Alexander Gordon Smith

Archive for the Category Barry Hutchison

 
 

My Blog Tour!

Well it’s been a whirlwind trip around cyberspace: two weeks, ten stops, and 20,000 words! In case you missed them, here they are!

The first stop saw me on the legend-that-is Darren Shan’s blog talking about Never Giving Up! I was his first ever guest blogger, yay!!

Next I was over at Trapped By Monsters talking about my favourite undead being – the zombie!

Hot on the heels of that I was interviewed by the lovely Bookbabblers!

My fourth destination was on one of my all-time favourite blogs, Book Zone (For Boys), chatting about the real magic of horror!

Halfway through now, and I was at Books4Teens describing a typical (haha, as if!) day in the life of an author!

On the home stretch, and I stopped by the awesome Barry Hutchison’s blog for a chat (an actual, live conversation!) about The Fury, writing and other bits and bobs!

Next up I visited Mostly Reading YA for a furious conversation about anger!!

I was over with the lovely Book Smugglers for stop eight, discussing musical influences!

With home in sight, I stopped by another of my favourite blogs, Mr Ripleys Enchanted Books, to chat about how writing a novel can totally change your personality!

And the last, but certainly not least, destination was the wonderfully named Death Books and Tea blog for an interview!

I just want to say a HUGE thanks to all the blogs that let me stop by to say hi, and another HUGE thanks to those of you who read my posts! It’s been fun (and furious)!!!!

😀

 

Book Review: The 13th Horseman

The 13th Horseman!

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.

Meeting My (Hell’s) Hero!!!

And they say horror authors don't always wear black...

 

I’m just back from an amazing weekend at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. It was amazing in loads of ways, but mainly because I finally got to meet one of my all time writing heroes, Darren Shan. That’s right, DARREN SHAN!!! The guy is an absolute legend, and I actually got to hang out with him. Me and Darren, hanging out, how awesome is that?! In case you can’t tell, I was thrilled!

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a huge Shanster – I even mentioned him in Lockdown, when Alex and the others are in their cell reenacting their favourite stories. The truth is that if it wasn’t for Darren then Furnace would be very, very different, and might not even have existed at all! The Saga of Darren Shan was a huge influence on my writing – I absolutely loved those books, their non-stop pace and fantastic blend of action and horror, and reading them really gave me a sense of what kind of book I wanted Furnace to be. When I found out that Darren was reading Furnace Lockdown, a couple of years ago now, I was so delighted. And when he give me the quote “Hotter than hell and twice as much fun, sign me up for a life sentence” I think I almost went into shock!!

So I’ve always wanted to meet Darren, to say thanks and to chat about books and writing – and this year I was lucky enough to not just meet him, but to do a show with him!! It was a panel event, alongside the wonderful Barry Hutchison – whose series Invisible Fiends is one of my absolute favourite reads this year – and chaired by the inimitable Philip Ardagh (a fellow Faber author), who is simply one of the most charming and witty people in existence. We started the panel by reading out an extract from one of the books which inspired us to write horror (Salem’s Lot for Darren, Something Wicked This Way Comes for me and a choose-your-own-adventure horror for Barry – sorry Barry I can’t remember what it was called, but it was so funny!). Then we chatted about why we love horror, what makes things scary, and loads more! We finished off by reading some of our own work, including my first reading ever from Furnace 5. All in all it was awesome, although we could have ran for another hour easily!!

Afterwards we did a signing, although I have to say that I was doing considerably less signing than the others. At one point I was tempted to start signing post-it notes, tablecloths, Barry’s arm, just so it looked like I was doing something! But the people who did come up for signed copies of Furnace were all brilliant, and very nice (thanks everyone!), and it really was a smashing afternoon. And although I was a little nervous about meeting Darren, purely because he is a hero of mine, I didn’t need to be – he is a really lovely guy!

I look about five foot tall next to these guys! (And I can't remember why we were standing next to the toilet... Or why Philip has me by the ear...)

That afternoon we all went out for a drink, along with Darren’s awesome girlfriend Bas, her friend Pam, and Darren’s publicist Mary. Barry and I almost didn’t make it as we got lost in a rather dodgy part of Edinburgh (I blame him, he’s Scottish and should know his way around)! But we got there in the end and enjoyed a few whiskies in the coolest bar I’ve ever been in (the Frankenstein bar!) and a delicious meal (Haggis spring rolls!) before going to see a hilarious comedian (Sam Simmons, I think, I was a little tipsy by then). And all in all it was pretty much the best day ever.

On the Sunday I went to see Darren’s epic show, where he performed the entire Cirque du Freak series, start to finish, in just under two and a half hours. It was nothing short of spectacular. In the afternoon I did my own show to a small but perfectly formed crowd, then rushed back to the airport for my flight back to Norwich (I flew! Aren’t I brave!). It was a whirlwind trip, but an absolutely fantastic one. So thanks to everyone at the Edinburgh International Book Festival for being so lovely (and they really are), hopefully see you all next year!