Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Cover Reveal

A menacing stone serpent head, fiery skies, swirling mist, a prowling jaguar, a mysterious pyrmaid and two intrepid mystery-solvers looking into the distance . . . how exciting is this? I present (drum roll please!) the cover of The Serpent King!

Monday, 2 November 2015

The Next Adventure

Always carry a notebook!
If you have read The Phoenix Code and The Dragon Path you may be wondering where Cleo and
Ryan's next adventure will take them.

Although the third book doesn't come out until next Summer I've written the first draft and am now deep in the first round of edits, so it's about time for some sneak previews.

Secrets of the Tombs Book Three is called The Serpent King and takes place in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, mainly in the spectacular ruined Maya city of Calakmul. In this, the final installment of the series, many questions will be answered.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Where is Nefertiti?

When I started to read around to research ideas for The Phoenix Code I came across a fascinating question. Queen Nefertiti was one of the most famous queens of ancient Egypt, wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten, quite possibly mother of Tutenkhamun, and known for her great beauty - and yet she seemed to have disappeared without a trace. What happened to her? Where is her tomb? Where is her mummy? There are lots of rumours and theories, but she seemed to have disappeared without a trace.  I soon knew I had to weave my own fictional account of what had happened to Queen Nefertiti into the story of The Phoenix Code, along with the long lost Benben Stone and the mysterious Pharaoh Smenkhkare.

photograph from BBC news website

Now it seems that we might be nearer finding out where Queen Nefertiti was really buried. Over the last few fews detailed scans of  Tutenkhamun's tomb have been made - as part of a project to make an exact copy of facsimile of the tomb, so that visitors could look around without causing more damage to the orginal ancient tomb. These scans revealed that there might be hidden doors leading to another, bigger tomb beyond it.

And that hidden tomb might belong to Nefertiti (have you noticed a lot of mights here?). Some archeologists believe this would explain why Tutenkhamun's tomb is smaller than other kings' tombs and an unusual shape. Then again, other archaeologists are very doubtful!

Who knows whether this theory will turn out to be right but it's an exciting possibility. Of course, if Nefertiti's tomb does turn out to be beneath Tutenkhamun's tomb in the Valley of the Kings, it will mean my tale of it being hidden by a labyrinth below the Royal Tombs in Amarna will be all wrong. But that doesn't matter. It's a story. I made it up. And who knows, perhaps other parts of my story will turn out to be right; when Queen Nefertiti's tomb is finally found, the Benben Stone might just turn out to be in there with her!

You can find out more about this new theory about Nefertiti's tomb here. 

If you want to find out more about making the copy of the tomb you can see a video here. You can also find out what it is that people do all the time that is so damaging to old tombs.


Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Dragons Everywhere



The Dragon Path, the second book in the Secrets of the Tombs series launched in June and I was
lucky enough to have a celebratory event in both the wonderful bookshops in Cambridge. The first 
was at Heffer's Children's Bookshop in June and the second at Waterstones, Cambridge in August.

It was lovely to see lots of children at both. We made some gorgeous sparkly dragons, ate fortune cookies, cracked codes and found out whether we were on Team Cleo (logic) or Team Ryan (luck).

Thank you to everyone who came along and the teams at Heffers and Waterstones and to Sarah Jameson for another two excellent batches of literary mini-cupcakes!

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Here be dragons . . . a new book and a competiton

It's exactly one week to the official launch date of The Dragon Path, the second book in the Secrets of the Tombs series.


In this adventure, Cleo and Ryan head off to an archaeogical site near Xi'an in China. But before they leave, Cleo's grandmother charges them with a mysterious mission; to return a jade ring to a terrible place she calls 'the dragon path'. The problem is she doesn't tell them where or what the dragon path is. Completing the quest leads to dangers Cleo and Ryan could never have imagined . . .

At the heart of the story is an old film taken in China in the 1930s that shows some very disturbing goings on.  As so often is the case, the idea came from a half-heard news story on the radio.  Film of nine old missing Dr Who episodes had been found in Nigeria (apparently by a man who makes it his job to search for long lost episodes of old British TV shows, nicknamed 'The Raider of the Lost Archives'). The idea of something caught on film that had been missing for years was the starting point for the whole plot . . .

To avoid disappointment,  I should, however, mention that Dr Who does not feature in the book in any form!

But here are five things that you will find in the The Dragon Path . . . 

1. You'll find out what the First Emperor's recipe gentlemen were trying to cook up (and why so many of their ingredients were poisonous).

2. You'll meet a Giant Chinese Salamander and discover the strange noise it makes.

3. You'll find out about the codes used by Napoleon to communicate with his generals.

4. You'll discover a tiger tally just like this one in the Shaanxi History Museum in Xi'an and find out what it was used for.



5. You'll find out which number is thought to be the unluckiest in China.

If you would like to win a signed copy of The Dragon Path and this original doodle of a Chinese dragon by me (as drawn for National Doodle Day last year!) all you have to do is answer this one simple question:

What is tetraphobia a fear of?



E-mail your answer to me at helen@castlekey.co.uk by 13th June. All correct answers will be put in a hat and I'll draw out a winner. Good luck!

