This month, bestselling author Brian Jacques leaves the mice and mayhem of medieval Redwall for adventure on the high seas.

Castaways of the Flying Dutchman (Philomel) not only marks Jacques's departure from his much-loved epic series, but also from Hutchinson, part of the Random House group, to Puffin in the U.K., a move geared to consolidate his books under the Penguin Putnam umbrella and to capitalize on a global marketing campaign.

PW caught up with Jacques by phone at his home in Liverpool on the eve of a monthlong U.S. promotional tour for both Castaways and his new animated television series, Redwall (produced by Nelvana Ltd., it is slated to debut April 7 on 85% of the country's PBS stations).

His ambitious itinerary accommodates 36 cities from Manhattan to Memphis, St. Paul to San Diego, with appearances at bookstores as well as such venues as the CBS Early Show and the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. But Jacques wouldn't have it any other way.

"I'm an entertainer," he says in a voice rich with the cadences of his native city. "It's me shot in the arm, and I really do like talking to kids."

A Jack-of-All-Trades

"Entertainer" is a bit of an understatement. In addition to stints as a longshoreman, bus driver, boxer and bobby, Jacques has also been a stand-up comic, folksinger and playwright, and he currently hosts a weekly radio show for the BBC. In a conversation laden with laughter and rapid-fire anecdotes, he charms PW as easily as he does a bookstore full of squirming fourth-graders.

"I got a letter from a little lad the other day, quite concerned about the change in publisher. He wrote"—he pauses, pitching his voice into a high squeak—" 'I hope, Mr. Jacques, they do your paperbacks in the same size which I have always bought which fit in my pants pocket.'"

Jacques laughs heartily, then grows reflective. "When you've been 15 years with one publisher, it's not an easy decision," he admits. "But I always liked my American publishers, even before Penguin entered the equation, when they were still Putnam, Grosset and Philomel. They're smashing people, and they treated me like royalty. My contract at Random was due to run out, and though they've been a very good publisher and I've enjoyed me time with them, everything doesn't stand still, does it?"

Jacques was impressed with Penguin Putnam's "businesslike" approach, and he also points to his close relationship with Philomel's Patricia Lee Gauch. "She's my editorial director, and a real friend as well as an editor. She's my Sven-ga-li," he quips, drawing the syllables out with a dramatic flourish punctuated by another hearty laugh.

Ultimately, the decision came down to relationships. "In the end, no matter what publisher you're with, it all comes 'round to the family, and making sure the family is well taken care of," says Jacques, whose extensive clan lives "within a stone's throw" ("Sunday lunch is like the feeding of the 5,000-plus dogs!") and who employs his brother and one of his sons in his company, Redwall Properties.

Plus, he continues, "one of the things that Penguin said to me when we first talked was, 'Would you ever fancy writing any other books?'—and I jumped at the idea."

Jacques hastens to add that he has no plans to stop writing Redwall stories—"I love Redwall, and I'll never sever any connection with it"—and, in fact, Taggerung, his 14th title in the series, is due out in September from Hutchinson and Random House, while several more are in the pipeline for Philomel, including a Redwall cookbook. ("I'm a very good cook, you know," he confides, mock sotto voce. "Even my little granddaughter likes me spaghetti.")

Still, "any author likes to be creative and stretch themselves," he explains. "I'm quite happy writing Redwall, and I wouldn't say there's no challenge to it, to keeping the momentum going through 15 or 16 books, but you always wonder, could you do other books? This gives me the chance to expand my imagination to another world with other characters."

The Lure of the Sea

And in Castaways, Jacques found a world for which his adventurous life has prepared him particularly well. "Most of me life's been spent around the sea," he says. "It's always held a great fascination for me, especially the legends—and all the great stories from Homer's 'wine dark sea' to Robert Louis Stevenson."

Jacques grew up wanting to be a sailor, in fact. "If you lived in Liverpool, you always had relatives who went to sea. When I looked at other occupations—shopkeeper, office clerk and so on—the men who went to sea seemed larger than life."

He quit school to chase his dream, enlisting as a merchant seaman, an experience that gave him ample material to draw on for his new book.

"Although some of the romanticism has gone out of the sea by now—pulling up at Pier 54 in New York is not exactly hitting the golden sands of Hispaniola—still, you can imagine yourself sitting on deck when you're 16 years old, doing a night watch, with the sky so far above you and beneath you, these huge subterranean depths. The stage was already set for Castaways."

With a first print run of 150,000 copies and a second printing of 7,500 already ordered, Penguin Putnam is clearly banking on Jacques's ability to ferry a boatload of enthusiastic Redwall fans along on the voyage, and will encourage it with crossover coverage on the tour for the Redwall TV series, a venture about which Jacques had some initial reservations. "I went into it [the TV series] with a lot of trepidation, but in the end it turned out a lot better than I thought it would," he says. What he's even more pleased with is Listening Library's unabridged, full-cast audio production of Redwall, which he has narrated. "I really enjoyed doing that," he says, particularly the opportunity to work with a hand-selected cast ("I was in the entertainment industry and I knew which actors to pick") that includes two amateurs, his son Marc (as Matthias and Martin) and friend Ron Delacruz ("he does an excellent hare and a very good mole," he deadpans).

To what does Jacques attribute his seemingly boundless energy for so many different projects? "I still have this working-class attitude," he says. "People ask me at literary conferences about writer's block. Writer's block? If I had that then I wouldn't be an author, I'd be a checkout clerk. Proper authors can't afford to have blocks and all that nonsense—it's your job, and you do it to the best of your ability. When people tell me I'm lucky I say to them, 'Yes, and the harder I work the luckier I get!' "

And again, he wouldn't have it any other way. "It's a fabulous life," he says. "I still wake up and pinch myself sometimes in the morning."