Friday, 22 April 2016

Shoulder to shoulder with Tommy Donbavand - Nicola Morgan

Many of you know that our friend in the children's writing world, Tommy Donbavand, is fighting cancer. Yes, I am using the word "fighting" knowingly. I know that many people rightly take issue with the way we use words like "fight" and battle" in association with cancer but not with other illnesses. It's right to quibble about words - words are important and they reflect and can also define and refine our emotions. But it is the word Tommy uses - and he talks about that here - and, damn it, he can call it whatever he wants and we should call his encounter with cancer a fight if that's what he feels about it. Personally, I don't see any problem with using these words for cancer; the problem is that we don't - and should - use such words for other illnesses that people go through treatment and adjust their lives for.

Anyway, I digress.

I've never met Tommy in person but it's easy to feel you've met him even if you haven't. And I should have met him: he joined the committee of CWIG, the Children's Writers and Illustrators Group of the Society of Authors, back in November. But he wasn't able to make the first committee meeting. And then, cancer struck.

I'm really looking forward to meeting him when he has won this war but he has some beyond-tough battles to go through first. I know that serried ranks of good people, children's writers, readers and a vast army of others, are behind Tommy as he faces this tricksy enemy. I don't know if it's OK to say that we are "shoulder to shoulder" because, however hard we try to understand what it's like, we aren't experiencing what he is experiencing. But I want him to know that we are with him, as much as we can be.

And there are things we can do to help.

1. We can read his blog. It's extraordinarily open, vivid, searing, mind-opening. Important. We can leave comments there, showing our support.

2. We can do our very best to enter that very human and absolutely crucial mind-state of empathy. Reading his blog helps us in that. Reading helps empathy in deep and powerful ways. When writing works - and Tommy is a highly skilled writer, so his would - it allows the reader in some way to experience or mirror the mental state of the writer. That may be painful for a reader, but if we can do it, I think that strikes a powerful blow for humanity.

(Please note: although I'm against the over-use of trigger warnings, I do completely get that some people really may not be in a position to cope with reading about Tommy's treatment and feelings. If you feel you can't, for personal reasons, don't feel bad. You can still do the next two things!)

3. We can spread the word about his TOTALLY brilliant idea: virtual creative writing lessons for schools. As he's said - and as his great friend, Barry Hutchison, explains here - losing his income from schools events and writing workshops has been a massive extra pressure for him and his family, and will continue to be so because the treatment will damage his voice for some time. Schools, this is a huge opportunity for you and I think Tommy's offer is immensely generous. You won't regret it!

4. We might be able to support financially, as Barry explains here.

5. We can help keep him smiling. I chickened out of this yesterday. I had to choose a Get Well card for the CWIG committee to sign. You've no idea the problems my over-thinking, neurotic brain had with this simple task! Many cards are hopelessly trivial and fluffy. Some I felt were too flowery or wishy-washy and old-fashioned. Some talked about feeling "under the weather". Loads had pictures of thermometers in teddy bears' mouths. I wanted one that not only didn't underestimate what Tommy is going through but also reflected his character - or what I believe I know of it from his social media presence. So I bought one I thought would make him laugh. A really silly, bonkers one.

Then ... I chickened out, because I stupidly worried that making him laugh wasn't "appropriate", that it was disrespectful, that it wasn't right if coming from the Society of Authors. So I bought another one, brilliant sunflowers, uplifting, I thought. But not funny. We've signed that and sent it.

But no: forget serious and respectful. How about trying to make him smile? So, here is the one I didn't send:

Go, Tommy! Beat the hell out of the enemy and Get Well Soon!


Sue Purkiss said...

Well done, Nicola - and thanks for giving voice to what a lot of us are feeling. I don't know Tommy either, but I'm full of admiration for the way he's responded to horrible situation.

Anne Booth said...

That's a lovely post and I will definitely read his blog.

Emma Barnes said...

A great guy and a great blog.

Anonymous said...

Well said and recommended, Nicola, and wishing Tommy well. Hope that his generous creative writing service idea gets snapped up quickly by schools.

A particularly powerful and effective aspect of Tommy's blog, for me, is that he writes in almost real time. The posts give details about his treatment, about how he feels medically and emotionally and about the staff and people he meets during his treatment. Yes, you have to choose a good moment of the day to read each post, but that could be said of much of our current news.

I want to add that all of the posts - written with hope and humour when Tommy can find some - inform readers what it's really like to be treated for throat cancer. They answer some of those questions you might not choose to ask someone you're visiting, or who you're visiting during a gap in their treatment when you want to be cheerful. The blog will help people understand and that is another reason why Tommy's blog is such valuable reading.

Anonymous said...

Hello - I'm Penny Dolan and I was "Anonymous" above as Google's verify seems to be particularly annoying today and keen to lock me into their sytem in a way I'm not yet sure about. How many multiple images can one want?

Stroppy Author said...

Hear, hear. And thank you for the Empathylab link - Tommy's blog is certainly a fine demonstration of how writing and reading can raise empathy.