Guest Post: Writing Verse Novels by Michelle Harrison

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Big hello, and warm bookish welcome to fabulous author Michelle Harrison. Michelle is very well known for her middle grade novels such as A Pinch Of Magic & A Sprinkle of Sorcery. But now… she’s turned her hand to younger fiction, written in verse – Midnight Magic is the story of a magical black kitten and an adventure-loving girl called Trixie. This is the first in a new series, and as well as bags of magic, flying broomsticks and black cats, it’s also about love, friendship, acceptance and how family is different for everyone.

As Midnight Magic flies on to the shelves we couldn’t resist asking Michelle some questions about writing in verse…

MidnightMagic_CoverWhy did you write Midnight Magic (illustrated by Elissa Elwick) in verse?

It was a spur of the moment idea. I’d worked up some sample pages for my agent, who was keen for me to write for younger readers but none had grabbed her. I happened to flick through a book of my son’s, called Mary Poppins Up, Up and Away. It’s a beautiful paper cut picture book written in rhyming verse. Inspiration struck, and I thought, ‘Let’s give this a go.’

Did you have any tricks for finding the right rhymes? Was it a case of subject and lateral thinking or did you go any further – for example, using rhyme dictionaries?

RhymeZone was used a lot, I’d definitely recommend it. I also have a more rudimentary technique of mentally going through the alphabet to find rhymes. Eg. ‘Thing’:ding, ping, king, and so on. Sometimes you simply can’t make a particular word work which is frustrating, and in which case you have to find different ways to structure the verse while still driving the story in the right direction. It’s fiddly.

How was it different writing for a younger audience, and writing more succinctly? Was this a challenge or did it flow naturally?

It was a challenge, especially at first. The story is much shorter than I’m used to (2500 words instead of 70,000+ words) so I had to choose words carefully in order to move the story from verse to verse, which is a lot trickier than it sounds. The entire first draft took around two months, despite only being the length of one of my middle grade chapters. On a good writing day I’d get maybe five or six verses written. On a bad day I might only manage a couple of lines.

Did you read aloud as you wrote?

Yes, repeatedly, and more so than with anything else I’ve written. It was really helpful (and important) getting other people to read it aloud, too, to check that the ‘rhythm’ felt right and to iron out any words or phrases that were stumbled over. My agent, Julia, and editor, Katie, helped lots with this.

Can you suggest other poets/verse writers you admire?

Pip Jones’s Squishy McFluff series about Ava and her invisible cat is genius; a really smart, sweet and beautifully illustrated set of books. I’m a big fan.

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