Tag Archives: Barbara Henderson

The #28 profile – Barbara Henderson

It’s time to learn more about Barbara Henderson, the whirlwind behind The Chessmen Thief. This resident of Inverness has an unusual favourite Swede. I approve. And she clearly never gets tired. I’d approve of that too, if only I had the energy. Here she is, with answers and chessmen and everything:

dav

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?
It was my sixth book – although more if you count shorter books for younger readers. I am quite open about my 121 rejections before publication 😊. Not that I’m proud of those, but I am a little bit proud of persevering.

Best place for inspiration?
Anywhere outside, ideally next to some crumbling ruin which can fire up the imagination. Also, my bed, the twilight moments where conscious and subconscious ebb and flow. Some of my best ideas come then – I just need to whip myself out of bed to write it down, because by morning, it’ll all be gone.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?
The honest answer is that I didn’t even think about it. It takes all my effort to maintain one identity – I just don’t think I have it in me to juggle another! Alhough sometimes I wonder if I missed a trick there – I could have given myself a really interesting pen name like Diamanda or Cwenhild…

What would you never write about? The World Wars, as they have been done really well by others. Sci-Fi, Crime and Legal Drama are also not my genres.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in? I was once approached by TRT World, kind of the Turkish version of News24, to do an interview about being an author and World Book Day, which I did. To this day, I am convinced they got the wrong person – I had two books out by then, with a small independent Scottish publisher, no agent, no foreign deals (so none of my books in Turkish bookshops). I was definitely not the person who would spring to mind if you are trying to think of a children’s author to feature in a flagship programme, with a famous anchorwoman. Bizarre, but a great buzz.

Which of your characters would you most like to be? In The Chessmen Thief, I’d love to be Margret hin haga – imagine being renowned across the whole known world for your carving skill! She was a real person, of course, and definitely a woman making her mark on a man’s world.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing? I’d LOVE it, but I suppose I’d want it to be a fairly faithful adaptation!

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event? I was timidly asked if I was okay once. But that was immediately after I had walked backwards during a particularly tense reading, fallen over my crate of books, landed in an undignified heap on the ground and sent books and shards of plastic flying everywhere. It was in front of a whole school assembly…

Do you have any unexpected skills? I can play the violin. Sort of. And according to my son, I am the best waffle-maker in the known universe. Does that count?

The Famous Five or Narnia? Narnia! I chose to write my university dissertation about C.S.Lewis!

Who is your most favourite Swede? Can I have two, please? Astrid Lindgren’s stories shaped my childhood. And as a teenager in the eighties, all my friends fancied Boris Becker, so as the resident rebel, I preferred Stefan Edberg!

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically? Books are everywhere, but most of my children’s books occupy two large bookshelves in the living room. In an attempt to occupy my locked-down teen, I asked him to colour-arrange them for a change. It looks good, but the real benefit was that he stumbled across all his favourites from years gone by with sqeals of ‘I’d forgotten about this!’

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader? Probably You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum, or How to Train Your Dragon

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?
Reading is for relaxing; writing is for feeling productive. So, due to my natural laziness: reading. 😊

OK, mine is a waffle with cream and jam, please!

The Chessmen Thief

I reckon this is Barbara Henderson’s best book [to date]. I didn’t want to pause my reading, but I had to. And I wasn’t even all that interested in the famous Lewis chessmen, but this was a pretty exciting tale, featuring suitably bloodthirsty ‘Norwegians’ and brave and pious early Christians, travelling the world hoping to save people.

As she admits, Barbara obviously made most of this up, apart from the chessmen and the guesswork of where they were carved and by whom. But I’m sold.

Kylan is a 12-year-old slave from Lewis, sold to a violent, but skilled craftsman in Trondheim, which is where he becomes part of the carving of the famous chess pieces. All he wants, though, is to escape so he can return to Lewis and hopefully find his mother, who at the same time was sold as a slave into another household.

He learns to carve, he talks his way into a perilous boat trip across the North Sea, there is danger and illness and a hard life in general. There are more than one lot of properly bad baddies, and knives are not merely used on the chessmen, but on mortal men as well.

It’s very much a men’s world, but Barbara manages to get the lots of women, and girls, into her story too. It makes you think. And her version of how the chessmen ended up where they did, is as plausible as the next one.

Now I want to travel to Lewis. No I don’t. It’s not the travel I’m keen on. But some aspects of Lewis appeal.

