2018 – A Year as a Children’s Author

As is customary at these times, it seems only right to reflect a little. My writing year was a good one, certainly. It was the year my book Punch made it to the Crystal Kite shortlist, among other things.

The Crystal Kite shortlist, voted for by other children’s authors, features my book!

For what it’s worth, here are some lessons I’ve learned:

  1. Persistence pays off. Never give up on a discarded manuscript. Mine became book three – Wilderness Wars.

  2. Published authors still get rejections. Keep writing.  Nothing else for it.

  3. There is no such thing as being too pro-active as a writer. Period.

What follows is a random and illogical collection of selective impressions, trivia and thoughts on the year that was:

January: SALES: This month, the record was broken: My author visit to Kirkhill Primary sold more books than I have ever sold in a single day, and all sales were to individuals rather than the school. My second visit to Luncarty Primary broke that record again. Never did I get near those figures again later in the year. But it felt good. I love how enthused young people become about reading during these events.

WW1 workshops
The Fortrose workshops

February: WORKSHOPS: I began a series of creative writing workshops, delivered on behalf of Groam House Museum. A bit of predictable income was very welcome, but it pales into insignificance compared to the inspiration and motivation I gained by preparing and teaching them. Writers are inspired by other writers, and I am no exception.

TRTWorld interview
Being interviewed on Turkish Television for World Book Day

March: WORLD BOOK DAY: I was lucky enough to be asked to appear at Lochardil Primary for this spectacular occasion (they don’t do things by half there!). But the oddest and weirdest and craziest thing was being interviewed about World Book Day by a Turkish English Language TV station. Surreal is putting it mildly! Workshops with Sutherland pupils about local poet Rob Donne were also an excuse to drink in fab scenery. March also saw me get unduly emotional: I defy any new author to walk into a room with sixty kids holding copies of your book, and not to cry a little. Thanks St Mary’s RC Primary School in Hamilton!

Lochardil WBD
One of the press photos of Lochardil on World Book Day

April: RESEARCH: As the holidays, family weddings and other ‘life’ stuff got in the way, I took the opportunity to drag the family away to the Solway Firth for a spot of immersion in a Smugglers’ story I was writing. Fingers crossed, one day you’ll all get to read it! We also popped into Caerlaverock Castle, another place of interest to the historical novelist – this one in particular!

Beautiful Callanish on Lewis

May: EXPLORING NEW SHORES: I love getting to know new parts of Scotland as part of author visits, but the biscuit was well and truly taken by the beautiful Isle of Lewis. Thanks to my hospitable publishers, the gorgeous Hebridean Huts and the friendly Pairc School, this was an unforgettable trip. Can’t wait to go back! The exhibition in Groam House also opened, featuring work created during my workshops, which was just a bit special!

June: BUSY TIMES: June was the busiest month for author visits I have had for a while. Perth, Dingwall, three sessions at a local secondary school for creative writing, Edinburgh, a new children’s writers’ free class at Eden Court Theatre, Gourock, Fortrose…  I barely came up for breath! But the best bit was making the book trailer for Wilderness Wars – almost my favourite part of the publishing process!

Book Trailer production underway!

July: BREAK: Visiting family in Germany, seeing the legend Paul Simon in concert, watching too much World Cup football and a relaxing (slightly research-motivated – can’t help myself!) short break in Lochaber, followed by a week in Iceland. This month was about taking a deep breath because…

August: LAUNCH: Because August was about giving Wilderness Wars the best start possible! Seeing all three of my books on the shelves at Edinburgh International Book Festival was particularly special. Launch events in Edinburgh, Nairn and Inverness, with a lovely school launch at Lorne Primary in Edinburgh and Cradlehall Primary in Inverness secured lots of press coverage of my inflatable seagulls!Being on a Historical Novelists’ Association conference panel with fellow Cranachan author John Fulton was also an absolute pleasure.

September: FAMILY: I cancelled a lot of my scheduled events in September due to a family bereavement. Flying to Germany and keeping in touch with my nearest and dearest was the priority here, although I also finished a new novel this month.

