CREATIVE SECRETS Barbara Henderson

In search of inspiration, Caroline Deacon invites established writers and illustrators to tell us about their creative space. This month features Barbara Henderson.

Barbara is an Inverness-based drama teacher and author of Scottish historical and eco-fiction for kinds, all published by Cranachan books. Her second novel, Punch was shortlisted for the Crystal Kite award. She is well known for her energetic school visits and loves playing the fiddle and walking her Schnauzer. 

Tell us about your creative space.
I am a nomad, really. I like working in cafes (my favourite one is Velocity in Inverness, just along the road where I live) but also upstairs in the local theatre or in the reference section of the library. Going out to work often gives me the impetus I need to get started. If I can’t do that, I work in the tiny spare room at home. It’s a messy, piles-of-books, piles-of-notes, creaking-shelves type of affair. Whenever we have actual visitors, it’s a Herculean effort to make the space presentable!

Velocity in Inverness - Barbara's creative space. 

Why does this place work for you?
Away from the house, I can work anywhere. I think the secret is in the travelling – I feel as if I’ve gone to work! In the house, I need to shut the door to dim out any distractions, I’m ok with white noise, but silence is better 😊

Inside the creative space. 

Do you need particular prompts? 
I surround myself with visuals. There are illustrations and prints on the walls and my screensaver is likely to reflect the book I am working on. A pile of research books or notes at my side helps. If I need to remember anything, it needs pinned up or I’ll forget! But in the writing of my medieval book, The Siege of Caerlaverock, I did have a couple of quirks. First, I’d generally wear my drop-sleeve medieval style top, and I also bought a medieval-looking ring at a vintage fair. I wore it when writing the book and it helped me get into the character more. In fact, I loved it so much that I wrote the ring into the book! When writing a Viking book more recently, I drank out of a Lewis Chessmen mug. Yes, the small stuff really works for me.

Barbara's home working space. 

Your creative tools - what are they? 
Straight to the laptop and into a Word doc. I’m too lazy to do battle with technology or to retype work I’ve already written.

Do you have a routine? 
Any snatched moments, and when I’m not teaching, I like to get started as early as I can. Family life has a habit of demanding some attention as the day goes on, but if I’ve achieved something already, I can feel a lot more gracious about being interrupted.

What is the best creative advice you’ve been given? 
A quote from Jack London. ‘You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.’ Also ‘Leave the reader some work to do’ – kids don’t like having everything spelled out for them.

What advice would you like to give to writers who are trying to get established?
There is no such thing as being too proactive. Writing is your job, publicity is your job, selling books is your job. And be nice. The publishing world is a small-ish bubble. Burnt bridges serve no-one.

What was your favourite book as a child?
I loved the Black Stallion series by Walter Farley.

Favourite ‘how to write’ book? 
I love Nicola Morgan’s Write to be Published. Full of sound advice and hilarious chapter headings such as ‘Why is crap published?’

Does exercise help?
I walk if I get stuck. I don’t have a choice as there is a tail-wagging walking companion waiting at my door. I am stuck approximately four times a day!

Any food or drink you must have at hand in order to be able to create? 
I have to, have to, HAVE TO have coffee.

Planner or pantser? 
If I have an idea, I run it past my publisher. I then research and write in tandem. At around the to thirds mark, I write a synopsis to figure out how on earth I’m going to get to the end. It’s a white-knuckle ride, I’m not gonna lie!

What inspired you to first start writing?
Stories and their effect on me. Isn’t it magical that wee black marks can create a head-cinema in our minds? I wanted to do that for others. If I was offered actual magic power, I think I’d still choose this.

And why children?
Low cynicism, high enthusiasm. Few nit-picky tendencies and up for anything. My kind of audience!

Images credited to Barbara Henderson 

Barbara is an Inverness-based drama teacher and author of Scottish historical and eco-fiction for kinds, all published by Cranachan books. Her second novel, Punch was shortlisted for the Crystal Kite award. 

You can find her on the following platforms: 

Barbara's Website
Barbara's Instagram
Barbara's Twitter 

Caroline Deacon lives in Edinburgh and is the author of several childcare books. She now writes MG and YA and is agented by Lindsay Fraser of Fraser Ross Associates, Edinburgh. Find her on Twitter @writingdilemmas and at

The header image is by Emma Graham, a Hook finalist at the 2016 SCBWI BI conference and a finalist in The Stratford Literary Festival picture book competition 2017. Emma's first illustrated book, Symphony Hollow, was written by Jessica Reino and published by Spork. She is commissioned illustrator for The Children’s Appeal at Ipswich hospital creating illustrations for publicity, charity events and the refurbished children’s ward. 

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