Friday 6 February 2009

The Thirteen Treasures - Michelle Harrison + Q & A with the author!

I really hope our buyer will keep sending us books like this for feedback!
It was the perfect read to curl up on the couch with, when it's dark and cold outside. At least, that's how I enjoyed it.

It tells the story of Tanya, a girl with the ability (or the curse, if she was to say it) to see fairies. This is a constant cause for troubles, so much that one day her mother loses her patience, after a disaster that she (and the fairies) have caused, and decides to send her away to her grandmother. Tanya hates being with her grandmother in her old manor in the country, and it seems that her grandmother feels the same way about her being there. But there's no discussing it. She will have to spend two weeks with the grumpy old woman, the even grumpier groundskeeper Warwick, and his nerdy, awkward son Fabian.

But she doesn't have time to get bored. As soon as she arrives strange things start to happen.
The big house, and the woods nearby have secrets. About a girl who went missing fifty years before, about secret passages never discovered, about Tanya's grandmother's past...
Who is the girl that Tanya and Fabian meet in the woods? And why is she identical to the photo of the missing girl? What are the strange howling sounds that come from the walls? And why the fairies don't want her to go into the woods?
So many questions for a mystery that has a delicious Gothic feel, entangled beautifully with fairy folklore.
It's true, there's is a lot going on. I haven't even mentioned Mad Morag, the "crazy" woman who lives in a caravan in the woods. Or Red, the mysterious girl who Tanya finds in the tunnels of the house. Or the tricks that the fairy keep playing on Tanya.
There isn't a dull moment in this story. There's always something that makes you turn the page quickly, to find out what's happening. At the end everything comes together in a surprising, completely satisfying revelation.

This is a great debut for Michelle Harrison. A very enjoyable and entertaining story for anyone who loves fairy lore, Gothic novels and a bit of mystery.
The only thing I'd like to point out is about the title. It's not related to what the story is about, except marginally. I kept waiting for the thirteen treasures to have a key role in the game, but they don't. Unless they will in the sequel, which I will definitely read!

other reviews:
My favourite Books
Mr Rypleys enchanted books

do you know about other reviews? Let me know!

Q & A with Michelle Harrison

And now, Michelle Harrison has kindly accepted to answer some questions about her and her first book. For an introduction to Michelle and The Thirteen Treasures you can visit her website. The design is very pretty:)

Q: First of all, can you explain why "Thirteen treasures"? As far as I could tell, the bracelet wasn't the main part of the story, although it was symbolic of fairy lore. Is it going to be more important in the sequel?

A: Yes, the bracelet will feature more prominently in the sequel. There were a number of titles I discussed with my agent before we submitted to publishers, and The Thirteen Treasures was the one that appealed most. Although it's not the main part of the story, an important theme of the book is consequence, and how past actions and events affect the present and other people. As the Thirteen Treasures relates to an old legend that links with how Tanya has her ability of second sight, this seemed an apt title.

Q: I've read that you've done your own illustrations at the beginning of every chapter. They are lovely. Have you ever thought of doing a picture book? or maybe to do full page illustrations for your next books?

A: Thank you. I'd really like to do some picture books at some point, and have a couple of ideas that I may take forward. My next book will also contain chapter head illustrations like those in The Thirteen Treasures, but full page illustrations will hopefully be a possibility for future books.

Q: On your website you say that if the book was ever made into a movie,you'd like Warwick to be played by Dougray Scott and Florence by Vanessa Redgrave. Do you have anyone in mind for Tanya and Fabian?

A: Strange as it might sound, no! But there are a couple of reasons why: Tanya's character is based on my niece, so it's hard for me to visualise anyone other than her. And also because there are few young actors around that aren't already famous for a certain role, such as the Harry Potter cast. If it was ever made into a film it would be good to get some new talent in for the younger roles.

Q: Without revealing anything about the plot and the solution to the mystery, can you tell us how you came up with the idea and whether it was formed since the beginning? Everything is laid little by little as if carefully planned and then all the strings come together at the end. Was is hard to keep all these story-lines together?

A: I was inspired to write about fairies after being introduced to fairy artists such as Alan Lee, Brian Froud and Arthur Rackham during my Illustration degree. Their artwork is brilliant, and completely different to the perception of fairies that most people have. Some things in the story have come from real places and experiences, but the story is really a mixture of things I find fascinating and mysterious - and scary. I find the idea of missing people, and the 'not knowing' very frightening. Many of the ideas came as I was writing, but when I began it I had the clear premise of a girl tormented by fairies, and a strong idea of the ending. The middle part was far less structured, and changed considerably from the first draft to the finished version, so I did have to think a lot about weaving everything together.

Q: Is the sequel going to follow Tanya back at home or will it still be set in Elvesden? How is it going?

The sequel takes place partly at Elvesden Manor, and partially in the fairy realm. It largely follows Red, although most of the characters from book one are part of the story. It's due to be handed over quite soon now, but it's going well and I'm excited about it.

Yay! I'm really happy to hear this, I really liked Red as a character.

Q: How do you find the time to write? Are you still working full time now in publishing?

A: I am still working full time, so my writing is done in the evenings and at weekends. Lately I've been scribbling away in the library at lunch times, too. It can be a juggling act, particularly at the moment as I've been having to take time off work to promote the book. But I'm not in a position to be able to write full-time just now, so basically I just have to make the time.

Q: I've seen your recommendations for picture books on your site and we do have similar tastes. I love Emily Gravett's work, Ayao Imai's the 108th sheep, and Antonia Barber's The Mousehole Cat, which I reviewed here. Do you have any recommendations for people who read your book and liked it?
I've only recently discovered Eva Ibbotson, who is a brilliant author of stories that are full of adventure, magic and mystery. For fans of fairy fiction I'd recommend The Various by Steve Augarde, and Knife by R. J. Anderson which I'm reading at the moment and enjoying. For older fairy fans, Heretic by Sarah Singleton and Poison by Chris Wooding are both great reads. I'm also told that I'd love Cold Tom by Sally Prue, which is on my 'to read' pile.

I haven't heard of Heretic or Poison, have to go and check them out! I heard Knife is really good too, and The Various always attracted me, but I never got around it.
Thank you so much for this interview, Michelle. I wish you all the best with your next book.


Shooting Stars Mag said...

Great review and intereview. I really want to read this. It sounds great and the cover is fabulous!


mariel said...

You had me at fairies and gothic! I love good fantasy reads like this when its horrible outside and you can curl up all nice and warm!! Great review, thanks!

Knife looks good too, especially with the front cover done by Brian Froud.

Ana S. said...

Loved the interview, and the book sounds right up my alley. Also, she couldn't have better taste in illustrators!

valentina said...

Lauren, thanks, I like the cover too.

Mariel, Knife should be really good, it was our book of the month, and I know some colleagues who loved it. Very dark.

Ana, she couldn't really! I hope you read it if you get a chance:)