We like our stories atmospheric in Scotland, and who can blame us? Brooding hills, crumbling castles, poetry and song are the very fabric of our nation – and we have a history to match!
In 2016, a small independent publishing house was founded on the Isle of Lewis, about as north-westerly as you can get and still belong to Scotland. Anne and Iain Glennie’s office overlooks the Atlantic and is minutes away from the Callanish Standing stones, but they had a different vision for their business: publish quality Scottish children’s fiction, particularly historical books for their yesteryear series.
I was their very first author signing.
Fast forward four years and Scottish publishing is bursting at the seams with creativity and innovation. Granted – the Covid-19 crisis is taking its toll with dips in both sales and literary events, but there is a reason Scotland…
Read your way around Scotland. This list is by no means exhaustive, but wherever you’re travelling, there is a kids’ book set there 🙂
Ceannabeinne near Durness, setting of Highland Clearances story Fir for Luck (ages 9-13) which is based on true events in 1814 and 1841.
2. Tarbat Ness and Portmahomack, setting of The Beast on the Broch, a Pictish adventure by John Fulton (age 8-12).
3. The fictional Isle of Skelsay in kids’ eco-thriller Wilderness Wars is based on the landscape of Harris and Taransay in the Outer Hebrides (age 8-13). Beautiful Harris is also the setting for Sam Wilding’s eco-thriller Windscape (8-12).
4. Aberdeen is the setting of The Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens, a pun-heavy, fun adventure by Alex McCall (age 8-12).
5. Inverness is the setting of the Victorian adventure story Punch, a tense adventure with a backdrop of travelling entertainers, puppetry and even a dancing bear. Based on true events in 1889 and shortlisted for the Crystal Kite Award (age 8-13).
6. Edinburgh and the Lothians are the settings for Annemarie Allan’s war-time refugee story Charlie’s Promise (8-12).
7. Dundee is the setting for two excellent WW1 books: The Wreck of the Argyll by John Fulton and The God of All Small Boys by Joseph Lamb (Both 8-12). It is also the setting of my favourite picture book: The Fourth Bonniest baby in Dundee by Michelle Sloan.
8. Dumfries and the Solway Firth is where the Robert-Burns-related smuggling novella Black Water takes place. Based on real events in 1791 (8-12).
9. Paisley is the setting for Lindsay Littleson’s Victorian novel A Pattern of Secrets (8-12).
10. Caerlaverock Castle is the setting for medieval adventure The Siege of Caerlaverock. It is based on a real life siege in July 1300 when 60+ castle dwellers attempted to hold out against the King of England and his 3000 knights and soldiers. Out 6th August 2020 (8-12).
11. North Berwick is the setting of Annemarie Allan’s eco-adventure Breaker (8-12).
12. Skara Brae in Orkney is the setting of time travel and stone age teen novel Silver Skin by Joan Lennon (12-16).
13. West Lothian is the setting of Laura Guthrie’s teen novel Anna, an uplifting account of a girl with Aspergers tackling life’s serious challenges with stubborn positivity (12-16).
14. The Isle of Skye (and a fictional island off it) features in Kerr Thomson’s The Rise of Wolves (10-14).
15. St. Kilda is the dramatic setting for Geraldine McCaughrean’s Carnegie winner Where the World Ends (10-14).
16. Stirling is the setting for Ross Sayers Scots YA novel Sonny and Me (12-16).
17. Victoria Williamson sets her topical refugee novel Fox Girl and the White Gazelle in Glasgow (8-12).
18. Perthshire is the setting for Elizabeth Wein’s atmospheric The Pearl Thief. This book regularly wins ‘best opening’ in my pupil surveys! (10-14)
19. Loch Ness is the setting for Lari Don’s The Treasure of the Loch Ness Monster (7-11) and also Pauline Mackay’s popular Wee MacNessie (3-5) series.
20. Mairi Hedderwick’s Katie Morag stories are set on the fictional island of Struay which is based on the Isle of Coll (5-10).
21. The Borders are the setting for Janis Mackay’s The Accidental Time Traveller trilogy (8-12) and also for Theresa Breslin’s Remembrance (12-16), as well as the fantastic Tiger Skin Rug by Joan Haig (8-12).
22. Shetland features in Michelle Sloan’s War and present day story TheRevenge of Tirpitz (9-13) as well as Tumbling by Kim Karam (10-13).
