DAUGHTER’S LABOUR OF LOVE
Lesley relaunches rambler dad’s Clan books that champion getting out into the Scots countryside
More than 30 years ago, Scots rambler Rennie McOwan would enchant his kids with a series of bedtime stories designed to inspire a love of the great outdoors.
The noted outdoors campaigner and former journalist created an incredible world of Highland adventures which became the acclaimed Clan series of children’s novels, beginning with Light on Dumyat.
Despite initial success and adaptation for BBC radio, the books have become forgotten by many.
But that is about to change thanks to Rennie’s daughter Lesley Andrews, who lives in Castle Douglas. She has relaunched the books for the 21st century and is on a mission to help them find a new audience while her father is still around to see it.
Rennie, 84, from Stirling, has been battling Parkinson’s for a decade and can’t move or eat by himself due to the ravages of the disease.
Last year, Lesley republished the first in his Clan series and, not long after that, she had the delight of telling him that the first run had completely sold out and needed reprinted.
Book two, The White Stag Adventure, hit shops last week and Lesley, who worked in publishing in London and was a key part of Amazon’s UK launch into the book market, said she feels the time is right for the exciting series to be revisited by a much wider audience.
While Dumyat was adapted into a BBC Radio Scotland series 30 years ago, Lesley is hoping that her labour of love can attract TV producers with a franchise she described as “Outlander for kids”.
She said: “My dad grew up with the outdoors, but we lived in the city, and every night he would tell us these amazing stories at bedtime, including us in those characters. My brothers and I became the Clan.
“One day he told a publisher friend about the stories and the friend suggested he should write a children’s book. That was Light on Dumyat, which came out in 1982 and immediately took off. It sold well but they were under-marketed and didn’t get the push they needed.
“He is in the final stage of his life now and that’s why I feel I just want to get this out there.
“It’s my dream to get these books back on the curriculum and on the telly. It’s Scotland’s time – look at shows like Outlander. Dad was approached in the past by people wanting to make a TV show and people have always seen potential, it’s just the time was not right. Now the time is right.
“I’ve heard them described as lost Scottish classics and I feel their time has come.”
Lesley began the push to bring the books back to prominence seven years ago when she moved back to Scotland with husband Richard to raise her twins Alexander and Charlotte in the countryside.
Meanwhile, her father was increasingly affected by his condition, and the family – including mum Agnes and brothers Niall, Michael and Tom – had been frustrated by the way the books had been marketed.
Rennie gifted Lesley the rights and she set up her own label to relaunch the books.
With a few amendments to the dialogue to update it for the 21st century and the clothes of the kids on
the cover illustrations, the repackaged Light on Dumyat came out last year and sold well in stores and on Amazon.
She said: “Word of mouth has kept them going. They have lasted with nothing behind them. I speak to so many people who have read them and loved them to this day, and have done readings in schools and see just how much children love them.
“There are no wands, no gadgets, just children being self-reliant and confident playing in the great outdoors.
“Light on Dumyat has a loyal following, which seems to be generational. We are contacted regularly by schools and readers of the book who are now grown up asking where they can buy it for their children.
“And so we are absolutely delighted to be reprinting it and allowing it to inspire the imaginations of another generation.”
The story follows an English boy sent on holiday in the Ochil Hills with his Scottish cousins, who stumble on a series of mysteries they need to solve using their outdoor skills, while taking on various villains.
Lesley said: “For him, it was also about imparting his views of the countryside and out of doors. The books are all based on real people with a fictional twist.
“His passion was that children should be allowed out of doors, should be self-reliant and have a great respect for nature and wildlife. It is packed full of Scottish history.”
Rennie was raised in the Ochils and became a journalist with newspapers including the Daily Record and was also the first press officer for the Catholic Church in Scotland.
But it’s as an outdoorsman he is best known, having pioneered the rambling movement and being described as the architect of Scotland’s free-to-roam access.
He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Stirling for his rambling work, as well as the Outdoor Writer’s Guild’s Golden Eagle Award.
He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2005 and is now mainly confined to his home in Stirling, where Agnes looks after him.
It’s been tough for Lesley and her family to see their mountain-man father unable to take a single step.
She said: “He was having symptoms for four or five years before he was diagnosed – he is sharp as a tack but cannot move or feed himself.
“It has been hard to see him like this but in credit to my mother, who acts as his main carer, he says his quality of life is excellent. The world is brought to him.” He had the privilege of attending the book launch in Stirling last year, in one of few such outings these days.
Lesley said: “It was great to have him at the launch and then it was very emotional telling him the first print run had sold out. It felt like an endorsement.
“I wanted to do a good job as a publisher and the book to be a success, but I also wanted my father to be happy with the end result. I think we did both of these things.
“For us, I’d say there’s great pride but also a feeling that these books have been on a journey and they haven’t yet reached their destination; unfinished business. “I strongly feel that, with my publishing hat on, they are totally commercial and would do very well in places such as Australia and the United States. “It’s this great big Scottish adventure, like Outlander for kids.” Light on Dumyat and The White Stag Adventure are both out now on Rowan Tree Publishing. www. rowantreepublishing. co.uk.
Appeal Author Rennie McOwan discusses his books with primary school pupils in the Central Belt, above and below left
New generation Lesley shows one of the books to her twins Charlotte and Alexander
Bond Rennie and Lesley
Outdoors man Rennie on the summit of Dumyat
Out now The second book in the series, right