Review of Hal Junior: The Secret Signal by Simon Haynes

Helen Ross Writes – supports Australia’s talented self published authors, small press publishing and independent publishers

On Monday I chatted with the talented Simon Haynes.   Simon self-published three adult/teen novels from 2001-2003, was trade-published (four novels) between 2004 and, and is currently in the middle of publicity for his latest self/indie published title, Hal Junior: The Secret Signal.

If you missed Simon’s journey, please click on the direct link at:

As promised, here is my review of Simon’s latest release:, Hal Junior: The Secret Signal.  A fun read!

Book Review:

By Helen Ross

Hal Junior: The Secret Signal

Author Simon Haynes

Published by Bowman Press

RRP $16.95

ISBN: 978-1-877034-07-7

Hal Junior lives aboard a futuristic space station.  His mum is chief scientist, his dad cleans air filters and his best mate is Stephen ‘Stinky’ Binn.

As for Hal … he’s a bit of a trouble magnet. He means well, but his wild schemes and crazy plans never turn out as expected!  (taken from the book’s back cover).

Simon Haynes weaves humour, adventure, basic science principles, baddies, an interesting plot, enough twists and turns and a likable hero in Hal Junior to create an entertaining, page turning  children’s novel.  I was entertained all the way, and will even admit to some laugh out loud moments. I virtually read it in one sitting. I loved it.

The adventure traverses at a nice steady pace.  The humour is very appealing and a little quirky at times,  which will certainly amuse the book’s target market (upper primary age and beyond).

I loved the character of Hal Junior.  He is quite bright in his own way, and means well, but mayhem tends to follow him.  He certainly has a way of driving his ‘teacher’ and adults around him a little crazy. Yet you just can’t help falling in love with him. Hal’s best mate, ‘Stinky’ is also very likeable.  Furthermore, Simon  has a non-geeky, unobtrusive  way of embedding basic science principles into the novel. I’ll leave it up to Hal and Stinky to show you.

This novel will appeal not only to upper primary aged children but also teens and adults who like science fiction, and adventure with a mix of quirky humour. It is a great book to lure the reluctant reader into the world of science fiction and the magic of books.

A fun read!

Simon’s website address

Simon’s  blog:

Books can be bought from:

Hal Spacejock ebooks:

Hal Junior:

You can find book reviews at:



Book Reviews:

Please note that I will no longer be accepting offers to review books.  I am just swamped with work and wish to pursue my own writing projects.   However, if I have promised to review a book I will still be doing so (hopefully in the near future).  But with that said, if I do come across a great book by a talented Aussie author (like Simon Haynes’ Hal Junior ), and I wish to scream the author’s talents to the Universe, then I will certainly ask the author’s permission to write such a review.


However, I will continue to interview talented independently published Australian writers.

All the best!


Interview 16. Why I independently published my new book, Delightfully Haiku.

As usual,  this time of the year is a busy season for many book launches.   And there are so many wonderful books to be given as Christmas presents.  It is also a great time to support talented independently published authors and their new books.

So this week we welcome another talented independently published Australian author who has just launched her new book, aptly named, Delightfully Haiku.  The perfect pocket sized gift.

I just loooove the front cover by the talented Matthew Shires.

So let’s roll out the red carpet for author/poet, Donna Smith, who has dropped in to share snippets of her eight month journey in the process and publication of her new book, Delightfully Haiku launched on 20 November 2010.

Donna is an experienced academic writer (including course manuals, assessment criteria and learning modules), published author and co-author of  texts on Animal Welfare topics, editor of ‘Paws in Print’ a journal published each term for Veterinary Nurses,  blog administrator and content writer.   Over the past two years this busy writer, and mother of three has also  had many children’s stories and poems published in anthologies, including children’s stories shortlisted in various competitions.  Donna has also set up her own publishing company, Jelli-Beanz Publishing.

So welcome Donna.

Did you always want to be a writer?

Yes, for as long as I can remember.  I have memories of turning my bedroom into a mini library and labelling my books.  I love the smell of books and the paper freshly printed.  I always have had chap books full of jotted down stories and poetry.

When did you start writing?

I began academic writing professionally in 1996 when I prepared a course manuscript and designed its assessments.  Since then I have written over forty course manuals, designed and written assessment criteria and written learning modules for an online virtual classroom for the Australian School Of Petcare Studies.  I am also the editor of ‘Paws in Print’ a journal published each term for Veterinary Nurses.  I also look after the blog posts for the college.

I have written three textbooks and have co-authored another two published textbooks on various Animal Welfare topics such as Dictionary of Veterinary Anatomy, Physiology and Disease, Canine Psychology and Higher Brain Function and Animal First Aid are just a few.

Early this year, I began writing a learning module on the ‘History of Writing’ for the Victorian College of Literary Arts.  Commencing term one next year ( 2011) I began updating their Professional Writing and Poetry workshops.  I will also be involved in their blog posts.

