest. I wanted to do a story about a girl who was persecuted by a dark and malicious fairy!"
Harrison, who as well as her time as a bookseller has also worked as a barmaid and gallery attendant and is now an editorial assistant with Oxford University Press, persevered with her dark fairies for seven years before securing her publishing deal with Simon and Schuster.

"There were times when I wondered if it was really worth it as I kept getting kicked down. But you have to really believe in what you're doing – it was my dream. I knew from the age of about 14 that I wanted to be a writer and I was writing short stories and was encouraged by teachers. By the time I left school at 16 it was an ambition to be an author and an illustrator as well. I was drawn to children's fiction because it gave me the opportunity to both write and illustrate."

Harrison is now working on a sequel to The Thirteen Treasures, which she will again illustrate herself, and a third book which, she says, will be "completely different but still have supernatural elements".

Now in its fifth year, the Waterstone's children's book prize was created to champion new and emerging children's writers. Previous winners of the prize include The Diamond of Drury Lane by Julia Golding, which also went on to win the Nestlé Smarties book prize, and Sally Nicholls' acclaimed story of a terminally ill 11-year-old, Ways to Live Forever. The prize is open to authors writing for 7-14 year-olds who have written two fiction titles or fewer, and is unique in that it is voted for solely by booksellers across the country.

The other shortlisted books were:

How Kirsty Jenkins Stole the Elephant by Elen Caldecott (Bloomsbury)
Zelah Green Queen of Clean by Vanessa Curtis (Egmont)
Changeling by Steve Feasey (Macmillan)
Gnomes Are Forever by Ceci Jenkinson (Faber)
Lady in the Tower by Marie-Louise Jensen (Oxford University Press)
The Mapmaker's Monster: Beware the Buffalogre! by Rob Stevens (Macmillan)
Numbers by Rachel Ward (Chicken House)

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