Tag Archives: Gillian Philip

Best of 2014

I was about to say that whereas I had told myself I’d go for fewer books on my best list of the year (best books, not best list) this time, it has proved too hard to do. But then I discovered I managed to slim the list last year, so I have a bit of credit and I can let the list swell. Because I must.

Can’t even offer you a photogenic pile of best books, with most of them still hiding in boxes. Besides, one of the best comes on Kindle, and the Resident IT Consultant’s e-reader isn’t the prettiest of things to take a picture of.

2014 was a good year for series of books coming to an end, be it the two-pack type or the trilogy or the ten-pack. I decided not to put those on The List, but I am happy to mention them.

They are Timothée de Fombelle with Vango 2, Caroline Lawrence with the fourth book about Detective Pinkerton, Derek Landy at the end of his ten book Skulduggery Pleasant marathon, Lucy Hawking and the fourth book about George in space, Gennifer Choldenko and the last Al Capone story, Deborah Ellis about Parvana again, Teri Terry’s dystopia had as satisfying an end as you could hope for, Gillian Philip finally finished her faeries in Icefall, and Che Golden sorted her fairies out too.

Helen Grant and Eoin Colfer did beautifully with their second books from Belgium and time travel London, so there is more to look forward to there.

Two authors are standing shoulder to shoulder on my awards stand this year; Michelle Magorian and Nick Green. Michelle for Impossible! and Nick with his Firebird ebook trilogy.

The runners-up are – in no particular order – Ali Sparkes and Destination Earth, Sally Nicholls and Shadow Girl, Cliff McNish and Going Home, Tanya Landman and Buffalo Soldier, Ellen Renner and Tribute, Simon Mason and Running Girl, Carl Hiaasen and Skink No Surrender, Robin Talley and Lies We tell Ourselves.

Thank you everyone, for hours and hours of good company, and please keep up the good work!


It’s… it’s… well, I don’t know. Compulsive! That could be it. I raced through Gillian Philip’s Icefall, the last of the Rebel Angels. In fact, remember the rebel angels. They are relevant. But you’ll have forgotten by the time you get there because it’s all too exciting.

It isn’t for the faint-hearted. You need to cope with cut-off bits of bodies. Lots of them; both the bits and the bodies. There is sex. More explicit than your average YA novel, so it is perhaps wise that it now describes itself as Adult/Young Adult & Fantasy. When wondering how Gillian could get away with some of her, erm, descriptions, I came to the conclusion that being a smaller indie publisher, Strident might feel more able to leave in what other publishers would undoubtedly have cleaned up a little.

Gillian Philip, Icefall

So, there I was, racing through. The one thing that slows old witches down is characters and their names. There are lots of them, and each character has a couple of names, at least. There is a very handy list of them, but I have to admit I could have done with the full blown family tree. You know, ‘who were her parents again?’ Each of the four books have centred round a young person. Sort of young, because the Sithe faeries grow very old, unless they die in battle first.

There were more mortals in this one, and it was ‘nice’ that the more ordinary end of humans were given a bit more of the action. Remember Lauren? Can you tell Sheena and Shania apart?

My favourite person this time was someone who has been there from the start, but not always very prominently. I was hoping he’d last until the end, even when things looked dicey.

Divided into two parts, first in our world and then in theirs, the war between Kate NicNiven and Seth MacGregor continues. Kate is evil, so it looks inevitable that she will win, or take everyone with her if she were to fail.

I can’t tell you more. Daren’t. They fight. They cut bits off each other. They love each other. And hate the others. People die. Obviously.

And, happily, it appears that Gillian isn’t totally ruling out more books about this world.

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.

It’s Gillian Philip. Or is it?

I must have fallen asleep at some point, because when I woke up, there was Gillian Philip, travelling all over the place, the ‘victim’ of great success with.., yes, with what? In the end I had to bite the bullet and actually ask her. You can either be cool, or you can be informed. I wanted to be the latter more than the former. So, ladies and gentlemen, here is Erin Hunter!

Apart from writing some pretty fantastic fantasy set in Scotland, you have your writing fingers in a few other pies, don’t you? How many?