23. Moray is the setting for Mary Rosambeau’s war-time thriller Secrets and Spies.
24. If you like your non-fiction set all over Scotland, try Kimberlie Hamilton’s Scotland’s Animal Superstars (7-12).
25. Aviemore and the Cairngorms are the setting of Can’t Dance Cameron by Emily Dodd (3-6).
26. Who wouldn’t recognise Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, setting of The Tobermory Cat by Debi Gliori (3-6).
27. The Falkirk Wheel is a popular tourist attraction – and the setting for Hamish McHaggis and the Wonderful Water Wheel (5-7).
28. Back to Edinburgh and a certain young detective called Artie Conan Doyle by Bob Harris (8-12). Edinburgh is also the last setting for Wojtek, War Hero Bear by Jenny Robertson, and there is a statue of the bear in Princes Street Gardens!
29. Beautiful and historic Ayr is the setting for the new Tam O’Shanter graphic novel by Richmond Clements and Inko (8-12).
30. Gorgeous Galloway is the setting of Gill Stewart’s Galloway Girls series, including first instalment Lily’s Just Fine (12-16).
31. BalmoralCastle in Royal Deeside is one of the memorable settings of Justin Davies’ funny Help! I Smell a Monster (7-11).
32. Sherrifmuir near Stirling is the bleak and atmospheric setting for Alex Nye’s kids’ horror novel Chill (8-12).
33. Argyll is the evocative backdrop to Alan McClure’s Callum and the Mountain (8-12).
34. A Scottish seaside village like Eyemouth is exactly the type of fishing village to feature in Captain Crankie and Seadog Steve by Vivien French (3-6).
35. Coo Clayton’s cute picture book Maggie’s Mittens takes you on a wee tour of the whole of Scotland (3-6). The same is true for Katie in Scotland by James Mayhew.
36. Historic Glenfinnan is the setting for Linda Strachan’s The Dangerous Lives of the Jacobites (6-10).
37. Edinburgh is the setting for Mike Nicholson’s Catscape (8-12).
38. The Isle of Cumbrae is the setting for Kelpies Prize winner The Mixed Up Summer of Lily McLean by Lindsay Littleson (8-12).
39. The Isle of Arran is the setting for witchy fun in A.H. Proctor’s Thumble Tumble series (7-11). The island is also home to the Corrie’s Capers series by Alison Page, including the cute The Westie Fest.
40. Tattiebogle Town where Alan Dapre’s Porridge the Tartan Cat lives is actually based on West Kilbride in Ayrshire (6-10).
41. The atmospheric Callanish Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis provide the setting for Gaelic story Granaidh Afraga by Morag Anna MacNeill.
42. Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh is an iconic tourist destination – and the setting of A Fast and Funny Guide to Mary Queen of Scots by Philip Ardagh.
43. One of my favourite places in the world: The Isle of Iona, setting of Allan Burnett’s Columba and All That (6-10). The island is also the setting for Edith Robson’s The Secret of the Stones which was suggested by a blog reader.
44. St. Andrews is the setting of Slug Boy Saves the World by Mark A. Smith.
45. The Isle of Lewis is the setting of this gorgeous picture book, An Island’s Tail by Steven Tod.
46. Fife is the setting of Moira McPartlin’s amazingly topical teen book The Incomers (14+). It is also the setting for the real-life-inspired Bertie the Buffalo by Wendy Jones (3-6).
47. Smoo Cave near Durness features in a dramatic scene in Storm Singingand Other Musical Mishaps by Lari Don, my favourite book in her Fabled Beast Chronicles.
48. EdinburghStatues take centre stage in The Calling by Philip Caveney.
49. The Edinburgh Tattoo at the castle is famous – and also the setting for The Tattoo Fox and its sequel by Alasdair Hutton.
50. Finally, we return to Loch Ness with Sara and Molly Sheridan’s picture book Monsters Unite, illustrated by Iain Carroll. Underground tunnels for monsters? I’m in!
I know I will have missed out some fantastic books and authors, and I’m sorry for that. Who knows, maybe one day I’ll sit down again and get to 100.
But for now, this will do. Happy reading. Where will you go?
As you can imagine, I’ve been spending lockdown at my desk, with no author visits on the horizon. But some young people are still reading my books! Pupils from Winchburgh Primary School in Broxburn asked me a whole bunch of questions about my eco-thriller Wilderness Wars. GREAT questions, so I thought I’d share my answers!
About the book – Wilderness Wars
What inspired you to write the book?
It goes back to a time when we went on a family holiday. A stone hit our windscreen, out of the blue, there were no other cars around! In an attempt to make light of it, we speculated that a gull had thrown it, and that nature didn’t want us to reach the holiday cottage. That was the start. I wrote into my notebook that night: What if nature fights back?
