Forth Bridge Writer in Residence Diary – Part 3

With the latest funding application finally on its way, it’s time to focus on much more enjoyable things in my role as Writer in Residence for the Forth Bridge. First up is the buzz of Book Week Scotland.

It’s hard to put into words how much I love this annual celebration of the written word. I am one of those writers who does love a live book event, and I was particularly excited about returning to our bridge for a celebration of Forth Bridge Stories. Having spent the whole trip south working on copy edits for Rivet Boy, my own Forth Bridge novel which is due for the printer’s soon, I jumped off the train at Dalmeny and wandered down towards South Queensferry Library.

Nicola, the library team leader and her lovely staff Heather and Scott were already there. I was momentarily speechless – the artwork sent in by school children for our Forth Bridge competitions was displayed beautifully along one wall. There was a varied collection of Forth Bridge books along another, and the huge window afforded glimpses of the actual bridge in the background. If Carlsberg made book event venues…

Moments later, enthusiasm on legs walked through the door in the form of Frank, one of the local research group The Briggers, and co-organiser of the event with Nicola and myself. In the months leading up to this day, I had secretly called us the three musketeers. He was definitely the one with the overview: who is coming, who can’t make it, what is needed, what is missing. Nicola began to ring some of the competition winners, so that they could attend the evening’s event and receive their prizes in person.

As the MC for the evening, I was trying my hardest to keep up with the speed of Frank’s brain, jotting down notes and then inserting more. He had looked out a whole selection of possible Forth Bridge readings for people to recite. We both crawled around in search of suitable power points for the amplifier and microphone and experimented with positioning in order to avoid feedback. I begged the library staff for masking tape for a game, leading to an epic scale search, involving several search parties. It was unsuccessful, but parcel tape would do too. It’s amazing how quickly an afternoon can fly by, occupied by this sort of faffery.

Time for a coffee with a pal, and dinner with Frank and his wife Mary Frances. A hurried application of mascara for half-hearted glamour, and we were ready to go. All we needed was people to turn up.

It has to be said: the great and the good of South Queensferry kept us on our toes. A couple of Frank’s volunteers showed up, including Len who was going to demonstrate the riveting process in a hands-on way. But where was the audience?

‘Still ten minutes to go, nothing to worry about,’ Nicola whispered calmly, before pacing by the doorway again herself, her eyes darting to the darkness outside. My friend Justin, a fellow author of children’s fiction, appeared to my intense relief. Not only is he a Forth Bridge local from North Queensferry, but he is an experienced and entertaining performer. I could be confident of one great contribution at least.

Five minutes to go. Two or three people trickled through the door. I wasn’t even convinced they had come for the event, but I enthusiastically wrestled them towards the empty chairs anyway. ‘Great, do take a seat. We’re about to make a start.’ They must have known that any argument was futile, and complied.  

Some impressive entries for the art competition for P1-P3s. We received 135 entries for the competitions, far exceeding our expectations!

With less than three minutes to spare, the impossible happened. It was as if an invisible portal had opened in the darkness beyond the library door. Old and young, families and friends crowded in and filled the seats. At half past six, the library staff brought through extra chairs from the children’s section. The relief!

After Nicola’s warm welcome, I began with a Forth Bridge jumping quiz and invited volunteers, old and young, to stand on my parcel tape (ahem) line on the floor. I read out ten Forth Bridge statements which were either true or false, and on my command, participants had to jump forwards for true and backwards for false, keeping score of how many they had got right. I wish you could have been there: the sight of grown men twisting in mid air in attempt to change their minds!

Next came the announcements of the competition results. The winner of the P1-P3 artwork section had actually travelled from Perth to collect her prize. In keeping with Book Week Scotland, the prizes were either picture books or book vouchers. The girl whose entry topped the upper primary writing competition was also present to read out her winning entry – no mean feat for such a young writer. It fell to Nicola to recite Bridge Banter, the winning entry in the adult writing competition as Kennedy Meechan was unable to be there on the night.

Onwards: readings from Justin (about children and monsters being chased by ghouls on Inchgarvie island) and myself (about the first time my Victorian brigger boy ascends the bridge to work), a couple of newspaper articles from the building of the bridge, ably read by the library’s own Heather. Len’s fun and memorable riveting demonstration followed, involving children operating bellows and throwing rivets across the library with tongs, and an all-age group challenge of building a bridge only using their bodies in one minute, with surprisingly bendy results.

A drawing filter protects kids’ identities online, but the ambition for the bridge challenge is unmistakeable!

And it was time for the open mic. Scott from the library tackled a terrifying Forth Bridge poem in a range of poetic meters, jumping merrily from iambic pentameters to dactyls, trochees, anapaests and whatever else you can think of. I had a go in the staffroom a little earlier and got stuck after only two lines. In fairness, he spent most of his tea break practising.

