Tag Archives: Oisín McGann

RED in Falkirk

Yesterday the Bookwitchy feet touched Falkirk soil for the first time since that fateful day in 1973. She (I mean I) saw red even on the train (a woman wearing a lovely red coat, but who wasn’t actually going where I was going). My mind was on red things, as there was a sort of dress code for attending the RED Book Award in Falkirk, and I’d dug out the few red garments I own.

Cathy MacPhail

Ever since I knew we’d be moving to Scotland, I’d been thinking how much I wanted to attend the RED Book Award, and then it happened so fast I barely knew what I was doing (I had to ditch Daughter, and feed up the camera battery), but everything worked out in the end. I walked to fth (Falkirk Town Hall), which was teeming with people in red, and I found Falkirk librarian and organiser Yvonne Manning (a Geraldine McCaughrean look-alike if ever there was one), and she showed me to the front row, despite me mentioning how I’m a back row kind of witch. There was coffee, and there were authors. All four shortlisted authors were there; Cathy MacPhail, Alan Gibbons, Oisín McGann and Alex Woolf.

Alan Gibbons and interviewers

They were being interviewed by some of the participating schools’ pupils, and it was rather like speed dating. I chatted briefly to Cathy, who’d brought her daughter along, and who said how nice Alex Woolf had turned out to be. (She was right. He is.)

Alex Woolf and interviewers

Barbara Davidson and interviewers

I found a very red lady, who turned out to be sponsor Barbara Davidson, who makes the RED award, and whose wardrobe apparently is extremely red. I like people who know what they like in the way of colour. There were even helpers wearing red boilersuits.

Back in the front row, we were treated to Yvonne Manning entering dancing, wearing a short red kilt, spotty tights and red ribbons in her hair, and she got the popstar reception treatment. Apparently ‘timing is everything’ and she managed to steer the whole day to a tight schedule.

There was a prize for anyone who found a red nose under their seat. Obviously. Another prize was offered for the school that left their seats the tidiest. After short introductions for the authors, the schools had prepared short dramatised sketches of the shortlisted books.

Yvonne Manning

At this point the Mayor came and sat on my right. Sorry, I mean Provost. Mayors are Provosts up here. Same lovely necklaces, though. And Yvonne reappeared wearing an incredible red patchwork coat, well worthy of Joseph, and it earned her some appreciative whistling from the audience.

Then it was time for prizes for the best book reviews, and the winning one was read out (after the break, after Yvonne had apologised for forgetting this important thing). She’s sweet, but also hard. The authors were given four minutes each to talk about their books; ‘speak briefly!’ They spoke about where they get ideas from. Oisín stared at people until it got ‘creepy enough.’ Cathy had found out about a real vampire in Glasgow in the 1950s, and still regrets she couldn’t have ‘It Walks Among Us’ as the title for Mosi’s War…

Alan Gibbons

Alex described how his Soul Shadows came about, which involved him writing one chapter a week, and then offering his readers several options on how to continue and they voted on which they preferred. Alan could well believe in Glaswegian vampires, and mentioned meeting Taggart once. Football is his passion. Alan’s. Not Taggart’s.

We had more dramatised books and then we listened to the woman who is the answer to my prayers. Anne Ngabia is the librarian at Grangemouth High School, and in the past she has set up little libraries in Kenya. The RED Book Award is even being shadowed by a school in Nairobi, and she showed us pictures from her libraries, as well as a short film based on Mosi’s War that they’d made.

Oisín McGann

After a very nice lunch, where I just might have offered to sue the Provost as I got him to test the veggieness of the food (if he got it wrong, I mean), the authors signed masses of books and many other things as well. The pupils thronged so much that it was hard to move for the sheer excitement of it.

Back to business again (the people of Falkirk don’t believe in half measures when they do their book awards), and we learned that the dramatised books we’d seen would tempt most people to read Alex’s book, Soul Shadows. They do believe in prizes too, so next to be rewarded were the red clothes, etc. I’d tried to bribe the judge over lunch, but it seems the prize wasn’t for old people. He turned out to be quite good at rap. Something along the lines of Red Hot. (If you want to win, I reckon wigs or pyjamas is the way to go.)