If you were Em, what would you have done to get the adults to believe in you about the nature fighting back?
I’m not sure I would have done any better than Em. It’s a bit of a crazy thing for people to believe 😊 I might have yelled a little more…
How did you come up with the name Skelsay?
I tried to find a name that sounded real, but with a huge number of islands around the Scottish Coast, most decent names were already taken. There are loads of islands that end in ‘say’ which was Old Norse for island, so I looked up Gaelic and Norse words and tried out different combination. Skelsay means Isle of shells, and there wasn’t one of those yet!
How long did it take you to write it?
The actual first draft – maybe around 6 months. But it needed a bit of work before the publishers were happy with it, so maybe another 3 months on top of that. I usually have several things on the go at any one time, so it can be hard to tell.
What is your favourite bit of the book?
I love the SCREE chapter!
What made you choose a Scottish Island?
I live in Scotland and I love going to the islands because they are a bit wild. Buying an island and building a hotel etc on it seemed to be possible.
Were the characters based on anyone you know in real life?
YES, all of them have bits of people I know. Struan is almost exclusively based on my son Duncan. When he was little, he was just like that!
Who’s the best character that you think that you created in the book?
Again, I like Struan best, but I like the others too. Ian Pratt was such good fun to write.
I would really want to know, What happens after the book is finished.
The postscript gives you a wee bit of an idea. Skelsay rewilds itself in any case 😊
Having written your book, is there anything you would change if you could re-write it?
Yes! I like the ending, but as a very smart kid pointed out at a school visit, Em ends up being a bit of a litterbug at the end, so I would maybe come up with something a bit better…
What made you come up with this kind of storylines?
I care about the environment, and once we lose our wild places, they are gone. We need to take better care of them!
Would you ever make the book into a film?
I’d love to see a film of Wilderness Wars, but as a writer, I have to wait until a studio or a production company takes an interest.
What was the hardest chapter to write?
My publishers asked me to delete the first three chapters of the original manuscript. I was gutted, but it is a better story as a result, I hope. Rewriting the beginning was really tough.
I have started to write my own book about a young boy on a quest and have so many ideas in my head I find it hard to organise them and pick the best to use. I really enjoyed the suspense created at the end of your chapters and all the questions I had before reading the next one. I would like to do the same in my book do you any advice on how I can plan my story ideas to create the same?
To be absolutely honest, I don’t always plan my stories out. I literally write as if I am telling myself a story. Then, at a point when I am excited to move on, I insert a chapter break. Keep asking the ‘what if’ questions. If the story gets a little too easy and boring, throw your characters into terrible jeopardy. It works for me!
About being an author in general
Do you enjoy reading?
Love it! I constantly have a book on the go and take it with me wherever I go. I also have as book in the car in case I have to wait somewhere. And when times are tricky, I absolutely need to read to give myself a break from real life!
When did you get in to writing books?
I wrote loads of stories when I was a kid. As an adult, I wrote plays first and performed them. I had a wee puppetry business for a few years, but I soon realised that the writing was what I loved best. I then wrote a short story, just to see if I could, and entered it into a competition, and I won! After that, I challenged myself in a New Year’s resolution – wonder if I could write a kids’ book. But I wasn’t published until I had written 6 books! It takes a long time 😊
Did anyone inspire you to become an author and if so, who?
Many people. But I loved Walter Farley’s books about the racehorse world and I remember thinking – creating stories for young people would be the coolest thing that anyone could do.
How many books have you written?
At least 11 full length manuscripts, but many shorter stories and plays too.
What inspired you to be an author?
I just think it’s total magic, how little black marks on paper get some sort of head-cinema going in a young reader’s imagination. I really, really wanted to be part of that and learn how to do that. If you offered me the chance to do real magic, I think I’d still choose this!
Can you talk to someone and if they were talking about a dream could you turn that into inspiration for a story?
I do that constantly! But I can’t write a story that I’m not excited about. I really have to care. If I’m not really invested in it, I can’t expect a reader to be either. So if you are wishing that there was a story about, I don’t know, sword-fighting dogs in Siberia, then your best bet is to write it yourself!
I am so excited that I get to tell you about a NEW BOOK! The Siege of Caerlaverock is a medieval David-and-Goliath tale based on real events at Caerlaverock Castle in Dumfries and Galloway – and here is the gorgeous cover!