Just some of my fellow volunteers at NessBookFest.

October: NESSBOOKFEST: The autumn is usually dominated by the organisation of this festival, although I wasn’t chairperson anymore this year. My remit is press and social media coverage, so i was churning out press releases and tweeting as if my life depended on it. Meeting such a wide array of writers and illustrators was a real honour. It was also the month I resumed author events, with the Word on the Street Festival a particular privilege.

Alex and I Peebles
The lovely Alex from Peebles and I – under gull attack!

November: BOOK WEEK SCOTLAND: I wouldn’t be surprised if I was one of the authors to cover most ground that week: Peebles’ Read-a-licious Festival, Tongue, Inverness and Dingwall all featured in a bit of a full-on schedule – of which I loved every minute, by the way! Author visits also took me to Perth and Cumbernauld.

Made it to Tongue!

December: COMMUNITY MARKETS. People buy books at this time of the year, and as writers, we ignore this opportunity at our peril! I had a go and actually quite enjoyed setting up camp with my box of books. As a result, a couple of dozen books of mine will grace present tables around the country and beyond 🙂

Happy New Year, everyone. May 2019 be good to you!






On the Ride Again (6): Revving Up

My publication day for Punch is 10 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes away. It’s amazing how this concentrates the mind! The blog tour begins sooner, of course:

PUNCH Blog Tour social media image (1)

There seems to be  a lot to do all of a sudden. It crept up on me, the way major life events like the publication of a second book can do. September and October have been busy, even new day job aside.

First, I was lucky to be asked to appear at four schools as part of Nairn Book and Arts Festival. Pretty much straight after, less than two weeks ago, I was at Islay Book Festival, doing school and puppetry events. Just a few days later, our own NessBookFest was in full swing, and as committee chairperson, I wasn’t going to be taking a back seat. 35 events after that, I emerged, crawling, on the other side, mopping up, tidying up, and realising:

My publication day for Punch is 10 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes away!

Oh help! Guest blog posts need to be written, press contacts need to be made, events need to be planned. I made a list of all upcoming events:
26th Oct: School Launch, Crown School, Inverness
• 26th Oct: Launch at Waterstones Inverness (6pm)
• 3rd Nov: Scottish Mask and Puppet Centre Launch Event
• 4th Nov: Waterstones Edinburgh West End (2pm)
• 25th Nov: Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Mass
Book Launch, Winchester
• 29th Nov: Schools Event, Culloden Library for Book Week Scotland
• 30th Nov: ‘Nourishing Local Writers’ Showcase, Waterstones Inverness, Book Week Scotland
• 2nd Dec: Fir Trees in Folklore & Fiction: Barbara Henderson reads
from her children’s novels Fir for Luck and Punch (which both
feature trees) and explores the stories and legends around our
beloved Christmas trees. Simpson’s Garden Centre, Inverness. Book Week Scotland

At least there are a few, not too bad. Although I need to decide what I am actually going to do in them. Realising that all this is really quite soon, I ran down to the train station and booked my transport to the Central Belt, begged friends for accommodation and started purchasing odd things like Punch hats and inflatable whacking sticks, stripy clothes and red shoes. Yes, I am going the whole hog – I’ll pretty much be wearing a Punch and Judy fit-up!

Getting press coverage might be a hard one though – I have literally been all over the local papers with NessBookfest recently, and they might be reluctant to take on anything else with my mug on it. Sad but true.Courier front page

Of course, that doesn’t mean I am not going to try! However, my first follow up call to a public broadcaster who shall remain nameless went a bit like this:

Me: Hello, is that the producer for the super-iconic programme for all things cultural?

Her: Yes.

Me: You emailed me on such and such a date, expressing interest in Punch and asking if a copy could be sent to you? I trust you got it? Great. Now, are you still interested in doing something on the Victorian/puppetry angle in… all right… Really, 500 hundred new titles published every week?

