Paul Macdonald owns the award-winning The Children’s Bookshop, in Beecroft NSW, which has been a Sydney literary institution since 1971 (it’s the oldest specialist children’s bookshop in NSW). Paul has been running the bookshop: selling books, supplying schools, running workshops, book clubs, literary events and a speaker’s agency, for the past 14 years. Beth MacDonald joined Paul at the bookshop over four years ago after a career in school libraries.
Paul and Beth are incredibly supportive of the children’s literature community and its authors and illustrators. They hosted the launch of my picture book, The Scared Book, and the launch of many, many other books – in fact they have hosted over 1,750 events! The bookshop is such a dynamic place, and now, Paul and Beth have set up their own publishing company, Book Trail Press, and co-written their first picture book together. I’ve heard them speak about the production of the book and how it was a collaboration of people, not just them as the authors and Nathaniel Eckstrom, illustrator, but also editor, Sue Whiting, and designer, Amy Dowd.
Hi Paul and Beth, thanks so much for being interviewed. What can you tell us about your picture book The Hole Idea?
The Hole Idea reflects our love of books, reading and writing. It began in a creative writing workshop with author Zanni Louise and is a homage to books we love such as Where the Wild Things Are. The Hole Idea reflects our belief that stories should transport us to other worlds. It encourages children to take time to wonder, ponder and dream, something we feel is very important as the starting point for creative endeavours. We hope that it is a story that could be used as a springboard for writing creative stories in schools, libraries and at home.
Indeed: I heard Sue Whiting refer to it as ‘an ode to the creative process and the power of story.’ Spot on!
What inspired you take the leap from selling kids books to writing them?
We are both very passionate about stories and books and we have both written before. Paul has written numerous academic texts and is currently doing a PhD focusing on Young Adult Literature. Beth has written several books for charity and has just illustrated her first picture book with Dirt Lane Press. We are surrounded by beautiful books every day and so writing our own picture book together seemed like a natural step.
What have you learned from the different perspective of the publishing industry about the value of a good editor, and how did that lift the story?
The philosophy of Book Trail Press is to bring together a team of passionate and talented creators. A good editor and a good designer are as critical to the process as good writers and illustrators. Our editor offered another perspective on the story and enlarged the conversation getting us to consider such things as Finnian’s motivations. She also helped us with page layout and the flow of the story.
And what about working with an illustrator. Why choose Nathaniel? How did you work together?
A good picture book is the perfect partnership between author and illustrator. Both must be working to co-create the story. We knew that Nathaniel’s style would fit The Hole Idea and we were keen to work with him. We actually sat around the table nutting out ideas together.
And the value of a good designer? For example, knowing what to highlight and give its own page/words, like the ‘Cavernous’ page which has a big impact.
As we have said, a great designer is also crucial. White space became critical in a book that largely takes place in a hole and that is where our designer really helped create a fantastic book. The white space helped to give the narrative space and the word cavernous looming over Finnian helps the reader with contextual meaning. Our designer also suggested Finnian’s brown hair change to red and this made him ‘pop’ off the page!
That’s really interesting. I hadn’t thought abut how it could be really dark, being set in a hole! The effect of the finished book is one of light and space – the value of a great designer, as you say.
The physical feel of the book is really top notch. What choices went into the production of book, like the choice of paper, cover etc
The paper stock was very important to us as we didn’t want a glossy look but wanted the paper to feel ‘earthy’ hence the decision for a completely matt paper. We are lovers of endpapers and knew, as booksellers, that the cover must stand out on the retail shelf so considerations such as cover colour and the spot varnish on the cover were also crucial.
We learnt a lot during the process of production and, despite cost, were adamant that we wanted a book that was absolute quality.
Well, you certainly achieved that. And I think the texture of the cover also helps make it light and shiny, despite the dark colours.
How did you come up with the name for the publishing company?
Paul has a Book Trail on Instagram and Facebook where he reviews books and so Book Trail Press was a natural choice for the name! The lantern logo appears in The Hole Idea and was designed by Nathaniel Eckstrom. We chose this as the logo as it reflects our belief that books should light our way.
I love it! The name, the logo and the idea behind it! Well done!
Having an inbuilt distribution channel with your bookshop and supplying to schools must have been a big part of your business decision to set up your imprint. And now a few months in, what have you learnt about distribution?
Distribution is everything and our priority was to work with a reliable and respected distributor. Peribo Books is our distributor and have been fabulous to work with. The vast majority of books have actually been sold outside the store and the first print run has sold out- more books currently being printed.
That’s brilliant! Congratulations!
How it been speaking at schools/events as authors rather than bookseller?
As booksellers we often speak in schools and we both have teaching backgrounds so it was natural for both of us to speak in schools and at events. We understand completely the importance of sharing our work with audiences and it has been a joy!
We love promoting books and discussing our own work as well as other books. We focus a lot more on the process of writing (and illustrating) when we are discussing our own books. We enjoy sharing this with audiences.
You guys are so invested in and supportive of the writing community. Have you seen a different side to the writing community with your new perspective?
The book community is really a big part of our lives. The greatest learning has been in the production side of the book. It’s been brilliant to create and finish a picture book and then sell it into the market.
This is a big year for you guys, with Beth illustrating a picture book by Danny Parker for Dirt Lane Press, Paperboy . I was fortunate to come along to the launch of this the other week, and I was enthralled hearing Beth talk about the process of illustrating in collage. What can you tell us about that one?
Paperboy, written by Danny Parker, is a very special book that I (Beth) am proud of. It is the first one Beth has illustrated. Dirt Lane Press are producing such important books. It was a huge learning curve and a totally worthwhile experience. I hope to do many more! I am currently working on a very different picture book, but details to follow . . .
I can’t wait to find out! And Paperboy is an amazing book – the illustrations are exquisite.
Are there likely to be any other books in your bookshop with your name/s on them in the future?
There are a number of books planned. The plan is to produce 3-4 picture books a year under the banner of Book Trail Press. The second book is currently being illustrated and the third picture book is still in planning stages. We are excited.
Wow! I wish you well with all of them. You have certainly set the bar very high with The Hole Idea!
Thanks so much for ‘chatting’ with me!.
You can follow Paul’s book trail on Instagram at:
and Book Trail Press: Instagram.com/booktrailpress
and you can find me here:
and my Story Hound Archie (below) here: Instagram.com/story_hound