Behind the Scenes
Posted on January 20, 2015, tagged as SPOILERS, Thirteen Treasures, Writing
People often ask me which of the books I’ve written is my favourite. This is a fairly difficult question to answer, because each story is important to me and it feels somehow disloyal to pick one over the others. What I do say is that Thirteen Treasures is the book I am most proud of; not because I think it’s the best thing I’ve written, but because it was my first published novel ‒ my first finished novel. I stuck at it for a long time in the face of many rejections, learning as I went.
I’m still getting a lot of emails asking for a continuation of the Thirteen Treasures series. (Come on, you lot. Play nicely ‒ I gave you One Wish!) While I’d hesitate to say never, there’s nothing else planned for this series. It would depend on whether the right idea came along and whether my publisher/s wanted to commission it. The truth is I worked on those books for over ten years and now there are new stories I need to write. I also believe there’s something to be said for ending on a high and having people want more than to milk the series for the sake of it. Ultimately, this would only disappoint everyone, me most of all.
So instead, I give you ten behind-the-scenes secrets about the creation of the trilogy. Warning: If you haven’t read all three Thirteen Treasures books you may want to save this post for later, there are some spoilers ahead.
1. Location, Location, Location
I base many of my fictional places on real-life locations. The town name Tickey End is tweaked from a town called Lickey End, which I once saw signposted when I was lost. I have no idea what Lickey End is like, but I liked the name so much I took note of it. Similarly, Hangman’s Wood is a real place in Essex in the town I grew up in. It’s much smaller than the forest in the TT series, but the catacombs (deneholes) are real, too, and fenced off to stop people falling into them just as they are in the books.
Early on in TT there’s a scene in which Tanya finds a dead fairy stuck to her grandmother’s car windscreen. The idea for this came from a long car journey I shared with my sister when a GINORMOUS bug splattered on the windscreen. We were trying to work out what it was when my sister joked, ‘It must be a fairy.’ Bringing magic into every day situations was a big theme in these books, so I knew I had to use it.
3. Red was a man
‘WHHHHAAAAAT?’ I hear you say! It’s true: Rowan Fox started out her life as a big beefy bushy-bearded man, another fairy hunter whose first appearance was at the very end of TT where Warwick shows up and helps Fabian to rescue Tanya. I’d had an idea that in a sequel, Red could be hiding out in the tunnels under Elvesden Manor with a fairy changeling . . . All good plot wise, but after two years of rewrites and rejections I realised my story was going nowhere and needed a serious shake up. Red’s character excited me, but I realised it’d be much more powerful if the character was someone Tanya ‒ and my readers ‒ could relate to. I made a snap decision to change him into a teenage girl, which was the best decision of my career at that point.
4. Red was the last character written into the book
Now, not only was the character wrong, but having him/her debut right at the end of a story is a huge no-no (unless, perhaps, you’ve already signed a publishing deal for a sequel. I hadn’t even got an agent at this point). In the early drafts, Tanya had a second-sighted sidekick called Lily who came to stay at Elvesden Manor. I’d had doubts about Lily for some time. She was, to be blunt, a bit of a wet lettuce, and deep down I knew there was no way Florence would have allowed another child at the manor when she didn’t even want Tanya there. When I could no longer ignore this I began the painstaking task of removing Lily from the story, and weaving Red in. It was, and still is, the biggest re-write I’ve tackled, but it was worth every word.
5. Who came back from the dead?
A handful of eagle-eyed fans have spotted the reference to ‘killing off one character too many’ in the acknowledgements at the end of Thirteen Secrets, and got in touch to ask who it was. The character who never survived the first draft was Sparrow: Red found him dead in the tunnels under Elvesden Manor after Eldritch had finished with him. In my desire to complete the book I probably got a little carried away and took it out on poor Sparrow. I’m glad I was persuaded by my mum and my editor to bring him back to life ‒ it would have been one tragedy too much for Rowan.
6. What’s in a name?
Most of my characters’ names are meaningful to me in some way: Tanya is named after my niece, as many of you already know. As a keen reader I knew she’d love to have the book’s heroine named after her, and as its meaning is ‘fairy queen’ it couldn’t be more perfect. Also, Warwick is named after Warwick Davies, who starred in one of my favourite childhood movies, Willow (you’re more likely to know him as Professor Flitwick in Harry Potter) and Suki is named after my first cat, an evil genius who almost put me off cats for life.
7. The Morwenna Bloom poem
Normally I’ll write a story in the order that it appears, but this was written months in advance. I was stuck on the scene I was writing and impatient for the story to unfold, so I decided to skip ahead. I’d bullet-pointed several important moments in the story that I was looking forward to writing, the poem being one of them as it reveals the (partial) truth about Morwenna’s fate. As well as giving me something to focus on while I figured out the part I was stuck with, I wanted so badly to get to that point in the story that it kept me writing even at times when I felt like giving up.
