WARNING: Can you spot the “red herrings” in Colin West’s interview?
Colin West. It’s a great pleasure to welcome you to the Poetry Zone Interview. First question. When did you start writing?
I remember enjoying making up stories and poems when at school
(like lots of kids!). I really got into writing, though, when I was a
teenager, and discovered young poets like Roger McGough and
Adrian Henri. Their poems were great fun (and still are!) and I tried
So, are they your favourite poets?
Yes, along with Edward Lear (his “The Owl and the Pussy Cat” is the first poem I remember!), Ogden Nash and Walter de la Mare.
Yesterday my cousin Jane
Said she was an aeroplane,
But I wanted further proof,
So I pushed her off the roof.
Why do you write poetry?
I like writing poetry because, like music, it has a beat and a
rhythm. I’m not musically gifted, so my poems are my way of
being part of that world
Do you write anything other than poetry?
Yes, I do. I write and illustrate stories about Monty, the dog who wears glasses, and characters like Big Wig and Percy the Pink, and for younger children, picture books such as Have You Seen the Crocodile, and One Day in the Jungle.
How long does it take to write a poem?
A poem can take anything between ten seconds and ten years! That’s to say, some come instantly and seem to “write themselves” and others may languish half-finished until I look at them again and
realise how to complete them.
I write my poems in a notebook and then I can easily “batter them into shape” (or “edit” them, to use a technical term). I wouldn’t dream of using a computer, but some people find that method easier.
To begin to toboggan, first buy a toboggan,
But don’t buy too big a toboggan.
(A too big a toboggan is not a toboggan
To buy to begin to toboggan.)
Do you visit schools?
Yes, but fewer than I used to when I was younger!
How many schools have you visited?
I’ve lost track as I’ve been doing it for 25 years!
Which was most unusual school that you’ve visited?
A school on a mountain peak and could only be accessed by mule train, and then only if there was an R in the month.
And what was your best moment?
I’m always touched when children have prepared something special for me, such as a collage based on my books, or rehearsed a song for me. Some children I visited in Newcastle had made a model of my character Monty the Dog by cannibalising a Snoopy toy and placing a pair of glasses on his nose.
I loved that!
Of all the poems you’ve written, which is your favourite?
I like one called “Some Stuff in a Sack” which has echoes of “The Owl and the Pussy Cat”, you may notice.
Have you any pets?
I’ve got a pet pterodactyl (called Terry) who likes sugar lumps
and sitting on my shoulder.
How do you spend your spare time?
I like going to second-hand bookshops. You can pick up some real bargains – I sometimes even buy copies of my own books there!
What did you do before becoming a poet?
Before I was a poet I was the tiddlywinks champion of East Anglia.
Really? Did you win any trophies?
Yes, but I buried them all in my garden (for safe keeping) when I went
off to be a pirate. I subsequently lost the map.
So, they are still there.
Then you became a pirate. I bet that was exciting.
Yes. Especially as I taught my parrot to play tiddlywinks.
After that I became an astronaut.
And I bet you became the Intergalactic Tiddlywinks Champion!
Don’t be silly.
What was the best planet you visited?
Probably the planet Zogg, as the minerals there make the finest tiddlywinks.
Have you any plans for the future? More planets to visit, perhaps?
My plans are to carry on writing poems and stories till I run out of ideas. Then I’ll stay indoors and read all the books I’ve collected
over the years!
Do you have a web page?
Yes I do. Come and see me at www.colinwest.com
The closest relative of man
They say, is the orang-utan;
And when I look at Grandpapa,
I realise how right they are.
Lastly, Colin, what advice would you give to young and aspiring poets?
Write about things you’re interested in – anything from Football to Fairies – and remember the 3 “R’s” of poetry — rhythm, rhyme and repetition. But don’t be too “tied down” by rhyme – a poem may sound better if it doesn’t rhyme at all.
Colin West, thank you very much.
Shiver me timbers. It was a pleasure. Fancy a game of tiddlywinks?
Illustrations and Cousin Jane, Toboggan and Urang-utan are all © Colin West