Tag Archives: Barry Hutchison

The Scottish novelists

Lists will rarely be complete. But some are more complete than others.

On Monday Herald Scotland published a list of Scottish children’s authors.* What prompted this seems to have been Julia Donaldson’s decision to leave Scotland and move back to England. It felt like an ‘oh god who do we have left in Scotland if Julia Donaldson moves away?’ kind of list.

Don’t worry, J K Rowling is one of their ten ‘best.’ So are others that I know and admire, along with a few names I have never heard of. Which is fine, because I don’t know everything, and I’m sure they are great writers. I don’t even know who counts as Scottish for this purpose.

Although, with J K topping the list, I’m guessing they allow English writers living in Scotland. That makes my own list rather longer. Harry Potter isn’t particularly Scottish as a book, even if Hogwarts is in Scotland. Do Scottish authors living in England, or god forbid, even further afield qualify? (I’m not so good at keeping track of such people, so I’ll leave them out for the time being.)

As I said, I have no problem with who is on the Herald’s list. But along with quite a few Scottish authors, I gasped when I realised who weren’t on it. Catherine MacPhail and Gillian Philip, to mention two very Scottish ladies. Linda Strachan, Julie Bertagna and Theresa Breslin, who are also pretty well known and very Scottish indeed.

Keith Charters and Keith Gray. Damien M Love and Kirkland Ciccone. John Fardell. Lari Don, Lyn McNicol, Joan Lingard and Elizabeth Laird. Cathy Forde. Dare I mention the Barrowman siblings, Carole and John? Alexander McCall Smith writes for children, too. Roy Gill, Jackie Kay. Cat Clarke. And how could I forget Joan Lennon?

I’m guessing former Kelpies Prize shortlistees Tracy Traynor, Rebecca Smith and Debbie Richardson belong. (There is one lady whose name is eluding me completely right now, but who appears at the book festival every year and seems very popular…) Have also been reminded of Margaret Ryan and Pamela Butchart. (Keep them coming!)

Most of the above have lovely Scottish accents and reasonably impeccable Scottish credentials. But what about the foreigners? We have the very English, but still Scottish residents, Vivian French, Helen Grant and Nicola Morgan. Americans Jane Yolen and Elizabeth Wein. Ex-Aussie Helen FitzGerald.

And I really don’t know about English Cathy Cassidy, who used to live in Scotland but has more recently returned to England. I think she counts, too, along with all those writers whose names simply escape me right now, but who will wake me up in the night reminding me of their existence.

I’m hoping to get to know all of you much better once this wretched move is over and done with. Unless you see me coming and make a swift exit, following Julia Donaldson south. Or anywhere else. I think Scotland has a great bunch of writers for children. (And also those lovely people who write adult crime, and who are not allowed on this list, even by me.)

Sorry for just listing names, but there are so many authors! One day I will do much more. Cinnamon buns, for starters. With tea. Or coffee. Irn Bru if absolutely necessary.

Theresa Breslin's boot

*For anyone who can’t access the Herald’s list, here are the other nine names: Mairi Hedderwick, Barry Hutchison, Chae Strathie, Claire McFall, Daniela Sacerdoti, Debi Gliori, Caroline Clough, Janis MacKay and Diana Hendry.

Torn

David Massey

Admittedly, when I heard that David Massey had won the Lancashire Book of the Year with Torn, my immediate internal comment was ‘oh, so it’s that good then, is it?’ My reply, which I will share with you, is ‘yes, it is. Really, really good.’ David, who was at the Chicken House breakfast a couple of months ago, was one of the authors present who didn’t read from their book (presumably because it was published last year).

I wish he had. But luckily I helped myself to a copy anyway, and as I didn’t have time to go to Preston for the award yesterday, I read the book instead. I’m not at all surprised he won.

Set in Afghanistan in the current war, the main character is a female soldier. Ellie has just arrived and everything is new. On her first morning some male soldiers play a prank on her, and she doesn’t get on with the girl she shares her quarters with.

But this isn’t selfish moaning, and Ellie and her fellow soldiers do the work they’ve been sent there to do. They encounter some local children with weapons, and there is a mysterious girl who appears in the middle of gunfire and bombs going off.

There is fun and there is romance, but above all this is a war thriller mystery, and it is very exciting. People die. You have to be prepared for that, and it’s not only the bad guys either, because this is war.

