The life of a parent can often feel like one huge balancing act, juggling the kids, work and still trying to squeeze in some me time. Despite the hectic schedule, Edinburgh primary school teacher and mum-of-three Coo Clayton has just realised a lifelong ambition with the publication of her first children’s book. S4K caught up with Coo to find out how it all happened…
Strolling home from nursery with her daughter on a dreich day last winter, Coo (a charming childhood nickname which stuck into adulthood) wearily picked up her daughter’s mittens from the wet ground for the umpteenth time when inspiration suddenly struck. It’s a familiar scene, young child – in this case three-year-old Maggie – just does not want to wear those fuzzy hand warmers, despite the awful weather. Coo explains, “My favourite children’s books are the ones that I can relate to as a mum. I liked the idea of taking a really simple situation that all parents have experienced. For me, that’s what storytelling is all about, making that connection between parent and child.”
In the tale of ‘Maggie’s Mittens’ mum stays very patient as Maggie tries to lose those mittens everywhere, travelling to some of Scotland’s most iconic and best-loved places in her mission. Coo adds, “I’ve got three young children,
Christopher (8), Tom (6) and of course star-of-the-story Maggie and if you don’t get outside you tend to go a bit stir crazy. Our family philosophy is get outside no matter what the weather and we try to travel around Scotland as much as we can. In Maggie’s Mittens I tried to include as many of our favourite destinations as possible.”
Once written, during the evenings once the kids were cosily tucked up in bed, Coo embarked on a search for someone whose art could bring Maggie vividly to life. Recent art school graduate Alison Soye was painting a mural at Edinburgh café The Pantry when a colleague of Coo’s admired her work and, aware of Coo’s quest, put them in touch. The result is a gorgeous debut picture book filled with delightful and humorous details that young children will adore. A friend from a local writing group gave her encouragement to send off the story to a publisher and in Coo’s own words, “Amazingly they liked it!”
Native wildlife also features as in each beautifully illustrated scene you can spot a cheeky little red squirrel who follows Maggie and her mum around the country. Coo and the book’s illustrator Alison Soye were keen to include a little furry friend for Maggie and had originally thought of a mouse, but then decided on a Scottish red squirrel in support of the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s campaign to save them.
So, what does young Maggie think of it all? Coo laughs, “Maggie absolutely loves that she has her own book, but she really does think that it is only ‘her book’ and gets a little bit miffed when friends and family produce their own copy. The boys have been fantastic, they are a little older and understand a bit more about the journey this has been for me and all the work involved.” And her pupils at ESMS Junior School? “They got a sneak preview and were so super-excited. It was lovely.”
Life is set to become even busier now as Coo has plans for more titles in the Maggie series, and to appear at library, festival and Scottish Wildlife Trust events in support of their campaign – of course this is all on top of balancing a teaching job, three kids and a family life. But as Coo says, “If you have a real desire to do something, then you just make it happen.” We think she’s got it covered.
Maggie’s Mittens by Coo Clayton and illustrated by Alison Soye is published by Black & White Publishing. Paperback £6.99