Luckily the illustrations in the book are done by a real illustrator - the wonderfully talanted Leo Hartas (who also illustrated the Adventure Island books)

Monday, 18 May 2015

Countdown to launch date

It's always exciting and a little bit nerve-wracking when a new book is about to come out. The Dragon Path, Book Two of the Secrets of the Tombs series, will be on its way to bookshops and libraries very soon - June 4th to be precise. I hope that readers of The Phoenix Code will enjoy following Cleo and Ryan on their next adventure. This time they are heading off to China, where all kinds of mystery and peril - both ancient and modern - awaits them.

Last year I was lucky enough to visit to carry out research for the book. Here I am taking notes as I look out over the breath-taking sight of the terracotta army -  thousands of life-size clay warriors who were buried with the First Emperor in the second century BC.


There was absolutely no way I could resist setting a scene here!

I'll be adding lots more background information about the book over the next few weeks. But for now, I'll leave you with this picture as a cryptic clue to the action in the book. All these objects have a part to play . . .



And if you are anywhere near Cambridge on 13th June, please do come and join us at the brilliant Heffers Children's Bookshop for a launch event. There will be readings and signings and craft activities and cakes of many kinds!






Thursday, 26 March 2015

And the winner is . . .

And the winner is . . .

At last I can reveal the winner of the exciting The Phoenix Code World Book Day art competition. The challenge was to draw a picture in ancient Egytpian style, inspired by The Phoenix Code - the first of Cleo and Ryan's adventures in the Secrets of the Tombs series.

We received lots of fantastic entries. I was so impressed by the creativity and hard work that went into each picture. They were all so good that I wanted to give everyone a prize.

But in the end there was one picture that stood out; it had everything - an original, attractive overall design, an ancient Egyptian style with a modern twist, exceptional attention to detail, clever use of scenes and themes from the book, and even the inclusion of names and messages written in hieroglyphs.

So . . . the winner is  . . .   drum roll please . . . .
Serge Wynne



Serge is ten years old and is a pupil at Ropley School, Hampshire. By chance, I was visiting his school this week and so had the  great pleasure of presenting the prize in person.


It was lovely to meet Serge and his Mum and brother and sister. All the other children in the school had  great fun sharing his success - they gave Serge several massive rounds of applause! The local paper even came along to take pictures.

From The Alton Herald
Well done, Serge, for a truly fantastic drawing. Every time I look at it, I notice a new detal.

Serge's prize is to have a character named after him in Secrets of the Tombs Book Three. It won't be out until Summer, 2016, but when it does come out, you can look out for him!

Runners Up

Chelsea Conceptio (13).
This beautiful drawing is so graceful and really captures the black and russet shades of many tomb paintings. The bennu bird is a central theme of The Phoenix Code, so this was a perfect choice of scene to draw. I love the delicate shading of the bird's plumage.


Jed Owens (11)
This picture really appealed to me because it shows one of the key scenes in The Phoenix Code; the entry into Nefertiti's tomb. Jed has included lots of the details that I describe in the book, including the gold sun hanging above the benben stone, the wall paintings and the patterns on the door.


Chelsea and Jed will both receive signed copies of The Phoenix Code and some other book goodies from Orion Children's Books.


Highly recommended

Aitan Standring (8)
I love Aitan's picture of hippo hunting on the Nile - especially as it is painted on real papyrus.



Camilla Locsin (9)
Camilla's picture of an Egyptian wall painting is so delicately drawn and beautifully coloured. 



Special Mention

Thomas Goldsmith (9) 
I  really liked this line drawing because it shows a specific scene from The Phoenix Code; poor old Rahotep caught in the booby trap. The detail that caught my eye is the scarab amulet that Ryan has hung around his neck.


Ella McCullough (9)
I love the colours in this beautiful drawing of a proud Egytpian cat  god. There are gorgeous gold and silver tones in the original picture.


Niamh O'Sullivan (13)
Another magficient Egyptian cat. I love all the shading detail and the way that Niamh cut out the shape of the cat (this photo shows him against a white background).



Esme Varley (8) 
There's something really appealing about this scene of two women and two golden oxen against a delicate watercolour background that looks just like a stone wall (I'm afraid the scan of the picture doesn't do it justice!)

Ellie Mosbach (5)
Ellie was the youngest entrant to the competition and drew this lovely scene of sailing boats on the Nile with Egyptian figures and animals on the river bank. Well done, Ellie!

Poppy Noble
I really liked the lovely bright colours of all the different Egyptian hieroplyphs and symbols in this picture - and the inclusion of the benben stone itself.
Well done to everyone who entered the competition. I'm sorry if you weren't a winner this time, but we really enjoyed seeing each and every one of your amazing pictures. Thank you for all the time and care you put into creating them and sending them in. 
I hope you've all enjoyed seeing the selection of top entries here. Congratulations to you all. There will be prizes on their way to our winner, Serge, and our runners-up, Chelsea and Jed.

Saturday, 10 January 2015

The Phoenix Code Drawing Competition Update


Remember that exciting competition that I told you about on the World Book Day website? The one where you have to draw a picture inspired by The Phoenix Code to be in with a chance of being a named character in the third book of the Secrets of the Tombs series? 

Well, the good news is that the deadline for entries has now been extended until 31st January. 

So zoom right on over to the World Book Day website and find out all about it here. While you are there you'll find all kinds of other great competitions and information too. 

Happy drawing and good luck. I can't wait to see your artwork!

PS. If you want to get into the Ancient Egyptian mood and find some inspiration, why not head over to the Secrets of the Tombs website too!