For this interview we asked Jacksdale School to provide the questions. Thanks to everyone at Jacksdale who contributed
and a special thanks to Mr Walton who helped.
What is your favourite poem and who is your favourite poet?
A very hard question, because sometimes I like to read funny poems and sometimes I prefer something moody and mysterious. But I’ve admired Brian Patten’s A Small Dragon for a L.. O.. N.. G.. time and Charles Causley is my BIG hero because he wrote such beautiful, rhyming poems.
Which of your own poems are you most fond of?
That’s a tricky question too. I’m proud of some of my serious poems because they make people feel dreamy or shivery or both at once. My favourite silly poem is called Fowl Play and it’s about a chicken football team led by a rooster called David Peckham. My dreamiest non-rhyming poem is The Black Cat which is about my kind old tomcat who died last year. It’s not quite true but the cat in the poem is a lot like him.
The roosters chanted
“Ra! Ra! Ra!
The other team
We’ll wreck ‘em –
We’re the kings
Of feathered things
And we’ve got
They tackled hens,
They tackled wrens
They pulverised an owl,
But when they cackled,
“We’re the champs!”
the other birds squawked,
Did you start to write poems because you were just bored, or because you didn’t have any hobbies?
When I was still too small to see over the sweet shop counter, I was asked to recite a poem and I discovered two things. I like the feel of words on my tongue and I loved standing in front of an audience. Since then my main hobbies have always been reading, writing and acting… and sometimes I’ve managed to do all three at once. I’ve written plays that rhyme and plays that don’t. I’ve entertained people with my poems and stories. I’ve become all sorts of characters, from a Shakespearian sprite to a crazy cockerel (not more chickens!) And I just don’t seem to find time to feel bored. (But if I did I’d read another book. Or write one.)
You like to make people laugh –
but some of your poems are sad aren’t they?
That’s true. And it’s all because of the previous answer. Sometimes when I’m inventing a poem I like to slip inside someone else’s skin (like an actor putting on a fantastic costume. ) Then I can be anyone or anything I want. I’ve been a badly-behaved washing machine, a sorry volcano, a savage dinosaur, a lonely Victorian housemaid, a frightened Viking… Try it yourself – it’s the BEST fun. (But sometimes I write sad poems because I’m feeling a bit sad myself. That’s why I wrote The Black Cat.)
The Black Cat
The black cat was fond of fairies
He liked the gloss of their wings
And the way they darted across the lawn.
At first, he watched them secretly,
And from the middle of a thorn bush,
But when they waved at him
He crept closer, closer
Until they would rest on his paws
Or gather soft handfuls of his fur
With spiky combs.
His golden eyes reflected
The sparks of their wands
And he only showed his fangs
To other cats,
And the skinny fox.
In his dreams
He did not fly
Or cast spells over mice
But sometimes he danced
In moonlit circles
With the Fairy Queen
What’s your best place to write a poem?
I do have favourite places. Weedy corners of the garden. My own, quiet den (which is full of cat books and pictures) But the real answer is anywhere, anytime. Especially after a long walk. So I suppose I should say – my notebook. I take it with me wherever I go. Just in case.
What do you do when you haven’t got an idea?
1. Worry. A lot. Tell myself I’ll never write a good poem again. EVER. (This doesn’t help at all.)
2. Do a horrible job I’ve been putting off for ages. (This doesn’t help either, but at least the stick insects get cleaned out.)
3. Go for a long walk, whatever the weather. (Sometimes this works so well, I race home again with a headful of poems.)
4. Get extremely angry with myself, and shut myself in my den. Then I won’t let myself out until I’ve written SOMETHING. (This works brilliantly, particularly if there’s a cream cake waiting for me in the kitchen.)
How do you write so quickly?
Panic mainly. Some days my calendar says Finish those poems now! And somehow – I do!
How many poems have you written? I bet over fifty.
You’re not wrong. I’ve written hundreds. It’s ridiculous. I’ve filled folders and boxes and shelves and cupboards and lofts and I just can’t stop. Help!
Have you ever written a poem and thought, ‘It’s not very good.’
Yes. Sometimes I scribble them out. Sometimes I turn them into missiles and throw them in the bin (if I don’t miss.) But sometimes I go back to them later and do my best to make them better.
Do you ever use your poems to raise money for other people?
Yes. I’ve printed some little books of Christmas poems, and they’ve helped to raise funds for people with cancer and muscular dystrophy.