South Queensferry Library’s Scott, reciting a very challenging Forth Bridge poem

I was particularly pleased that so many were willing to make themselves part of the event – local writer and musician Peter read a poignant poem he had penned himself, paying tribute to the loss of life during the bridge’s construction, before entertaining us all with a more light-hearted anecdote. Another gentleman offered a brief reading, Len contributed the tale of a pilot saved by recognising the bridge and using it to navigate his way to safety, and Frank, as a retired engineer, fittingly read from Victorian engineers’ records about the building of the bridge. At the busiest time, we think there were about fifty in attendance.

Frank in action

Goodness! Was that really the time? Reluctantly, I brought proceedings to a halt.

After all, these remarkably patient children would need their beds! Besides, the library staff had put in a shift and a half, to put it mildly.

And selfishly:

Their writer in residence was utterly wiped out.

Forth Bridge Writer-in-Residence Diary – Part 2

My train rattled onto the bridge and I had to fight the sudden urge to announce to my crowded carriage: ‘Hey! Listen! I am the Writer-in-Residence for this bridge! Just so you know!’

What I did instead, coward that I am, is surreptitiously take a video and tweet it.

Oh well, it’s the thought that counts…

I’ll give you a laugh – as a joke, a Twitter pal actually designed me a little logo as Forth Bridge Writer in Residence. I wonder what you make of it, blurry as it is. I am still trying to work out whether I should be flattered by his portrayal, but one thing is certain: that head-dress takes some beating. Genius!

The artwork 🙂

So, what have I been up to as Writer-in-Residence? Well, at the risk of sounding boring, I have been doing battle with a lengthy funding application for a possible Forth-Bridge related book project. I really hope that this does get off the ground: a collaboration with a portrait photographer, profiling the many, many people who in some way are the faces of the Forth Bridge. You know the ones: those who maintain it, promote it, live beneath it, sail around it, paint it, proposed on top of it, research it, love it… – you get the idea. Wish us luck with the application! I am buzzing to get started.

Edits are shortly due for my forthcoming children’s book on the bridge, too. Rivet Boy is not out until February (if you are interested, you can pre-order here), but all the hard work for the author lies in the editing stages, long before publication. It’s my editor’s job to ask me the awkward questions: are the voices consistent? Can you add more atmosphere, or description, or drama? She will also gently point out my foibles – for example my propensity to use exclamation marks, or my unhelpful overuse of the words seem/seem to, kind/kindly/kind-looking, smile, gently, once more, all around me. Excitingly, an illustrator is working on chapter headings for Rivet Boy in the meanwhile. I always think that a children’s book comes to life with images and I am very excited to share the result with all of you early next year!

But right now, my focus is on Book Week Scotland. We are planning a really wonderful event with the South Queensferry Library, and if you love the Forth Bridge you will really enjoy it. Please consider joining the competition, too – and share far and wide, especially with schools! The more the merrier – I really hope to see some of you there! 🙂

Forth Bridge Writer in Residence Diary: Part 1

Crack of dawn.

I pull on my hoodie and tiptoe towards the car, careful not to make too much noise. I’ve got a bit of a drive ahead of me: Inverness to North Queensferry. At least the horizon is beginning to lighten.

My destination: The Forth Bridge and the YourView event raising funds for Barnardo’s. Photo: Miles Oglethorpe

Music and radio keep me company as I devour the miles down the infamous A9. I’m a bit nervous if I’m honest. There are several reasons for this.

  1. As of today, I am the Forth Bridge Writer in Residence. That’s wildly exciting, but also a little daunting. There will be many people to meet, and I can only hope that I will be able to deliver something of value to the organisations which have placed their trust in me.
  2. Today is also the Barnardo’s Your View event at the Forth Bridge. I will interview visitors as they arrive and depart and try to get a sense of what this bridge means to them.
  3.  ‘And while you’re there, Barbara, you may have a chance to go up the bridge if we can fit you in.’ My stomach churns. I am famous for my pathetic inability to countenance any kind of height at all, even the attic ladder is a step too far. And yet I nod at this. What’s wrong with me? Have I forgotten who I am?
My first day as Writer in Residence at the Forth Rail Bridge

Once I get near my destination, I begin to worry about other, insignificant things too – will I find a parking space? No need to fret: a Balfour Beatty employee beneath the bridge waves me enthusiastically towards their small car park. I am almost blinded by the off-the-scale-visibility of his attire, only second to the brightness of his smile.

