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  • Title: The Siege of Caerlaverock
  • Author: Barbara Henderson
  • Publisher: Pokey Hat (an imprint of Cranachan Publishing)
  • Publication Date: 6th August 2020

Copy received from publisher for review purposes.

Description:

Enemies within.

Enemies without.

Nowhere to hide.

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 secretly 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.

My Thoughts:

Before I say anything about the story that has been magically woven by one of my favourite authors, can I just direct you to the stunning artwork that adorns the covers of this book. Granted, the image here doesn’t do it justice. The gold foil is magnificent, there’s a grandness to this book that comes from the cover alone, and that’s before you open the pages and get swept away by the wonderful writing and beauty of the illustrations that head each new chapter.

I’ve been a fan of Barbara Henderson’s writing for some years now, after falling in love with her debut Fir For Luck that was published in 2016, her name has been on my list to watch out for on social media for updates about new books. Barbara is a very approachable and friendly author, with an enthusiasm for history that has readers keen to find out more.

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to see a siege through the eyes of a 12-year-old? If so, this is the book for you! In The Siege of Caerlaverock readers meet Ada and Godfrey, who despite their status form a true and powerful friendship. A laundress with a kind heart, compassion and the strength to face those who scare her makes young Ada the sort of character that many readers will instantly connect with and take into their hearts. Godfrey, the new Page boy to Lord Maxwell, is young but brave. And while their time together is short, it is definitely packed with excitement, danger and bravery.
What stands out the most for me throughout this entire story is how real these characters felt. I cared what happened to them, I worried about them being injured or harmed by those who wished them ill, I wondered what happened to them after I finished reading the book. Not only does Barbara Henderson bring her characters to life, she brings the scenes alive too. Carefully weaving historical fact and detail together, this is a read that plays to the senses of the audience. You can almost smell “that “ smell (you’ll know it when you get to that part), you can feel the chill in the air, you can feel the ground underfoot as Ada crosses the courtyard into the castle and goes about her day … you are truly transported when you read on of Barbara’s books. Forget VR headsets and programmes, just read a book by Barbara for that total immersion!

With each new book that she writes, I think there’s no way she can better what she’s already penned, but somehow she does. And although her books may feature a main character that is a child, they can be read by any aged reader. Her books can be loved by any aged reader, and this reader certainly loves them!


And if my review wasn’t enough to get your attention, I have a wonderful post from Barbara about her love of castles to share with you, along with some fantastic pictures.
Grab a cuppa and a cheeky biscuit, and read on!

My Enduring Fascination with Castles – by Barbara Henderson

I love a good castle story – mainly because I can think of no better place to set a tale than a castle – be it the tall and imposing kind or the crumbling ruin. From my bedroom window in the house I grew up in, I could see a medieval lookout tower on the horizon. Peeking out among the tall pine trees which clad the hill, it was a constant signal from the past. Who stood there and looked out over the rolling hills at night? Who sent word that enemy armies were on the move? The building itself acted as a fertiliser for my already overactive imagination.

I also grew up near Schloss Homburg – an incredibly well-preserved medieval stronghold in the part of Germany where I grew up. If we had visitors, that’s where we’d take them. The castle also put on plenty of events and re-enactments – bringing the past to life in such an engaging way. I built castles from rocks and bricks on our living room floor, never far from the old spinning wheel my mother still has. It looked like it had come straight out of a Grimm’s fairy tale! German folklore and fairy tales are largely rooted in the medieval period and their appeal continues. The very first play I saw performed live in a theatre, a few years later, was a medieval love story between a knight and a lady of the castle. I was hooked – on Drama and on history, and both of these have gone on to play major roles in my life. I now work as a Drama teacher and write historical stories for young people.

