Writing for kids is one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done. I love being transported to a simpler, brighter place where adult problems fade into the background and you see the world through the eyes of a child again. I’ve taken a bit of a break from fiction while writing educational books and mini-documentaries (which is also hugely enjoyable). But now I’m back!

After writing my Greek mythology inspired Hopeless Heroes series, I wasn’t quite sure where to go next. More myths-type stories, most likely. Meanwhile, Sweet Cherry Publishing were coming up with ideas of their own. When they asked me to write a series about a magical cat cafe, I jumped at the chance! It was something new for me, so I did what I always do when a new opportunity comes along – throw myself in head first and hope I land on my feet!

And this is what I’ve got to show for it so far 🙂

Doesn’t the cover of book 1 of the Magic Animal CafĂ© look great! There are many illustrations throughout and it’s amazing seeing my words brought to life by a talented illustrator.

It’s quite a different experience fleshing out and realising someone else’s vision. There’s a lot more back and forth with the editors as we build up the series, and I’m enjoying the team work aspect of it. While they set the foundations, I had the privilege of coming up with the details and storylines. The stories combine my life-long love of animals (who else but an animal lover would call a mouse Herriot?) with my interest in old phones (I have an antique phone collection) and my delight in creating quirky characters. I’ve just signed off on book 5 – and there are another 5 to go!

And best of all, I’m finally a cartoon! Here’s the picture of me they created for the inside cover 🙂 Quite a good likeness, I think.

I just received the most amazing email from a teacher at Chellaston Junior School in Derby, England. Her Year 3 class have been reading Here Comes Hercules, book 1 in my Hopeless Heroes series.

The books revolve around Greek mythology, and are often used in UK schools as part of their studies of Ancient Greece – which delights me no end! But now I’ve got even more to be excited about.

They were reading the book in class, and the teacher stopped the story at the part where Leo held the magic time-travelling vase and threatened to smash it if Hercules didn’t appear. The children had to decide what happened next. The class talked about it and came up with a few ideas. The children then wrote the next part. What a great idea for a writing activity!

The teacher was kind enough to send me some of the stories. I must say, I was blown away! What talented students! I had so much fun reading their stories. I’d say there are some future writers in there, and I’m honoured to think that I may have inspired them in some way 🙂 You can read them in the slideshow below. Thank you so much to the teacher and students of Chellaston Junior School!

Whenever Hercules and his family had to self-isolate – for instance due to a bad outbreak of Stymphalian bird flu – they would happily pass the time baking honey cakes. These dense, moist, syrupy cakes are perfect for keeping the lockdown blues away!

You probably already have most of the ingredients in your pantry, saving you from yet another treacherous journey to the supermarket. These days, that can feel as daunting as making your way through the Gorgon’s garden, without so much as a face mask to protect yourself from her stony glare.

I hope you have fun making Hercules’ favourite snack, the perfect thing to much on while sitting at home with a good book (or ten)!

 

Ingredients:

Cake

250 g butter, softened

1 cup sugar

4 eggs

1 cup semolina

1 cup self-raising flour

1 cup desiccated coconut

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Syrup

2 ½ cups sugar

3 cups water

2 teaspoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons honey

Method:

  1. Place syrup ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to the boil.
  2. Boil over medium heat for 20 minutes, then take the syrup off the stove and allow it to cool.
  3. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until soft and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating in well.
  4. Stir in the vanilla essence.
  5. Add the semolina, self-raising flour and coconut, and fold in along with the milk.
  6. Spread the thick batter into a medium-sized buttered slab cake tin.
  7. Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 45-50 minutes, until the cake is golden brown.
  8. Take the cake out of the oven and immediately poor the cooled syrup over the hot cake. Allow the syrup to soak in.
  9. When the cake has cooled, cut it into squares or diamond shapes for serving.
  10. Keep out of reach of Greek heroes, big and small, or you won’t have any left for yourself!

I’m delighted to be involved with Dare to Write?, an online platform for writers. It was created by a professor at Bath Spa University in collaboration with Paper Nations UK, and is supported by the Arts Council of England.

Developed with the the help of hundreds of authors, it invites young people to begin a journey of writing. The programme revolves around a series of eight prompts – and you can explore them all here.

A few authors have written responses to these prompts, and they’re stored on the Dare to Write library. Here’s my response to the challenge Just Write!

In my response, I encourage young people to just write, without worrying about what others will think of their story. In other words, expect the first draft to be ordinary. Writing is meant to be fun, and aiming for perfection right from the start is what causes most aspiring writers to stall, backtrack, and eventually give up. Let the words flow without fear – and then go back and improve it later, once you’ve actually got something that you can work with.

This is something that even professional authors sometimes need to be reminded of – including myself! Writing can be daunting, but focusing on enjoyment rather than worrying about people’s reactions can be all it takes to make those words start to flow.

