Tilly and the Time Machine by Adrian Edmondson review – journey of discovery

The actor’s tale about a seven-year-old pursuing her dad through history is engaging and insightful

Children’s publishing is awash with books written by celebrities. In the space of a few weeks this spring, Cara Delevingne, Dermot O’Leary, Alesha Dixon and George Galloway announced debut kids’ books. Meanwhile non-multi-tasking, professional authors complain about celebs cannibalising their marketing budgets and swallowing huge advances.

So I felt a bit bad, after reading comedian-and-actor Adrian Edmondson’s enjoyable debut, for having been irked by the copy I received with its boastful cover stamp: “Very Important Proof”. Edmondson is not a novice with an unfair fame advantage: he has a career’s worth of TV writing credits (Bottom, The Comic Strip Presents… etc), and it shows in this sophisticated novel.

queen victoria from tilly and the time machine
Queen Victoria from Tilly and the Time Machine. Photograph: © Danny Noble, 2017

On one level, it is the lively tale of a resourceful seven-and-a-half year-old who finds herself pursuing her inventor dad through famous historical scenes (the Battle of Trafalgar; the 1966 World Cup final; Queen Victoria’s afternoon tea parlour), after the time machine he has built in their garden malfunctions. The rip-roaring adventurousness of it all is anchored by an amusingly deadpan opening section in which Tilly finds herself home alone, negotiating the everyday demands of a primary school pupil’s routine. She packs a school lunch of chocolate biscuits, eats raw jelly cubes for tea, and awards herself a gold star for cleaning her teeth. Folksy, funny illustrations by newcomer Danny Noble (who Edmondson signed up after spotting her on Twitter) add to the charm.

But the book also provides a touching examination of childhood loss. Tilly and her father are grieving for her mother, who died just after her daughter’s sixth birthday, and it is Tilly’s greatest wish to travel back in time to see her once more. Edmondson is excellent on the matter-of-fact way children think about death: “She’s in a box in the ground all covered up with mud and dirt,” Tilly tells one adult. But he also handles with aplomb Tilly’s journey to understanding her dad’s feelings, and working out her own sense of regret.

Tilly and the Time Machine by Adrian Edmondson is published by Puffin (£10.99). To order a copy for £9.34 go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99

Contributor

Sarah Donaldson

The GuardianTramp

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