Tag Archives: Barry Hutchison

Meeting Danny the Granny Slayer

Charlotte Square comes to Cumbernauld. I might have mentioned before that the Edinburgh International Book Festival have decided to branch out, and are touring five New Towns in Scotland over the next year and a half, with little pop-up festivals for a weekend, and this is the Cumbernauld weekend. The first weekend, and with a really good looking programme.

I could have wanted to do more, but limited myself to the children’s event on Saturday morning. I couldn’t resist David MacPhail, Lari Don, Barry Hutchison and Jenny Colgan. Barry unfortunately couldn’t come and was replaced by Mark A Smith, but that was also fine. Not that I knew Mark, but he had a very jolly song for us.

Lari Don and Macastory

As did Macastory; two oddly dressed men from the future who sang a lot, and required hands to be clapped and shoulders shaken and other energetic stuff. The venue got changed to the pop-up Waterstones in the shopping precinct, which I thought was odd until I understood there was no ‘real’ Waterstones there. I did see the yellow buckets I’d been told about by Kirkland Ciccone, however.

The Resident IT Consultant came along to make sure I found the way, and he discussed getting lost – or not – with David MacPhail as we waited. David was first up and had some fun Vikings he told us about. I liked the polite one best, who apparently was modelled on David himself… He read a bit from one of his Thorfinn books, and then he told those brave enough to ask, what their Viking names would be. We had Danny the Granny Slayer on the front row.

David Macphail

Lari Don came next and talked about her Spellchasers trilogy (I know, I covered this a few weeks ago), and she wanted to know if any of us had the urge to be turned into an animal. One girl wanted to be a dragon, with an interesting idea for how to deal with the 45th President while in her dragon state. Long live creativity!

Lari Don

Mark A Smith followed, talking about his hero Slugboy, who seems to be some kind of anti-superhero. Unless I got that wrong. He Slugboys it out of St Andrews, which I felt was rather posh for slugs. Mark, as I said, had a song written about his hero, which we had to sing, to the tune of Glory glory halleluja, so it was terribly uplifting and all that, as well as a clever idea for audience participation.

Mark A Smith

Last but not least we had Jenny Colgan, who brought ‘her child to work’ and then proceeded to use her – fairly willing – son to hold the iPad to illustrate her Polly and the Puffin story as she read it to us. We had to do the puffin noises, so thank goodness for Macastory who didn’t seem to mind making fools of themselves.

Jenny Colgan

They also provided fun interludes, with songs and commentary, and we learned some sad facts about the future.

And that was it. The Resident IT Consultant led me safely back to the car (free parking in Cumbernauld!) with only one wrong turn. I’m hoping the authors were suitably accompanied back to somewhere they wanted to be, too. If not, there are authors to be discovered in downtown Cumbernauld.

Cumbernauld New Town Hall

Bookwitch bites #138

If I was in Manchester this Saturday, I could celebrate Harry Potter turning twenty. But I’m not, so I can’t. It’s slightly premature, but that’s all right. If all his birthday parties happened at the same time, we couldn’t go to all of them. It’s the lovely people of Manchester Children’s Book Festival (oh, how I miss them) who are Pottering this weekend.

Strangely, I had been thinking of Andy McNab recently, and here he is popping up in the Guardian, no less. Andy has opinions on how children learn to read, or in his own case and that of many others, how they don’t learn. Yesterday saw the 2017 batch of Quick Reads launched, and as always the books look fabulous, and I’d like to pop out and get all of them. I hope many of them will reach a large number of readers who need books like these. We obviously ought to have many, many more Quick Reads, and not only once a year.

In times like these it almost feels as if we need to look for news that isn’t too bad, as opposed to actively good or wonderful. These are also times when far too many people turn out to have misplaced their spines at some point, now that we could do with a few more good strong backbones.

Malorie Blackman is doing the right thing in saying she won’t be visiting the US in the near future. Hopefully this is one of many actions that will be instrumental in changing what must be changed.

Barry Hutchison is someone who acts instead of talking. You will remember Tommy Donbavand who was diagnosed with cancer a year ago, and whose livelihood of writing books and making school visits was threatened by his illness. He was optimistic that he’d be able to write while getting treatment, but found he was far too unwell and exhausted to do much. So not only did his good friend Barry alert the rest of us that help was needed, occasionally writing Tommy’s cancer blog, but he actually stepped in and wrote Tommy’s books for him.

