Cheerful approach to history has them all laughing

10th September 2010 at 01:00
Children's publisher Giglets started as a school enterprise. Now it is a fully fledged company and set to launch its third title

Back in 2006, about 20 people were involved in Giglets, when building the children's book business was just an extra-curricular activity at Loudoun Academy in Ayrshire. It was part of the Young Enterprise Scotland "Company" programme, which helps youngsters set up and run their own company in school.

In 2007, when Giglets was launched as a limited company, the 20-strong team had shrunk to eight. Today, five of the original members remain.

Craig Johnstone, managing director, gets to the point. Now at Strathclyde University studying international business and marketing, he says his dream is to be the next Richard Branson. Giglets has given him a taste for running his own business, despite some tough times.

"For me, as managing director, to say to close friends, `Sorry, your time is up' was very difficult to deal with," he admits.

But difficult choices had to be made so the business, which aims through its books to educate youngsters about Scottish history and culture, could make the transition from school project to growing concern.

"Despite the fact we were doing well and running at a profit, we were not at the stage where we could happily sustain eight people - that's a lot of people for any small company," Craig says. "Also, we didn't want to be carrying people; we needed people to be committed. Now we are leaner."

The team, therefore, consists of Craig; Gavin Curr, finance director; Tom Brodie-Browne and Kayleigh Wright, illustrators; and Scott Francis, marketing director. Recently they lost their author Fiona Morton and her place was filled by pharmacist Jane Young - Craig's mum.

"We started off looking at journalism and English students but Jane's appointment was convenient for us - she's passionate about English and knows exactly what the business is all about. She's also cheap," he adds, laughing.

Giglets came into being because the S6 pupils who joined the YES Company programme wanted to come up with a product that gave something back to Ayrshire.

"We had all done Robert Burns at school, learnt about his works and entered the poetry competition, but we felt it had been a bit mundane," says Craig. "Our experience generally was you learnt the words of the poems to recite but didn't really understand them. We tried to think of a way kids could become more engaged with his works and that's when we came up with Tam O'Haggis."

Tam O'Haggis, a simplified version of Tam O'Shanter for children, was the first book produced by Giglets, who stumbled upon their name while flicking through the glossary of a collection of Burns' poems. It means "laughing children" in Scots.

By the time the team produced its second book, Tam O'Haggis - a little haggis-shaped cartoon character, with ginger fur and a tartan hat - had become a narrator, guiding children through The Life and Times of Robert Burns. And soon he will teach them about The Life and Times of Mary Queen of Scots - the next Giglets offering due to be published this autumn.

However, having set out to work in education, even creating interactive whiteboard resources to go along with their books, the team is finding it increasingly difficult to interest schools in their products.

"Unfortunately, as a result of Mr Osborne and his austerity, budget cuts are massive and it's becoming increasingly difficult for us to get involved in education," says Craig. "As a commercial organisation, we can barely get them to listen to us."

Even so, he is determined to find out what schools are looking for and tailor what Giglets has to offer accordingly. In the meantime, he is convinced they have a product with unique appeal. To date, Tam O'Haggis has sold some 4,500 copies and The Life and Times of Robert Burns more than 2,000.

"There are hundreds of children's books about Mary Queen of Scots and Robert Burns," says Craig, "but that's what they are - they are books, and not always that engaging. What makes our business successful and what we want to protect is Tam O'Haggis. He is a brand, and a merchandisable brand at that."

So not only can Giglets sell books narrated by Tam, but they can produce T-shirts emblazoned with pictures of Tam O'Haggis and sell chocolates with his face on them - both of which they will soon be doing via their website.

According to Craig, the business is also "scaleable". He explains: "We have taken Scottish history and culture and used a stereotypical, mythical character to tell that story, but you could do that with other niche cultures like the Irish or Canadian."

That, however, would take "serious investment", Craig acknowledges - making it clear that Giglets would be open to offers.



Weel mounted on his gray mare, Meg - A better never lifted leg -

Tam skelpit on thro' dub and mire;

Despisin' wind and rain and fire.

Whiles holding fast his gude blue bonnet;

Whiles crooning o'er some auld Scots sonnet;


Into the storm they rode so fast,

Hoping the rain, it would not last.

Whilst holding tight his good green bonnet,

While singing over an old Scot's sonnet.


And, vow! Tam saw an unco sight

Warlocks and witches in a dance;

Nae cotillion brent-new frae France,

But hornpipes, jigs strathspeys, and reels,

Put life and mettle in their heels.


They ventured forward to the light,

Where Tam saw such an awful sight.

The Devil's bagpipes filled with sound,

As all the witches danced around.


For Nannie, far before the rest,

Hard upon noble Maggie prest,

And flew at Tam wi' furious ettle;

But little wist she Maggie's mettle -

Ae spring brought off her master hale,

But left behind her ain gray tail;

The carlin claught her by the rump,

And left poor Maggie scarce a stump.


One witch was faster than her team,

And was getting closer to the stream.

They made it through the wind and hail,

But not before Meg lost her tail.

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