The Histronauts - Review & Interview with Author Frances Durkin

Over the past couple of weeks the kiddies have been dipping into these amazing new books, The Histronauts, during their History and Geography lessons. They are packed with stories, facts and activities which have really captivated the boys so much that they are even carrying them off to bed  for some bedtime reading! Interestingly, these books have been written by Frances Durkin who was also Home Educated! This week we managed to catch up with Frances to ask her some pertinent questions about Home Education and what a day in the life of an Author is like, so please grab yourself a cuppa and keep reading to find out what she had to say!!

We have the books A Roman Adventure and An Egyptian Adventure, both of which are beautifully illustrated with warm, calming colours and which captivated all my children from DS6 up to DD14. The kiddies followed along on the adventures of four colourful characters Luna, Newton, Nani and Hero to help uncover the secrets of the past. They enjoyed looking at the map before reading the timelines and comic-style stories. They learnt all about roman numerals, Latin words and how to build their own chariot in A Roman Adventure, there is even a recipe for Roman honey cakes! There are plenty of mazes and quizzes throughout the book, with the answers and a glossary in the back. 

In An Egyptian Adventure the boys got crafty and made their own Papyrus, Egyptian Necklace and discovered secret messages written in hieroglyphics. There are wonderful recipes, quizzes and even an Egyptian board game to play. The kiddies had a great time helping the Histronauts throughout their journey and can't wait for the next book, A Viking Adventure, to be released which is available to pre-order here

DS12 says, 'My favourite part was making the sundial, it made my History lesson more more interesting. I also liked the characters as they made the stories more exciting as I followed along on their journey.'
Overall, the kiddies all found The Histronauts fun, interesting and very entertaining. 
They also loved the fact that the author was also Home Educated just like them which really inspired DD14 who also loves to read and write. We decided to ask the author, Frances, some questions about her own Home Education journey and what life is like now, as an Author! So here goes...

What does a day in the life of a published author look like?

One of my favourite things about being an author is how different each day is. I usually base my time around researching or writing. If I’m researching I might spend a whole day reading in a library or visiting museum exhibitions. If I’m having a writing day, I can be found typing away at my computer keyboard and surrounded by really untidy piles of notes. Being an author also means that I sometimes run workshops or visit bookshops to talk about what I do. I also spend a lot of time sharing research with Grace Cooke who illustrates The Histronauts series. I love discussing the details for her illustrations and my favourite days are when I get to see the new pictures for each book. It’s so exciting to see the research turned into such beautiful images. 

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I had phases of wanting to be lots of different things. I wanted to be a nurse, an actor, a lawyer, a photographer, a film director, a theatre producer, a Blue Peter presenter, an optician and, of course, a writer. 

Only to always keep your eyes open for new ideas. You never know when you might see something which might inspire you. I spend quite a lot of time in the British Library and I love sneaking peeks over people’s shoulders at the books they’re reading. I get book envy when I see an interesting title or a really old and mysterious book. But part of the fun is making up my own stories about what they’re reading or what they might be researching.

What do you do when you get writer’s block?

I’ve been so lucky to not have suffered from writer’s block yet. I do have days when I get stuck trying to make an idea work or to get the structure of a story just right, but I prefer to work on a different section instead and come back to the bit I was struggling with. I always seem to figure out what I need when I’m doing something completely different.
Who inspired you when growing up?
Definitely my parents. They’ve always been really supportive of everything I wanted to do. I’m really lucky! 

What advice would you give to any aspiring young writer?

To read. And to write. And to spend lots of time doing neither of those things. I’m a huge fan of playing and exploring, no matter how old you are. Inspiration can be found in so many places and you never know where your next story idea might come from. Lauren Child recently spoke about the importance of daydreaming and she’s completely right – letting your mind wander can lead you to of the best ideas.

What is your favourite book?

I have so many! When I was younger I read anything I could get my hands on and I wish I had more time to read now. I used to love The Chronicles of Narnia and the Anne of Green Gables books. And Sherlock Holmes and anything by Agatha Christie. If I had to pick one book as an adult though, I think it would be Louis de Bernier’s Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. It’s so beautiful.

How old were you when your parents started to Home Educate you?

I only went to school very briefly and I was home educated from a very young age.

What kind of approach did they take?

They took a very Socratic approach to my education and didn’t set any limitations to what I could do. And I was allowed to be very autonomous in how I spent my time. So long as my work was done it was always the case that I could spend the whole day reading (and I often did) or the whole day on a maths or science project if that was what I wanted to do. 

Did Home Education offer more time to explore your own interests?

I don’t really have anything to compare it to so I’m not sure if I did have more time. I think I maybe had more freedom over how I spent my time as my day wasn’t structured into lessons in the same was as it would have been if I had been in school.

What was a typical Home Ed day like for you?

I don’t remember there really ever being a typical day. There was always something to read and homework to do but there were also pets to care for and places to visit. 

What was the best thing about being Home Educated?

I used to think it was really funny that my friends would ask if I had any homework to do. I loved telling them that everything I did was homework.

DS6 says, 'These books are my best bedtime reads.'

How much time did you get to socialise?

I had a very full social calendar and was a member of so many different clubs. I was in the Brownies, the local youth theatre, the chess club, I went swimming, I was even in a brass band…all the usual ‘after-school’ activities.

Which subjects did you study?

I kept up with the curriculum as it was at the time. The Local Authority did check in to make sure that I was doing so, and they were always very pleased with my progress. Of course, I did have favourite subjects, but nothing was missed and I don’t remember having a least favourite subject.

Where did you study?

Primarily at home but we took lots of daytrips to museums and other places of interest. 

Did you complete further education at home or college?

I did my GCSEs and A Levels at college. Home Education did mean that I had the opportunity to take some of my exams early. Then I went on to university for my undergraduate and postgraduate studies. I’m just coming to the end of my PhD at the moment, so I’ve never really stopped studying.

Would you Home Educate your own children?

I think that all kids – and parents too - are different and I hope I’ll have all possible options open to me when the time comes to make decisions about how to educate my own children. Home education isn’t right for everyone, but it did work for me. 

DS9 says,' I really enjoyed looking at the maps and completing the mazes, they are the most exciting History books I have ever read.'

If you are looking for some fun reading books with activities and recipes to spark your child's imagination then you may like to purchase The Histronauts available from b small publishing here. They are great for children to read by themselves to become more confident readers and for inspiration for project ideas. The activities can be used as extension ideas for the book and children of all ages can get involved. My older children read the books to their younger siblings before trying out the recipes and craft ideas!

Happy Exploring! :) 

Disclaimer: These books were sent out to us as part of a collaboration and all opinions are my own. 


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