''Pirates'' author writes book to impress a girl -- Gideon Defoe talks about the origins of his popular children's book, ''The Pirates!'', and the indignities of wearing a pirate suit on book tours

By Gilbert Cruz
Updated October 22, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

Bragging to an old crush about your minimum-wage temp jobs probably isn’t the best way to woo a woman. So what did Gideon Defoe do? ”I lied and said, ‘Oh, yes, I’m working on a book.”’ One problem: He wasn’t. So over the course of a week, the Londoner dashed out a funny little book about pirates for her. She didn’t bite. ”The girl in question read Pirates! in its original, rubbish-stapled-together-with-a-crap-picture-of-a-pirate-on-the-cover-drawn-by-me-using-MacPaint form, ” recalls Defoe of The Pirates! In an Adventure With Scientists. ”She was quite nice about it, but I don’t think it was going to make her put out…. There are much better things for people to do to impress girls than this.”

While he didn’t win the girl, Defoe did land a publishing deal. And British readers have been charmed by Defoe’s highly childish yet hilarious story about a bored pirate clan — identified by such delightful monikers as ”the diffident pirate” or ”the pirate with a nut allergy” — that attacks Charles Darwin’s The Beagle after mistaking it for a gold-filled vessel. But success has not ended the indignities for Defoe, now 29, whose U.K. publisher even sent him to bookstores dressed as a pirate. ”They would find some really tacky outfits [and] spend a good 50 pence on plastic eyepatches,” he recalls. ”I’m sure Salman Rushdie doesn’t have to go about dressed as his lead character.”