The Siege of Caerlaverock

Barbara Henderson’s short novel about the [real] siege of the castle of Caerlaverock, near Dumfries in southern Scotland, is a fabulous adventure for any age. Once I’d started, I could barely put the book aside.

The year is 1300, and Ada, a 12-year-old laundress, is about to do something she shouldn’t. This act causes her to get to know the new Page boy Godfrey, and it brings both of them to the attention of the castle commander, who is not a nice man.

The Lord of the castle has gone away, looking for support, leaving his young Lady wife in charge. And then the English King turns up, with 3000 men, against the 60 or so left at Caerlaverock.

We learn much about how a castle like this was run, and how hard it was to be poor and powerless like Ada and her father. But this is a story about personal bravery and the fight both against the villainous commander and the King of England.

It gets very exciting, and it’s good to see female leadership and that eight-year-old page boys are first and foremost only eight years old, but with the courage to become a brave Knight one day.

And Kings, well, they never last long, do they?

Zooming in on Caerlaverock

I sat right at the front at the launch of Barbara Henderson’s new book, The Siege of Caerlaverock. Not like me at all, you might think, but I was in front of my laptop, with people zooming in from all over Scotland. Mostly Scotland, I think. The beauty of these online events is that anyone can attend, and I doubt that half of us would have made the trek to Inverness for a traditional bookshop launch.

I could see most of the others, but due to me eating my way through salad and bread and cheese, I kept my camera off. More dignified that way. There seemed to be 33 of us, which is pretty good for a bookshop gathering.

Introduced by Cranachan’s Anne Glennie, we had Lindsay Littleson interviewing Barbara, and Anne shared photos of everything from the ancient tower in Germany near where Barbara grew up, to pictures of Caerlaverock castle where the story happened in real life, in 1300.

Barbara described how she – almost by accident – forced her family to visit the castle on a short holiday, and how she was bewitched by the story of the siege, and photographed every inch of the surrounding area as well as the displays in the museum. She was especially happy when she discovered there could be a female lead, both in the laundress girl Ada, but also the Lady of the castle because the Lord was away. (Did you know castle cooks were always men?)

She created the really evil villain, and perhaps there were one or two spoilers, but luckily I had read past the relevant bits. Just in case you’d rather not hear, I won’t tell you how Barbara redesigned the castle…

Barbara read to us from chapter one, and a bit about the villain, and she knows just when to stop!

After some questions from the audience, it was time for us to gather up our salad bowls and put our slippers back on, taking the lead from Anne. And they won’t mind at all if anyone who reads the book leaves a review on ‘you-know-where’.

Round Scotland in books

Scottish children’s fiction has been on my mind these last few days. It’s not that it isn’t ‘always’ but I had an idea I had to think about. And there are so many books!

Barbara Henderson must have had too much time on her hands as she sat down to convert fifty tweets into a blog post, listing fifty children’s books set in places all over Scotland.

This is such an interesting list. I know some of the books, know of some of the other books, and have never heard of far too many of them. I could very easily use this compilation as a shopping/library list.

And you, why don’t you give A Tour Around Scotland in 50 Children’s Books a go? While you, and I, wait to be able to travel.

All you need are books.

Stay at Home!

It’s not only sourdough bread that has happened over the last three months. Many authors have come up with online material to offer readers. In fact, there’s been such a glut that I’ve not been able to keep up. I just know there is much to find.

Small Scottish publisher Cranachan Publishing has a free ebook offering a wide variety of things to read. Their ‘Stay at Home! Poems and Prose for Children in Lockdown is a a free, illustrated anthology of poems and stories for children aged 8-12, comprising specially written lockdown-themed contributions by 40 writers based in Scotland.’

Try it! There are household names, and there are names you might not have heard of. Yet. But this is a nice collection, and what’s almost nicer still, is how people have pulled together to make it happen.

Black Water

Occasionally you encounter something you never knew you’d want to know about. For instance this business of smuggling in Dumfries in the late 18th century. Even if it features Robert Burns, and it’s based on real events.

Barbara Henderson, Black Water

Barbara Henderson has written Black Water, a novella on the subject of smuggling, which is both interesting and exciting. The main character is 13-year-old Henry who sometimes gets to go out and help his Exciseman father.

Set mostly in and around the sea in February 1792 it’s mostly cold and wet, and there is little prospect of drying out when there are smugglers to be caught and the locals are on the ‘wrong’ side and not helping.

Henry is a good boy, except with figures, and he works as hard as the grown men he rides out with. He also seems to have found out some truths about the local people that his father is unaware of.

