I've had quite a few emails since 'The Pirate Cruncher' was published, asking me where I get my ideas, and how I find reference.
My ideas come from all the things I experience in life. Just like everyone, the inside of my head is a mish-mash of all the places I've been, the people I've met, books I've read, films I've watched, animals I've seen, museums I've visited, conversations I've had, and dreams I can still remember when I wake up. They all get jumbled up in my head. Sometimes they emerge as daft conversations, sometimes as doodles in my sketchbook and sometimes they trickle out as ideas for a story. Everyone's head has a different jumble of ingredients, but we can all have daft conversations, draw doodles and make up stories. I'm just very lucky that I can do it for a living.
With 'The Pirate Cruncher' it was slightly different. I didn't have to make much up, because I used to be a pirate. I may not have been the usual marauding, ship-attacking, rum-guzzling, salty sea dog you might expect, but I did live and work aboard a square-rig ship for almost a year. I dressed up in old-fashioned clothes, climbed the rigging and sailed the seas. We took kids on board to educate them in the ways of the waves, drank some rum (but not too much), waved our swords occasionally, fired the cannons at nothing in particular, clambered aloft for film crews making movies and beer adverts, and lazed about on deck in the sun. So it was almost like being a real pirate, minus the looting, prosthetic limbs and gibbets.
Eventually I jumped ship in Dublin, because the ship's cook didn't like my vegetarian ways, and Dublin was quite close to my Mum and Dad's house in North Wales. but I still fondly remember my days at sea. And just to prove I'm no fibbing landlubber, here are some photos....
The 'Santa Maria' moored in Charlestown, Cornwall. The ship was actually called the Phoenix, but was rebuilt to look like Columbus' Santa Maria for the movie '1492: Conquest of Paradise'. I lived on a small bunk below decks for a few months, as we sailed between Bristol, Cornwall, London, Chatham and Brighton.
The Captain even let me steer the ship! This was sailing from Cornwall to London in March 1995. I'm using a compass to navigate which you can see in front of me, alongside the very distracting bar of chocolate. Everybody knows that pirates love chocolate. That's why they hung about in Central America, had bad teeth, big pot bellies and suffered from scurvy. Fortunately I don't have scurvy yet, and have never been to Central America.
This is me dangling aloft on the Santa Maria, rubbing tallow on the chains and tackle. Tallow is congealed lamb fat which is used to make sure all the ropes and chains and moving bits run smoothly and don't rust, and I was usually asked to do this job because I was a vegetarian and it got right up my nose. Grrr.
In the summer of 1995 we set sail for Ireland aboard the Kaskelot, and met up with another ship, the Earl of Pembroke. We made a couple of films; 'Kidnapped' (a TV movie with Armand Assante), and 'Moll Flanders' with Morgan Freeman. It was a lovely hot summer and I drank a lot of Guinness.
I got dressed up a lot and scurried about the rigging for the cameras. This is me on the bowsprit (the long bit that sticks out the front), doing nothing in particular, but if you ever see 'Kidnapped' I actually got to coil a rope on camera too. They should probably have asked a more experienced sea dog than me...
Here's what it looks like 'aloft' whilst 'furling' sails. Before I worked on the ships I wasn't too keen on heights, but after a few weeks I loved climbing the rigging, and often took my camera up with me to take snaps. "Look, no hands!" I'd say and all the proper pirates would 'tut' and tell me to get on with some furling, to stop colouring in and eat some meat. 'Eat Yer Greens!' I'd say, because pirates would've been much healthier and less prone to scurvy if they'd eaten more fruit, eaten less goat's heads, drank less rum and visited their dentist once in a while.