A tale of two New Years' Resolutions

06 January 2022 A

Inverness-based Barbara Henderson discusses her journey to becoming an author and the two New Years' resolutions that helped her along the way.

Picture the scene. I stand at the window of our new home in Inverness. Snowflakes dance by in the darkness and an equally chilling realisation hits me. 

To be clear, I have dreamt of being a writer all my life. I dabbled before being side-tracked by studying. I dabbled briefly again, but the all-consuming workload of a newly qualified teacher derailed me once more. Perhaps I was destined to dabble and no more?

Three young children in quick succession soon put a stop to my third attempt to write. It was no good, I thought. I needed to find something else to scratch the creative itch. As a stay-at-home-mum of three little ones, I decided on puppetry, another long-lasting love of mine, and mostly compatible with toddlers.

I bought a jigsaw, got busy with plywood and velvet and paint - and behold: I had made a professional-looking puppet booth. Me! I was momentarily giddy with pride. Much of the next three years was spent travelling to perform, from woodlands to harbours, swimming pools to parties – I scripted stories, made props and puppets – and for the most part I adored making theatre in miniature. 

However, when my husband’s work took our family to Inverness, the long-forgotten longing to write began to stir in me again. Moving to a new place is an opportunity like no other. The German poet Hermann Hesse famously claimed that ‘a magic dwells in each new beginning.’ I could be whoever I wanted to be – no-one would know any better.

I suppose the house move had made me reflective, had awakened something that had long been buried deep within. If I was honest, my favourite part of puppeteering had been the writing of the scripts. It was that which felt most intuitive and satisfying, the creation of something from nothing.

And on New Year’s Eve, as I stood watching the snowflakes fall and melt on the ground, a shiver ran through me. I realised something that should have been obvious from the start: I would never be an author unless I actually wrote something. Watching the weather, it suddenly made sense: it was time to give a fragile but beautiful new thing a chance, even if it melted away and came to nothing. There and then, I resolved that I was going to write a children’s novel in the coming year. 

The very next day, I set to work. Sure enough, by September I had a manuscript of sorts, a Middle Grade portal-story called Rain on the Roof. Was it utterly original? Probably not. Was it well written? I’d rather not think about that. All I know is that at the time, I felt that I had arrived.

Like a toddler who has found his favourite game, my mind was chanting again, again! However, with no contacts in the publishing industry, I had much to learn about writing. I knew no other writers; not a single one. Well, all of that had to change. I bought the Writers and Artists’ Yearbook and submitted my novel before making a start on book two. 

Fast forward to another New Year’s Eve, 121 rejections and six books later. The only thing that had kept me going this far was a basketball quote above my desk: ‘The only way to guarantee never scoring is to stop taking the shots.’  I was going to keep going, that much was clear to me. Was my aim getting worse? Was I improving at all?

Continuing the sporty theme, it took a swimmer to inspire my next New Year’s resolution. In an interview, swimmer Hannah Mylie commented: ‘You have to shake it up. If you do what you’ve always done, you’re gonna get what you’ve always got.’  It made me think. What could I do differently?

Well, it seemed that a lot of my new writer friends (yes, I had connected with some) were active on social media. I had read of a Tweet Pitch initiative to take place in early January, ‘offering writers across Scotland the chance to deliver on their creative resolutions for 2016 in one tweet.’

At the time, I was a bit of a self-righteous conscientious objector to the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but another spur-of-the-moment New Year’s resolution consigned all that to the past. Surely, it was worth a try. I signed up to Twitter and, with zero followers, pitched my collected works to the world.

The unthinkable happened. Cranachan Publishing, themselves new kids on the publishing block, liked my pitch for book six and requested the complete manuscript. In February of that year, a mere five weeks after my pitch, I found myself sitting in a restaurant with a publisher who wanted to publish my book.

Over the years, the XpoNorth New Year Tweet pitch has resulted in two more books deals for me. All I can say is, don’t dismiss the significance of a new start, however arbitrary the date. 

The humble New Year’s Resolution has served me well and may yet do the same for you. 

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 and the adult non-fiction title Scottish by Inclination.

Her energetic school visits have taken her across Scotland and beyond - and as a Drama teacher, she loves to get young people on their feet.

Having waved her daughters off to university, Barbara now shares her home with one teenage son, one long-suffering husband and a scruffy Schnauzer called Merry.

barbarahenderson.co.uk | @scattyscribbler