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Russian dolls
Michelle Harrison Michelle Harrison

Oi! Widdershins fans! You’ll love this one – I did. If you’re looking for a creepy, magical and atmospheric read, then you won’t do much better than this. I was a big fan of the first Aveline Jones book: The Haunting of Aveline Jones, but her second adventure is possibly even better. The blurb:

Turn on your torches and join Aveline Jones! Aveline is thrilled when she discovers that the holiday cottage her mum has rented for the summer is beside a stone circle. Thousands of years old, the local villagers refer to the ancient structure as the Witch Stones, and Aveline cannot wait to learn more about them. Then Aveline meets Hazel. Impossibly cool, mysterious yet friendly, Aveline soon falls under Hazel’s spell. In fact, Hazel is quite unlike anyone Aveline has ever met before, but she can’t work out why. Will Aveline discover the truth about Hazel, before it’s too late? The second in a deliciously spine-tingling, spooky series, where mysteries are always solved, spirits are always laid to rest, and everybody gets to bed on time.

This is the sort of series childhood me would have been obsessed with. I loved the summery vibe, the beautiful, immersive writing, the witchiness (anything with a witch bottle and standing stones and I’m there)! It’s an eerie, exciting adventure – I was definitely bewitched! If you enjoyed A Tangle of Spells then this is definitely a book for you. I’m a huge fan of Phil Hickes’ writing and was thrilled that he agreed to answer my questions about the book and all the kind of nonsense I like to know about other writers.

Phil’s publisher, Usborne, has kindly given me three copies to give away here – all you have to do is leave a comment to enter the giveaway. UK only, closes September 20th 2021 at midnight (GMT).

The Bewitching of Aveline Jones is published on September 16th, 2021 in the UK. Pre-order here.

What was your journey to being a published author like?

It was very long and frustrating, yet also enjoyable in many respects. I was probably writing seriously for around 10 years before I had a breakthrough (so hang in there if you’re in the query trenches)! I had no idea what I was doing most of time. No real grasp of agents, what they wanted, or how best to approach them. In hindsight, I wasted a huge amount of time sending out manuscripts that I now know, were wholly unsuitable. I was a headless chicken with a keyboard, firing off random Word docs. However, whilst I was constantly beset by self-doubt (and still am, like most authors), there was also a certain freedom and excitement that I miss. You never knew what might arrive in your inbox. You were free to scribble away and dream without deadlines or expectations. But I was overjoyed to finally find an agent and a publishing home with Usborne. It really felt like I’d scaled a mountain and I constantly look to the sky and send thanks and praise to the capricious Gods of Writing.

Where does your interest in spooky stories come from?

It’s an obsession that’s been with me since a small child. To this day, I’m plagued by a constant need to hunt down the next supernatural thrill, whether that’s a book, or a film, or a radio play, or a podcast. If I was to hazard a guess, it may be that I grew up in a cold, dark and gloomy house in Rochdale that overlooked a crumbling Victorian graveyard. I used to play there during the day, but at night, when the shadows lengthened, the atmosphere would change from fun to fear, and I would find myself staring out into the darkness, wondering if all the occupants were truly at rest.

Where and when do you write?

I’ve moved around a lot so am yet to find a permanent writing nook. Currently, I write with the Mac on my lap in a back room. It’s far from ideal, bad for my back, and I do need to try and find something a little more inspirational. I write on Sunday afternoon and Monday to Wednesday evening, aiming for a minimum of 500 words per night. I should do more. I need to do more. But I want fiction writing to remain enjoyable and not feel like a grind. It’s a fine balance.

Do you believe in the supernatural, and have you ever seen a ghost or experienced something otherworldly?

Yes I’m a believer. There’s just too much anecdotal evidence. Even if you discount 99% of it, that still leaves a huge amount of unexplainable phenomenon. I believe that certain people are sensitive to vibrations. I think painful or tragic events can linger in the ether. I’m certain there are dark places in the world where strange lifeforms still dwell. Personally, I’ve seen many UFOs. I’ve seen a vase fly off a table, heard footsteps when nobody’s there and felt someone (or something) touch the back of my neck. I’ve also had the sensation of not being alone or being observed by something unseen. I also once travelled to see a full solar eclipse and that’s an incredibly supernatural event. I’ve yet to witness a full ghostly visitation but I live in hope.

Do you plan your stories or go with the flow?

Much to my chagrin, I find myself unable, or perhaps unwilling, to fully plan a story. I like to go with the flow and see what happens. What usually happens is that I end up wasting thousands of words and drive myself to the brink of a nervous breakdown. But there are fleeting moments, when an idea jumps into your mind, or the words seem to just flow out onto the page, and it makes it all worthwhile.

Do you have another job, besides writing?

