The second of five brothers, Pirotta grew up speaking both English and Maltese. He attended Naxxar Primary School and later won a scholarship to St Aloysius' College, one of the most prestigious schools on the island. He developed a love of literature early on in life when he discovered the works of Maltese folklorist Manuel Magri, the legends of Father Peter Delia, the works of C.S. Lewis and a children's adventure story by local author Guze Galea called Ragel Bil-Ghaqal (A Serious Man). His first short novel, The Pirates of Pudding Beach, paid tribute to it. The author's parents, both extremely devout Catholics, discouraged his interest in the arts and censored most television programmes. The family did watch Italian television series, however, and the RAI adaptations of Emilio Salgari's novels about the Asian pirate Sandokan made a big impression on the young Pirotta, as did frequent reruns of neorealist classics, in particular Vittorio De Sica's Shoeshine and Miracle in Milan. Pirotta also cites as visual influences the works of legendary film animator Ray Harryhausen and Alexander Korda, who produced the 1940 fantasy film The Thief of Baghdad, starring the South Asian actor Sabu. Rare visits to the cinema to watch Biblical epics like Ben Hur and The Ten Commandments were also to prove of lasting influence, which later led to an interest in the sword and sandal genre of movies and historical novels, especially the works of Rosemary Sutcliff.
Career in the UK
Having finished his secondary education at St. Aloysius, Pirotta enrolled in a hotel management course, but left during the second year, mainly due to bullying from fellow students, although during an interview with a local newspaper two years later he claimed that 'in a world where people are still dying of hunger and fighting for basic human rights, I don't want to waste my life deciding which wine goes with which fish.' He had a variety of jobs while attending a two-year evening course at the Manoel Theatre Academy of Dramatic Arts, Malta's national drama school. While in his second year, he wrote a children's radio play which he sold to a local station for £5. After graduating, he directed various plays at the Manoel Theatre and helped set up Malta's first youth theatre company, for which he adapted and produced several works. By now he had decided that his future lay in writing and in October 1981, he moved to the UK. His first job was directing three short plays for Moonshine Community Arts Workshop in London, an off-shoot of Brian Way's pioneering Theatre Centre. He also wrote a children's play based on a Maltese folk tale which toured various venues around London, including the Oval House and Jacksons Lane Community Centre. This brought him to the attention of the Commonwealth Institute, where he worked as a workshop leader and storyteller till 1989 alongside other artists from the Commonwealth including the Guyanese poet John Agard.
The children's play was subsequently published by Samuel French and Pirotta has since concentrated on writing. His first efforts were picture books but he soon moved into non-fiction, specialising in pirates and religious festivals. His Pirates and Treasure, published in the UK, the US, Russia and Sweden in 1995 is widely considered to be the first children's book about sea-robbers with a multi-cultural viewpoint. For a while he also wrote science books for the very young using the pen name Sam Godwin. A Seed in Need – a first look at life cycle of a flower – won him the 1998 English Association Award for best non-fiction picture book. After the success of his next two books, Turtle Bay and The Orchard Book of First Greek Myths, Pirotta decided to write solely under his own name.
Turtle Bay, published by Frances Lincoln in the UK and Farrar, Straus, Giroux in the United States was selected by members of a book review panel appointed by the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and assembled in co-operation with The Children's Book Council (CBC) as a Notable Science Trade Book of 1998. He has since concentrated on retelling folktales, producing The Sleeping Princess with illustrator Emma Chichester Clarke in 2002; The Orchard Book of First Greek Myths with Jan Lewis in 2003 (both books for Orchard Books, an imprint of Hachette Livre); Aesop's Fables (2006) and Around the World in 80 Tales (2007), both illustrated by Richard Johnson and published by Kingfisher in the UK and the US. In 2008 he performed at the Edinburgh International Book Festival for the first time where his show was sold out.
He writes in English and his books are produced mainly for the English-speaking market but they have been successfully published by major companies in various countries, including the United States, Italy, France, Spain, Holland, Portugal, Germany, Rumania, Belgium, Sweden, Brazil, Thailand, Greece, Estonia, Poland, Russia, Indonesia and Korea.
The author is now a British citizen and lives in Saltaire, Yorkshire. He is very much committed to empowering children to write and still performs workshops and story-making sessions in schools around the UK. He is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, the SCBWI and the Scattered Authors' Society.
In November 2010, his picture book Firebird was awarded an Aesop Accolade by the American Folklore Society. It shared the honour with Eric A. Kimmel's Joha Makes a Wish: A Middle Eastern Tale and Cloud Tea Monkeys by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham.
Pirotta has appeared at the Edinburgh Children's Book Festival, the North of England Children's Book Festival, the Swansea Book Festival, the Scarborogh Literary Festival and the Linton Book Festival.
- Storyworld [illustrated by Fiona Small], Blackie & Sons, 1988 [re-issued as Tales From Around the World in 1994]
- Joy to the World: Christmas Stories from around the Globe [illustrated by Sheila Moxley], Frances Lincoln/Harpercollins, 1998
- The Sleeping Princess and other Fairy Tales from Grimm [illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark], Orchard Books 2002 [titled The MacElderry Book of Grimm's Fairy Tales in the US]
- The Orchard Book of First Greek Myths [illustrated by Jan Lewis], Orchard Books, 2003
- Once upon a World [illustrated by Alan Marks], Watts/Sea to Sea Publications, 2004
- Aesop's Fables [illustrated by Richard Johnson], Kingfisher 2005
- Traditional Stories from the Amazon [illustrated by Rebecca Gryspeerdt], Hodder Children's Books 2006
- Around the World in 80 Tales [illustrated by Richard Johnson], Kingfisher 2007
- Children's Stories from the Bible [illustrated by Ian Andrew and Anne Yvonne Gilbert], Templar 2008
- The Giant Book of Giants, Egmont Books, October 2011
- The Orchard Book of Grimm's Fairytales, Orchard Books, November 2011
- The Buccaneering Book of Pirates, Frances Lincoln, October 2013
- First Greek Myths, ten books [illustrated by Jan Lewis], Orchard Books, March 2008/2010
- Grimm's Fairy Tales, eight books [illustrated by Cecilia Johansson], Orchard Books, March 2012/ paperback January 2013
- Solomon's Secret [illustrated by Helen Cooper], Methuen/Dial 1989
- Do You Believe in Magic 1990
- Little Bird [illustrated by Steve Butler], Frances Lincoln/Tambourine 1992
- Turtle Bay [illustrated by Nilesh Mistry], Frances Lincoln/Farrar Straus Giroux, 1998 [reissed as Turtle Watch, 2008]
- Patrick Paints a Picture [illustrated by Linz West], Frances Lincoln 2008
- Firebird [illustrated by Catherine Hyde], Templar Sept 2010/paerback, 2014
- The Orchard Book of First Ballet Stories, Orchard Books, 2015
- The Ghosts Who Danced, [illustrated by Paul Hesse], Frances Lincoln Books, Autumn 2015
- Saviour Pirotta's official website
- Saviour Pirotta's details at Orchard Books
- Review of Children's Stories From The Bible at Just Imagine
- Author page at Macmillan Books
- Profile at Jubilee Books