We found out that you were brought up in a school. What was it like? How did it affect your attitudes to learning?
Our home was the boys’ prep school where my father taught and my mother was the matron, and we lived in a flat at the top of it. My childhood there was very happy and one of the advantages was that when the other boys had gone home for the holidays, my brother and I had an enormous playground, consisting of the school playing fields and grounds, more or less to ourselves. Nobody’s childhood is quite plain sailing though, and as a child taught by a parent, you sometimes have the feeling of divided loyalties between the parent and your friends.
We learnt that it is good to start off by imitating other poets. Which poet did you first imitate? Can you give us any clues as to how you started to develop your own voice?
My Dad used often to write poems, usually short and usually humorous, and he encouraged us to do the same. It was a natural thing to do, and fun. So he would be the first poet I imitated. I wouldn’t bother at all about finding your own voice. The more you write and the more styles you try out, the more it will come naturally.
What are the challenges of compiling an anthology? What do you think makes you so good at it?
I’m afraid I think there are too many anthologies published nowadays and not enough new books of poems by individual poets. The result is that many anthologies seem to consist just of the same old poems in a different order!
Do you think that writing poems for children is different from writing poems for adults? If so, in what way?
I hope, and find, that the poems I write for children are enjoyed by adults too. But a lot of the poems I write for adults wouldn’t, I think, be enjoyed by children, who would find them too complicated, or boring, or private, or depressing, or all four! That’s certainly not true of all of them and I often read poems to children that come from my adult collections.
Can you describe your working day? And what do you do in your spare time?
My working days vary greatly, according to what I’m writing and what else I have to do. I have a study where I do most of my work, but I also like to write downstairs at the kitchen table, making constant cups of tea and coffee. I like reading, walking, talking with friends, singing to my guitar, playing cricket and going to the pub.
We have had such fun compiling these questions. Your poems have been read in the classroom, in the playground and even in our minibus on the way to a school trip! What advice can you give us for making poems work for other people (all sorts of other people!) and not just for ourselves?
I’m so glad you enjoyed compiling your questions; they’re very good ones and I’ve enjoyed answering them. It’s very nice too that you’ve liked reading my poems, particularly in the playground and the minibus! As regards the audience for your poems, it’s good to try them out on your friends. Otherwise, the more you write, and the more poems by others that you read, the more widely enjoyable your own are likely to get.
Very good luck with them!
Read more interviews of leading authors by children.
YoungWriter was a magazine published from 1995 to 2003 by Kate Jones.
We here at Myst Ltd had the pleasure of producing the magazine for Kate.
Sadly, Kate passed away in 2010.