Teacher Magazine

Interviewing Michael Rosen – Teacher Magazine

About writing

– What does writing mean to Michael Rosen?

It’s my way of having a special kind of conversation. A poem starts out from the words and phrases that are in the air or in the writings around me. In some ways it’s a mix of a borrowing from them but also a conversation with them, using the words to reply to them. Then the poem, once it’s made, opens a conversation with the people reading or hearing it. It goes into that person’s repertoire of heard and read literature. And it floats around with all the other poems and stories for that person to take with them wherever they want to go.

– How did you start writing?

At school, we had quite a lot of encouragement to write stories as part of our English lessons. Sometime around the time I was sixteen, I got it into my head that I would like to write these poems. It was partly  a result of my parents doing a lot of work helping people put together a mixture of poetry anthologies for schools, radio broadcasts for schools on the BBC and a general fun and games in the home listening to poets and actors reading poems – people like Richard Burton reading Dylan Thomas, Rupert Graves reading  his own poems and the like.

– How did you publish your first book? Was it short or a long and painful process?

The first book I published was a play. I had written a play that was put on at the Royal Court Theatre in London and at the time, Faber, the London publishers, were publishing any new play that was put on at the Royal Court. I had written some poems which I had written partly for some radio programmes but also for a TV children’s programme and I put these together and sent them round to several publishers.

– Is there a culminating moment that marks your career as a writer?

I don’t think so. I see it as a slow progression.

– What part of writing do you find more difficult as a writer: characterization, poetry, documentation, dialogue, a good beginning or the epilogue?

I think the thing I’ve always found the hardest is creating a long fictional narrative.

– How is your creative process, and your daily routine when writing? Do you have any rites, or places you have to be when writting?

I don’t really have any routine. Every day is different for me. I spend a lot of time doing things like radio programmes or performances in schools and theatres so I’ve never really got myself a routine at home.

– How do you fight against the writer’s block?

I don’t fight against it all. I just let ideas come to me and try and put them down in my notebook.

– Speaking about children’s literature, do you believe it is a proper genre or it is an invention of the market that needs labelling?

I think you can say that children’s literature is a field of literature. For several hundred years adults have been writing poems, stories and plays with the view to reaching children. So you have there an intention, many different forms and an audience. I’d call it a ‘field’ of literature rather than a genre.

– How would you define your ideal reader?

To be honest, I don’t. I’m happy for anyone anywhere anytime to read what I write.

From all your books….

– Which was more fun to write?

Perhaps that was ‘Quick Let’s Get Out Of Here’

– Which was more painful?

Michael Rosen’s Sad Book.

– Which one is the one you feel more proud of?

I think that would be ‘The Wicked Tricks of Till Owlyglass’

– Of which one will you deny?

I don’t think you should ever deny what you write.

– Which will you recommend to someone that wants to start reading Michael Rosen?

I think that would be a book that’s coming out in October – ‘Mustard, Custard, Grumble Belly and Gravy’ – two books that are out of print (‘Don’t Put Mustard In The Custard’ and ‘You Can’t Catch Me’) put together in one volume.

– How is your editing process? Do you hire editors?

No, I don’t hire editors. I try to read and re-read what I write but after that it’s a matter of having many chats with the editor at the publishing house.

– What kind of books do you read? Who are your favourite authors?

I read a mixture of poetry books, books about language or history or politics. Occasionally, I will read a novel. I sometimes review children’s books and I have young children so I get to see a few children’s books too. My favourite authors are Shakespeare, Chaucer, Dickens and Hardy from the past. More recent authors I’ve enjoyed are Paul Durcan, an Irish poet; several American poets like Carl Sandburg, Langston Hughes.

– At last, what would you tell a starting writer?

You have to read as much as you can and as widely as you can. As many different things as you can.

Team work with illustrators

– How is your work with an illustrator? Do you suggest how the drawings should be or let his or her imagination go?

Usually the illustrator is totally free to interpret what I’ve written in any way that she or he likes. I don’t intervene at all.

– Do the publishing houses suggest an illustrator or do you choose the one you feel it fits the project best?

It can be either.

About inspiring children to read

– Which is the best way to approach a group of children and start talking about books? Do you have a strategy or you rather base the experience on children’s demands?

Usually I start out from anecdotes that have happened to me, or poems I’ve written.

– Do you think poetry does work well with children? Do they really read poetry or is it more fathers and mothers that read to them aloud before children can even decide what they like?

I think this comes and goes depending on what’s in the school curriculum. In the seventies and eighties, poetry for children became very popular. At the moment it has slipped off the priorities.

– Is there a book fit for all children or is it better to listen to what they do like before trying to read them anything?

I think reading to or with children is a matter of being sensitive to what they’re interested in. You can always try to read them something that you think they might enjoy. If you think it’s something that they should enjoy, the chances are it won’t entertain them. I think you have to be flexible and just see what crops up.

– Thank you so much for your time, and patience!

You’re very welcome.