A long time ago, on the other side of the world, a little girl tip-toed down a cold, dark hallway. She was, perhaps, a little like you first thing in the morning – all tangly hair, sleepy eyes, bare feet (although these days creaky bones feature now and then).
A giggle trembled at the edge of the little girl’s lips; she had stayed the night at her grandparents’ house – a rare treat – and was excited to spend every last minute with them. And her uncle, for she loved this jolly, burly young man who was also her godfather.
And so she tippy-tap-toed down this cold hallway to his room where he lay in a deep slumber, his body rattling like a train she’d heard when her mum took her into town. (Years later, she would learn that his head had hit the pillow mere hours before after a long and beery night out with friends and hadn’t planned on waking until the afternoon.)
‘Are you awake?’
She giggled and clambered onto the bed (quite probably bumping him with a sharp elbow or misplaced foot). ‘Yes, you are.’ Giggling, she pulled open his eyelids, one by one. ‘See!’
And then – whether to make sure he didn’t doze off again or because she was a cheeky monkey – the little girl plonked her icy-cold toes onto her uncle’s tummy. Yes. He was definitely awake and ready to talk now.
My uncle delighted in reminding me of this story over the years (once the icy-cold shock was a rose-tinted memory). And one day, when my sons were about six and eight, I turned the memory into picture book manuscript, featuring a little girl called Alexandra Rose (my middle name is Alexandra) with icy-cold toes. They loved it!
In fact, they loved it so much, they said it should be a real book. Now, I was already writing for children – not picture books or chapter books, but lesson plans with stories and songs – so I thought, ‘How hard could this be?’ This was back in 2003, before self-publishing was widely available.
And so, I worked on the draft a few times, researched publishers and submission guidelines, wrote a catchy letter saying something like, ‘Alexandra Rose is so absolutely, cheek-pinchingly adorable that you couldn’t possibly miss the chance to publish her story’ … and sent the manuscript to one publisher – then the market leader for children’s books in Australia.
Three months later, the manuscript was returned with a nice letter saying something like, ‘Sadly, Alexandra Rose is simply too adorable for us right now.’ Something like that. I remember feeling momentarily sad, but I had a lot of sadder things happening in my life back then, so I didn’t think too much about it. Instead, I slipped the manuscript into the Drawer of Shattered Dreams every writer has, and forgot about it.
Years passed. My sons grew up. But one day opportunity blew in, and before I knew it, I had two children’s books published – My Silly Mum and Fergus the Farting Dragon (it’s about being different … and, well, using wind to one’s advantage). These also came from my Drawer of Shattered Dreams, but for some reason Alexandra Rose stayed in there, her icy-cold toes kept warm by a yellowing rejection letter.
Almost two years ago, my uncle died. He was seventy-one. At his funeral, we were sharing memories, as you do at these times, and I remembered the way he’d shake his head when he told that story of my icy-cold toes. (There was always a twinkle in his eyes when he told it, so I knew he’d long since forgiven me.) And I knew he’d want that story to live on. After the funeral, I flew home and searched for my manuscript, praying I hadn’t thrown it out. But no, there it was, at the bottom of the drawer.
I read it … and cringed. Alexandra Rose wasn’t nearly as adorable as I thought she was. She needed some tweaking. Serious tweaking. The structure was fine, but it was too wordy – and the words didn’t ‘pop’.
So, I set to work and a week later, I tested the revised story on a group of ninety children. In Australia we celebrate Children’s Book Week every August (except for 2020, which we all know has been an exception in many ways) and all over the country, schools and libraries invite authors to talk or give workshops.
Guess what? They loved it! So did the teachers and the librarian. ‘She’s absolutely adorable! You must publish this next,’ they said. My publisher, Serenity Press, agreed, and this month the book was officially launched in Australia. I’ve since been receiving lots of emails from parents whose children love Alexandra Rose (and quite a few whose daughters share the same name). And in what was rather a surprise for me, Sarah, Duchess of York chose this book to read on her YouTube channel as part of her Fergie and Friends Storytime series. My uncle would be smiling, I’m positive of that. See, icy-cold toes can take you places you don’t expect!
Writers are always asked, ‘Where do you get your ideas/inspiration?’ Truth is, they’re all around us – in our memories, our day-to-day lives. And sometimes, those ideas are stories just waiting to be made real. In my case, it was my cold feet … which reminds me, I should put some socks on.
(c) Monique Mulligan
About Alexandra Rose and her Icy-Cold Toes:
Alexandra Rose has ice-cold toes and she knows the best way to warm them up. But will her family like her foot-warming, wake-up-fast idea as much as she does?
Fergus the Farting Dragon and My Silly Mum author Monique Mulligan returns with another delightfully mischievous tale for children of all ages. Complemented by vibrant, funny illustrations, this cheeky story is perfect for reading aloud, with or without socks on.
Order your copy online here.