Shiverrr me timberrrrs!

[ Read this in Dutch ]

It may not be the most obvious thing to have learned from Charles Brown, but it turned out to be a very useful lesson nevertheless: the proper pronunciation of ‘Arrrrrg!’

Charlie Brown is editor of Locus Magazine, the essential resource for any speculative fiction writer. Like in 2004, he made an appearance at the Writers of the Future workshop this year, and gave his talk on the life of poverty and hardship we writers can expect. Since I still have my day job, a lot of it didn’t apply to me, but his performance as a pirate proved unexpectedly useful.

I’ve just returned from five days of school camp organized by my old primary school – the class teacher is even a girl I went to this school with. 28 kids age 8-12 are accompanied by 9 adults for a long weekend in the woods. Us adults get to do the shopping, cleaning, a lot of the cooking and other household duties, but also to play games with the kids, solve disputes, dress scrapes, and generally play parents. It is an unforgettable experience, even third time up, but it is also exhausting: busy with the kids 9am-11pm and ‘evaluation sessions’ for another couple of hours with the team (meaning we sit around the camp fire, have wine, and exchange intimate secrets).

Each year, there is a camp theme and story like a thread running through all five days and every activity. This year, the theme was pirates. Us adults had to find time in our schedule of fun and housekeeping to dress up, sneak off, and appear somewhere along the kids’ forest path to act out a scene in the pirate story. Objective, apart from furthering the story, is to be so believeable and unrecognizable as to convince at least the youngest kids.

In 2003, on my first tour of duty, the theme was Indians – pardon me, Native Americans. I was a bit overzealous as the evil medicine man, and terrified a couple of the kids to tears. Somehow, that performance landed me the bad guy part this year: I played Barend Blackbeard, the evil captain. Tall and lanky myself, I pretended a stoop and a severe limp as well as carrying a large pillow under my disguise. A black beard, a wig and an eye patch disguised my face; my voice was a horrible whispered rasp. My first appearance was late at night as the kids returned from the Smugglers Game, and scared them pretty good. So I had some concerns about the final scene, that was set in a small badly lit field after dark, and would involve a lot of drama, shouting, a fight between Blackbeard and one of the mutineers, and attempts to get at the children.

The three mutineers and I prepared the field by placing an oil lamp at the site of the action and going through the entire scene a couple of times. Then we placed the toy parrot next to the lamp, just for atmospheric effect, and waited for the kids to pass by on their dark evening walk.

As the mutineers made themselves know to the kids, a few shrieks were heard and two kids were so startled they fell over. But the mutineers were the good guys, so the kids were quickly reassured. It was when Blackbeard showed up with my limp, my rasp, the hook on my arm – and the penguin on my shoulder – that the scene threatened to turn really scary. The mutineers moved to meet me behind the lamp – so we would have halfway decent lighting for the final scene – and we got into our dramatic, scary dialogue.

That was when we discovered the toy parrot repeated everything we said. Twice. In a parrot voice.

Photo of Charles the Pirate courtesy of Cat Sparks.