In 1991, I moved to Scotland to study – the CASTLES! I lived a stone’s throw from Edinburgh Castle, and everything about that city simply evokes the past, in so many ways which really fuelled my imagination. In all weathers, the old stonework took on a new hue and I felt small – in a good way. I wa simply part of the flow of history while the stones stayed still. A move to Aberdeenshire beckoned. Choosing a house for our young family was easy – the one at the beginning of the clifftop walk to Dunnottar Castle would do nicely, thank you very much. Our children wore the primary school uniform with pride: the badge was a picture of the castle ruin. We joined the national Trust for Scotland and Crathes, Drum and Fraser castles became our alternate weekend hangouts.

Now living in the Highlands with our teenagers, there were new crumbling stones to discover, new stories to unearth. The landscape and the built heritage here evokes the past like few other places. Inverness castle is now my most frequently visited dog-walk destination, sometimes twice a day. It may not be as old and as impressive as some of its predecessors, but for now it’s mine. This was especially true of lockdown. Normally, the esplanade is crowded with tourists, but for four whole months it felt like I had it to myself – me and the statue of Jacobite heroine Flora MacDonald. 

Even on holiday, we tend to seek out a castle if we can. And so it happened that on a very rainy April day in 2018, I stumbled upon Caerlaverock Castle and its medieval history. Within seconds through the door of the exhibition I was hooked. The huge missiles which crashed at the castle walls in 1300 were displayed in real size. The accompanying displays told the tale of the siege, the David and Goliath story of 60 versus three thousand.  It had all the drama I could possibly ask for, and the highest of stakes. Above all, it had the very best setting for an adventurous and atmospheric tale: a medieval castle. I hope that many others will be inspired to visit Caerlaverock, and that they will be fascinated and enchanted with the place as I was.

I may never live in a castle of my own, but dotted around this fantastic country, these buildings are nothing less than windows into the past. They are ours to enjoy and ours to protect.

A gift, and a responsibility too. What is your favourite castle? 
Follow the blog tour!

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I am thrilled to welcome you to my stop on the blog tour for Barbara Henderson’s latest novel Wilderness Wars, an eco thriller set on a Scottish island. And if this wasn’t brilliant enough, Barbara has also written a guest piece for today’s stop on the tour “The Supernatural in Wilderness Wars”.

Wilderness Wars Ebook Cover with Quote

** My thanks to the lovely folks at Cranachan Books and Barbara Henderson for my copy of this book and for inviting me to take par in the blog tour **

 

Description:

What if nature fights back?

Still in a daze, I take it all in: the wind, the leaden skies, the churning moody sea.
And, far in the distance, a misty outline.
Skelsay.
Wilderness haven. Building-site. Luxury-retreat-to-be.
And now, home.

When her father’s construction work takes Em’s family to the uninhabited island of Skelsay, she is excited, but also a little uneasy. Soon Em, and her friend Zac, realise that the setbacks, mishaps and accidents on the island point to something altogether more sinister: the wilderness all around them has declared war.

Danger lurks everywhere. But can Em and Zac persuade the adults to believe it before it’s too late?

My Thoughts & Review:

I have to admit to being a huge fan of Barbara Henderson’s writing, I have been since I read her first book Fir for Luck. There’s a richness in the words that she skillfully weaves together to paint a vivid picture of the story playing out before your eyes.
Like in each of her books, strong characters come to life from the pages and lead readers on a merry adventure through the book.

Em is a young lass who has moved with her family, and several other people to an uninhabited island named Skelsay with the plan of building a luxury hotel and holiday resort. Immediately I felt a connection with Em, something about this feisty young girl made my heart soar with pride. She’s not too happy about the family’s move, she wanted to stay in Glasgow, not move to a remote island, especially not to cramped living quarters or being cooped up with her annoying little brother so much. There’s something in Em’s personality that readers will be able to connect with, she struggles to comprehend the adult world and the decisions they make at times. Whilst she’s not an adult, she does have the makings of a mature head on her young shoulders, demonstrating that she can understand the importance of doing or saying the right thing at times.

