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

The Chessmen Thief by @scattyscribbler @cranachanbooks

The Quiet Knitter

  • Title: The Chessmen Thief
  • Author: Barbara Henderson
  • Publisher: Cranachan Publishing
  • Publication Date: 29 April 2021

Copy received from publisher for review purposes.


Win. Lose. Survive.

I was the boy with a plan. Now I am the boy with nothing.

From the moment 12-year-old Kylan hatches a plan to escape from his Norse captors, and return to Scotland to find his mother, his life becomes a dangerous game.

The precious Lewis Chessmen―which he helped carve―hold the key to his freedom, but he will need all his courage and wit to triumph against Sven Asleifsson, the cruellest Viking in the realm.

One false move could cost him his life.

Barbara Henderson has woven a thrilling origin story around the enduring mystery of the Lewis Chessmen, their creation in Norway, and how they ended up buried in the Hebrides before being discovered on Lewis in 1831

My Thoughts:

I have been a…

View original post 1,336 more words

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).

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:


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


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:

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.

#NorseNews: Orkney Earls

Norse domination of Shetland, Orkney, the Hebrides and Caithness lasted much longer than it did on the rest of the Scottish mainland. As a seafaring nation, the Norse people regularly travelled the trading route from Norway to Ireland, stopping along the way.

There were powerful Earls in Orkney, and at times more than one, vying for power, resulting in notable residents shifting allegiances and becoming kingmakers. Orkneyinga Saga provides a rich tapestry of Orkney society around the time when The Chessmen Thief is set. I travelled to Orkney with my husband and our friends to check out the lie of the land and to find out more about the Earls.

The plaque commemorating Ragnvald Kali Kolsson, a character in The Chessmen Thief, in St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall

The Earl of Orkney at the time was Ragnvald Kali Kolsson. He continued his father’s passion for the building of a cathedral in Kirkwall, which we visited. The Earl’s Palace beside it is ruined now, but it is easy to imagine its grandeur. Still, this is not where my characters are accommodated. A number of the party in my story fall ill, and I though it was more likely that they would have been taken to Orphir to avoid spreading disease near the cathedral.

The impressive interior of St. Magnus Cathedral, built by Earl Ragnvald Kali Kolsson, a character in The Chessmen Thief

The lovely wee museum in Kirkwall has a host of Viking-Age finds on display. But it also houses a small room with lots of folders where I was able to read up on the Earls and what we know about them. Well worth a visit!

I read in the museum’s folder that the Earl left Orkney to go on a crusade in the 1150s. This event features in The Chessmen Thief.

By the way, I feature the Orkney ‘Earl’ in my story, but there is also a ‘Jarl’. In truth, these titles mean the same thing – I just thought it would be easier for young readers to tell the characters apart if I used both in the book!