What I found so refreshing was that it’s not an ‘issues’ kind of story. Yes, we may have doubts about the governments who sent these soldiers there in the first place, and so do these characters. But above all this is an adventure, and most of us have probably seen some film or other which helps us picture what it’s like.

Torn will win more awards, given the chance. Look out Teri Terry and Barry Hutchison!

The Bone House

Screaming on trains, even on the Stirling to Dundee train, is not a good idea. Which is why I restrained myself and refrained from giving vent to my feelings on reading The Bone House by Barry Hutchison.

The worst thing is I have no recollection of how and when I got it. I am OK with forgetting books, but when I come upon them again, I tend to recall, well, something. But here I was on the train, as I said, leafing through the Kindle, having just finished one long overdue, previously abandoned ebook, just to see what else there was. The complete Sir Walter Scott was so not on my agenda.

Hence this little story of Barry’s.

The school holidays have just started, and two teenagers go out into the woods, where the boy has found something ‘cool’ he wants to show the girl. It’s a ‘collection of bones’ and I am actually rather worried that Barry, who seems almost normal, could even think this kind of thing up. It might have been the squirrel, I suppose…

And then, well, I could foresee something, but I didn’t do it enough or in time.

SCREAM!!!!

(By really odd coincidence I was discussing this on Facebook with someone, and then by odder coincidence still, Barry went and won the Scottish Children’s Book Awards, and decided he’d celebrate by making The Bone House available for free for a day. Unfortunately for you, that was yesterday.)

Best of Scottish 2012, or ‘An awfy dreich day in Dundee’

In the end it didn’t matter that I went to Dundee the wrong week. I was able to ‘sort of’ be there yesterday, anyway. It was WBD. It was time for the Scottish Children’s Book Awards at Caird Hall, filled with a thousand children (so there might not have been room for me). And they very kindly filmed the whole shebang and made it available online. Thus I watched it all from the comfort of my own desk.

They had that Chae Strathie in to do the host stuff. Apparently when he didn’t win last year he sulked until they offered him this job instead. He was very noisy, but he was a competent MC. Perhaps a few too many ‘yoohoos.’ That’s all.

Scottish Children's Book Awards

The shortlisted authors were lined up on stage and then sent off again. Seems they have some kind of authors’ enclosure where they are kept. There was a band with such an odd name I can’t tell you what they were called.

For the Younger readers category they had written little theatre sketches based on the three shortlisted books, which were performed by school children. I am fairly intolerant of this type of thing, but have to admit this was first class stuff. Very well done.

Jonathan Meres won with The World of Norm: May Contain Nuts. His thank you speech turned out to be his shopping list; tea, milk, etc. (But at least he was English… I was beginning to think you had to have a beautiful Scottish accent to even make it onto that shortlist.)

Scotland has a minister for children! Aileen Campbell was there, and made a good speech about the importance of books and reading. I suspect the Scottish government might have more sense than Westminster.

John Fardell

For the Bookbug category we got story time, and then the Children’s Laureate sang her book, and finally John Fardell drew pictures of scary monsters. He finished with a giant rabbit with horrible teeth, before winning the Bookbug prize for The Day Louis Got Eaten.

To make life easier for the Older readers category, Barry Hutchison became Elizabeth Hutchison, so he wouldn’t feel like the odd one out, sitting as he did, between Elizabeths Laird and Wein. They had to answer questions. Ms Hutchison has no shed, which is sad. (S)he likes horsepie best. (Dundee delicacy?) Ms Laird told us to run downhill if ever attacked by elephants, which is something that has kept me awake at night, so I’m very grateful. Ms Wein opted to go to the South Pole in the company of a ‘Norwegian who knows what he’s doing.’ Sensible woman.

Elizabeth Laird, Barry Hutchison, Elizabeth Wein and Chae Strathie

While this was happening, Chae wore an outlandish gold jacket, two sizes too small. And then they danced, Gangnam style. I’d have to say Ms Wein did that far better than her namesakes. (She is an American, so clearly you don’t have to be Scottish to be there.)

But it helps, because Barry Hutchison won that category for The 13th Horseman. His speech was mercifully short. (He’d had a busy day the day before. Maybe he was worn out.)

Chae finished off by saying he loves us all.

Love you too, Chae. Great event!

*I borrowed that dreich quote from Barry. I’m sure it wasn’t really dreich, but I just love that word! Maybe the weather cried because I wasn’t there?

The Book of Doom

Satan has added an extension. There is now a tenth circle down below. It’s all very hush-hush, though.

