POW! It just took a single moment, one brief flash of inspiration, and all of a sudden Barry Hutchison became not just dad but superdad, hero father and quite possibly the coolest parent in the entire universe.
And he didn’t even need his own clever Ben 10-style watch to tweak and twist, spinning frantically until it rested at “super pa” mode to do it.
In fact hero time for Barry was the moment he happened to mention to his excited young son that he was about to embark on a new writing project . . . and by chance it involved quite possibly the most exciting cartoon character ever. If, that is, you happen to be a six- year-old boy. “Yes, my ‘hero score’ shot up about 20 points that day,” laughs Barry, the Dunbar-based writer behind a series of Ben 10 novels which most boys – and for that matter girls – of a certain age will almost certainly be familiar with.
“I think I only got the job because I was the only person the publishers had spoken to who actually knew who Ben 10 was,” he adds. “And that was only because I had been forced to watch Ben 10 about 200 times a day. So when theysaid they needed someone to write Ben 10 books and I happened to say “Oh, Grandpa Max! He’s my favourite” . . . well, the job was mine!”
Barry rattled out 15 of the Ben 10 novels – all based on the hugely successful television cartoons – from home in East Lothian while son Kyle, now ten, regaled pals at Innerwick Primary School with the latest developments in the non-stop action packed life of Ben, his feisty cousin Gwen, Grandpa Max and the ten aliens whom Ben transforms into at the spin of his Omnitrix watch.
But while churning out Ben 10 books made him the coolest father on the planet, Barry, now also dad to Mia, two, had something slightly more sinister – and infinitely more creepy than Ghostfreak, Four Arms, Heatblast and Wildmutt – up his sleeve. From Ben 10, he turned into one of the scariest authors around, penning a series of award-winning horror books for slightly older children that were guaranteed to give them the creeps.
And now, fresh from that hugely successful six-book Invisible Fiends series, comes his latest reinvention in the form of a new comedy fantasy title which, he gleefully divulges, has led to comparisons along the lines of “Terry Pratchett meets Monty Python”.
The 13th Horseman was published earlier this month, immediately jostling for space in the busy young teen fiction market that’s been dominated in recent years by Twilight author Stephanie Meyer and horror writer Darren Shan. “There’s this boy and he discovers the Horsemen of the Apocalypse are hiding in his garden shed,” says Barry, 34, matter of fact, as he explains the curious story running through his latest offering.
So far the reviews have been good. And, even better, publisher HarperCollins liked it so much that it almost immediately envisaged a Pratchett Discworld-style adventure series. The firm ordered a follow-up – already in the pipeline – and another two books to follow.
All of which is, nods Barry, quite a leap from Ben 10, and a shift from the sheer creepiness of the Invisible Fiends, based around a child’s imaginary friends who come to life, spreading their own breed of chilling terror.
The inspiration for that particular series, he recalls, came from real life: “My sister had an imaginary friend when she was little, a girl who she believed lived in the heating system in the wall whose bones were snapped so she could fit inside, with her face pressed against the vent. A lot of kids have imaginary friends. And a lot of kids like scary things. I started to think what if I did some scary stuff for kids?”
While that heralded a new breed of kids’ horror writing, Barry agrees there’s no escaping the mass appeal of the Omnitrix, a clutch of alien superheroes and the global phenomenon of Ben 10. “Unfortunately I didn’t create the Ben 10 character, otherwise I’d be living in a palace made of gold on the Moon. And, to be honest, writing it was a bit odd.
“I was trying to write a book from a cartoon which, if you really watch it closely and try to follow the action, sometimes doesn’t make that much sense.
“Still,” he adds with a grin, “I was the best father in the world for a while as a result, so it really wasn’t that bad!”
n The 13th Horseman by Barry Hutchison is published by HarperCollins, price £6.99.