Bookzilla Book of the Month competition: The Boy, The Witch and The Queen of Scots

Competition type: Children's and Young Adult

Start date: 01 May 2024, 09:00

Closing date: 31 May 2024, 23:59

Genre: History, Scotland
Age group: 9-11, 12-14
Topics: Competitions

We have five copies of The Boy, The Witch and The Queen of Scots by Barbara Henderson to be won, thanks to our friends at Luath Press! All you need to do is answer the question at the bottom of the page. Entries close at midnight on Friday 31 May. All entrants must reside in the UK and full terms and conditions apply. You can check out our competitions page for other giveaways. To find more great reads for children and young adults, download the Bookzilla book finder app.

About The Boy, The Witch, and The Queen of Scots

When a teenage Mary Queen of Scots arrives into the foggy Port of Leith to begin her reign over Scotland, the last person who wants to catch her eye is 12-year-old Alexander. He has been sent to Holyrood Palace by the Earl of Strathbogie to work as a falconer, to care for the young queen’s hunting birds – and to spy on her every move and report back to the Earl. Though Alexander does not wish to betray the queen, he is pursued at every turn by a sinister figure known only as ‘the cloak’, who makes it clear that more than Alexander’s job will be at stake if he refuses to comply. With the support of his new friend, Lizzie (the Queen’s wardrobe assistant), Alexander follows the queen on her journey around Scotland and grapples with the realities of leading a double life. . .

Suspense, treachery and treason abound in this thrilling historical tale. The atmosphere of a country bristling with religious conflict hums steadily in the background, in a way that is perfectly pitched for the age group. This is the ideal novel for any reader with an interest in history, bringing this unique period of Mary Queen of Scots’ reign to life for a new generation. One to be enjoyed in the classroom just as much as under the duvet with a torch.

Q&A with Barbara Henderson

What drew you to this particular part of Mary Queen of Scots’s story?

I share Mary’s birthday and I also arrived in Scotland as a teenager, more in tune with another language and culture than Scotland’s. Her story as a whole is tragic, dramatic and action-packed. However, I was most interested in Mary as an eighteen-year-old Queen who, broadly speaking, got a fair few things right early in her reign. When I found out how decisively she dealt with the Huntly revolt, I was hooked – I have lived in Edinburgh, Aberdeenshire and the Highlands – this was the perfect opportunity to shine a light on all three in Mary’s time.

Did anything surprise you in the course of your research for this book?

Yes! I was astonished to learn that professional embroidery was the domain of men. This added colour and motive to Lizzie’s character, but I was well into my first draft when I found out – through a workshop given by Clare Hunter, author of the book Embroidering her Truth.

Why do you think it is important to keep the past alive for young people through stories like this?

I had the world’s worst history teacher (no exaggeration) whose soporific delivery convinced me that I hated the subject. The truth is that the past is the most compelling country of all – it is at once strange and familiar. I discovered through stories that I, in fact, loved history! I hope that I can be part of that discovery for another child somewhere. If we do not understand history, how will we learn?

What advice would you give to young writers on how to create suspense in their writing?

Leave the reader some work to do! Instead of spelling out exactly what is happening, begin slowly. Perhaps a character narrows his eyes – something is coming. Or a shiver travels down her spine – she knows something isn’t right. That way, the reader will speculate what the danger or crisis could be. Add a sound, or a descriptive detail – you’re drip-feeding the reader clues about the impending danger. This will keep them more interested than just announcing the problem outright. And when tension is highest, why not consider a cliffhanger?

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What job does Alexander have at the palace?

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If you are under 16, you can still enter the competition but will be asked to provide an additional contact email for a parent or guardian.