Today we travel to the west coast of Canada to chat with Trevor Atkins about how writing on the floor, electric swing, Treasure Island, sea shanties, Captain Charles Johnson, cannonballs, The Matrix, living on Mars, and a giraffe wearing a bowler hat come together as part of Trevor’s writing life.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
Of course! I live on the west coast of Canada with my family and I’ve been working with words for much of my life, but have only recently pursued historical fiction. Even writing with the aim to publish has only come about recently. I was first motivated to show my daughter that nowadays there are easily available platforms through which you can share your creative ideas with the world. That’s how we ended up writing our three-act play, “The King and Queen’s Banquet”.
My latest book, “The Day the Pirates Went Mad”, is a historical fiction adventure set at the turn of the 18th century, and is the first in a series for middle-grade readers.
What is an interesting writing quirk you have, something we wouldn’t know from reading your biography?
Does this count as a quirk? I actually do most of my writing and revision on the floor, with papers spread out all around me. I’m typically only at my desk when I’m typing up new additions or updates. Or when I’m researching. If I wrote at my desk too, I’d never be out of my chair!
Do you listen to music while you write, or do you like it quiet?
Yes – I very often have music playing. Usually something lo-fi or ambient when writing, or electric swing for the energy when revising. While writing “The Day the Pirates Went Mad” a lot of sea shanties were also playing on repeat, especially “The Derelict” by Abney Park – it’s a great musical rendition of Y.E Allison’s poem. “Yo ho! And a bottle of rum!”
How did you get the idea to write “The Day the Pirates Went Mad”?
The spark was an idea for a short story I decided I would write for my daughter. One about a girl overcoming a cursed pirate treasure, inspired by the greedy in-fighting and backstabbing represented in R.L. Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” and Y.E. Allison’s poem “Derelict” – all that for a bit of gold and silver. This tale would take us on our own adventure during the Golden Age of Piracy, and simultaneously let us talk about what life was really like back then versus how it’s been popularized in pirate fiction.
Then the short story developed into a novel! But knowing we had done it before kept the fire burning to do it again on this larger scale. And, after almost five years, “The Day the Pirates Went Mad” was published last spring. I was (and still am!) very happy to share it. I hope it helps make learning fun for some young readers.
On that note: For those that might want to take it a bit further than just reading – perhaps in a classroom or in a homeschooling family – we’ve written a Teacher’s Guide and made it available through the website at https://EmmaSharpesAdventures.com, along with our behind-the-scenes and research-related blog posts.
If you could have a fantasy tea or coffee date with an author, who would it be and what would you ask them?
Off the top of my head, I’d pick Captain Charles Johnson, the author of “A General History of the Pyrates”. Really, it would be interesting to talk to anyone from the past to understand better what their life was like. Especially those more normal things that don’t make it into the history books you read at school. Details of much of our everyday past aren’t always easily found. With Charles Johnson, this is doubly true as Charles Johnson is a pen name and it isn’t clear who he really was. It would be fun to find out the truth of that, why the pen name, and also to talk about how factual his recountings of those now famous pirates actually are.
What’s a great piece of advice you’ve received?
There’s a bit of dialogue from a opening scene in “The Matrix” where Trinity has fallen and is telling herself, willing herself, to get up and get moving again. “Get up, Trinity. Just get up… Get Up!” I recall this when I need to mentally kick myself in the pants to get on with whatever next step I’m supposed to be taking in my writing. Mind over inertia.
What writing advice would you give to your younger self?
Write more stories, sooner. Shorter ones too, so more would be complete – more I could look back on as finished work. Since we can only move forward, I can only tell this to my current self. We’ll see if I listen!
But to anyone, including myself, I would say: don’t delay. Work towards your creative goals now. As much as you can at a time. Writing, drawing, composing, whatever it may be. Practice and get better – from now. How could you regret that?
If you could be one of your characters for a day, who would you choose and what would you do?
Any one of the crew from the New Adventure would be interesting. Even being a passenger would be good too! I’d be glad to see and experience first hand all the scenes I’ve been visualizing. However, I’d like to avoid yellow fever, cannonballs, or any other things of that sort.
If Mars or another planet was livable, would you accept a one way ticket there?
This could be a real option for many people in the next few decades – very exciting stuff! I’d be tempted by the idea of the adventure. But it would be very hard for me to trade in all Earth’s natural beauty and our modern comforts for a permanent pioneering life on a harsh new world. Still, I would be an avid reader of the news following any such colony, and all the R&D related to making it possible.
A giraffe knocks on your door and is wearing a bowler hat. What do they say and why are they there?
Not a question I was expecting at all! What immediately popped into my mind was “The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me”, a fun read by Roald Dahl. So I guess I would expect the giraffe to ask me about washing our windows, and I would say yes – they need it!
What are you currently working on?
I’m very excited to be outlining book two of Emma Sharpe’s Adventures. The base concept is feeling good, and my next step is to explore the specific story beats. At the same time, we’ll be expanding the Teacher’s Guide with some relevant STEM activities, and will also be continuing to add to our behind-the-scenes & research-related posts. I’ll be sharing updates as things progress via our mailing list and on my Facebook page. So please, feel free to follow along!
It was wonderful to have you be a part of MTA, and to learn more about you, your writing practice, and what’s next! Wishing you all the best, Trevor. – Camilla
Where can we buy “The Day the Pirates Went Mad”?
An excellent question! “The Day the Pirates Went Mad” is available internationally via Amazon:
The Teacher’s Guide is free to download from https://EmmaSharpesAdventures.com
In 1701, seeking adventure and fortune, Emma Sharpe runs away from the orphanage she was sent to after her parents landed in debtors’ prison. She stows away aboard the New Adventure and finds a home and a new family in the comradery of the crew, but she wonders what her special skill is; why did the captain allow her to stay?
Now she is on her way to the West Indies, the setting of so many of the stories she has heard about exploration and pirates. After being blown off course to a deserted island, the crew recovers a cursed pirate treasure. As tempers fray and arguments become more frequent, Emma starts to believe there might really be a curse on the gold they took. With the help of cabin boy Jack Randall, Emma dares to confront the growing threat of violence amongst the close-knit crew. Will they save everyone in time? Can they save themselves?
“THE DAY THE PIRATES WENT MAD” is an entertaining ‘cozy’ historical fiction set at the turn of the 18th century and the Golden Age of Piracy is just around the corner. Follow the adventures of eleven-year-old Emma Sharpe as she learns to sail the sea, bonds with her shipmates, and then must save them all from a cursed pirate treasure before it’s too late!
While exploring a theme of greed/wealth vs. family/friends, “The Day the Pirates Went Mad” also conveys a ‘boatload’ of learning about the life and times of those sailing the seas 300 years ago – but without dwelling on the grittier realities (that’s the ‘cozy’ part). Entertainingly educational!
Although intended for ages 10-12, older readers can also enjoy this story and it’s suitable for sharing with younger readers when supported by an adult. (You know your kids’ reading-levels best!)
About the Author
Trevor Atkins lives with his family on the west coast of Canada and has been working with words for much of his life, but has only recently pursued historical fiction for younger readers. A storyteller and role player of detailed characters, Trevor loves to weave together many intertwining threads when writing. His bane is the perfecting effort of revision – there is always more that can be tweaked and improved. But then comes the day when enough is enough and the story must be set free for others to see!
Connect with Trevor:
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