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Pete Helliar brings Frankie Fish to WOMAD

There’s not much that the loveable funnyman Peter Helliar hasn’t done. As one of Australia’s favourite
comedians, as well as TV series creator, director and star, regular co-host of The Project, touring stand-up comic, husband of 17 years and father of three boys… he’s kind of got a lot going on! Lucky for kids and parents everywhere however, he has also managed to squeeze in authoring the hilarious, best-selling Frankie Fish series of books for children in all that spare time he has up his sleeve.

We chatted with Pete about what it’s like writing for kids, his upcoming appearance at WOMAD (something
he has, in fact, never done before!) and what’s next for Frankie Fish.

You’re going to be a guest reader in the KidZone at WOMAD reading from your Frankie Fish books, I
imagine you’ve performed to some tough crowds, but is any gig tougher than a bunch of kids?

When I began writing the Frankie Fish series and we started talking about writer’s festivals and performing to kids, I didn’t think much of it. My first time actually doing it was the Perth Writer’s Festival and I thought “Oh. Actually… what am I going to talk to them about for an HOUR?” Luckily, my mum had kept a lot of the books I’d written as a kid in grade four and five, so they’ve become my secret weapon and I end up reading some of those books to the kids which is fun. I remember years ago before I was writing books, visiting my son Aidan’s prep class, they had dads coming in to talk about their jobs and I thought “I’m going to be fine, I work in television, that’s pretty exciting” and the kids could not have been more bored! One of the other dads was a policeman and another was a marine biologist, so they were way more exciting than I was.

Have you been to WOMAD before?

This will be my first time! I’ve been in Adelaide when it’s been on because I’ve done so many Adelaide Fringe Festivals, but I’ve never been to WOMAD, so I’m excited.

I basically said yes straight away, it was one of those things; of course I know about WOMAD, I’m often there for it, I don’t really know what to expect but I only hear good things.

What has the process been like from seeing the initial Frankie Fish idea come to life, to expanding on that and creating a number of stories in the series? Will there be more coming in future?

I was actually writing book five this morning, book four is out in April. There will be a longer wait for book five to hit the shelves with probably a year between them. I wanted to make sure that I was enjoying writing the books and for it not
to become too much like a job, because I have enough of those! There could be more. We haven’t quite capped it, I know how the series finishes but I don’t know when it finishes. I think time travel was tougher than I thought it was going to be and I could have made this whole exercise a lot easier for myself but I chose not to. I didn’t want to patronise the kids with something that was too easy. Once I could see the characters, it became easier and there’s definitely more life in these characters so we’ll keep them going for a little while.

What was your inspiration behind Frankie Fish; was there a reason behind choosing a time travel theme?

I’ve always said that the main two influences were Magic Faraway Tree and Back to the Future. I wanted to create a book about kids, and specifically kids who kind of got to escape to somewhere, so time travel gave me that
opportunity.

How important was balancing the humour aspect with a good story that kids will sink their teeth into?

I concentrate on the story first and foremost, and my style is comedic. Certainly, the story is first, making sure the kids want to turn the pages and read the next chapter. That’s the key. What I usually do is write a few drafts and then I will take the idea to the publishers and they’ll give it back to me to give it one final read through where I just add in as many jokes as I can. So, it’s like a final jokes pass.

What’s next? Frankie Fish the movie maybe?

Possibly! When the first book came out my son told me he could imagine it as a movie. I wouldn’t mind seeing it as a TV series, with each book being a series. The characters could lend themselves to that. We haven’t made any attempt to reach out to people in regards to that because I have enough on, and I’ve been concentrating on the books and making sure they don’t suffer. But possibly yeah! We could explore that.

Top three parenting tips?

Just off the top of my head!
1. Involve yourself in as much as you can in their school and their sport.
2. Listen to them, let them talk; don’t talk at them but talk to them.
3. Always remind the tooth fairy, to make sure the tooth fairy definitely comes.

You and your kiddos can join Peter Helliar at the WOMAD KidZone for Story Time on Saturday and
Sunday, March 9th and 10th.

Tickets: womadelaide.com.au – Kids under 12 are FREE