Tracy Traynor, Nicking Time

Kelpies, 2013. ISBN 978-086315-955-8

Six glorious weeks of freedom await Midge and his friends. Lots of time to put off thinking about the daunting prospect of secondary school, and lots of time for fun. First they need a list of everything they want to do, to make sure they don’t waste a moment of their precious holiday. They thrash one into shape in their den, a hut hidden away and unnoticed between rows of gardens near their Glasgow homes. Football games, tennis, scavy hunts all feature. So does inventing a time bank: working out a way to store up time that isn’t wanted for later use. But top of the list comes Cathkin, a derelict football ground behind Midge’s high-rise flats. It’s dangerous, boarded up and strictly forbidden, which makes it all the more attractive to break into. Meticulous planning is required. There are all sorts of problems to overcome. For one, Cathkin is in full view of Midge’s flat and all their neighbours. Only a sunny Friday evening will work: Midge’s Mum is out on Friday evenings, and the blinds get pulled against the sun, so they won’t be visible from any of the flats. Then there’s getting hold of the equipment they’ll need. Even once everything is in place, opportunity after opportunity passes by. One of the boys gets grounded. Midge and his family go an unheard of day out. It rains.

Meanwhile summer goes on, and the boys play games, make jokes and hear a story from the mysterious Lemur, a story involving the old tree their den abuts, and the ghost of a boy who lived in a big house that no longer exists. Maybe there already is a time bank. Maybe it’s really possible to nick time. And maybe there are frightening consequences.

This is a highly enjoyable and well written book, a worthy winner of the Kelpies prize, and an impressive debut by Tracy Traynor. The narrative is very strong, with a pleasing evocation of time and place (it’s set back when ice-creams cost 10p), and a great deal of humour. Traynor is extremely good at dialogue and characterisation. We get a real sense of each of the boys, Midge the narrator, and his friends Hector, Skooshie, Bru and Lemur. Midge’s relationships with his sister Kit and his parents are very realistic. The spooky ghost story is a big bonus.