Q&A: Joan Haig introduces Stay at Home!

Stay at Home! is a collection of new writing for children by many of Scotland’s best-known authors, such as Pamela Butchart, Chae Strathie and Lindsay Littleson. It’s packed with lockdown-inspired poems, pictures, and stories, and it’s available for free!

The anthology was the brainchild of Joan Haig (author of the brilliant Tiger Skin Rug) and is published by Cranachan Books. We loved the idea as soon as we heard about it, and wanted to know how Joan managed to put together an entire book in the time it took us to burn a few banana loaves.

Here’s what she said…

How did the Stay at Home! project come about?

Stay at Home! is a collection of 40 poems and pieces of prose for children, by writers living in Scotland. It aims to help children reflect on their time in lockdown and will be a brilliant resource for parents, carers and teachers.

My debut novel came out in February – but with lockdown, my school visits and book events were cancelled. I wanted to use that time to do something positive for children and something that would bring writers in Scotland together. My first idea was a recipe book based on scrumptious food in children’s books, but the shops were out of flour!

My publisher, Anne (at Cranachan Publishing) loved the positivity of the project and tidied my mess of ideas (sweeping a few under the carpet!) into a coherent plan for an anthology.

Although a number of fantastic resources for children had popped up online to help explain the virus and government policy to children, and to provide entertainment for them, nothing was speaking directly to children about their day-to-day experiences.

The book is dedicated to children everywhere, many of whom have had their lives turned upside down by the pandemic.

How did you get so many fantastic contributors together in such a short time?

Because other people wanted to do something positive for children in lockdown, too.

Darren Gate, the illustrator, was the first person I approached and he immediately agreed to help (though I’m not sure he knew what he was letting himself in for!)

Stay at Home illustration by Darren Gate
Stay at Home! is illustrated by Darren Gate.

My back-of-an-envelope list started using books on my kids’ shelves and with authors who popped up on a search of the Scottish Book Trust’s Live Literature Database. I enlisted the advice of agent Lindsey Fraser, who added a few more.  Some contributors made further suggestions.

Anne and I were keen that the book should reflect the diversity of its child readership. We actively invited writing in Scots, and we enlisted the help of the Scottish BAME Writers Network to help reach out to authors from under-represented backgrounds. There is also a geographic spread across Scotland, so it’s not just the ‘Central Belt’!

The material for Stay at Home! is new and specially produced for the collection. We’ve been blown away by writers embracing the positive spirit of the project, which is based entirely on goodwill, and how they magicked up such lovely material in next to no time.

Can you give a flavour of some of the treats inside?

Yes! We encouraged a range of forms and writers didn’t disappoint – we have haikus, a sonnet, free verse, reverse poetry, short stories, diaries, letters, an email, field notes, a fact file, and even a short script!

There are lockdown birthday parties and Eid celebrations, as well as fairies, aliens, a gorilla and a mouse. Some familiar markers of lockdown run through the collection: rainbows, home school and toilet roll.

Publishing is facing a tough time. How can you make a book that’s free?

The industry is tough at the best of times for small independents! Cranachan insisted from the beginning that making the collection a free ebook would help achieve the goal of reaching as many children as possible.

We hope children who can’t get the book at home will be able to access it through schools and libraries.

Small publishers don’t have budgets to back massive marketing campaigns, but social media makes it possible for Cranachan to get the word out.

We’re grateful to Publishing Scotland for big-heartedly supporting the project by hosting the book on their Books from Scotland website – this means we can reach an even wider audience.

It’s only possible to make it free because everyone involved gave their time and energy to the project for free – including Anne, who basically put a whole book together in the space of a week.

Artists and writers often have their time undervalued; I knew I was asking a lot of contributors – most of whom I’ve never met in person – so burly bookish bear hugs to each of them from me!

Who is Stay at Home for?

Everyone! Although it is by writers living in Scotland, it is for children everywhere. The stories and poems will remain relevant in helping children reflect on (and laugh about!) their experiences and emotions of lockdown, long after lockdown lifts. We’d love teachers to embrace the collection as a classroom resource.

The book will reach children by grown-ups talking about it and sharing it, so please do help to spread the word!

Stay at Home! is edited by Joan Haig & illustrated by Darren Gate (Cranachan). Read it here!

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