Stars in Jars
When did you start writing?
About 25 years ago. I wrote my first children’s poem about my nephew Sam who has dyslexia.
Why do you write poetry?
It’s the way I make sense of the world and I love playing with language. Life without poetry would be like life without water.
Do you write anything other than poetry?
I write poetry for children and adults. I also write plays for BBC radio and short stories.
What books have you written?
My four children’s poetry collections are: STARS IN JARS, NOW YOU SEE ME, NOW YOU … , I DON’T WANT AN AVOCADO FOR AN UNCLE, and THE HUMPBACK’S WAIL. My adult poetry collections are ARMATURE and I’LL DRESS ONE NIGHT AS YOU. My short story collections is FAMILY CONNECTIONS. One of my radio plays (DINNER IN THE IGUANODON) is about the first ever theme park in Britain – a collection of life-sized dinosaurs at Crystal Palace Park.
How long does it take to write a poem?
It can vary. An American poet called Elizabeth Bishop once took fifteen years to write a poem. For me it can be half an hour for the first draft then a few days or a few weeks before it feels right.
Who has inspired you to write poems?
My niece is a great inspiration – especially when she poked her finger in the hamster cage and it got bitten, or when she balanced a coin on her belly button! A while ago I heard about a child whose parents hardly spoke to her so she hardly spoke. That made me write a poem called ‘Kassandra’. My Mum always talked to me and that’s how I became interested in words and stories.
How do you write your poems?
I sit on my newly reupholstered armchair with lots of scrap paper.
Do you have a special time to write?
Are you writing anything at the moment?
There are always poems to write, and I’m working on an idea for a radio play about a well-known Scottish poet.
Do you visit schools? Do you travel around very much?
I spent a month on Shetland in May, visiting schools and giving readings. I’ve also read in the Children’s Room at the Poets House in New York and at the British Council in Bangkok.
I once visited a school next to Loch Ness – called Aldourie. The headteacher was called Mrs Macbeth! The school was tiny and another school came from across the mountains to join us – from a place called Farr! At the end of the day one of the children left their jumper behind. Another child smelled it to work out whose jumper it was. He got it right!
Have you been on the TV or radio?
I’ve read one of my poems on the radio programme ‘Poetry Please’, and my poems have been used in the Cbeebies TV programmes ‘Poetry Pie’ and ‘Rhyme Rocket’.
What are your favourite poets?
Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay, Kit Wright and Charles Causley – all of whom have poems for children and adults.
Did you write poems at school?
Yes. I had a lovely English teacher who would read out what she thought were the good poems we had written. It was such a thrill if she read yours out.
Did you enjoy school?
Very much. I enjoyed learning and being immersed in the library.
What could schools do to improve the way poetry is taught?
Simply having more poetry books around in classrooms would help enormously. That way children absorb poetry for pleasure and it becomes part of their every day reading.
What advice would you give to young poets?
Join a library and read everything you can lay your hands on. I’d also give the advice that my first writing tutor gave me. ‘You can write and not be a writer, but you can’t be a writer and not write!’ Keeping a notebook with you is a good idea – one which is small enough to carry around with you