How Grimms’ Fairy Tales can lead to even grimmer fairy tales

It’s amazing what you find out about yourself when someone slips you a few searching questions.  I loved doing this interview with fellow (if a little, ahem, younger) university graduate and writer Amna Boheim  Who knew that early exposure to toadstools, matryoshka-red-fly-agaric-mushroom-mushrooms-forestgingerbread houses and angry kings could set you on the path to Hell and pacts with demons?  I mean, they could have led to botany, cookery and, oh, I don’t know, the Wars of the Roses.

But in my case they didn’t.



pexels-photo-185360Discover more about the tangled roots of Ante’s Inferno and The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst on Amna’s blog: 

Banbury Literary Live – a magical festival


What a terrific audience for my talk on The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst at Banbury Literary Live on Sunday!

There were 4 other talks going on at the same time, including one on a children’s story about football, so with that competition I’d have been happy if only a handful of people had turned up to mine. To my delight, a good couple of dozen adults and children were intrigued enough by the sound of Elizabethan magic and demons to plump for me. Yesss!


John Dee’s crystal ball. British museum.

No demons/spells/charms/crystal balls actually appeared – apart from in the slides, that is – but the audience’s keenness and knowledge, especially in the case of some of the younger members, with-girlimpressed me no end. Some very perceptive questions – again, coming mainly from those under 13 – got a fascinating discussion going on magic, legends, Dr Dee and the craft of writing in general. Ah, and Ante’s Inferno got a look in too.

Thank you, Banbury Literary Live, for having me to your thoroughly enjoyable literary festival.

3 FREE copies of The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst

My children’s book, The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst (FINALIST in the People’s Book Prize) was released a year ago this month.  To celebrate, I’m running a giveaway on Goodreads beginning TODAY.  Enter here for your chance to win one of THREE free copies.  All I ask is that if you do win a copy, once you’ve finished feverishly turning the pages, you would find a moment to post a review on Goodreads and Amazon.  THANK you kind readers.

So who won? Find out tonight!

Well, folks, today’s the day…. the winners of the People’s Book Prize 2016 will be announced at Stationers’ Hall, London, tonight.  As one of 12 finalists in the Children’s category, I am looking forward to this evening with much excitement and a good dollop of nail-biting.  Thank you all you wonderful people who sent in your votes.  The wait will be over SOOOOOON.

Here’s a lovely article that appeared in Saturday 9 July Oxford Mail.



The People’s Book Prize – Spring Collection – Children – “The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst” By Griselda Heppel

The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst By Griselda Heppel

Published by Matador ISBN 9781784623043   The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst COVERSpring 2016

The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst has reached the FINALS of the People’s Book Prize. Follow the link below to read more and VOTE!  The winner of each category is decided entirely by public vote so it’s up to you. Closing date: 10 July.

Thank you!

Synopsis:  In the shadows of Walton Hall a demon lurks. His name: Mephistopheles. In 1586,…

Source: The People’s Book Prize – Spring Collection – Children – “The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst” By Griselda Heppel

The Very Model of a Modern Self-Publishing Conference

Well, I hoped to learn a few things…  but the amount of useful information I took away hugely exceeded all expectations. If you want a model of an intelligently put together, well-run, stimulating conference, with something to offer everyone no matter how new or, er, not-so-new to the writing business, this year’s Self-Publishing Conference at Leicester on Saturday 7 May was it.


Caroline Sanderson

Keynote speaker Caroline Sanderson, Associate Editor of the Bookseller, set the tone. Self-publishing was no longer the poor relation of traditional publishing; instead, it’s producing books of top literary, design and production values. Of the titles that have caught her eye she showed us 8 self-published ones, in a range of genres, whose striking cover designs match the high quality of their contents, all of which deserved as much recognition as the best of books produced by more traditional methods. Her enthusiasm was echoed by Professor Alison Baverstock of Kingston University in the plenary session later in the day, whose research into the effect self-publishing has had on the book market in the UK has led to some fascinating results.


Alison Baverstock

In particular, Alison demolished that old, tired slander: ‘self-publishing is publishing without an editor.’ On the contrary, her researches show that authors independently seeking critiques and other editorial services have opened up a whole new area of employment to delighted freelance editors, no longer solely dependent on traditional publishing companies.

Arranged around these two addresses were four individual sessions to choose from and that’s where the difficulty started. How to select from the several talks on different aspects of writing, editing, designing and promoting offered for each session? At least my first choice presented no problem: I’ve long wanted to know about audiobooks and the chance of an hour’s instruction from James Peak, owner of Essential Music, was too good to miss. He did a brilliant job – with a kind of engaging scattiness – of describing the process, including tips on how to save money by reading your book yourself – gulp. I filled four pages of notes.


