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From Lara Williamson:

Firstly, I’d like to thank Sarah for kindly hosting me on her fabulous blog for this leg of the #TommyVCancer blog tour. I don’t know Tommy Donbavand personally but I know I’d like him. From what I’ve heard he’s an all round good guy with boundless energy and passion for writing and entertaining kids. Recently he was diagnosed with cancer and has just undergone six weeks of treatment but it hasn’t stopped him blogging his journey. That’s because you can’t keep a good guy down. You can’t stop him writing and making others laugh and cry with his words.

Banner artwork by Nigel Parkinson

If you haven’t read his blog, I urge to you do so. You’ll laugh (yes, laugh) and you’ll need some tissues too. At the moment Tommy can’t get out there to talk to kids, something he loves, so if you’d like to support him check out his website on becoming a patreon or buy his books. There are oodles of brilliant books to choose from. Talking brilliant books, here’s a review of one…

Illustrations by Mick Harrison of Cartoon Saloon

Okay, hands up. I love a pun, I love a bit of toilet humour and I love a golden bum! It was the name of this book that did it. There it was tooting to me above all the other Tommy Donbavand titles like a great big blow on a sparkly wind instrument. Golden Bum, I said to myself. After that I laughed. Oh how I needed to read a story like this. When I read the back blurb that said the whiffy wizard, the Great Disgusto, was holding the world to ransom I thought, yup funny! The next line about Agents Enigma and Brown sniffing out The Great Disgusto’s stinking plan before he let rip with his golden bum and blasted mankind into oblivion had me cracking up. Like I said at the beginning, I love a pun and there were plenty of them in this book, much to my delight. There were also many interesting characters that flew off the page like Milly O’Naire and Sir Hugh Jands. Yo yo there’s a rapping gnome too. His name is Hip Hop. He’s a rhyming gnome. No need to go home. He’s cool as you like. He might want to fight. He’ll bust yo’ face. So, bust his first. No that doesn’t rhyme, sorry it’s a rap crime.

Okay, sorry about that. I can’t rhyme half as well as Tommy does - back to the story. Ask yourself these questions:

1) Do you like James Bond?
2) Do you like monsters?
3) Do you like exotic locations?
4) Sharks, do you like ‘em?
5) Laughing?
6) Do you fall about at fart jokes?

If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions and even if you answered ‘no’ or ‘don’t know’ then Operation: Golden Bum is for you. Basically it’s for everyone. It’s like putting James Bond and a vampire into a blender and ending up with Fangs the vampire spy. This is the first book in the series and the story travels along at a pace and you’re carried with it as Fangs Enigma and his werewolf sidekick, Puppy Brown try to stop The Great Disgusto and his noxious fumes. I’m not going to give any spoilers because um… that would spoil everything but there is a lot of fun in this book. The writing is effortless and zips along and the story is easy to follow.

At the front there are Mick Harrison's character pictures, which is so lovely as I immediately felt connected to them. Inside there were illustrations every few pages. And I loved the little paw print at the end of each chapter. Little touches like that are so important. The beginning of each chapter there was a bigger illustration that really set the mood. I particularly enjoyed the illustrations that went over pages 134 and 135. I won't say what it is as it would spoil the end but it was funny.

To sum up, this story is just choc-a-block with much hilarity, jokes, word play, rhyming and general James Bond-esque (I just made that up) mayhem. Yes, it was the name of this book that hooked me to start with but it’s the story kept me on the edge of my seat and when I turned the last page I thought I’m going to miss that sharp-toothed Fangs Enigma and then I thought nah, I’ll just get all the others in this series. Yippee, more fun and farts* to be had! *Maybe not farts. Okay, maybe farts. I’ll shut up now.

To end the blog tour there will be a Twitter chat, hosted by Vivienne DaCosta (@Serendipity_Viv) and Michelle Toy (@ChelleyToy). This will take place on 30th June 2016 8-9pm and the hashtag is #tommyvcancer.

Here are the links to Tommy’s website and how you can donate, if you’d like to:
Website: www.tommyvcancer.com
Patreon link

Author bio

Tommy is the author of the popular thirteen book Scream Street series for 7 to 10 year olds, published by Walker Books in the UK and Candlewick Press in the US. His other books include Zombie!, Wolf and Uniform (winner of the Hackney Short Novel Award) for Barrington Stoke, Boredom Busters and Quick Fixes for Kids’ Parties (How To Books), and Making A Drama Out Of A Crisis (Network Continuum).

