Griselda Heppel visits Childtastic Books!

Tonight I am delighted to include a guest blog on Childtastic Books from Griselda Heppel, whose Ante’s Inferno was the Children’s Winner of the People’s Book Prize 2012/2013, and was Silver Winner in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards 2013. Holly and I enjoyed Griselda’s first book and were excited to hear that she has just published her second (details of which are below).

Griselda has a particular talent for combining the old and the new. Her fascination with reinventing old and arguably adult tales for younger readers is admirable – as you will read below, she doesn’t let this huge task daunt her, nor does she allow Doubting Thomases to put her off. Writers are often advised to write what they know and Griselda follows this confidently and with such enthusiasm that readers cannot help but be enthused too.

So I’ll hand you over to Griselda now … please extend her one of your lovely, warm Childtastic welcomes! – Sam

The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst Cover for   MATADOR
Yippee – one of my favourite websites for discussing children’s literature has asked me to do a guest blog. Thank you, Sam, for inviting me to burble about the ideas that excite me, and in particular, the ones behind my new book, The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst – a reworking of the Faust story for age 11+.
Dr Faustus in a Magic Circle, frontispiece of Gent's translation of 'Dr Faustus', published 1648 (woodcut) by English School woodcut Private Collection The Stapleton Collection English, out of copyright
Dr Faustus in a Magic Circle, frontispiece of Gent’s translation of ‘Dr Faustus’, published 1648 (woodcut) by English School woodcut
Private Collection, The Stapleton Collection
English, out of copyright
I love sharing great legends with children. My first book, Ante’s Inferno (Troubador, 2012) was inspired by Dante’s Inferno, recasting Dante as 12 year-old Ante (Antonia) and sending her on a dark journey through the classical underworld to the bottom of Hell. Now, it’s the turn of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus – the man who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for great knowledge and power. How to adapt that for young readers?

I know what you’re thinking. Why would you, er, want to? The legend of Doctor Faustus… surely that’s a theme for adults, too difficult for children to understand?

My reply would be – don’t underestimate young people. When I sent Ante’s Inferno out to agents and publishers, I was told that children wouldn’t be able to cope with the combination of Dante’s view of Hell, Greek mythology and the First World War (an important theme in the story). Having tried it out on 40 or so 9 – 13 year-olds already, I knew they were wrong. As long as the characters are strong, the plot gripping and the structure sound, children have no problem absorbing the different elements and enjoying how they all weave together to make an exciting story. When Ante’s Inferno won the People’s Book Prize – a prize judged entirely by readers’ votes – I felt truly vindicated.

The key is not to rewrite Dante but to imagine what kind of crisis would set a young person on a journey through hell. Similarly, for my current book, the question was, what would drive a 13 year-old to make a pact with a demon? I didn’t think great knowledge would have much allure. But power was another matter. Not superhuman power, necessarily; just enough to give you control over your own life would do. What if your problems were so overwhelming no one could help you?  If you happened upon instructions in an old book on how to summon a spirit to your aid… well, wouldn’t you give it a go?

Henry Fowst began to form in my mind; a geeky, unconfident 13 year-old who feels out of place among the better-off kids around him. Keen to win the prize money for a school essay competition, he makes a mistake that plunges him into a mess he can see no way out of… until, one day in the school’s Elizabethan library, he discovers a diary written in 1586 by a boy his own age, John Striven, who turns out to have problems uncannily similar to Henry’s. Reading the diary, Henry is drawn into John’s life and when John finds the perfect solution to his difficulties, Henry can’t resist following suit.

Unfortunately, calling up Mephistopheles lands both boys in deeper trouble than they ever bargained for…

The Tragickall History of Henry Fowst £7.99 pb and £12.99 hb. Out 28th August.

Ante’s Inferno £6.99 pb, £9.99 hb.

From bookshops, online and

Ante thumbnail

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