Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Author Interview: Michelle Harrison (Unrest)

Today is a good day because I have another interview with the lovely Michelle Harrison! In case you don't know, Michelle is, in my opinion, one of the UK's best authors, and her new book and first for teenagers, Unrest, is published this week. Her previous series for slightly younger readers, The 13 series, is one of my all-time favourites and is a brilliant mix of fairies and fantasy. Give them a read if you haven't already!

Anyway, on with the interview, which I believe is the third Michelle has done for me over the years. Thank you!


What was your writing process like for Unrest? Were there lots of drafts and re-writes?

Looking back over all of my books, it almost seems that Unrest was the most straightforward to write. While there were three drafts, the rewriting was minimal. The main problem was the length, and from the first draft to the last I cut twenty thousand words. I deleted ten before it went to my editor, and with her help cut another ten and made things much tighter, omitting superfluous scenes and even a character. Unrest wasn’t straightforward, though. Some things about writing get easier with experience, but I struggled with it just as much as my earlier books. Maybe more, because with each book I set new standards and try to learn from past mistakes. I had days when I couldn’t write a thing because I felt overwhelmed by the story and didn’t know how to move it on, and not being able to do that when you have a deadline is incredibly frustrating. Getting stuck has its benefits, though. I spent more time researching and came across things that became really important to the storyline – things I would have otherwise missed.

What kind of research did you do into ghosts and hauntings?

I feel as if I’ve been researching ghosts and hauntings my whole life. Anyone who knew me as a kid could tell you that I was fascinated by the idea of an afterlife even then. If there’s a film about ghosts, I’ll watch it. If there’s a book or a news story I’ll read it, even if it scares me – and I admit that the thought of ghosts terrifies me. By the time I started Unrest I considered myself prepared on the supernatural angle, so most of my research was geared towards sleep paralysis and out-of-body experiences. However, a couple of years ago, just after 13 Treasures was published, I visited Chambercombe Manor in Devon and took a guided tour. In addition to the general history of the house, there were several ghost stories. One of them, the tale of a hanged servant, really disturbed me and was one of the first things I thought about when I got the initial idea for Unrest. I’ve since been on a ghost walk in Bath and visited other historical places but none of them affected me in the same way.

I know you're a big fan of horror stories, whether it be in books or films. Did you find that your interest in the genre made a big difference to how you approached Unrest?

I think it must have. I suppose it’s like any kind of story; as a reader you know what works for you and what doesn’t, and likewise, what scares you and what doesn’t. As with every genre there are so many tired old clich├ęs – my biggest eye rolls usually go to the false scare: character closes bathroom cabinet to a jab of eerie music and a face in the mirror behind them, only to realise it’s their dad/boyfriend etc. I find those things a bit cheap and try to avoid doing it. That said, I can’t stand relentless scares from the start, either. Getting tension and suspense right can be tough. Films such as The Sixth Sense and The Gift handle this perfectly – good plots, lots of creepy, uneasy parts plus a handful of terrifying, gruesome scenes designed to shock and resonate. And most importantly, you care about the characters. This is what I’ve aimed to create in Unrest.

Unrest is your first novel for teenagers, after the 13 Treasures series which was aimed at slightly younger readers. How has your style changed for this book?

Well firstly, I gave my characters permission to swear! While this is nothing new in the YA market, and is neither excessive nor at the higher end of the bleep-o-meter (my one use of the f-bomb never even made it to my editor) it was new for me and I felt a certain liberation in that. I guess it really ties in with my next point about style: the voice being that of a contemporary seventeen-year-old boy. My previous series was written from a third person, female perspective in a classic fantasy setting, so to complete the differentiation I knew from the start that I’d write Unrest in first person. My biggest challenge was to nail Elliott’s voice and make it authentic and believable. I don’t know any seventeen year-old boys, but I remember sneakily listening to them when I was at college and I don’t think the basics have changed much. I tried to see through Elliott’s eyes and to view and react to situations more practically, and less emotionally. This isn’t to say I think women lack practicality, or that men aren’t in touch with their emotions – just that men and boys are generally more guarded, in my experience. As a result Elliott’s language, and therefore the tone of the book, is sparser and more direct than anything I’ve written previously.

I always have to ask about covers, and this one is lovely. What are your thoughts? 

It’s everything I wanted. Classic, eerie, and iconic - a simple idea brilliantly executed. In my opinion it doesn’t conform to any of the YA cover trends and I think it stands out because of that. I also think it has equal boy/girl appeal, and extending my readership to include more boys is something I hope for.

Going from fairies to ghosts means you're still very much in the supernatural realm. Which creature or phenomenon do you plan to tackle next?

The next book is being negotiated right now and it’s about my other favourite supernatural subject: witchcraft. There will be elements of spirits and entities being invoked, so I think it’ll follow on nicely from Unrest.

Lastly, if you had to choose three songs that remind you of Unrest, which would you choose and why?

