Mairi McLellan

Mairi McLellan

The What do the grown-ups do? is a new series of storybooks, designed to educate children aged 5-10 years about the workplace.  Written as chatty, light-hearted stories, the books are based in the Highlands of Scotland and follow three local children as they investigate the world of grown-up jobs.  In each book, the three Mackenzie children meet the characters of Joe the fisherman, Papa the stockfarmer, Sean the actor, Fiona the doctor, Richard the vet, Gordon the wildlife filmmaker and so on. 

Joe the Fisherman and Papa the stockfarmer are the first books in the series and will be published on 28th February.  They are a couple of real characters and the children have a great adventure learning about sustainable fishing; how to avoid catching crabs in lobster pots; how cattle dung can improve the ground and try to save a baby calf.  They learn about jobs, but they also learn about the world around them. 

You worked abroad for many years so what made you return home to Scotland?

I have always loved Scotland­ – the scenery, the chat, the humour.  However, I’ve always wanted to travel and from the age of sixteen, I was never in one place for more than a few years.  I would live abroad for a few years, then return to the UK for a few years.  The last adventure was in Spain, where we lived in Valencia for over three years.  The Spanish culture is fantastic and I really loved it but at the end of the day, you have to decide where you want your home to be.  They say home is where the heart is and my home will always be Scotland, specifically the Highlands. 

When did your inspiration for the collection of books come about?

The idea only came to me when we moved north.  We live in such a beautiful part of the country and I often thought how I wished more people could see it.  The real moment for the book writing came to me one day whilst pushing the wheelbarrow up the lawn (there is no end to the glamour - logging is a relentless job!). I was thinking about the constant questioning from my children, “Why are you always working, Mama?” It struck me that most children really didn’t understand why their parents worked. I even have a friend whose daughter thought that her father drove about London on his scooter all day, as that was all she saw of him heading to work and back! He is an investment banker.

So, the idea of writing books that explained different jobs came about.  Books that try to address those questions that all parents get and help educate the children on the world around them, but do it through the eyes of children – in story form, sharing lots of photos from this beautiful area, and a little humour to keep them entertained. 

Why is it important for you to educate children on what the different occupations entail?

Looking back we realize how little we knew about different jobs when choosing subjects and ultimately leaving school.  I for one would have benefitted greatly from these books as a child. So, simply put, the books educate children about jobs to enable them to make informed decisions, but it’s more than that.  It’s about life and helping them to be aware of what other people do, enabling children to relate to people from all walks of life and have a greater understanding of the world around them.  I think most parents want to educate their children about the world but it needs to be enjoyable.  That’s why I designed it through the eyes of the children. 

Can you tell us about the process of collating the information to write the books.

To be honest, it’s great fun!  Obviously it’s hugely time consuming and I put a lot of hours in, but I’ve really come to understand that when you enjoy doing something, it doesn’t feel like work.  I meet all sorts of interesting people and learn about different jobs – things I would never know.  It’s fascinating.  Where possible, I spend a ‘day in the life’ and then sit down and interview each character, asking them what they like and don’t like about their job, digging into specific parts that I think will be interesting and finding out how one might enter into each profession.  Aside from that, I always carry my camera and I’m constantly taking photos to use for the introductions, background shots and so on.  It takes quite a lot of time to gather everything together but it is great fun.

These are your debut books, so was publishing anything like you imagined it to be?

I knew how hard it was to get published as a new author, with no experience, so I decided early on that I wasn’t going to apply to publishing houses and instead I was just going to teach myself.  I spent ages researching.  Literally ages. I invested in the right software and taught myself how to use it.  I have a lot of experience from the general business side so I’m comfortable with that, but my biggest worry was distribution.  In the end, I decided to work with a publishing company that publishes self-publishers (if that makes sense!).  Distribution is therefore handled by them, through the normal channels.  I have also taken a publicist on board because she is an expert in her field and if you spread yourself too thinly, then you cannot get the focus to do the job well, so there are areas where support is required.

Why is it important children do these things at such a young age?

We all try to install the right values in our children from an early age and we teach them manners, music, sports, reading and writing from an early age.  We know that the early years shape how they will become as an adult.  This is no different.  It is opening their eyes to the concept of work, helping them relate to other people’s lives and understand the world around them.  I’ve done a great deal of reviews with children and you would not believe how much interest they have in learning about practical things.  These books add to their current education by pulling it all together and applying it to the real world.  I’m a great believer in teaching children at an early age as long as it’s enjoyable. 

Why are they the perfect bedtime read?

These books are stories, they just happen to be educational stories.  For the younger children (5-7years), they will be a little challenging, as I deliberately don’t over-simplify them too much.  What I think is good is that they prompt the children to engage in conversation with parents during the bedtime reading.  It is also an enjoyable read for the adult and I have had many adults telling me how much they have learned, which I suppose is not surprising as I learnt a great deal writing them. The books have also been used for topics in classrooms so they seem to cross the boundary between the classroom and bedtime.  If I read my children a story, I find it an extra bonus if it actually teaches them something.  So, the kids enjoy it, the adults enjoy it, it promotes conversation between the parent and the child and at the end of the day everyone has learnt something.

What is next for you?

More books!  I’ve finished the actor, doctor and vet so I have final editing to do on those.  I have a big challenge coming up for Gordon Buchanan’s book.  He’s a wildlife filmmaker, so spending a day in the life of him is not possible due to the practicalities of visiting the rainforest or the North pole!  I’ve completed his interview but I have a lot of research to do.  I’m also pulling together the photos for Steve the forester (book 7) as we have some woodland work going on here and I have the chance to take photos and wander round looking at trees and soil types with him.  Aside from that, I really want to design some teacher’s resources to accompany each book.  I need to promote the books in the UK and ultimately, I’d like to find publishers in the USA as well as the rest of Europe.  There is a lot to do. In between that, we have a farm, boat charters and holiday rentals so there is never a dull moment.  It’s a good life.


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