Posted in general and welcome

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.

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Ante thumbnail

Posted in general and welcome

Review: Ante’s Inferno, by Griselda Heppel

Today’s review is of Ante’s Inferno by Griselda Heppel

image courtesy of


What it’s about: Life for 12-year-old Ante (Antonia) Alganesh isn’t great. She’s become the target for a group of bullies at school, headed by the fearsome Florence, who seems to think that Ante has done her a great injustice at a previous school and is determined to make her pay. After an incident in the school dining hall, Ante runs to hide in the old organ loft and thinks she is safe until she hears Florence coming up behind her. However, the handrail is too rickety and before Ante can warn Florence, her arch-enemy tumbles to the floor just as a mysterious boy suddenly appears out of nowhere, alongside a wall that opens into the wall behind them. Florence and Ante follow Gil – a boy who fell to his death from the organ loft 100 years ago – on a terrifying adventure through the Underworld to try to return to the present, their journey hindered by mythical demons and monsters including Cerberus, the Harpies, Furies and the Minotaur. Will they ever get back safely or will they be stuck in hell forever? 

Holly’s review: I like this book because I’ve never read anything like it before and it really steps over the line. I found it exciting, treacherous and scary because I never knew what was going to happen. At one point I even thought that Ante was dead. Sometimes I found this  book a little bit confusing – just at one point – but maybe it was supposed to be like that. But anyway I soon understood what it meant.

When I was reading this book I was picturing everything very vividly in my head but I found that was a good thing because it made me enjoy the book even more. Reading this book, I felt like I was travelling and exploring Hades like I was on the journey. I even felt the terror in them rising up in me too. It was like I was in the dense darkness and in the horrible place of Hades. The words were so vivid that they felt real. I was living the words and pages, ready to explore another bit of Hades.

I finished this book at night when I wasn’t supposed to  be reading but I couldn’t stand the suspense – I had to read it! So read this book, explore the words I explored, finger and touch the pages that I did and enroll yourself into this living story of a book. Wait for all the unexpected things to happen and, most of all, enjoy it!

Sam’s review: Holly certainly did enjoy this book and I think her review reflects this! She often would beg for more when it was time for lights-out and we frequently discovered that she had progressed rather rapidly from where we had last read with her, so I am sure she was doing some ‘reading by torchlight’. This unfortunately meant that I didn’t get all of the story because she would leap ahead several chapters by the time I then sat down with her to continue. However, from what I did read (and I plan to catch up with the missing chapters!) I thoroughly enjoyed. The story was lively and fast-paced, which will appeal to young readers (the publishers suggest a reading age of 9-14 years) and cleverly takes them on a whistle-stop tour of Classical Mythology. So they learn without even realizing it, which is an added bonus! I also enjoyed revisiting classic tales given a new and exciting twist.

Ante is also a well drawn and complex character. She has both her good and her bad points and as a reader, while you do root for her, you also become frustrated with her at times. I like this in a character because it helps them seem more believable and well rounded. By the end of the book I felt that not only had Florence (the ‘baddie’) undergone a transformation but Ante had too – or at least her beliefs and behaviours had been suitable challenged by her quest. The inclusion of Gil in the text helps bring about this change as he mediates between the two female protagonists.

Ante’s Inferno has already earned good reviews and I hope it continues to attract positive interest as it really is a fascinating and exciting story.


Please note that while we received a review copy of this book, we were under no obligation to review it and all opinions expressed are entirely our own.