As you might expect from the description of the book, the atmospheric setting plays a very important part in the tale. The vivid imagery conjures a bleak yet intriguing landscape and as the construction work gets underway, it’s not hard to envision the various changes to the surroundings. The way that nature takes on a sinister edge makes this such a gripping read, is the wilderness really turning on the construction workers and their families? Is this all in the imagination of Em and her new friend Zac?

The plotting is exciting and the intrigue interwoven throughout makes this the sort of book that you want to race through to find out how it’s all going to come together, find out what lies ahead. It’s a truly remarkable novel and one that I would heartily recommend to readers old and young.

You can buy a copy of Wilderness Wars via:

Cranachan Publishing
Amazon UK
Waterstones

 

Guest post by Barbara Henderson:

Unbelievable!

A supernatural eco-thriller? For children?

It’s not the genre that would spring to mind when scanning through the 9-12 Market, the readership most likely to read and enjoy my books. Does it need a supernatural element at all?

For large chunks of Wilderness Wars, nothing supernatural happens at all – The workforce moves to the island and spend time setting themselves up as a community: tidying and arranging and organising their lives. Beginning to form a routine. The mishaps and accidents, at the beginning at least, feel utterly commonplace, as if the islanders are simply beset by a little bit of bad luck.

But bad luck on its own does not make for a compelling story. It’s simply not enough. Barry Cunningham, the publisher who famously gave a wee manuscript called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone its first break, has said that the single most important feature he looks for in a story is ‘a formidable opponent’.

There are one or two characters who might fall into this category, but the core idea of the novel ‘What if nature fights back’ requires that the wilderness itself become the opponent, the threat, the one who has it in for my characters.

It is a formidable enemy: Weather, land, sea, plants and creatures unite in my book in a single purpose: to force the tiny workforce of construction workers and their families off this island once and for all. This requires a considerable jump in the imagination: I am asking the reader to suspend their disbelief, and to accept that the whole of the natural world can co-ordinate itself to fight back, to draw the line, and to say: this far and no further.

And yet, is a simple enough concept, and one that readers, so far, have engaged with pretty readily. Just like in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, where the liquid turns a range of colours and the transformation into the monster simply happens. Readers aren’t giving scientific facts: they are given an outcome, and the outcome is the only thing which matters.

The only other flash of the supernatural in Wilderness Wars is Em’s vision. She has a vivid dream of the worst possible outcome, if the adults do not agree to leave the island. Step by step, the various of her vision appear in real life, and she now understands the inevitable destruction which awaits. It sets up the final climax of the novel, a life and death sort of jeopardy which, I hope, propels the reader forward.

Without the supernatural component, it would be a story of predictable morality: look after your environment, respect the wilderness. Yawn, yah-de-yah – a lecture book with no drama.

On the other hand, with the terrifying concept that you have incurred the wrath of the whole natural world around you, it becomes a tense survival story, a chase, a war. There are battle lines and strategies, and ultimately, a final showdown. It delivers all the lessons and provokes all the thinking the boring version would, but subtly hidden within A BARRAGE OF DRAMATIC LIFE AND DEATH ACTION.

I know which version I’d rather read!

 

About the Author: rpt

Barbara Henderson has lived in Scotland since 1991, somehow acquiring an MA in English Language and Literature, a husband, three children and a shaggy dog along the way. Having tried her hand at working as a puppeteer, relief librarian and receptionist, she now teaches Drama part-time at secondary school.
Writing predominantly for children, Barbara won the Nairn Festival Short Story Competition in 2012, the Creative Scotland Easter Monologue Competition in 2013 and was one of three writers shortlisted for the Kelpies Prize 2013. In 2015, wins include the US-based Pockets Magazine Fiction Contest and the Ballantrae Smuggler’s Story Competition. She blogs regularly at write4bairns.wordpress.com where full details of her writing achievements can also be found.
Barbara is currently based in Inverness.

