By Alex Matthews
This dad came up with a golden winter’s tale – when a story he penned for his baby daughter turned into a Christmas hit.
Mike Doodson, from Mobberley, Cheshire, decided to write a tale about a greedy squirrel discovering generosity for his six-month-old daughter Anais and his Christmas-mad wife Lauren.
The book was intended to become a little Christmas Eve tradition for the small family.
But when Mike spotted a competition to have the work illustrated by a professional and published, Lauren, 32, urged him to go for it.
The couple are now staring at a Christmas windfall after the hastily written story was judged the best of 100s of entries into Amazon’s Christmas writing competition.
‘A Christmas Squirrel’ is now being heavily promoted by the internet giant and shy Mike, who used to be too scared to show his work to anyone, is now a successful published author.
Mike, a marketing manager, said: “It feels surreal. I’m absolutely over the moon, and break out into a smile whenever I think about it.
“I fell in love with reading as a kid and started writing soon afterwards. But I never thought it would go anywhere, and I always hid my manuscripts from everyone.
“The only person who would read any of my work was my wife, because I write poems for her on special occasions.
“I had the idea of writing a nice story for my daughter as it’s going to be our first Christmas with her. We are both so excited.
“Then by fluke I had surgery on an old rugby operation and could not go into work. I saw an advert for the competition and just thought, ‘this is it!’, and I had the time to write it.
“I had three days until the deadline and once the idea came to me I started writing furiously. I think I submitted it five minutes before the deadline.
“For the next few days I kept checking my phone, but I was convinced I was not going to win. The result came as a real shock.”
‘A Christmas Squirrel’ is a modern version of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’, and follows the story of a grumpy, greedy squirrel who discovers the spirit of generosity from three wise trees as he learns to share what he has with the woodland creatures around him.
Mike submitted the story on the deadline of November 7.
Mike said: “When I was coming up with the idea I wanted an animal that everyone would believe to be greedy, but that would be cute enough you would not dislike him.
“A squirrel just seemed perfect. Once I had that the rest of it just fell into place.
“Writing it was hard, and it was an intense three days of writing and rewriting. But I managed to get it in on time. I also showed it to Lauren, who was incredibly supportive and really encouraged me.”
After being declared the winner, Mike got to have the pictures drawn by professional illustrator of 35 years, Ian Beck.
Mike said: “The pictures were incredible. It’s like he plucked them right out of my head. I never expected them to resemble what I had in mind so closely.”
Ian said: “I was lucky enough to be part of the judging process as well as to illustrate the winning book and whilst the calibre of entries was wonderful, the story of a Christmas squirrel is a perfect depiction of the meaning behind ‘A Christmas Carol’.
“I hope readers enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed illustrating it, and I look forward to reading it to my grandchildren this Christmas.”
Mike’s wife Lauren’s favourite time of year is Christmas and for her the win has made this year even more special.
Lauren said: “I’m so incredibly proud of him. I was trying so hard not to be biased, but as soon as I saw the story I was sure that it would win.
“I was nagging him all day to check his emails on the day he was supposed to hear. When it came through saying he had won it was fantastic.
“It was so good and struck me as a real Christmas tale. The idea of all the animals gathering in the forest for dinner was lovely.
“I really love Christmas. It’s definitely my favourite time of year, and I’m so excited that we’ll be able to read this to Anais each year. It will make it that bit more special.”
Taffy Thomas MBE, storytelling expert and competition judge, remarked: “Mike’s story is magical and will delight families this Christmas, and I particularly like the food-sharing element of Mike’s re-telling.
“The tale’s link to the natural world is lovely. It is a great story of rhyme and reason.”
‘A Christmas Squirrel’ is available in paperback and to purchase in the Kindle Store.