To celebrate the launch of The Fury I’m going off on a blog tour!! It all kicks off today on the AWESOME Darren Shan’s website!!! As you all know I’m a huge Shanster, and I’m absolutely honoured to be the Master of Horror’s first ever guest blogger!!! You can check it out here, and take a look at the cool dooberry below for the other dates and destinations for the tour. Thanks to everyone for letting me drop in on your blogs and websites, it’s going to be fun!!
Let me start by saying I’m not sure where to start. This is the first book review I have ever written. In fact, it’s pretty much the first review of anything that I have ever written – well, since I was about ten when I wrote a review of a Norwich City football match because I was so shocked at the disastrous performance of the keeper (who let in a bizarrely awful goal then managed to knock himself unconscious). Anyway, whereas that review was stoked by outrage and disappointment, this one exists for entirely different reasons: Barry Hutchison’s The 13th Horseman is staggeringly, breathtakingly, absolutely fantastic!!
You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. In fact I’m being entirely literal in my praise. It’s staggeringly fantastic because the story – which involves a young lad called Drake who finds the three Horsemen of the Apocalypse living in a magic shed at the bottom of his garden, and discovers shortly afterwards that he is the new fourth Horseman, Death – was so engaging that I could not put it down, and staggered from place to place attempting to read it on the move. It’s breathtakingly fantastic because it’s so hilarious that I often found myself laughing so hard I couldn’t get air into my lungs. And it’s absolutely fantastic because the action scenes are so intense, and I got so caught up in the drama, that for those periods of time this story was utterly absolute, nothing else in the world mattered.
Drake, his new best friend Mel, and the horsemen find themselves battling a previous Death (the high-stress job has a very high turnaround of staff, as Famine explains at one point by listing the fates of Drake’s predecessors: “Mad, mad, suicide, mad, quit, mad, goldfish, suicide, mad”), who is very keen to usher in the end of the world a few millennia early. My favourite scenes were the ones where Drake is training to be the new death – something he takes to like a fish… well, like a fish training to be the new death. A superb mix of wonderful Biblical mythology and “high-tech-mumbo-jumbo” keeps the action scenes racing along faster than an apocalyptic horseman’s flying steed (which is very, very fast). The pace really is relentless as Drake, Mel and the horsemen find themselves up against ever-more deadly threats, culminating in a heart-stopping final battle for the fate of the world.
For me, though, it is the humour that really makes this story stand out from the wealth of mythology-related books out there. It seriously is one of the funniest books I have read in a very long time. The source of that humour is the horsemen themselves: War (grumpy, impatient and Scottish), Famine (morbidly obese, perpetually starving, fond of Cornettos) and my favourite, Pestilence (hypochondriac, ever-fretting and, well, suppurating). They are an amazing comedy trio, as perfectly suited to each other as the Marx Brothers or the Three Stooges. They have been hanging around for thousands of years waiting to usher in Armageddon, and spend most of their time either arguing or playing board games or arguing whilst playing board games (the Guess Who sequence was my favourite). The dynamic between the horsemen is absolutely pitch perfect. Well, okay, maybe a couple of the jokes fall flat, but I was reading a proof copy of the book and they may well have been trimmed out. But either way, I really was giggling all the way through. They are one of the most amusing – and endearing – trios in children’s literature. In fact, at times during the novel they pose a danger of overshadowing the main character – although fortunately Drake is so well drawn out and developed that this never happens.
It’s a clever book, too, in the way it deals with issues of faith. The horsemen, after all, are right out of the New Testament, and writing a story like this could easily have caused problems for its author. But Barry handles his subject matter perfectly – talking about the mythology in a tongue-in-cheek way that also manages to be respectful. It’s his fondness for his cast that does it, I think, a real love and affection for the horsemen and the tradition they come from. And it isn’t just Christian mythology here – in this universe there is room for all beliefs, because it’s faith that makes things real. As Pestilence says – putting right a common “mistranslation” from the Bible – “Faith can make mountains.” It’s actually a really positive and tolerant message to pass on to young readers.
The 13th Horseman is the first part of Barry’s new Afterworlds series, which from what I can gather is a series of books set in the same universe (with its own vast lost property room), but with different characters and settings in each one. It’s an intriguing and exciting prospect, and Barry has done an excellent job here of setting the groundwork and the ground rules – there really is an unlimited multiverse of possibilities to work with. All I can say is that he’s going to have a hard job reaching the bar he has set for himself with this first volume. But as a writer who has already proven himself over and over (his Invisible Fiends books are brilliant), I have no doubt that he will. And I sincerely hope that wherever he goes next, War, Famine and Pestilence (and with any luck the Alfred Randall X-perience) get to go along for the ride.
I could go on, but in the interests of brevity I’ll wrap it up here by saying READ THIS BOOK! The combination of fantasy and gentle humour, and the ability to find the absurd in the everyday, is definitely reminiscent of Terry Pratchett (and I’m talking about early Pratchett here, which is for me the best Pratchett), but this is very much Barry’s world and Barry’s sense of humour, and with this book he is seriously proving himself to be one of the funniest and most exciting writers around. 13 may be unlucky for some, but for Barry Hutchison it’s an absolute winner.
