Tell everybody a little about yourself
I’ve been a full time poet for over 30 years and write for children and adults. When my poems for children started to get published I began visiting schools to perform and lead workshops. That’s when I realised it was possible for me to earn a living as a poet and I gave up my ‘proper job’ as a librarian. I feel very fortunate and still love what I do. My other passion is music – I play guitar in a band.
Was your creativity affected in any way during the lockdown? Did being in lockdown make you feel inspired or deflated?
I’ve found plenty of lockdown/coronavirus related themes to write about so inspired by it is my answer.
Was it therapeutic doing creative work during lockdown?
I think it’s always therapeutic though I don’t think of it as therapy when I’m doing it. I write most days. It’s a lifelong addiction I can’t kick! It means there’s always something to think about and be working on – so I’m never bored.
Playing with other musicians is definitely beneficial. I’m often on a high after performing (or even just rehearsing) with my band. I’ve certainly missed not being able to do that.
How did you occupy your time?
By mostly doing what I’d be doing anyway if I wasn’t in a school i.e. writing poetry and playing guitar. I’ve walked much more too and feel fitter as a result.
What was the main thinking behind your poem submitted to Together Behind Four Walls ?
I’d been thinking about the massive effect Lockdown was having on lives but that lots of ‘normal’ routines continue and that it still rains, the wind still blows, the sun still shines and love lives on (hence the opening verse of the poem):
‘ Meals: cooked. Clothes: washed. Plans:
squashed. But shirts dry in the sun.
Yes, the sun shines, even at a time like this.
And the two of us continue to laugh, hug, kiss’
What inspires most of your poems?
I use photographs that I’ve taken as a trigger for many of my poems for grown-ups. For the past 10 years I’ve posted a photograph and poem on a site called Blipfoto. When I first started I posted every day but now have gaps. (It was that process which got me back into writing for adults again as, once I became a professional poet, writing for a younger audience took over for many years as that’s where I earned, and still earn, most of my poetry-related income). Some of the poems only work if accompanied by the photo but I do end up with plenty that can stand alone e.g. ‘Love In The Time Of Coronavirus.
Most of my poems for children are written when I get requests from editors asking for poems on specific subjects so I’ve written plenty of poems about family, school, animals, food and, recently, the moon and outer space. A fee and a deadline are the ‘inspiration.’
Do you have any favourite poems, from all the poems you have written?
I’m pleased I wrote ‘Absent’ and ‘Best Friends’ (they’re for children but I’ve found that grown-ups enjoy them too) because they’re both very popular and have been published in many anthologies in a number of countries. Also ‘Ref Rap’ which involves audience participation (even adults join in) and is the one I end performances with. Harder to choose favourite adult poems - possibly ‘Body Talk’ and ‘The New Man’ which were winners in a Lancaster Literature Festival competition many years ago.
Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote or one of the first?
The first might be a poem called ‘John Howard Oliver’ probably written when I was about 13. I don’t have a copy but can picture it, in my handwriting, in a school exercise book. Two others are ‘Slightly Schizoid’ and ‘The Jump’ which were published in a small press magazine called Omens when I was a student. My first experience of getting something published. I remember being very excited.
Do you ever think of poems before going to sleep or just after waking up?
Both. I find getting an idea in the evening and writing a few lines in my notebook, then leaving it till the next day, works well for me. But I’ve found dozing a little while in a morning is also a fertile period for new ideas. I’m mostly late to bed and late to rise.
Do you hand write poems or go directly on to your computer?
Poems begin handwritten in my notebook. I do move on to the computer much sooner than I used to though.
Do you ever give up on poems you have started?
Hardly ever. I find if I keep returning to unfinished ones I do get an end result – not always a publishable one but at least I can then forget about it.
Do you do any other creative activities?
As I’ve mentioned, playing guitar in a band is a major activity for me. Some of the poems I perform in schools have guitar accompaniment and I also use music in my poetry workshops. Just over a year ago I started to draw a little too.
If you had to write a poem about yourself, how would it start?
I do have one about a character called Zoot (that was written for a musical show I co-wrote with several people a long time ago) which is lightly/slightly autobiographical so perhaps I’d use the first two lines of that and see where it leads me:
I’ll start at the beginning
From the day that I was born…
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