Excellent bookshop!

Then came the Historical Fiction session, and – gulpissimo – my first ever experience of speaking at a conference, rather than just making notes and eating cake. Luckily a maximum of 5 minutes was expected from me and the panel audience listened kindly to my dos and don’ts when writing historical fiction for children, agreeing that this was now a sadly neglected genre compared to the great days of Rosemary Sutcliffe, Mary Renault, Roger Lancelyn Green and Henry Treece. Helen Hollick, heading the panel, gave illuminating insights into the historical fiction market for adults, both in the UK and the USA, while Lucienne Boyce’s contribution was a truly awe-inspiring lesson in serious, detailed research, from Real Books In Libraries (away with Wikipedia!) to original magazines, newspapers, site visits and railway timetables.

HF panel

With Helen Hollick and Lucienne Boyce on Historical Fiction Panel. Photo: Debbie Young

Two more sessions followed lunch (which included macaroons!* Bliss).
Mike Bodnar’s
amusing talk on Self-promotion for Self-publishers provided a wealth of ideas, some standard, some cheerfully quirky, on how to get your books flying off the shelves (actually, trundling steadily would do for me); while Clive Herbert of Nielsen’s explanation of metadata and ISBNs proved much more interesting than you might guess from those rather scary words, and gave information that every author, however published, should know.

In between sessions it was great to mingle with other attendees, eat cake, make new friends and meet lots of lovely Matador people whose names I knew well but who I’d never spoken face to face with before. All in all, congratulations to Troubador for hosting a super conference and looking after us all so well, not least with the many refreshments provided throughout the day, right up to delicious, restorative canapés at the end (wine too but alas I was driving).

And did I mention there was cake?**macaroons1

*The First Rule of the Enid Blyton school of writing: tell them about the food. 

** See note above.


10 things I want my readers to know about me…

… as told to Female First.  This wonderful website invited me to make a list and after some scratching of head and counting of fingers (I have ten, which helps the arithmetical aspect no end), I got there.

If you want to know (course you do) what made me become a writer instead of a giraffe

The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst COVER





and find out about the inspiration behind my books, go to

Ante thumbnail

3 schools, 2 hundred miles, 1 tired author

But a very happy one.

Last week I drove the many-roundabouted way from Oxford to Cambridgeshire, visiting first Stretham Primary, a lovely village school near Ely. The Year 5/6 teacher had bought a dozen copies of Ante’s Inferno for her class – would I come and talk to the children about it?

Stretham Primary School

Stretham Primary School

You bet I would. I love sharing the backgrounds to my books, in this case Dante’s Inferno, Greek mythology and the First World War. And don’t let anyone tell you that those subjects are beyond the understanding of the average 10 year-old. With the aid of some dark, atmospheric illustrations by Botticelli, Blake and Dore projected on a screen, the children at Stretham easily grasped the idea of Dante’s Hell being based on the Ante thumbnailclassical Underworld, complete with Styx, Charon, Cerberus, Minotaur etc.  I asked them lots of questions as I went along and – as happens every time – the children were delighted to find they know more than they think they do, both about classical mythology and how to write a story. Some had already read Ante’s Inferno but most hadn’t, which is what I normally expect – much more fun to leave them desperate to read the book once I’m gone.

From one extreme to another – the mixed 5/6 Year group at Stretham Primary numbered 30 children. The next day I found myself in a hall at the King’s School, Ely, watching 160 students file in: the whole of Years 7 and 8, come to hear me talk about my new book, The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst. OK, I’ve talked to large groups before but this was definitely the largest; a challenge to the lungs on my side and to concentration on theirs. Luckily both held up. Sinister Faustian pacts and Elizabethan magic intrigued the students, and while I am (fairly) certain that none of them will be tempted to call up a demon, it was very exciting to find a long line of 12 and 13 year-olds waiting for me in the library afterwards, eager to buy a copy.


The King’s School, Ely

The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst COVER



Third visit was on Monday, back in Oxford, to Year 7 at Leckford Place – a school I have a particularly soft spot for, as it hosted one of my first Ante’s Inferno talks. Here the teacher had prepared the students beforehand. While not strictly necessary, it does mean they get even more out of the talk; for the first time, everyone in the room knew what a Faustian pact was.  Lots of hands went up to answer my questions and even more to quiz me afterwards – and at least two thirds of the group clustered round me at the end for copies of the book.

