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Kids' Q&A

John Matthews

Describe your latest project.
Pirates is a book that tells you all you need to know about these amazing people and the world they lived in. It describes what it must have been like to be a pirate, to live in a time when the sight of a black skull and crossbones flag sent a shiver of fear down the spine. It describes the hardships and difficulties that went hand-in-hand with spending most of your life on a ship at sea. It talks about the sickness and the wounds that pirates suffered from and the grisly ways these were treated. It's full of exciting pictures of real-life pirates and fictional ones. It describes what kind of weapons they had — everything from pistols and cutlasses to cannon and grenades — and the kind of ships they sailed in. It tells you about some of the famous pirates and what they were like, how much treasure they got and where they might have hidden it. And it tells you of the grisly end that awaited many of them — usually dancing the hempen jig at the end of a rope. So whether you like pirates because you've just seen Pirates of the Caribbean for the sixth time and think Captain Jack Sparrow is the best pirate ever (I know I do!); or whether you've read Treasure Island and want to know more about characters like Long John Silver and his rascally gang, there's something for you in this book. I know I really enjoyed writing it and I hope you get as much fun out of reading it.

  1. Pirates
    $4.95 Used Hardcover add to wishlist


    John Matthews

If you could choose any story to live in, which story would it be? Why?
I would have to say The Lord the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, because it's simply one of the best books ever written and tells a story so exciting that I can't imagine anyone not wanting to be part of it. Imagine being able to visit the elves in Lothlorian and talk to the lady Galadriel, or spend some time with Gandalf the Wizard, or King Aragorn, or sit in the Prancing Pony in Bree and drink a tankard of their foaming ale while talking about the strange goings-on in the East. I first read Lord of the Rings when I was about twelve and I've read it again probably twenty times or more over the years, and it still excites me. I'm lucky enough to live in the city of Oxford, England, where professor Tolkien, who wrote books, also used to live, and sometimes when I drive round the countryside near my home I feel as if I'm in the Shire where Bilbo and Frodo Baggins lived and where all their adventures began. One day soon I hope to visit New Zealand, where the movie versions of the books were shot, because I think that is as near as you can get to visiting Middle Earth.

Introduce one other author/illustrator you think people should read, and suggest a good book by him/her.
The most exciting author I've discovered over the last ten years is Philip Pullman, who wrote the His Dark Materials trilogy. These are just full of wonderful adventures and ideas and some of the best characters I've run across anywhere. They tell the story of Lyra and Will, two children from parallel worlds whose paths cross again and again. They have wonderful adventures with aviators, gypsies, and — my favourites — the armoured bears that help Lyra defeat their enemies. Along the way they after deal with some pretty adult problems, and that means the books aren't always easy or comfortable to read, but when you get the end of the final volume you really feel as though they have changed you. They're wonderful, challenging and uplifting books, like nothing else you'll ever read.

What is your favorite literary first line?
My favourite first line is actually from the first book of the His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. It goes: "Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening Hall...." The author said that when he got that line he knew he was on the track of a great story, and I think it's pretty much the same when you read it — you know you're in for an exciting read. You immediately want to know who Lyra is, and even more, what a daemon is?

What was your favorite story as a child?
My favourite childhood read was The Three Musketeers by Alexander Dumas. I just loved all those sword fights and dramatic rescues and secret plans. Dumas was a wonderful writer who invented some unforgettable characters and situations. I still remember how much I loved one of the first scenes in the book where the hero, D'Artagnon, has to fight duels with three people, one after the other. In the end he makes friends with all three, and they end up fighting a common enemy. Wonderful stuff — full of colour, excitement and history.

What is your idea of bliss?
There are two things that make me feel blissed out! One is watching my son, Emrys, who's a budding actor and singer, performing in some of the many shows he's been in recently. While I was writing Pirates he got to play the Major General in Gilbert and Sullivan's wildly funny show, Pirates of Penzance. Now there was a coincidence! And what a night to remember! This year he goes off to drama school, so I look forward to a lot more bliss watching him sing and act in loads of great shows.

The other bliss-making thing for me is spending time on a movie set. I got to do that recently when I worked in the movie King Arthur. It was the best thing to watch the actors and filmmakers working to produce the magical event that is a movie, and to watch it afterwards and see all the things we had worked so hard to make happen.

Why do you write books for kids?
I write books for kids for the same reasons that I read them. Kids' literature is full of the best ideas and the best writing and the best characters you'll find just about anywhere. And the best thing of all, for me, is that the story always comes first — before the characters, before the ideas. Stories have excited me for as long as I can remember, since I first learned to read, and I still read as much as I have time to — most often kid's literature. I've written a lot of books for adults but now I seem to be doing more and more for kids. Can't get enough of it!

Who are your favorite characters in history?
Well, some of my favourite characters in history are Pirates of course: men like Blackbeard, Henry Morgan, or Calico Jack Rackham. Or the women pirates like Anne Bonny and Mary Reade. They weren't good people — in fact some of them were very cruel and greedy — but they lived extraordinary lives, and some of their adventures are as exciting as anything dreamed up by writers of fiction. I also love the Celts, because they were an extraordinary and colourful people and because they loved stories, and battles, and heroes, and singing. Celtic myths and legends include some of the greater stories ever told, and still inspire writers in our own time.

If you could pick anyone to illustrate one of your books, who would it be and why? Conversely, if you're an illustrator, for what author would you like to illustrate?
If I could choose one illustrator to work with it would be Alan Lee. He did all those wonderful drawings for The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, and he worked on the movies of the books. He and I have been friends for years and we often talk about doing a book together — maybe some great collection of stories about King Arthur. Maybe one day we'll get to do it. I hope so anyway. spacer

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