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Artyness: Where to find true inspiration

By Barbara Henderson

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Barbara Henderson with her latest book.
Barbara Henderson with her latest book.

I stared at the wall.

I stared at my feet.

I hovered my hands over the keyboard.

Nothing. Inspiration had gone AWOL. It was a Sunday night and I normally plan my drama teaching for the week ahead.

That particular weekend had been a nice one and, guess what, I hadn’t given the faintest thought to how I was going to entertain the little darlings at the school where I work.

To top it all off, I had been timetabled for some one-off lessons with the little ones, Primary 1-3. What does one do?

The older stages are my comfort zone. Desperately, I looked around the study for something – anything! – to help me forward and my eyes fell on a padded envelope.

As I often say, one of the best things about writing this column is the fact that publishers often send me books to review. Surprise book post thuds onto my mat when I need cheering up. One of those lay unopened by my desk. I tore it open.

Bingo! Velda the Awesomest Viking, a light-hearted chapter book by David Macphail, whom I really rate for his effortless ability to be funny – alas, not a superpower bestowed on me!

But the second book which slid out of the envelope was the answer to my prayers. I have long admired the writing of Janis Mackay, but I will remember her most for her kindness in the summer of 2013.

I was shortlisted for a writing prize which I didn’t win, but I found myself at Edinburgh International Book Festival. Janis hosted part of the ceremony, and she invited me to the Yurt, a place only reserved for writers appearing on the programme – and their guests.

I sipped my free coffee and chatted to her freely, only partially distracted by Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie along the benches.

Here was her latest picture book, The Fairy Song. I flicked through its pages and a smile spread over my face. Sorted!

Fairy Song.
Fairy Song.

My young pupils filed in. "Today we are not just going to play drama games," I explained. "We are going to be in a story!" I nominated children to play the characters while the rest of the class were trees blowing in the wind, then wood fairies dancing and twirling (no singing! Covid made sure of that).

As the chorus, they also provided emotional reactions of the aww and oooh kind. A glockenspiel served as the cue that magic was about to happen.

If my own lesson has taught me anything, it is this: we are all hardwired for story. I have rarely seen children more engaged. Imagine their surprise when I pulled the book from my bag at the end and donated it to the class library (after reviewing it on several websites first). I thought they were going to come to blows over who got to look at it first!

The moral is... if you’re stuck for inspiration, look for a book.

Look out for: The programme for XpoNorth has just been released. The digital event will take place over June 16 and 17. Lots of amazing events!

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