You never expect life to change while you are watching paint dry, but that’s exactly what happened to me. One minute I was trying to decide if the living room wall really needed another coat of magnolia and the next Pirate Gran had bounded into my brain, and refused to leave until I had written her down.
I thought eureka moments happened to other people. But there was Pirate Gran – as large as life and twice as naughty – demanding to be let loose on the world. She was irresistibly funny and feisty, and what’s more she very thoughtfully brought her story with her.
I’m sure there are writers whose brains ache with the effort of imagining what happens next… But I could see Pirate Gran as clearly as I could see, well as clearly as I could see that magnolia paint, and somehow I knew exactly what she and her silly shipmates had been up to.
It was as if she had always existed and we had just bumped into each other at last. After Gran’s first adventure won a BBC competition to encourage parents to read with their children, the National Maritime Museum asked me to write a longer version of her story for publication. I had been to school in Greenwich so I knew the museum very well and over the past six years I have loved being able to support the great work they do in preserving our maritime heritage.
Working with illustrator Rose Forshall has been good fun too. With her red curls, her striped stockings and her pet crocodile, Rose captured Gran exactly as I had seen her in my head and since we first met we have very much enjoyed working on two subsequent titles together.
Our latest book Pirate Gran and the Monsters was chosen as one of the books featured in the 2013 UK Libraries Summer Reading Scheme under the umbrella title Creepy House.
So over a few months children all over the country were reading about the adventures of Pirate Gran and her potty pirates which are a bit scary – but not so scary you’d be afraid to go to bed with the lights off afterwards.
And thanks to the brilliant Scamp Theatre company, who specialise in adapting children’s literature for the stage, a musical version of her adventures, Pirate Gran on Stage, will be touring the country this spring as part of an Arts Council project to bring live theatre to children nationwide.
As a journalist, I have interviewed many authors in my career including Salman Rushdie, Christopher Robin Milne and P L Travers who wrote the Mary Poppins books. But I never imagined that one day I’d be a children’s writer myself – or what fun it would be to put on my pirate coat and my pirate hat, and take my parrot puppet to meet a roomful of small readers.
People often ask me where the inspiration for Pirate Gran came from and I always say she is mainly autobiographical – like my book Two Bad Grans – Instead of a pensioner pirate this one is about the two worst old women in the world. They behave disgracefully until they become grannies, when they realise that “when you’re a Granny you have to be GOOD, and start to behave as all good grannies SHOULD…”
They always say you should write about what you know. So if I seem to know rather a lot about naughty old ladies, you can probably draw you own conclusions about me…