David Long and Harry Bloom's PIRATES MAGNIFIED

International Talk Like a Pirate Day is September 19th and I have a whale of a treat for you to help celebrate it! Award-winning author David Long and illustrator Harry Bloom recently teamed up on a swashbuckling search-and-find adventure that lets you see history up close and personal! They sailed by to share their process behind this compendium of fun facts, stories and pirate trivia!
e: What is your creative process and medium, can you walk us through it?
It’s not tremendously complicated. Mostly I write the sort of books I like to read, in more than one case when I found that no-one else had done it yet, or the ones I wish I’d been able to read to my own children when they were young enough to want me to do this. I start early in the morning and work until I’ve had enough (or feel I’ve done enough) - which is usually mid-afternoon - and work on a laptop. Always have, my writing is far too poor to write anything out longhand and I find it easier thinking with a screen in front of me - and no distractions, other than the cat.
Harry: I start by doing a couple of rough layouts, once I’ve settled on a good ‘skeleton’ for the piece I work it up into a more detailed pencil sketch featuring everything specific to the scene. If I’m working on a piece that features a large crowd I’ll focus on adding people doing specific activities or having interactions first and then cement them together with your ‘Average Joe’. Once everything’s got the thumbs up I’ll ink it in on a lightbox and we’re ready for scanning. Once it’s digitised I amend all the rogue lines, wonky eyes and move a few elements around to ensure everything’s sitting just right. From there I’ll work around a palette I have for the project and colour the piece in. The final touch is to add a few extra details here and there and suddenly everything melds together and springs to life!
e: Were there special challenges with this project? (There's so much detail!)
Not especially, except that a lot of the detail had to be researched rather than written to form the basis of Harry's illustrations which are unusually busy. I mean, there’s a lot going on in there that isn’t necessarily in the text.
Harry: One of the challenges was ensuring we kept the book as factual as possible. David Long and the guys at Wide Eyed Editions would provide a brief with reference material and guidance on things like apparel, weapons and ships. I also compiled my own resource pack that I could reference as I drew up a spread. Occasionally we’d have to make tweaks here or there but for the most part its helped to make the book a lot more engaging. (Click the image to see a larger version in a new window.)
e: For Harry - What do you think makes an illustration magical, what I call "Heart Art” - the sort that makes a reader want to come back to look again and again?
I think for me ‘Heart Art’ can be a couple of things. Firstly, images that encourage repeat viewing, images that when you take the time and look a little closer reveal things you hadn’t seen before. I think this helps immerse you in the piece and has been used to great effect by artists such as Bruegel and Lowry and into the modern day with Martin Handford’s ubiquitous Where’s Wally. I also see ‘Heart Art’ as being narrative driven. Often images that resonate with us go hand in hand with great ideas and stories. The illustration in books such as Beatrix Potter, Rupert the Bear and Winnie the Pooh catch our imaginations but are all stories which we can relate to in some form or another.
e: Is there a unique or funny story behind the creation of this book?
Hmm, I don’t think so, except that by the end of it I had more regard for pirates than I had at the start. Obviously they were criminals but they needed to be skilled to survive, which I like, and it was hard times for everyone so we need to make allowances for that. Also a pirate’s life was often better than that of an ordinary sailor in the Royal Navy so without getting too involved in the morality of the situation one can see why many chose to sail on ‘the dark side’.
Harry: I’d like to say I counted how many little people I drew throughout the book but I lost count along the way. I’m sure if I added them up I’d hit some sort of milestone. Perhaps a reader who has a lot of time on their hands can let me know! (Click the image to see a larger version in a new window.)
e: What was the path to publication for this book?
I’d already worked with the publisher, on a lovely book called The Diary of a Time Traveller which was translated into quite a few foreign languages, and so my agent and I both had a relationship with the publisher which made things easier when it came to discussing a new idea and working through it.
Harry: Back in 2012 I worked on my first ‘search and find’ book based around the London 2012 Olympics. That was followed up a year later with a Christmas themed ‘search and find’ and a series of illustrations for Arsenal football club entitled, ‘Where’s the Gunnersaurus’. These projects helped drive my illustration towards focusing on bigger crowd scenes and over time my practice began to snowball. Wide Eyed editions had seen my work and were looking to create a new non-fiction history book for children. They had been in conversation with Author David Long about creating a book about pirates and felt big, immersive illustrations would be a perfect fit. They wanted the book to be detailed, fun and factual and were eager to have an interactive twist, a magnifying glass – something that I as a child would have been enthralled by. From there we met up, discussed the project in detail and set about drawing up a preliminary spread to make sure we were on the right lines. Luckily we got the thumbs up and the rest is history! (Click the image to see a larger version in a new window.)
e: What is your favorite or most challenging part of being a creator?
I like working alone at home, commuting is such a waste of time and I can’t bear office life, and I suppose the biggest challenge is getting down to it each morning rather than thinking ‘I’ll start it tomorrow’. Fortunately I love writing, and the research needed to do this, so I don’t really need someone standing over me saying Do This Now.
Harry: I think my favourite part is coming up with fresh ideas and taking on new projects. There’s a rush of excitement and creativity that comes with the possibility of bringing something new to life. The most challenging aspect can be keeping that spark alive especially with the more labour intensive illustrations. I find the best thing to do, once you’re in the real ‘meat and potatoes’ of the project is to keep in sight the final product. Having a vision of the finished piece is always as massive motivation and the final product is always hugely rewarding.
e: Is there something in particular about this story you hope readers will take away with them, perhaps something that isn’t immediately obvious? (Like celebrating “Talk Like a Pirate Day”!)
I hope they’ll realise that pirates had to be skilled sailors to survive and expert navigators or they’d die. At this distance they are romantic figures but they also had to be really resourceful. It wasn’t just a matter of getting drunk and running your sword through anyone you didn’t like.
Harry: As an illustrator I like the thought that readers will find something new in the illustrations each time they pick up the book. Whether that’s something factual like how the crew slept or spotting something fun like a dancing Pig or a sword-wielding Octopus.
      As a reader however I’m excited to hear about the female pirates that feature in the book. We often associate pirates and seafaring with bearded, peg legged old men so its fantastic to hear about people such as Anne Bonny and Mary Read who could be just as cutthroat and swashbuckling as the rest of them.

e: What are you working on next or what would be your dream project?
I’m working on a book about Ancient Egypt, which will be published next year with the same illustrator, Harry. Dream project? Well that one I’m keeping quiet because I don’t want someone else to do it before I’m ready.
Harry: I’m currently working on a follow up to Pirates Magnified with Wide Eyed Editions that will be about Ancient Egypt. It’s a subject that I was fascinated by as a child so it’s really exciting to be able to work on bringing it to life. As for a dream project, I think working on this has definitely fulfilled a long-term ambition, seeing the finished book in real life is a dream come true!
      Looking forward though I’d love to work on an adventure come puzzle picture book for children. Think the Famous Five meets Where’s Wally with big, detailed illustrations filled with clues, puzzles and things to uncover.
e: Publishers, did you see that!? Thanks guys! (Click on their photos to visit their websites.)

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