Tony Higginson, David Gatward, Barry Hutchison, Tommy Donbavand, Jon Mayhew, Philip Caveney and Joseph Delaney at Scarefest 3 - photo by Sean Steele

Deadlines have to be met, and while I’m sure Barry might have had the odd deadline of his own (there is a steady stream of books from Barry), he wanted to help Tommy, and knowing quite a lot about what Tommy had planned and what his books are like, he wrote a book and a half for his friend.

That’s friendship! If I ever need a friend to rummage in my sock drawer I suppose I shall have to ask someone else, because Barry is a very busy man.

That’s funny

Much as I don’t enjoy the trend of famous comedians suddenly discovering that they need to write a children’s book, and doing very well and getting plenty of publisher attention for their efforts, it has caused one improvement to the state of things. Humour is now seen as something worth considering.

I have always liked humorous fiction. I have long felt there’s not enough of it, and also that it’s been so wrong to look down on it. As though humorous fiction is to children’s fiction as children’s fiction is to Booker prize type fiction; i.e. inferior.

It’s not. In fact, I’d suggest that just like writing for children requires more skill, and not less, to write good humour means you have to be really excellent at what you do. Not everyone can do it, or do it well, but when they can, the results can be spectacular.

A couple of weeks ago Adrian McKinty blogged about his twenty funniest novels and it’s an interesting list. I agree with his choice, about the ones I’ve read. I might have picked others, and it could be Adrian doesn’t find them funny, or that he’s not read the same books I have. These things happen.

I do agree with him about this, though: ‘It’s got be funny throughout too. One really funny scene as in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim for example just doesn’t cut it. I’m also not allowing anything that people say is funny but which actually isn’t or perhaps used to be funny but isn’t anymore. I’ve read Gargantua and Pantagruel and they are not funny. Shakespeare’s comedies are not funny. Dickens is not funny.’

There’s a lot in life that’s not funny. But there’s also a lot that is. And yes, I hated Lucky Jim the first time I read it. Loved it on the second read. But Adrian is right; one funny scene isn’t enough. (Apart from The Vicar Of Nibbleswicke, I don’t reckon Roald Dahl is funny. Not in that way.)

I’ve not thought this through enough so I can give you my own list, but Terry Pratchett is obviously on it. Would be, I mean, if there was a list. And even if I stick to children’s books, I reckon Douglas Adams has to be on it. From there it is a quick jump to Eoin Colfer and from him to many other Irish authors (it must be the water?), and then jump again, to Frank Cottrell Boyce, Joan Aiken, Morris Gleitzman, Debi Gliori, Barry Hutchison, Hilary McKay, Andy Mulligan, Kate DiCamillo. And last but not least, my fairy blogmother Meg Rosoff. She doesn’t only kill goats.

My apologies to anyone not mentioned. I didn’t go about this scientifically, but merely wanted to mention that being funny is a good thing. A good read is good for your wellbeing, and a funny read is even better. Go on, find something to make you laugh! Preferably until you cry. The hankies are on me.

The Doctor and his companions

I have just begun reading the fanthology A Target for Tommy, written by friends of Tommy Donbavand’s as a way of raising funds for him, edited by Paul Magrs and Stuart Douglas. It is quite interesting, since fan fiction is often written badly – if enthusiastically – by non-writer fans. Here we have professional writers who are also fans, writing their own fan fiction, and that is a completely different kettle of fish.

What I hadn’t done before grabbing the book, though, was to consider how much I don’t know. Barry Hutchison has a fun story early on, featuring Donna and, I presume, David Tennant. So that was fine, and I could picture them in my mind.

A Target for Tommy

And then I moved on to older Doctors and their companions, and whereas many of them have been mentioned over the years, I don’t know them. Sarah Jane, obviously, but not really the others. This will be a long learning process. I am missing something like forty years of Doctor Who and his companions, and Wikipedia wasn’t as immediately forthcoming as I had hoped.

At least this way I get to see what went on inside the minds of companions, and you realise how different one Doctor is from another, despite being mostly the same. Luckily K-9 is pretty much K-9.

Highly recommended for fans of the Doctor. Or should I say for fans of the companions?

I’m guessing a lot of writers have been dying to have a go at this kind of fan fiction writing, and it’s not as if it’s all that strange either, what with there having been so many different writers involved over the years. It was never just one; either Doctor or companion or writer.

