'I felt like an interloper sneaking through a friend's house'

'I felt like an interloper sneaking through a friend's house'

In March 2016, children’s author Tommy Donbavand was diagnosed with cancer. Intensive treatment left him in intensive care, unable to work on The Creeper Files, a series of books he had been commissioned to write for Oxford University Press. With deadlines and publishing slots looming, and Tommy unavailable, Tommy’s friend and fellow children’s author, Barry Hutchison, received an urgent call.

TD: Early in 2016, I went undercover. After writing almost 100 children’s books of my own, I now had a secret identity. Thanks to the team at OUP, I was Hacker Murphy, investigative reporter on the trail of a terrifying half-man, half-plant beast known only as The Creeper. I enjoyed my new identity, and plunged into writing the first of four adventures in the series, The Root of All Evil.

I was around just over half way through the first draft when I was diagnosed with inoperable throat cancer. Rigorous courses of both chemotherapy and radiotherapy swiftly followed, leaving me unwell, and fatigued. A week later, I was rushed into critical care unconscious, and suffering from double pneumonia and sepsis. I remained in hospital for over a month.

When I eventually arrived home, I found it increasingly difficult to sit up at my desk and write and, with deadlines looming, the pressure was on. I didn’t want to bring the entire series to a halt at such an early stage.

BH: And that’s where I stepped in. Tommy and I first ‘met’ back at the tail end of the '90s, via an online writing community. We’ve been in contact pretty much every day since. We share the same sense of humour, and are sounding boards for each other as we develop new book ideas. I was even best man at Tommy’s wedding, and spent most of my speech plugging my books.

It was Tommy who first suggested I try writing for children, and in many ways I owe my entire career to him. So, when Tommy’s agent and editor got in touch to ask if I’d be prepared to take on some of his workload, I jumped at the chance to help him out.

The first manuscript was half-written, the second one plotted out. I’d discussed the storyline with Tommy in one of our regular Skype sessions before he took ill, so I was familiar enough with the characters and plot to just chuck myself into the writing.

It felt odd at first, working through that first book. I felt like an interloper sneaking through a friend’s house and rummaging in their sock drawer when they were out. I didn’t change any of Tommy’s text on the first draft, and the manuscript I ended up with was a deformed, Frankenstein’s monster of a thing with the stitching clearly visible. It wasn’t until draft two, after Tommy reassured me via text – he couldn’t speak by that point – that I was able to smooth over the joins.

TD: The stress was eased, and I couldn’t have been happier that Barry – a good friend, and a very talented writer – had been chosen to take over the series for a while. He finished book one, and wrote book two, Welcome to the Jungle, with such skill that I defy anyone to spot the join.

I’m now working hard to complete the third book in The Creeper Files series, Terror from the Taps, and to create original creative writing lessons and content for schools and individuals via Patreon, a website which allows followers to subscribe to my account for as little as $1. As I’m still very weak and unable to speak, the income goes some way to replacing what I would normally have earned visiting schools.

For more information, visit www.tommyVcancer.com. The Creeper Files: The Root of all Evil and The Creeper Files: Welcome to the Jungle are out now.