All aboard, me hearties! Karla Brading has been talking to Lancashire lass Susan Brownrigg about her recent swashbuckling release, Kintana And The Captain’s Curse, illustrated by the talented Jenny Czerwonka.
Growing up with an ex-pirate for a father leads to a life full of stories on the high seas, making it somewhat inevitable that Kintana would crave the wilds of the waves, instead of the comfort of their family pet shop. Mistaken for a cabin boy, she settles into her newfound duties aboard a pirate ship dense with wildlife, mischief, and secrets. There’s talk of a curse. And treasure. But is any of it real?
So, if Kintana And The Captain’s Curse’s author Susan Brownrigg were a pirate in the world she’s created, which animal sidekick would she see herself pairing with and why?
“It is really difficult to choose just one animal from Madagascar!” she confesses. “I was quite tempted to choose one of the lemurs – the sifaka – which sometimes can be seen bouncing along the floor on its long legs. In the end, I’ve decided on the male giraffe-necked weevil! The male’s neck is two to three times longer than the female. It uses it to fight off competitors and also to roll a leaf to the female so she can use it as an egg case. The weevil would be a great talking point, and it would be easy to carry around and look after. Like many of Madagascar’s species it is found nowhere else in the world…”
What drew Susan to a pirate setting and having a pirate’s daughter as a protagonist?
“I grew up in the 1980s, and I especially loved a Disney film called Blackbeard’s Ghost and a computer game all about pirates called Monkey Island!” she explains. “I think childhood passions feed into an author’s subconscious, so when I first tried writing for children, I chose a pirate theme. When I was researching the history of pirates, I discovered that they had their own dominion in Madagascar. I already had a love of the island’s animals – I worked for a summer season at Blackpool Zoo alongside lemurs, a giant tortoise, and hissing cockroaches! – so the idea of combining pirates and wildlife really inspired me.
“I was particularly keen to have a girl pirate in my book. When I was growing up there wasn’t a lot of choice in reading material – it was pretty much Enid Blyton – and the girls in them were sometimes pushed into the background when it came to adventure. I wanted my girl character to be smart and active. And there were girl pirates: Anne Bonny and Mary Read are the two best known.”
Since Susan’s debut book Gracie Fairshaw And The Mysterious Guest, how has writing Kintana… compared? Were there any new challenges, or any familiar ones?
“One of the main challenges was writing about a time further back in history and much further away from home. Gracie… is set in Blackpool, 1935, so living in Lancashire I was able to visit when I wanted to research something about the resort; there was lots of contemporary information available about the Illuminations switch-on that year from a newspaper archive at the local history centre. Kintana… is set on Nosy Boraha in 1733, so there were less first-hand sources available and I had to do my research virtually.
“I am a working-class Lancashire lass, like Gracie, so putting myself in her shoes was relatively straightforward. Kintana is the daughter of a Malagasy woman and an English pirate, so I wanted to ensure I accurately represented her heritage. Very generously, members of the Anglo-Malagasy society and the Ambassador of Madagascar read my book and gave me very helpful advice.”
What is Susan’s favourite part of the writing process?
“I don’t plot in advance, so I have to do a lot of editing as I go and at the end of my finished first draft. I really enjoy making my story stronger by going back over my book, moving scenes, cutting characters and adding in more foreshadowing. Once you have words on a page it is always easier to move forward.”
And what’s next for the author of such a colourful and mysterious pirate adventure?
“I have a second Gracie Fairshaw book – Trouble At The Tower – out in October! This time Gracie and her friends have to work out who is trying to sabotage the Blackpool Tower’s children’s ballet Christmas show. I will be continuing with lots of school visits (hopefully in person next term) and will be working on my third Gracie adventure…”
Clearly there’s a lot on Susan’s deck – and we look forward to it unfolding. G’aaaaaar! Now pass me the rum!
Kintana And The Captain’s Curse is published by Uclan Publishing. Price: £7.99. Info: www.susanbrownrigg.com
words KARLA BRADING
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