As a law-abiding witch I wanted to be on the side of the Excisemen – and they include Robert Burns – but like Henry I can see that the other side also has a point.

And then there is poetry.

This is the kind of book that has it all, being an easy read that both educates and entertains.

‘One of the best jobs in the world’

Librarian tree

That could describe my ‘job,’ but in this case it’s what Deena Wren who has just been awarded the 2019 Scottish Book Trust Learning Professional Award, said at the Lighthouse in Glasgow last night. I think I’d like to be a pupil at Beeslack Community High School, if I could have her as my school librarian. Take everything good that could possibly be said about a librarian, and that’s what everyone at the school did say as they were interviewed for the video we were shown at the award ceremony.

Alan Windram at Scottish Book Trust Awards

Last night was an award-studded event where the winners of the 2019 Bookbug Picture Book Prize, Alan Windram and illustrator Chloe Holwill-Hunter were presented with their prize money for One Button Benny. Following last week’s announcement, John Young was there to receive the Scottish Teenage Book Prize, and Kerr Thomson, one of the runners-up was also present.

Theresa Breslin at Scottish Book Trust Awards

And after all that it was time for the Outstanding Achievement Award to be given to Theresa Breslin for her thirty-year-long career as an advocate for children’s literacy and libraries. I know how hard Theresa has worked, and she’s also written ‘a few’ books. About fifty. Ever modest, Theresa praised Deena Wren for her excellent work, telling us what it had been like when she did an author visit at her school. (Something about sandwiches, I believe.)

The Lighthouse was full of teachers and librarians out in force to celebrate their own, and – I’m guessing – to have a nice night out. There was wine, and the thing to eat right now seems to be deep fried cauliflower, with some sort of dribbled chilli icing. I might have eaten quite a few of those.

Theresa Breslin at Scottish Book Trust Awards

As usual I encountered Mr B, Theresa’s ‘stalwart husband,’ along with a Theresa ‘twin’ who turned out to be her sister, and I’m just not saying anything about how old anyone is. There were daughters, and at least one niece, and possibly friends and neighbours. The award was embargoed, so it had been awkward inviting people along without saying what to. Theresa herself came and sat with us, for at least a minute, before she was called upon to get up and talk to people.

I’m glad Mr B was there with his camera, as mine really didn’t enjoy the dark, or the fact that I am short and couldn’t reach far. One junior Breslin even climbed up on a chair.

Scottish Book Trust Awards

As I took a few turns round the place – which unlike me is quite tall and narrow, and might explain the name Lighthouse – I encountered Barbara Henderson, down from Inverness. It seems that we both sort of invited ourselves… Barbara introduced me to Kerr Thomson, and also to Lindsay Littleson whom I’d not met before. The conversation then strayed to unicorns.

John Young, Kerr Thomson and Barbara Henderson

It was the kind of evening when you remember why you read and why it’s something most of us need. Reading makes us feel better. And your reading can improve if you have access to good librarians with a passion for books.

(Photos of Theresa by Tom Breslin)

Fir for Luck

I decided to start reading Barbara Henderson’s Fir for Luck just before setting off travelling last week. I was going to see what it was like, and if it seemed promising, I’d continue reading it on my return, because I wasn’t going to add another book to my travel pile.

Well, you can guess what happened, of course. It was really quite promising, and I came to the conclusion that there was ‘plenty of room’ in my handluggage for Barbara’s book, so I could read it on the plane. Before the other planned books.

Barbara Henderson, Fir for Luck

Barbara has based her debut novel on real events from the Highland Clearances, and it is both exciting and terrifying and upsetting. Even when you know roughly what happened then, it still becomes more serious and real when you meet people and see exactly what was done to them. As with most things, you feel more when it’s someone you know.

The main character is 12-year-old Janet, who accidentally ends up the heroine of her village as it’s about to be demolished and everyone in it sent packing, with hardly any notice. What makes it more powerful is the fact that Janet’s grandmother has already had this happen to her once before, when Janet’s father was a little boy.

In the midst of the dreadful threats to Janet’s village, we learn what life there is like, and what sort of people live in it, and what they do for a living. There are grades of importance within the little community, and having a better house doesn’t necessarily save you when the day comes.

You know there can’t be a happily ever after solution, but you wish that some good will come of the fight to stay, which Janet starts.

It’s fascinating, and really so very exciting that you simply can’t go on a trip mid-book and leave it behind.