Let me see… I’ve just finished writing a teen dark fantasy series for Hothouse and Hodder, called Darke Academy – that’s under the name Gabriella Poole. The final book, Lost Spirits, came out in November. Just now I’m writing the latest Erin Hunter series, Survivors, which is about dogs surviving in a post-apocalyptic kind of world. That’s for Working Partners and Harper Collins. I’ve also written a couple of Beast Quests, also for Working Partners, as Adam Blade – that was HUGE fun because I used to read Beast Quest to my son. I get lots of Brownie points for that with the boy, though I have now been slightly overshadowed by a certain pal writing Skylanders.

Oh and I’m also trying to write another contemporary YA under my own name. That’s progressing s-l-o-w-l-y. And I’m writing the fourth and final Rebel Angels book (and thank you for the kind comment about those).

And I gather you’ve been very successful in the US with something? What, exactly?

That’s the Survivors series! Erin Hunter is pretty big in the US, so I’ve been lucky to become a part of that.

Tell us some more?

Erin Hunter’s Warriors and Seekers (about cats and bears respectively)  are really popular, and the teams at Working Partners and Harper Collins had always wanted to do a series about dogs. They wanted a different scenario to Warriors or Seekers, though, and they eventually decided on this apocalyptic storyline. There’s been some kind of huge disaster, precipitated by an earthquake, and all the humans have vanished. (Which is really important, obviously – kind of like getting rid of the parents in a children’s book.) So the dogs – wild, feral and domesticated alike – have to learn how to survive and adapt. It’s huge fun writing about all the different characters and breeds. Having my own three dogs – reliable Lab, naughty Jack Russell cross, and slightly prissy Papillon – really helps…

You even went to America on what seemed like a rather grand tour. Where did you go, and who were your audiences?

It was FABULOUS! Harper Collins arranged a five-city tour in September, which was just about the most fun I’ve ever had. It took in Atlanta, Houston, San Francisco, Chicago and Cincinnati, so cured two of my phobias – early mornings and flying. I had media escorts in each city, stayed in some gorgeous hotels – all a bit gobsmacking – and I made some really great new friends. There were lots of events, at schools and at some amazing bookshops, plus some interviews. And the lovely Karen Ball from WP came along for the first two cities to support me – literally at one point, since I fell on my face in Atlanta airport.

Why haven’t we heard more about this ‘back home?’

Survivors hasn’t got a UK publisher yet. *sad face*

Is all this making you rich? Or just very famous?

It’s not me that’s famous, it’s Erin! She has a lot of incarnations. I think it’s great that Harper Collins are very open about the fact that she is several people. All the fans know about that, and they’re fine with it. The fans are pretty fabulous actually – they know the characters and the histories intimately, They bring along gifts – anything from stuffed toys to pictures to character family trees. It’s genuinely touching and I keep every single one.

Do you still remember us, your old (very old, in my case) fans?

Hahaha! YES. And you can’t say you’re old because that would make me ancient.

(This Erin person might know about dogs, but she can’t do arithmetic. Just because I’m shorter than her doesn’t mean I’m younger. And please note how nimbly she sidestepped the wealth qustion.)

Thank you Erin/Gillian/Adam/Gabriella!

Gillian Philip

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.

The next big thing is Higashoo

Those of us who braved the unexpected rain on Sunday morning, could enjoy a discussion on The Next Big Thing with Barry Forshaw, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, editor Jade Chandler and Val McDermid.

Barry Forshaw, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Jade Chandler and Val McDermid

In between pronunciation issues and translations that made sanitary towels into bath towels, Barry kept hinting he knew the answer. It’s Higashoo. Sort of. I cornered him afterwards and even he didn’t know what he’d been saying, so there is little hope for me.

Barry Forshaw

The cream of Nordic crime has now been joined by less creamy novels, and the future might lie on some hitherto unheard of Scottish island. Or Man. Manx murders, anyone?

As long as president Putin doesn’t say he likes – or dislikes – what you write, you’ll be all right. Hopefully.

