You have just published Zombie Kitten, a collection of poems and rhymes for children, illustrated by R. Kay Derricutt. Tell us about your journey towards this publication.
I have been writing poetry, rhymes and stories since I was young and never did anything with them, they just sat gathering dust in drawers or on old computers that I keep stored in the loft. Around fifteen years ago I wrote a long poem titled The Truth About Cinderella. Everybody I showed it to (which only really included family and close friends) enjoyed it and urged me to send it for publishing. I was always reticent about this, showing a complete stranger is leagues away from showing a family member. I am still fighting this demon, allowing other people to read my work is a little daunting even now. I was unsure really how to go about publishing, I did not have a clue who to send it to, so it just remained with me and did not see the outside world. Around three years ago, after a New Year’s resolution, I decided it was time to stop thinking and start doing something, so after a lot of internet searches I sent Cinderella off to a few literary agents and publishers, but I heard nothing. This was something I expected, but I was still not completely put off. Self-publishing was something that intrigued me, and along with eBook publishing, it was getting easier and cheaper, so I decided to take the plunge and try and publish it myself. It was a steep learning curve and at first I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but I was determined to get it published. I started writing more and more and buoyed by the nice comments people were leaving me, I decided to publish a paperback book. One of the only negative comments I had received from The Truth About Cinderella was that it was not illustrated, so I knew my next one should be. Culinanucobold became my first illustrated book. I discovered a website called Fiverr and an illustrator on there, that I liked the look and style of his artwork, and we got to work. I am immensely proud of it. This was followed by The Frog Dragon. I received a little help along the way by Ian Barker who also I found online. He helped with some editing, and narrated both of my illustrated books and Cinderella for Audible.
While I was publishing these I joined a writers group, the Crewe and District Writers’ Circle, and over time I gained in confidence. I am still what I would describe as an enthusiastic amateur, although I love writing and performing poetry, it still remains a passionate hobby of mine and not a full time occupation. Zombie Kitten was in the pipelines during some of this time. It’s been a project that I have worked on for around 18 months in fact. I had hoped to have it finished for Halloween 2016, but I had problems with finding an illustrator. Finally this year, Helen Kay (one of my writer circle friends) put me in touch with her son, Ryan. He had finished his A-Levels and was waiting for his results before going off to University. We chatted a few times about the style I was after and he agreed to illustrate Zombie Kitten. Once he had finished, I began the arduous task of putting it all together into the book that is now available. It’s been a long journey, but I am so pleased with the final results.
What is it you love about poetry?
I mainly write poems and rhymes for children, although I have been challenging myself and writing along more adult themes recently. I have two children of my own and in the past wrote a lot for them. I am not sure what it is that I love about poetry, but I know I love the way it gets my kids involved in reading. I enjoy poems like Jabberwocky, even though some of the words were made up, they make sense to the reader. I enjoy the way a poem can say more in 20 words than a novel could in 2000. It is like a monster in a really good horror that you barely see, your mind and imagination can fill in the gaps that the poet scaffolds.
Can you share with us a couple of your poems and the inspiration behind them?
This poem is about the moon. I wrote it for Mark Sheeky’s Artslab show on Redshift Radio. The theme of the week was obviously the moon. and so I wrote this as a challenge to myself to try and come up with something I would find interesting. I do find Mark’s programme is a good way for me to challenge and push myself to write. I feel that the one thing I have learnt in the last few months is that to get better at something you need to keep doing it. You discover what works and what doesn’t, and slowly I think I am improving. I still have a long way to go though.
Perigee to apogee
Your eccentricity is fact
Your radius, circumference
Volume, Gravity, and Mass
We know your vital grey statistics
Your craters mapped and sized
We even visited you, some people say
At least half a dozen times
But your origins, Luna lineage
We haven’t got a clue
But we know our tidal forces,
Would be nothing without you
Our close night-time companion
In the dark our only light
You watch over our insanity
When the loonies come to fight
We prayed to you in history
Tracked your movements for our time
Plotted out our months for you
Even made you our divine
Your ever presence is a comfort
Our first hint we’re not alone
On this little green-blue marble
We like to call our home
This next one is titled Snowmen. I wrote Snowmen over twenty years ago. I remember coming up with it when I worked at The Merlin, a pub in Crewe. I was bottling up and sorting out the empty bottles from the night before in the freezing cold shed at the back of the pub. It was an extremely cold day and this silly rhyme about snowmen popped into my head. I had loads of verses going around in my head, but had to finish the bottles. When I got back inside and thawed ,I wrote down as much as I could remember. Over the years I have refined it and changed some things, but this remains pretty much the same poem I wrote in the bottle shed all those years ago.
