Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Not for the squeamish

If I was an American bookseller, or conceivably (in some bizarre, difficult-to-imagine parallel universe) I worked for Sky Sports, I might have dubbed this weekend "Super Saturday" (or similar). As it is, I'm a UK bookseller, so I will limit myself to saying that we had three very different, but fantastic events on Saturday. I'll try to rein in my usual breathless prose (mindful of Vanessa's advice in Edinburgh) but suffice to say that we collapsed - tired but happy - at the end of a busy day on Saturday, having greatly enjoyed all three events. But what theme linked them together? Well, all three were, in places, definitely not for the squeamish. First up was Tommy Donbavand - the exceptionally hard-working author of the Scream Street books, and one of the authors behind the TrappedByMonsters website.
(That's a Mummy's heart in the foreground in case you were wondering) Tommy has been a clown, a stage-performer, children's TV writer and now children's author. In fact, so much has this guy done that one of the Mum's at the event said (and I'm sure this'll make his day) "he doesn't seem old enough to have done all that". Being a former clown is a big advantage when you are performing in front of a bunch of 6-10 year olds. He had them all in stitches. Taking the form of a werewolves v vampires gameshow, there were genuine vampire fangs and mouldy zombie tongues doing the rounds... Kids were being turned into Mummies courtesy of some special 'Mummy wrap' (which bore an uncanny resemblance to toilet paper) :

And Tommy played hard and fast with rules of taste, decency and health and safety legislation with an incredibly dangerous stunt where he tried to shoot an apple of a young child's head (please don't try this at home, Tommy has special insurance): Everyone had a great time, and despite the risks of turning into zombies later that evening, so far we've had no reports of any adverse reactions from close contact with Scream Street relics... We cleared the room of slime, blood and body parts - and then set the projector up for the arrival of Professor Richard Fortey, former senior palaeontologist at the Natural History Museum, and now renowned science writer and communicator. You might not think that natural history would be squeamish, but in places it definitely was (I won't go into the grim toll that the Screwworm inflicts, not the NHM's role in preventing a major outbreak, but if you must know, take a look here). Professor Fortey took us on a behind the scenes tour of the Natural History Museum, and on the way made it very clear - for those who might not know - just how incredibly important the work of this, and other museums are around the world.

In his words 'you judge the state of a culture by its museums' and the many millions of specimens that fill the labyrinthine corridors and rooms of the NHM hold keys to biodiversity, species loss, habitat conservation - and the incredible collection of often unusual people that work there are true heroes in their field.

During his signing I chatted to him about his view on the state of our species, from someone used to dealing with fossil records going back hundreds of millions of years. His view - which would definitely cause tingles down the spine - is that the average lifespan for a species is approximately 1 million year. At 100,000 years, and at its current rate, the danger is that Homo Sapiens might become extinct in a frightening short timescale. We are, at the moment, distinctly below average. Pausing only for some fish and chips, we then hotfooted it up to the Amey Theatre in Abingdon for the final event of the evening, Trust Me I'm (Still) A Doctor, with Private Eye and Have I Got News For You regular (not to mention Countdown sensation) Dr Phil Hammond. Dr Phil is seriously funny - and here the squeamish nature of the evening concerned the secrets to good health, tips on staying away from doctors, poking around the soft fleshy underbelly of the NHS - and a few near-death experiences (courtesy of some of his colleagues). During the intervals he collected up a series of questions from the audience, the best ones may end up in his next book. I'm afraid my photo skills were failing by then, but take a look at the event reports from the Abingdon Blogger and Gaskella. Dr Phil signed copies of his books at the end of the evening, posing for pictures before heading off for a 'beer and a lie down' (I'm not surprised). Signed copies of everyone's books at Mostly Books of course. Thursday evening (March 26th) it's something completely different - an evening of Cornish Language Poetry, and Cornish and Welsh song (!) before we do the whole Saturday thing again on April 4th with Mousehunter Alex Milway, and one double-Nibbie-nominated Kate Summerscale with the publishing phenomenon that is The Suspicion of Mr Whicher...

3 comments:

  1. Tommy was fantastic. The whole family had a great time. Thank you.

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  2. I wish I'd come to see Tommy now!

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  3. He's coming back to Abingdon on June 20th - more details here...

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