Yes, my day job is…writer! I work for an advertising agency. There are good things and bad things about it. But I consider myself very blessed to be able to survive financially through writing. In my experience at least, being an author doesn’t generate enough readies to live on. I hope that may change some day.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

“If you keep putting things on the conveyor belt, eventually, something will drop off the other side.” An old boss told me that about something unrelated to writing, but I think it applies perfectly to books. If you’re an author, and you keep going, and keep trying, sooner or later something will appear that resembles what you were trying to create. It also applies to putting feelers out there for agent/publishing opportunities. In fact, it applies to pretty much everything. The other best bit of advice I received was to use an internet blocker app.

Are there any spooky or witchy books you’d recommend for fans of the Aveline Jones series?

There’s an author called Michelle Harrison I like. You may know her? Another recommendation would be Long Lankin by Lyndsey Barraclough. I really enjoy Chris Priestley’s ghostly tales. And I’ve read recent good ones by Ross Montgomery, Kat Ellis, Finbar Hawkins, Helena Duggan, Jenni Jennings, Robin Jarvis, Mary Downing Hahn, Emma Carroll, Allison Rushby and Danny Weston. And Jennifer Killick is killing it.

If you could come back as a ghost who would you haunt or what would you do?

Thankfully, I’m not sure anyone has wronged me enough for me to haunt them. But I do fancy the idea of lingering around suitably spooky places and giving supernatural skeptics a reason to reconsider.

What’s your top tip for aspiring writers?

Tell your inner critic to shut up and keep going.

Quick Fire Questions:

Ghosts or witches?

Witches.

Ouija boards – yes or no?

A firm nope.

Favourite ghost story?

Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad.

If you had to, would you rather say ‘Wooooooooooh’ at the start of every sentence or do an evil cackle at the end of everything you say?

Evil cackle. Mwo-ha-hah-hah-haaaa!

Would you rather have a ghost in your own home or live next door to a witch?

Ghost in the home.

 

Thank you so much, Phil! I loved reading your answers and book recommendations, and I’m firmly with you on the ouija board. NOPE.

***GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED. WINNERS ARE LUCY GRIFFIFTHS, AYSHA SULEMAN AND FLORA. WINNERS HAVE BEEN CONTACTED BY EMAIL*** PLEASE NOTE THAT IF PRIZES ARE UNCLAIMED BY WEDS 13TH OCTOBER THEN NEW WINNERS WILL BE SELECTED AT RANDOM

 

 

National Share a Story Month celebrates storytelling and story sharing, and is a fantastic opportunity for you to enter this writing competition run by the FCBG (Federation of Children’s Book Groups) in the UK.

I’m thrilled to have written one of the three writing prompts for 2021’s Story Starter competition, the theme of which is Myths, Magic and Mayhem. All the information and rules can be found on the FCBG’s website here. This is my prompt:

The first thing you need to know about magic is that it’s always found when you least expect it. The second thing is – no, wait. It’s best that I don’t tell you that straight away. I should probably start at the beginning, which was when I made the strange discovery in the new shop that opened at the end of my street . . .

If you use my prompt for your entry I’d love to see it, and welcome you to post it below in the comments. Posting here is just for fun so there are no prizes, but I promise to read every one that appears! The official FCBG competition rules are that entrants must be aged 7-12 and live in the UK, however readers aged 13-16 from anywhere in the world can post their story in the comments here. Word limit is 750 (including my beginning lines!) and your story must be complete. Remember that if you’re entering the FCBG competition you must do so at the address on their website and the closing date is 15.06.21.

Finally, if you are a winner or runner up in the FCBG competition using my prompt, please contact me with proof and I will gladly send you a signed, dedicated book.  Good luck!

 

I’m delighted to host Claire Barker, award-winning author of the Picklewitch and Jack and Knitbone Pepper series, on my blog for an exclusive Q&A and giveaway. From the moment I discovered the first Picklewitch and Jack book a couple of years ago (thanks to another favourite author, Alex Bell) I’ve been a huge fan of this series and of Claire herself, who is one of the loveliest children’s authors in the business. I had the pleasure of meeting Claire a while back at a London afternoon tea held by author Emma Carroll, and I took to her warm, funny personality instantly. She is, as all the best people are, quite mad: Barker by name, barking by nature, and this comes across in her glorious books.

Picklewitch is a grubby, tree-dwelling, cake-loving little witch who lives in the garden of clever clogs Jack. As you can imagine, a cheeky, dirty witch and the school swot are a pair made in heaven, and much hilarity, magic and naughtiness ensue. I particularly love the language in these books. Claire has a talent for making up funny words as well as weaving in older, less well known words (such as my beloved ‘widdershins’) and she really knows how to turn a phrase. Each book is a separate adventure and they are all equally fantastic, I’ve loved every one of them and I’m crossing everything that there will be more from this duo. These books are aimed a little younger than my Pinch/13 series, so are great if you want a lighter read.