I’d like to tell you a story
A story you won’t believe
It’s a story about snowmen
A story that’s true indeed
You think you know the truth about snowmen
But you don’t know it right
Because the truth about snowmen comes
When you’re tucked up at night
‘tis a truth that not many grown-ups know
A truth not full of fluffy snow
Where snowmen are all good and nice
And sit out in the cold and ice
You see the truth about snowmen is
They are not too good at all
They come to life this time of year
To ruin Christmas for us all
They come down undercover
On parachutes of snow
Then silently lie in waiting
’til the time is right to go
Not all snowmen are the same
Some are worse than others
And never mess with small snowmen
Cause they’ve got bigger brothers
The worse snowmen are the ones with pipes
Because they’re the generals see
They give the orders to attack
Then hide behind a tree
A snowman has his allies
He never works alone
Jack Frost and bad old Frosty
Always love the snow
They work together well
These two good close friends
But only when its winter
‘til the bitter end
The things they do at Christmas
Would make your straight hair curl
They climb into the slumbering house
And leave things in a whirl
They spread their muddy footprints
And leave icy patches too
They freeze pipes in the toilet
And then block up the loo
They un-defrost the turkey
So it takes an age to cook
And nick the good jokes from the crackers
When no-ones ‘round to look
But perhaps the worst thing about snowmen
Is when no-ones hereabouts
They pinch all the roast potatoes
And leave nothing but the Sprouts
So if you ever made a snowman
And then one day it’s gone
Keep a lookout for old Frosty
He’s not melted in the sun
And that’s my story over
That’s the end and that’s the truth
Only one thing that is lacking
And that’s the missing proof
What themes keep cropping up in your writing? What do you care about?
I am not sure if I have a common theme that goes through my poetry but I sometimes try to find a quirky angle to fit in around a real life experience. Whether this always works I don’t know, but that is my intent. I do tend to try and write about something I know about.. My wife says I’m sometimes a little too biographical, but I suppose that’s normal. Even in Zombie Kitten there are a few poems that draw from real life. ‘Why I Don’t Like Mushrooms’, ‘Why Clothes Are Itchy’ and ‘Ghost Rider’ are three that draw on real experiences.
If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
I would make my books compulsory purchases, I mean I don’t really know. If I was being serious, I would probably say something like ‘I would make money obsolete’. Trade would be based on need and not commerce. We would help everybody, equally, and no matter what race or religion or sexuality, everyone would have an equal share. Society has a fair way to go to get there and perhaps I watch too much Star Trek, but this would be nice.
Who inspires you and why?
There are many writers that I really enjoyed growing up, from Roald Dahl and his Revolting Rhymes to Spike Milligan’s fantastic On The Ning Nang Nong. Every night me and my wife read to our two children. It was always three books and bed, and we all enjoyed Julia Donaldson’s Gruffalo. I was inspired by these to try and write my own stories and rhymes.
I am also inspired by screen writers like Aaron Sorkin and Quentin Tarantino. I love long wordy scenes in films, filled with dialogue that is clever, rich and funny, and sometimes thought provoking.
What are you reading at the moment?
I should really lie at this point and say something worthy, but I am currently reading a James Patterson Bookshot book called Killer Chef. I will soon be reading the new Dan Brown book once I order a copy. I have enjoyed his other books. I also won a copy of Jo Cox’s Biography More In Common, which I will read at some point.
Tell us about one of the best days of your life.
I should really say something along the lines of my wedding day, or the days my children were born. Those were all excellent and I will cherish them forever, but I think one of the best days of my life has to be the day I met Mickey Mouse for the first time. This year is my fortieth birthday and I have always been a fan of Disney. I have wanted to go and visit Disney World in Florida for so long. So over the last few years we have saved for this holiday of a lifetime, and this summer my family and I finally went. I tried to keep a lid on my excitement, tried not to let my expectations overwhelm me and end up being disappointed. I was not disappointed at all. Now before flying over I wanted to see everything and I enjoy going on rides, but meeting the characters was never a priority. In my head I just thought it would be like meeting a mascot at a football game. I was wrong, so very wrong! I met Mickey Mouse, dressed in his Sorcerer’s Apprentice outfit. My disbelief was well and truly suspended, I was a kid again. The whole experience was amazing and I would go back in a heartbeat.
What is next for you? What plans have you got?
I started a novel two years ago and would really like to get that finished. I write weekly for Mark Sheeky’s Artslab radio programme, and could probably edit and put out a pamphlet of pieces that I have written for that. I also have amassed some more poems for kid,s so if Ryan is free, I would love for him to illustrate another book for me. I also did some story telling at Nantwich Food Festival this year to groups of young kids, and really enjoyed it. I would love to go to local libraries and do some more of that, reading my poems and stories. If local libraries and schools would like me to do a session, I would be more than happy to try that again.