FAQs

Here are my answers to some questions from readers:

Q: Did this stuff really happen?
A: Swashbuckler is a story about imaginary people, mostly doing imaginary things, set against real-life events in history. Sometimes Lily, Hussein and the crew do get caught up in things that actually happened.
Napoleon really did take over Malta, Admiral Nelson chased him all over the sea and finally defeated the French fleet in the Battle of the Nile, and the Maltese people fought bravely against the invasion of their islands. You can read more about real life in the Mediterranean here.

Q: Will Lily and Carlo get married one day?
A: Lily’s got enough going on for the moment, don’t you think? What with being kidnapped and turning into a pirate and trying to find her father and everything…

Q: Were there really girl pirates?
A: There were many women sailors and pirates, including a few girls who disguised themselves as boys and even joined the Navy. Some of the most famous women pirates were Grace O’Malley, the pirate queen of Ireland, and Cheng I Sao, who was admiral of a huge fleet of ships in the China Sea. Anne Bonney and Mary Read were pirates of the Caribbean.

Q: Are Lily and the others real people?
A: The only real people mentioned are General Napoleon Bonaparte, later to become Emperor of France, and Admiral Horatio Nelson (who makes a brief appearance in Book Three, The Silver Swan). Everyone else is a figment of our imaginations.
The Knights of Malta, the renegades, and the Barbary corsairs all existed, as of course did pirates of many nationalities, but not the characters in the stories. Although you never know.
There really was a pirate called Captain Swan and he had a ship called The Cygnet. He lived about hundred years before the time that this story is set, and sailed in the Caribbean, South America and across the Pacific. William Dampier was the navigator on The Cygnet – he became the first Englishman to set foot on the continent of Australia, so I learned all about The Cygnet when I was at school.


Q: Can I go to the places where the story happened?

A: You can’t go to Lily’s island of Santa Lucia, I’m afraid, because I made it up. The same goes for the Golden Grotto, and some of the places where the Mermaid anchors.
But if you visit or live in Malta, the Old City (Mdina), the Inland Sea, and the Grand Harbour with its fortress cities are real and all as marvellous as ever, and the Knights’ watchtowers are still standing proudly on every headland.
Some things I had invented turned out to be true – there really are secret tunnels under the fortress cities on the Grand Harbour, for example, although I didn’t realise that when I was first writing the story. During World War 2, when Malta was being bombed to pieces by Italian and German planes, people used the Knights’ old tunnels as bomb shelters. If you are in Malta, you can see some tunnels at the wonderful Casa Rocca Piccola or under Fort St Angelo.

Q: What’s your favourite colour?
A: The blue of the ocean off the cliffs of Gozo, near the Inland Sea.


Q: What do you like most about being a writer?

A: I start work early, but I get to stay in pyjamas until 11am because nobody can see me. And while I sit at my desk, I can go anywhere in the world, and anywhere in time – in my head.

Q: Are there any books you wish you had written?
A: I wish I’d written Margaret Mahy’s The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate. In fact, I wish I’d written several of her books. The same goes for Rosemary Sutcliff.
Mary Hoffman’s Stravaganza. Lian Hearn’s Otori trilogy. Carrie’s War. Catherine Jinks’ Pagan Chronicles. (Then there’s Harry Potter, but I guess everyone wishes they’d written those books!)
But of course, nobody else can write your stories but you. Nobody sees things or writes things the way you do, and no two people have exactly the same ideas or words.
Sometimes I read a passage in a book, or a poem, that is so good, it almost makes me cry or shout out loud. I might wish that I wrote it, but secretly I’m glad I got to be the one who reads and loves it.

Q: Who are your favourite characters in your book?
A: Well, Lily is really my deep-down favourite, but mostly I love the Maltese characters Carlo, and the brothers Francesco and Ricardo, because they are honest and funny and brave – and I never know what they’ll do next.

Q:Kids weren’t pirates – were they?
A: Absolutely. John King was 11 when pirates captured the ship he and his mother were sailing on in the Caribbean. As he watched the pirates haul off the cargo of sugar and tobacco, John made a decision: he would leave his mother and join the pirate crew, led by Captain Sam Bellamy.
Now, 290 years later, John’s remains have been found in the wreck of Bellamy’s ship, the Whydah, 460 metres off the coast of Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Historians and archaeologists know that teenage pirates were common in the 18th century, but John is considered to be the youngest ever identified.

To ask more questions, leave a comment below.

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