Kerryn Boogaard Kerryn Boogaard
Beverly Goldsmith Beverly Goldsmith
Zoe Bingley-Pullin Zoe Bingley-Pullin

Ninja on a health mission with children’s book:

Tiffiny Hall is "between schools", driving across Sydney in a white taekwondo uniform and preparing to break boards with another class of girls.
Date: September 13 2012
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It's all "very active, very loud and so much fun", Hall says. In other words, not your typical author tour - but then, the blonde martial arts expert is not your typical children's author.

Hall, one-time Gladiator and weight-loss guru on The Biggest Loser, is promoting White Ninja, her children's book about a 13-year-old loser called Roxy Ran who is transformed when she discovers she is a ninja.

It's hard to imagine Hall, with her amazonian good looks (though she is a petite 164cm tall), ever had anything in common with bullied, self-conscious Roxy.

"No," Hall admits. "But Roxy deals with bullying and she deals with not fitting in - and I think that every child can relate to being a bit different.

"I went to school with ballerinas and gymnasts and girls who were into netball - and I was into contact sports. I was always a bit different.

"My parents would pick me up from school in their taekwondo uniforms. Both my parents were martial artists, and they saw nothing wrong with that - but I was mortified."

Hall, 28, was educated at Melbourne's Lowther Hall Anglican Grammar School, where she was taught English by John Marsden, author of bestselling books such as Tomorrow When The War Began. Now Marsden is calling his former pupil "THE new voice in children's fiction".

Hall says Marsden was an "amazing" teacher who inspired her to become a writer by the way he taught her to be curious and experiment with language: "It was mind-blowing having that freedom and that encouragement."

She always wanted to write fiction but says "it's taken a long time and a lot of odd jobs to support myself to get to this stage".

Those odd jobs have included stints as a martial arts teacher, as "Angel" in the Seven Network's revival of Gladiators, as Chrissie Swan's weight-loss coach on Network Ten's The Circle, and as a mentor on The Biggest Loser. For this last job, Hall had to spend a week eating what her charges ate - a difficult retox for a Fifth Dan taekwondo black belt whose previous books are called Weightloss Warrior and Fatloss For Good.

In late 2010, shortly before she began work on The Biggest Loser, Hall signed a four-book fiction contract with HarperCollins. She squeezed in writing around weigh-ins and filming.

White Ninja, the first book in a trilogy, is informed by Hall's belief that health and fitness are closely linked to self-esteem.

"All the contestants on The Biggest Loser lacked that confidence," she says.

Hall wants to "empower kids to be confident" and loves discussing her book's themes with children.

"It's really important, I think, having a strong female heroine who kicks butt and discovers confidence. I think there are some really strong messages in the book and the kids are really responding to it."

Hall's parents run taekwondo schools across Melbourne. Her father Martin coached Lauren Burns, who won a gold medal at the Sydney Olympics, and her mother Jeanette was one of Australia's first female black belts.

Hall, who began learning at four, says taekwondo gave her confidence and friends and filled her head with "the magic of legends and philosophies of the ancient martial arts".

Rather than aim for the Olympics, Hall studied journalism and creative writing at the University of Melbourne, then became a freelance journalist and TV personality.

Is she ever worried she's thought of more as a blonde than a brain?

"No, I don't think so, because I've always been in a taekwondo uniform covered up. It's been about sport and the functionality of my body," she says, adding resignedly: "There's stereotypes, but there's stereotypes in anything."

Hall's passion for healthy living looms large on the page and in her conversation.

She is saddened by the epidemic of childhood obesity.

"Kids come and do a class and then their parents reward them with chocolate straight after. It's heart-breaking."

"The kids she meets are `awesome', she says, but parents need to do their bit to develop a `family culture' of healthy living."

She tells children "they only get one body and one chance". Do they get the message?

"I think they do - and they know the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy choice. And that's all I'm talking to them about - it's about cleansing their bodies, not clogging their bodies up with bad choices and junk - and that junk extends to ... junk thoughts, junk influences and junk food."

Her own regimen is "all about balance", but she says her boyfriend, radio and TV personality Ed Kavalee, is "much more disciplined" than she is.

"I don't believe in any food fads or trends. I just eat healthy ... and exercise hard. I'm not a vegetarian. I don't drink soft drink - that's one rule. I just keep balanced."

Apart from rest of the Roxy Ran trilogy, Hall has another book waiting in the wings - a young adult novel that she describes as a "paranormal romance ... about a girl who falls in love with her guardian angel". It's due out in 2014.

In the meantime she is open to more TV work - so long as it fits in with her writing schedule. Right now she is editing White Ninja's sequel, Red Samurai, due out next April.

What's behind the appeal of ninjas?

"I think because ninjas can be invisible, they can fly, there's so much mythology around them," she says. "And they have that ancient enemy of the samurai with the swords: it's that dichotomy of good versus evil which kids just love."

* White Ninja, by Tiffiny Hall, is published by HarperCollins, RRP $12.99

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