Tinkerbell has done wonders for the image of fairies as bright little sprites who only occasionally succumb to temper tantrums. But Rowan Fox knows better; fairies stole her brother away after their parents were killed in a car crash, and now she's on a quest to find him. But to do so she must put herself—and her friends, Tanya, Fabian and Warwick—in mortal danger. Michelle Harrison shares her darkly brilliant imagination, which led her to the fairy realm of 13 Treasures and 13 Curses.
Discover more oh-so-British fantasies for children.
Rowan is a complicated character who does some cruel things—did you worry about your audience's reactions to her?
Yeah, I did worry. She does make some very harsh decisions in the book and surprised me, actually—it sounds weird that I was surprised, being that I made it up—but if I'd written it any other way, it wouldn't have felt true to her character. I think that good people are capable of doing bad things, and, equally, bad people are capable of doing good things. I think she's one of the strongest characters in the book, and I do attribute that to her flaws.
How much research did you do for your book?
I didn't do mountains of research, but it started with an interest in fairy art when I was at college and found Brian Froud, the conceptual artist for the film Labyrinth. It really went from there. There's a book called Faeries by Froud and Alan Lee that has gorgeous illustrations in it as well. It's the sort of thing you can dip into and pick up little bits and pieces. I've got quite a few fairy books and did quite a bit of Internet research as well.
For my books I tried to keep it maybe 50 percent of it based on folklore, and then I added tweaks here and there. I've read several times in different places about how red protects you from fairies, but I never found a reason why and decided to add my own little bit, that it acts as a camouflage. Also, I found in one of the books a mention of the 13 treasures of Britain and looked it up on the Internet—I could never find a list of the same 13 items or the same list of what they did. So I decided to make up my own list. I also wove in the legend of the Seelie and Unseelie courts. Which again is a real legend, but I've never found anything in books or anywhere else to say why there are two courts and not one, so that was my own invention as well.
Are your books getting darker the more you write?
Yes, because my next book is going to be published by my [UK] publisher's teen imprint. We all felt things were getting darker and that's just the way it was going; it's a paranormal story for teenagers.
Why do you think your work is getting darker?
I don't know, I think I must just have a bit of a gory personality! With 13 Treasures, there were lots of quite scary bits, but I felt I was holding back because of the audience. The more you write, the more boundaries there are that you want to push, and I like to write scary stuff, so this is a good way to push that further.
I always picture authors who write books about magical creatures as growing up in sprawling houses with dense gardens and elderly grandparents—was your childhood like this?
No, I wish my childhood was like that! I lived in a three-bedroom council house; I don't know what you'd call that in America—cheap social housing, I guess. It wasn't a really built-up area, though. The Hangman's Wood in the story is based on a real forest which was quite near where I lived, and I did visit it as a child, though it was much smaller than the Wood in the story. The house I live in now is a Victorian house; it's got a lot more character and a nice garden with ivy and primroses, quite fairy like. I haven't found any secret passageways, but I'm still looking.