Born in Beirut , but brought up in the UK , my guest on the blog this week is children’s author Heba Hamzeh. Retaining her love of Middle Eastern adventure tales and myths from her childhood, she regaled her own children with her exciting adventure fantasy stories and now every child can be enthralled with her tales of Prince Zaaki and his kingdom. I caught up with Heba recently to find out more about her Prince Zaaki series of books that appeal to children and teenagers alike. Hi Heba and welcome..
Hi! My name is Heba Hamzeh and I am the author of The Prince Zaaki trilogy. My third book, Prince Zaaki And The Knights of The Altar of Truth was released in October this year and I am excited to share it and the whole trilogy with your readers. I have lived in London for most of my life, due to fleeing my home country, Lebanon, at a very young age because of the civil unrest and war. When my three children were young, I would make up bedtime stories for them and these stories evolved into the Prince Zaaki books.
Your 3rd book in your Prince Zaaki series for children/teenagers has just been published. Who or what inspired you to start your writing career?
My children inspired me to write these books and continue to inspire and motivate me. They love the stories I weaved for Prince Zaaki, especially my son, who, at bedtime, always asked me what is Prince Zaaki doing today and so I would come up with another adventure for Prince Zaaki. Also, my faith and culture inspired the adventures and storyline within my books. As a young child, growing up, I would hear stories of family members remembering their past lives and souls passing from one body to another. One of the beliefs as a Druze is reincarnation and this fascination with transmigration led me to unknowingly write about it in my books, in a fantastical and enjoyable way for children to understand and begin to ask questions about this topic. For me knowledge is power and I like to write something meaningful and thought provoking to put to the readers, although the books are fiction fantasy, they do contain some form of reality.
“Prince Zaaki” is an adventure/fantasy series, that tells the story of a boy growing into his purpose of life and becoming King of his kingdom. It is filled with wizardry, magical beasts and adventure that all good bedtime stories are made of. Did you base a lot of your characters on you and people you’ve met in life? Which character did you enjoy writing about the most? Which character was the hardest?
The protagonist, Prince Zaaki, is based on my son, Zaaki. He is kind and caring and always tries to help others. The two Goddesses are based on my two daughters, Lulu and Ella, who since they were both very young showed wisdom beyond their age. As my father would say, they are old souls. I enjoyed developing Prince Zaaki’s character as he is a young teenager in the first book who is a Prince and heir to the throne. By the third book he becomes King of his Kingdom. His travels across his Kingdom, open his eyes to what reality is like for his people and this changes him for the better. The challenges and obstacles he faces, make him stronger and want to stand up to injustices. He becomes the Knight of Justice. The hardest character to write and develop would be General Scarytis as he is the sly antagonist in the first two books. I don’t want to give too much away but I will say the reader will see General Scarytis’ development throughout all three books and there is a big transformation at the end of the third book for the evil General.
You were born in Beirut, Lebanon but have spent your childhood living in the UK and your love of Middle Eastern adventure tales and myths shows through your writing. However, if you could visit any country/place in the world, to base a future novel in, where would you go and why?
I would love to spend some time in the Buddhist monastery set up by the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala in India. I actually sent my books to the Dalai Lama and he responded very kindly to me, which I am very grateful for.
As a child, my father was the storyteller at bedtime – sometimes from his imagination, other times he read Enid Blyton’s Famous Five/ Secret Seven series… but yes, still adventure stories ! I carried on reading to my 5 children at bedtime & it was a shame when they no longer wanted me to read to them – one of my sons was in his early teens as he enjoyed it!! I know you tell stories to your children, but who wove their love of stories spell on you?
I used to read Enid Blyton’s Famous Five when I was younger as well! But I would have to give credit to my English primary teacher, Miss Gamble, who has sadly passed. She was amazing in all sense of the word! She gave me my first poem to memorise, The Tyger by William Blake and as soon as I read it, I fell in love with poetry and that was the beginning of my journey into the world of books.
Are you a bookworm? What is your favourite genre and/or authors? Kindle or actual book?
I love reading and my favourite would be Khalil Gibran who was a Lebanese author, poet, philosopher and painter. His words carry so much knowledge and wisdom. The Prophet is one of my all time favourite books. I also enjoy reading Paulo Coelho’s books and my favourite would be The Alchemist. Call me old fashioned but I love holding a book and turning the pages. The earthy smell of an old book gets me in the mood to sit down and read and read and read.
Are the Prince Zaaki books available to purchase worldwide?
The Prince Zaaki books are available worldwide on Amazon, and other good bookshops.
You taught mathematics at an International school for year but growing up had you always wanted to be an author, a teacher or did you have other career aspirations?
As far as professional careers, I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I was at school. Some days I thought I wanted to be a lawyer and some days I thought maybe I would make a good doctor. Most days I dreamt of publishing my own book. Mathematics came very naturally to me and so I took the easy route and pursued that subject. Teaching mathematics for many years, was extremely rewarding and I enjoyed creating projects for my students to see why mathematics is so important to everything in our lives. After having my three children, I found my love of creative writing thus began my journey with the Prince Zaaki books.
You are a successful children’s /YA author but have you ever written for another genre? If not, would you and what genre would you loved to try?
I am not sure. I have been told to write a cook book as I make Lebanese food for my children every day. I call my style of cooking – Lebanese with a twist of Heba. The recipes I use are old mountain recipes from my Gran, mother and Aunty.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
I like to be comfortable so blue or black jeans and a plain black or white t shirt/vest, converses during the spring, Uggs during winter (so now) and sandals in the Summer. For evening wear, I do love a pair of black stilettos – occasionally – accompanied by a black tux with a tie.
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?
I do like to go to shops and try on clothes more than shop online. I don’t have a preferred clothes shop. I window shop a lot before I buy my clothes.
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
Christmas jumpers for me and my kids!
Boots or Shoes?
Right now – boots! Ugg boots! It’s so cold in London and need to keep my feet warm!
Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc
www.princezaaki.com WEBSITE FIRST BOOK: Prince Zaaki And The Royal Sword of Luella: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Prince-Zaaki-Royal-Sword-Luella/dp/1942549652/ref=sr_1_4?crid=1HFDPN9FXGDVE&keywords=prince+zaaki+book&qid=1670502809&sprefix=prince+zaak%2Caps%2C271&sr=8-4
SECOND BOOK: Prince Zaaki And The Momentous Battle of The Kingdoms: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Prince-Zaaki-Momentous-Battle-Kingdoms/dp/1955690103/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1670502869&sr=8-3-spons
THIRD BOOK: Prince Zaaki And The Knights of The Altar of Truth: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Prince-Zaaki-Knights-Altar-Truth/dp/1955690340/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=Heba Hamzeh books on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heba-Hamzeh/e/B09GYJHTZK?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1670503041&sr=1-1-catcorr
Fabulous to chat to you Heba – I’m glad to find a fellow Paulo Coelho fan – The Alchemist is my favourite of his too! It takes pride of place on my main bookshelf with a couple of other favourite classics 😊 Long may Prince Zaaki reign in your mind!
All photographs have been published with kind permission of Heba Hamzeh.