Win an Author Panel Event for Your School!
There are lots of reasons to sign your secondary class or book group up to take part in the Scottish Teenage Book Prize 2017. One of the best of these is that you might win the chance to have the three shortlisted authors visit your school. Yes, that’s right, all three of them, at the same time, in the form of a panel event where you and your pupils can ask them all manner of questions about books, writing and anything else that you really want to know about.
Anyone who’s had even one writer visit their school or library knows the impact that it can have. It’s a chance to have your pupils interact with a creative professional and lets them see the people behind the writing, creating a sense that writing is not an insurmountable task.
It's a rare opportunity to be able to speak to three writers in one event, and it’s a great chance to hear about different approaches to writing. Let’s take a look at the three writers and try and get a flavour of how their work resembles and differs from each other.
The Last Soldier by Keith Gray
Relationships between characters are the key thing that seems to drive the plot in Keith’s books. In The Last Soldier, a ghost story set in Texas in the 1920s, we meet two brothers, Wade and Joe, whose father has never returned from war. Joe and Wade are close, but like normal brothers they sometimes struggle to understand each other. Ultimately, despite the paranormal elements of the plot, the relationship between these two takes centre stage, and the book is all about them finding some kind of resolution and a way to move forward.
The book isn’t exactly filled with lavish descriptions of setting, which is deliberate: Keith mentions in his author video for #ScotTeenBookPrize that he wanted to use the vernacular of Joe and Wade to place the reader in the setting, rather than expansive descriptions of the town or carnival in the book.
As a reader, I’m open to either approach. I used to much prefer the kind of economic approach Gray has used in this book, until I read Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell, whose descriptions of the harsh Ozark mountains really got their claws into me.
Keith’s book is published by Barrington Stoke, which specialises in ‘super readable’ fiction for children. For reluctant readers, Keith’s book is a great starting point into reading, a short tale that packs a big punch.
Black Cairn Point by Claire McFall
Claire McFall’s book has loads going for it in terms of plot and character development, but the real standout feature for me was the way she managed to create an unrelentingly oppressive atmosphere. The setting of Black Cairn Point has a lot to do with this: a bunch of teenagers are camping in an isolated spot next to the sea with limited mobile signal and an unreliable car, and they’re sharing this patch with a spooky old cairn. It’s one of those books, like Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick, that keeps all the action in one location, and the tension and sense of claustrophobia is ramped up as a result.
We’ve seen this command of atmosphere before in the intensely gloomy world of Ferryman, where the setting was as much a character as the main players in the story.
Claire McFall also structures the book in a way that heightens the tension. With a ‘Then’ and ‘Now’ narrative, we become immediately aware that Heather, the main character, is now in a psychiatric institution. But we don’t know why, and the gradual revelation of little details in the ‘Now’ part make us increasingly desperate to find out exactly what happened at Black Cairn Point.
Silver Skin by Joan Lennon
What I enjoyed most about Silver Skin was Joan Lennon’s ability to craft a lovely sentence but not let it get in the way of a good story. It’s a tough ask to bring things into linguistically sharp focus in every sentence while simultaneously keeping up the pace, but Silver Skin does this fantastically well.
Joan Lennon frames the novel with a vignette about a character who is completely uninvolved in the main narrative but appears in the same setting centuries later. I found this really intriguing – ultimately, it added to the sense of fascination with the disappearance of Skara Brae, as we are taken out of the emotionally charged main story and into the life of a character who stands coldly outside it, not knowing the people we’ve come to know in the story, increasing the sense of time burying the past.
Joan Lennon can do fun as well, as we’ve seen in the Slightly Jones detective books (one of which was shortlisted for a Scottish Children’s Book Award in 2011). But in my humble opinion she’s at her absolute best in Silver Skin, which really has it all: fantastically drawn characters, a great narrative packed with high stakes, and an Orkney which comes alive through beautiful and sparing use of language.
How to Enter
To enter our panel competition, all you need to do is fill out a form! You'll find details on our competitions page for the Scottish Teenage Book Prize, where you can also find out how to enter our graphic novel and book trailer competitions.
Top image credit: Alan Peebles