Interview - Sarah Pakenham
Monday, April 1, 2019
Scallywag Press was founded in 2018 with the purpose of bringing entertaining and memorable books to a worldwide audience, publishing work by talented newcomers as well as established authors and illustrators, and re-issuing classic titles.
WHY DID YOU SET UP SCALLYWAG PRESS?
As a languages graduate, I had no idea I would ever find myself working in children’s books, but after more than 25 years selling rights for Andersen Press, a company that has produced some of the finest books of the last decades, I have really come to appreciate the talents who create, edit and design the books, and I wanted to have a go at curating a collection myself.
WHAT GAP IN THE MARKET DID YOU SEE FOR CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS?
The marketplace is admittedly full, but I believe there is always room for a good new book, one that demands to be picked up and carries a memorable message, makes you feel an emotion or simply gives pleasure on every reading.
WHICH OF YOUR BOOKS HAS BEEN MOST SUCCESSFUL AND WHY?
A good example is The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee which, despite being by an author who is as yet little known in the UK, won The Sunday Times Culture Magazine‘s Book of the Week, sold out within two weeks of publication and has already been reprinted. The artwork is simple but engaging, and the author plays with the format of the book by drawing a wall down the middle, over which the protagonist can’t see. This sets up endless possibilities for ironic humour, as well as suggesting the message that we should not be brainwashed into believing what we cannot check out for ourselves.
WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES OF PUBLISHING CHILDREN’S BOOKS IN THE CURRENT CLIMATE?
Children’s books no longer get much review space in the media. Big marketing spend is out of reach for small to medium publishing houses, and shops have to stock predominantly bestsellers to keep themselves afloat. The cult of celebrity is strong. As a result, many books by newcomers and lesser-known authors hardly see the light of day unless championed by bodies of knowledgeable experts such as BookTrust, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education and Just Imagine Story Centre. These institutions, and the individual commitment of many dedicated enthusiasts of children’s literature, have had to fill the gap left by cuts in funding which have caused a decline in library budgets and publicly funded expertise. More Government funding for libraries and librarians would be welcome, as would a way of persuading all bookshops across the board to showcase more books on minority subjects and from lesser-known contributors.
WHY ARE CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS SO IMPORTANT?
Something always prevented me from getting rid of my childhood books, and now I am so glad to have a few left to re-read. Their messages, moods and artwork left strong impressions, and helped form me as a person. Illustrated picture books are a hugely satisfying artform because of the many ways original text and art can be combined inventively to provide enjoyment and deliver a message. Through Scallywag, we hope to find more ways to get them in front of those who matter – the young readers of today.