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…

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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!

#NorseNews: Viking Families and Motherhood

Happy Mother’s Day, in the UK at least. In The Chessmen Thief, my hero Kylan feels a responsibility to protect his mother and is willing to risk his life for her. Time for some myth-busting about families in the Norse world:

A chess queen – women in Norse society didn’t have it easy!

A household consisted not only several husband-and-wife couples plus their children, but also the families of servants and bondsmen. Estimates suggest that the typical household size was probably ten to twenty people.

Most of our information about Norse demographics and family structures come from Icelandic sagas. Experts think that a typical woman bore around 7 infants during her lifetime, 29 months apart on average. During pregnancy, women were expected to continue working.

The Chessmen Thief, set in Norse society in 1154 AD

After childbirth, a woman typically resumed work with little delay. Evidence suggests that mothers breastfed their children for 2 years. Generally, a Norse couple had 2 or 3 living children at any one time. Not many parents lived to see their children get married while even fewer lived to see grandchildren. Three generation families were rare.

If a wife or a husband died, the other remarried quickly, for pragmatic reasons – it was hard to run a farmstead on your own. It was also common for a family to give one of their children to another family to foster. Fostering also allowed childless households to raise children.

Most Viking women were married between ages 12 to 20, and Ingirid in The Chessmen Thief is already a mother despite only being a few years older than Kylan. Marriages were often arranged for purposes of allegiance, but courting, while frowned upon, certainly happened – plenty of praise poems praising the lady of affection survive today. Marriages had two parts: betrothal (the business contract between groom and bride’s family) and the wedding, within a year of betrothal.

A child was accepted into the family through rituals. The mother accepted the child by feeding it. The father took the infant onto his knee, gave the child a name, and sprinkled water on the child. This gave the child inheritance rights.

If you want to know a bit more detail, read for yourself at