WHEN Jill Hargan retired as a social worker with North Ayrshire Council, she described one of her hobbies as being playing the fiddle - "badly".

However, it was her and her partner's love of Scottish folk music which helped inspire her towards illustrating her first book.

She described how the song 'Sam the Skull' (popularised by Gaberlunzie and Alistair McDonald) was a favourite sing-a-long tune during folk nights at their local pub - both with visitors and their four year old granddaughter.

Jill told the Herald how this inspired her to get into illustration.

She said: "Before I was a social worker I designed and made knitwear for a living  and have always painted in oils usually large pictures with local people or events in them.

"It was lockdown I wasn’t going anywhere or meeting anyone so I decided I needed a project and that I would illustrate Sam.

"I chose watercolour  and pen which I had not used before. I completed all the drawings in pen before adding colour as I was trying to get consistency especially of the cat. Which I decided had to be ginger for impact.

"I had an idea in my head around where the text would sit in relation to the illustrations to make the book readable and interesting and basically spent two or three hours an evening until the pictures were complete."

After receiving positive feedback on her illustrations, Jill decided she would pursue turning her book into a reality.

Though she found difficulty in this process, which saw her decide to go down another route.

She explained: "I looked into publishing companies who all seemed overwhelmed with manuscripts and took six months to reply so self publishing seemed the way forward.

"Also this book was very Scottish so needed a niche publisher further reducing my chances of finding one.

I eventually managed, with a lot of difficulty, to contact Gordon Menzies from Gaberlunzie and Harry Hagan the author.

"I sent them copies of the drawings with indications of where the text would go and asked if I could publish for charity.  They agreed Harry chose Childrens Hospices Across Scotland (CHAS) as the beneficiary."

"Doing the book for a charity made sense, I illustrated it for the pleasure of doing it and as long as I covered my printing costs that was all I needed from it.

"I didn’t know how many I would sell, and  there was definitely a feel good factor and the learning experience of publishing. I also wanted to see how well it could do."

Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald: One of the pages of the bookOne of the pages of the book (Image: Jill Hargan)

Next came the challenging of adding the text to her extraordinary drawing, which saw her seek the help of Alec from Clyde Studios in Saltcoats, who got someone who specialised in doing this to place the text.

Jill described how she and Alec "sat in front of his computer for more hours than he was paid for altering and re-altering placement and text".

Suddenly, the book was ready to be printed, with Jill having to decide just how successful she thought the book would be.

She commented: "I hummed and harred over quantities and opted for 1000 feeling I could probably sell this quantity at £7.99 per book. In the meantime I learnt about registering barcodes and paper types.

"Three days after I picked the book up was the Ardrossan Highland Games. I got a last minute stall in the craft tent and sold 90 books.

"The reception for the book was phenomenal with older people remembering it fondly and younger people singing it at nursery we had lots of folk singing it in the tent. This was an amazing confidence boost."

Jill then used her island contacts and sold on copies of the book across shops in Arran, while she also set up stall at the agricultural show and highland games - leading to lots of island sales.

Seahorse, based in Ardrossan, have also taken some copies, though she has still found the mainland market a challenging one to crack.

Jill explained: "I had a brainwave to ask Crosshouse Hospital shop, they have done brilliantly benefitting both them and CHAS but mainland markets were challenging.

"I eventually got registered with Waterstones and their store in East Kilbride has been phenomenal and Gordon from Gaberlunzie gave sales a huge boost by putting the book on his website."

To date, Jill has managed to sell 1,000 books in only three months - generating £3,710 for CHAS. She still has high hopes to grow this in future.

She commented: "I would love the book to be picked up by a publisher who paid our contribution direct to the charity or have huge orders which resulted in selling larger quantities, or get it into a catalogue or big museum, in fact any museum.

"I have published the second thousand in September so would really like to see these go before Christmas so we can pay more money to CHAS.

"I have now illustrated a second book, this time about a horse, for an island writer and am currently looking for something else to illustrate to keep me busy this winter!"

Sam the Skull is still available to buy now, and can be found on jillharganart.co.uk/illustrations/.