The disappointing thing about The Book of Doom is that Barry Hutchison only lets us meet the four horsemen for a moment. I loved those horsemen. The really good thing about The Book of Doom is that Barry has a few other characters worth meeting instead. This Afterworlds series grows on a person. (Not that there was ever any doubt…)

And it really is true that there is less difference between the people upstairs and the people downstairs. I wouldn’t buy a used car from any of them. My tip to you for reading this book is that every little detail counts. If it is there, it will have some significance later.

Barry Hutchison, The Book of Doom

Zac is a thief. He gets called upon by Gabriel to find The Book of Doom, which Satan has stolen. He gets paired off with the half-angel Angelo, who comes with him to help find the way to Hell. Angelo is not as good at this as you’d think. But getting lost can have its advantages, and meeting a Valkyrie is not a bad thing.

There are a lot of Hells, really. They visit a few of them, until they get to the tenth circle. Which is not a nice place. Nor are the people there nice. But you’d expect that. There are other things you might not expect.

The lesson here is that you can find goodness anywhere. Heaven isn’t necessarily the best place for it. Even God had enough and left. Being a thief doesn’t have to mean you’re bad. And friendship grows when you least expect it.

Some travelling thoughts

It’s travel time again. A quick dash north, and an equally quick one back. Or I hope it will be. I suppose I have jinxed the trains by saying/thinking this.

My bag isn’t full of things this time, so much as simply being a bag. OK, there are a couple of new reads for Daughter; Eleanor Updale and Marie-Louise Jensen. But I am primarily bringing the bag that ‘someone’ was unable to take last time. I’m the bag lady.

But you know, back in my childhood, who’d have thought you’d be able to sit looking at a small machine on your desk or kitchen table, checking if your train is running to time? (Or running at all.) On the other hand, back then who’d have thought there would be a need to? Trains ran. Often on time.

And, isn’t it slightly weird that I can slip the complete works of Sir Walter Scott and Rudyard Kipling, as well as the King James Bible into my pocket? The trains might run late, or encounter the wrong kind of snow, but that’s a lot of reading in one pocket. Trollope, Twain, Wilde. And so much else. (Don’t worry; I won’t Kiple or Scott too much. I’ve got other books I need to read. Even one ‘real’ book.)

I was excited to see that Sophie Hannah is doing an event in Dundee this evening. I’ll be close, but not close enough. After her event I’ll be freezing on the platform at Dundee, while she is no doubt warm in a hotel somewhere.

Too far away for Barry Hutchison’s launch of The Book of Doom in Aberdeen. Also tonight. It feels funny to be closer than usual, but still too far away. Maybe I should move to Scotland? There are things going on here.

Train to Scotland

(Decided I was allowed to borrow this photo, on account of bag lady duties, and the fact that the bag contains Lent buns, even if they are late Lent buns.)

A Christmas apocalypse

Barry Hutchison, The 3 Wise Men of the Apocalypse

Following in the footsteps of last week’s failed apocalypse, I can tell you how much I enjoyed Barry Hutchison’s little Christmas prequel to The 13th Horseman. He was asking fans to sign up for his newsletter, by offering a very special Christmas story – to arrive for Christmas – to those who did.

I did. But did I receive the story? No. Well, yes. I did. But I had to cry a little, and nudge, rather indiscreetly. I am very sorry for being so awkward. I do it well, but even so…

My tears have dried now, and I have read my apocalypse, which is humorous and fun. Perhaps not so much for the camel. But other than that it was amusing. It makes up for the wait for the sequel. Although that is not an encouragement to dawdle over The Book of Doom.

2012′s best twelve

For the 12th day of the 12th month of 2012 (I love this kind of thing!) I give you my list of the very best books. All twelve of them. (I know, there are really 13, but two for the price of one, sort of thing. Yes?)

All the books I have reviewed have been good, and it’s hard to pick the best. Except for the bestest of the best, because that one stood out by several miles, even back in January. And once we’ve got the twelves out of our system, next year I will have to go for a more restrained list. Always assuming people continue writing great books. Please do.

As always, I only include books published during the year. And here, the VERY BEST is:

Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity

Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity

Swiftly followed by some alphabetically listed and very marvellous runners-up:

Philip Caveney, Spy Another Day

Joshua Doder, Grk and the Phoney Macaroni

Daniel Finn, Call Down Thunder

Sally Gardner, Maggot Moon

Nick Green, Cat’s Cradle

Barry Hutchison, The Thirteenth Horseman

Wendy Meddour, A Hen in the Wardrobe, and The Black Cat Detectives

Gillian Philip, Wolfsbane

Terry Pratchett, Dodger

Celia Rees, This Is Not Forgiveness

Teri Terry, Slated

That’s it, dear readers. It was a good year, both generally, but also specifically for producing Code Name Verity, one of the best ever.