RED clothes winners

With ‘no time for fun’ the authors were then seated in two blue velvet sofas (they got the colour wrong there, didn’t they?) and the Q&A session kicked off. Good questions, and lots of them, so I won’t go into detail here. Halfway through Oisín was asked to do a drawing, and Yvonne magicked up a flipchart out of nowhere and while the others laboured over more answers, Oisín drew a fabulous picture of, well, of something.

Oisín McGann

Provost Reid, Barbara Davidson, Alan Gibbons and pupil from Denny HS

Finally, the time came to announce the winner. Provost Reid – in his beautiful red gown – made everyone stamp their feet to sound like a drumroll, and I rather hoped the ‘terraces’ behind me wouldn’t collapse under all that vigour. He told us how much he likes books, and then it was over to a fez-wearing pupil from Denny to open the red envelope and tell us the winner was

Alan Gibbons. His thank you speech was on the topic of ‘ you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone’ and that could be libraries, or it could be your life. We complain too much in our comfortable lives, compared to those readers in Kenya we met earlier.

There were prizes, naturally, for the runners-up. And photos. Lots and lots of them. Cathy commandeered her handbag to be brought and she pondered taking a selfie, but in the end she went for a conventional picture of her and her pals.

Cathy MacPhail, Alex Woolf, Alan Gibbons, Provost Reid and Oisín McGann

Cathy MacPhail and Alex Woolf

Us old ones chatted over mugs of tea before going our separate ways. And some of the helpers and I have vowed to wear much warmer clothes next time (that is, if I’m ever allowed back).

A big thank you from me, to Yvonne for inviting me when I dropped a heavy hint, and to her helpers for helping so well, the schools for their magnificent work, and to Cathy, Alan, Oisín and Alex for writing the books that caused us all to be there, at fth.

And the prize for tidiest row of seats? The prize was Oisín’s picture. And I can assure you it won’t go to us on the front row. Cough.

Stories of WWI

This is a beautiful collection of short stories featuring WWI. Edited by Tony Bradman, some of our bestest children’s authors have come up with their own interpretation of the war. It’s interesting how writers can find such diverse starting points for a story on one and the same topic. Many of them have based their story on memories of grandparents or other relatives who fought in the war, or who were among those left behind, or who had to live with the fall-out of what happened to family members.

I can’t pick a favourite. They are all special in one way or another.

As I always say about anthologies; they are the perfect way of enjoying many writers in small doses, and this collection proves again that the short story is a wonderful, handy size of fiction.

Some of the contributors have written stories about soldiers from other countries, thus highlighting the world aspect of the war. Germans are/were human beings like all the rest. They didn’t eat babies. Young men from Australia and New Zealand came to Europe to fight. And so did Indians who sometimes had no idea of what was going on, and the Irish who had issues at home, while fighting for a country that was also the enemy.

If you like war stories, this is for you.

Rat Runners

What a marvellous film Rat Runners would make! It’s a great book, but I spent my time reading it seeing the film it could be turned into. Daughter won’t like me saying this, but it’s precisely the kind of thing she likes watching on television. (So read the book!)

Oisín McGann, Rat Runners

This must be Oisín McGann’s best book to date. I have enjoyed all the ones I’ve read, but do feel Rat Runners has that little bit extra. Set in a slightly futuristic London, it’s much as we know the place, except for the way everything is policed and what people can do. They have a kind of robotic – but live – watcher who can see everything, bar your thoughts. Possibly.

Nimmo is under age and isn’t allowed to live on his own, but he does anyway, having made a deal with the scientist Brundle who owns the building. When Brundle is murdered Nimmo wants to find out who did it and why. He also ends up having to search for something that Brundle had, which it turns out all the crooks in London want.

He is made leader of a group of three other adolescents – Scope, Mannikin and FX – and their job is to find this item. The four each have special skills, taken straight from your favourite thrillers. The youngest is twelve, and they all have something that their ‘boss’ can use as leverage to force them work for him.

Very exciting, and I am more than ready for the next one. I can’t see that we are done yet.


