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New book by Highland children's writer brings Scottish history to life

By Margaret Chrystall

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Caerlaverock Castle. Picture: VisitScotland/ Damian Shields.
Caerlaverock Castle. Picture: VisitScotland/ Damian Shields.

A new children’s book by Inverness author Barbara Henderson is to commemorate the 720th anniversary of a little-known event in Scottish history.

Back in the year 1300 on July 10 and 11 the King of England, Edward Longshanks, laid siege to Caerlaverock Castle near Dumfries.

Despite more than 3000 soldiers on the outside, just over 60 castle dwellers held out valiantly against arrows and siege engines until they were finally forced to surrender.

The incident during the medieval Scottish Wars of Independence was documented in a heraldic poem which survives.

And the poem was the principal source for Barbara’s new book, the historical novel The Siege of Caerlaverock, out on August 6.

“It was so exciting to know that the poem’s words were written by an eyewitness, even though he was far from impartial,” Barbara said.

“He was a court poet travelling with the king and wrote in the fashionable French language.

“Nevertheless, there were many hints about what might be going on inside the castle which really fuelled my imagination!”

The Siege of Caerlaverock is Barbara’s fifth book.

The author specialises in historical and eco fiction for children.

She is best known for Highland Clearances novel Fir For Luck which reached number one in the Amazon bestseller charts in 2016.

The books in between were also inspired by incidents from the past.

An exciting smuggling adventure, Black Water features a young customs and excise apprentice, who works alongside Robert Burns.

In real life the famous poet worked as a customs officer for a time.

And Punch, set in Victorian times, tells the story of runaway Phin’s journey across Scotland with an escaped prisoner and a dancing bear.

The Punch story began for Barbara when she read about a 1889 fire which destroyed the Victorian Market in Inverness.

“The way ideas come to you never gets old,” Barbara said.

And the idea for this one?

“I was visiting Caerlaverock Castle with my family and the story just claimed me for itself,” she said.

Caerlaverock Castle. Picture: VisitScotland/ Damian Shields.
Caerlaverock Castle. Picture: VisitScotland/ Damian Shields.

“It’s such a David and Goliath tale! With William Wallace in hiding at the time, these were such uncertain times along the border, and telling the story from a girl’s point of view adds something unusual too – so many castle stories are aimed only at boys, with lower status female characters all but invisible. I’m glad to have been able to redress that balance a


The book’s independent publisher, Cranachan, is based on the Isle of Lewis.

Managing director Anne Glennie said: “The Siege of Caerlaverock is rooted in reality, capturing the lives and times of the 1300s and combining it with an action-filled plot and characters you care about.

“Barbara really does bring the ‘story’ in history to life.

“Her books illuminate Scotland’s past, making it exciting and cool for children and adults alike.”

Barbara is currently researching, writing and working on a couple of projects from the Victorian period and the Norse tradition.

“I quite often find inspiration from buildings and artefacts contrasting with the present day, particularly things I feel modern youngsters would relate to and look at,” she added.

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