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Rivet Boy - Barbara Henderson

Whatever you do, don’t look down...

When 12-year-old John Nicol gets a job at the Forth Bridge construction site, he knows it’s dangerous. Several men have already fallen from the bridge into the Forth below. But John has no choice – with his father gone, he must provide an income for his family – even if he is terrified of heights.

John finds comfort in the new Carnegie library, his friend Cora and his squirrel companion, Rusty. But when he is sent to work in Cain Murdoch’s Rivet Gang, John must find the courage to climb, to face his fears, and to stand up to his evil boss.

Based on real-life events and inspired by contemporary newspaper coverage Barbara found during her research, Rivet Boy is the story of one Victorian boy’s role in the building of the iconic Forth Bridge – Scotland’s greatest man-made wonder. Skilfully blending fact with fiction, Barbara has created another thrilling adventure for middle grade readers.

Inverness-based Barbara Henderson is the current Writer-in-Residence at the Forth Bridge, and the author of historical novels Fir for Luck, Punch, Black Water, The Siege of Caerlaverock and The Chessmen Thief as well as the eco-thriller Wilderness Wars.

Inverness-based Barbara Henderson is the author of historical novels Fir for Luck, Punch, Black Water, The Siege of Caerlaverock and The Chessmen Thief as well as the eco-thriller Wilderness Wars. The Chessmen Thief won the Historical Association’s Young Quills Award for the best children’s historical fiction in 2022 and The Siege of Caerlaverock won the same accolade in 2021. Barbara shares her home with one teenage son, one long-suffering husband and a scruffy Schnauzer called Merry. Twitter/Instagram: @scattyscribbler

“The historical detail takes you right there. From the clothes to the turns of phrase to the social standings of the day and the way people interact. And the life and death dramas. It’s ace… And then the characters: I was with them from the off. There’s so much to love about Rivet Boy. As a reader. And – to be honest – as a writer.” Tom Palmer, author

As part of the blogtour, I'm thrilled to be able to share this guest post from author, Barbara Henderson, about her jobs as both writer and teacher....


I stare at the form, unsure how to proceed.

The truth is I have two occupations, and I earn roughly the same from both. Am I a teacher? Am I a writer?

Mondays and Tuesdays: I throw my Highland Council lanyard around my neck and pack my schoolbag. I work as a Drama teacher in a local primary school. Most people have some sort of idea what that involves, and I do not need to explain.

The rest of the week I am a writer. Most people think they know what that means, but the truth is that my days are a lot more varied than simply sitting at a desk bashing keys on a laptop. I may travel for book festivals or author visits to schools, I may research, I may write, I may pitch articles and projects, or apply for funding, or source opportunities, or edit video and social media content, or update my website, or create teaching resources to accompany my books. In fact, often the other stuff gets in the way of the actual writing!

I am often torn between the two – both are jobs which would consume the whole of you if you let them. And once I was on the verge of giving up teaching to allow me to focus on my books. Then I realised: I needed to be with children to write for them effectively! I would miss the constant buzz of the classroom, the predictable interactions, the surprises, the banter with children I actually had a chance of getting to know.

My decision was vindicated when my writing events fell off a cliff during the pandemic. No schools were open, no festivals took place – and teaching, all of a sudden, was my sole income again. There are real reasons why writing and teaching Drama and English (my two original subjects) go together exceptionally well.

1. I hang out with my target audience. I write for upper primary school, and I spend all my teaching days with youngsters of that age. I know what they are capable of, what excites them, what bores them and how they communicate. Much of this finds its way into my stories.

2. I can try ideas on said target audience. I had an idea for a novel. In my teaching job, I simply wrote a 3-page play script and performed it with one of my classes at assembly. They LOVED it, meaning that I knew I was onto a winner when I wrote the story – and many of their improvisations added colour and texture to the novella it became.

3. I choose subject matter which schools are likely to be interested in: I know what learning contexts are common in schools and I have been around long enough to know where the gaps in the market are – why, for example, was there not an upper primary novel about the Jacobites when so many schools in Scotland studied the topic? I wrote one.

4. I can give myself the edge by creating relevant resources (and as a teacher already working with the curriculum, I know what they should contain!). I know that teachers are often pressed for time. If there are two books they could choose as a novel study, but one of those comes with easy-to-use quality teaching resources, guess which one they will pick? Every one of my books has free resources to download on my website as a result.

5. Being a teacher comes with a bit of kudos in the children’s book world. Publishers may be more likely to consider your work because certain skills (connecting with young audiences and the confidence to speak engagingly to them, for example) are a given. My literary agent even set up an agency, especially for teachers who write.

My pen hovers over the form before confidently inserting:

Occupation: Teacher/Writer.

I am both, and better for it.

Thank you to Cranachan Books and Antonia for the blogtour spot and copy of the book. Make sure to check out the other stops via the links in the blogtour poster and the author and publisher's social media channels!

Post by Rich Simpson (@richreadalot) Feb 2023

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