I am currently completing an Arts degree with a double major – a four year program which I have been studying part time over eight (8) years.  I graduate next year 2011 which is very exciting. I have focused my units of study on writing and literature subjects.  On the creative writing side, I began submitting stories to publishers in early 2008.  Having been involved in academic writing for such a long time I was aware of how many aspects worked in the actual publishing and production process.  During mid 2008 I was lucky enough to obtain Sally Odgers’ details and began to submit my stories to her for assessment and editing.  The remainder of that year flew by very quickly.  Over the Melbourne cup weekend in 2008 I received a phone call advising me I had won a Children’s writing competition in the pre-school section.  I was just so excited and celebrated once my certificate arrived.    From there, I spoke with Sally over the phone regularly and during one conversation she offered me a mentorship of sorts.  Sally had said to me that she thought I had fantastic ideas and characters, however my run on sentences needed much work.  Sally took me under her wing and provided me with many writing workshop lessons which I have been studying in conjunction with my Arts degree.  Over the past two years I have had many children’s stories and poems published in anthologies.  I have also had children’s stories shortlisted in various competitions.

On 20 November I released a Haiku poetry book, Delightfully Haiku which I am really excited about.

What genres do you write in/or have written in?

I usually write in fantasy and science fiction for children.  I have also had poetry published for both adults and children.

Why did you decide to self publish your new book, Delightfully Haiku?

Delightfully Haiku is a collection of traditional Japanese Haiku Poetry which I have written over the past two years.  I had a specific book in mind.  A specific size that I wanted to market.  A ‘gift’ size that would fit in your handbag easily makes a wonderful gift for someone special.    I always have always loved Japanese culture and art therefore I decided that I wanted to have a cover that reflected  the Japanese culture.  I sourced an illustrator who has lived in Japan previously and understands the Japanese language.  Having discussed what I wanted the cover to portray in a painting, Matthew Shires began work on the cover.  I was really happy with Matthew’s drafts as they depicted exactly what I imagined the cover to look like.  Over a couple months these were perfected and completed.

Having independently published Delightfully Haiku allowed me to work on a time frame that I could manage and also allowed me the freedom of creativity which I enjoyed.  I love to ‘create’ I paint, draw, mosaic and anything ‘crafty’ so having the freedom to design the layout, format, size, cover and new website has really been a wonderful experience for me.

How did you get started, ie. how did you go about self publishing or gathering information?

Research, research and lots more research. Research into publishers, publishers/ printers and theirdifferent options.  Legal requirements, costings, marketing and every other aspect of bringing this book to life, I researched thoroughly.  I also received a lot of helpful advice from Helen Ross, Michael and Sylvie from BookPod, Sally Odgers and the Victorian Writers Centre to new a few people who have played a role in this process. The research took a good portion of twelve months.

How did you go about editing your work?

Sally Odgers edits and assesses all of my work. Sally has played a vital role in my journey as an author.  Sally has most certainly been a major influence and mentor.  I always run my ideas by Sally before producing drafts and send her first drafts for assessing.  Then polished ms are edited and changes made, back and forth we go – keeping us both very busy.  I would never send anything to a publisher that had not visited Sally’s desk first.

How long did the self publishing process or independent publishing take place ie. from the beginning to the printing of your books?

Well the poetry itself was a collection that I had written over a two year period.  Many of them were polished or slightly changed during the  process.  The process of text editing, working with the illustrator, format files for print, proofs and printing was about eight months.

What obstacles did you encounter during this process, if any?

The only real hurdle was ensuring the cover paintings could be formatted in the correct files for printing.  My illustrator, Matthew worked with the printers and design teams to achieve this.  It took some time, however we got there and the final product is well deserving of the wait.

How did you go about organising a printing company?

Research, research and loads more research.  I also used past testimonials.  I narrowed my selection down to four printers and each of them provided a detailed report of their quote and what they could provide me.  Three of the four have secure online shopping cart facilities which is great.  After receiving the four quotes, I contacted each of them to discuss the quote and any additional information and this also gave me the opportunity to determine how easy they may be to work with ie. their approachability and helpfulness.  After many appointments, quotes and discussions, I decided to place my book in trustworthy hands of Michael and Sylvie at BookPod in Melbourne.  They have been extremely helpful in the process of final design, production and even matters such as listings with Neilsen Book data and Global Books in Print.  Their ‘News Release’ and poster design have also been a fantastic addition to the overall production and marketing process.  Both Michael and Sylvie have been very approachable and friendly during the entire process.  I am very happy with my choice in BookPod.  I didn’t select the cheapest quote.  BookPod were more expensive but the service has been well worth it.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of self publishing or publishing independently?

There are many advantages such as setting the time frame, having a creative voice in the direction of the project (including trim size, paper and format design) and allowing the project to grow if the journey takes that path.   I guess the disadvantage would be the lack of professional marketers behind you.  Therefore, marketing is time consuming.  With multimedia facets used today in marketing the opportunity to market the product is only really limited by the imagination.  The internet allows access into every corner of the globe, which means a higher number of people have access to reading your work.