‘I’m one of the volunteers,’ I whimper through the window, slightly defensively. I don’t think he could have cared less, already directing his cheerful waves at the next passing car. A lean man in a cap and raincoat waits beside my car, clutching a shoulder bag and an i-pad – ah, I recognise him from some of the Zoom meetings I attended: Miles, the Forth Bridge World Heritage Management Group Chairman. I feel better already. By the time I get to the portacabins, Katie Rawlings, the Barnardo’s special events manager, whizzes by. Wiry and fiercely cheerful, she weaves her way through the crowd and introduces me to what feels like the population of a small country. I do what I do best: reach for my notebook and begin:

‘Hi!’ If the total strangers before me are unsettled by my slightly deranged smile and welcoming gesture, they don’t show it. I continue: ‘Have you just come off the bridge? Was it amazing?’ The answers are always affirmative. I move to the heart of my task: ‘What does the bridge mean to you? Have you got any special connection? Any stories? Anecdotes?’

And so it begins. Shirley from Livingston remembers driving under the bridge on her second date, listening to music and discovering all the things she and her then-boyfriend had in common. ‘It’s just inspirational, this bridge. I marvel at the engineering, but it’s my thinking space too. I sit under the span when I have a problem or there is something on my mind. I’ve waited years to do this, to go up!’

Davie O’Donnell

Dunfermline’s Davie O’Donnell works for Network Rail and is often seen at Waverley Station in a top hat. Today, he has returned to the Forth Bridge to lend a hand. However, Davie has his own stories to tell too: He had his distinctive mass of white hair and his beard shaved off for charity atop the Forth Bridge as a fundraiser for MacMillan cancer support, by Rangers legend Mark Hately – not a day you could easily forget! The pages in my notebook are filling up fast: memories of Sunday school trips from Bo’ness to Kinghorn. According my interviewee, the highlight was winding down the windows of the train and throwing out pennies for luck over the water. Another lady recalled her four-year-old sister throwing out the entire contents of her fluffy purse – all her holiday money for Scarborough was gone – to her mother’s horror!

Kirstie had won a ballot to go across the Forth Road bridge in a minibus just the day before. ‘Quite unusual, I think, to do both bridges in a weekend. We got a tour and even walked in the cabling! And today I’m going up the Forth Rail Bridge!’ Soon after, I meet self-confessed adrenaline junkie May Macleod who abseiled from the bridge as a treat for her 60th birthday, years ago.

May Macleod abseiled from the Forth Bridge for her 60th birthday.

Barbara, a volunteer for the North Queensferry Heritage Trust recalls going up the Forth Rail Bridge in the ‘old hoist’ and regales me with a very entertaining dramatic performance of the experience: ‘It was going up in instalments, with a jolt, like this!’ she laughs, jiggling.  The North Queensferry Heritage Trust is also represented by Garry and Robert Irvine, with their portacabin display of images and documents attracting a steady flow of visitors. I also meet Malcolm, employed by Balfour Beatty down south, who never misses an opportunity to return to the Forth Rail Bridge. He shows me stunning photographs of the bridge’s delicate patterns, perfectly reflected in the still waters of the Forth.

90 years old, and not one bit daunted, it seems!

And still they arrive: the engineering enthusiast who travelled all the way from Liverpool, just to ascend the Forth Bridge. A son and his 90-year-old father, taking the hoist together as a birthday treat for the older man. A lady in reflective mood, paying tribute to her late father as she scales the bridge he loved, in memory of him. A young engineer who chose his professional path inspired by the Forth Bridge.

I spend a bit of time interviewing Colin Hardie, the Balfour Beatty Project lead a the Forth Bridge. His child refers to the structure as “Daddy’s bridge”. ‘I was so proud when she said that!’ he admits.

Some of the most impressive people I meet are the employees and volunteers: supervisors, site workers, scaffolders (can you imagine building a scaffold on that bridge!), safety inspectors and the Briggers, a local heritage group who ably demonstrate the Bridge’s impressive history, including a hands-on riveting demonstration.

I have a few misgivings about heading into that hoist…

Finally, the time has come. ‘Looks like you are going to get a chance to go up, Barbara, alongside the other volunteers.’ I am ushered to the safety briefing, kitted out with a fetching yellow vest and a stylish hard hat. No turning back. I am so grateful for my cheery sidekick Gillian who coordinates the region’s fostering for Barnardo’s. If she isn’t scared, then I need to get a grip of myself. How hard can it be?

Barnardo’s Gillian made me feel at ease. She wasn’t bothered by the height at all!

The hoist feels substantial enough, and in any case, I am too far gone now. Fear may have a hold on my mind, but I am not ready to embarrass myself in front of my new friends! I am going to stand on top of this bridge and if it’s the last thing I do…

The views are incredible!