Social Media Links:

Website: http://www.barbarahenderson.co.uk/
Twitter: @scattyscribbler
Blog: write4bairns.wordpress.com

 

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Today I am so excited to share the cover of Barbara Henderson’s new book with you!  If you’ve been following my blog for the past year or so, you will have seen that I have a real soft spot for Barbara’s books.  There’s something so magical about the way she weaves together her stories, the characters pop off the pages and each of her books holds a special place in my heart so it’s a great honour to be able to share the cover of Wilderness Wars with you along with a wee guest post written by Barbara too.

Publication date for Wilderness Wars is 16 August 2018 and I’m pretty sure that preorder links will be available soon (as soon as I get them I will be placing my order so will let you all know!), but meantime, here’s the book blurb before you see THAT cover!

Description:

What if nature fights back?

In a daze, I take it all in: the wind, the leaden skies, the churning moody sea.

And, far in the distance, a misty outline.

Skelsay.

Wilderness haven. Building-site. Luxury-retreat-to-be.

And now, home.

When her father’s construction work takes Em’s family to the uninhabited island of Skelsay, she is excited, but also a little uneasy. Soon Em and her friend Zac realise that the setbacks, mishaps and accidents on the island point to something altogether more sinister: the wilderness all around them has declared war.

Danger lurks everywhere. But can they persuade the adults to believe them it before it’s too late?

 

 

 

Wilderness Wars EBOOK.jpg

Wow!  What a cover, isn’t it spectacular?  I cannot wait to read this and find out what happens on the island of Skelsay!

 

And now, the fab guest piece by Barbara about the book, the journey to the cover image and why it’s perfect!

 

Wilderness Wars… great title!’ So said a writer friend at the beginning of the writing process. She had no idea what the book was going to be about, and to be fair, neither had I. All I had was the question which would become the tagline: What if nature fights back?

Intrigued by the concept, I began to spin a tale of mishaps and escalation, of real threat and frustration, of danger and ultimately, of disaster. I lived and breathed those moments with my characters. This was a story I didn’t like writing: I LOVED writing this story. The first draft was completed in 2013, and if anyone had asked me what my favourite of my seven completed novels was, I’d have chosen Wilderness Wars without hesitation.

I can’t even explain why – I think my writing is much more poetic in Fir for Luck, and the structure in Punch is probably tighter. But I had a connection with the subject which has only intensified with the subsequent years of Trumpish arrogance: When is it ok to impose our agenda on the natural world, and to take without giving back? And how far is too far? How can we protect the wild places we have left from short-term profiteers like Ian Pratt in my book? I was hugely invested in this book, whether it ever saw the light of day or not. I was ecstatic when Cranachan decided to take it on.

However, without realising it, I also had a fairly fixed idea in my head of what the cover needed:

Threat and darkness. Waves. Earth and sea colours, and drama – lots and lots of it! Could I get away with another running silhouette? How could a battle of such unequal parties be shown, and how could it captivate young people – and the adults who buy books for them

I hadn’t realised how inflexible I had become until Cranachan’s designer Anne Glennie and I had ‘the cover discussion’. I had sent her image after image of, essentially, the same thing: a stylised giant wave. In her patience with me she had a go at manipulating lots of options but also threw in some images which were very different. I dismissed them one after the other in my mind, but the vibrant blue, the jaggy shards of rock and the seemingly idyllic blue sky of this particular design drew me magnetically towards it. It wasn’t what I had thought of, but it was vibrant. Attractive and majestic, without being cosy – the birds have no eyes, for goodness’ sake! Creepy enough to suggest a threat, surely.

Time for the final test: I placed the image on the computer screen and walked away as far as I could in the house. Turning, I opened my eyes and wham! It would have the impact it needed, across a bookshop. The power to draw readers towards it.

This realisation was the thin wedge Anne needed, the seed of doubt which allowed me to finally let go of my boring wave.

And man, am I glad I did. It’s a stunner, this cover, and my screensaver for everything.

EVERYTHING!

I LOOOOOVE it!