Her: Too competitive/too much out there/won’t be able to, as much as we’d like to/snowed under (basically *NO*)

Me: (*profuse thanks, not sure why*)

No time to dwell on that! After all, it’s only 10 days…




NBF (5) Super-Saturday

The NessBookFest Saturday is the biggest challenge, logistics-wise. 16 events, 8 locations, LOTS of potential for disaster. This is what the chairperson’s day looked like:

6.30 Up and about, realising that, aside from Tesco-donated loaves for NBF-participants, we have no bread left . Not great when you have a (literary or otherwise) house-guest, so I nip out to get croissants from The Bakery which stays open all the way through the baking shift – still warm! Good call!

a7.00 Dog walk and thinking time – bit of a lifeline for me in the NessBookFest bustle. Drag screaming and protesting son out of bed for football tournament.


8.00 Son’s friend arrives and they head out together in search of footballing glory. Mel, NBF treasurer, arrives to turn the Tesco-sponsored raw material in my fridge into sandwiches for authors. We have the crust versus no crust debate and decide to compromise.

9.00 On the road towards the library with bags containing edibles, books to sell, goodie bag content etc. At library we assemble final thank you gift bags for authors. I sneak into the children’s section to hide the ones for the Gaelic Book bug ahead of the event, only to notice one of the authors is already there, watching me tiptoe around. Two lovely new volunteers arrive.

10.15 Lovely to see a crowd of kids for the Gaelic book bug event. Would love to hang around, but I need to head off – Michelle Sloan is arriving from Dundee by train, and since I’m the only one on committee who has met her before, I’d better be there to greet her 🙂

10.40 Arrive back at the library. Another volunteer has arrived. None of them have badges. We did get a  bag of thirty badges made up – where is it? We raid the library staff room, the boxes of Tesco provisions, piles of jackets, but no, definitely not there.  A horrible possibility strikes me: did I take them home yesterday? I had a huge backpack full of everything for my own event. It’s bound to be there. A wave of guilt hits me, but it’s the only explanation – I must have forgotten them, though I don’t event recall seeing a badge in the passing.

11.00 By this time, simultaneous events are happening in the library, the Victorian market, Leakey’s and the museum. Susan, my house-guest and faithful social media secretary, heads to Leakey’s to cover poetry and the walking tour. She texts soon after – she has managed to get media coverage for the crime panel in the P&J and is heading out to buy a copy!

11.30 I am the committee member in charge of Michelle Sloan’s excellent event for her picture book The Fourth Bonniest baby in Dundee. The audience have come straight from the library’s own book bug and are noisy until they settle into the story. Michelle works the young crowd like a magician, mesmerising them with messy felt cut-outs, music and more. I check briefly on the rare books event next door – also fully booked. Good, good!

12.30 Event done, Michelle keeps me company as I sprint up the hill to my house: the badge-hunt is on! No success though. It would appear it wasnae me! Who could have them? As we run along to Waterstones, I keep my fingers crossed for the local poetry showcase about to start in Leakeys. 

12.45 Arrive in Waterstones just in time to say hi to Denzil Meyrick and Rachel Kennedy, appearing here for NessBookFest. Good news: the venue is all sorted. Bad news, the authors aren’t here yet. Michelle browses and signs copies of her book The Revenge of Tirpitz while I position myself at the door. The manager Toby joins me soon after. But the more we pretend we’re not worried, the longer the minutes stretch. 

12.55 Rachel’s event is due to start in five minutes! Not here yet! Toby and I discuss bathroom renovations while staring intimidatingly at every sort-of plausible group of passers-by, just in case it’s them.

13.03 Denzil and Rachel arrive. I say a friendly, if slightly manic ‘I’m so glad to see you’-hello and sprint back to the library. I have a little trouble persuading Michelle to leave such a beautiful bookshop, but she joins me- we’re doing a library  event at two.

