Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.
Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.
Petra James is the author of the Hapless Hero Henrie series, and the second book came out in May in the midst of the pandemic. Part of her publicity for this book is the following interview we arranged ages ago, just after I read the first book for Writing NSW. This interview was done before the advent of online events, so doesn’t reflect the changes that other authors have made.
Hi Petra and Welcome to The Book Muse
It’s lovely to be here – thank you.
1. The second book in your Hapless Hero Henrie series is out in May – what is the basic premise of this novel?
Henrie is on her first Hero Hunt – with Alex Fischer from Hapless Hero Henrie and a girl called Marley Hart, who has rung the Hero Hotline seeking a hero. There’s a mystery about Marley’s great aunt Agnes (an archaeologist), a missing gold statue, a secret from the past, and a new villain.
2. How many books do you think you have planned for Henrie Melchior’s story?
At the moment, it’s just the two books but Violetta Villarne (from Villains Inc) has a habit of popping up when she’s least expected so I wouldn’t be surprised if she has more to say and do. She loves making trouble …
3. This is one I’m really looking forward to after getting to review the first book for Writing NSW earlier this year. Where did the idea for House of Heroes come from – a family where no girls have been born for decades?
Thank you so much for your wonderful review of Hapless Hero Henrie. I’m thrilled you enjoyed it.
I’m the youngest of four girls and I was supposed to be a boy but, obviously, I wasn’t so I grew up with this sense that I wasn’t quite who I was supposed to be. I took this idea to the extreme by wondering what dramatic events could be set in motion if a girl was born into a family business, governed by tradition, and males.
I also wanted to reclaim the hero space for girls because, of course, girls can be heroes too!
4. What, if any, events and appearances did you have planned for the release of this book before the pandemic crisis forced their cancellation?
We’d really just started talking about this when COVID struck but I was hoping to attend some bookshop book clubs, visit some schools ….
5. Out of all the characters you have created, do you have a favourite, and why this character?
This is always a tough question to answer. I guess each new character is like a new friend so there’s a joyful sense of discovery as you get to know each other. So Henrie is probably top of the list at the moment because she’s the main character of my latest book. But then all the characters in my other books are like old friends, and old friends are equally cherished.
6. How did you get your start in children’s publishing, and what is your job within the industry these days?
I worked for a literary magazine in the UK when I left university and soon realised that publishing was the job for me. I loved every part of it. And still do. I’m a children’s publisher now – working with amazing authors, illustrators and designers. I feel pretty lucky to have such a job.
7. Do you have a favourite children’s book, series or author, or many, and what are they?
I have so many favourites. For so many different reasons. This question could take me months to answer. And I’d probably want to keep changing it. It would be like the Magic Pudding of answers – I could never ever finish it.
8. How do you think children’s books and stories have changed over the years, compared to what you may have read as a child?
I think there’s a much greater range of stories now with so many more authors writing for children. I think humour is more prevalent too.
9. Growing up, what sort of books did you find yourself drawn to in particular, and why?
I loved all the Enid Blyton books, especially the Famous Five and the Secret Seven. I planned for a while to be a spy. And Ferdinand the Bull was my favourite picture book, probably because my dad loved this story and read it to me constantly.
10. What was it about the arts, writing and publishing that made you want to make a career in this industry?
It was a serendipitous discovery. I feel as though it found me rather than the other way around. And once in the publishing/writing world, I knew no other career could ever fit so well.
11. Can you tell us what is next for Henrie and the House of Melchior?
That is a question without an answer … for the moment.
12. In times like these, how important do you think the arts are going to be for people so they can get through it?
Creativity is fuel for the soul. Our physical worlds may have shrunk but the world inside a book is immense. We may not be able to leave the house but we can still explore the most magnificent inner worlds by reading, singing, dancing, playing the ukulele, writing, haiku-ing …
Anything I may have missed?
Thank you Petra, I look forward to more Henrie Melchior stories.
Thanks so much to you and I hope you enjoy Henrie’s Hero Hunt.