About the Author:

IMG_2648

Barbara Henderson has lived in Scotland since 1991, somehow acquiring an MA in English Language and Literature, a husband, three children and a shaggy dog along the way. Having tried her hand at working as a puppeteer, relief librarian and receptionist, she now teaches Drama part-time at secondary school.
Writing predominantly for children, Barbara won the Nairn Festival Short Story Competition in 2012, the Creative Scotland Easter Monologue Competition in 2013 and was one of three writers shortlisted for the Kelpies Prize 2013. In 2015, wins include the US-based Pockets Magazine Fiction Contest and the Ballantrae Smuggler’s Story Competition. She blogs regularly at write4bairns.wordpress.com where full details of her writing achievements can also be found.
Barbara is currently based in Inverness.

Social Media Links:

Website: http://www.barbarahenderson.co.uk/
Twitter: @scattyscribbler
Blog: write4bairns.wordpress.com

 

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As part of the blog tour for her new book Punch, the lovely Barbara Henderson has written a piece on “Animals in Punch”, so without further ado, let me hand over to Barbara.

Punch cover inc. quotes

I once had a one-to-one with a commissioning editor for a big, mainstream publisher. She had taken a look at a manuscript of mine which still sits unpublished and unloved in my drawer, but one thing she said stuck in my mind:

‘It’s good that you have a dog in it,’ she said. ‘If you can put a dog on the cover of a children’s book, it’s proven to sell more. It sells most if you have a Retriever on it.’

Really? Irrespective of subject, the story itself and countless other factors?

Needless to say, the dog alone didn’t sell her my manuscript. After a polite and non-decriptly positive-ish fifteen minutes, she walked away from me and the book-that-was-never-to-be, without taking it any further.

It was an easy decision to include some animal characters in Punch.

There wasn’t a pet as such in Fir for Luck, my previous novel, but Punch needed one – it came with the territory of travelling entertainers in Victorian times, almost like a small-scale circus. I did some digging and discovered that some travelling puppeteers used a live dog in their act. Necessity meant it had to be small (can you imagine a Retriever perching on the ledge of a Punch and Judy booth?), but it made the perfect companion for my main character. I imagine Toby, the dog in my book, as a cross between a Jack Russell and something a little bit shaggier, but I don’t need to know exactly – with children’s books, the readers do an awful lot of the filling in with their own imaginations. They don’t need me to spell out what a dog looks like – they simply want to know what happens to it.

Victorian Punch and Judy with live dog, image from

But I had to be careful. Children have a pretty strong reaction to any cruelty towards animals. I discovered this to my cost in the reactions to Fir for Luck, where a cat is mistreated pretty badly in a Highland Clearances context. There is good reason to believe that the incident with the cat actually happened, so it merited inclusion, but it is the only part of Fir for Luck I have got any flak for.

In Punch, things don’t end quite so badly for the dog:  Like the cat in Fir for Luck, it is a victim of abuse, but Phin rescues it!  Toby the dog becomes a side-kick, a vehicle for low-key comedy, and a comforting presence, too. A creature who loves my main character unconditionally. Another fabulous writing tip which floats around in my nebulous mind: If you struggle to make your hero lovable, make another character love them. A dog ticks that box pretty nicely.

I was dealing with Victorian times, so for practical reasons there is also a horse – a Clydesdale, in fact. I love horses and have always found this breed particularly impressive, with its flowing mane, hairy hooves and plate-size tracks in the mud. Only recently, I visited a heavy horse centre with my family and got up close. It was easy to imagine that a small-built 12-year-old was going to find a Clydesdale pretty daunting. But I am also fascinated by the way that fear is easily dispelled by familiarity- he has to get on with it, as they say. And as looking after the horse becomes part of his everyday routine, Phin doesn’t give it a second thought. It is hired for the season and is only ever referred to as ‘the Clydesdale’, a working animal without a name and without much emotional attachment. I think that may be an accurate reflection of how many viewed horses in those days.

