Published: 10/06/2015 16:22 - Updated: 09/06/2015 16:39

Birlinn Books launch children's imprint

Sixteen String Jack looks at the origins of Peter Pan
Sixteen String Jack looks at the origins of Peter Pan

LOOK in your local library for books by children’s writers who live in Scotland, and there is no shortage, writes David Robinson, former literary editor with The Scotsman.

The list starts with a certain J.K. Rowling, but there are loads more: Julia Donaldson, Viv French, Theresa Breslin, Catherine MacPhail, Alison Prince, Keith Gray, Julie Bertagna, Nicola Morgan, Tain and Speyside raised Lari Don, Janis Mackay... The list goes on and on.

Now look in your local bookshop for children’s books that are published in Scotland. That is a lot harder.

Most of the children’s publishers are based in London. In Scotland, publishing children’s books is still a bit of a Cinderella industry.

This month, though, that might well start to change. Birlinn, Scotland’s biggest publisher of both fiction and non-fiction, has finally decided to start publishing children’s books with the first four books on its new children’s imprint, BC Books, hitting the bookshops.

One of Ian Andrew's illustrations from Sixteen String Jack.
One of Ian Andrew's illustrations from Sixteen String Jack.

According to Birlinn’s founder, Hugh Andrew, the first two on the list "will do nothing less than reclaim Peter Pan as a Scottish classic."

Sixteen String Jack and the Garden of Adventure, by award-winning writer Tom Pow, and illustrated by Ian Andrew (£9.99), looks at how J.M. Barrie’s schooldays in Dumfries led to the creation of his world-famous play.

It has that title because Sixteen-String Jack was a then-famous highway robber. When he was 10, Barrie would pretend to be him while he and his friends were playing at fighting pirates in the gardens of his classmate’s house — which is in the process of being turned into a £5.4 million Centre for the Scottish Children’s Book that will market itself as "the birthplace of Peter Pan" when it opens in 2017.

The four new children’s books also include the first-ever graphic novel — six years in the making — of Peter Pan (J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan: The Graphic Novel, by Stephen White, £12.99).

"Because I wanted to get back to Barrie’s roots, it’s absolutely stuffed with Scottishness as well as little real-life details from his life," White said.

"Neverland, you might notice, looks a little bit like Skye, and the children’s nursery is positively full of Barrie’s paintings and furniture."

There is also a Skye connection with The Secret Dog, by Joe Friedman (£6.99).

This tells the story of an 11-year-old orphaned boy who finds a Border collie pup left to drown and raises it without telling his crofter uncle.

The last of the Birlinn’s launch pack, Silver Skin, by Joan Lennon (£7.99), is also set on an island, but there the resemblance ends. A love story that is also a time-travel adventure set in the Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae on Orkney, it has that twist of genre-bending originality that marks out the best teen fiction.

Birlinn boss Hugh Andrew points out that although he occasionally published children’s books in the 22 years since he founded the company, it was the success of Debi Gliori’s book The Tobermory Cat two years ago that made him realise he needed to do more.

"We had such a positive reaction that it made us think the time was right to start our own dedicated imprint — BC Books. And here they are," he said.

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