PIRATE ACADEMY: An interview with Justin Somper

PIRATE ACADEMY: An interview with Justin Somper

Today author Justin Somper joins us in The Reading Realm to tell us all about his thrilling, exciting PIRATE ACADEMY series and one very special character!


Jasmine Peacock is the very first character we meet in PIRATE ACADEMY: NEW KID ON DECK, sitting with the rest of Barracuda Class at the top of Swashbuckle Hill. Like her classmates, Jasmine is waiting for her parents’ ship to arrive for Captains’ Evening. As her pal Jacoby points out, it’s often Jasmine’s parents who win the Captains’ Evening race. But tonight, not only do the Peacocks not win the race but their ship, The Blue Marlin, fails to turn up entirely and they are declared missing at sea. As Jasmine deals with this crisis, and the terrible uncertainty surrounding it, we start to see just how strong and stoic a character she is.

It’s strange to think I first wrote about Jasmine Peacock some eighteen years ago! She makes her debut in the second VAMPIRATES novel, TIDE OF TERROR (first published in 2006) – the book which also introduces Jacoby Blunt, Commodore John Kuo and the Pirate Academy itself. There, Jacoby describes her as “the coolest girl at Pirate Academy.” At this point, both Jacoby and Jasmine are final year students, aged 16.

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In the fourth VAMPS novel, BLACK HEART, Jasmine and Jacoby have graduated from the Academy and swiftly been recruited to Cheng Li’s crew. There’s a telling moment here where Cheng Li reflects: “When you gave Jasmine Peacock a project, she always delivered – efficiently, thoroughly and on time. It had been the case throughout her career at Pirate Academy.”

One of the joys of writing a sequence of novels – especially if you write in quite a fluid way as I do (i.e. plotting out each individual book but not necessarily knowing every beat of the whole series) is how your characters can evolve from one book to another.

With PIRATE ACADEMY, I gave myself an interesting challenge – with both Jasmine and Jacoby – to know their end point in VAMPIRATES and then to roll back time so that we could see them some five years earlier, aged eleven. I wanted to present Jasmine in a way that is consistent and believable with how she appears in VAMPS, but also to show her growing through the challenges and adventures we will now see her experience.

At the beginning of NEW KID ON DECK, Jasmine receives her glowing report from Deputy Head, Mayday Salt. “No one has a bad word to say about you, Jasmine. You have excelled yourself this term. Just keep on doing what you’re doing and you’re going to have the most amazing pirate career.” Mayday’s verdict chimes with Cheng Li’s later assessment, quoted above. But it’s not going to be (forgive me) plain sailing for Jasmine. In the first two PIRATE ACADEMY books alone, we see her tested on multiple occasions and in diverse ways.

One thing which swiftly marks her out is the way she welcomes Neo into the Barracudas. While many of her classmates are hung up on the new kid’s aloofness, Jasmine understands that Neo may be shy and overwhelmed by his new surroundings. Typically, it’s Jasmine who is the first to go and check on him. In doing so, she paves the way for him being accepted into the Barracuda fold.

But Jasmine isn’t merely the grade A student, the diplomat and peacemaker. She is also a courageous young pirate, who is able to “feel the fear and do it anyway”. We see this in NEW KID ON DECK, when she is utterly intent on boarding the enemy deck – to determine whether it is indeed her family’s ship. We see it again, when Jasmine breaks through the adult pirate ranks to pose some tough questions to her rebel uncle, Noah Ripley. She doesn’t get much in the way of answers from Noah. But she does receive a glimmer of hope when her mother manages to deliver a precious musical box to her, with a coded message.

In the second PIRATE ACADEMY adventure, MISSING AT SEA, Jasmine is forced to navigate one challenge after another, during the Oceans Bound weekend – where the Barracudas sail out for 48 hours, free from the usual close observation by the teaching captains. Jasmine’s challenges begin even before they set sail. She knows how desperate Jacoby is to be made one of the five Captains for Oceans Bound. When he doesn’t get the nod, but she does, she sees a less than gracious side to her long-time friend. As she takes to the stage to accept her Captain’s log book, Jacoby watches sullenly from the audience. This makes Jasmine “sad but also angry”. She has such a strong moral compass and reminds herself that “a friend should be happy when their friend succeeds – not go into a sulk.”

“You’re going to make a terrific captain,” Commodore Kuo tells her. Of course, he is right. We see her kindly and elegantly navigate more of Jacoby’s sulking. Then Neo tells her he’s thinking of leaving the Academy. This scene, early in Book 2, is a key one for Jasmine. We see her dealing with Neo’s stress with patience, insight and empathy. Importantly, she also shows herself to be vulnerable. She confides in Neo, “I’m barely holding it together… there are days when I feel like giving up and just staying in bed.”

Despite this, and despite the next piece of shocking news – that rogue Uncle Noah has broken out of the Pirate Federation’s maximum security prison – we see Jasmine sail out of the Academy harbour, with Jacoby and Neo at her side and hope in her heart. She is going to face further extreme challenges as Oceans Bound unfolds. But I think we are already sensing just how resilient a character Jasmine is. She’s not impervious to the hurts others inflict on her but, after every blow that comes her way, she seems to emerge that bit stronger. Jasmine really is a remarkable young person and I hope you are enjoying following her journey as much as I am.

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