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Helen Szirtes is a writer and editor. She spent eight years at Bloomsbury Publishing in London before going freelance in 2008 and moving to Norwich. She has worked with many great children’s authors over the years, including Alexander McCall Smith, Philip Reeve, Mary Hooper, J.K. Rowling, Chris Priestley, Michael Rosen, Sue Limb and Catherine MacPhail.

In 2005 Helen coauthored the children’s bestseller 101 Things To Do Before You’re Old and Boring. Her most recent book, 101 Things To Do to Become a Superhero or Evil Genius, was published in 2009.

Prior to publishing, Helen studied English at Oxford, and went on to teach in Italy for a couple of years. She was a governor of St Christopher School, Letchworth, for five years.

'As an editor of children's books, I've spent many years living inside the books that live inside children's heads. Many of my favourite books of all time are books I read as a child. There is something magical about a child's imagination, about its ability to freewheel and skydive fearlessly. I never wrote so much fiction as I did when I was a child. But there came a point when exams took priority and creative writing wasn't something we did at school any more. Coming back to it was hard, as studying English Literature had taught me to become a critical reader – a valuable skill, I hasten to add, but one that has, at times, hampered the progress of my own writing. Children who love to invent stories or write poems need encouragement to continue writing beyond the classroom, and support to teach them how to evaluate their writing in a way that motivates rather than disheartens them. And this is where Telling Tales comes in ...'

Justine Mann’s short stories have been published in a succession of new writing anthologies. A winner of the Bridport Short Story Supplementary Prize in 2011, she was also shortlisted in 2008 and came second in the Fish International Short Story competition in 2007. Justine has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia and tutors in creative writing for the Open University.

- JMa

Before returning to Norwich in 2008, Justine ran creative writing workshops for London schools as part of the team at Inkhead ( Although she greatly enjoys working with adult writers as part of her role at Open University, she missed working with young writers, and this is where the idea for Telling Tales began.

'I'm sure our imaginative powers shrink as we get older. Working with children and young people can be the most stimulating experience for any creative writing tutor. We use exercises and prompts that encourage an outpouring of characters and fictional worlds. What emerges from the depths of the unconscious can surprise the writer as much as the tutor. The initial creative flourish tends to be much more tempered in an adult workshop. I enjoy helping the younger writer to tame their results by imposing some necessary shape and structure to their work, but first I like to encourage the imagination to run riot in a rough draft. That's how the good stuff surfaces.

I was involved in delivering young people's creative writing workshops in London. These included summer schools, saturday morning groups and after school workshops. It was hugely enjoyable – some of the those writers have gone on to win competitions and many have kept up their writing. When I returned to Norfolk from London in 2008, I saw there was a small literary scene for young writers, but knowing the appetite for writing stories that exists within young people, I felt sure there could be more opportunities, and talking to local parents and children seemed to confirm that. When I first met Helen and learned of her background in children's fiction, an idea began to form in my mind. Now it's taken on a shape – a bit like a story – and Telling Tales is here and ready to be enjoyed.


Once upon a time ... July-August 2011
Norwich Magazine article (Issue No. 6)

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Telling Tales article from Norwich Magazine 2011

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