Hello everybody! Today, I am extremely excited to be welcoming Michelle Harrison for an interview, which is especially lovely because today is her book birthday for the 4th in the Pinch of Magic Adventures series. Onto the post!
Hi Michelle, thank you so much for being here today!
Thanks for having me!
To start us off, can you please describe the Pinch of Magic Adventures in 5 words?
Sisters, secrets, folklore, adventure, MAGIC!
A really strong theme in the series is that of sisterhood, because the Widdershins all have each others’ backs in such a lovely way. What made you want to feature this in your writing, or was it just something that popped up organically?
It just happened. The original outline for A Pinch of Magic was quite different, with Betty Widdershins being an only child and sent away to a witches’ school. After some discussions with my publisher we decided to keep the folkloric aspects and centre the story around a family curse, and for that I needed to expand Betty’s family. As the youngest of three girls I felt I could write about three sisters convincingly, and Fliss and Charlie came into the story from there.
Something else I’ve noticed within the books is that there is usually a story within a story. Is that something you enjoy reading? How do you manage to weave everything together in such a satisfying way?
I absolutely adore reading books that have stories within stories! I’ve always been fascinated with how the past affects the present in general (and particularly secrets within families) and that comes across in all my books, I think. A couple of my favourite books with stories within stories are A Monster Calls and Sisters of the Lost Marsh. As for making the stories satisfying, plot is the thing I work the hardest at. I loathe weak endings in books, so I always try to put in a good twist which involves a lot of staring into space and thinking until the story strands come together. If I’m satisfied with the pay-off I’m confident my readers will be, too. The series titles follow a really fun pattern, and I think they all make you really want to pick up the book.
If you were to title your autobiography in this way, what would it be called and why?
Hmm, maybe A Mish-Mash of Michelle! Mish-Mash was one of my nicknames at school and it sums me up pretty well. I’m a mish-mash of lots of different things; a bit of a weirdo in some ways with my obsession with all things spooky and being content in my own company, planting flowers and leading a quiet life. And then there’s another side to me that’s a bit of a party animal, which can surprise people.
I hope very much I’m not getting my dates wrong here, but I think you released your first book the Thirteen Treasures back in 2009, so this will be your 13th year as an author. What would you say are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned during this time?
The two biggest things are fairly recent realisations. Number one, that it’s OK to say ‘no.’ In my first years as a published author I said ‘yes’ to every single thing that was asked of me: events, writing features/content for people, and reading other people’s proofs/manuscripts. The truth is that you just can’t do all this without burning yourself out and your own work suffering. I’ve learned to refuse if I don’t have time to do something, if it’s not a good investment of my time, or if I simply don’t want to. As long as you’re polite, ‘no’ is acceptable and I no longer feel guilty about saying it. Number two, the best thing you can do for your own career is to focus on you and your own books. It’s really easy to get caught up in what other authors are doing and for the green-eyed monster to creep in, but it serves no purpose. A couple of years ago I read a great article about Oprah Winfrey and how she refused to get side-tracked by what other TV shows were doing. She ploughed all her efforts into making her show the best it could be and didn’t give her competition a second thought. She called this ‘watching her own horse.’ This is how I now try to approach my own work. Of course, it’s helpful to see what others are doing (as well as inevitable) but it’s much healthier and more effective to keep the focus on your own books and what works for you.
On that note, my personal favourite of your books is your standalone The Other Alice. If characters from a book were to come life, whether from your books or someone else’s, who would you like them to be and why? And which villain would you be most scared to come up against?
I’d love to spend a day with my Widdershins sisters, mucking about and turning invisible with their enchanted nesting dolls! Or with Claire Barker’s Picklewitch, one of my favourite characters ever invented. As for villains – I get very scared by the idea of ghosts, so both the malevolent Ivy Skinner from Kate Cann’s Leaving Poppy, and Jennet Humfrye from The Woman in Black by Susan Hill would leave me a gibbering wreck.
In terms of writing, something I always really love in your books is the settings because they’re so unique and well crafted. What tips would you give to other writers looking to create atmospheric settings for their books?
For me it starts with place names. Names can powerfully suggest an atmosphere all by themselves. It’s one of my habits to always be on the lookout for interesting ones when I’m pottering about somewhere new. I’m forever jotting them down or putting them in the notes on my phone – it’s something I can never quite switch off from and I probably drive my family a bit bonkers with it! I also think it’s important to give a backstory to the place you’re writing about. If you call a forest ‘Spectre Wood’, it’ll immediately seem creepy. You can add another layer by describing strange mists that twist around the trees like ghosts, or you can go even further by inventing a history – sightings of a phantom figure and tales of a person who disappeared there without trace…
Also on the theme of writing, something I always like to ask authors is: do you have a writing routine? What’s it like and do you have any unusual habits or quirks, if so?
I usually write while my son’s at school and aim for 1000 words a day, but if a deadline is whizzing towards me things can get chaotic and I’ll often write late into the night or very occasionally through the night! I work at home in my living room which I guess isn’t ideal, but in summer I’ll write in the conservatory. I use plain old Word, but have a slightly odd habit of writing my chapters as separate documents and piecing the whole thing together at the end. I’m not really sure why – I think I just find it easier if things need chopping out or moving around. I used to eat a lot of chocolate while I worked for the sugar hit, but now I avoid it because it makes my energy levels crash and I’ll end up snoozing with the cats!
And before we finish off with the quickfire round, can you give any hints as to what you’re writing at the moment or will be releasing next?
There will be another middle grade book but I’m having a short break in the run up to publication for A Storm of Sisters to play around with some ideas. In the meantime I’m working on edits for my first picture book – more news on that to come.
Since the Widdershins have fab animal companions, who would be your dream animal companion to go on an adventure with?
A sarcastic black cat or a faithful Labrador. It’d be a bonus if they could talk!
Favourite thing about winter? Roaring fires, roast dinners, and freshly fallen snow.
Top 3 reads of 2021?
Sisters of the Lost Marsh by Lucy Strange The Skylarks’ War by Hilary McKay The Bewitching of Aveline Jones by Phil Hickes
3 books you’re highly anticipating in 2022?
First up, Like A Charm by Elle McNicoll. I loved her debut, A Kind of Spark, and I think she’s a real talent. I’m keen to see how she does magic in her latest offering. I cannot wait for the next Aveline Jones book by Phil Hickes, which I’m hoping will be out this year. I’m a big fan of the series. Finally, a bit of a cheat – I’m looking forward to the release of my third Midnight Magic book for younger readers which publishes in October. It’s called Witch Trap, and it’s perfect for Halloween!
Thank you so much for reading!! Are you a fan of Michelle’s books, or do you have any on your TBR? What do you think of the books she’s mentioned? I’d love to hear in the comments!