Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Meeting Hazel Edwards

‘Reading and writing is like cracking a code. You need to work out the word and picture clues.’

I’m the author of There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake, which is now a film, and other books for children and adults. My name is Hazel Edwards. And I’m a readaholic. I read in the bath or listen to audio books in my car. I also read e-books AND I write a story each birthday for the kids in our family.

I still live in my house in Melbourne, Australia, where the roof leaked and my son said it was ‘the cake-eating hippo’. That character gave me an idea for that story which later travelled all over the world.

Some stories start with the question 'What if?’ That’s how the cake-eating hippo began. Writers need to watch, do and listen. Other stories start by the author visiting new places or doing new things. The writer sees, hears, smells, tastes, feels and then records ideas in an ideas notebook. I call this participant-observer research.

Then it’s the writer’s job to find the best words to make a story. Sometimes I write 8-9 drafts. I work on a computer in my home office. Or on a laptop or Ipad when I’m travelling. Words are like clues which the author uses to make the reader feel they are inside the story.

Titles like Outback Ferals or Antarctica’s Frozen Chosen have more than one meaning. Say ‘Feymouse’ aloud. (famous), that’s the title of my picture book apps where the cat miaows and the mice squeak. Fey is a large and clumsy cat born into a family of highly talented mice. It’s about coping successfully with being different.

Sometimes I work with illustrators, authors, actors or puppeteers. A book may be adapted for stage or television like the current documentary on f2m;the boy within. I love seeing actors and musicians perform my stories.

E-books are a new way of story telling on screen and illustrator Jane Connory has even created stickers and merchandise for Project Spy Kids and Sleuth Astrid & the Lost Voice at the Grand Final. (I had to learn about football for that story, and invent a z-com for my hi-tech, mind-reading chook sleuth who rides a Harley).

I went on a scientific expedition to Antarctica to research stories. I went on Voyage 5 of the polar-resupply ship Polar Bird to Australia’s Casey station in Antarctica. There were 34 male expeditioners and only 4 females.

We wore freezer suits. We had to learn how to pull people out of the ice. And we travelled in Haggs, zodiacs and quads. For weeks, our ship was ‘beset’ which means stuck in the ice. The ‘boffins’ (scientists) who study penguins, seals and killer whales, told me about their work. So did the tradies like the dieso, chippie and Doc who keep the ice station going.

Picture book, Antarctic Dad and chapter book, Antarctic Closeup use that experience.

Research is a good excuse for asking questions or trying new experiences. So I have floated in a hot air balloon, been trekking in Nepal, gone on a French canal in a barge and interviewed a football coach. All have been used in stories.

When things go wrong for a writer, it’s called research.

Stories can happen anywhere. Even next door or in the school ground.Sometimes I start with the character. Sometimes I start with the place or a problem.

In Antarctica I loved the icebergs. They even named one ‘The Hazelberg’ after me. Like an iceberg, a story has nine tenths under the surface and you only see the top 10% in the finished book. Other drafts are hidden.

But a story idea can travel, further than the author.

About the Author

Best known for There's a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake, Hazel writes across media, for adults & children.  Pocket Bonfire Productions made a short hippo film for the 30th anniversary.

Always passionate about literacy and creativity, Hazel has mentored gifted children, acted as both a judge and problem writer for the Tournament of Minds program and proudly held the title of Reading Ambassador for various organisations.  Currently a director  on the Committee of Management of the Australian Society of Authors, Hazel is also a professional writing lecturer. 

Recent e-books include Fake ID and Sleuth Astrid series about a hi-tech hen who rides a Harley.  Sir Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop and Professor Fred Hollows in the Aussie Heroes series are her latest, non fiction books.  Co-written with ftm Ryan Kennedy, the Young Adult Fiction novel’ f2m the boy within’ about transitioning from female to male, is internationally available and a documentary is in progress with Kailash Studio.

Hazel is married with two adult children and two grandsons for whom she writes stories each birthday.

Hazel's website, www.hazeledwards.com has free downloadable teacher resources relating to Antarctica and free stuff for kids plus e-book mystery literacy series and a regular newsletter for which you can register.


  1. Hi my name is Brooke and I read 'There's a Hippopotamus on the Roof eating cake' last night to my little sister. Olivia loved it and I liked reading it to her!

  2. Dear Brooke. So glad you shared the hippo book with your little sister.You might like to share 'Flight of the Bumblee Bee' (New Frontier) too and do the buzzing sound effect as well as bee- dance to the music. Hazel Edwards