The Curse of the Tomb Robbers: An Interview with Andy Seed
Can you tell us a bit about your new book – what’s the story about?
The story is set in ancient Egypt in the year 1422 BC. Two young friends, Nub and Iteti, are out in the desert exploring a hidden valley when they spot a gang of men carrying objects out of a tunnel: tomb robbers! The children find a message left behind by the gang and work out where their next meeting is. After they overhear the thieves’ plan to steal treasures from a queen’s pyramid, the pair try to get help but end up following the gang. Readers can learn how to decode hieroglyph clues along the way and solve other kinds of puzzles while learning lots about life in ancient Egypt. It’s a mystery adventure detective story with facts!
What inspired this new series?
The British Museum wanted a book to help children read and understand hieroglyphs ready in time for their special exhibition to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Rosetta Stone’s role in unlocking the secret of the Egyptian language. Publishers Nosy Crow and I developed a creative and fun way to show children how to crack the code of hieroglyphs using a story and puzzles along with facts. We were delighted to work with the brilliant illustrator James Weston-Lewis who has brought the scenes in the book together with style and authenticity.
The format for this series is unusual – can you tell us a bit about how you arrived at this idea of combining fact and fiction, plus the interactive element?
Hieroglyphs are actually very complex and difficult to interpret, which is why it took people hundreds of years to crack the code! We decided to bring alive the idea of codebreaking and understanding a picture language by using a mystery story and also setting it in ancient Egypt to show the context of the various elements that make up hieroglyphs. The story is fairly simple but the puzzles become increasingly complex as readers learn more about how to read hieroglyphs. The interactive element helps give readers a sense of being there in the adventure as it unfolds, and the ‘Did you know’ fact bubbles help explain key aspects of life 3,500 years ago in this part of the world.
As the children follow the gang we see different kinds of places: buildings, homes, a market, temples, the river Nile, pyramids, monuments and of course inside a tomb for the exciting climax of the story. This hybrid approach allows the best of both worlds, fact and fiction, to take children on an exciting journey into the past to experience what life was like in this remarkable culture.
Did you have to do a lot of research into hieroglyphs? Did you discover anything particularly fascinating / unexpected / bizarre during your research?
Yes! I have to confess that I didn’t know much at all about hieroglyphs before writing this book! I was then taken aback by just how complex and many-layered they are. It is just SO different from our language. There are a huge number of signs and symbols for a start and some of them refer to sounds and some to meanings. They can be written top to bottom, left to right or even right to left and, typically, writers would place each element to fit it nicely into a visual pattern rather than following grammatical rule like English does. And forget things like punctuation, sentences, or even spaces between words – ancient scribes just had to learn a whole load of different types of conventions and be able to replicate hundreds of little pictures which mean all kinds of things. There was no alphabet to hold things together like we have. Also, we don’t know what the Egyptian words sounded like. Hieroglyphs were a mystery to the average Egyptian in ancient times too!
But the good news is that the book has made cracking this code much easier by providing a clever fold-out hieroglyph chart plus an Egyptian-English dictionary and lots of clues.
Are you fluent in the language of hieroglyphs now?!
No, but at least I am not clueless anymore! For instance, I can tell you that an owl represents the sound ‘m’ and that three horizontal squiggles at the end of a word means it has something to do with water. I know that there are four different hieroglyphs for ‘h’ and that to write the number 10 you need an upside-down ‘u’. Oh, and the word for frog is ‘krr’ (in hieroglyphs that’s a dish and two empty eye shapes!).
Which other periods in history / cultures will you be exploring through future books in this series, and how did you decide on these themes?
The next book will be set in ancient Rome and readers will have to solve puzzles to help two young Romans foil a wicked plot to get rid of the Emperor himself! Once more it will have sensational illustrations by James Weston-Lewis along with lots of code-cracking mysteries. Book 3 is still top secret but it will be set in another amazing ancient world.
We chose these eras and themes because they are just so powerful and fascinating. The pyramids are still there today and so is the colosseum because they were made to endure and display the strength of the empires that created them. I wonder whether Spaghetti Junction will last 4,000 years…?
You’re known for your love of history, and your infectious enthusiasm for bringing history alive. What is it that draws you to exploring the past so much?
The past is part mystery, part biography because all that we are, all we have and all we do is founded on what came before. The past is populated by real people who lived such different lives yet were still just like us. Learning about how they lived helps explain the world we have today and it also teaches us lessons about things to avoid and just how dangerous life can be if things go wrong, in addition to showing the amazing feats that our ancestors achieved without diggers, Instagram and cosy underwear!
You have years of school visits and festival appearances under your belt – will you be doing any events for this new book? If so, what will they entail?
I LOVE doing events and school visits especially. I’ve always enjoyed channelling the unbounded enthusiasm of children towards learning and growing their imaginations. The basis of my events is interaction and fun. I like to include lots of little challenges, games, mini-picture-quizzes, puzzles (of course) and fun facts. For The Curse of the Tomb Robbers, a very special book, I have decided to create a very special event. The central attraction is a ¾ sized replica mummy sarcophagus which I created over several months (making big 3D artefacts is a long-standing interest of mine). It features real gold leaf, authentic decoration based on real Egyptian coffins and it has peep-holes in the eyes for any child brave enough to get inside… I can’t imagine anyone would, can you?
There are more pictures of the sarcophagus and a guide to how it was made at www.andyseed.com
The Curse of the Tomb Robbers by Andy Seed, illustrated by James Weston Lewis, is published by Nosy Crow, out now, £12.99 hardback.