Bookwitch bites #93

Luckily I didn’t run into either of these two chaps as I haunted Edinburgh this week. Twice. That’s twice I didn’t see them. In fact, I forgot to even think about Philip Caveney and whoever that is behind him. ‘He’s behind you!’ Lucky, seeing as I was running around all alone in the dark.

Philip Caveney with Plague Doctor on The Close

Lucky too, that I had not yet come across Chris Priestley’s A Creepy Christmas, the story he has written for 247 tales. That is another thing you don’t want to have on your mind as you’re out alone, in the dark or otherwise. Good to see that the 247 tales are still going strong.

Pleased to hear that Bali Rai won one of the categories at the Sheffield Book Awards this week; his quick read The Gun. Obviously, other books won too, and even more were commended. Read all about it here.

Have been alerted that Sophie Hannah – who seems to be successful at just about everything these days – has been shortlisted for the Nibbies. The event is on Tuesday next week. Lots of other authors are also on the various shortlists, and pirates would appear to be in as far as children’s book titles are concerned. (It was hard to find the lists, however. Something wrong with google? Can’t be me, can it?)

But I did find it a little tricky to discover the Costa shortlist, as well. (So definitely not me, then.) Sally Gardner, Diana Hendry, Hayley Long and Dave Shelton are this year’s hopefuls. I’ve read two.

Barry Hutchison, The Book of Doom

And speaking of awards, I was very happy to hear that Barry Hutchison got married last week. He had proposed in a fairly public sort of way, by putting it in one of his books. Glad it paid off, and that he has now been made an honest man of. More good Hutchison news is the arrival of the cover for The Book of Doom. Would quite like for the rest of the book to get here, too. Fast.

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, The Bone Trail

Fast is what another book would have managed, had I not been so busy running around a darkened Edinburgh. (See top.) A very early incarnation of The Bone Trail, the last in the Wyrmeweald trilogy by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell has been made available to me. I happened to mention I wasn’t feeling especially patient.

Arrived home to find DHL had missed me. (Miss you too.) I arranged for redelivery on Monday. Except they turned up yesterday. As I squeezed the package (to find out what it might be, the way you do) it felt like a rucksack. Couldn’t see why Random House would send me one of those.

I will now stick a plain sheet of A4 to the back of The Bone Trail to prevent me accidentally looking at what seems to be the last page of the book. A witch likes some element of surprise.

Bookwitch bites #92

Thank goodness for these bites where I can complain on a variety of subjects almost every week. Occasionally I have lovely news as well. Let’s see if I can find some.

I don’t often (like never, obviously) receive invitations from the Canadian High Commission in London, but this week I had to make myself say ‘no thanks’ to them. But as Disney’s Cinderella says, what could possibly be nice about a visit to Canada House? (Only all of it…)

Came across the programme for Book Week Scotland at the end of November. Can’t go, even though I can be found north of the border that very week. So no Frank Cottrell Boyce. No Debi Gliori and no Steve Cole. Nobody.

Offspring are my reasons for travelling, and Son had some news this week, relating to the literal translation he did earlier this year. We are finally able to say it was Strindberg, for the Donmar at Trafalgar Studios. The Dance of Death. Will get back to you on that.

Before leaving Scotland, let me just mention the Grampian Children’s Book Award 2013. Apart from Patrick Ness who is on every single shortlist these days, the shortlisted authors are Barry Hutchison, Cathy MacPhail, Mark Lowery, Dave Cousins and Annabel Pitcher. Tough competition.

South to Newcastle, where the good news is that Seven Stories can call themselves National Centre for Children’s Books, as the only ‘national’ place in the Northeast. Well done to a special place!

Launch of Jacqueline Wilson exhibition at Seven Stories

Actually, I am coping with the happy business, after all. We’ll finish with a decisive jump across the water to Ireland, where they have The Irish Book Awards. You can vote, but you might want to follow my example and only vote in categories (they have so many!) where you have read the books. Luckily I didn’t have to choose between Declan Burke and Adrian McKinty. Not quite so lucky with Eoin Colfer and Derek Landy, though.

A witch can always flip a coin.