In theatre, Tommy’s plays have been performed to thousands of children on national tours to venues such as The Hackney Empire, Leeds City Varieties, and Nottingham Playhouse. These productions include Hey Diddle Diddle, Rumpelstiltskin, Jack & Jill In The Forgotten Nursery, and Humpty Dumpty And The Incredibly Daring Rescue Of The Alien Princess From Deep Space. He is also responsible for five episodes of the CBBC TV series, Planet Cook (Platinum Films).

As an actor, Tommy played the Clearlake MC in the West End musical Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story for over eight years, in addition to roles in the movies Zombie Love Stories (where he battled hordes of the Scottish undead) and Going Off Big Time (where he was beaten up on a bouncy castle). A veteran of pantomime, he has portrayed just about every comic character from Abanazer to an Ugly Sister. Tommy lives in Lancashire with his wife and two sons. He is a HUGE fan of all things Doctor Who, plays blues harmonica, and makes a mean balloon poodle. He sees sleep as a waste of good writing time.

Note from Sarah:
Illustrator bio: There isn't much information about Mick Harrison in the book or on the publisher's website; I think he's @Goldenengine on Twitter. But things are changing for the better; find out more about why illustrator credits are increasingly important at PicturesMeanBusiness.com.

down the rabbit hole with william grill

Today I met up with the winner of last year's Kate Greenaway Medal for illustration, William Grill, to talk about this year's Greenaway shortlist. We were hosted by Resonance FM 104.4 radio, with Down the Rabbit Hole presenters author Katherine Woodfine and agent Louise Lamont. (Oh, and Will's 13-year-old dog, Barney.) Across the desk here are Louise and Will in the station's Borough High Street studio.

And you can listen to the half-hour radio show here!

Here are the books we were discussing:

That was fun, thanks, everyone!



I was away all weekend doing book-festival-related work in Manchester and didn't have much time to follow social media, but whenever I had a brief chance to dip in, I'd get hit with a massive wave of people's despair over the EU Referendum results. It felt like people were whipping themselves into a frenzy of thinking we were in a dystopian apocalypse like something you'd read about in The Road or The Hunger Games. People were saying we'd destroyed our children's future.

Cartoon by UK-based German illustrator Axel Scheffler, visual creator of The Gruffalo popular picture books

I was gutted; I'd voted Remain and I couldn't see how our country would go forward with a Brexit strategy, if it had one at all. (And it turned out no one DID have a strategy.) The economy is taking a big tumble. I ran into an old friend in a coffee shop who runs a building company, and he and his wife were having a very hard, worried discussion about what they were going to do now about their investments and contracts they were about to sign.

But the fact is, unless we've sterilised everyone in Britain and killed everyone under the age of 18, we haven't destroyed our children's future. The future's not some puddle that we can stamp in and muddy; that's called the present. The good thing about the future is that we're not allowed to touch it, it's always ahead of us, and we will change and adapt to survive in the years ahead. Of course our children will have 'futures', even if they're not quite what we would want for them. Maybe they will do some things better than we did because our generation were too narrow-minded to see certain options.

In the meantime, we can make a positive impact on the children around us, the Leave vote's not going to stop that. Authors I know are visiting schools all over the country - even this past weekend - inspiring kids to create their own stories, think up new ways of seeing things, empathise with other people, try to imagine a better future than the present they're living in.

Michael de Souza and Rastamouse, Philip Reeve, the Etherington Brothers and me at Manchester Children's Book Festival last weekend

I was listening to a swimming instructor this morning giving kids confidence to float. I visited the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital over the weekend where hospital teaching staff were thinking of creative ways to help children learn, whether they were in hospital for three days or three years. And a charity called Readathon UK were providing them mobile library shelves so sick kids and their families have something to read.

Staff at Royal Manchester Children's Hospital dressed in 'Pugs of the Frozen North'-themed costumes

These things are still happening and we can fight for them to keep going. Most importantly, parents, relatives and foster parents still love and care about their kids and want the best for them; that hasn't changed with the vote.

People are saying our country is wrecked. I've lived in the USA (for 21 years) and in Russia (for two years) and I can confidently say that we do some things much better than those two countries. In fact, I love this place so much that this is where I've chosen to stay (and I'm incredibly grateful to have had that option). I love the way in Britain that we value our history; it's written into the literature and fabric of our communities and we treasure and meticulously catalogue it so we can learn from the past. I love the landscape, I love its people's sense of humour.

