BOOKS: Peter Helliar pens a fishy tale of time travel
PETE Helliar has created a new Marty McFly for the next generation.
At least, that's what he hopes.
Time travel is at the heart of the comedian and Project co-host's children's book, Frankie Fish and the Sonic Suitcase.
The 41-year-old was inspired to create something for his sons Oscar, Aidan and Liam before they grew up.
"I came to the realisation that I'd ran out of time to write a Pixar film for my kids," Pete tells Weekend.
"I thought what can I do for them whilst they're still kids? A book came to mind, and then that week two publishing companies rang my manager and asked if it's be interested in writing a kids book so I was like well, the gods have spoken."
The fictional novel, aimed at pre-teens, follows a boy and his grandfather who must try to fix the effects of their dodgy time travel computer.
"I was always fascinated with history as a kid," he says.
"They (the characters) can go to some wonderful places and get up to some adventures (using time travel).
"I also wanted it to be about a lonely kid who finds another world to escape to."
His job may be to make people, and now readers, laugh, but it's something he takes very seriously.
Pete laboured over his central character's name before settling on the catchy moniker Frankie Fish.
"In the first draft I wrote the character had a really dull name, like Anthony Edwards or something like that," he says.
"I was like 'Come on, you've got to get into the space. You're writing a kids book; you can be silly and colourful'. I started thinking of names like Liz Lemon from 30 Rock; alliteration is always great. I had to Google Frankie Fish, though, to make sure I wasn't taking it from somewhere."
With the Back to the Future film franchise as his primary reference, Pete spent months working his way through the intricacies of time travel while also keeping it simple enough to understand for his target audience.
"It's a big concept to get your head around, so you have to keep going back over it and explaining why it's dangerous if they interfere with the past... but I didn't want to be patronising," he says.
"When one of my first drafts was handed in, my editor was like 'Umm, so if they were to go back to fix the mistake the granddad had already made then there would be three granddads in this time period and you've only got two'. I was like 'Can you explain this really slowly?'
"Bryce Courtenay called it bum glue. You've just got to sit down and write through it. It might be awful but at least there will be something in there you will use."
While this is his first children's book, Pete is no stranger to the written word. He has written his own TV series, It's A Date for the ABC, and the romantic comedy film I Love You Too.
"The whole process of writing a book reminds me of making a movie," he says.
"With a movie there's pre production, production and post production, and that's pretty similar to writing a book. There's the planning stages, then there's the actual writing and then there's the editors coming in and having their say, and then there's the artwork and fonts and how the cover feels. That was a real eye opener for me - there are so many decisions to make."
Helliar's sons, his most important critics, were the first to read the book. He then sent an early copy on to his Project co-host Carrie Bickmore's son Ollie.
"I read my eight-year-old the first chapter and he gave it the best review," Pete says.
"He said 'it's like David Walliams' and he loves David Walliams."
Pete is already hard at work on the second Frankie Fish book in a planned trilogy. He would also love for the story to end up on the screen.
"I asked Aidan, my 12-year-old, what he thought of the book and he said 'This is definitely a movie'.
"We'll see what the reaction is like. If it's a movie or a TV series where you could have smaller adventures perhaps, then I think you could certainly see potential in something like that."
Frankie Fish and the Sonic Suitcase, by Peter Helliar, is published by Hardie Grant and will be released on March 1. RRP $14.99.