13.45 We arrange a library room for the creative writing for women workshop and welcome orla, the tutor for that event. We eat sandwiches – someone has to – before heading to the library children’s section for an hour of informal historical fiction chat.clan-cranachan

15.10 Michelle packs her bag and we run back to Waterstones where I introduce the extremely lovely and very funny Denzil Meyrick, alongside Rachel Kennedy who will interview him..

denzilBy now I have discovered that our beautiful flowchart, designed to send our 4 collection buckets from venue to venue in logistics that would make NASA proud, has erm, failed. No idea which volunteer has which bucket, where and when. I give up worrying since there is nothing I can do anyway, and dance around at the back of Denzil’s event in search of WiFi hotspots for tweeting instead.

16.00 Even though Denzil is not finished yet, I run to the library to catch and tweet the Migrant Stories event – another engaged audience and a wonderful couple who explain the process of collecting migrant stories in the Highlands. Robert Brian MacLeod and I swap books and I feel richer, leaving with plenty of constructive material to think about.15078864_1092807404159568_6745158239061525857_n


16.45 We tidy and collect our stuff as best as we can – we don’t want to put the library staff out when they have been so patient with us!

17.10 I run back to the house. My genius husband has made food (big thumbs up)

6.15 I drive to collect the babysitter, a 79-year-old lady who may just be my favourite human in the world.  Asking my 11-year-old what he plans to do with her while we’re out, he replies ‘Disco?’ without missing a beat.

6.50 I hope for the best and leave them to it, calling in to Velocity to check Drew Hillier, our event man, is feeling better – I was seriously worried he may not be able to appear at all. He seems okay, and chairman Rich is already there, so all good! Turns out the elusive badges have been spotted in a hitherto un-thought of location. Oh well, we’ll use them next year!

7.05 I arrive at the Old High Church for the Crime Panel, the last event of the day. Text messages trickle in, talking of a great science and literature event at the Museum, and Twitter is alive with NessBookFest positivity. The authors share a swivelling microphone which makes for tiny pauses in between each contribution, but Susan chairs effortlessly, the audience is attentive, lots of people buy books and say nice things about NessBookFest. There is something hugely atmospheric about the dark, foggy graveyard where Jacobite captives where shot, and I find my mind full of the day as I walk home. I turn on the computer:crime-panel

I HAVE NEVER HAD 99+ notifications before! 

Now for a silent, dark room, and a comfy bed. I have certainly acquired an impressive to-be-read pile at NessBookFest! You may not hear from me for a while…
















NBF (3) Launch Day

6.00 I wake up, but decide I can’t quite face my NaNoWriMo quota yet. After all, this is the day of the launch and there is a shedload of stuff to do.

8.45 Kids off to school and I’m on the phone, chasing up couple of supermarkets. You kindly decided to donate some refreshments for the authors at NessBookFest – could I pick up some of that earlier, please?

9.30 Off to supermarket to collect goodies. Blown away by generosity. Cram everything into my fridge as best as I can and run out of the door to do a couple of things in town.tesco

10.20 Collect prize voucher for kids’ book hunt from Eastgate Centre

10.30 Begin my long trawl around Victorian Market, making sure all traders have remembered to put books in the window, attached the logo etc. About ten have not got a book to display. Luckily the charity shop has a box of children’s books for 10 p each – I throw some change at the lady and run out with most of the box, flinging them at traders as I speed past Usain Bolt style. I’ve got to be home in 15 minutes, because some volunteers are coming to my house to assemble the author thank-you bags and make sandwiches out of the Tesco donations.

12.00 Only just beat the first volunteer who is dying of man-flu. In fairness, he does look rough and I’m grateful when a couple more people arrive and he can take a back-seat. We put the radio on and catch my brief interview about NBF on the BBC. Writing thank-you cards and tying ribbon bows takes a surprisingly long time.  As soon as the volunteers leave, I fling stuff in the slow-cooker for dinner and take the dog for a  speed-walk round the block.

15.00 Son home, but he walks in – and straight out to the park again with his friends. Good! Because I have a car-boot full of stuff to take to the library, out main venue for tomorrow. A quick phone call first: just checking on the off-chance that the Council has any answers for us regarding our funding applications. The lady deadpans that all of our requests were successful – we’ll be able to pay our writers something!!!