And all without recourse to any charms, incantations, spells, astrological forecasts or even the tinsy-winsiest Faustian pact. Honest.

How to make an author happy


How often does an author make a school visit – and find that every child in the room has read her book?

Not often, I bet.

But that was my experience visiting Year 6 at Pegasus School in Oxford last week. The inspirational Jill Hudson, head teacher of Pegasus before taking on the overall headship of the Blackbird Academy Trust, to which Pegasus belongs, liked Ante’s Inferno so much when it came out in 2012 that she chose it for the Year 6 Reading Groups, effectively making it part of the curriculum. Now children read it all together as they move into Year 6 and discuss its themes of bullying and self-knowledge against the story’s background of classical mythology, fantasy adventure and the First World War.


This meant that for the first time ever, my task wasn’t to introduce my audience to Ante’s Inferno, but to delve more deeply with them into characters, story and the inspiration behind them.  My standard talk describing Dante’s imagined journey through Hell (with lots of dark, scary images by the great illustrators) always grabs children’s interest but this time it was even more exciting as they recognised the shape of the Underworld into which Ante, Florence and Gil descend, together with the monsters and mythological creatures they meet. It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm in their faces and hear it in the questions and comments that flowed throughout the talk and after – not just because it showed how much they loved the book, but also that they understood it.  A story that interweaves such rich and apparently unconnected themes as Dante, classical mythology and the First World War isn’t – as I was warned by numerous adults – far too difficult for primary school children to grasp.


How would they respond to my new book, The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst (out 28 August 2015), with its equally ‘demanding’ themes of Elizabethan magic and pacts with demons? Well, here was the chance to try it out. I finished my visit by reading an extract from the book, half-wondering if it would be more appropriate for Years 7 and 8.

I needn’t have worried. ‘Ooh, I really want to read that!’ cried a curly-haired boy at the end before leading the group in spontaneous clapping.

Pegasus, you are awesome.

Happy 750th Birthday!

PIC 2 Dante portraitWhen a year forms not only the centenary of First World War campaigns, but also commemorates at least two other famously bloody battles (Agincourt, Waterloo), it is cheering to discover that 2015 also marks the 750th anniversary of the birth of one of the greatest poets the world has ever produced.

Dante Alighieri was born in Florence in 1265. We don’t know the exact date, but from hints dropped in the Paradiso it was when the sun was in Gemini, that is, between 11 May and 11 June. The Paradiso is the third part of Dante’s most famous work, the Divine Comedy, in which he imagines himself being guided through all three areas of the afterlife (Inferno, or Hell, and Purgatory being Parts One and Two).  The Devil, as we know, has all the best tunes, meaning that while the Divine Comedy as a whole is among the most sublime poetry ever written, it is the poet’s descent into the dark circles of Hell that makes the most exciting story. Which for me, as Dante enthusiast and children’s writer, begs the question – why has noone ever created a children’s version of this wonderful, scary, gruesome journey, full of mythical monsters and rivers of blood and fire?  Is Dante just thought too difficult for a child to understand?

Well, if that used to be the case, the good news is that it isn’t anymore. In the UK in recent years, writers have taken up the challenge: John Agard with his sharply amusing updated  Young Inferno, Young InfernoHunt Emerson and Kevin Jackson with their deliciously irreverent Dante’s InfernoEmerson and Jackson Dante's Inferno    and, ahem, me with Ante’s Inferno, an adventure story in which 12 year-old Ante (Antonia) finds herself descending through the classical Underworld on a quest to solve a 100 year-old murder mystery.Ante thumbnail

While all publishing is something of a gamble, adapting for children a work more commonly the subject of deep academic study will be thought by some adults to be brave, not to say niche. Luckily children think otherwise. On BBC Radio 3 recently, Kevin Jackson described how an 8 year-old boy enjoyed his Dante’s Inferno so much he now wanted to read the original (hurrah!).  My book Ante’s Inferno won the 2013 People’s Book Prize, judged entirely by readers who vote for the books nominated.

That Dante, given a chance, can appeal to young people is something I know well from reactions of the 9 – 13 year-olds I talk to on my school visits. None of them has heard of Dante before. All are fascinated by the idea of someone dreaming up a carefully ordered Hell structured on a place many of them recognise – the Hades of Greek myth – and eager to read an adventure story set there.

So I am delighted when children – and adults – tell me they’ve loved Ante’s Inferno.  If my book – like Emerson’s and Jackson’s – inspires them one day to tackle the masterpiece it’s based on, so much the better.