Frequently Asked Questions

A few of the questions I'm frequently asked:

When did you start writing?

I started writing songs at the age of 15 and I played in all kinds of bands for many years. But I didn’t start writing and publishing poems until the age of 37. I write instrumental music even now, which I often play as part of my poetry assemblies and workshops in schools. And I still get a thrill every time a poem or book is published. My first big thrill as a writer was in 2002 when I got my first book of poems, Cars Stars Electric Guitars published – with a little help from the awesome Jacqueline Wilson. You might have heard of her! I'd been wanting to write a picture book for many, many years, and now I have a whole series of them - gorgeous non-fiction verse picture books published by the incredibly creative Little Tiger Press.

Why did you decide to become a poet?

I never set out to be a poet, it just happened. I found myself coming up with ideas for poems, and I just start writing them. I so enjoy writing poems because I love WORDS. The sound, the feeling, the textures, the rhythms of words. Playing with words. That’s what poetry is for me – language at its most playful and musical. I love the fact that I can write a very sad, short poem – like my haiku poem about a reindeer being shot in the snow – to a zany, playful poem in the shape of a little bug to a long poem telling of something funny that happened on the beach in Cornwall one holiday. I love the variety that poetry offers.

How long does it take to write a poem?

Usually up to three months. I’ll tweak a poem for ages until I’m happy with it – changing words, verses, moving lines around, adding extra lines, doing anything I can to make it better. I call this ‘tweaking’. A poem has got to be as perfect as you can get it. It has to be tight and punchy. My wife sees all my poems first and she’s very harsh in her criticisms – and quite right too! A poem has got to work well on the page.

I also love working out how I’m going to perform a poem – maybe with music, or with actions, or where to go soft, and then loud, or stop for a while for dramatic effect.

What is your favourite poem you’ve ever written?

I don’t really have one favourite, I just enjoy writing. If I had to pick one, I’d say the very soppy slushy lovey–dovey one I wrote for my wife. It’s called Love You More and it’s in my book Time–Travelling Underpants.

Why do you write funny poems?

It’s funny because I don’t think of my poems as ‘funny’. I tend to think of them as quirky. I’ve always liked quirky and unusual things – from comics to watching Monty Python TV programmes in the 70s to watching one of my own favourite poets, John Hegley. He showed me that you can write about everyday things in a quirky way. He writes very amusing poems about things like dogs, potatoes and wearing glasses. So I write about garden sheds, the dark, guitars, trees, moths – just everyday things that are around me. That’s where I get my ideas from! My daughter Lauren had a wobbly tooth once. It fell out and she put it under her pillow. So I wrote a poem about staying awake to meet the tooth fairy.

Why do you do music in your performances?

Why not? It seems the most natural thing to do. Poetry is so musical anyway. Poets have been performing with all kinds of instruments (harps, drums etc.) for thousands of years. Plus it's great fun. These days I'll play piano or keyboard (if there's one around) or my melodica, Steve. It can set up an atmosphere for a quieter poem - or even be an excuse for a zany interactive bit between me and the audience doing TV theme tunes or maybe having a boogie with an Infant class at the end of a performance!

Do you like visiting schools?

You bet! I'm so lucky to do the job I do. I get to perform my own poems, play some music - I get to meet and work with wonderful children and inspirational teachers and librarians - and to encourage children to write their own poems. What more could you ask for?

Do you do your own illustrations?

Oh gosh, no - I can't really draw! I'm very lucky indeed to have had some amazing illustrators to work with over the years - Nicola Colton, Mique Moriuchi, Ed Boxall - and a whole range of fabulous illustrators from around the world in my latest verse non-fiction series for Little Tiger Press.

What poets do you enjoy?

John Hegley, Michael Rosen, John Agard and Roger McGough and ‘adult’ poets like Dylan Thomas, Billy Collins, Carol Ann Duffy and Mary Oliver.

What are your favourite children’s books?

There’s loads – including Don’t Put Mustard In The Custard by Michael Rosen, Ring of Words by Roger McGough, Monkey Do! by Allan Ahlberg, The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban, Skellig by David Almond, Igor – The Bird Who Couldn’t Sing by Satoshi Kitamura, Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.

Where and when do you write?

I write everywhere, but mostly on trains. This makes the drivers really cross. I tend to write in quiet times and in-betweeny times, like when waiting for the kettle to boil. Most of all, when my daydreamy self is in charge of my brain. Writing is not just about picking up a pen - it's about working on ideas, and often this is best done in your head - thinking words or lines through, or maybe spending time considering a title or a phrase or an ending. I often doing this when I'm out shopping or watching TV!

Why do you play music and write poems?

I'm mad about music and I'm mad about words. For me, poems are the most fun you can have with words, but music can express things way beyond words. And they've so much in common, as poems are words at their most musical, magical, playful, rhythmical. My favourite word says it all: rhythm!

Why poetry?

It's what I love writing most of all, and I hope what I do best. I like the fact that in a poetry book I can put in daft poems, mad poems as well as very serious and thoughtful and quiet poems. Plus I love the fact poems come in all sorts of shapes and styles - of course rhyming stuff - but also lots of free verse and shape poetry, and poems can tell stories - real ones or invented, tell jokes or help you think about your life. As a guitarist I like dabbling in different styles from jangly pop to country to jazz, and that's what I do with poetry too. I dabble! If asked, I say I write playful stuff for 7-777 year olds that makes you think about things. But I also write little rhymes for little people aged 0-6.

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