15.30 Lugging boxes of food and goodie bags into library.

16.00 Picking up a wee supply of costumes from my school’s Drama department for my own event tomorrow.

16.45 Shower and change for launch, plus a couple more phone calls.

17.25 off to NessBookFest Launch: meeting and greeting. I feel almost emotional when I see the rest of the committee in their t-shirts. More volunteers arrive, and the public, too – more than 50 of them. James Robertson is absolutely lovely and the Waterstones manager Pete gets his book signed before all of the crowds arrive: a lovely, cheerful moment full of buzz and anticipation.

18.00 And we’re off. James Robertson, a natural raconteur,  reads and regales us all with tales of toads and men in his new book To Be Continued , after which we mingle and chat and enjoy the drinks and nibbles: thanks Waterstones. It truly feels like ‘a thing’!

20.00 Way home. I call into Velocity to make sure they are happy about the arrangements for the coming day. My friend (volunteer Susan) and I sit in companionable silence as we tweet and Facebook out the first lot of images over a cuppa and a place of stew. I begin to have concerns about all the things we will have to carry to the library as the mountain builds by the door.

22.00 Final pick-up of the day, daughter No.2 from basketball training.

22.30 A quick catch up with the news and then a spot of blogging, before packing what I need for my author event tomorrow. So far, so very excellent!



NBF (2) Less than a fortnight to go

I awake this morning to the realisation that, however hard I try, I am never going to get to the end of the gargantuan list I’ve left myself to do. So I sit motionless at the breakfast table for a while, just making my inner peace with failure, before embarking on the quest to sort out NessBookFest, my house, my job, my life and everything else. Or as much of it as I can, in any case. On the surface, things are certainly ticking along nicely: the volunteer rota is pretty much sorted, thanks to super-organised Trish; the tickets are up for grabs on Eventbrite ( http://nessbookfest.eventbrite.co.uk/ thank you Rich), the programme (thank you Tony) and the posters (thank you Lorraine) have begun appearing around town…

And yet…

Our fabulous poster, designed by committee member Lorraine


I know it’s irrational, but I want every last ticket gone! Now, preferably!

I want it all booked up, a guarantee that this is not going to be the biggest non-event Inverness has ever seen. Don’t get me wrong, some events are doing well – the illustration workshop for senior pupils is actually ‘sold’ out, there is one more ticket for the ‘meet the rare books’ session, but there are also some events for which the tickets, free as they are, are still sitting on the virtual Eventbrite shelf. Authors are travelling from all over the country, and crazy as it seems, I feel I owe them an audience. We’ve asked them to come after all, didn’t we?

But the more I think about it, the more I realise: I can’t make it happen. I may raise awareness, I may tweet and share and email and ring, but I cannot physically press the button to book these events up.

So now that that’s cleared up in my head, I can breathe more deeply and get on with some of the things that I can  actually do. Scanning back through committee minutes, I tick the action points with my name beside off, one by one. We need prizes for our children’s treasure hunt, for example. The Eastgate Centre have pledged a £20 voucher, which is not too shabby, but maybe, just maybe we can get a few more? And our authors might appreciate the odd bit of cake, or a sandwich even?

Ring supermarkets! Check.Image result for Tesco community champion Inverness

The first Tesco community lady is a whirlwind of benevolence! Before I’ve even finished my opening sentence, she has volunteered bread and fillings for sandwiches, cakes, juice, cups and children’s prizes. She doesn’t really give me the chance to ask at all, all she wants to talk about is when I’ll pop in to take all these things off her hands. The second Tesco lady is a bit more cagey. In fact, I get the feeling that she doesn’t want to talk to me at all, but would much rather ‘sort something out’ with Tesco lady number one. This one is heading on holiday the next day and really isn’t up for a chat. I gratefully hang up. I think two supermarket community people are enough for one day – let’s leave the rest for tomorrow.