8. Cringe . . .
This one is REALLY shameful. When I was redrafting TT and trying to get published, I was in full-blown fairy obsession mode. So much so, that when I applied for a job as a reporter on a local newspaper, I sent my CV on fairy paper . . . that I’d drawn myself. Unsurprisingly, I never heard anything back ‒ they probably thought I was bonkers.
9. The Spiderwick Chronicles
I read the first book in this series when I was about halfway through my first draft of TT, and was gutted to discover that as well as being about fairies in a crumbling old house, there was a field guide of fey creatures. I’d actually written something very similar, with Tanya and Lily building up a secret file called F.A.B.L.E. (Fairies: A Body of Lore and Enlightenment). Needless to say, that subplot got deleted.
10. The almost sequel
Almost immediately after finishing TT I sent it out to a publisher and began a sequel which flashed back to the past to tell Elizabeth Elvesden’s story. I made it only a few chapters in before I realised I needed to go back to book one and get that right before moving on to a second book. Of course, by the time I did my idea for the sequel was completely different and ended up being Red’s story.
That brings me to the end of my top ten behind-the-scenes secrets. Which was your favourite? Tell me by leaving a comment below and you could win a RARE US edition TT poster (above). There are two available, and you have until midnight (GMT) 28th February to leave your comment.
I love that Warwick was named after Warwick Davies, growing up Willow was one of my favourite childhood films along with The Princess Bride
I think it’s kind of hilarious that Red started out as man. When I read that post I just had this image in my mind of Red turning into a ‘big beefy bushy-bearded man’ (alliteration). It was a weird, comical image and I’m glad that Red is a girl in the published story. She plays such an important role in the series that I couldn’t imagine TT any other way than it is if she wasn’t in it.
It was such a huge relief to know that the plot went through a lot of changes until the TT series got published and that there was even a part (the Morwenna Bloom poem) written out of the order of the plot, because as an aspiring writer, I often tend to think I must write the “official” story at the first try and it was really motivating that it’s pretty normal to end up changing the plot or skipping some scenes during the process.
Red was a man in the first edit … wow….. I cant imagine the story without her , she is so alive and so inspiring. Red for me was the character I related to the most, she grew strong through her loss, I recently lost my mum to cancer and immersed myself in your world to help me take a break from my grief. I didnt expect to find a world that would not only entertain and comfort me but also present me with a character from whom I could learn a new way of looking at the world thank you for sharing her with me. I know you think you are done with the TT triology but you are SO good at what you have created, please consider continuing the story! After all Tanya hasn’t met Ratty again yet and we all want to know how that develops! Plus who is Red’s father? Why did he want her to grow up in the human world? I found your world by picking up One Wish and now I’ve read 2/3 of the trilogy. I am totally hooked and very grateful to you for sticking with it for 10 years, your work is excellent and I’d love to see these made into films!
I’m sorry for your loss, and glad the books were a comfort to you.
Good questions! Maybe they’ll get answered someday if I write more in this world . . .
Omg I am a huge fan! I have read the trilogy multiple times and it never gets old. I also have a friend who has read it as well as a friend in the process of thirteen treasures. So far she loves it and my other friend and I love it. I would love to see these turned into movies and to see a continuation if the series.
I can not believe how far these books have come! I met Michelle at the 2013? (don’t quote) Redbridge book awards!
Almost died of excitement and disbelief at finally meeting my favorite author that made me see life in a different way!
With all my books signed my life is now complete!
I don’t think I need to say anymore as Michelle (and her cats! beautiful!) has already seen for herself exactly how great I think she is! Thank you!!!!!!! XXXXXX
The fairy obsession seems interesting to me. Reading through your books i always got sumerged in the fairy adventure and began to think maybe there could be a possibility. I always imagined you being the writer must had gotten really into fairies. Love it. Btw im glad red is a girl makes the story more magical and somewhat more believable than having an adult as the main character. love your books
I love the fact that you didn’t kill off Sparrow!
I feel like he was such an important character in the story and such an important person in Rowan’s life. I also loved the fact that you changed the books so much from first draft to final publishing! As an aspiring author you’ve inspired me so much to put so much dedication on my books and not be afraid to make changes because sometimes those changes can be the best thing that happens to the book!
Yes, I’m really fond of Sparrow, too.
You’re my second winner, Lizzy! An email is winging its way to you!