Claire kindly took the time to answer some questions I sent her. I hope you enjoy reading her brilliant and bonkers answers as much as I did. I’m also giving away a full set of all three Picklewitch and Jack books to one lucky reader. To enter the draw, just leave a comment below. UK only, closes midnight (UK time) Saturday 10th April 2021.

*COMPETITION CLOSED – WINNER: LAUREN DONOVAN*

What was your journey to being a published author like?

Quick, bumpy, nightmarish, full of despair, hope, wonder and joy. In that order. I became an author by accident really. A very lucky twist of fate.

Where did the name ‘Picklewitch’ come from, and did her name ever change?

She has only ever been Picklewitch, right from the moment she popped into my head on a train. She’s known as Klarinde in Germany, which I find curious, like she has a twin sister.

Where and when do you write?

My best writing time is between 2 and 5 I think. I’ve had lunch by then and I’m not constantly distracted by the thought of biscuits.

My office is a shepherd’s hut, dating back to a time when I used to live on a little farm. My children were young then and all was animals, chaos, mud and laughter. Things are more peaceful these days, but it’s still a bolthole. I just had it craned into my new garden over a 15 foot hedge. It’s fair to say I’m quite attached to it. It smells of woodsmoke, roses, lavender and magic.

The spells in Picklewitch and Jack are fun and inventive. Have you ever tried casting a spell yourself, and do you have any spell books or witchy items of your own?

I think I was scared of witches as a child and it’s one of the reasons I wanted to make Picklewitch so accessible. I read an awful lot of books on witchcraft and met many witches – all of them delightful. However, I fear that if I cast a spell it would go terribly wrong. Then I’d frantically try and fix it, inevitably making it even worse. I’d be to witchcraft what Basil Fawlty is to the hotel industry.

Do you plan your stories or go with the flow?

I don’t so much as plan, as ask my 7 year old self what she would like to hear about. Then, as god of my own universe, I make these things happen on the page. Having said this it’s not a completely free form approach. I always begin with a character, then a sharp synopsis. The trick is not to dilute it.

Do you have another job, besides writing?

I used to work as a tutor, or in schools as a TA but now I spend a lot of time visiting schools instead. No time for a proper job!

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Never feel intimidated. Everyone is bluffing.

The series is full of wonderful playful language and phrases such as ‘fudgenuts’ and ‘fopdoodle’. Do you have any favourites?

Quite fond of fudgenuts, savidge and hornswangle. Shakespeare made up hundreds of words, so I don’t see why we all shouldn’t follow his example. A lot of the words in the book are very old and used to be in everyday use but some are just fancies. I have a theory that some words, when placed next to other particular words, take on a sort of irresistible magic and become extra powerful. Language is our birthright – birds migrate, wolves howl and humans tell each other stories. It’s beautiful, colourful, musical and should make us want to pick up our skirts and dance.

If you could be a real witch for a day, what would you do?

I would cross the veil into the past, right on the spot where I am standing. Then I would buy a load of shares in Apple and Facebook.

What’s your top tip for aspiring writers?

Three tips:

Your voice is unique. Never try to be anyone else.

Character is plot.

You will need to become a merciless assassin, killing off anything that doesn’t work. Writing is not for the faint of heart.

Quick fire questions:

Badgers or Squirrels? Badgers of course!

Beach or woodland? Tricky, but I’d say woodland.

Favourite fictional witch other than Picklewitch? I love this question. Terry Pratchett’s Nanny Ogg. I’m sure there’s a big dollop of her DNA in Picklewitch.

If you could own a magical object what would it be and what would it do? A rocking horse that would transform at midnight and carry me across time.

Would you rather have birds living in your hair or bats living in your wardrobe? Birds (checks hair). Yes, birds. I once had chickens in my airing cupboard – does this count?

Would you rather fly a broomstick for one night or be chauffeured everywhere for the rest of your life? Broomstick for one night. I imagine the parking is far more practical.

Last year I was lucky enough to have an early read of a WONDERFUL new book by Zillah Bethell. Waterstones has hailed it as one of ‘The best books to look out for in 2021’ and I completely agree. It’s called The Shark Caller, and it’s published on February 4th (the same day as A Tangle of Spells – exciting). I loved it so much they even put my words on the cover, look!

 

The Shark Caller is the story of a girl called Blue Wing, a girl desperate to learn the secret of summoning the ocean’s sharks. Blue Wing’s parents were killed by a deadly shark, and now she wants revenge. When a newcomer called Maple arrives in her village, the two girls clash. Can they overcome their differences to find the treasure Maple’s father is searching for – and will Blue Wing avenge her parents’ death at last?

This was one of the best books I read last year and believe me, it’s special. The only other thing I’ll say is that it has a killer twist that I didn’t see coming at all!

The author, Zillah Bethell, kindly agreed to answer some questions for me which give a fascinating insight into her life and inspirations for the book. Her publisher, Usborne, has generously provided two copies for me to give away – see below for how to win. Now for the Q&A.

