Justin Somper

New Kid On Deck: Pirate Academy #1
Justin Somper

About Author

Justin Somper, author of Vampirates, introduces his brand new pirate series, Pirate Academy!

Justin grew up in St Albans and worked as a publicist for Puffin and Random House Children's Books, before setting up a PR consultancy of his own in North London.  Vampirates was his debut series of children's books. Then, after 30 years in North London, he and his Aussie husband moved to Perth, Western Australia, where Justin is now writing the Pirate Academy adventures.



New Kid on Deck (Pirate Academy 1)   (UCLAN Publishing)

March 2024

We caught up with Vampirates author Justin Somper, whose new series Pirate Academy returns us to the high seas of adventure! 

In a future world, pirates rule the waves once more and illustrious pirate families send their children to Pirate Academy, to learn to be the best pirates they can be.  But all is not well at the Academy, and these young pirates will need all the skills they have to defeat some unexpected enemies!    Read a Chapter from New Kid on Deck (Pirate Academy 1)  

Q&A with Justin Somper

"I think I enjoy writing about pirates because I love writing about outsiders, rule-breakers and adventurers.
So pirates fit the bill very well!"

1.    Can you tell us about yourself and what you've been up to since your children's earlier series, Vampirates?

Well, let me see… my original six Vampirates books were relaunched in handsome new editions by UCLan Publishing in 2020 and 2021. I had a bit of a break from school visits - for obvious reasons - during the pandemic, but it was great getting back out and about as soon as I could. And doing this was instrumental in inspiring me to write my new series, Pirate Academy. During the lockdowns, I trained as a meditation guide and wellbeing coach, specialising in 'Effortless Meditation' (which is as easy as it sounds, and super-effective).

The other key update is that in October 2022, my Aussie husband and I relocated from our cosy corner of North London (where I had lived for 30 years!) to Perth, Western Australia. Since arriving here in the Aussie Spring - or Kambarang as the season is known here - I have been working on my new series of MG books, Pirate Academy.

2.    What happens in the first Pirate Academy book, New Kid on Deck?

The Pirate Academy books are set in the future - the year 2507 to get specific! Ocean levels have risen and there's a new golden age of piracy. The oceans are under the tight control of the Pirate Federation - a worldwide organisation of leading pirate captains.

The Feds have established nine elite schools around the world - where legendary pirate captains are dedicated to training up the next generation. Our story takes place at Pirate Academy, Coral Sea Province, where Jacoby Blunt and Jasmine Peacock are 11-year-old students in 'Barracuda Class'. Their world is suddenly shaken in multiple ways - including the sudden departure of a friend, a terrible school report, Jasmine's parents going missing at sea and the arrival of a mysterious new kid, Neo Splice.

The Pirate Academy adventures are set in the same world as Vampirates but the two series can be read independently of each other.

"I thought it would be satisfying to create a new era of piracy, where I could draw on pirate history and myth
but also rewrite some of the rules."

3.    Why have you set Pirate Academy in the future?

Because the Pirate Academy first appeared in my Vampirates series, which is set in 2512, I was already tied to that time-period. I set Vampirates in the future a) because I thought it would be unexpected and b) rather than harking back to a golden age of piracy in the past - which was often very patriarchal - I thought it would be satisfying to create a new era of piracy, where I could draw on pirate history and myth but also rewrite some of the rules.

4.    What gave you the idea for a 'pirate academy', and what does this look like? And why do you enjoy writing about pirates?

When I was engaged in world-building for my Vampirates series, it seemed a logical - and frankly, irresistible - idea that there would be an elite school for pirates. We now know that there are nine Pirate Academies worldwide but the one we are focused on for now is located in Coral Sea Province (broadly Australasia). The setting is reflected in the design of the school, which is very light and sunny - from the glass-domed 'Octopus' or main assembly hall, through to the lush academy gardens which run down to the harbour.