But there is another animal which commands our imagination in Punch, and no spoilers here – it takes up a fair bit of the cover of the book. A dancing bear. Imposing, unpredictable, dangerous and impressive, it is a memorable creature. Dancing bears, on the whole, led a life of suffering, but far from a treatise on animal welfare, Punch is more of a snapshot of how life was, or could have been, in those days of changing attitudes and increased awareness of animals and their needs. Even then, although still legal, dancing bears were relics of a bygone age.

When I first pitched the novel to my writing group, the verdict was unanimous – you had us at ‘dancing bear’. ‘More about the bear,’ my publishers asked after every round of edits. There will be more detail about the dancing bear and how it gate-crashed my story in tomorrow’s blog tour stop on the LoveBooksGroup blog.

I love the fact that the animals add colour and drama to Punch – I think it’s a better book for it.

So much so that I have gone back to add a hamster into a previously petless manuscript. We all love a good pet story, right?

Watch this space!

Punch was published on 23rd October by Cranachan Publishing and can be purchased via:

Amazon
Wordery
Book Depository
Waterstones

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Punch cover inc. quotes

** My thanks to Barbara Henderson for my copy of Punch and for inviting me to be part of her blog tour **

 

Description:

Wrong place. Wrong time. A boy on the run.
THE MARKET’S ON FIRE. FIRE! FIRE! THE BOY DID IT!

Smoke belches out through the market entrance.

And me?

I turn and run.

Inverness 1889.

When 12-year-old Phin is accused of a terrible crime, his only option is to flee. In the unlikely company of an escaped prisoner and a group of travelling entertainers, he enters a new world of Punch and Judy shows and dancing bears.

But will Phin clear his name?

And what can he do when memories of a darker, more terrible crime begin to haunt him?

My Thoughts & Review:

Once in a while, an author comes along that possesses the rare gift of being a true storyteller.  A storyteller who can weave together a tale so wondrous and fascinating that you can barely pause for breath or tear your attention away, and for me that is Barbara Henderson.  From the first pages of her debut Fir For Luck I knew that this was an author I would be devotedly following from now on, and you cannot begin to imagine my happiness when I heard about her next book Punch.

A wonderfully rich and exciting plot awaits the reader behind such a vivid cover, and one of the most impressive things about this book is that it is narrated from the perspective of 12-year-old Phin which allows readers the opportunity to experience the world from a very different point of view.  The reason that I am most impressed with this is the fact that as a woman in her 30s, I rarely see the world without my over analytical (and sometimes anxious) mind, whilst the world is never black and white, through the eyes of Phin we see the world entirely different.  Phin’s take on the world around him, and indeed the adults that have thus far shaped his life make for interesting reading and really add another layer to this novel.  He is an exceptional character, and despite the cruel hand that has been dealt to him, he never fails to show compassion and decency towards others.  I was particularly struck by the compassion he showed towards the children in the audience at one of the shows of Professor Merriweather Moffat’s Royal Entertainment Show. 

Victorian Scotland really comes alive from the pages as Barbara Henderson masterfully casts her spell on readers.  The vivid descriptions are utterly beguiling, I could conjure clear images in my head of settings and characters, I felt like I was there in 19th Century Edinburgh and Balmoral.  It was almost like stepping back in time when reading this, and I loved every second of it.

A captivating novel that I have no doubt will steal the hearts of readers across the generations and I know I will be saving my copy of this remarkable book for my daughter to read in a few years time.

I would urge you to buy a copy, I cannot recommend this (and Fir For Luck) highly enough.

You can buy a copy of Punch via:

Amazon
Wordery
Book Depository
Waterstones

 

 

About the Author:

IMG_2648

Barbara Henderson has lived in Scotland since 1991, somehow acquiring an MA in English Language and Literature, a husband, three children and a shaggy dog along the way. She now teaches Drama, although if you dig deep in her past you will find that she has earned her crust as a relief librarian, receptionist and even a puppeteer. Her worst job ever was stacking and packing freshly pressed margarine tubs into cardboard boxes while the plastic was still hot – for eight hours a day. She is still traumatised!

