Spreading the love this season

Season's Greetings, oh lovely friends and readers!!!

Every year, my family braces itself as I get to work Photoshopping our heads onto a greeting card. One year, we were the Incredibles; another year, I put us all into snowy Narnia (much to my son's dismay because he was cast as Mr Tumnus!).

My son Nick didn't like being Mr. Tumnus in last year's card,
but I think the ears suit him!

This year, I thought we'd go for an Olympic theme, given that  it's going to be our big event here in London in 2012. So here are the very best wishes from my family (with thanks to the Chinese gymnastics team for loaning their bodies, and Manchester City FC for loaning us the crowd in the background)!

But all the fun of creating the card was hugely dimmed by the terrible, terrible events that have been happening around the world: the shocking violence in Egypt, economic catastrophe in the Eurozone, and then, last week - oh no! - another calamity of biblical proportions in the Philippines as a massive typhoon rampaged through the southern island of Mindanao. As I write, the death toll from typhoon stricken parts is about to reach 1,000. Read this moving article by my friend Ceres Doyo.

Yes you can help. Click here.

It's tempting to batten down the hatches, avoid eye contact, keep everything quiet for fear of either offending someone or appearing too joyous in the midst of other people's misery.

But it's so important to defy the gloom and doom. We must do what we can (please click on the box above to find out how we can help victims of the Philippine disaster) ... but we must also count our blessings ... and pass it on. Let me share some things that have given me joy these past few weeks:

1 Are you an aspiring author? The blog Notes from the Slushpile - of which I'm a member - is  featuring agents and editors galore - one a day, till Christmas. Check it out!

 2  One of my favourite fantasy series is Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. Lo and behold! Philip has written a short story for Christmas featuring the Mortal Engines universe ... not only that, it's illustrated by my lovely pal, Sarah McIntyre! Thank you, guys!

3 I've been away from Facebook for the past three months because I've been busy working on my new novel. I recently returned (but only temporarily as I'm not finished yet). What joy to reconnect with the friends I left behind. And what's this? FB has introduced a new feature called the Timeline! Dare I say that I love it?

The main photo is of the stage set of Tim Minchin's musical Matilda which I saw
last week. It's AMAZING. Go see it if you can!

4 Living on the other side of the world from the Philippines as I do, I get a bit homesick for a good Filipino read. Recently I discovered short stories in the Philippine Free Press online magazine. Here's one I loved - Manny Pacquiao Speaks to a Butterfly in California by John Bengan. Can't wait to read the others! Thanks, PFP!

5 And I guess people are clearing their desks, finalizing plans, etc because last week I signed up to several brilliant festivals and events in 2012! To say that I am EXCITED is an understatement!!! In January, I'll be meeting children involved in judging the Red House Prize at , then I'll be attending the Salford Children's Book Awards at the Lowry in Salford. I'll be appearing at the Surrey Libraries Children's Book Festival in March. In April I'll be speaking at the FCBG's Worlds Within Words Conference. And in May, I'm going to Singapore - woo hoo! - for the third Asian Festival of Children's Content which this year focuses on the Philippines. Oh and in August, I'll be speaking on the subject of immigration as part of the Afternoon with Random House event of the IBBY World Congress in London.

6 And in February, I'm going home to the Philippines to visit my Mom!!!

So you see, I have much to be thankful for. I share this in the hope that you too will embrace the things that have made, are making and will make you happy this season of joy and hope.

Now let's get busy spreading that love.

How to Help the Victims of Typhoon Sendong (Washi) in the Philippines (thanks for advisory from the Philippine Embassy in the UK):

The following institutions are accepting cash donations to help, in equal priority, victims in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro, through their Philippine bank accounts:

1. Xavier University Cagayan de Oro City (care of Fr. Roberto "Bobby" Yap, SJ, friend of the Filipino community and former scholar in the UK)
Account name: Xavier University
Account number: 9331-0133-63
Bank: Bank of the Philippine Islands, Cagayan de Oro- Divisoria Branch
(note: those who wish to receive receipts for their donations, kindly email finance@xu.edu.ph with details of their donations, i.e. donor's name, receiving branch, date of remittance, amount)

2. La Salle Academy Iligan City (care of Bro. Raffy Reyes)
Bank: Bank of the Philippine Islands
Account Name: La Salle Academy
Account Type: Savings
Account No: 9353-0377-62
(note: those who wish to receive receipts for their donations, kindly email raffyreyes1018@gmail.com and brodennis@gmail.com with digital copy of their remittance receipt)

3. Philippine Red Cross
Account name: Philippine Red Cross
Account number: 00-453-0018647
Bank: Banco de Oro (swift code: BNORPHMM)
(those who wish to receive receipts for their donations, kindly email fundgeneration@redcross.org.ph with details of their donation, i.e. donor's name, date of remittance, amount and digital copy of their remittance receipt)

The following UK-based remittance institutions have kindly offered to send the public's remittance to Xavier University, La Salle Academy and Philippine Red Cross free of remittance charges:

1. Global Express Money Remittance
11-12 Hogarth Place, Earl's Court
London SW5 0QT
Tel. No. +44 (0) 203 441 1824
Mobile No. +44 (0) 794 416 6478
Email: info@gemremittance.com

2. iRemit Global Remittance Ltd.
1st Floor, Orchard House
167-169 High Street Kensington
London W8 6SH
Tel. No. +44 (0) 203 384 5084
Email: iremit.uk@myiremitfo.com