It is a stunner, I think – designed by Cranachan Publishing’s Anne Glennie who felt very strongly about using the image of the actual castle, not just any other medieval stronghold.
It took a little while to arrive at the final product, an image of the castle ruin (albeit well-preserved) as it is now, overlaid with the dramatic events which unfolded there in July 1300 when the King of England, Edward Longshanks, surrounded and besieged the castle with an army over 3000 strong, while those inside numbered only sixty or so men. Certainly, some of those inside were women – and this opened up the brilliant possibility of writing a knights-and-castles, Wars-of-Independence story for kids, but with a female point of view character. My main source was a contemporary heraldic poem.
12-year-old Ada is a laundress of little consequence, but the new castle commander Brian de Berclay has his evil eye on her. Perhaps she shouldn’t have fed the young prisoner in the tower.
But when the King of England crosses the border with an army over 3000 strong, Ada, her friend Godfrey and all at Caerlaverock suddenly find themselves under attack, with only 60 men for protection. Soon, rocks and flaming arrows rain from the sky over Castle Caerlaverock – and Ada has a dangerous choice to make.
THE COVER IMAGE:
Our early discussions centred on the building itself. The castle definitely had to be featured in the cover image, right? If you have a real-life location which people can still visit, it seems a waste not to capitalise on this. It is Scotland’s only triangular castle and a popular filming location. The name itself means ‘fort of the skylark’ (from caer meaning fort; and the old English laewerce meaning lark). Gorgeous and evocative, and perfect for a story!
Back to the Drawing Board. Anne and I brainstormed and I wondered if the real location could be featured in the cover by way of a map? We hunted down some old-fashioned maps, and attempted to show the female heroine in front of the castle, alongside some birds to reflect the skylark connection.However, although the building looked great, the map graphics only made the overall effect less clear, and the atmosphere still lacked threat. I did love the font though!
I left it in Anne’s capable hands, and as always, she delivered. Just look at the progress in our next step! We had the threatening atmosphere at last! Night-time wanderings, the female at the centre of the story, being watched by the Commander from on high. We also wondered about the title and discussed it at length: Ada is a girl under siege. There are enemies outside, but she is also being hunted within the castle walls.
Still, the Castle was a character in itself and needed to be in the title. And the figure of the girl did not quite have the impact we were looking for. We wanted to get across the movement and the drama that happened here somehow. Knights galloping their chargers around the besieged fortress, the drawing of weapons, the clanging of armour, the whistling of fiery missiles through the air…
The solution came by superimposing one image onto another. Wish I could claim credit for it, but it is all Anne’s doing! What you see is the castle ruin as it is now, but seen through a lens of an event which happened there 720 years ago. Shadows of the past in the misty murk of the present.
There is a bit of me which gets goosebumps every time I think of that, the memory of stones…
A write old year! What did I even do? What DID I do?
My mind predictably draws a blank when I ask myself questions like this, so let’s have a proper think, eh?
January saw me do author events in Balloch Primary, Luncarty Primary and Inverness Royal Academy. I also met up with my pals from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in Edinburgh. Oh, and my oldest left home to go to Egypt – a bit of a biggie for the family.
February began with delivering a storytelling session at the fabulous Brodie Castle. In the castle library, no less! So many castle themed stories to choose from… Author visits to Hamilton and East Kilbride among others, but the event of the month was really the beginning of the Artyness column which I began to write fortnightly, alternating with musician and writer Liza Mulholland, and which goes out in the weekend edition of a whole clutch of North of Scotland Papers. So much fun!
World Book Day means that Marchis always busy! Hamilton, East Kilbride and Findochty in Moray, a visit to the local RSPB Wildlife Explorer group, Fort William and the fabulous Scottish Association of Writers conference for which I was honoured to be an adjudicator and speaker. But the biggest challenge was reading the audiobook of Wilderness Wars which took hours and hours and hours! Who even wrote this unpronounceable prose?
April – the holidays are upon us, so it’s a quieter month, apart from a small number of events including the lovely Pitcairn School in Perthshire.
May – I was one of the three lucky spotlight authors for the Cromarty Crime and Thrillers Weekend. It was also the month of Queen Victoria’s Bicentenary, so I visited all the locations of my Victorian book ‘Punch’: South Morningside and Tollcross Primaries in Edinburgh, St Ninian’s in Perth, Waterstones Inverness and the Victorian Market in my home town – and Crathie School near Balmoral Castle, one of the key settings in the book!