Barbara has been interested in the history of the Highland Clearances since the early 90s. But it was when she stumbled across the crumbling ruins of Ceannabeinne, near the village of Durness on holiday, that her current novel Fir for Luck began to take shape in her imagination – and that story simply wouldn’t be ignored.

Over the years, writing has always been what she loves most: Barbara has won several national and international short story competitions and was one of three writers short-listed for the Kelpies Prize 2013 with a previous novel manuscript.
Barbara currently lives in Inverness and spends her time researching how on earth other people manage to make money from writing.

She blogs regularly at www.write4bairns.wordpress.com

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Welcome along to another Friday, and another post to celebrate Indie Publishing!  Today I am delighted to introduce you to Cranachan Publishing headed up by Anne Glennie and Helen MacKinven.  Today I have  a review of the awe inspiring “Fir for Luck” by Barbara Henderson to share with you and a short interview with the woman behind the tale.


Book Feature:

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Published: 21 September 2016
5 out of 5 stars

Description:

Would you be brave enough to fight back?

When 12-year-old Janet’s village is under threat– she decides to take action. It’s a split-second decision that could cost her everything: her home, her family – even her life.

Can Janet save her village from being wiped out? Or will her family and friends be forced from their homes to face an uncertain future?

Based on real life events, Fir for Luck is a tale of the brutal Highland Clearances, when land owners cared more about sheep than people.

 

My Thoughts & Review:

When I first saw this book advertised as a “Children’s Book” I was sceptical, would I enjoy it, would it hold my attention, would there be enough story there to fascinate me – these were just some of the initial ponderings I had, and happily I can say I needn’t have worried.

“Fir for Luck” is a magnificently written book,  and one I think may well sneak onto my top books of 2017.
Steeped in rich history, Barbara Henderson weaves together the tale of a young girl in a Highland village who struggles to comprehend the fate of her community.  For those not familiar with the history of the Highland Clearances, this is a book well worth reading, it acts as a little guide to a brutal point in Scottish history, but by adding the human element through young Janet, Henderson really brings the tale alive.  During the Clearances, tenants were driven from their homes and villages (often with violence) to free the land for sheep farming which was seen as the more profitable use for land at the time.  The villagers were given little to no notice that they were to be evicted from their homes, and little opportunity to find somewhere else to go before being left destitute.

One of the best things about this book was the idea of a young girl being the first to find out about the eviction order.  The innocence of childhood, the black and white thinking that comes with a mind uncomplicated by adult themes makes this a truly remarkable read.  Janet is a wonderfully endearing character and one I think many readers will feel a bond with.  Her determination to save her family and community makes my heart break at times but also swell with enormous pride.  Her fierce intelligence and headstrong ways means she is not afraid to speak out when she believes something is wrong (up here we’d call her “thran“).  Her defiance towards following the set gender stereotypes is something I think many of the female target audience will appreciate – why shouldn’t she be allowed to go with the men on Bent Day?

The vivid descriptions used in the writing transport the reader to early 19th Century Sutherland, the reader can smell the peat in the air, see the beautiful rugged setting, envision the smoke filled cramped homes of the villagers.  There’s a richness to this that I had not expected and I thoroughly enjoyed stepping back in time reading this.  The pace of the story is swift and excellently matched to the tale, this makes for a spellbinding read.  The inferences of Scottish folklore and superstition (fir for luck in the chain of the cooking pot, not allowing the Writ to be touched by any of the villagers to complete execution etc.) were a lovely nod to tradition and added an authenticity to the story.

Despite this book being aimed towards an audience of 8-12 year olds, I would recommend it everyone.  Yes, it is a good book for children to read to gain an understanding of the Highland Clearances, but it also teaches the audience to find the courage that lies within them and embrace what lies ahead.