  1. How long did it take you to write The Shark Caller, and what was your journey to being a published author like?

It took me about a year to write The Shark Caller in between working and looking after two children. I started writing after studying English Language and English and French Literature at university. I decided that I wanted to write my own books, not study other people’s. I won £1200 in a short story competition with my stories We Wear Watches and The Ship and the Ordinary Star. This was a huge amount of money to me (still is) and it encouraged me to attempt my first work of literary fiction, Seahorses are Real – a controversial novel about the generational cycle of abuse and how violence is perpetrated by women as well as men. I followed this up with a tragi-comic novel (my homage to Zola) set at the time of the Paris Commune called Le Temps des Cerises. I wanted to use cliches in this book for comedic effect and to voice the general public (a little like the Greek chorus). Then I wrote Girl in Profile which is inspired by the painter Gwen John (sister to Augustus) and her relationship with the sculptor, Rodin. It’s really about creativity and parenting and I wanted to explore perspective in my writing so the novella is a series of vignettes like paintings, sometimes going in close, sometimes distant with a real focus on symbols. My editor, Penny Thomas (of Firefly fame) suggested I try and write a children’s book. I think that perhaps she was a little tired of editing my adult fiction!. That’s when I wrote A Whisper of Horses and got my agent, Julia Churchill. A Whisper of Horses is set in an alternate reality and it’s really about the importance of trying to follow your dreams, however quixotic or difficult they seem. I chose horses because they are quite magical and magnificent creatures to me as I never saw one until I came to the UK. After that came The Extraordinary Colours of Auden Dare. This is about water as a commodity and a political issue (not just an environmental one) and also an exploration of AI and what it means to be human. Most recently, The Shark Caller – an exploration of time and forgiveness, I think, and an attempt by me to preserve some of my memories of Papua New Guinea.

2. You grew up in Papua New Guinea, where the book is set, and didn’t own a pair of shoes until you were eight years old. Were there other things you didn’t have (or did have) as a child, that western readers would find unusual?

I had no books, no toys (except an action man sent to my brothers with a scar on his cheek), no television, no computers, no sweets, no chocolates, no school. I had enormous freedom, the ocean, dancing, oral storytelling, beaches. When I came to the UK I didn’t like authority (still don’t), didn’t understand cultural referents, but was very athletic because most of my young life was a physical exploration of my environment. I am astonished here that many of my peers are frightened to be alone in the mountains etc. I am much more frightened of a sale day in a city!

3. Where and when do you write?

In my head, lying on my bed. I work it all through in my head, hearing the words and sentences. I think this is because I grew up with oral storytelling. I don’t do a first draft etc. I simply rework in my head until it sounds right. I think it was MacNeice who said he slightly preferred the sound of words to the sense of them and this is how I feel. I remember trying to hear a word in my head to do with blood or the colour red and I knew it had three syllables and in the end it was ‘garneted’. Then I speak the words into an old tape recorder and eventually type up on the computer. When my children were a little younger they took great delight in changing the speed on my old recorder so that when I played it back I sounded like a demented Bugs Bunny or a crazed psycho!

4. Have you ever been face to face with a shark?

Yes, they are generally pretty shy creatures and won’t attack humans unless threatened. I do remember a dog being taken by a shark once in the shallows of the sea. Crocodiles were more of a threat in Papua New Guinea and often take the last person crossing a river, snatching a limb if they can to snack on!

5. Do you plan your stories or go with the flow?

I take a very long time thinking about the ideas I am writing about. In Le Temps des Cerises I took about 6 months researching the Paris Commune whereas Seahorses are Real just wrote itself. With Girl in Profile I studied the paintings of Gwen John in great detail – often women sitting passively in a room, waiting it seems for something to happen and this gave me the idea for the final character to be an older woman in a care home. In Auden Dare I looked into LAWS (Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems) and the topic of water rights being used politically in many countries. After lots of thinking I then just go with the flow, lying in bed!

6. Do you have another job, besides writing?

I have always had another job and deliberately took work that could fit around writing and then children. The result has been poverty at times which is alright before you have children but harder when they come along. A wealthy person once told me you must do it for your art and not worry about the money which was a little irritating at the time. As a student I ate beans cold out of a tin and liked to imagine there was some kind of liberation in having no money at all (Balzac in his garret kind of thing) but since having children who seem to grow at an alarming rate – my son is 6ft 2 already – it feels more like a constraint at times. The pram in the hallway, no room of one’s own… The juggle of money, creativity and nurturing is endless and precarious.

7. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Don’t give up. It’s very hard advice to follow nearly all the time! I often give up for months on end and then I feel even more depressed so I go back to not giving up and so it goes on in a nightmarish rollercoaster ride…

8. Did the title of your book ever change, or was it The Shark Caller from the start?

I called it Book of the Long Now because it’s about the idea that forever can last a moment I suppose. Then I think Usborne called it Swimming the Forever Sea for a couple of months, then there was the possibility of The Sorcerer of the Sea and finally it fell to the strong but simple The Shark Caller which I think is a great title and I’m pleased with it.