I think I enjoy writing about pirates because I love writing about outsiders, rule-breakers and adventurers. So pirates fit the bill very well, I feel.

5.    Who are your main pirate students in this adventure?

The current adventure stories are focused on 'Barracuda Class', where the students are aged 11-12. There are just 15 students in each class at Pirate Academy. The first stories are told chiefly from the point of view of three characters - Jacoby Blunt and Jasmine Peacock, both of whom are in their fifth year at the Academy, and newcomer Neo Splice.

But we also get to meet their classmates, roommates and friends - all of whom come from fierce pirating families. The cast of these books is intentionally diverse and inclusive - something I feel is important in contemporary children's books.

6.    Who is your favourite pirate tutor?

I have two! Captain Lisabeth Quivers first appeared in Vampirates. She is the doyenne of Knots Class and, despite her gentle manner, a true Pirate Queen. Of the new characters, I really love the Deputy Headcaptain, Mayday Salt, who is a whip-smart and inspirational leader descended from a long line of powerful women pirates.

"I was schooled in some basics of sword fighting when I was originally writing the Vampirates books.
For Pirate Academy, I have undertaken sailing lessons."

7.    How well would you have done at Pirate Academy? Which would have been your favourite subject, and what would you have been worst at?

Ha, that's actually a great question! I'm not sure to be honest. I think I'd have really enjoyed Treasure Class, which is taught by Captain Salt, and involves both evaluating treasure and devising intriguing ways to hide it! I'd probably have struggled with Captain Larsen's Navigation by Map or Moon lessons - navigation is not my forte, though I'm working on it!

8.    Did you do any practical research before you started writing the series, perhaps researching sword fights or sailing?

I was schooled in some basics of sword fighting when I was originally writing the Vampirates books. For Pirate Academy, I have undertaken sailing lessons. I've been writing the new series out in Perth, Western Australia, so it seemed a perfect opportunity to get to grips, at long last, with some basics of sailing.

My training at Royal Perth Yacht Club took place during the Australian winter and the weather was quite erratic - one week, there was no wind so we couldn't even get out in the boats. The following Saturday, the wind was so strong, we had to work very hard to keep the boats under control. I've since joined the Yacht Club and am looking forward to continuing my training.

It's given me a better understanding of what it feels like to be in a boat on the water, which I hope comes through in the sailing scenes in Pirate Academy - though I'm sure there are still plenty of errors!

9.    Will there be more Pirate Academy books?

Yes there will! We're just doing the copy-edit of Book 2, and brilliant Teo Skaffa is working hard on the illustrations. Book 2: Missing at Sea will be published in July. I'm about to start work on Book 3: Sword Echoes, which will come out in the first half of 2025. The characters are developing nicely and the story is opening out, so I think there is loads of potential to continue into more books.

10.    What have your biggest adventures in life been so far?

Let's go with relocating from London to Perth, Australia at the tender age of 53! My Aussie husband and I came out here in October 2022 to help support my mum-in-law Sue through her Alzheimer's diagnosis. This is obviously a deeply challenging journey to be on but it was important to us to be here to support our family through this difficult time. There are lots of exciting aspects to being here in Australia, starting with our proximity to the coast and the Indian Ocean. Hopefully this is bringing a new/different energy to my writing.

And what are you planning for future adventures - or what's on your wishlist?

This is quite an adventure to be getting on with for now! I'm looking forward to popping back to the UK in July to tour schools before the summer break, and hopefully transform as many of them as possible into Pirate Academies!

There are other exciting developments happening with Vampirates and Pirate Academy that I'm not able to discuss just yet. But, as these develop, they should lead to some hugely exciting new adventures. I have lots of new ideas for writing, and I think every new writing project is an adventure.

I'm just starting to visit schools here in Australia and I'm really excited to get out into some of the more remote regions, see more of the country and connect with communities while I am based over here. I'm also discussing visiting schools in Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan while I'm on this side of the world - really looking forward to getting this in motion too.


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