Tommy’s fight

Tommy Donbavand has cancer. Normally I wouldn’t mention anything so private on here, but because Tommy has gone public with his illness, I feel I must do so as well.

To share what it’s like, Tommy has started a blog called Tommy v cancer. It makes for painful reading, and it is tempting to skip past the bad bits. But if Tommy can put up with what’s being done to him, the least we can do is read about it. You need to be well to be strong enough to deal with cancer treatment. (Luckily we do still have a free health service.)

Another thing that’s easy to forget is what happens when an author, who of necessity is freelance, can’t do what it is they usually do to earn money. Writing is one thing, which perhaps you can do from a sickbed. But it’s the money brought in by doing school visits and similar, which suddenly stops coming. Apart from wishing to be well again, Tommy obviously wants to provide for his family.

What you can do to help, is donate money. Tommy has a PayPal button on his blog, or you could become a patron of Patreon to support him financially. I’d find it hard to ask for money, and I know Tommy does too. But he has to. Please consider if you could help a little.

He has some great friends, and none better than Barry Hutchison, who even sneaked in on Tommy’s blog one day and wrote his own post, which tells rather nicely of their friendship, and what lovely men they both are. Humour helps when things look grim.

I hope for the very best for this kind and funny man, who has such a knack for wrapping little children in toilet paper.

Tommy Donbavand with dragon and others at Sefton ScareFest

Yay! YA+

Cumbernauld Theatre

Yesterday saw the long awaited birth of Kirkland Ciccone’s first ever Scottish YA book festival Yay! YA+, and I really appreciate his thoughtfulness in arranging it for the day on which I celebrated my first year in Scotland. Kirkie had lined up ten teen authors, 200 teens and one tardis-like venue in the shape of the Cumbernauld Theatre. In Cumbernauld. He also arranged for the lovely people of Scotia Books to come and sell books, and between you and me, they not only had the good taste to like my sense of humour, but their mobile shop was the best I’ve seen.

Scotia Books

Once we were all in, Kirkland explained how some authors would ‘be taken out’ and split up into tiny pieces. Yeah. I don’t think he meant that literally. He wanted to say that six of the authors would be ensconced in their own little rooms (=bars and subterranean dressing rooms), where smaller groups of the audience would come to hear them read from their books, or talk about their writing, or anything else they might want to do. Ten times. Eek!

Kirkland Ciccone

Cathy MacPhail

Meanwhile, Cathy MacPhail, Theresa Breslin and Barry Hutchison stayed in the main theatre and each had 25 minutes in which to charm the half of the audience left behind, which they did with real style. Twice. Multi award-winner Cathy started by sharing the trailer to her film Another Me, based on a nightmare she once had. She can see a story in anything (perhaps because she’s from Greenock, where you know everyone), and Cathy is surprised she writes such scary books, when she really is such a nice person.

Theresa Breslin

Theresa brought her gasmask, which looked quite uncomfortable to wear, and some shrapnel from WWI. She reminisced about travelling to America a month after September 11th, and hearing he same words then, that soldiers used a 90 years earlier to describe why they went to war. Some things never change. She read a tense bit from Remembrance, before telling us how good it is to write YA for teens, as they will read everything, with no set ideas of what a book has to be.

Barry Hutchison

Last but not least, Barry Hutchison talked about his fears, so it was back to his perennially entertaining tales of ‘Death and Squirrels’ and his childhood concern whether the dead squirrel was ‘proper dead’ or might come back and attack the young Barry. I can listen to his tale of weeing in the kitchen sink as many times as he will tell it. Or about his friend Derek. Barry read from The 13th Horseman, which must have made half the children want to buy a copy.

Roy Gill and Lari Don

There was lunch – with cupcakes and fruit – and signings and even some time for hanging out. Keith Charters turned up, and admitted to a life-long ignorance of sharpies. That’s not why he came, but, still. I contemplated stealing Kirkie’s sharpies-filled lunchbox, but didn’t.

Keith Charters

After the eating I aligned myself with half the group from Cumbernauld Academy for my rounds of the nether regions of the theatre, and they were both lovely and polite as well as interested in books. Although, I joined them after their session with Linda Strachan – in the bar – which unfortunately meant I actually missed Linda’s seven minute show, as I was sitting out the empty slot with Alex Nye (one school was missing). And you’ll think I have something against Linda, since she is the only one who does not appear in any of my – frankly substandard – photos (photographer had better things to do…).

