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Success story: Michelle Harrison


Michelle Harrison is our latest success story. The former Waterstone’s bookseller has won this year’s Waterstone’s Children’s Book Award for her debut novel The 13 Treasures. As well as a cash prize of £5,000, she won the continuing support of Waterstone’s 320 branches.

The booksellers helped to judge the award and have given it glowing reviews: ‘Michelle Harrison takes us back to those days of fairy folklore with a story that weaves a modern day teenager into an extraordinary pact made with the fairies fifty years before’ was what Claire Howell of Waterstone's York said and Nic Ballam of Waterstone's Abergavenny said it was ‘a brilliantly written fairytale of betrayal and revenge perfectly aimed at the 9-12 market’.

The Award 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. Now in its fifth year, it was created to champion new and emerging children's writers.

The 13 Treasures is about a 13-year-old girl who can see fairies and is tormented by a malicious one. She tries to solve a mystery that has haunted her family for generations. Harrison illustrated the novel herself and seems fascinated by fairies. She is now 29 and began the book while in the first year of her illustration course at Stafford University in 2002.

‘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!’

‘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.’

Success has not come quickly for Harrison however. As well as her time as a bookseller she has also worked as a barmaid and gallery attendant and is now an editorial assistant with Oxford University Press. She 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’. This latest winner of the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Award looks set for a successful career as a children’s writer.

Our last Success Story: Brian McGilloway