June – Author visits to Fort William and Cauldeen Primary as well as the new library in the Merkinch Family Centre among others. July saw the fantastic XpoNorth Festival return to Inverness and we went for a research holiday to the Isle of Lewis. I’m currently knee-deep into a late Viking Scotland story as a result. In August, I was lucky enough to appear alongside allround legend Maggie Craig at SEALL, Skye, for a writing workshop on bringing the past to life. Of course, the highlight of my year is the Edinburgh International Book Festival where all three of my books were in the festival bookshop!
Back to normal in September, with a clutch of author visits and school events, including a trip to Sherborne School in Dorset and one to Aberdeen, as well as taking oldest to university. In October, all of this intensifies, with visits to Muckhart, two more Aberdeen events, the fab Word on the Street festival in Dingwall and, finally, the launch of Black Water, my new novella for 8-12 year olds at Waterstones Inverness. Most of my fellow writers published by Cranachan Publishing were there – my clan!
The very next day (and now into November), I’m on a train to Aberdeen again for the international kidlit quiz. Flying to the Isle of Lewis a few days later for the Faclan Oga festival is a particular treat: three school events in quick succession. Bridge of Don Academy and the official Black Water school launch at my home school of Cradlehall follow, as well as visits to Merkinch, Aviemore, Mountfleurie, Perth and Glenurquhart primaries. Best bit? Joining the Mobile library van on its round past Aldourie and Foyers Primaries – what a fantastic service, and how valued by its customers in remote places!
And so I wind up the year in December by guesting at the young writers café for Moniack Mhor, taking part in Bookpenpals and #bookfoundxmas and by looking back gratefully. If anything, writing a post like this helps my own memory and keeps me right. Writing can be a stationary and solitary business and it’s good to remind myself that I actually did do something this year… 😊
Happy 2020 to you all! Thanks for chumming me along, and letting me chum you in return!
Book Review: Black Water Black Water Written by Barbara Henderson 88 pages Published by Cranachan Publishing Publication date: 31st October 2019 Summary (from Goodreads): Sink or swim to survive Solway’s black water… Down by the coast, black water swirls and hides its secrets. Dumfries, 1792. Henry may only be twelve, but he has already […]
Being a children’s author isn’t always about making up stories in your head. Sometimes, it’s about researching a subject so that you know it inside out, then sharing that knowledge in a way that excites and inspires young readers.
Barbara Henderson is a maestro at this particular skill, and we’re delighted that the author of the (brilliantly researched) novels Wilderness Wars and Punch, joins Roaring Reads for this guest post, sharing her experience finding the facts behind her new novella Black Water (out now – read our review here).
“The Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott famously observed that ‘few people take more enthusiastically to the free trade than the men of the Solway Coast’.
“I have long been fascinated with smuggling, piracy and all things sinister by the water. What’s not to love? A night-time sea is just about the most menacing backdrop you could possibly choose for a…
There is a lot to be said for a powerful title, and Barbara Henderson’s new novella has that and much more. The words “Black Water” capture the essence of the dark, dangerous Solway Firth smuggling scene, and captured this reader’s curiosity from the outset.
The story follows Henry, a 13-year-old apprentice exciseman, who is trying to learn the family trade, while struggling to balance the weight of his father’s expectation with his own love of the written word – and some stirrings of empathy for the smugglers they seek to detain.
When the Rosamund, a large smuggling schooner, is stranded nearby, it’s up to Henry’s father, along with Riding Officer Walter Crawford (a real-life exciseman, whose journal inspired much of this story) and later, the poet Robert Burns, to capture the crew and seize the loot. It’s a hazardous mission, which does not go to plan.
I am so utterly thrilled to be able to share my thoughts on Barbara Henderson’s latest book today. I first discovered Barbara’s books back in 2017 when I fell in love with her writing in Fir for Luck, absolutely entranced, she managed to transport me to the mind of a twelve-year-old girl at the time of the Highland Clearances in Sutherland, and since then I have eagerly awaited news of each new book that Barbara writes. Today is publication day for Black Water, the latest bookish wonder that Barbara has crafted, and I think audiences of all ages are in for a treat!
Title: Black Water
Author: Barbara Henderson
Illustration : Sandra McGowan
Publisher: Pokey Hat (an imprint of Cranachan Publishing)
Publication Date: 31st October 2019
Copy received from author for review purposes.
Down by the coast, black water swirls and hides its secrets…
Regular readers of Linda’s Book Bag will know that I have been trying not to take on blog tours this year. I have done some, of favourite authors, or when I knew life wouldn’t be too busy, or when I have been approached personally by an author. If I say that I actually offered to […]