A very impressive debut novel from a very promising author, one I will be keeping an eye on in the future.  I just need to find out if Barbara Henderson will be at any literary events so I can get a signed copy of this beautifully enchanting book!

You can buy a copy of “Fir for Luck” via Amazon here or Book Depository here


Author Feature:

barbara-henderson-bio-photo

Barbara Henderson has lived in Scotland since 1991, somehow acquiring an MA in English Language and Literature, a husband, three children and a shaggy dog along the way. She now teaches Drama, although if you dig deep in her past you will find that she has earned her crust as a relief librarian, receptionist and even a puppeteer. Her worst job ever was stacking and packing freshly pressed margarine tubs into cardboard boxes while the plastic was still hot – for eight hours a day. She is still traumatised!

Barbara has been interested in the history of the Highland Clearances since the early 90s. But it was when she stumbled across the crumbling ruins of Ceannabeinne, near the village of Durness on holiday, that her current novel Fir for Luck began to take shape in her imagination – and that story simply wouldn’t be ignored.

Over the years, writing has always been what she loves most: Barbara has won several national and international short story competitions and was one of three writers short-listed for the Kelpies Prize 2013 with a previous novel manuscript.
Barbara currently lives in Inverness and spends her time researching how on earth other people manage to make money from writing. She blogs regularly at www.write4bairns.wordpress.com

 

What’s your most favourite thing about being an author?

To be honest – there are loads of things I love about being an author. But most of all, I love the way that an idea can take hold of you, and – in time – that very idea, these very characters and situations and places, can take hold of a reader’s imagination, too.

For such a long time, I was the only person who knew about Janet, the main character in my clearances novel Fir for Luck. Now I get kids coming up to me at school visits, saying ‘I like how Janet is so brave’ or ‘Wee Donald is my favourite character’ or (as a kid said to me yesterday) ‘your book is the best book in the world!’ My story, the one that started only in my head, is now in lots of heads. There is no better feeling than that!

What’s your least favourite thing about being an author?

It’s slow work, and sadly, there is no guarantee that somebody is going to publish, sell or buy your book. I’d love to write full time, but there is not quite enough certainty for that yet. I have written so many manuscripts that have yet to see the light of day. You have to have quite a thick skin! Perseverance and tenacity are probably just as important as talent.

If you could have written any book what would it be and why?

This varies a lot. Saying that, I really admire authors who write funny fiction. It’s one of the hardest things to achieve: series like How to Train your Dragon or Mr Gum have me in stitches. Wish I’d written those!

How do you spend your time when you’re not wrapped up plotting your next book?

I play fiddle, I walk my dog, I hang out with my beyond-crazy family, and I read lots. Boring things like housework and taxi-ing kids around need to happen too – but my part-time job as a Drama teacher is interesting and varied, and I get to spend a lot of time with young people – the very audience I like to write for! All good!

Do you have a set routine for writing?  Rituals you have to observe? I.e. specific pen, silence, day or night etc.

Not rituals as such, but coffee helps – ideally from my favourite Inverness café, Velocity. I’ll often go there when I have trouble getting started – at home there are so many distractions! The ‘white’ noise of a café doesn’t disturb me at all, but I find that the traffic of kids and teenagers in my own house is harder to ignore. I leave the last sentence unfinished at the end of a writing session, so it’s easier to start straightaway the next day. I read every word aloud before I show it to a living soul! And photos and images really help me focus on the world I try to create, so the study is plastered with pictures. My best writing happens when others in the house are sleeping: sometimes last thing at night, but often first thing in the morning. The bags under my eyes bear testament to that!

A huge thank you to Barbara for taking part and letting us know more about her, if you’d like to know more about Barbara and her books you can check out her website www.barbarahenderson.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @scattyscribbler

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If you are an independent publisher or author and would like to feature on “Celebrating Indie Publishing” Friday please get in touch – email and twitter links are on the “About Me & Review Policy” page

 

 

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