I head to the Victorian Market to pick up the spectacularly striking t-shirts for the committee, no doubt my default wardrobe for the weeks to come. Thanks very much, Victorian market t-shirt man! I order badges for the volunteers, too – another check on my list. On to the printers – at least half our programme pick-up points have run out, so my cunning plan to save on the budget and print less in the first instance has failed spectacularly.

Oh well, we did budget for another 400, so another 400 we shall have – more happy folding of leaflets ahead!  Staggering home under the weight of the goods, I stop to find homes for two more posters. Now that the shiny reprint has arrived, we can afford to be a bit more generous. And, just as I wander through the Eastgate on my way up the hill, I spot this:

One poster, out of many which we’ve left around town in the hope that promises will be kept, and that businesses and organisations will actually put them up.

THOUSANDS of people will walk past this one poster between now and November 10th. Of course, there will be many more, I hope. The lovely guys at Waterstones are going to do a window display. The committee are on it: we are going to write press releases and tweet and shout, ask for radio coverage and rally every willing soul we know. And fingers crossed, all will go to plan.

I’m confident!

Sort of. 

Time to make my inner peace with success!


Blogging Silence OVER!! NBF (1)

I have been bordering on blogging inertia – what with all the things that went on in the run-up to Fir for Luck‘s publication, and after. What a ride it’s been! But just as I need to stand still for a bit to steady myself after any rollercoaster ride, I needed to focus my eyes and my brain properly now. Train my eyes on the next thing. Which, for me, is going to be NessBookFest.

Inverness used to have a book festival, but it was discontinued years ago. Early this year, before I knew that I would have a publication deal with Cranachan, I put a tweet out:

Gutted that Inverness doesn’t have a book festival anymore. Anyone want to help me make this happen again?

Or something like it. I talked to people who had been involved before, I spoke to venues and stakeholders and writers and readers. I talked to others who were running book festivals around the country. More and more people came forward; and some had much more expertise than I was bringing to the table. We began meeting in the summer, formed a committee, adopted a constitution on 3rd September (yes, that recently!) and are going to have a bash at holding the festival in just over a fortnight. For those who’d like to take a look, check out https://nessbookfest.wordpress.com/whats-on/ for a downloadable programme and the booking link,  or connect on https://twitter.com/NessBookFest1 or https://www.facebook.com/NessBookFest/ . It’s going to be free – no barriers. It’s going to be egalitarian, with grassroots and emerging voices sitting equally beside big names. It’s going to be special.

The timing has not been ideal for me in some ways – my book launch for Fir for Luck was a month ago, and I have been woefully distracted by NessBookFest ever since. My plan is to throw myself into marketing Fir for Luck afterwards, but for now, I thought it might be an interesting thing to blog about running a book festival for the very first time.

This week has already seen its share of challenges. The box of posters, beautifully designed by committee member Lorraine, arrived a day early. I was delighted!

But on opening the box, there was a bit of an issue – all our beautiful glossy black posters were sticking together – they clearly had been packed while still partially wet.Displaying WP_20161022_15_03_37_Pro.jpgDisplaying WP_20161022_15_03_20_Pro.jpg I set to work, carefully separating them by hand – speckles and rips appeared on the shiny black surface. I tried wiping, slicing, pinching, rubbing, but all techniques yielded the same result. In the end, a polite but insistent email to the internet printers – please could you kindly refund or reprint the smaller-size batch? Meanwhile, we had no choice but to use some of the damaged goods – word needed to get out, and fast! I got busy with scissors and black marker pens, cutting or colouring the worst of the damage.

Then the answer I was waiting for: a free reprint of 100 A4 posters now means that we can give them away to authors and volunteers as a thank-you souvenir, plus put up some extra around the town. Maybe the proverbial blessing in disguise isn’t a myth after all?

My list of things to do is long – in fact so long that I’m trying hard not to look at it at all.

I’ll blog to keep you posted with the behind-the scenes story of NessBookFest as I go along.