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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 She had taken a look at a manuscript of mine which still sits unpublished and unloved in my drawer, but one thing she said stuck in my mind: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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