Armed with bacon rolls, croissants and hot coffee, publishing company Acair Books held a press launch this morning to mark the start of their 40th anniversary year.
Acair holds a special place in my heart as it was my first ever PR client.
Seven years ago, the then managing editor Norma Macleod invited me for coffee to the County Hotel to ask if I would start writing reviews for them to supply to local papers in a bid to gain more coverage for their new releases. I was happy to say yes.
So it was nice to go along this morning to An Tosgan on Seaforth Road and join in the celebrations.
I liked the tone of the event too, and I wasn’t the only one. Just last night, Events reporter Iain A MacSween posted on Facebook that he was loving the new trend for press launches where there were bacon rolls and coffee — and that such an invite guaranteed his attendance! Shame his deadline meant he had to leave before they were served (I’ll save you one next time, Iain A).
It was particularly nice to see John Murray and Dr Finlay Macleod at the launch as they really were the founding fathers of Acair — although John references the influential role played by Derick Thomson, when he was Professor of Celtic at Glasgow University and chair of the Gaelic Books Council.
Acair has become a force to be reckoned with on the Scottish publishing scene but its origins lie in the Bilingual Education Project.
This project, set up in the Western Isles in 1975 in the wake of the reorganisation of local government, aimed to create bilingual primary schools throughout the islands. With it came the stark realisation that there were hardly any Gaelic books.
This is where John Murray and Dr Finlay Macleod come in. John was in post as director of the bilingual project, having previously been editor of the Gaelic Books Council, and Finlay, a psychologist, was working in the education department at the new Western Isles Council.
They were agreed on the urgent need for books and quickly won support from a number of sources including the Highlands and Islands Development Board and An Comunn Gàidhealach. Together with Western Isles Council, they became Acair’s founding members.
Financial help also came from the Gaelic Books Council, who continue to support Acair with publishing grants, and the Scottish Arts Council.
The company was formed in December 1977 – its first premises were in the old morgue in Perceval Square in Stornoway — and the first minuted meeting was the following April.
At the outset, they had two members of staff: a manager and an administrative assistant. Calum Graham was the first manager, Jo Macdonald the second and she was followed by Agnes Rennie, from 1982 to 92.
Agnes was succeeded by Joan Morrison, then Norma Macleod as editor and manager. Agnes returned in 2010, after Norma’s retirement, and is manager today.
From two members of staff at the beginning, Acair now has four permanent members of staff. The others are designer Margaret Ann Macleod — the longest-serving member of staff, having been with Acair continuously for more than 20 years — and Donalda Riddell, who runs the office, and newest recruit Andrew MacKinnon, who mainly looks after communication and marketing.
Agnes stressed the role of the bilingual project as “the trigger” for Acair, adding: “Acair was set up because no-one else was publishing the kind of children’s books which had become the norm in other languages.”
However, the memorandum of the company also said Acair would publish all kinds of books. It would give a voice to writers and an outlet for writers.
Over its 40 years, Acair has published a total of 915 titles, 215 of which are currently in print.
They still publish Gaelic children’s books — including their range of translations of popular children’s books in English – but also Gaelic novels and non-fiction for adults, as well as English or bilingual books with a social, historical or cultural relevance to the Highlands and Islands. Lately, they have published a new range of Gaelic poetry books.
Speaking ahead of the launch, Acair chairman Donald Martin (in the main picture) paid tribute “to those visionaries whose commitment to the Gaelic language and culture resulted in the establishment of Acair”.
He said: “Their legacy endures to this day and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.”
Plenty people will be paying tribute to Acair over the course of this year but I think the following words from Marion Sinclair, chief executive of Publishing Scotland, are worth particular attention.
Marion said: “It’s difficult to overstate the impact of Acair. They’ve really been the face of Gaelic publishing for such a long time and I would say their development of children’s publishing has been particularly important — particularly for pre-school.
“Acair concentrated on making the books as attractive as possible. It means you are allowing children in Gaelic to read the world’s greatest stories and to look at stories for themselves in their own language. I’m not at all against translations and I think that’s one of Acair’s strengths.
“They recognised that language development had to start with literacy for the young.
“More power to them for the next 40 years. They have been absolutely crucial to the development of Gaelic literacy over the last 40 years and also to the normalisation of the language.
“Congratulations to them on their 40 years. Here’s to 40 more.”