Q & A with pirates David Long & Harry Bloom

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It’s International Talk Like a Pirate Day on the 19th September and we thought it was the perfect opportunity to make pirates David Long and Harry Bloom walk the Q&A plank! Author David and illustrator Harry make up the creative team behind Wide Eyed Editions’ new book, Pirates Magnified, an innovative new search-and-find history book that comes with its very own detachable 3x magnifying glass so kids can really examine history up close. We also have some fun pirate activity sheets for you, including Design Your Own Pirate Flag, Colour in the Pirate Crew and Design Your Own Pirate Ship Sail, perfect for celebrating International Talk Like a Pirate Day!

So, will David and Harry be saved from the briny depths? Let’s find out… up first is pirate David.

1) Pirates continue to capture the imagination of children of all ages. Why do you think they are always so popular?
Because they are bad but glamorous, a bit like highwaymen.

2) How did you go about researching for the book? Did you already have a list in your head of the famous pirates you wanted to feature or did you discover new ones along the way?
I’ve always love the romantic idea of pirates so, yes, I had all sorts of ideas before I sat down to write.

3) Out of all the pirates you’ve written about in the book, who is your favourite and why?
Oh, that’s difficult I love them all, I think, but probably because I’ve never met one!

4) James Ford sounds like an interesting character; a law-abiding businessman by day but turning to piracy at night. Can you tell me a bit more about him?
Well he’s a long way from being your usual dashing swashbuckler with a sword but probably there were a lot of people like him who appeared outwardly respectable but had a whole different life after dark. He was a criminal but this far away in terms of time he too seems almost romantic.

5) Tell us a fascinating fact from the book that we may not know about pirates.
Well I think the main thing – the point of the book, really – is that they were clever. They had to be good seamen, expert navigators, or else they’d come a cropper.

6) How did you get into writing children’s books? Do you find it easier or harder writing for children?
More or less by accident. I’d researched and written a very detailed book about animals in wartime and it occurred to me (and my agent) that some of the stories in it would be perfect for a young audience. Not all of them have happy endings, but they are incredibly moving. Children are the best audience because if they’re reading the book you know they really like it.

7) What’s your favourite part of the job?
I think I like researching the information and then telling stories in a way which is historically true but properly engaging. Also I get to spend all day at home in Suffolk which beats commuting.

8) International Talk Like a Pirate Day is on the 19th September. Will ye be off sailing the seven seas or do ye have other plans?
I’ll be hard at work on my next book, I’m afraid, which is about Ancient Egypt.

9) We need some tips for the day so let’s finish with your top 5 pirate insults ye filthy bilge rat?
Here goes:
1) Swab the deck ye lily-livered scurvy dog
2) You grog-snarfing privateer
3) You yellow bellied hog’s head
4) I’ll feed thee to the sharks ye lice infested worm
5) A black spot upon thee ye hammock hogging hog

About David Long: David was the winner of the 2016 Blue Peter Book Award, and is an experienced writer and public-speaker who specialises in history. He has written for The Sunday TimesThe Times, the Sunday Mirror, the London Evening Standard and the Sunday People.

Now, it’s Harry’s turn to walk the Q&A plank…

1) Your incredibly detailed illustrations really get across the hustle-and-bustle of pirate life. How long does each page take you?
It can take a while and requires a bit of patience. I think being a little bit of a perfectionist with my own erks and qwerks probably means things take longer than usual but when everything finally comes together it’s really rewarding!

2) Can you explain the process?
I start by doing a couple of really rough layouts, once I’ve settled on a good ‘skeleton’ for the piece I work it up into a more detailed pencil sketch featuring everything specific to the scene. I work on this at A2 so I can scale it down on the computer to achieve a little more detail. I then ink it in on a lightbox and we’re ready for scanning! Once it’s digitised I amend all the rogue lines, wonky eyes and move a few elements around to ensure everything’s sitting just right. From there I’ll work around a palette I have for the project and colour the piece in. The final touch is to add a few extra details here and there and suddenly everything melds together and springs to life!

