Q&A with Michelle Harrison, author of A Pinch of Magic

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This month we were lucky enough to speak to Michelle Harrison, the imaginative mind behind the delightfully magical A Pinch of Magic. Following on from the Thirteen Curses trilogy and Unrest, Michelle’s new book fizzes with magic and follows the Widdershins sisters: Betty, Fliss and Charlie, who live on the isle of Crowstone and are desperate for adventure. But when Betty strays too far from home, she learns the awful truth: a deadly curse has haunted her family for generations. If Betty and her sisters leave Crowstone, they will be dead by sunrise. But the knowledge of the family curse comes with a bit of excitement too! Each sister inherits a magical object that has been passed down the family, but none of them are what they seem. Will they be enough to help the Widdershins break the curse? Or will the sisters have better luck with a mysterious prisoner who claims he can help them?

For ages 8-12

Your spell-binding book, A Pinch of Magic, is an enchanting adventure filled with curses, mysterious objects and of course, magic! Can you tell us a bit more about where the inspiration for it came from?
The idea came from the Essex village of Canewdon, which is about 30 minutes away from where I live. It’s said that there will always be six witches in the village; three in cotton (meaning three poor) and three in silk (three wealthy). Whenever one of the witches dies, a stone falls from the church walls! I was immediately captured by this story – how would those witches feel if a stone came loose from the church wall? How terrifying to wonder which of you would die! And this was the inspiration for the Widdershins curse. The witches became a sorceress, and the church became a prison tower.

There are three magical objects in your book that are more than meets the eye: an old carpet bag, a gilt-framed mirror and a set of nesting dolls. If you could have one of these items in real life, which would it be and why?
It would be between the nesting dolls and the travelling bag, but I’d probably go for the bag! The ability to instantly be transported anywhere appeals to me as a busy mum, and also you could play a lot of fun tricks with it. The potential for mischief is huge!

While researching the history of witchcraft, did you come across any particularly interesting stories?
Plenty, but many are too horrible to repeat! Going back to Canewdon, though, there’s another peculiar tale about a witch stealing the bell from Latchingdon church over the river, then trying to return it by rowing across the water in a washtub, using feathers for oars!

The Widdershins sisters, Betty, Fliss and Charlie, have such diverse personalities and are all heroines in their own right. What is your favourite quality about each of them?
It depends. If I met the sisters in real life then I’d choose Fliss’s kindness, Charlie’s love of animals, and Betty’s determination. But their annoying traits are the most fun to write about! Fliss’s terrible cooking and having boys on the brain, Charlie’s greediness and Betty’s tendency to be blunt are what I enjoy most of all.

There are several islands in A Pinch of Magic, from Crowstone, the home of the Widdershins, to Torment, the location of Sorsha’s Cave. If you had the chance to visit one island, which one would it be?
I’d love to have a poke round on Torment, as we’ve only seen it through Sorsha and Prue’s eyes in the past, and not through the Widdershins’. Then again, I’d like to listen to one of Fingerty’s stories by the fire in the Poacher’s Pocket. Tough choice!

You studied illustration and have worked in an art gallery. How has that affected your work as a writer?
My background in art has made my writing very visual. I’m often praised for my descriptions, and I think this comes from being observant, noticing things and how they look. I search for beauty in objects and in people, especially their imperfections. A crumbling old church can be as beautiful and mysterious as a glittering charm bracelet. It’s all about how you see things, and what stories might lurk behind them.

This book also looks at how fearing someone just because they seem different can lead to prejudice. What do you hope your readers will take away from this theme?
I’d like my readers to embrace and accept difference, to get to know people before judging them and, most importantly, to be kind.

And finally, as part of our Share A Story campaign, we celebrate the magic of sharing stories. What are your favourite stories about magic and witches to share?
Oooh! Here are a few: Picklewitch and Jack by Claire Barker, Witch For a Week by Kaye Umansky, The Witches by Roald Dahl, Wood Angel by Erin Bow. For older readers: The Merrybegot by Julie Hearn, Poison by Chris Wooding.

Click here to download an activity pack filled with an exclusive extract, a recipe for yummy gingerbread and much more!

A Pinch of Magic, published by Simon & Schuster, is out now!