Alex Nye

Anyway, Alex spoke about her cool books, Chill and Shiver, featuring snow and ghosts, before we went to join Matt Cartney who not only sat in a warm bar, but who had been to the Sahara. Admittedly, he had been to Hardangervidda as well. His Danny Lansing Adventures (Matt loves adventures!) are set in sand, and snow, and wherever else Matt might find inspiration.

Matt Cartney

Lari Don read from Mind Blind, which was her first non-fantasy, for older readers. She had been troubled by not being able to solve problems with magic. Lari is very good with school children. We then found Roy Gill in one of the dressing rooms, and the poor man was only allowed five minutes with us, so raced like crazy through his werewolves and a reading from his latest book.

Kirkland Ciccone

We finished in another dressing room where Victoria Campbell had brought her Viking weapons. Just imagine, small basement room full of young teenagers and some – possibly not totally lethal – weapons. She dressed one volunteer in a spiky helmet but didn’t let go of either the Dane Axe or the sword. Victoria asked what the best thing so far had been, and my group reckoned it was the selfies! Apparently some of her Viking interest comes from a short period living in Sweden (good taste). Before we left her, there was an almighty scream from – I would guess – Roy’s dressing room.

Victoria Campbell with Viking

Ever the optimist, Kirkie had scheduled a panel session at the end (a full 20 minutes!), chaired by Keith. Unsurprisingly, the authors had different opinions on nearly everything. But the questions were good. Very good. This was one fine audience.

KIrkland Ciccone tweets

Theresa brought out a gift for Kirkie, which might have been a chocolate boot. And while the panel wound things up, he and some of the others hastily got ready to run off to Edinburgh, where they had an(other) event to go to. All good things come in twos.

Theresa Breslin gives Kirkland Ciccone the chocolate boot at Yay! YA+

The very lovely Barry Hutchison offered to remove me from the premises, on his way home to Fort William, which meant I was able to actually leave Cumbernauld – something that had worried me considerably earlier in the week. He set me down outside the newsagent’s after some nice conversation, and a secret.

My verdict of the day is that if we can only get Kirkland to speak less loudly in places, this worked really quite well. Might let him repeat it, if he can find more dark corners in which to stash Scotland’s finest.

(I found the photo below on facebook, and because it has Linda Strachan in it, I decided to borrow the picture, a little.)

Linda Strachan, Lari Don, Roy Gill, Alex Nye and Kirkland Ciccone

YAY! YA+

And they have gone live! I might have whispered about Kirkland Ciccone’s grand YA plans before, but now the website is publicly available and it’s actually got stuff on it. Not too much dust yet, either.

Kirkland Ciccone

We can’t let London have all the fun, and not even Edinburgh or Glasgow. It makes sense to take Scotland’s first YA festival to Cumbernauld. It’s where it’s all happening. (Secretly I’m hoping for Craig Ferguson.)

Keith Charters

But if I can’t have Craig, then Kirkland has put together a lovely list of YA authors from, or living in, Scotland. They are Catherine MacPhail, Linda Strachan, Barry Hutchison, Theresa Breslin, Keith Charters, Matt Cartney, Victoria Campbell, Lari Don, Roy Gill and Alex Nye. As well as Kirkie himself. There could have been more names on the list, and by this I mean that there are more YA authors in Scotland. Many more. Some were busy. And then I gather Kirkie and his Cumbernauld theatre venue ran out of space. (The answer would be a second day… Or a third.)

Theresa Breslin

The day we do have is April 24th and I’m so looking forward to it. I have demanded to revert to being 14 again. If that’s not possible, I’ll have a press pass (which will probably be home made by Kirkie, but hey, as long as it gets me in).

This time round it will be for schools only. It’s a good way to start, and will mean larger audiences than the old-fashioned way with organic ticket-buying individuals. But I would say that if you are of the organic persuasion, I’d pester. Like crazy. Or there is always gate-crashing.

Linda Strachan

I’m quietly hoping this Yay! YA+ will be a success, and that it will grow into something big, and regular. Because, as I said, we have lots more authors were these came from. This year’s list contains lots of my favourites, and erm, no one that I hate, plus a couple of unknowns (to me).

So that’s all pretty good.