Across 2022, the Year of Stories, we are spotlighting Publishing Scotland members, who will share their own story in their own words. Get to know Hallewell Publications, the brother-sister partnership specialising in walking guides, celebrating the local routes.
What’s your story?
Hallewell Publications is a brother and sister partnership, founded in 1995. Richard (writer), studied Publishing at Napier College; Rebecca (artist/designer), studied printmaking and painting at Gray’s in Aberdeen. The sale of Richard’s end of course project (a walking guide) to the Perthshire Tourist Board was a pivotal point in our publishing career. The guide was subsequently sold to John Bartholomew and that was the start of a number of years working for them and then Harper Collins, producing 11 books in a ring-bound walks guide series.
Simultaneously, we worked in the family hotel and also on design and interpretation projects for various clients. This led to the self publication of our first two history guides in the early 1990s: Scotlands’ Sailing Fishermen for the Scottish Fisheries Museum and The Scots Regalia (a history of the Scottish crown jewels),for Historic Scotland.
While researching the walking guides, we discovered that the area tourist boards were actually looking for smaller, more local books. We floated the idea of a series to Harper Collins, but the price point we had in mind was too low to interest them, and so our first guide, Walks Deeside, was self-published in 1994. Off the back of this, the publishing company was formalised and we set out to cover the whole of Scotland, jigsaw style. There have been forays into other areas, including cookery books and city guides, and we have lately published our first illustrated novel, but the walking guides have been the core of our business since then. To date we have sold over a million copies, and the series currently has 50 titles.
Tell us about your key books.
Obviously the first walking guide, Walks Deeside, was our most important publication. We designed the book from point-of-use backwards, and ended up with something quite distinctive. In particular, no one else at that time was producing A6 format walking guides – though it has become quite common since. We assumed that the Tourist Board would get the point (and tourist offices have been a mainstay of our sales ever since), but were more surprised that Waterstones and Dillons liked the title enough to push it. One of our proudest possessions is a Press & Journal Best Sellers list, from the run up to Christmas, with Deeside at the top, above Iain Banks, Anne Rice and T S Eliot! (David Attenborough did a signing event at Waterstones the following week and blew us out of the water!)
It was on the back of this success that we decided to roll out the series.
At that time our books were produced using acetate, bromides and light boxes. A fiddly business! The guides to Grasmere and Keswick were the first we produced on a computer – a great advantage, as it meant we could bring out updated editions easily. In retrospect, without computerisation the series would not have been possible. More recently, the long drawn-out lockdown encouraged us to finish off a project we had been looking at for a while: an illustrated children’s book called Ka, the Ring & the Raven. We are looking to do more of these – though obviously the marketing and sales will require a radically different approach!
What draws you to a title?
As noted above, the aim was to cover the whole of Scotland with walking guides. There was a reason for this. We knew from experience that there were great walks in every corner of the country, but visitors were invariably drawn to a few honey pots. This had an impact within a given area (while one peak would be reached by a pedestrian motorway in constant use, its immediate neighbour would be completely empty) and between areas. There is fine walking in Fife, Stirling and Caithness, for instance, but while the locals might use the routes, visitors rarely do. We hoped that complete coverage might encourage people to explore off the beaten track – though since the Skye book outsells the other Scottish titles by a margin, there may still be some work to do!
Beyond this, we extended the series to the more popular areas of England – with a brief excursion abroad to cover the Isle of Man.
What stories should we look forward to or check out?
The Covid outbreak had a huge impact on guide book publishing. The tourism sector effectively closed down. There was no certainty what would happen when it reopened and it was impossible to do research in the meantime. Now, things are getting back to normal. Our first guide to the Borders will appear in the Spring, and we have a few other interesting projects in development which may suggest new directions for the business.