3) Did you have to do a lot of research whilst you were illustrating the book to make sure all the pictures were as authentic as possible?
David Long and the people at Wide Eyed Editions provide me with a brief for each illustration that includes visual references and some historical guidance for the piece. I’ve also collected my own archive of reference material through museum visits and research that help adds some extra flair and authenticity to the work. As I draw everything up I liaise with the publishers and David to double check that we’ve ticked the right boxes and everything remains as factual as possible.

4) All of the spreads are amazing but do you have a personal favourite?
As I was working through the book each spread I finished became my new favourite so in a way there are elements in every page that I really enjoy! For me one of the most interesting aspects of the book is finding funny little scenes in each spread, be it a skeleton climbing out of a coffin, a dancing pig or even an octopus having a sword fight! However if I had to pick a favourite I think the last page ‘Treasure Hunters’ is particularly fun! I love the interplay between the sealife, the divers and the wreck.

5) Can you tell us about your journey to becoming an illustrator?
Way back when in primary school I created a giant illustration of a space battle complete with warring armies, moon bases and space stations. Every wet break I’d illustrate and tape on another a4 page to the scene. Looking back now it seems a pretty clear precursor to what I’d end up doing professionally.

My final project at university was along a similar line and featured three illustrations that all connected together. The piece focused on a busier, crowd scene and would help guide my practice as i moved into the freelance world beyond university.

After graduating I moved to London and worked a day job, taking on illustration projects as and when they’d come through. My first big break was illustrating ‘Where’s Mo?’ to coincide with the 2012 Olympics. Shortly after that I worked on series of ‘Spot the Gunnersaurus’ illustrations for Arsenal Football Club. These projects got me a bit of airtime on social media and helped set the ball rolling for future commissions. From there I’ve worked on editorial, advertising and publishing projects, things just snowballed. At the moment I’m coming to the end of a series of eight busy illustrations for Scouts UK that all fit together into one giant scene, sound familiar?

6) What does a typical day look like for you? As the work is so detailed, do you need lots of breaks or do you find yourself engrossed in what you’re working on?
A typical day starts at around 9-10am, I have a studio at home so luckily there’s no commute! I’ll work through any admin/e-mails that need seeing to then get straight down to the drawing. From there I work pretty solidly and use the gaps in Radio 4 programming as a guide for when to eat lunch or make a cup of tea. I tend to find working in the evening and into the night the most productive time as there are fewer distractions but sometimes you’ve got to put a pin in things and take a step back otherwise you can quickly find yourself working 12 hours a day 7 days a week!

 7) Are you allowed to tell us what’s next in the pipeline for you?
I’m currently working on a follow up to ‘Pirates Magnified’, that’s taking up most of my time at the moment. The next book will be about Ancient Egypt, a period that I was fascinated by as a child so it’s really exciting to be able to illustrate its history!

8) If you could be one of the pirates from the book, which one would you choose to be and why?
I think for the pure mystery of his legacy I’d have to choose Olivier Levasseur. He’s known for hiding one of the largest hoards of treasure in pirate history and leaving a cryptogram behind containing it’s whereabouts. At his execution he threw a necklace containing the cryptogram into the crowd exclaiming, ‘find my treasure, the one who may understand it!’ That was nearly 300 years ago and whilst many have tried no one has been able to decipher the note or uncover his riches…yet.

9) What be ye up to ye scurvy seadog on International Talk Like a Pirate Day?
Chilling on the poop deck. Yo, ho ho!

About Harry Bloom: Harry is a freelance illustrator based in London. He specialises in creating detailed illustrations for children’s books. His titles include Where’s Father Christmas? and Where’s Mo? Pirates Magnified is his first book for Wide Eyed Editions. Follow Harry on  @Bloom_Harry |http://harrybloom.tumblr.com/

Pirates Magnified, by David Long and Harry Bloom is available now, published by Wide Eyed Editions.