British Author to Host Writers Workshops at Conference

Feb 18, 2015

We are pleased to announce Barbara Henderson, an author who writes under the name Bea Davenport, will be hosting her first writing workshops in the United States at NAAF’s 2015 International Conference in Anaheim, California, this June.

“There is some evidence to show that creative writing is a therapeutic and personally empowering activity,” Barbara says. “So I hope the workshops will be a fun and entirely suitable addition to the Conference program.”

The British author, who teaches creative writing for the Open College of the Arts, the Penguin Random House Writers Academy, and several universities, schools and community groups, has previously taught this special writers workshop at a children’s camp held by BeBold, a UK-based institution for those with alopecia areata. The workshops at NAAF’s Conference will be for both children and adults.

In the hour-long workshop, titled A Hero Like Me, Barbara will teach participants how to create a strong, multilayered character and a vivid setting, how to add conflict into a story to make it more exciting and help your character grow, and how to plot and structure a story.

In Barbara’s young adult novel The Serpent House, Annie Cotterill, a 12-year-old girl in Victorian England, has recently lost her mother to illness. All she has is her beloved older brother, Tom, who brings her to the Hexer estate near the Scottish border where he is the chief gardener. The beautiful but mysterious Lady Hexer takes an immediate interest in young Annie, as our heroine has a special ability to go into a dreamlike state and travel back in time to when the estate was a hospital for those with leprosy. At that hospital was a supposedly brilliant but menacing doctor who, according to family legend, discovered the cures for all illness and put them into one book, which Annie must now attempt to retrieve and bring back to her time. One more thing: Annie has alopecia areata, accounting for the blue headscarf the heroine wears on the book’s cover.

Barbara knows something about alopecia areata. The former BBC journalist was taking a creative writing course when she developed the idea for a novel featuring a protagonist with the disease. Her writing instructor asked what she knew of alopecia areata, and when Barbara explained she herself was diagnosed with the disease as a child in the 1970s, she was advised to write about her own experience. The resulting short story, “Alopecia,” a funny but honest remembrance of “some of the wacky cures my mom tried” went on to win a very close second place in the Wells Festival of Literature. Barbara says this experience gave her the confidence to create a protagonist with alopecia areata.

Barbara, who lives in the northeast English town of Berwick-upon-Tweed close to where the novel is set, says the character of Annie is actually stronger due her alopecia areata, because she knows how to cope better with what the world throws at her. And what a daring protagonist Annie turns out to be—not only traveling back to the Middle Ages, but facing down all manner of threats from bullies to giant snakes.

A heroine with alopecia areata is certainly a refreshing change of pace not only in young adult fiction, but any sort of literature. Barbara recalls that when she was growing up, she could never find stories where the characters had alopecia areata: “All of the princesses and heroines had wonderful hair. I felt a little excluded.” The Serpent House remedies that long literary oversight. Barbara observes, “It’s nice to see yourself in a story.”

It’s also nice to see a story featuring a character with alopecia areata where the disease itself isn’t the heroine’s defining characteristic. Annie is brave, resourceful, and a wonderful storyteller (the book is written in first person), who just happens to have alopecia areata and deals with it as best she can, even when others mistake her baldness for leprosy or just aren’t very sympathetic. It should be noted the words “alopecia areata” are never used in the novel, a conscious decision by the author. “It’s set in Victorian times,” Barbara explains, “and someone with Annie’s background wouldn’t have the resources to know it’s called that.”

Barbara feels not much more was known about alopecia areata when she was growing up with the disease in the 70s, but is heartened by the progress made over the last four decades by organizations like NAAF and, closer to home, BeBold.

The alopecia areata community is lucky to have such a gifted author in its ranks and looks forward to further great reading courtesy of this tremendous new talent.

The Serpent House is published in the UK but can be purchased in the USA on Amazon.com. 

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