Justin Somper, Tuesday 3rd July, 10 – 11am, John Rylands Library Deansgate
Words and Photographs by Charmain Leung
Justin Somper, British author of the six-book series; Vampirates, recruits a new crew aboard his ship filled with adventure, mystery and horror. Better known as ‘Captain Somper’, Justin appeared in the John Rylands Library today, reading from his first novel; Demons of the Ocean, to a quietly waiting crowd of primary school children. The series spans over a five-year period and is available in thirty-six countries with different illustrations for each one. A major influence on these illustrations comes from his favourite Japanese edition.
Justin begins explaining his writing process, which began ten years ago, with that ‘Eureka!’ moment; merging both vampires and pirates into one. The budding young writers gain an insight into Justin’s method, from idea to research (including learning how to sword fight!), to character building and chapter breakdowns.
After encouraging the children’s imagination, Justin jumps off stage, sword in hand, taking the audience into his fantastical world through a mixture of vampire mythology and pirate history.
Justin gives a short introduction, or rather a Vampirate shanty (song of the sea), to the futuristic Vampirate world of 2505—think Water World, where global warming has escalated to a lack of land, ships float as the main source of living and pirate academies train kids from the age of seven to become Captains in their own right. Although set in Australia, Justin stresses the applicability of the story to be based anywhere, allowing the children to guess the possibilities. Answers included Blackpool, Greenland and China.
Before boarding deck, Captain Somper lists articles from the code of conduct of the Vampirate readers, to which the children shout ‘Aye Captain!’, together with agreeing pirate arms in air. Justin introduces his new crew to the main characters in the series, beginning with the recently orphaned Connor and Grace Tempest, fourteen-year-old twins separated in a storm whilst fleeing from Crescent Moon Bay (based on Byron Bay), their home town. Their split led them to different journeys; Connor on a pirate ship and Grace on the Vampirate ship, Nocturne.
As blood is the, ‘landscape of the story’, Justin prepares the children for the squeamish act of blood feasting, giving the children choices in the form of the different Captains’ approaches to drinking. This changes between the brutality of taking when one pleases, to the systematic weekly feast of donors to the luxurious approach of bottling blood and decanting.
Before Justin reads from his first book, he opens the floor to questions. This is where the children eagerly raise their hands. Questions range from how long it takes to write one book (between a year and six months), to favourite characters (Blackheart, a sophisticated lady Vampirate). This last question proved to be the hardest to answer, as there are around sixty main characters to choose from.
All this fun and commotion then gets followed by a book signing and photographs, where children queue excitedly, deciding which book, out of the six, to get signed.
Charmain Leung is a young writer whose work has appeared in numerous small-press anthologies and magazines, including literary articles in Kollektivnye and soon to feature her poetry in the Cadaverine. Follow her on twitter @charmainleung