After Yrsa had said how she just likes creepy stuff, we crept uphill to the Highland Hotel and the one children’s books event of the weekend. It was free, which only goes to prove how undervalued children’s books are. We had the excellent Gillian Philip and Cathy MacPhail, along with the to me unknown, but now very scary, Helen FitzGerald talking to Christina Johnston.

Gillian Philip, Cathy MacPhail and Helen FitzGerald

The ladies chatted on the subject of Once Upon a Crime, and were photographed next to a clothes hanger. I worry a bit about the significance of that. They each read from their books, and Helen’s piece was about seeing your mother’s dead body. I think she said Deviant is her happiest book, so I don’t know… She road tests her books for teen authenticity on her daughter. For money.

Helen FitzGerald

Cathy, who does ‘like a good murder,’ learns about her genuine child characters on school visits. She likes writing from a boy’s point of view, and her next book, Mosi’s War is another boy book. What Cathy does not like is to be put in the Scottish section in shops, next to Nessie.

Cathy MacPhail

Gillian read from The Opposite of Amber, and said she tries to avoid slang for fear of it dating too quickly. But she doesn’t tone down content for YA. For her it simply means the protagonists are younger. And she does swear in her books.

Gillian Philip

All three bemoaned the lack of room for reviews of children’s books in the papers, and seemed to feel the answer might lie in reviews by young readers.

After getting a couple of Seth MacGregor books signed, we rolled down the hill, back to the Albert Halls for The Red-Headed League. An all star cast of crime writers read a dramatised version of one of Sherlock’s best known mysteries, with Gillian Philip as the villain. Karen Campbell had the most unlikely red hair, and Craig Robertson was Lestrade. Members of the audience – OK, other crime writers dotted about – made up the other hopeful redheads.

The Red-Headed League

Waiting outside beforehand provided a parade of Who’s Who in Scottish crime, with most authors walking past our sandwich-bench under a tree. (It was still trying to rain.)

Sarah Reynolds

Once an arrest had been made, it was on to the Worth the Wait short story competition, where out of 232 entries, they had chosen the best 19 for their free ebook (download it now!). The winner Sarah Reynolds received her price from one of the sponsors.

And then it was time for the inaugural Scottish Crime Book of the Year  Award 2012, introduced by Sheena McDonald and presented by William McIlvanney. The winner was Charles Cumming for A Foreign Country.

Charles Cumming

Once this was done, we trooped out and most of us went home. Sort of.

Except the witch who likes to meet authors. She had tea with Helen Grant, who is even scarier (in her books) than most of the Bloody Scotland lot.

Then we went home.


It’s raw. Very raw. I’d say practically unedited (alternately, so well edited you can’t tell), and that is precisely what we need in a world of over-sanitised books. It’s only as you read a book like Gillian Philip’s Wolfsbane, that it becomes obvious how much editorial input most novels have these days.

It’s fantastic! If I don’t get to read the next – the fourth and final – instalment of Rebel Angels soon, I’m going to scream. Gillian is simply getting better and better. She is also growing ever more murderous. Expect deaths, both where you want them, but also where you don’t.

Looking on the bright side, some characters are alive at the end of this third book about the Sithe, those wild Scottish faeries who love and kill with equal skill.

Gillian Philip, Wolfsbane

Time has moved on a little, and we have two new teenagers, as well as the two teenagers from Bloodstone, who are now mature. Sort of mature. I’m not quite sure whether time has moved as much on one side of the Veil as it has on the other. I don’t always ‘get the time.’ But the list of characters was a godsend. It helped me remember, because let’s face it, Gillian doesn’t pick the easiest of names.

Queen Kate is evil, as we well know. But we don’t see so much of her this time. It’s mainly ‘at home with the MacGregors’ and that is exciting enough for me. A lot of anger and a lot of not-so-romantic love. Which, of course, makes it really very romantic indeed.

The kelpies and the wolves are real characters, and if it’s possible to love man-eating horses, I think I now do. But I wonder what goes on in Gillian’s mind, for her to be able to write stories like these. I’m glad she does, though. (And that Strident leave her to it.)

If you haven’t started, get a move on. You will thank me later.

(Especially if you get the first edition with the mistake. Bound to become a collector’s item… Hurry.)