What was your biggest learning curve or is there anything that you would have done differently?

Thinking back over the past twelve months as the project took shape, I can honestly  say that I would not have  done anything differently.  I took my time and ensured I was really happy with each stage before proceeding forward.

What does successful self publishing or successful independent publishing mean to you?

Successful independent publishing to me does not have a dollar amount attached. I enjoyed the entire process and the direction the project can take.  Being a part of the Japanese Cultural Festival where the book made its first appearance was quite surreal in many ways.  I felt that I had achieved the production of a book successfully.  For the organisers to have contacted me and asking me to be a part of their workshops and show my book was a success in itself.  For me, successful writing is about people having the opportunity to read my work and enjoy it.    The more people; adults and children who read and enjoy my writing the more successful I feel it is.  If the print run sells then that is an extra bonus too as it can fund the next project!

What advice would you give other authors who are thinking about self publishing/publishing independently or setting up their own company?

Larger commercial publishers select very few manuscripts from new authors in today’s market so many authors I know have considered self publishing to get their name known.  However having said that, I would recommend thorough research into self publishing and ensuring every step is ‘QUALITY.’  There is no point in investing time and money and rushing a product ‘just to have a book published’ and the end result looking like something that has been slapped together in a home study with poor grammar and spelling.  This would not do your name any favours in future writing sales or with a commercial publisher.  Take your time, choose your illustrator carefully and work with them closely and ensure you have good communication, EDIT EDIT and Re EDIT by a professional editor.  Ensure you do lots of research into printers/publishers and get to know who is offering what and what best suits your book.  You can then feel happy that your book is professionally prepared and looks as good as any book in Borders.  Then you can enjoy your success.

What attributes do you feel are necessary to be a successful self publisher eg. determination, patience, organisation, sales and marketing experience, self belief,???

I feel all of those attributes are important to be successful.  Picking the books up from the printer doesn’t mean you will sell copies.  Time, carefully planning and yes some belief in yourself helps.    Books don’t have expiry dates so they don’t have to all be sold by a specific date.  Future print runs are very straight forward without set up costs and additional print time therefore everyone I am sure, wants at least one extra print run to  feel like the book has been a success.

Do you get involved in the marketing of your commercially published books? If yes, how do you promote your book? And do the commercial publishers assist you greatly in book promotion?  

Yes, I have been in charge of this facet of my book also.  Neilson Book Data and Global Books in Print were first on the list.  Advertising in writing journals and magazines have also been arranged and a blog/website has been set up.  Mass email and media kit drop offs have also been a major part of this marketing campaign.  There is time involved with these activities which I have learnt is a skill to perfect.  The writing community has also been very helpful in offering me blog appearances and requesting articles.

As you are commercially published, do you feel that the self publishing/independent publishing path has been easier for you? If so, in what way?

In many ways yes.  The time and creative control is of course something that is easier to do yourself as you have an image in your mind of how you want to book to be.  Both in final appearance and how it is portrayed.

Do you plan to self publish again in the future. If so, why?

Yes absolutely.  I have thoroughly enjoyed the process and there is a niche for specific titles.

What projects are you working on now? 

I always seem to have many projects on the go at any one time, in various stages.  Some need  time to develop in my mind and in research and others just come blurting out.  I have two projects lined up for 2011 (independently published).  I have also three chapter book manuscripts with commercial publishers at present.

What words best describe you?

Family, family, family and grateful, grateful and grateful!

Have you any other words of advice?

Enjoy your writing and be prepared to learn patience as it is a long process.  Research, writing, editing, submitting, waiting, rejection, re-submitting etc. can take years to see a piece of work in print.


And Donna, just to finish off,  could you just complete the following:  

At school I was … very quiet.  Spent most of my lunch breaks in the library.

When I was a child I wanted to be … happy.

I relax by  …  spending time with my family (I have three children), reading and outdoors.

Thanks Donna for taking us on your exciting journey, and speaking so candidly.


Delightfully Haiku can be purchased by clicking on the ‘Bookstore’ tab at Jelli-Beanz Publishing.




This week, I will be giving away a signed copy of Donna’s Delightfully Haiku, so stay tuned for details.


For further information about Donna:


Donna also has a great blog:

Jelli-Beanz Publishing’s blogsite is a creative space for children’s literature, book reviews, author interviews and chats, and upcoming news announcements.  Jelli-Beanz Publishing also runs competitions and games for children.

Jelli-Beanz Publishing is a division of Applied Learning Australia Pty Ltd.

For further information on Matthew Shires:

Don’t forget to drop by my blog mid week to find out how to win a signed copy of Donna’s new book, Delightfully Haiku.

And if you missed this:

I recently dropped by Jelli-Beanz Publishing’s  blog. If you missed my chat with Donna please click on:

Helen Ross interviews Donna Smith Copyright  5 December 2010