After I said what I said about science fiction earlier this week, I started thinking. It’s not true that nobody reads sci-fi, and maybe it’s even less true because we aren’t labelling books properly. If they have to be labelled.

We’ve become so keen on fantasy in recent years that it has become the label for anything not totally real. And we may have travelled to the moon and back, but in general space travel isn’t terribly real. That makes it fantasy. Maybe.

It was my use of the clever word dystopia when I reviewed WE by John Dickinson which really set me thinking. Is it only sci-fi when it involves travel through space? Because there’s Oisín McGann’s Small-Minded Giants, for example. Pretty dystopic, if you ask me. Future world (on Earth) where people live in a way totally alien to how we live here and now. And not in a nice futuristic way, either.

Oisín’s book reminds me very much of Julie Bertagna’s Exodus; of where the people fleeing their flooded islands end up. ‘Paradise’ to some maybe, but dystopia to others. Fantasy or sci-fi, or neither?

I always had this theory that the Retired Children’s Librarian dislikes fantasy because she equates it with sci-fi and she equates that with space travel, which to her mind is dreadful. Pippi Longstocking is fantasy, while not having much to do with rockets and interplanetary adventure. And she likes Pippi.

Terry Pratchett said how he fancies himself as a sci-fi writer for a bit, while he reckons his partner-to-be, Stephen Baxter, in their next book venture is a sci-fi writer who quite likes the idea of writing fantasy. It is very close.

So perhaps we need to re-label some fantasy? There’s more to sci-fi than Robert Heinlein or Isaac Asimov. In fact, how much do the Asimov robots differ from J K Rowling’s characters?

The Resident IT Consultant added his question when we discussed this. Is Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking sci-fi? There are spaceships.

What witches don’t know

I blogged earlier – I think – about how hard it can be to know what you don’t know. I’ve found one more thing I had no idea I didn’t know. Barrington Stoke. I didn’t know they specialise in books to help struggling readers to read. I just thought they were a publishing company among many other publishing companies.

Not so. But why did no one tell me? ‘That’s one of my Barrington Stoke books’ authors would say when talking about something they’d written. And I simply assumed that this particular book was with a different publisher. Now it all makes sense!

I have just been sent a sample Barrington Stoke book, along with their catalogue, and both make for good reading.

Twisting the Truth

Twisting the Truth by Judy Waite was for me a very quick read. But it’s good. Whenever I come across such brief stories, they are usually also more childish, whereas this is for 14+. It must be horrible to be in your mid teens and only have babyish books to choose from. Much easier not to read at all, I’d say. And that’s what they do, which is such a shame.

I recall coming across some similar books at Offsprings’ school library, except they were abridged versions of ‘real’ books. That’s another way of approaching reading, obviously. But I can see that having something written specially might be nicer.

So, Judy Waite’s story is about a girl who lies to her stepfather when she gets home late. She comes up with a tale about having been abducted, almost, on the way home. As with all lies, this leads to a situation she could not have foreseen. Very exciting.

The Barrington Stoke catalogue is full of books that I don’t need to read, because I can read longer books, but so many of them look very tempting. And I can see how almost anyone with dyslexia could be turned into a reader this way.

I’m fairly sure that Adèle Geras has one or two BS books under her belt, and I know that Theresa Breslin told me that the ‘Alcatraz book’ of hers I’d come across was a BS one. It is. I found it in the catalogue. I also found lots more of my favourite names in there, like Philip Ardagh, Malorie Blackman, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Terry Deary, Bali Rai, Anne Cassidy, Tony Bradman, Lee Weatherly, Beverley Naidoo, Oisín McGann, Catherine Forde, Joanna Kenrick, Hilary McKay and many more. Many more.

‘All’ that these writers have to do is come up with a great story, with short paragraphs and short chapters, and Barrington Stoke will print it on cream paper in their own clever font in a good size. But only once the book has been tested by test readers, of course.

Why didn’t I know this?

Engimals and other creatures

Hmph. I’ve been had. This is a worse case of sequelitis than previously experienced.

I like Oisìn McGann. I mean I like his books. But after this I may have to grab hold of his ear and do something. Don’t know what.

