Serafina Press - Publisher of the Month

By Jennifer Doherty, who runs Serafina Press and is also the author of some of the books featured below.

Serafina Press aims to produce art-driven children’s books, inspired by the Scottish Borders, but with a wider appeal. The company is based at The Smokehouse Gallery in the East Coast fishing town of Eyemouth. The books have very much grown from a sense of place – this part of the world has been a beloved part of my life since earliest childhood holidays.

The Bear and His Fiddle

The press was launched in 2006, after an intense conversation one wet afternoon in Giaocopazzi’s fish and chip shop on Eyemouth harbour. Our first book, The Berwick Bear and his Fiddle, written and illustrated by Cara Lockhart Smith, delighted us with its extremely healthy sales and the amount of affection and positive feedback it received. The first edition is now almost out of print.

The Mouse of Gold

A long-standing project, The Mouse of Gold, followed some months later. Written by American quantum physicist, Gerald Goldin, and myself, the book’s illustrations were inspired by the landscape of the western borders, an area close to the heart of Cara Lockhart Smith, where she had lived for several years.

Early in the life of the gallery, I had commissioned Cara to illustrate some cards featuring the Eyemouth Mermaid, a character I’d dreamed up as I had my coffee on the beach in the morning. There didn’t seem to be an existing story about a mermaid in the town (despite various quips about what might be seen after a heavy night in The Ship), and it seemed fine to start one. The Eyemouth Mermaid – which also featured the local Herring Queen ceremony - was launched at the Borders Book Festival in the summer of 2007, and sold its first 1000 copies in a couple of weeks. Local schools, nurseries and visitors all seemed to enjoy the story – and sales of all the books were building throughout Scotland.

Bear in a Boat in the Borders

Cara and I next collaborated on Bear in a Boat in the Borders, celebrating the journey of the river Tweed from source to sea. Un-named, but highly recognisable places along the way are meant to appeal to children and adults in different ways (not all our customers are little ones). The project gave rise to a series of enjoyable jaunts as we did the research – all the while inspiring other possible titles from the inland Borders landscape.

The Pirate Kings of Eyemouth

At the same time, I wanted to keep publishing books about Eyemouth and the coast and I liked the idea of working with a young illustrator. Through artist friends, I discovered Lindsay Grime, third year student at Edinburgh College of Art, who illustrated The Pirate Kings of Eyemouth, which also launched at the Borders Book Festival.

In 2009, Sophie Elm, whose work I had seen in her graduate show at ECA, illustrated The Sea Dancer at St Abbs, while Cara illustrated Secrets of the Smuggler's House, a charitable venture with local author Fay Waddell, to celebrate the opening and restoration of historic Gunsgreen House in Eyemouth.

The books have travelled – the Mouse of Gold sells in the US, and, in 2008, it made its sell-out debut in an Arabic translation. There are plans afoot for further Arabic versions.

So far, our format has remained the same – 32-page, full colour highly illustrated picture books – suitable for children up to about 8years at the oldest, but with appeal to much younger children too. For the moment, the plan is to stay with this format.

For spring of 2010, The Treasure at North Berwick, also illustrated by Sophie Elm, moves our endeavours up the coast a little, while we have plans for a book about Burnmouth, close to Eyemouth (something lives below the water there…), and The Fierce and Gentle Wolf (working title), a semi-sequel to The Mouse of Gold.

We are still interested in working with young illustrators, and in producing books that reflect the beauty of this fascinating and characterful part of the world.