9. The story explores grief, and the village witch is able to speak to the dead. Have you ever attempted to contact ghosts or spirits yourself?

I have a pack of angel cards which I occasionally look at and perhaps the law of attraction means that the card I pick is oddly accurate or prophetic. I grew up in a culture where all things have an energy that goes beyond the passing of this life and I certainly believe that. I have had experiences where a butterfly, dragonfly or creature has appeared at a time when I am thinking about a person who has recently died. Often a bird is trapped in a room or a butterfly sails past. When driving on the motorway I once saw a hawk next to a rabbit (both alive) and I felt the presence of my late mother very strongly. I nearly always see a hawk just before I take a long car trip. A psychic once told me I was a super sensitive which means that you are simply very intuitive I think. If you are a writer (an inhabiter of skins) then I think you intuit more than you think or reason.

10. What are you working on now?

I am working on my second contracted book for Usborne which is concerned with identity. When you are stripped of everything – your name, your memory, your home  – then what is left? I think it can only be the will to survive. I have set this book in the vast space of the Australian interior. Australia and Papua New Guinea were once geographically connected and many times I heard about First People struggles and the horror of the Stolen Generations. It is also about the songlines which are the First Nation’s GPS system. If you know the right song you can travel through the desert which is a thing of great wonder to me. At the moment I am calling the book 22°S though this may have to change!

I am also working on a new piece of literary fiction called The Camelopard in which I am trying to experiment further with abstraction and narrative perspective – a process I began in Girl in Profile.

Quick fire questions:

  • Book or Kindle?

Book for the tangible papery smell, new, old, foxed, scribbled on, borrowed or stolen!

  • Walk or cycle?

Walk. Every day. In the mountains. I love biking but I get a little annoyed by the ‘beautiful ones, high on diesel and gasoline’ (Suede I think, misquoted I know!) as I call them with their lycra and their puffy breathing!

  • Cats or dogs?

Cats for their superior mystical beauty and dogs for their cold-wet-nose-in-the-hand-unconditional-love loyalty. BOTH!

  • Haribo or chocolate?

Haribo to keep the children quiet, and for me an After Eight mint as it reminds me of my great aunt Jean.

  • What’s your current ring tone?

Atomic by Blondie. I always dance to this at the end of a night out clubbing with my friend and I am so missing my dancing these days. Oh your hair is beautiful. Oh tonight!

  • Would you rather have a spider living in your hair or a mouse living in your shoe?

I don’t have many shoes and am often barefoot so the wee mouse in the shoe can have a very happy home with me.

  • Would you rather swim in shark infested waters for one minute or sing Baby Shark every day for three years?

Shark infested waters every time!

 

Thank you so much for answering these questions, Zillah, I loved reading your responses.

*THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED AND WINNERS HAVE BEEN CONTACTED BY EMAIL.*

Buy The Shark Caller from Waterstones here.

If you’re one of my readers in North America, the wait is finally over. The Widdershins sisters have made their way over the Atlantic in their first adventure. A Pinch of Magic is out now!

All Betty Widdershins wants is an adventure—one that takes her far away from Crowstone, the gloomy island where she’s always lived. But instead of an adventure, Betty and her sisters, Fliss and Charlie, are given of a set of magical objects, each with its own powers: a scruffy carpet bag, a set of wooden nesting dolls, and a gilt-framed mirror. And these magical objects come with their own terrible secret: the sisters’ family is haunted by a generations-long curse that prevents them from ever leaving their island—at the cost of death.

The sisters set out to break the curse and free their family forever. But after stumbling upon a mysterious prisoner who claims to be able to help them, they find themselves in great danger. And in order to break the curse—and stay alive—they must unravel a mystery that goes back centuries, one that involves shipwrecks, smugglers, and sorcery of the most perilous kind.

 

BUY from Barnes & Noble

BUY from Amazon

 

WIN!

My publisher has kindly provided two copies to give away to readers in the USA.

TO ENTER:

Leave a comment below telling me which of the three Widdershins’ magical objects you’d most like to own: a carpet bag that can take you anywhere in an instant, a set of nesting dolls that can turn you invisible, or a magic mirror to spy on others.

RULES:
• Open to all ages, USA ONLY
• One entry per person

CLOSING DATE: 18TH AUGUST 2020

 

Winners will be contacted by email no later than 20th August 2020. Comments from people outside of the USA are welcome but will not be entered into the competition.

Cover artwork © Celine Kim

 

THIS COMPETITION IS NOW CLOSED.

