Sunshine, Sick-Buckets and Spiders at Saltersgate Juniors!

This week, Doncaster Book Awards have been playing host to author Debi Evans as she made a series of visits to six primary schools around the Borough to talk about her Adventures of Rolo series. I was fortunate enough to accompany her on one of the visits, to Saltersgate Junior School, a very enjoyable afternoon.

photo04Debi was speaking to the entire school, and as we waited for them all to come into the Hall, we couldn’t help noticing a couple of children were holding large plastic buckets. We were told by the teacher that the students were not feeling very well and that the buckets were ‘just in case’, although Debi did say that her talks didn’t usually have such a drastic effect!! Then, to add to the drama, an eight-legged visitor decided to stroll along the hall floor, right through the middle of the students, whose reactions left me in no doubt that they weren’t keen on spiders either!! Once he had been successfully captured and released into the wild (or at least the playground!), the talk got underway.

Despite the heat and the packed hall, the students were fascinated as they listened to Debi talk about how she became a writer, and most especially once she got on to the star of her current series of books, the wonderful Rolo, an amazing, time-travelling Jack Russell. Rolo the character is based on the real Rolo, a very cute Jack Russell whom Debi got as a rescue dog from Dog’s Trust. He is a real character, very funny and mischievous, and Debi explained how she got the idea to write about him when he ‘photobombed’ a photo session she was doing with a magazine journalist in her garden. The journalist was there to interview Debi about her previous series of books, the Dragon Protectors, but seeing how Rolo dominated the picture made Debi realise he would be a perfect subject for a new book and so the series was born.

photo05Using a mixture of pictures of the real Rolo and illustrations from the four books, Debi spoke about how the series began with Rolo discovering a secret trapdoor under her sink one night while the family were asleep upstairs and sneaking out to some nearby woods. There he discovered a very special tree, one with its own tree dragon, Athelstan. If that wasn’t amazing enough, Athelstan went on to tell Rolo that he is the chosen one, and that inside the tree is a magical time tunnel which he can use to go off on a series of amazing adventures!! As the series progressed, Rolo has visited, among others, Ancient Egypt, the Bronze Age, been up in the very first ever balloon flight in France, brought along the football for the famous Christmas football match in WW1 and even met the Bard himself, William Shakespeare! Nowadays he also has his own blog which he sneaks on to Debi’s laptop to write when she is out of the room and even his own Twitter and Instagram accounts, so is a very busy little dog.

After the presentation, Debi took a series of great questions from her audience, who were keen to find out about the writing process and becoming an author, and also to know every single detail about Rolo himself! They even gave Debi some ideas for future stories, including having Rolo meet Nessie and Bigfoot. Debi was able to give a few writing tips too, including advising the children who wanted to write to keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas, to look at ordinary day-to-day things and events in their lives and think about how to make them extra-ordinary, and finally just to keep on writing, a little bit every day.

All in all, the whole afternoon was great fun and I am sure it won’t be long until we are inviting Debi (and hopefully Rolo!) to come back to Doncaster for a return visit.

Lyn Hopson
Secretary, Doncaster Book Awards Ltd.