February 6 sees the launch of my first children's book, Squishy McFluff: The Invisible Cat! It tells the story of a little girl who one day finds an imaginary kitten in the cabbage patch – and the mischief they both get up to.
It's so fun to be able to write about Squishy McFluff here on Parentdish, because this is where the invisible cat had his beginnings.
Well, his earliest beginnings were actually in my house. You see, when my daughter Ava was two-and-a-half, she suddenly produced an invisible kitten, which I had to hold, stroke and feed. Back then she called it Cat.
At the time, I was writing my Parentdish column Terrible Twos – and I simply had to share the invisible kitten experience. For one thing, it was completely fascinating to see my little girl exploring her burgeoning imagination.
And it was so, so sweet. She really seemed to believe it was there. I will never forget her face when she had put Cat on the sofa (unbeknownst to us) and her dad sat on it. Ava ran over squealing, and tried to shove him sideways. He had to roll away so she could pull Cat out from under his bum.
Mostly, having Cat around was funny. But occasionally, I'll freely admit, it was a bit wearing. I already had a two-and-a-half year old and a one-and-a-half year old to look after. Now Ava was insisting I look after her invisible kitten as well!
I'd dish up the girls' two meals, then have to chop up something invisible and feed Cat too. I clearly remember being in the bath with Ava and Ruby, and having to get out a few minutes later, because Cat had fallen in the water and now needed a towel.
Mostly, Cat was all brilliant. And like all the columns I've written for Parentdish, relaying the experience, warts and all, was cathartic. There are countless things I shared which, at the time, made me cry or made me panic, or quite seriously made me think I was losing my mind.
Sharing them always made me see the funny side and that's really how Cat turned into Squishy McFluff. I wondered how Cat could become something that other children would love and enjoy as much as Ava had.
If you read the book (and I do hope you will!) you'll notice some strong similarities to the column I originally wrote here, because the literary invisible cat, and the events in the first book, were founded very much in the truth of what really happened.
In the book, Mummy does feed Squishy invisible food, and Daddy does sit on him. Mummy also gets to the point of wondering whether she might be able to get rid of Squishy, by sending him to the seaside or to the moon.
Of course, just like I did at the time, Mum realises that sending the cat away is pointless – because Ava can just imagine him home again! In the end, it takes some clever thinking – thinking that works very much on Ava's level – to solve the problem of the mischievous pair (for now, anyway!).
The book is aimed at four to seven year olds and I know they shall be my harshest critics.
But here on Parentdish, where mums and dads share secrets about their children (and how they tick) I'd like to tell you that I wrote the book very much with parents in minds, too.
I expect and hope that some of the children who enjoy Squishy McFluff: The Invisible Cat! will believe in him much like the character Ava does (and crumbs, he isn't half naughty). But we parents, of course – just like Mum in the book – always know. We might play along sometimes, but we know!
I'll just tap my finger on the side of my nose and say: mums and dads, I hope it makes you smile. :)
Squishy McFluff: The Invisible Cat! is the first in a series, and published by Faber & Faber on February 6th 2014, priced £5.99.