Thank you so much to everyone who entered the family themed writing competition. I really enjoyed reading all your stories and poems, and was so impressed with them all. It’s been extremely tough to choose winners and runners up as the standard was so high. As with the art competition, many factors had to be considered, such as age, imagination, originality, and whether English was the first language of the entrant. Here are the results.

In the age 8-10 category:

WINNER: The Lovely Lambs by Chloe Salwey, 8

I loved this unique (and dare I say, slightly bonkers) story with its fantastic names and ‘sheeperific’ theme. The mashed banana moat is genius. Congratulations, Chloe!

 

RUNNER UP: Oh, Freddie! by Izzy Black, 8 (extract)

I really enjoyed this original picture book with its theme of clumsiness, chaos and gentle repetition, which Izzy had carefully illustrated throughout. Wonderful work!

Highly Commended:

The following people all displayed wonderful imagination and flair in their stories and poetry. Well done!

Elena Davies (9), Elspeth Perkins (9), Charlotte Vine (9), Lucy Young (9)

Commended:

These entrants all showed interesting ideas and good writing skills. Bravo to:

Ellen May Ambridge (9), Jessica Rosie Brown (8), Lili May Hodges (9), Autumn Munro (10), Quinn Munro (8), Annapurna Wright (9)

 

In the age 11-13 category:

WINNER: The Rowan Violin by Georgina Salwey, 12

I thought this was a beautifully written story with a fable-like quality and a powerful message. I had also never heard of the word ‘dwimmer’ and found this fascinating. Congratulations, Georgina!

 

RUNNER UP: Once Upon a Time by Vassiliki Kollia, 13

Once upon a time, in a far away village, where the birds sang sweeter than in any place in the world and the wind blew through the leaves and nourished little children, there was a family, which was poor and rich at the same time. Poor because they didn’t have money, but rich because they had found the most important thing: love.

The parents were very friendly and everybody in the village admired and respect them. Moreover, they wanted to pass on their knowledge to their children :how to say sorry and how to forgive, how to give and help others without a reward, how to smile even if they might have to cope with many difficulties. As time passed, the children were growing up with stories about honesty, bravery and love.

Once, when the children had already grown, they wanted to leave. It was their time to fly, like the birds and find their own way. Parents were very proud of their kids and just smiled and wished them good luck. The young people didn’t forget their parents and when they settled in a big city they started working hard. Finally, they succeeded and they got their parents to stay with them in the city. Meanwhile, they had made families and their parents had grandchildren.

As time passed, the grandchildren were growing with stories about honesty, bravery and love:
“Grandma, grandma tell us a story,” shouted the little kids.
“OK, OK. Today will tell you a very special story,” the old woman said with a smile.
“Yes, grandma, please…”
“All right. Once upon a time in a far away village…”

***

This gentle story of enduring love, the important things in life and the cycle of family charmed me no end. Bravo, Vassiliki.

 

RUNNER UP: My Little Sister by Sophie Blackamore, 11 (extract)

If there was ever a person with wavy blonde hair,
With a lopsided grin and a cheeky stare.
I know for certain,
that nothing can compare,
With the girl from my childhood,
Who always was there.

My little sister, knew just what to say.
She knew how to annoy, which she did every day.
Though sometimes she hated me, sometimes she might,
Climb up beside me, our hands holding tight.

My little sister has formed a chain with me.
A chain of friendships, which forever will be.
My little sister, is more than a friend.
She’s my life, my fuel,
Which will never end.

 

Commended:

The following entrants had interesting ideas and descriptions. Well done to: 

Nour Elshirazy (13), Lydia Illingworth (13)

 

In the age 14-16 category:

WINNER:  Unconscious by Eliana Knott, 15

It wasn’t far until the edge. The edge of our cake slice of the world; the corner of the icing – thick, delicious and, unequivocally, the best part – the one you always endure the agonising wait for, to save it for the end. But was it the end?

***

Ablaze – like a campfire – my sister beams the moment she gazes upon the beach below. Eyes smiling, they traverse over the sandy sliver, absorbing every brush stroke of the picture. “You’d think you’d never seen a beach before!” I laugh. She glances away, not quite meeting my endarting eyes. Gently, she shakes her head and sighs. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” Nodding in agreement, I link my arm in hers, pointing slightly up into the interminable distance. Head lolling on my pillow of a shoulder, her steady breath echoes my pulse as the stunning sunset performs.

Throwing our shoes violently and vindictively (what’s their purpose if not to prevent our fun?) to the far side of the beach, we skip into the lapping waves, toes sinking like quicksand into the sodden beach. Laughing raucously, we grin in the waning light; the briny air is a welcome replacement for the city streets: fumes, fumes, fumes. Our shins almost entirely enveloped by the rising tide, we stride further into the – unbeknown to us – ravenous mouth. Giggling, pushing, gazing. As the day draws to a close, our personalities only shine together, complementing the serenity.

