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MacPhail, Catherine 1946-

MacPhail, Catherine 1946-


Born January 25, 1946, in Scotland; daughter of James Moore (a shipyard worker) and Catherine (a cleaner) Green; married Archibald Gilchrist MacPhail (a computer worker), May 31, 1972; children: David Moore, Sarah Blue, Catherine Cleary Green. Politics: Socialist Labour. Religion: Roman Catholic.


Home—Greenock, Inverclyde, Scotland.


Writer. Formerly assembled computers for IBM. Speaker at schools and workshops; participant in author residencies.


Scottish Children's Writers and Illustrators, Scottish Association of Writers (president), Society of Authors.

Awards, Honors

Kathleen Fidler Award, 1994, and Verghereto award (Italy), 1998, both for Run, Zan, Run; Scottish Children's Book Award, 1999, for Fighting Back; South Lanarkshire Book Award, 2000, for Missing; Stockport Book Award, 2003, for Dark Waters; Sheffield Book Award, 2002, for Tribes; Calderdale Book Award, 2005, for Underworld and Catch Us If You Can; Royal Mail Award for Scottish Children's Books, and North East Book Award, both 2006, and Grampian Book Award, 2007, all for Roxy's Baby.



Run, Zan, Run, Blackie Children's (London, England), 1994.

Fighting Back, Puffin (London, England), 1998.

Fugitive, Puffin (London, England), 1999.

Picking on Percy, illustrated by Karen Donnelly, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2000.

Missing, Puffin (London, England), 2000, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2002.

A Kind of Magic, Barrington Stoke (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2001.

Bad Company, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2001.

Tribes, Puffin (London, England), 2001.

Dark Waters, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2002, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2003.

Wheels, Puffin (London, England), 2003.

Get That Ghost to Go!, illustrated by Karen Donnelly, Barrington Stoke (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2003, Stone Arch Books (Mankato, MN), 2006.

Another Me, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2003.

Catch Us if You Can, Puffin (London, England), 2004.

Underworld, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2004, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2005.

Traitor's Gate, illustrated by Karen Donnelly, Barrington Stoke (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2005.

Sticks and Stones, Barrington Stoke (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2005.

Roxy's Baby, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2005.

Dead Man's Close, illustrated by Karen Donnelly, Barrington Stoke (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2006.

Get That Ghost to Go Too!, illustrated by Karen Donnelly, Barrington Stoke (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2006.

Under the Skin, illustrated by Tom Percival, Barrington Stoke (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2007.

Worse than Boys, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2007.

Author's works have been translated into several languages, including Italian and Welsh.


Granny Nothing, illustrated by Sarah Nayler, Scholastic (London, England), 2003.

Granny Nothing and the Shrunken Head, illustrated by Sarah Nayler, Scholastic (London, England), 2003.

Granny Nothing and the Secret Weapon, illustrated by Sarah Nayler, Scholastic (London, England), 2004.

Granny Nothing and the Rusty Key, illustrated by Sarah Nayler, Scholastic (London, England), 2004.


Into the Shadows, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2006.

The Beast Within, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2007.

Sinister Intent, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2007.

Ride of Death, Bloomsbury (London, England), 2008.


Kintyre's Daughter (adult fiction), Love Images, 1989.

(With Jack Kirkland) Blue Lights and Bandages (nonfiction), Seanachaidh (Greenock, Scotland), 1990.

My Mammy and Me (radio plays), produced by British Broadcasting Corporation (London, England), 1994-98.

Takeaway (radio play), produced by British Broadcasting Corporation (London, England), 1999.

Contributor of fiction to periodicals, including Tidbits, Woman's Weekly, and London Sunday Post.


Scottish writer Catherine MacPhail made a name for herself writing humorous radio scripts for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) before turning to juvenile literature. Like many writers of children's fiction, she has been inspired by events within her own family. Beginning with her award-winning first novel, Run, Zan, Run, MacPhail has become known for penning hard-hitting, realistic stories that confront issues faced by real teens and find something positive in even difficult situations. In addition, she has also produced the humorous "Granny Nothing" series of easy readers about a supersized and problem-solving grandma, and the "Nemesis" teen mystery series about a teen who wakes with amnesia and is forced to run when he learns he is suspected of murder.

"I can't remember wanting to be anything else but a writer," MacPhail once told SATA, "but with a widowed mother who was a school cleaner, and three sisters, it seemed like an impossible dream. Nothing interesting ever happened to me! So I grew up, left school, began working in our local mill and the dream seemed further away than ever. It was only after my youngest child was born, that I plucked up the courage to join our local writers' club. It was a major turning point, though I didn't know it at the time. There I was given all the encouragement I needed to start sending my stories away, and I wrote everything, ghost stories, horror stories, murder stories, romantic stories.

"I didn't know exactly what I wanted to write. However, I wrote so many romantic short stories I thought I was meant to be a romance novelist, but when I sent my romance novels off, they came back with letters saying ‘cut out the funny bits’ and, know what? I realized then it was the funny bits I was good at. I love comedy. Even in the hard circumstances, my mother brought us up laughing. So, I started concentrating on comedy and ended up with two comedy series on BBC Radio, called My Mammy and Me. Other comedies followed, and My Mammy and Me has since been commissioned for television. I had found my niche at last.

"I never ever considered writing for young people, and then my wee daughter, Katie, was viciously assaulted by a gang in her school. The aftermath of that, the effect on Katie, was what fired me up to write my first children's book, Run, Zan, Run."

