It was only seeing the Scottish Book Trust van parked out the back that convinced the Resident IT Consultant we were in the right place. I dare say we should have done more than give a cursory glance at the online map before we went looking for the Z-Arts centre. (There has to be a first time for everything.)
My chauffeur and I were attempting to attend the Manchester Children’s Book Festival/Scottish Book Trust’s Barry Hutchison event, and even after the van sighting we were unsure of where to go, so followed the line of blue sweatshirted children. They surely knew where they were going?
We sneaked in at the back, but not before one boy had queried the Resident IT Consultant about whether he was the author. He was not. Barry was. And he came up to chat, despite us hiding at the back, where we belong.
Barry asked the children if anyone didn’t like horror, and then suggested that the one child who didn’t, had better sit with their fingers in their ears for the next hour. Most of the children had had imaginary friends. Many have abandoned them by now, but I would guess by the time they got home they will have gone looking for their old friends to prevent what happens when you forget and abandon imaginary friends.
Read Barry’s Invisible Fiends books if you need help imagining your imaginary pal, a few years on. They turn into evil monstrous versions of their old selves. My own copies of the books had arrived when we returned home again. But after Barry’s brief reading from Mr Mumbles, I’m not sure I will be able to go anywhere near them. Gulp.
Barry used to believe books appeared at the library as if by magic. When he realised people actually write books, he knew that’s what he wanted to do. He wrote when other little boys played football, which is why his recent, forced moment of playing keepie-uppies with his son didn’t go well. He’s useless at all sports, except possibly basketball where the ‘big freak’ did OK.
He sold a couple of early screenplays, and on both occasions the film company went bust two weeks later. So he gave up before he singlehandedly put all film companies out of business.
Getting sacked from lots of jobs (see interview) for daydreaming about pterodactyls eating someone’s mum, the thing that finally got him kicked out of BT wasn’t not considering how to improve sales figures, but what might happen if a monkey came through the door, carrying a gun.
He used to be scared of everything. Dogs, cats, goldfish. (No mention of gun-toting monkeys.) And the very dead squirrels in Aberdeen when Barry was seven. What if they came back as squirrel zombies? Cue panic attack.
I didn’t really believe him about killing the old woman crossing the road because she might be nine squirrels in disguise. (But he clearly is crazy.) Asking the audience about what scares them, he reminisced about the Glasgow child who was scared of toast. ‘What about bread?’ he asked the boy. ‘Nah, that would be weird.”
We got the kitchen sink tale again. It’s always good. I’d been concerned what the Resident IT Consultant would make of the poo and pee stories, but mercifully he seemed to have fallen asleep by then. (It was very warm. It’s not that Barry was boring.)
The reason Barry went off budgies has now been explained, and I am fairly sure I’d not heard about the frenzied killing of his grandmother’s porcelain doll. Derek, the possibly imaginary friend with an imaginary friend, got a mention again. Invisible Fiends book no. four – Doc Mortis – has been banned in Germany.
Barry is a writer because as we heard he is rubbish at everything else. And possibly because he grew up near Fort William where there was nothing else to do but write. Having been chucked out of his study when it became a bedroom for his youngest child, Barry has found he can write anywhere. In corners. In the car (not while driving, apparently). Even in Fort William, one imagines.