Barry Hutchison

17th August 2012 at 01:00
From a young age he knew he wanted to be an author, but two teachers set him on the right path with their unique styles

I was in P5 at Caol Primary when I decided I wanted to be a writer. Mrs Finlayson was the class teacher and she was definitely my favourite. She had this stack of cards in her room with big black-and-white photos on them and if you had finished your work you could look one out and use it as the inspiration for a story.

I remember looking at one of a guy that looked like Albert Einstein. He had this helmet on with lots of wires sticking out. He looked like a mad scientist, a Dr Brown in Back to the Future type. As I was looking, the ideas for hundreds of stories came to me with this guy in them. I got really excited about all the possibilities. I didn't want to just write stories that afternoon, I wanted to make up stories forever. It was that specific picture in that specific moment that set me on the path to becoming an author.

The reason Mrs Finlayson stuck out for me was that she realised I didn't like doing all the sporty stuff. It was a big football school and that's what a lot of the boys were into, but she would make excuses for me and let me sit in a corner and write my stories. A lot of other teachers would have forced you to go out. She also introduced me to a lot of books and usually her recommendations were spot on.

Without that input, I would certainly still have loved writing stories but another teacher might have inadvertently nipped the enthusiasm I had in the bud.

When I started at secondary, I told a couple of teachers I wanted to be an author. "That's good but it's probably not going to happen", was the gist of their response. But Mr Cox, my English teacher in S2, was different.

Mr Cox was quite an overweight fellow. I think he had a heart problem and because of that he always wore a clip-on tie. When he got angry, his face went an incredibly vivid shade of red. It was almost an inhuman colour of red. He had the most incredible temper but after he had shouted and ranted and raved he would walk into the blackboard or do some comedy-type fall that would just puncture the tension. That would be it done, back to normal.

All my books have humour in them on some level and I think that's down to Mr Cox and the way he ran his classroom. He could be in this utter rage but a second later the whole class could be roaring with laughter.

The other thing about Mr Cox was he was a published author. Everyone knew he had written a book but no one knew what about. To me that made him a superstar. I showed him all the stories and stuff I was writing - by that point I had a body of work going back several years - and he read it all and gave me feedback on it. Nobody had ever taken that amount of time with my stuff before and taken it so seriously.

Prior to that, my writing was that of an 11-year-old boy. There were people dying on every page, arms being ripped off - I think my favourite word was "decapitated". He was good at getting me to tone down the violence and build the characters. He taught me that a head might explode but the impact is greater if the reader knows who it belongs to first.

Barry Hutchison's book The 13th Horseman is shortlisted in the older readers (12-16 years) category of the 2012 Scottish Children's Book Awards. Find out how to get your class involved in voting for their favourite books at He was talking to Emma Seith.

Personal profile

Born: Inverness, 1978

Education: Caol Primary and Lochaber High, both Fort William

Career: Decided to become a writer in P5 but had a plethora of "proper jobs" before becoming a full-time writer three years ago.

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