Today is an unbelievably awesome day for a couple of reasons. The first is that TODAY IS THE DAY THE FURY COMES OUT!!!! I’ve been so excited about this book for so long that it feels like I’ve been waiting for decades. But the truth is that it’s only been eighteen months – almost to the day – since I typed ‘The Hated’ (as it was originally known) onto a big, blank, scary Word document.
I’m so excited about the release of The Fury, but I’m nervous too. The day you finish the first draft of a novel is the moment it’s born, I think, kicking and screaming and in need of a good clean-up; but publication day is like the first day at school. You pack it off in its little sweater and bag with its lunch box and its cheese sandwiches, and it pretends that everything is okay and that it isn’t scared, but you can feel it shivering and you can see the terror in its eyes, then you pat it on the back and watch it walk off into the big wide world and you worry that nobody will like it or people will bully it and you have to fight that overwhelming, instinctive urge to rush after it and drive it back home and keep it safe forever and ever. Ahem, anyway, it’s a scary moment!
But I have faith in The Fury. It’s different to anything I have written before, but hopefully the horror is just as fast-paced and relentless as Furnace, and the adventure is just as addictive and exhilarating as The Inventors. I know that some people won’t like it. Some people might hate it. But that’s just the nature of writing, you can’t please everyone just like you can’t make friends with everyone at school. I only hope that some people will read it and enjoy it and read it again and enjoy it even more, and think about it long after they have turned the last page, and love the characters like they love their own friends, and share the story with other people and talk about it and keep it on their bookshelf until someone else steals it and does exactly the same. Because that’s the most amazing thing you can ever hope for, as a writer, that your book makes those kinds of friends, the ones who cherish it.
And besides, the Fury isn’t exactly a small, gentle book. If anyone tries to bully it at school it will probably bite their face off!!
The other reason that today is a special day is that it was exactly five years ago today, the 5th April 2007, that my first book came out. It seems like longer, I feel like I’ve lived a whole lifetime between then and now. It’s been pretty much the most amazing ride I could ever have asked for. I remember that day like it was yesterday, going into Waterstones in Norwich (the shop isn’t even there any more, it’s a Jamie Oliver restaurant) with my eleven-year-old brother Jamie – the co-author of The Inventors – and seeing it there on the shelf, and feeling like my brain was about to explode from excitement and happiness. Being a published writer was the only thing I’d ever really wanted, since I was a kid, and it had happened! It took everything I had not to break down in sobbing fits like a loony in the middle of the shop.
I'm certainly a lot fatter than I was five years ago!!!!!!!!!!
I took photos of the actual day (the one above was taken a year earlier, when Jamie and I got the deal), but sadly they were lost when my old Mac died. I’ve still got the memories, though, five years’ worth. It really has been incredible – in both senses of the word. The books have introduced me to some of the most wonderful, interesting, generous people I could ever hope to meet – authors, publishing people, librarians, teachers, pupils, organisers, and the most amazing bunch of fans in the world. The books have taken me to pretty much every city in the UK, and across the seas and oceans and mountains to other countries and continents. They have opened doors to amazing experiences that will stay with me until the day I die. I know I overuse the whole ‘books are your children’ thing, but it’s so true. They’ve changed my life. And hopefully, fate-willing, they’ll be around long after I’ve gone. That’s one of the things I love most, the thought that one of my great-great-great-great grandchildren might one day be browsing in a book store and spot a dog-eared copy of The Inventors, or Furnace, or The Fury, and take it home and read it with absolutely no idea who wrote it, just love the story.
One of the things I always talk about in schools is that if you have a dream, you have to go for it. Really believe in it. Fight for it. Humans are amazing, we can accomplish anything we set our minds to. But it’s so easy to be put off, to be talked out of it, to talk ourselves out of it. I’ve nearly talked myself out of it a million times, thinking I just can’t do it, that it will never happen. But I kept going, I never lost sight of that dream, and I got there. For anyone who has that dream, and who has doubts, never give up. It will happen. Just keep saying to yourself, YOU ARE AWESOME, YOU CAN DO IT! And you will.
So, five years down the line, thirty-three now instead of twenty-eight, and I still feel like a beginner. It still feels fresh, just as exciting as the first time round. With any luck there will be loads more books to come, stories that look up to their older brothers and sisters and follow in their footsteps, stories that will maybe go on to great things. Of course there are things that haven’t happened yet – the film deal, the Nobel Prize, the millions of pounds (I’m poorer now than I was when I started!!) – but there is still (hopefully!) plenty of time for all of that, and it’s nice to save some things for the future. Right now I couldn’t ask for any more, I’m so happy.
A HUGE THANKS to everyone that helped create The Fury (okay, this is where the ‘books as babies’ analogy gets a little dodgy) – especially my wonderful agent Sophie and the awesome crew at Ed Victor, my three brilliant, insightful editors Julia, Rebecca and Susila (and also Wes, in the US, I know you’re going to do amazing things with this book), my copy editor Trevor, my publicity peeps Laura and Susan, and everyone else at Faber who has worked tirelessly to make this book so gorgeous; thanks to the booksellers and librarians and bloggers and teachers who have supported me with such enthusiasm and generosity; also endless thanks to the best friends and family in the world for always being there, for always believing, I love you guys! And, of course, thanks in advance to everyone who reads The Fury! Please be nice to it on its first day at school. I really hope you enjoy it!!!!