the pirates tale

In October last year Frank Key posted about the wonderful Puffin book The Pirates’ Tale by Janet Aitchison, aged five and a half.
He said in the piece: Janet Aitchison will be middle-aged by now… We can only hope she gets in touch if she sees this. And lo! and behold, she did! Here’s her guest piece about the story, and the full text is reproduced below…

I was amazed and amused to see Frank Key’s piece about The Pirates’ Tale on The Dabbler – it went out of print nearly 30 years ago and I scarcely think about it these days. But the Editor asked me to contribute a post, so here’s the story behind the publication of The Pirates’ Tale.

As a five year old I had no ambitions to write a children’s book, indeed my five year old self could not conceive of such a thing. But I had recently learned to read and write, and one day embarked upon a rambling story written in erratic sloping lines on large sheets of scrap paper.

My parents tell me I woke them early in the morning asking how to spell words like ‘volcano’ and ‘mountain’ but, apart from this assistance, they had nothing to do with the writing until it was finished, at which point my mother decided to send it to the Puffin Club. Like Frank Key, we were members of this charming club and received the Puffin Post magazines every quarter. My mother thought my story might get printed in the magazine as they regularly published children’s poems, jokes and stories.

To my delight, the story appeared in the next edition… but little did I know that Jill McDonald, the staff illustrator at Puffin, had taken a shine to the story and suggested it be made into a Puffin book. A couple of years later, the book was published, complete with Jill’s wonderful illustrations.

It remained in print for about ten years and was translated into two or three other languages. Its publication propelled me into the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s youngest published author and I received some attention from the news media when it was published being featured in a few newspapers and on the local BBC news program.

No further works of fiction followed - I like to say I peaked at five and its been downhill ever since! However, the experience did have some effect on my career path – I entered the publishing world as an editor and am now a Publishing Director at Cambridge University Press in New York. I’m sure my early experience with the Pirates’ Tale helped propel me in this direction!

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The Pirates’ Tale

By Janet Aitchison (age five and a half)

Once upon a time there were some bad pirates. They sailed to a mountain. They dug in the mountain and found gold and silver. The mountain was a volcano.

They saw a bit of volcano then they ran back to their ship and they sailed away to their mountain and hid the gold and silver in their cave and guarded the treasure. A dwarf stole the gold and silver. The pirates woke up and killed the dwarf. The pirates got the gold and silver and the dwarf’s gold and silver.

The king dwarf sent an army to fight the pirates and to hurt the pirates. Who knows which side won the battle? The pirates! The pirates caught the king dwarf and they killed him and they threw him into the sea. A whale threw him up again and the pirates threw him down again. A shark came along and ate him up. The pirates laughed to see the dwarf being eaten up by the shark.

One day the pirates found a crab. It pinched a pirate. The pirates screamed to see the crab. The pirates ran away to the ship and sailed to the mountain and got the guns and killed the crab and the pirates laughed.

One day the pirates found a rat and killed it. The pirates had a cat and the cat ate the rat and the cat died. The pirates looked sad. A pirate found a house and opened the door and went in. It was dusty. He tidied it and dusted it. The pirate found a mouse and gave the mouse a piece of cheese. The cheese was magic.

The pirate said “Oh dear. The cheese is magic. I shouldn’t have given the mouse the cheese.” The mouse died.

One day the pirates found a forest. The forest was bewitched. The pirates went in the forest. The pirates turned into frogs and leapt about all over the place and croaked, trying to talk.

One day the pirates found some children. The pirates kept the children for their wives to cook for them. The wives cook nice things for the pirates. The pirates liked the food and ate it all up. The pirates liked the fish best. They caught the fish themselves from the sea.

One day the pirates weren’t very well. The pirates had mumps. They were very ill. One day the pirates got better and sailed away to the mountain and saw a shark and killed it and the pirates’ new cat said, “meow meow”. The pirates said, “Be quiet, new cat.”

One day the pirates found a ship. The ship had some gold and silver. The pirates stole the gold and silver. The gold and silver is magic.

The pirates died. The cat died.


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  1. Worm on Wednesday 26, 2014

    this is an excellent addendum to Frank’s story from a while back! I hope you have lots of copies that you show your children

  2. Frank Key on Wednesday 26, 2014

    I am still of the opinion that “Be quiet, new cat” is one of the finest and funniest lines in world literature.

  3. Brit on Wednesday 26, 2014

    And the ending is brilliantly brutal.

    Thanks very much for this, Janet. My wife has had a copy of the book for years and both my girls now love it.

  4. […] see that Janet Aitchison saw the piece about about her Pirate’s Tale and responded with her memories of having written it, aged five-and-a-half. I was prompted to recall my own juvenilia. I was not as […]