I like the memory that reading this book gave me, because it’s a good memory of a night I stayed up really late to finish it; and I think it was because I read it at night that I imagined everything really clearly. And the drain dweller was really mysterious and interesting, I think it was my favorite character. I still have dreams about it sometimes o.o
My daughter and I have read these books as a bed time story! We LOVE them! We are so close to being done with the last book. (Something that is exciting and sad!)
Hello Michelle ..I hope u remember me. I posted a comment on ur facebook page sometime this summer that just past.. I told you that I love your books! I mentioned that I really think they should be made into films. That to me they r as great as JK Rowling books.and I still stand by that comment. You also mentioned that you were coming out with a new book called one wish.. I still haven’t been lucky to come across it . I live in a some what small town and I haven’t found your book.. I’m so disappointed because I really want to read it. I can’t seem to get the first 3out of my head. I often find myself wondering about what has happened to all the characters. Especially Rowan. My favorite character of all. I know have a saying in my house when something is missing .. I say,well the faries took it.. I can’t help but hope they are real. Anyways I just hope that I can be the lucky winner and win this amazing poster. It will make me super happy to Actually have it.. And even more so with your autograph.. I’m your biggest fan. And I won’t give up looking for one wish.. I hope u can continue blessing us with your sketchbooks for many more years to come.. Thank you.. Your biggest fan Dorcas Santiago..
Hi Dorcas, yes I remember you! I came across ‘Dorcas’ in a book of names the other day, under ‘Tabitha’ (it appears to share the same meaning). We also say the fairies took things that go missing! One Wish isn’t out in the states until next year, that’ll be why you can’t find it yet. 🙁
Sorry didn’t mean sketchbook.. Lol.. Meant stories..
You made my 11 year old daughter scream with excitement! We live about 10 miles from Lickey End in Worcestershire so that’s her favourite! A close second was the name Warwick – we love him and Willow.
We adore all four books; they inspire her to write her own stories and she’s just lent a copy of 13 Treasures to her teacher. She would love the books to be made into films and would love to play Tanya – amazing as she’s usually quite shy.
I hope your 11 year old screams once again – I have chosen you as one of my winners!
Thank you, Michelle!
Best thing is, as it was a ‘joint’ entry if you like, on behalf of my daughter, she didn’t want me to put my own answer! Which actually was about the cv on fairy paper that made me laugh out loud! My first tattoo (at 17 – naughty) was a large fairy and , as a now 42 yr old sensible-ish teacher, I still adore it – and all things fay! x
I love these books, the creatures are so cool and mysterious. 🙂
I would so love this book. As a Children’s Librarian and a Book Reviewer and a huge fan of this series I would “treasure” it!
Wow…this series has changed so much. There are so many comments about this, but I feel like I have to say it. Red is better of as a teenage girl, also thank you for not killing off Sparrow. MY OTP LIVES!!!! 😀 😀 😀 I’m sorry if that seemed odd, I couldn’t help it
I love your books so much!!!! I can’t even imagine how frustrating it must have been to get them all published with all the rewriting. I hope one day they can be made into films. I recently found out about your new book One Wish and I just can’t seem to find it, but I will keep looking. Keep writing because your amazing!!!!!!
Hi Michelle. I love the TT trilogy so much!!!!! I really hope they can be turned into films. I can’t imagine how long it must have taken you to publish them with all the rewriting and stuff. I recently found out about your book One Wish but I can’t find it 🙁 but I know I will keep looking until I do. Keep writing because you are amazing!!!!
Hi Dona, glad you liked the books! One Wish is currently only out in the UK but can be ordered online, but it comes out in the U.S. next March.
The thirteen treasures is my favorite I think!I love reds story and when I read she\he was a man I was like whattt???and the thirteen secrets is my second favorite because red and her real mother are together in it and because I love sparrow!!!!!
How is the main problem of the story solved?
Sounds like a homework question! My advice is to read the book and decide for yourself 🙂
I would love to see the movie of th13 curses, the 13 treasures and the 13 secrets because they are all interesting books i thought i’d be nice to have both the books and their movies.❤
Thank you! I think so, too.
I’m so so so so so sorry i did not introduce myself. i’m gold you can call me gold. By the way i’m such a huge fun of you and not only you it’s like i’m addicted to books in fact I love books I read them everytime exept when I have something else to do.
No problem. I love books, too, and wish I had more time to read like I did when I was younger.
I absolutely loved this series,it’s very strange to think about the fact that Rowan was supposed be be a man,and im very glad you decided not to let Sparrow die lol, i agree to the fact that these books would make some amazing movies, They will remain my favorite books forever
Thanks, Alina! I’m so glad you liked the books. It is strange the way they changed from my original ideas but that always seems to happen with every story.
I agree, these books would make amazing movies, i just finished 13 secrets and i absolutely loved it, actually i loved this entire series