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Feature

Coo Clayton – A Real Good EGG

Sandy Bennett-Haber
6th Nov. '17

I can admit this here because I am amongst friends. I stalked Coo Clayton on Edinburgh Gossip Girls before I met her in person. I suppose you could call it networking, I am a writer in a new(ish) city, and when I discovered via EGG’s that she was a writer as well, I followed her online and hung around at drop off time at playgroup (where we both had children going – just in case that sounds super creepy). When we got past the nod hello stage we had one of those great power chats only two very busy mums, with non mum things in common are capable of. During our chat I was delighted to discover, amongst other things, like what a nice lady she was, that Coo had a publishing deal for her first childrens book — Maggie’s Mittens.

That was back in June, I caught up with Coo at Piece Box in Polwarth a week before her October book launch — having already gotten my hands on a review copy, I was happy to report it made for enthusiastic bed time reading for both myself and my two young sons. It is one of those lovely books that has elements to entertain adults as well as children. Originally from St Andrews, Coo studied education at Edinburgh University, had a year out in Australia where she met her British husband and they now live permanently in Edinburgh with their three children. Her sense of humour and her affection for Scotland comes across in the book – which starts in Edinburgh and takes readers on a journey around the country as Maggie tries to loose those hot, fuzzy mittens.

Over coffee and brunch the story of the book’s beginnings unfolded. Before there was a beautifully illustrated book there was Coo, a busy mum working on her childrens stories when she got the chance. Five or six years ago Coo sent of one of her stories to publishers, but heard nothing back . Not surprisingly she got side tracked by her teaching job, raising three children and having a social life. Then in 2016 while her youngest, Maggie, was still an infant, her son Chris (who is about to turn nine) got sick and was diagnosed with a very rare autoimmune disease. They were dark days. Chris was off school and in a wheelchair, Coo was signed off from work and suddenly all her time and energy was taken up looking after a sick child and baby Maggie.

In her own words Coo ‘needed something to escape to,’ and for the sake of her sanity she returned to her writing. She joined a childrens literature writing group, and taking encouragement from the group, approached publishers again. This time she caught the attention of Edinburgh based Black and White publishing. Although they did not go for the story Coo originally pitched, they were very interested in a little work in progress set in Scotland and inspired by her daughters refusal to wear her mittens. They asked her to polish it up and come back to see them.

Not only did Coo find time to finish the story, but with no experience of working with illustrators before, but plenty of determination, she set about finding artists to bring the story to life. In doing so Coo came across the talented Alison Soye. Together they workshopped the ideas and details which bring the book to life. It was at Alison’s suggestion that ‘mum’ in the book has Coo’s signature hair style, and they both included favourite places and personal touches throughout the book. Alison and Coo formed a great working partnership, and have become firm friends. With the writing and illustrating of Maggie’s Mittens all finished up the two women are still regularly in touch – having fun on the campaign trail and plotting a tour of the fabulous locations in Maggie’s Mittens.

It is lovely to hear all about the amazing changes in Coo’s life since those dark days. Chris is back on his feet, still in need of close monitoring, but he has returned to school and recently did a seven kilometre fundraising run for the Edinburgh Childrens Hospital Charity to. Coo’s hard work and creativity has been recognised by her enthusiastic publishers and I am sure the launch date will see it appreciated by audiences as well. Yet in some ways life has not changed so much. Coo is still fitting in her literary life around school runs, parenting duties, working three days a week and plotting home renovations. And Maggie – who once upon a time refused to wear her mittens – well she also refused to wear a beautiful yellow coat that would have seen her transformed into her literary counterpart.

A good thing too, as it will keep Coo inspired for the next story. I can’t wait for the next instalment.

Postscript: I didn’t manage to get along to the book launch, I was stuck at home with a lovely stomach bug, but when I messaged Coo to ask about it she happily let me know that she, and her publishers, and Waterstones loved it. It was attended by over 140 people, the books all sold out and the publishers had to run out to car and find extra box of books.

You can follow Coo on her author facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/maggiesmittens/

Sandy Bennett-Haber is an Edinburgh based writer and is the editor of You Won’t Remember This – travel with babies.

Website: sandybennett.com

twitter @sbennetthaber

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