 

 

I’ve never been to Portugal or Taiwan – but in a weird kind of way, part of me is there now. I was delighted to learn that my Hopeless Heroes books have been published in other languages! My time travelling main character, Tim Baker, is now being read in more countries around the world. My wonderful publishers, Sweet Cherry Publishing, have told me it’ll be out in Romanian soon. I’ve got my fingers crossed that a Greek publisher will take them up one day. It’d be so cool if the stories that originated in Greece end up back there, via the UK and Australia!

 

The Taiwanese version is being serialised in a bilingual magazine, with all new illustrations. As much as I love Nick Roberts’ gorgeous drawings, it’s fun seeing another artist’s take on Tim and his adventures.

The Portuguese version looks identical to the English version, except for the language of course. Ola!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If only I could grab onto Tim’s magical vase and travel through time and space. I know where I’d like to go! If you could go anywhere, anywhen – where would you go?

 

 

I’m honoured to have my Hopeless Heroes series included in the ‘Our Mythical Childhood’ project, created by an international team of scholars who examine the reception of Classical Antiquity in children’s literature. It was wonderful to meet Liz Hale in person and learn more about their work, and I’m very excited to be a part of it!

Antipodean Odyssey

Last week I had the pleasure to meet Stella Tarakson, the author of the delightful Hopeless Heroes series.  They’re chapter books for primary school kids, and feature the adventures of a boy called Tim, who accidentally invokes the hero Heracles, when he breaks his mother’s favourite vase.  Mayhem and mischief ensue–Heracles is strong but needs direction, and Hera and Hermes are continually meddling.  (The first few books are written up in the Our Mythical Childhood survey …) 

Tarakson is from Sydney, Australia.  Her parents emigrated from Greece, and she talked with me about how the Greek myths resonated for her as a child, and now as a storyteller.  It was fascinating to hear her thoughts, and to think about the different ways that Greek myth travels around the world–to the Southern Hemisphere and back again.  Tarakson’s books are published by a British publisher, though I like to think a…

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Woo hoo! I received the most exciting email from my publisher, Sweet Cherry Publishing.

Book 1 of Hopeless Heroes (Here Comes Hercules) has been nominated for the Fantastic Book Awards! It’s  wonderful to know that children are enjoying my quirky, time-travelling twist on Greek mythology.

The Fantastic Book Awards is an annual book event organised by the Lancashire School Library Service. Developed in partnership with schools, it’s designed to encourage kids to read for fun. Children aged 9-11 (years 5-6) are challenged throughout the year to select the story books they like the best.

It’s a great way for kids to meet, discuss and share their bookish views in a relaxed way. Activities can be run as a book club or for a whole class, and can inspire both able and reluctant readers.

This year’s nomination list is pretty amazing – I’ve got my reading plan all sorted!

Good luck to all the nominees – including me 🙂

 

Some exciting news – the Sutherland Shire Writers’ Festival is on again, and I’m lucky enough to be one of the presenters. Called Writers Unleashed, it contains workshops, author talks, book signings and publishing consultations. It’s on at Gymea Tradies on 18 August – so there’s still time to buy a ticket!

My talk is on dealing with publishers, both here in Australia and overseas. I’ll look at how to approach publishers without an agent, and what to do when you’re offered a contract (apart from drink champagne, which goes without saying). What do all those clauses mean? Do you understand what you’re actually agreeing to? My legal background and my years of experience have allowed me to pick up a few tips, which I’m more than happy to share. Hope you can make it!

I can’t believe it’s over already. The Hong Kong Book Fair 2018 was a whirlwind of activity. It’s the world’s largest gathering of book lovers, now into it’s 29th year. This was the first time I’d attended, and it took my breath away!

The crowds were HUGE! Hundreds and thousands of people all united by their common love of literature and learning. Seven days, twelve hours a day, and the numbers barely abated. Last year the total number to pass through the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre topped 1 million, and I won’t be surprised if that’s happened again!

I was there thanks to my brilliant publisher Sweet Cherry Publishing. It was the first time I’d met the team, as they’re based in the UK and I’m in Australia. How wonderful to finally put faces to some of the names. They made me feel welcome and looked after me very well. No author could ask for more 🙂

 

I lost track of how many copies of Hopeless Heroes I signed (suffice it to say my hand is still recovering).

I loved meeting kids who literally leapt with joy at the prospect of buying a new book. I was amazed that so many children already knew a great deal about Greek mythology. It made me quite emotional, really!

I wanted to write these books so that I could share the stories my parents had introduced me to when I was little. It was their way of keeping their culture alive on the other side of the world, far away from the home they might have never seen again. The myth-inspired books are my way of honouring their memory. To see Hopeless Heroes in so many eager hands was an experience I will never forget.

 

I’m so excited to be going to the Hong Kong Book Fair next week. Come and see us at the Sweet Cherry Publishing stand at 3B-D16, and enjoy a taste of Ancient Greece in South East Asia! I’m looking forward to meeting Greek mythology fans, both big and small, and seeing some gorgeous children dress up as Greek heroes. Be sure to come along to my talk on being a reading hero. I’ll be discussing my inspiration for Hopeless Heroes as well as passing on some tips to help you become the reading hero of your own family!

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