After 25 years selling rights at Andersen Press, Sarah Pakenham felt the urge to set up her own list. She explains why and how Scallywag Press was born.
Intriguing question to self: why on earth start yet another children’s book company when there are already so many good ones out there, and so many good books which already struggle in this age of budget cuts, austerity and digital innovation?
Simple answer: the pleasure it gives to watch artists turn good ideas into books, and then to watch readers enjoying. It’s a rewarding challenge getting books into print and then sold, and I enjoy every aspect of the process, though am lucky to have Janice Thomson editing, and wonderful freelance designers.
Moreover, it’s a wonderful thing when books stand the test of time and are kept or handed down. I am fortunate still to own some books I had as a child, and re-reading them now, I realise how they are part of the adult I became; how they helped me to read confidently, learn about other cultures, appreciate different art styles and even learn some useful ideas. I remember enjoying them with my parents, and which ones they or I preferred and why. I’d like every child to have the same opportunity as I did to enjoy and remember good books, and I’d like to pass on and add to the very best available.
Next question is how to find books to publish? One huge pleasure has been the chance to bring back into print in the UK one of my childhood favourites, The Happy Lion by Roger Duvoisin. Whoever read it as a child will remember the over-riding feeling of good will and happiness, all shining through the comic drama of a lion escaping his enclosure and unwittingly causing havoc in a small French town. It’s a masterclass in picture book creation and deserves its new life as a proud, beautifully printed and bound hardback. I really hope The Happy Lion will appeal to a new generation of children as well as to nostalgic oldies like me. We will also bring back Duvoisin’s 1950s version of The Night Before Christmas.
Then there’s a rich vein of wonderful books which for some reason have never been published in the UK. Hardly anything by Jon Agee is available so we’ll publish several starting with The Wall In the Middle Of the Book, one of the cleverest and funniest books I’ve seen for a while. We plan to translate books from other languages too.
However, the aim of Scallywag Press is to publish new and established artists, so how did we find new ones? Largely through friends. In the beginning was the logo, and this was created by Jonathan Farr. Jonathan introduced me to Rose, and on viewing her portfolio in the upper room of a London hostelry I was immediately taken with Me and My Sister, which is a touching and funny book about the highs and lows of autistic siblings. It was the real thing. A surreal conversation followed where I asked if I could publish it, at the same time warning Rose that it might not be in her best interests as I didn’t have any other books or even a company. If Rose had said no, I might not be writing this now, so I must thank Rose particularly, but all the Scallywag authors and artists, for their faith and generosity in handing over their beloved work to a stranger with an embryo enterprise.
Rose then introduced me to the next two contributors: Rob Ramsden, whose drawing is exquisite, and whose first books for Scallywag are going to be a collection of boldly and brightly illustrated books intended to encourage young children to appreciate the natural world, starting with I Saw a Bee. Rob’s ideas for the books came from having brought up his own son to enjoy gardening and the outdoors and to notice nature. Secondly, Elena Arevalo Melville, whose wonderfully quirky story and free flowing and captivating drawing has produced a magical and unique picture book called Umbrella. Elena is originally from Guatemala, and her original style adds another dimension to the Scallywag list.
A very thrilling and unexpected gift, and decisive factor in enabling the list to get off the ground, has been Hat Tricks from Satoshi Kitamura, rightly considered to be one of our best children’s book creators of recent decades. I can’t believe my luck in being able to publish someone whose work I have admired for so long, and indeed whose books I’ve been selling in translation for so long at Andersen Press under the guidance of the best children’s book publisher, Klaus Flugge, who has taught me all I know about publishing.
Scallywag Press has been hugely lucky to secure the books signed up so far. They are all so different in style and subject matter and all have so much to say, and are created from the heart. I know that books like this will find their audience despite a difficult market, and we’ve sold rights for 15 foreign editions to date. Now we need more of everything, especially time!
Hat Tricks by Satoshi Kitamura and The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee are published in February, at £11.99 and £12.99 respectively. Find out more https://www.scallywagpress.com/index.html