But any country is like a family: we have embarrassing Grandpa Jo who keeps touching lady's bums. We have annoying Aunt Hazel who won't stop making vile jokes about the Nigerian neighbours. But unlike a country, we know everyone in the family pretty well: we know Grandpda Jo has dementia and isn't quite in control of what he does (which doesn't make it any less embarrassing, but he's not getting any better). And we know that Aunt Hazel got badly bullied by her classmates as a child and then by her partner, and always lived on the same road that's different now than it used to be; being racist is her attempt to have some control over her environment. It doesn't excuse what she says, but we do our best to try to help her see why what she's saying is incredibly unhelpful to everyone. Sometimes we get into big arguments with her and it takes awhile for the relationship to mend. But we look after her daughter: we have discussions with her, lend her books and watch movies with her, take her 'round to meet the neighbours (who have a kid her age), and help her see that there are more ways of seeing the world than the way her mother sees it, that she can make choices. Sometimes we learn unexpected things about Britain's history from Aunt Hazel, who's lived longer and seen things changing. We don't brand Joe and Hazel 'evil' from a safe Internet distance, we get on living with them as best we can.

I see a lot of good things happening in Britain. Last weekend I saw London Mayor Sadiq Khan standing firmly with the people taking part in the London Pride march. That guy's putting himself in a lot of danger from people who might see him as a traitor to his religion, but he's not letting that stop him.

I saw activist Peter Tatchell tweeting an article about the Pope, who says it's time for the Church to apologise for how it's treated gay people. Yes, the Church is massively messed up, but it's wonderful to hear its most influential member trying to turn it around. And sometimes we have to learn to speak to religious people in their own language; just yelling louder won't make them understand. To do this, we have to listen to people of faith who care deeply about social justice issues and aren't afraid of healthy debate. Don't ignore everything they say just because you don't believe in God or their particular religion. Or if you do, don't be surprised when they don't listen to you or vote as you would like them to.

And racism. Not all people who voted Leave did so for racist motives, but many hardcore racists seem to have taken the vote as validation for ugly words and behaviour. Racism isn't anything new, but the recent turmoil is making us re-examine who we are, hopefully listen to people from other backgrounds, and listen and discuss with them what's important to make our society function as harmoniously as possible. Listening will be a big part of that. And we don't always have to jump in immediately to show everyone we're not racist; sometimes we just need to listen and help those people's voices be heard.

The EU isn't perfect; it has some protectionist trade policies which deliberately keep other countries poor so that European countries can protect their own industries (using places such as Kenya as a source of raw materials but restricting their exports of processed goods to the EU). I don't even know enough about this, just that there are some incredibly unfair things happening because of EU decisions. Perhaps this shakeup will force people in Britain to look at the skeleton frame of how our society works, question how we set up new policies, and make better decisions. But it means trying to be aware, and I'm as guilty as anyone of keeping my head in the sand and citing overwhelming workload as my excuse to stay ignorant. We can't trust our leaders to know what's best, we have to ask questions and argue and fight for what's right, step by step. Twitter and Facebook won't be strong enough tools for that fight, we need to find more effective, non-violent methods.

We need to get creative. And friends in the book industry, isn't that what we do? We need to think creatively and ask questions. That doesn't mean all our work has to be serious and 'worthy'; sometimes humour has a lot more power to make people question the status quo than impassioned arguments. And not all our work will seem directly related to the cause; things such promoting Reading For Pleasure may mean we spend time helping kids to read (and make) comics about space cats or draw exploding toilets... that's perfectly valid! This isn't time spent away from building a better Britain, this is giving kids some building blocks to a life of literacy and educated questioning.

...And kids make find some of the building blocks of empathy and social awareness from things other than books - films, games, language exchange programmes, music, dance, volunteering at nursing homes and homeless shelters, after-school clubs, hiking, sports, activities - we need to accept that, too, and not think we're the big heroes in all this and that it's all about books. (Sometimes we book people do that.)

I guess what I'm saying is, I don't have all the answers, but whatever your Facebook feed is telling you, let's not write off our country and revel so much in the horror that we spread general feelings of powerlessness. Let's love our country, and love it in that active way that is a decision and a commitment as much as a feeling.

#portraitchallenge: utamaro

Here's our #PortraitChallenge drawings from last Thursday! This time we were riffing on a 1801 woodblock print by Japanese master Utamaro. I played around, drawing mine without looking at the paper. (Can you spot the messy one?) :)

You can see more over at @StudioTeaBreak.
Why are my co-author Philip Reeve and I in Daunt Books Marylebone looking VERY excited?

We'd found out we'd won the children's book category for Pugs of the Frozen North in this year's Independent Bookshop Week Award! It's a celebration of indie bookshops, booksellers, and the amazing way they know their books so well and can stock and recommend just the right titles, and be real hubs in their communities. Besides selling books, indie bookshops have hosted wonderful events for us, knitted pugs, and encouraged us on social media, and we love them.

Philip has already blogged about it, and you can read more about the award in this Guardian article by Emily Drabble and over on the IndieBound website. And there's another article in The Bookseller here, by Lisa Campbell.

Click here for more under the cut!Collapse )