Unrest is the first book I created a play list for, although actually it’s more soundtrack than play list (I’m rubbish at listening to music while writing). The full list will be featured later this week on So Many Books, So Little Time, but my three favourites are: Sex on Fire by Kings of Leon – Elliott’s older brother, Adam, is in a band and there’s a scene where Elliott and Ophelia watch them play. Elliott describes Adam singing well-chosen lines to pretty girls in the audience, despite his girlfriend being present. I know that if I was one of those girls, this is the song that would make my knees buckle – which is essentially Adam’s speciality! Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush – I played this a lot while I wrote Unrest. The more I listened to it, the more I felt that Ophelia would be a Kate Bush fan. That’s not typical of most seventeen-year-olds, but neither is Ophelia. The song is referenced in the book in the same scene as above, and although it’s not exactly current I felt it could work as Adam would be familiar with the newer Placebo version. A Historic Love by Trevor Morris – this is an instrumental piece, and history fans may recognise it from a somewhat raunchy scene in The Tudors. When I hear this I think of Elliott and Ophelia in the orchard at Past Lives. The title says it all.


Related links:

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Review: A Midsummer Tights Dream by Louise Rennison

Publisher: HarperCollins
Format: Hardcover
Released: February 2nd, 2012
Rating: 6/10

Amazon summary:

Yaroooo! Tallulah’s triumphant Heathcliff in ‘Wuthering Heights’ the comedy musical was enough to secure her place at Dother Hall performing arts college for another term. She can’t wait to see her pals again, Charlie and the boys from Woolfe Academy and maybe even bad boy Cain… Could the bright lights of Broadway be calling? And for who?


This is the second book in the Tallulah Casey series, which is Louise Rennison's first post-Georgia Nicolson outing. It's written in a very similar style to the Georgia books, though it doesn't have as many diary entries. It's not quite as funny but I do find myself chuckling quite a bit - Tallulah gets up to some hilarious things!

Now don't get me wrong, I do like this series, but I think that a lot of the jokes and humour have been seen before, and sometimes I almost feel like I'm reading a Georgia book. I would have liked this series to be written in a separate style to differentiate between the two, although a lot of Rennison's humour does lie in diary-style entries.

Despite all that, I did still enjoy this book. Tallulah is still on a mission to showcase her drama abilities at Dother Hall, she's surrounded by many boys, some of which are just plain mental and reminiscent of Mark Big Gob, and her friends are just as mad as she is. I also love all the parallels to Wuthering Heights - vast Yorkshire moors and all that. Rennison takes the mickey in a nice way!

I'll definitely be reading the next Tallulah book when it's published in 2013, and I hope it will be a bit stronger than this one. It must be very difficult for authors to compete with their own previous series, but Rennison is giving it a good go. Still, no-one comes close to Georgia!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Review: My Scorching Summer Diary by Liz Rettig

Publisher: Corgi Children's
Format: Paperback
Released: March 29th, 2012
Rating: 8/10

Amazon summary:

Seventeen-year-old Kelly Ann leaves behind her boyfriend, family and friends in Glasgow to live and work in a London hotel for the summer. But losing her luggage and fending off tube gropers on her first day isn't a good start. Almost being arrested for stealing men's underwear on her second isn't any better. However she does manages to make friends, even though, to impress her new pals, she pretends to be older and more sophisticated than she is, with a doctor boyfriend. London life is fun, even though she has to work in a steaming hot kitchen all day. But her made-up life starts to get very complicated, and she has rely on old friends to save the day.


My Scorching Summer Diary is Liz Rettig's fifth book about mad Scot girl Kelly Ann, and I'm very happy to say it's as funny as ever. This series really does fill the void that Louise Rennison left when her Georgia series ended, and in some instances the Kelly Ann series is even funnier. There are so many unbelievable embarrassing moments and I often found myself sighing with relief because they weren't happening to me! Especially where Kelly Ann's new off-white bikini is concerned... *shudder*

In My Scorching Summer Diary, Kelly Ann heads down to London to work in a (very low paid) hotel for the summer. It's the first time she's properly been away from home on her own and I thought Liz Rettig did a great job describing how daunting London can be. I remember the first few times I went there by myself - I was quite terrified. It's busy and always on the move and, like Kelly Ann, I'm used to the quiet life. In this chapter of her life she ends up meeting new friends, earning a living and seriously thinking about her future. She also has yet more boyfriend drama with the lovely, slightly too sensitive Chris, along with several cringeworthy moments that I sincerely hope never ever happen to me!

One reason I love this series is Liz Rettig's writing. It flows so easily and is full of Scottish wit and wisdom. I laugh all the way through her books, whether they're about Kelly Ann or not, and I always look forward to a new one being published. Teenage girls should have no problem relating to Kelly Ann's madcap antics and friendship/boyfriend troubles, and might even pick up some tips from her.

My Scorching Summer Diary is a brilliant addition to the Kelly Ann series and, as always, I hope there will be more. Definitely read this series if you're a fan of Louise Rennison, Carmen Reid or Luisa Plaja. You'll laugh, you'll cringe, and you'll remember to always keep your eye on your luggage if you're travelling on the tube. It's the only sure way to avert disaster!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

In My Mailbox #153: New Books in February & March!

In My Mailbox idea from Kristi @ The Story Siren, and all links would usually take you to Amazon. Click images for a bigger picture!

Hey guys! I haven't done an IMM post since early February, so this is a bit of a bumper one. My mum has been very very ill but is doing really well and finishes treatment in about a month. That's why I haven't been online much, obviously, and my blog has taken a back seat. I've just started reading again and have read two books this week, so hopefully I can get back into it properly and catch up with some of my TBR pile. Thanks, as always, to all the lovely publishers and friends who have sent me books and other goodies. It made me happy during a time that has been anything but!

Anyway, here are all the books that were new to my mailbox:


For review: