2021- A Gratitude Dump

The year that promised nothing, but somehow delivered!

My expectations for 2021 were well managed. We’re in a pandemic – you can beaver away at your writing, Barbara, but don’t expect much. Live events probably won’t happen. Book releases aren’t guaranteed. Festivals may be off. My Scottish Book Trust residency at Findochty Primary had been largely virtual.

Well, here is how it all panned out.

January: A snowy and slow start to the year. I was writing a Victorian book that is now scheduled for 2023, but I was also editing, because – miracle of miracles – 2021 was going to be the first year when I was going to see TWO titles released!

Our dog Merry if full flight at Culloden Battlefield, one of my favourite local haunts. January came with a sprinkle of snow!

February: Movements were still pretty restricted, so I kept myself busy advance signing the gorgeous book plates Cranachan Publishing had sent me. My daily walk took me to Inverness Castle where I became firm friends with one Flora MacDonald – the statue version, as we weren’t supposed to socialise. She briefly features in a Jacobite book I wrote but hadn’t found a home for yet. Meanwhile, I was beginning to get the hang of online events, so February saw a fair few virtual school visits!

March: I spent the month signing book plates for The Chessmen Thief and editing Scottish by Inclination, interspersed with writing the Victorian book – three manuscripts in my head at once! The Chessmen Thief was being printed and for the first time, I was working with a publicist, the lovely Antonia. Soon I was busily fielding interviews and writing features for the Big Issue, The Scotsman and a host of others.

April: Launch month for The Chessmen Thief. I was so, so lucky that Museum nan Eiliean on the Isle of Lewis had agreed to take part in the virtual launch – crowds weren’t allowed yet! I travelled to the Isle of Lewis. I had found a dress that matched the book cover almost perfectly – it was like putting on a uniform. We had teamed up with the wonderful Western Isles libraries and E-Sgoil, a platform which normally delivers Gaelic content directly into schools, so hundreds of classrooms joined us for the launch event which featured an interview recorded beside the iconic Lewis Chessmen in the museum. Mind blown. Huge thanks to Anne and Iain Glennie for publishing me, hosting me and chumming me all over the island! April also saw me do a couple of virtual events for John O’Groats Book Festival – and my first meeting with Kate Scarborough who is now my agent.

May: We travelled down to Glasgow for our eldest’s 21st, with snow (yes, snow in May!) piled high by the A9. Covid rules seemed to change almost daily and life felt unpredictable, but I had signed with Kate and the Tyild’s agency – after all those years, I had an agent! The final sessions with Findochty Primary were able to be in-person visits and there were a clutch of others, notably Balivanich Primary who had won the Chessmen Challenge competition by creating a really memorable freeze frame. But I was also knee deep in writing the Victorian book and May was a research month, travelling to the Forth Bridge and Dunfermline’s Carnegie Library, as well as scouring some atmospheric graveyards for character names. And, wahey, I became a dual German-British citizen!

June: Launch month for Scottish by Inclination. I must thank Creative Scotland for part-funding me to write this book, published by Luath Press. As an EU immigrant myself, it is a book close to my heart. For much of this year, I have waited for the outcome of my citizenship application, and the launch gave me a chance to try some of the questions in my Life on the UK test on an unsuspecting audience.

By now I was also working on another adult non-fiction title provisionally entitled Labour of Love and began interviewing some interesting people for it. The usual end of term craziness in the school where I teach meant that writing slid down the priority pile at times.

July: A time to rest up, apart from some workshops for Highland Council’s school holiday programme. A family visit to London was thankfully possible too, all interspersed with bits of writing. There I got to see the rest of the Lewis Chess pieces again which was wonderful!

August: A couple more short family trips before a real career first as a writer: appearing at Edinburgh International Book Festival. To say that was special would be an utter understatement – I was BESIDE MYSELF with excitement.

In addition, the Time Tunnellers launched in August, a regular blog and YouTube channel by five historical fiction writers for young people, including me. And on top of that, The Siege of Caerlaverock was shortlisted for the Young Quills Award by the Historical Association, which was pretty exciting!

September: I was so fortunate to appear in person at four Nairn primary schools and provide virtual content for Nairn Academy, all as part of Nairn Book and Arts Festival, and to participate in St Duthac’s Festival in Tain and the Nigg Book Fair too. We also had a blast during the European Day of Languages with Scottish by Inclination.

October: It was grateful to be on the programme at NessBookFest, a festival I used to be involved in as an organiser, with a lovely, lively discussion about Scottish by Inclination. For Bookshop Day, I managed to visit a good handful of semi-local bookshops – have a look if you like:

DA Bookshop day to remember!

The interviews for the new adult book were coming in thick and fast now, and I was barely keeping up between school events and the day job.

November: The dreaded virus threw a spanner in the works once more, meaning that one of my Book Week Scotland events had to be postponed. I was delighted that Dingwall Library and Culloden Library events went ahead in person though, and I loved speaking to teachers on an in-service course organised by Falkirk Libraries. I was also doing an online event for the Society of Authors on how to be a proactive writer – not any great wisdom – just my tuppence worth. Finally, I was delighted to see a Writers’ Hub start in my local church.

December: Made it! December was memorable for so many things! I turned 50, treated myself to a research visit to Edinburgh for a new book I started, finally met some of the gang at Luath Press in person, was given a contract for the Jacobite book (hooray!), and the icing on the cake – I won the Young Quills Award for which I had been shortlisted in August.

For me, 2021 has been emphatically a GOOD YEAR and I am grateful for each and every one of you – readers, friends, writers, social media pals, sparring partners, inspirers. Thank you for your company.

I hope the holiday period has been one of rest and renewed inspiration for you all.

My First Edinburgh International Book Festival

Pinch me!

The day was finally here – seven books after the very first meeting with my publishers, Cranachan.

They asked me: ‘What’s the dream?’

‘Edinburgh International Book Festival is the dream.’ I didn’t even hesitate. As an annual visitor to the festival for nigh-on two decades, it seemed the height of author-dom to me. And this year, 2021, I had an invite and my very own event.

The best part was that I was going to speak about my latest children’s book, The Chessmen Thief, and share the stage with Dr Alice Blackwell of the National Museums of Scotland who looks after the actual Lewis Chessmen which inspired my book. Chaired by palaeontologist and author of dinosaur books Steve Brusatte, we were going to discuss Artifacts and Fiction, the title of our session.

How the event appeared on screen

I woke up in the budget hotel along the road, hurriedly washed and flung some make-up on. I had been told that for filmed events, a bit of eyeliner was helpful, and who was I to argue? A quick breakfast and I donned my bookshelf-patterned dress and sped off. On the way I remembered that I should probably do something on social media (helpful to publishers, especially small indie ones like mine!), so I recorded a wee video as I sprinted up the road. Once arrived the gates of the festival were still closed to the public, but I could already make out my fellow panel member, Alice, in the distance. We opted to sit at the picnic table just in front of the Edinburgh College of Art. The more concealed table along from us was already occupied by I’m-so-cool-look-at-me-smoking teens from a nearby secondary school.

As soon as the gates opened, we entered the grounds and made for the yurt (now only big enough to house the admin staff, but there are great benches and tables for writers, and there was free coffee and food too). I might have reached for my author lanyard a little too enthusiastically. Soon the Children’s and Schools Programme Director Rachel appeared with a ridiculously huge and much appreciated piece of Cranachan-flavoured cake (I was so impressed that she had noted the name of my publishers) – and it was time.

Children’s Programmer Rachel and our cheery chair for the event, Steve, in the studio

‘Let me show you to the recording studio,’ she smiled and marched ahead. I hobbled in her wake courtesy of a broken toe – don’t ask! If I had been a little sad that there wasn’t going to be a young live audience for my event, all misgivings were quickly dispelled. What a view! A huge picture window behind us revealed the iconic Edinburgh Castle. Altogether less welcome was the view of the monitor in front of us, with a pretty unflattering perspective of ourselves. ‘Is my face really this shiny?’ Alice whispered across the stage. She looked great to me, but the monitor view made me a little insecure too. My legs looked the size of Belgium.

‘Don’t worry, you’ll all look great out there,’ reassured one of the camera operators. I moved a small table of props in front of my legs anyway. And breathe! The countdown began. As soon as it ended, Steve launched into his enthusiastic introduction, only to be interrupted by the cameraman: ‘Not yet! It’s just the intro video now. I’ll give you a wave.’

We all laughed a little too loudly, but dispelling the pent-up tension in this way probably made for a more relaxed conversation in the forty-five minutes that followed. There were almost no awkward moments. I say ‘almost’ because I got my timing wrong and began subtly motioning to Alice to wrap up her presentation, when there were in fact 20 minutes to go. In my defence, any concept of time sort of evaporates in this sort of situation – or perhaps that’s just me. Thankfully, she was very forgiving and the lot of us grabbed lunch at the cafe afterwards.

Dr Alice Blackwell and me

The best part of the new venue at Edinburgh College of Art is the chilled-out courtyard where I wound down properly by watching another two festival events on the big screen. The staff could not have been friendlier or more accommodating, the sun shone – and my dream, first half-jokingly and self-consciously whispered in February 2016, had just come true.

Crazy days – I am appearing at EIBF!

You can watch the event on catch-up HERE , for free or by paying what you can.

The event in the Edinburgh International Book Festival programme

Scottish by Inclination by Barbara Henderson — Unicorns and Kelpies

I am so excited to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Scottish by Inclination. I absolutely adore Barbara’s books that are mainly steeped in Scottish historical life and are aimed at young folk. But this is something different. This is a book that is charming, funny, informative but overall, downright important. Barbara […]

Scottish by Inclination by Barbara Henderson — Unicorns and Kelpies

#TenThings about Barbara Henderson #author of Scottish by Inclination and #bookreview @scattyscribbler @luathpress — Portobello Book Blog

I’m delighted to be joined by Barbara Henderson today. I know Barbara primarily as an author of exciting children’s fiction but her new non-fiction book, Scottish by Inclination, is something rather different. The book is published by Luath Press and available now in paperback and ebook. My thoughts I thoroughly enjoyed reading Barbara Henderson’s account […]

#TenThings about Barbara Henderson #author of Scottish by Inclination and #bookreview @scattyscribbler @luathpress — Portobello Book Blog

Tour & Author Feature: The Chessmen Thief by Barbara Henderson — Lily and the Fae

I am so delighted to be hosting a stop on the blog tour for The Chessmen Thief by Barbara Henderson and even more so to be hosting content from the writer herself!  Barbara Henderson is a champion of both children’s historical fiction and Scottish history and heritage. Whilst my own close heritage is largely from […]

Tour & Author Feature: The Chessmen Thief by Barbara Henderson — Lily and the Fae

#NorseNews: The Launch

It’s so exciting: the launch of #TheChessmenThief is now only 15 days away! You can join the launch event by signing up HERE (the platform is interactive but the audience are not visible like they are on Zoom).

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Book blogger Kirsty Crommie will host the launch!

Also, you can now read the first three chapters of the book on Book2Look, by clicking HERE. Easy!

It’s all happening! Soon we will be announcing a really exciting competition and launching the free to download teaching resources…

#NorseNews: Humour

What did Vikings find funny? Do we share a sense of humour with them?

We know that there was plenty of goading, particularly women goading men, often resulting in action or conflict. We know that Viking graffiti did not vary greatly from the type of content found on bus shelter walls – usually of a descriptive nature on women’s appearance, or simply leaving the writer’s name for posterity.

One of the Lewis Chessmen, a bishop on display at Museum nan Eilean, Stornoway

Dr Hannah Burrows of Aberdeen University has given the matter of Viking humour some thought:

Read more at https://www.medievalists.net/2021/04/viking-humour/

Or why not watch her lecture on the subject on YouTube.

#NorseNews: The Norse Phrasebook

What did our Norse ancestors sound like? I needed some Norse phrases to drop into my Norse world in The Chessmen Thief. But careful: too many unfamiliar words and the story can become confusing to young readers. A little, a sprinkling of authenticity, helps to build the world. I needed some simple phrases. Here are some I found:

Old Norse speakers would have walked among the Standing Stones

Hei – Hi! (informal greeting)

Heill – Hello! (when addressing one male)
Heil – Hello! (when addressing one female)
Heilir – Hello! (when addressing a group of males)
Heilar – Hello! (when addressing a group of females)
Heil – Hello! (when addressing a group of both sexes)

Sæll – Hello! (when addressing one male)
Sæl – Hello! (when addressing one female)
Sælir – Hello! (when addressing a group of males)
Sælar – Hello! (when addressing a group of females)
Sæl – Hello! (when addressing a group of both sexes)

‘Heill’ involves wishing good health … whereas ‘Sæll’ simply wishes happiness.

Góðan dag/Góðan daginn – Good day!
Góðan morgin – Good morning!
Góðan aptan – Good afternoon!
Gott kveld – Good evening!
Góða nótt – Good night!
Sof þú vel – Good night! (sleep well)

Velkominn – Welcome! (when addressing one male)
Velkomin – Welcome! (when addressing one female)
Velkominir – Welcome! (when addressing a group of males)
Velkominar – Welcome! (when addressing a group of females)
Velkomin – Welcome! (when addressing a group of both sexes)

Hvat segir þú? – How are you? (formal)
Hversu ferr? – How are you? (informal)
Hvernug hefir þú þat? – How are you? (slang/colloquial)

Allt fínt, þakka – Fine, thanks.
Allt gott, þakka – Good, thanks.
Allt vel, þakka – Well, thanks.
Allt ágætt, þakka – Awesome, thanks.
Ágeatavel, þakka! – Excellent, thanks!

En þú? – And you?

Far vel – Goodbye
Sjáumst – See you
Vit sjáumst – See you (said between two people)
Vér sjáumst – See you (said between more than two)

Já – Yes
Nei – No

Source: https://oldnorse.forumotion.com/t8-basic-phrases

I can only imagine how the Norse warriors in The Chessmen Thief would have sounded.

#NorseNews: Language and Wisdom

When I was writing The Chessmen Thief, I knew that my young hero’s world was multilingual. French as a court language, Gaelic in the Southern islands and in most of mainland Scotland, and Norse in Norway, Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles.

Most events, however, take place among Norse speakers. My husband gave me a three-volume introduction to Old Norse for our anniversary. I’m telling you, he’s a keeper! But I also came across a website with old Norse sayings. Enjoy! Source: https://futureofworking.com/21-great-old-norse-sayings/

Our Norse ancestors would have walked this very beach in Orkney

Altfor reint har ingen smak. – Too clean has no taste.

Árinni kennir illur ræðari. – A bad rower blames the oar.

Bara döda fiskar följer strömmen. – Only dead fish follow the stream.

Båtlaus mann er bunden til land. – Boatless man is tied to the land.

Ber er hver að baki nema sér bróður eigi. – Bare is the back of a brotherless man.

Berre bok gjer ingen klok. – Merely book makes none wise.

Bra vind i ryggen er best. – A fair wind at our back is best.

Brennt barn forðast eldinn. – A burnt child keeps away from fire.

Den hund som bieffer meget, han bider ikkun lidet. – Barking dogs seldom bite.

Det är som mörkast innan gryningen. – It is darkest before dawn.

Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder. – There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.

Det som göms i snö, kommer fram vid tö. – What is hidden in snow, is revealed at thaw.

Du skal kravle, før du kan gå. – You have to learn to crawl before you can walk.

Enn skal lytte, når en gammel hund gjø. – One should listen when an old dog barks.

Gammel kjærleik rustar ikkje. – Old love does not corrode.