Granted, my legs wobble a little as I emerge out of the hoist, but the overwhelming sense is one of space and freedom. The scale of the structure is immense, and the thought that Victorians built this without the aid of computer calculations and modern technology leaves me all but speechless. I am astounded that Berwick Law and Edinburgh Castle are clearly visible from here. There is a photographer, precariously balanced on a raised platform, ready to immortalise the moment, and I strike a pose.

It is almost dark by the time I retrace my steps to the car. As I chase the darkening clouds northwards, I ponder my luck. What a privilege, to be among those people, in that place, on this day.

As far as writer’s gigs go, this has got to be up there.

Pardon the pun!

The Outlander Effect

Another blog tour stop – and . Well worth a follow!this time it’s the legendary Bookwitch who has posted a review and featured my guest post on the Outlander effect.

The Occasional Bookwitch

It’s Jacobite blog tour time! Here’s Barbara Henderson with some Outlanderish thoughts:

‘The Americans are back’, my husband remarked drily on his return from Inverness High Street, ten minutes away from our home. Don’t get the wrong impression – this was no disapproving comment. It was dry humour, tinged with relief. He might as well have said ‘Things are finally getting back to normal’.
The devastating effect of the pandemic on international tourism in our area had been acutely felt, particularly as a certain franchise had previously supercharged the tourist economy in these parts. A book, film and fandom feat like no other (perhaps Harry Potter aside).

Can you hear it? The distant and mournful version of the Skye Boat Song, now a major theme tune? I am (of course!) talking about Outlander, Diana Gabaldon’s epic time travel romance which features the Highlands during the Jacobite rebellion of 1745.

Why…

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The Reluctant Rebel by Barbara Henderson

Thank you so much, Kirsty Crommie, for this lovely review! The first one is always a bit of a white knuckle ride…

Unicorns and Kelpies

The Reluctant Rebel by Barbara Henderson, published by Luath Press

I am absolutely honoured to be kicking of the blog tour for The Reluctant Rebel today. First and foremost Barbara Henderson is one of my favourite authors who writes the most magnificent historical adventures set against a variety of Scottish backdrops. As you can imagine, therefore, I was beyond excited to get my hands on a copy of The Reluctant Rebel, a ‘Jacobite Adventure’. This is a time period where events are often studied in primary school but little MG fiction has been written in this era.

Read on to hear from Barbara about teaching the Jacobites in the classroom . Thank you Barbara for the guest post.

Jacobitesin the Classroom

The targes and broadswords clash, thankfully in a controlled manner. The faces of my pupils, contorted in fear and rage, belie what is really going on – nothing…

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#WorldBookDay Cover Reveal: The Reluctant Rebel

I am absolutely over the moon that Luath Press are going to be publishing my Jacobite adventure (8-12) #TheReluctantRebel in May!

Scotland, April 1746. Having witnessed their clan’s terrible defeat at Culloden, twelve-year-old Archie and his feisty cousin Meg flee back to Lochaber to lie low.

Or so they think.

Until the fugitive Prince’s life depends on them.  

Meticulously researched and based on the well-documented 18th-century Jacobite Rebellion known as ‘the ’45’, this new novel by Young Quills winner Barbara Henderson tells the story of a young stable boy. Archie feels ambivalent about the Jacobite rebellion – unlike his feisty cousin Meg. Can he overcome his grief and bitterness? The truth is, Prince Charles Edward Stuart is just another man on the run, and it is in the children’s power to help. 

The Reluctant Rebel is a tale of bravery amid historical storms which toss both rich and poor into turmoil. Will the children succeed in their deadly game of Hide and Seek? 

I am currently working on teaching resources and can’t wait to see this book out there on the shelves!

Punch by Barbara Henderson

So excited to see this – I hadn’t come across this blog before, but will follow now! 🙂 Thank you so much for giving one of my quiet books such a boost! I secretly really like this one 🙂

Beth's Bookcase

This is not a new book, it was published in 2017. I discovered it by chance, having seen a different book on Twitter and following a link to the publisher’s website (@cranachanbooks https://www.cranachanpublishing.co.uk/ ). Being Scottish, with a fascination for Victorian times and also Punch and Judy, I obviously ordered it. I also ordered some other books, but that is for another blog.

Punch tells the story of Phineas, an orphan living in 1889 Inverness under the volatile guardianship of his “Uncle” Ewan. He is sent on a nighttime errand, which ends with the town market halls being set on fire. Falsely accused and justifiably scared of the reaction of his guardian and the police, Phineas goes on the run.

He forms unlikely alliances with an escaped prisoner and a family of travelling entertainers on his journey, which includes encounters with a dancing bear and Queen Victoria. He learns new…

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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