- When did you start writing?
- Why do you write poetry?
- How long does it take you to write a poem?
- How do you write your poems?
- Where do you write your poems?
- Where do your ideas come from?
- What part does music play in your poetry?
- What else do you like doing?
- Can you read me one of your poems?
When did you start writing?
I started writing when I was about sixteen. I started writing songs to begin with and trying to play the guitar, but I wasn't very good at playing the guitar and I think most people realised that I was never going to be a rock star long before I did. I put the guitar to one side but the songs carried on and the songs turned into poems and I just carried on from there really.
Why do you write poetry?
I write poetry because I have to. I love the way that in a poem you can string words together in a variety of ways. I love the whole structure and form of the poem and the way that in a poem you can say a lot in very little. It can be very very powerful in that you can read a poem and it can stay with you forever. I'm not saying that my poems do that but it's something like all poets I aspire to.
How long does it take you to write a poem?
To write a poem it could take anything from five minutes to a year. I think the longest time it took me to write a poem was nine years. I was in a Canadian city called Vancouver. I saw a dog hit by a car and went into a café and immediately wrote three or four lines, went back to my hotel, wrote a bit more, wrote some more on the plane going home and could never finish the poem. Every year for nine years I took this poem out and started trying to work on it again and finish it and it wasn't until nine years had passed that the idea for the ending came along. I think with poems it's like that, sometimes you have to wait for a while for the idea to reveal itself. On other occasions it's just a bit of a splurge, the idea's there, I'm writing the ideas are pouring out faster than I can write them down and the poem's written very very quickly.
How do you write your poems?
Quite often I start writing using a dictaphone. Particularly when I'm travelling along in the car. I can pick this up and speak into it and capture the ideas so I don't lose them. And that's really useful. Other times ideas come when I'm doing something that doesn't involve a lot of brain work, something like washing-up late at night. I'll grab hold of a piece of paper, usually an old envelope - I keep a pile of old envelopes in the kitchen and scribble the ideas on the back of the odd envelope between washing-up and later on I'll come along and work in the office, putting the ideas from the envelope or the dictaphone into the notebook and I'll carry on in the notebook for a while. There always comes a time when I think I would like to see what this looks like on the screen so I transfer the whole lot to the computer screen. Then I cut and paste and edit and generally mess around with the poem until I think it's OK. I print it out and have a look at it again and invariably the print-out looks as though it needs attention again so I'll fiddle around with that and make another print-out and the process can go on for a while until I'm happy with the poem.
Where do you write your poems?
Most of the time I write in my office when I'm working on poems, particularly when I'm using the computer, but I can write anywhere, I've always got a dictaphone or a notebook. I can write on a train or plane journey. I can write sitting in cafes and restaurants. Or on the bus. And in hotel rooms. Or sitting on the beach.
Where do your ideas come from?
Ideas really come from anywhere and everywhere. As a writer you become a bit of an ideas detective, always on the hunt for anything that might be useful as the starting point for a poem. On one occasion I was walking down the street and a lady and her probably four-year-old son were walking towards me and I heard him say as we passed, "Mummy, did pirates wear nail varnish?" I thought "What??" I swivelled around but they had gone past by that time so I didn't hear what the answer was. But I thought that would make a wonderful first line for a poem about a different view of pirates: I wonder if pirates wore nail varnish/ Did they eat after-dinner mints/ Did they visit expensive hairdressers/ And highlight their hair with tints? On another occasion I was in a school staff room. Staff rooms are really great places for picking up ideas, because teachers tell each other the most wonderful things. I was listening to six teachers who were all telling each other what they wore in bed at night. I thought, well, there's a whole world out there who would love to know this sort of information and it's my job as a writer to pass it on. So I made a couple of pages of notes in my notebook about what teachers wore in bed and I finished the poem and it kicked off a book called The Secret Lives of Teachers.
What part does music play in your poetry?
For me music plays a big part. It's percussion, I can keep a rhythm but I can't play a piano, pick out a tune. It's really just for emphasising the rhythms of the poems and I like to use a range of percussion instruments. Sometimes the sort of drum that I have here which is a talking drum and just beat out some kind of rhythm on that and other times maybe some kind of instrument to give me a bit of background. For example there's an instrument that comes from America called a spring drum - this always gets children going, "Wow, what's that?" It makes such a wonderful sound.
What else do you like doing?
Well I don't do anything terribly dramatic like hang-gliding over active volcanoes, but I do like travelling all around the UK and Europe. I get a lot of ideas from travelling - I like going to Scotland and just wandering around there, I find it a very inspirational place. As well as that I do a lot of reading, I collect books - I've got thousands of books in my house and I'm always wandering around second-hand bookshops buying new volumes. I've got a fish pond in my garden that takes up a bit of time and when I want a bit of exercise I get on my bike and I ride around the bridle paths and the woods at the back of my house, sometimes in the rain when it's very muddy I end up coming off the bike and coming back covered in mud.
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