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Tap into the team spirit

By Barbara Henderson

How tough are you? By the time you read this, Teenager 2 will be on a school expedition halfway across the world, trekking for days on end and braving tropical rains, remote locations and unexpected challenges.

I can only imagine this. I don’t know much for certain because the youngsters won’t bring mobile phones to keep in touch with family. All part of the plan. Whatever comes her way, she’ll have to tough it out with the help of her team.

As creative practitioners in whatever chosen discipline – mine is writing – being tough is a prerequisite, isn’t it? We need resilience.

I had several manuscripts rejected 124 times before I was signed by my current publisher, and I know that artists, musicians, actors and designers are in the same boat. Toughening up doesn’t mean you have to find this process easy, or that rejections do not hurt.

It merely means you keep trying anyway. I was lucky to have been chivvied along by many creative friends. You connect with people over a joint passion for stories and before long, you have become each other's most enthusiastic cheerleaders.

Like my daughter’s trekking team across Vietnam, we too are at our best when we don’t go it alone. When the rains come, we can share umbrellas and offer each other chocolate, metaphorically speaking.

In less than two weeks, on July 3 and 4, XpoNorth will return to Eden Court. The creative industries festival’s offering this year is strong: music and gaming professionals will mingle with literary agents, screen writers and film producers in a programme which is especially tailored to the needs of creative practitioners working in the north of Scotland, and in comparably remote locations elsewhere.

Barbara Henderson at XpoNorth in 2018.
Barbara Henderson at XpoNorth in 2018.

I have met some of my oldest writing pals at XpoNorth over the years and it is an excellent time to reconnect and take stock.

I owe this wee festival a lot. The Xpo team ran a tweet-pitch initiative in January 2016 which directly led to my publication contract. I remember it exactly. "Tweet-pitch your book to a panel of agents and publishers, using the hashtag" they said. Having been a conscientious objector to social media for the preceding decade (yes, really!), I yielded and pragmatically signed up for Twitter, with the sole aim of entering that very competition with a Highland Clearances children’s novel I had written.

A new publisher called Cranachan liked my pitch: "1841: Janet (12) stands alone between her village and the eviction writ. She chooses to fight. Cue riots, regiments and ruin."

I submitted an extract. The publisher requested the whole manuscript, liked it and offered me a publication contract. Who knew networking on Twitter could be so useful?

Fast forward to XpoNorth 2017 and I was sharing a festival panel with my Cranachan publisher Anne Glennie and Highland author Helen Sedgwick about writing in the Highlands. Not only that, I was also given a platform to champion NessBookFest on its TV channel. Win-win-win.

Every year, I clear my diary for the two days of XpoNorth. Being a local girl, I have the advantage of being able to dip in and out of the most relevant sessions while still getting dinner on the table at home.

Plenty of sessions have caught my eye in this year’s programme, and there is no better boost to creativity than hanging out with creative types. Opportunity galore, absolutely free on our Highland doorstep. You’d be mad not to join us – you never know what might happen for you!

Look out for: Two of the cutest new picture books around, both from the Picture Kelpies Stable at Floris: the gorgeous Greyfriar’s Bobby – A Puppy’s Tale by Michelle Sloan and illustrator Elena Bia, as well as Isla and Pickle – The Pony Party by Kate McLelland.

Greyfriars Bobby - A Puppy's Tale
Greyfriars Bobby - A Puppy's Tale
Isla and Pickle Pony Party
Isla and Pickle Pony Party

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