Books Make Things Better with Derek Keilty

I hit on the idea for Flyntlock Bones after noticing a doodle I’d scribbled in the margin of a different children’s story I was working on. It was a drawing of a skull and crossbones, only with a magnifying glass over one of the skull eye sockets, and underneath I had written ‘Pirate Investigators’. I think I was messing about with the idea of ‘private investigators’, changing it to pirate which sounded quirky. I started jotting down names from the Conan Doyle books, and changing them into pirates, so: Sherlock Holmes became Flyntlock Bones, Watson became Captain Watkins and the baddy of course had to be Morihearty which I thought sounded a bit like the pirate phrase ‘me hearties’. Needless to say, that by now I had abandoned the other story idea to work on my pirate book. But I still had a problem. I wanted my pirates to be different. Let’s face it there are barrels full of pirate books out there. I thought well OK then, they’re not pirates, or rather they used to be but a pitilessly empty booty chest and a chance meeting in a tavern with a rich countess changes the course of their careers forever. So now instead of stealing booty they help find stolen treasure for other people using their detective skills.

Flynn, the cabin boy and Red the ship’s rigger are the main characters in the series. In Red I knew I definitely wanted a positive girl character as I didn’t want it to be labelled ‘boy’s book’. She befriends Flynn when he first boards the ship and she is capable, respected and kind.

The first book was published in June 2020, entitled Flyntlock Bones: The Sceptre of the Pharaohs, and was a The Times top 20 summer read, yay! It’s about a young orphan, Flyntlock Bones or Flynn for short, who applies for the job of cabin boy on the Black Hound, not realising he has boarded a pirate ship. But he quickly discovers that these pirates are different from your normal rum-swilling, treasure-looting, swashbuckling, scourge o’ the seas pirates. They are ex-pirates turned detectives. ‘It’s clues we’re after, not treasure!’ the captain explains. And soon Flynn is setting sail for the Seven Seas, on a perilous quest to recover ancient treasure bound by a magical curse.

What I love about writing for children is that anything is possible, the most amazing and incredible things can happen to your characters. It’s just so much fun. I really enjoy the world building in Flyntlock and merging genres by mixing pirates with detectives.

Maybe I got the idea for pirates who embark on a career change from my own recent job change. Last year I took the plunge and partially retired from the civil service to try and re-launch my children’s author career after a quiet spell following the success of my Will Gallows series a few years back. I had been approaching agents and sending lots of material to publishers but without any luck. Then literally a month after retiring I got an extremely exciting email from the wonderful crew at Scallywag Press in London offering a three-book deal for Flyntlock Bones. The book is highly illustrated with an illustration on every page drawn by debut artist Mark Elvins who used to be a lawyer (more career changes, ha!).

And as Flyntlock Bones is a trilogy, I am happy to say there are more adventures to come for young Flynn and the crew of the Black Hound. I’ve already finished book two which is called Flyntlock Bones: The Eye of Mogdrod. And the final book Flyntlock Bones: The Ghost of Captain Scarletbeard will come out in 2022.

I live in Belfast with my wife, Elaine who is Canadian and twin daughters, Sarah-Jane and Rebekah and new puppy Duke the Bichon Frise whose favourite toy just happens to be a pirate. A fun spin off to the books is that after a couple of emails and an audition I found myself in a studio in Dublin recording my own audio book for Flyntlock Bones and will be narrating all three books over the coming years. It was a lot of fun and has been an ambition of mine from way back as I love doing silly voices when reading my books at school and library events.