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Interview with Barry Hutchison, writer of Invisible Fiends and The 13th Horseman!

on April 27, 2012

Barry Hutchison is best known as the author of kids’ horror series, Invisible Fiends, but his new book, The 13th Horseman, has taken him in a whole new direction.

According to your website, you have been writing from a very early age, and had a few disappointments along the way with screenplays, etc. What has kept you focused on writing?

I have never had a choice – I would write even if it wasn’t my job. I have always written for my own amusement, and for a long time didn’t do anything with it. I have lost lots of books over the years, although that might be for the best! They worked as practice more than anything. I decided to be an author at the age of nine, so it is probably just as well that I don’t have a lot of my early stories any more.

Your big breakthrough seems to have been largely due to social media rather than print: do you think children are increasingly discovering fiction this way?

Yes, but there is a big split. My nine-year-old son is a massive reader, but he doesn’t find books through blogs or social media, more through book shops and Amazon. Adults are bigger users of social media in this way, although trends on Twitter can be fuelled by what kids are talking about. Kids themselves find books more through talk in playgrounds, or talking to librarians or teachers.

Where did your inspiration for the Invisible Fiends series come from, and are you writing more in the series?

It is a horror series, but I never planned it to be straight horror, I always planned to write funny stuff. It was quite strategic; I thought, what is a good way to get into writing for kids? What do boys like? And they do like scary stuff. The idea was about imaginary friends coming back to take revenge, and that came from my older sister – when she was little, she had an imaginary friend called Caddy, who lived in the air vent. To fit in to such a small space, all her bones were broken and her face was pressed against the vent, and she would whisper to my sister to do bad stuff. So I always had this idea that imaginary friends could be really scary! I never wanted a full-on gore-fest, more a story that was creepy, unsettling and funny too. A lot of people picked up on the comedy, and that’s why I pitched The 13th Horseman.
I am just putting the finishing touches to the final Invisible Fiends book, Darkest Corners, which will be out in August. In a way it is nice to get to the end so I can do other things, but I felt really sad when I wrote the last scenes.

Where did you get the idea for The 13th Horseman?

This came from when I was a student, sharing a small flat with three of the most horrendous people in the history of the human race. We had constant arguments about petty things, and after about 6 months I thought, I just can’t do this anymore! I comforted myself with the fact that it wasn’t forever – but then, I thought, what if it was forever? What if I was stuck there for eternity? And the idea of the four horsemen in the shed, getting on each other’s nerves, came from that. All I had to do was find a story to put them in. It is different to the Invisible Fiends series, and I was worried about it, but it has gone its own way and found its own audience.

Who are you most like in The 13th Horseman?

Probably Mel. The horsemen are all lovely, but I wouldn’t want to be stuck in a shed with them forever. I am lost in my own daydream most of the time, just like Mel.

Will there be more books about the four horsemen?

They will be making a cameo experience in the next book of Afterworlds, The Lost Book of Everything, and so will Toxie the hell-cat. This will probably be out February 2013. I also have another book planned featuring the horsemen, and have done a prequel story, The Missing Remote of the Apocalypse, which is on the website. I will do more short stories before the next book, and might do a digital-only picture book about the goldfish too. The characters have been alive for 6,500 years, so there’s lots of scope!

Why do you still use your website for new material?

A lot of the stuff I write is for my own amusement. I loved the characters in The 13th Horseman; they really wrote themselves and I loved spending time with them and wanted to go back. I wrote Pestilence’s diary for myself, and then decided to turn it into a blog. It does have a different tone than the book as the character is written from a different perspective. It is darker in places than the book, and some places get very deranged, such as his letters to Barack Obama.

What was your favourite book as a child, and which other children’s writers do you rate now?

Until the age of nine, I read mostly American comics such as Batman and Superman. I then read a lot of funny stuff, such as Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. I was never interested in books like the Hardy Boys or the Famous Five – I just couldn’t identify with them. Then I read The Reluctant Vampire by Eric Morecambe, which really appealed, and there was an excitement in reading a book that I felt I shouldn’t be reading.
It’s a real golden age of kids’ literature right now. Neil Gaiman is my favourite author, and I would aspire to his career if anyone’s. I met him, and he’s also a really nice man. I love Terry Pratchett too. My son reads a wide range, such as David Walliams and Michael Grant, and The Hunger Games. Kids should read books they don’t expect to like, because you can always learn something from every book. More and more school libraries have a selection of graphic novels, and this can really make a difference, although some older teachers are still sniffy about them.

What unfulfilled ambitions do you have, both in writing and otherwise?

I am working on a comic although I can’t draw at all! An artist friend is helping me out, and it looks amazing. I want to get that out; I want to write Batman and The Hulk! I am also working on a novel for adults, just because I had an idea that doesn’t fit into a kids’ book. I just want to keep writing – even if people stop reading, I will still write.
Living in the Highlands is lovely, but I would like to see more of the world and get off the beaten track, although not until the children are a bit older. I would like to be very random, let fate steer me around the world. It’s like a comic book take, where I would randomly stumble on adventures. I would probably just get mugged though.

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