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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Tommy Donbavand (1968-2019)

Tommy Donbavand, a prolific writer of children's books who also wrote comic strips, has died at the age of 51. The announcement was made on his blog on Tuesday, 14 May 2019.

In March 2016, Donbavand was diagnosed with stage four inoperable throat cancer. After intensive radiotherapy and chemotherapy, he contracted double pneumonia and sepsis, which hospitalized him for over a month. During this period he lost a lot of weight (13 stone), describing himself as "a badly wrapped skeleton," and suffered with lymphedema, trismus and, after a fall, a broken rib.

His blog Tommy v Cancer was the basis for a book, Tommy v Cancer: One Man's Battle Against the Big C (2017), which charted his fight to become clear of the disease.

In December 2017, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and underwent surgery the following June to have portion of his left lung removed. His response was a second book Tommy v Cancer Round Two: One Man's Battle Against the Big C (Again) (2018). 

In early 2019 he suffered a relapse. His throat cancer returned and he was given months, possibly only weeks, to live. Making the announcement, his friend Barry Hutchison said, "It saddens me enormously to say that Tommy passed away in hospital this morning. My kind, funny, courageous, ridiculous friend is no longer with us. It happened quite suddenly in the end and there was no pain ... Something he'd want me to do is to say a big thank you to everyone who has been reading his blog, offering support, good vibes, prayers and well-wishes. He appreciated it all, and there were times in the last year or so that I think the outpouring of love and support helped carry him through the harder times. He was immensely grateful for it, and everyone who knew and loved him is, too."

Tommy Donbavand's output was prodigious and he jokingly noted that he saw sleep as a waste of good writing time. He said of writing: "The best thing is getting to spend my days making up adventures for my readers! Like most children’s authors, I write the stories I would liked to have read when I was younger – so I quite often find myself getting lost in my characters’ worlds. Plus, on the days I’m not at my desk, I get to visit schools and spread the word about how much fun writing your own stories can be!" In an interview with Matthew Badham, he expanded on his love of the latter: "School visits are very important to me. Writing can be an incredibly solitary endeavour, so the chance to get out and meet the kids who read my books is just fantastic. I make sure I pack every school visit with creative writing workshops and fun author talks, in the hope of promoting the idea of reading and writing for pleasure – something which is becoming harder and harder in this increasingly digital age (I sound so old!)"

He wrote over 100 books for young readers, including the 13-volume 'Scream Street' series which was adapted as a stop-motion animated TV show for CBBC and broadcast worldwide. Donbavand expanded the series by adapting eight episodes of the TV series over a further four books.

His many novels include Zombie!, Wolf and Uniform, the latter the winner of the Hackney Short Novel Award.

He also wrote numerous books for reluctant and struggling readers, such as Home, Ward 13, My Teacher Ate My Brain and Princess Frog-Snogger. The 'Tommy Donbavand's Funny Shorts' series features such rib-tickling adventures as 'My Granny Bit My Bum', 'Dinner Ladies of Doooooom!', and 'There's a Time Portal In My Pants'.

A fan of science fiction and especially of Doctor Who, Tommy was commissioned to write the Doctor Who novel, Shroud of Sorrow (BBC Books, 2013), which was published in 2013 to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the TV show. He also wrote many stories and comic strips for Doctor Who Adventures magazine.


In comics, he wrote the weekly adventures of Bananaman, Calamity Jane, Gnasher and Gnipper and the Bash Street Kids (and, occasionally, Billy Whiz) in The Beano, for whom he also created the characters Holly Wood, who debuted in December 2015, and a revival of Tim Traveller, who debuted in January 2019. He also scripted a monthly science themed comic for Whizz Pop Bang!, the science magazine for young children.

In theatre, his plays were 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, Rumplestiltskin, 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 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.

Keen to devise more involved SF and urban fantasy books for older readers, in 2018, Tommy bbegan co-writing the 'Gravity Storm' series adventures for the Kindle under the pen name Tom Dublin. These featured an intergalactic trader, former Special Assault Marine Jack Marbert and and the alien crew of the ICS Fortitude. (The books were set in the Kurtherian Gambit universe created by co-author Michael Anderle.

Born Thomas Christopher Donbavand in Liverpool in 1968, he lived in Lumb, Lancashire, with his wife, Kirsty, two sons, Arran and Sam, and a seemingly endless stream of pets.

(* header illustration by David Sutherland; Tommy v Cancer banner by Nigel Parkinson.)

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