Highlands & Islands

Author draws inspiration from puppets and historical fire

Barbara Henderson and puppets Image copyright Handout
Image caption Barbara Henderson has set her second children's book in Victorian Scotland

An author has drawn on her interests in puppetry and Scottish history for her latest children's book.

Inverness-based Barbara Henderson's new novel, Punch, is set in Victorian Scotland.

It follows a boy who seeks refuge with a travelling puppet show after being wrongly accused of causing a fire based on real blaze in Inverness in 1889.

Punch is Henderson's second children's book with her first, Fir for Luck, set during the Highland Clearances.

Henderson wrote Fir for Luck after struggling to find a book for her children that was set during the clearances.

Starting in the late 18th Century and running into the 19th Century, the Highland Clearances saw townships occupied by generations of families cleared to make way for large-scale sheep farming and the rearing of deer. Often the evictions were violent.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The puppet Punch has a long history

Henderson's publisher, Isle of Lewis-based Cranachan, has announced her writing of Punch on the same day as a diary entry by 17th Century diarist Samuel Pepys mentioning a Punch puppet show 355 years ago. The book will be released in October.

The writer, who teaches drama at Culloden Academy, said: "I'm neck-deep in the editing process at the moment, but I can't wait to see Punch out there.

"I was a puppeteer for several years before returning to teaching, and my love of puppetry goes right back to the Pelham Muffin marionette I got for Christmas when I was nine.

"I think I liked puppets because it allowed me to perform without having to be on show personally.

"I used to put on little puppet shows for my children and often use puppets as part of my teaching of drama."

'Upbeat, brighter'

She added: "I had woven puppetry into a modern manuscript before, but I was told that puppetry would not sell."

However, puppets in a historical context did seem to pique interest in Henderson's idea for her second children's novel.

She said: "The historical context works perfectly to introduce young people to this quirky, traditional form of drama, while also transporting them right back to Victorian Scotland.

"So many classroom texts on the Victorians are set in England and focus on the workhouses. This is different."

Image copyright Robin Drayton/Geograph
Image caption Inverness' Victorian Market is in Henderson's new book

Henderson said she hoped to offer young readers an "upbeat, brighter" tale about set in that period in history, which she said was often portrayed in fiction as "grim".

The fire in her story is based on a real blaze that broke out in Inverness' Victorian Market.

Henderson first came across mention of the incident in an article written by another Highlands writer, Jennifer Morag Henderson.

In the real fire of 1889, gas lighting in the market was blamed for causing the blaze which almost entirely destroyed the market.

No-one was injured, but a dog trained to guard his master's stall could not be persuaded to leave his post and died in the flames.

Later repaired, the market still stands today.

Punch writer Henderson said: "The market is a place I know well. I shop there and enjoy walking through it even when I don't need to buy anything for its shops."

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