The Wisdom of Dead Men

Just finished his new book The Wisdom of Dead Men. It’s great. Historical Irish crime adventure, featuring the seriously odd Wildenstern family, set some time in the 19th century. They have funny habits, those Wildensterns. They like killing each other, and there are rules for how you do it. Charming, in other words.

They also have pets. These engimals are part machine, part animal. Weirdly weird.

The Wildensterns are rich. Very, very rich. They go in for a lot of exercise in the shape of fighting and self defence. They are powerful in society.

It was a little hard to tell at first who’s the main character, but I’ll come to that. Nate Wildenstern is probably the mainest of the main characters, along with his lovely sister-in-law Daisy. There is also Daisy’s husband Berto, Nate’s little sister Tatiana, and his cousin Gerald. There are witches, lost relatives and revived relatives from hundreds of years ago.

Towards the end of The Wisdom of Dead Men, I was going ‘this won’t come to a proper end’, ‘yes it will’, ‘maybe’, ‘no it won’t’. And of course it didn’t. There has to be more, but neither the press release nor Oisìn’s website mentions a sequel.

What Oisìn’s website does mention, however, is the prequel, or rather the first book in the series. Because this wasn’t the first book. Ancient Appetites was. Wish I’d known. I suppose it’s a sign of excellence that it’s possible to write a second book without it being obvious that it is. Had a peep at the online shop’s reviews, and saw that people felt it was suitable for a sequel…

Yes, well.

I don’t mind series of books, although life is easier without them. But I want it to say so. Setting lack of time aside, I don’t feel I’d be up to reading Ancient Appetites now. Not now that I know that…

Strangled Silence

Well, at least it has flying saucers. Oisín McGann’s new novel Strangled Silence is one of the most menacing looking books I’ve seen for a while. It’s all black, even around the edges, which makes you think you’re not looking at a book at all.

Strangled Silence

The flying saucers help lighten the atmosphere somewhat, which is good, as otherwise this would be a much scarier story. It happens here and now, in a normal London, post Iraq war, with a new war in fictional (I hope) Sinnostan. And it’s not the terrorists who are the most frightening. What is the Government up to?

This thriller is just that little bit too real and too likely. And that’s including the flying saucers. Conspiracy everywhere, a bit of brainwashing every now and then, subtle violence, and not so subtle violence. And who wants to travel on the tube from now on?

Amina is a work experience journalist and Ivor was wounded in Sinnostan. Chi is a computer nerd and Amina’s brother Tariq has problems at school. They all get caught up one way or another with the seemingly crazy and inexplicable things that are happening. As it’s fiction, the reader feels that surely they will be all right in the end? But will they? This feels very real, and very scary.

Small-Minded Giants

I took Eoin Colfer’s advice and bought a copy of Oisín McGann’s Small-Minded Giants, after we’d discussed Irish writers for young readers. It then took me close to two years to get round to reading the book, until last week when I decided to surprise myself. Good idea, that.

The novel is set in Ash Harbour, a futuristic city, slightly reminiscent of Julie Bertagna’s Glasgow, except this is in the South Pacific, and it’s very, very cold. Small-Minded Giants is bleaker than Exodus. I think. Ash Harbour is a world much more geared to simply survive, whereas Julie’s new Glasgow has some semblance of a life enjoyed, for those on the inside, at least.

Things are seriously wrong in Ash Harbour, and they quickly get a lot worse. Sol’s father disappears, and he finds himself wanted by the police. He is helped by a murderous friend of his father’s, and Sol teams up with his classmate Cleo, and their teacher Ana, to try and work out what’s going on.

The cover of Small-Minded Giants says this is a book for older readers, and there may be some truth in this. It’s a violent story, in a way, and the future looks bleak. Oisín has written a thriller with lots of action, and none of the clever gadgets or the backup that Alex Rider enjoys. Sol is on his own.

This is a well written thriller, combined with a good look at what may be in store for the world if we don’t do something soon. Living in Ash Harbour is not something to aspire to, except that the alternative – of being left on the outside – isn’t very attractive either.

I’ll have to read some more of Oisín’s books. And I’m practising getting his name right.