Wigtownshire has a growing number of children’s authors delighting young fans with their tales. In Issue 5, we caught up with six of them  leading the way.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin. This is a story of chances, challenges and successes with, hopefully, a happy ending.  A few years ago, not in a galaxy far, far away but in a sleepy place transformed by hard work and enthusiasm into Scotland’s National Booktown, a  publisher decided to venture into the world of children’s books.

The result was the publication of two picture books that proved to be very popular but more importantly it brought together a group of creative people who had never worked together before. Although they then went off in different directions,  they have since gone on to start a number of businesses and inspire other writers and artists to take the plunge into publishing.

Pauline Paterson worked as an art teacher in Creetown and Port William for many years and had gone on to run a successful art school, whilst selling her own work. When she was asked to try her hand at illustrating a children’s book, she jumped at the opportunity.

“I had a very clear idea that I wanted to make this a very bright and bold style of illustrating using computer software, not realising this would set me off on a huge learning curve!” Pauline explained.

Embracing new formats and quickly developing a raft of new skills, Pauline decided to apply all this new knowledge to a story she’d written herself, entertainingly titled “The Trail of the Pointy-Toed Pyjama Thief’. She established her own publishing company, Second Sands Publications and, inspired by the birth of her first grandchild, Pauline produced a book for toddlers called ‘Boo! Where Are You’.

Jayne Baldwin, the author of the book Pauline had first been asked to  illustrate, had also been working with Shalla Gray on the production of her book “Charlotte’s Woolly Yarn”, which had come out of a chance conversation between the two women at Kirkcowan Post Office. When Shalla mentioned wanting to publish another book that she’d illustrated, written by her father Alan Grant, famous for comic books and graphic novels, Jayne agreed to support the publication and they formed Curly Tale Books.

Over the past two years, they have published five further books including ‘Big Bill the Beltie Bull’ and ‘Big Bill’s Beltie Bairns’ with a new title from Alan Grant, ‘Sammy the Rainbow Snail’, due to be launched at the end of this year.

Shortlisted for a regional business award last year, Curly Tale Books became a member of Publishing Scotland last year and, for the first time, this August they flew the flag for Wigtownshire at the prestigious Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Tale-twisting author Renita Boyle, who has recently been Reader in Residence with the Dumfries and Galloway Library Service (a post sponsored by Scottish Book Trust) as well as Storyteller in Residence with Shetland Arts, has teamed up with another talented local illustrator Mike Abel to produce a new children’s picture book. .

“The collaborative energy among children’s authors and illustrators in Wigtownshire is hugely inspiring, as is their growing success,” said Renita. “It is owing to their example that Mike and I are having a go ourselves.”

Mike and Renita are launching a crowd-funding campaign with the aim of seeing their story ‘Honk Honk Rattle Rattle’ published in time for World Book Day in March before being rolled out across the region.

“When Renita asked me to draw a campervan,” said Mike, “I had no idea where it would lead. It turns out, we are the perfect combination of chaos and quirk.”

Another writer encouraged to tell her stories was Port William primary school teacher Mary Cowan, who had drawn inspiration from an old bridge on her family farm, which she felt was the ideal home for a cheeky troll. The result was ‘Duncan Dunbar’s Epic Wigtown Show Adventure’, which tells the tale of a troll who gets up to all kinds of hilarious mischief and trouble in escapades that delight readers in the seven to ten age group. The book has been such a success that Mary is currently working on a follow up with plans to publish the details of  Duncan’s latest adventures next year.

Jayne Baldwin, who also works as Literary Animateur for the Wigtown Festival Company – a role introduced to encourage and support writers in Wigtownshire, said: “There is no doubt that the development of the Book Town and Festival, giving a platform and an example for writers in the area, has inspired and encouraged creative people locally. The publishing industry is going through challenging times, which has made it more difficult for writers to get their work published by the traditional routes but at the same time it has opened up new avenues and created options for people who want to share their work. Most people don’t expect to be the next J K Rowling or Michael Morpurgo but they do have excellent stories to tell and now there are a number of ways they can achieve this. What’s great is that this has a positive knock on effect for businesses in the community with many of the new publishers using local book designers and printers. It also gives the region’s retailers products that often celebrate the area we live in.”

First published: November 2015

Picture: Stephen Jolly Photography