WHAT do Scotland’s cooped-up kids need as they settle down to the new school year?

More tutoring, more homework – or more escapism and fantasy?

The need to recharge young imaginations after lockdown has prompted two mums on the Hebridean island of Lismore to produce a new children’s book series. The Tartan Trampoline features Manny, Effie and Tilly – a brother, sister and cousin who visit their grandmother there every summer holiday.

According to writer and former teacher Jennifer Baker: “If city children can’t actually come to our island and feel the release of life away from traffic and organised entertainment – and we really wish they could – then we can bring a spirit of adventure to them.”

The Trampoline series was the product of a stormy island night in 2016 when a new trampoline at the author’s home blew away, prompting a neighbour to jest that it was a shame some children weren’t hanging on – whisked away to some new adventure.

The National:

Jennifer Baker teamed up with artist and illustrator Sarah Campbell to publish The Tartan Trampoline

“With three grandchildren of my own, that set the idea for a book which soon morphed into a series and when the pandemic struck, I decided to work on the stories for publication,” Baker added.

She arrived on Lismore with her husband 18 years ago to set up a market garden and lavender farm beside their newly built home in the north of Lismore – 25 miles above Oban.

Baker brought in artist and illustrator Sarah Campbell, a mum of two and a designer in her own company, Mogwai Design, along with crofter/ publisher Helen Crossan, who lives across Loch Linnhe in Benderloch but whose family hail from Lismore.

Crossan established Mòr Media more than 20 years ago and has produced children’s television programmes and online content – mostly in Gaelic – and four books by Lismore writers.

“Since we already live and work ‘at the end of the line’, lockdown had little impact on our ability to get things done; like many islanders, adaptable Liosaich (Lismore folk), have been working co-operatively for years, hindered only by a slow broadband connection and the occasional power cut in winter.

“Once restrictions eased, it was great to meet again in Jennifer’s garden for a cup of tea and socially distanced proofread. Apart from that, it’s been business as usual. Digital working practices, print on demand and shorter print runs have all democratised publishing for smaller outfits. So, the Tartan Trampoline can take off from Lismore and land anywhere in the world.”

According Campbell: “Jennifer decided to make some gallus, recognisably Scottish characters using vernacular Scots words. The stories are so evocative in their character and landscape descriptions that forming ideas for illustrations and costumes was a delight and provided me with many a much-needed quiet giggle.

“Inspiration for the story landscapes was easy to find in the rich flora, fauna and vistas of Lismore. As a child my sisters and I would holiday here and adventure amongst the blackthorn bushes, secret sea coves and island lochs. I wanted to offer the magic of these escapes to children caught up in Covid, through the story visuals. But the main motivation was to create an imaginary world that’s as free (and occasionally wild) as real island life for children.”

Jennifer added: “As mothers who grew up in the central belt (Edinburgh and Glasgow), all three of us could imagine the experience of kids cooped up in city flats during lockdown for hours, days and weeks on end. It’s not easy for families to physically reach Lismore, so we decided to reach them with stories of adventure and crucially – time spent away from the constant oversight of adults.”

For its tiny size (pop 192) Lismore punches well above its weight.

The local history society, (Comann Eachdraidh Lios Mòr) was formed in 1994 by native, Gaelic-speaking islanders to protect and preserve the island’s particular strain of Gaelic language and culture.

This led to the Lismore Gaelic Heritage Centre (Ionad Naomh Moluag) in 2007, named after the 6th-century Celtic Saint who built a monastery there. The Centre houses an accredited museum, library, archive and shop – staffed entirely by island volunteers – plus an award-winning café and acts as one of the venues for the biennial Taproot Book Festival, which is being planned for September 2022.

COMMUNITY archaeology has recently uncovered a well-preserved burial from the 8th century, which might be St Moluag’s monastery, founded two centuries earlier. The three-week dig happening now has been guided by a full geophysical survey conducted in 2019 which revealed the boundary of the current cemetery and some unexpected structures.

Baker said: “When I told people I was coming to live on Lismore the reaction was largely – what will you do on an island? Well, we never stop. Neither do children, Maybe that’s why Lismore is an ideal fit.”

The books will be launched in the Lismore Gaelic Heritage Centre on Wednesday, October 13, and there will be a Halloween event featuring characters in the stories at Lismore Primary School on Friday, October 29.