Called a "powerful story" by a Books for Keeps reviewer, Run, Zan, Run follows Katie, the victim of school bullies, and her friendship with a homeless and streetwise girl named Zan, who helps Katie deal with the harassment. Predicting its appeal to teenage readers, School Librarian reviewer Cathy Sutton highly praised MacPhail's fiction debut for its "excellent" characterization, pace, and "breathtaking climax." Run, Zan, Run won several awards, convincing MacPhail that she had finally found her creative niche as a writer.

Continuing to focus on a young-adult readership, MacPhail's novel Fugitive recounts the story of Jack and his mother, Big Rose, who make the best of their hardscrabble life. Although Jack has been led to believe that his father is dead, after hearing news reports of an escaped criminal on the loose, he begins to think otherwise. As with Run, Zan, Run, many critics praised Fugitive. Writing in Magpies, Jo Goodman noted the book's "fully rounded" characters, "convincing" plot, suspenseful pacing, and "humorous touches," while a Books for Keeps contributor stressed the appeal of "Jack's engaging character and plenty of humour."

Fighting Back revolves around a mother and daughter who encounter prejudice when they move to a low-rent apartment complex. Although a Books for Keeps reviewer found the characters in the novel to be undeveloped, School Librarian critic Elspeth S. Scott judged the characters in Fighting Back to be "likeable" and the novel overall to be "tense and gripping" yet seasoned with humor.

In Missing thirteen-year-old Maxine Moody was devastated when her older brother Derek, ran away from home ten months ago in order to avoid a local bully named Sweeney. Now Derek has wound up dead, and his guilt-ridden parents, who identified the body, have held the funeral. Now she gets a phone call from someone who insists that he is her brother. When Maxine asks for help in dealing with the caller, her parents discount her claims, and other adults treat her as though she is speaking through her grief. Finally, classmate Cam comes to Maxine's rescue, and together the two teens track down the caller and learn the truth of Derek's situation. In Kliatt Claire Rosser recommended Missing "as a mystery, a ghost story, as a good vs. evil battle" of appeal to teen readers, and a Kirkus Reviews writer concluded that MacPhail's novel—a "good old-fashioned ghost story"—"is so involving that when the ending arrives it is too soon."

In Dark Waters readers meet Col McCann, the younger brother of chronicle troublemaker Mungo McCann. The brothers' criminal father has been killed, and Mungo has become Col's hero. When the older teen is a suspect in a crime, Col knows that it is his place is to provide Mungo with an alibi. However, when he risks his life in an emergency, Col begins to reevaluate his family ethic. Then he meets Klaus, a frightened boy who can lead authorities to the truth regarding Mungo's crime. A difficult decision now faces the younger brother: should he remain loyal to Mungo or tell the truth about what he knows? Praising MacPhail's realistic characters, a Kirkus Reviews added of Dark Waters that the book's "fast-paced plot, with its element of the supernatural, explores moral and ethical issues, providing conflict and depth to the story's mystery and adventure." Noting that Dark Waters will appeal to teens who usually avoid reading, Booklist critic Debbie Carton ranked the novel "above most reluctant-reader fare," citing its "ample character development and thought-provoking issues."

"It … amazes me that I'm now known for writing ‘gritty realism,’" MacPhail once told SATA. "My children always tell me I live in a Doris Day world. In a way, they're right. I think life is wonderful. I'm a very positive thinker, and when I go around to schools, I always tell children how, when I was wee, I thought wee girls like me couldn't become writers. Now I think you can do anything you put your mind to, no matter what your background. It's my advice to aspiring writers, too. If writing is really what you want to do, you'll do it. Just write every day, read, learn, and send those stories away. Sometimes you can learn as much from a rejection as you can from an acceptance."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Gormley, Julie, Understanding the Author's Craft: A Kind of Magic, Barrington Stoke (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2004.


Booklist, March 15, 2003, Debbie Carton, review of Dark Waters, p. 1317; July, 2005, Frances Bradburn, review of Underworld, p. 1917.

Books for Keeps, May, 1996, review of Run, Zan, Run, p. 16; January, 1999, review of Fighting Back, p. 25; November, 1999, review of Fugitive, p. 27.

Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, March, 2003, review of Dark Waters, p. 280; September, 2005, Krista Hutley, review of Underworld, p. 26.

Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, May, 2003, Pamela Osback, review of Missing, p. 702.

Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2002, review of Missing, p. 1533; February 15, 2003, review of Dark Waters, p. 312; June 15, 2005, review of Underworld, p. 685.

Kliatt, November, 2002, Claire Rosser, review of Missing, p. 12.

Magpies, November, 1999, Jo Goodman, review of Fugitive, p. 35.

Publishers Weekly, October 28, 2002, review of Missing, p. 72; January 27, 2003, review of Dark Waters, p. 260.

School Library Journal, November, 2002, Angela M. Ottman, review of Missing, p. 173; June, 2003, Bruce Anne Shook, review of Dark Waters, p. 146; July, 2005, Jeffrey Hastings, review of Underworld, p. 106; July, 2006, Anne L. Tormohlen, review of Get That Ghost to Go!, p. 108.

School Librarian, May, 1995, Cathy Sutton, review of Run, Zan, Run, p. 78; summer, 1999, Elspeth S. Scott, review of Fighting Back, p. 90; winter, 2007, Elizabeth Finlayson, review of The Beast Within, p. 214.

Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 2003, review of Dark Waters, p. 139; August, 2005, Julie Watkins, review of Underworld, p. 235.


Catherine MacPhail Home Page, (January 26, 2009).

Puffin Web site, (February 20, 2002), "Author Zone."

Scottish Book Trust Web site, (January 26, 2009), "Catherine MacPhail."

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