A harmonious scream! It pierces my tranquil free-floating. Head pounding, I hurl myself vertical with all the strength I can muster. Was it her? Is she hurt? Arms flailing, I search the depths below. Nothing, save for a toe being subducted… A toe!

I dive beneath, thrashing. I reprimand myself, meanwhile. How could I never have noticed? It’s been so long since we last went to the beach, she reminded me of that. The danger of inexperience!

Grasping her taut, I haul her up towards the surface. Analysing her possible injuries, a deep sense of foreboding fills the pit of my stomach. Her eyes are shut. Closed. Unopened. At the very least: unconscious. The word reverberates around my brain.

Unconscious.

***

Giggling, we skip over the stepping stones in delight. Our mum watches with pride as her daughter and son jump over the crashing river. “You’re so brave!” The words ricochet, even now. As she pauses to grin at our mum, it escapes me that the stepping stones are now blocked. My determination dominates my observation, and instead I step directly into her legs. It sends us both cascading into the yawning river. I hit lucky and grasp the neighbouring embankment, but she hits her head on the stepping stones as she falls. Her head bleeds. Her eyes close. Her smile vanishes.

Unconscious.

***

Fuelled by the events of ten years ago, I have an uncontrollable desire not to let that day repeat itself. Consequently, I haul her ashore in determination.

Momentarily breathless, I only stare.

***

A haunting, intriguing and beautifully described piece, with a great use of flashbacks. Fantastic work, Eliana!

 

RUNNER UP: The Beauty of a Family by Ellen Dries, 16 (extract)

Sprawled across the bedroom floor once again, the world shifts into focus. Whose womb I was born of is irrelevant- the stars are my brothers and sisters in this moment, and they’re encouraging me to pursue my dreams. Mother Nature and Father Time are feeding me all that I need, giving me the tools that I’ll require to achieve my aspirations. If I am certain of one thing, it’s that they are my family. That, I suppose, is the beauty of a family; there’s a flexibility to the structure, whereby you can choose who is truly your family and either endure or cut ties with the rest. Perhaps it sounds cutthroat, but, I promise you, the stars will never break your heart. Mother Nature will always provide for you; Father Time will always be there.

 

A powerful and atmospheric piece, with an interesting idea at its core.

 

Highly Commended:

Grace Barrett, 14 – a great writing style and an intriguing concept. Well done!

I’m very excited to reveal the winners and runners up of the recent art competition. The challenge was to draw a character from the Widdershins books – a challenge you rose to admirably! I loved seeing your art work and thought there was something special and unique about each and every entry. It was very difficult to choose winners as the standard was so high, and many factors such as age, ability, imagination, and interpretation of the character all had to be considered carefully. So without further ado, here are the results.

In the age 8-10 category:

WINNER: Phoebe Aldridge, 10

I love this beautiful drawing of Fliss. The short, flicky hair and flirty wink capture her perfectly! Congratulations, Phoebe!

*** I chose two runners up in this category, as it had the most entries.***

RUNNER UP: Sheeryn Tan, 10

This excellent drawing of Oi has such a grumpy expression!

 

RUNNER UP: Charlotte Vine, 9

I adore this picture of Charlie and her pets, especially her gappy teeth, the plaster (where Oi has scratched her, presumably) and Oi’s fangs! Bravo, Charlotte.

 

In the age 11-13 category:

WINNER: Rebecca Frank, 11

This wonderful drawing of Granny has so much thoughtful detail: the nesting dolls on the apron, the whiskey and of course, Bunny’s pipe! Well done, Rebecca.

 

RUNNER UP: Anya MacDonald, 11

These colourful drawings of Granny, Willow and Charlie have so much fun and detail. Brilliant work, Anya!

 

In the 14-16 age category:

WINNER: Sam Byrne, 14

WOW! This incredible piece of art took my breath away. How perfectly the characters and mood are conveyed. I am SO impressed, Sam!

RUNNER UP: Daisy Annandale, 16

There is so much detail in this thoughtfully composed painting of Betty. I love the inclusion of the crows, the ominous blood moon and Sorsha at the tower window. Great work, Daisy!

 

Thank you so much to everyone who entered. I’m sorry you can’t all be winners, but please know that I thought all your entries were very good indeed. I’m currently working my way through the writing competition entries, which will take a little longer to read and judge, so please bear with me! Results for that will be up as soon as possible, and I will also contact winners and runners up separately for both competitions.

Hi everyone,

I hope you’re all keeping safe in this strange new world we find ourselves in since coronavirus hit the headlines. I’m wondering when – and if – things will ever get back to normal. It doesn’t feel like it right now, does it? I’m getting a taste of what it’s like being trapped in one place, just like the Widdershins sisters. I’ve got quite a lot to put into this blog, so I’ll keep it brief.

Things to do

The following ideas may help pass some time and are either low cost or free:

Widdershins quiz – how well do you know Betty, Fliss and Charlie?

Draw a map to the secret island in A Sprinkle of Sorcery.

Listen to A Pinch of Magic on audiobook completely FREE on the World Book Day website.

• If you’re a member of a library you can also get A Pinch of Magic and A Sprinkle of Sorcery on the BorrowBox app as audiobook downloads or ebooks, completely free.

Bake some gingerbread! TIP: this dough freezes really well, so you can divide it into 3-4 balls to wrap in clingfilm and put in the freezer. Take it out the night before you want to use it and let it defrost in the fridge. This cuts down on mess and time, and keeps you in a steady supply of fresh gingerbread. WIN!

• Enter some competitions – see below!

 

News

I’m thrilled to say there’s going to be a THIRD book in the Widdershins Adventures! This is due to publish in the UK in February 2021, and here is the title. What do you think?

 

Competitions

To help keep you busy, I’ve been thinking up two exciting competitions for you while we’re on lockdown.

Competition 1: Draw a character from the Widdershins books (CLOSED)

This could be Betty, Fliss, Charlie or anyone who features in the stories. Don’t forget Granny, Colton, Sorsha, Prue, Spit, Ronia, the Winking Witch . . . or even Oi and Hoppit.

Rules

• You can use any medium, eg. pencil, pen & ink, paint, collage, digital artwork (but not photography or 3D artwork).

• You must not copy any existing artwork of the characters from on or inside the books. You may look at these for inspiration, but your entry must be your own original creation.

• You may send up to three entries for this competition, but you can only win or come runner up once.

All art work entries will be displayed in a separate blog gallery on my website along with the entrant’s name and age. They will be added in the order they arrive.

• The competition is open worldwide to anyone aged between 8 – 16. Winners will be chosen in the following age categories: 8-10, 11-13, 14-16.

• The decision of the judge (Michelle Harrison) is final, and no discussion will be entered into.

• Finally, please do not email me asking for character descriptions. That is for you to figure out, and I want to see how you imagine them! If you don’t have a copy of the book to hand, you can currently listen to the audiobook free here if you need to jog your memory.

The Prize

One winner in each category will receive this fabulous pencil case by Chase and Wonder (I have the same one) plus a signed dedicated book of their choice. Runners up will receive a signed, dedicated book of their choice.

Tips

• Most artists cannot draw things right out of their head. They have to look at an object or person in real life, or in photographs, to see how that thing really appears and bring it to life in a convincing way. For example, if you were drawing a fairy you could study the wings of butterflies, birds and insects. This is called using reference. Perhaps you have a friend or sister who would make a great Betty, a cat like Oi, or an uncle who resembles Fingerty?

• Don’t forget the background. Props such as the magical objects, or settings like the prison can make your picture even more exciting, if you want to. If you’ve chosen Charlie, perhaps Hoppit appears too.

To enter

Email your picture as a jpeg or png file to mh@michelleharrisonbooks.com along with your full name, age and address. (Your address won’t be published anywhere).

Closing date 31st May 2020, although this may be extended depending on how long the UK lockdown lasts.

 

Competition 2:  Write a short story or poem of up to 500 words on the theme of ‘family’. (CLOSED)

Your story/poem can be any genre: humour, mystery, adventure, magical . . . it’s up to you.

Rules

• Entries must be no longer than 500 words. Anything longer will not be considered.

• The competition is open worldwide to anyone aged 8-16. Winners will be chosen in three age categories: 8-10, 11-13, 14-16, and displayed on this website.

You may only enter this competition once. Additional entries will not be considered.

• Poems do not have to rhyme.

• Fan fiction (using someone else’s characters/settings) is not allowed. Entries must be your own original idea.

• Regrettably, feedback cannot be given on individual entries, so please do not ask!

• The decision of the judge (Michelle Harrison) is final, and no discussion will be entered into.

 

The Prize

One winner in each category will receive this beautiful magical forest notebook, plus a signed, dedicated book of their choice. Runners up will receive a signed, dedicated book of their choice.

 

Tips

• Think about different ways to tell a story. Will you start at the beginning? Or later on, using flashbacks to build suspense? Could your poem or story take the form of a letter or diary? Be creative! Think about how your favourite stories are told.

• Take your time. All writers have to re-do parts of their work, it’s the best way to improve. Put your work away for a few days after you finish. It’s easier to see mistakes when you’ve had a break from it. Ask someone you trust for their opinion. How do they think you could make it better?

• It can be difficult to write a story without planning it first. Brainstorm. Look at news stories, and talk to your family or friends about interesting things that have happened to them – ideas can come from anywhere.

• Get the story or poem finished, then go back and improve it. If you keep fiddling with the beginning then you’ll find it much harder to complete.

 

To enter

Email your entry to mh@michelleharrisonbooks.com with your full name, age and address. (Your address won’t be published anywhere).

Closing date 31st May 2020, although this may be extended depending on how long the UK lockdown lasts.

Good luck!