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Laureate's Diary

I've been asked to write a laureate's diary for Booktrust and for the Books for Keeps magazine. Here's page 1:

First thing to say, is that I'm enjoying myself. I'm only mentioning that because many kind people have been worried that I might be drowning under the pile of work involved. No drowning, no need to worry!

People outside the book world ask me, what does being the Laureate mean? What do you actually do? What does a Laureate's day look like?

The first thing I did was come up with some ideas and the second thing I did was come up with some more. Ideas are very cheap. For me, they're usually the cost of a bus journey, with its free moments of looking out the window and thinking. (And my bus journeys are so cheap, they are in fact free with my over-60s Freedom Pass, thanks Ken.)

So, this is what I've thought:

1. Wouldn't it be great for children and poets to have an interactive youtube-like poetry website?

2.  We could have an interactive webpage for teachers to talk to each other about making poetry-friendly classrooms.

3. There could be Children's Literature Trails all over the country.

4. It would be good to have a children's poetry roadshow: 'The A-Z of poetry, Agard to Zephaniah'.

5. There could be an exhibition on the history of children's poetry at the British Library tied in with:

6. ...a conference on the history of children's poetry.

7.  The  Booktrust's 'The Big Picture' campaign for picture books is something I really support - and will.

8.  Why isn't there a Funny Prize for the funniest children's book of the year?

Now, each of these ideas needs plans and meetings, so we've sat in twos and threes at various times looking out over the river at the South Bank, munching curry near Oxford Circus, looking at the roofs from the fifth floor of  Waterstones in Piccadilly, or drinking coffee in the British Library café. We've made progress on all eight ideas. Funding is a problem for the interactive website but the poetry-friendly webpage is on its way. A document is being written for the Trails. Hay Festival is putting its weight behind the Poetry Roadshow. The British Library have said yes to the exhibition, the conference is less certain at the moment. The Big Picture has been launched and Booktrust are pressing ahead with The Funny Prize.

Meanwhile, I've been interviewed many, many times. Interesting, probing questions about poetry in education, the language and literacy curriculum, picture books, the schools I went to, my parents, my children, my trousers and much, much more.

Photographers have stuck me up against walls, looking round trees, peeping over the top of books and leaning dangerously over balconies. When I read the articles back to myself, I just occasionally find things that I think perhaps I didn't say. I'm not sure I told the 'Times' that I was in favour of 'chaos' - 'freedom', yes; 'chaos', I don't think so,  but maybe it came out like that... And I fear I misled my friend Nick Tucker when I reported a conversation about not having an office to work in. I think my tenses got mixed up and meant to say, 'I hadn't had an office to work in'! Sorry Nick, not your fault! I find myself wondering what it would feel like to be a politician: 'No I didn't say, "We should abolish it", I said, "We should polish it..."'

Then there's been my first Laureate Event, which was a talk I gave called 'What is a Bong Tree?' This was about the kinds of questions we ask children to answer about poems. The answer to the question, 'What is a Bong Tree?' comes at the end of the talk, so you can scroll straight to there if that's the bit you really want to know. Who knows, it might come up on 'University Challenge'. I'm not sure that my answer will be of much help, though.

It was great to help launch The Big Picture campaign to promote and champion picture books at the Early Book Awards. We have a serious task of saving the picture book from being squeezed out of the market by schools and parents rushing to buy phonics books and booklets full of 'English' exercises. I think that this is going to be the big challenge facing children's books over the next ten years.

In the meantime, I've had a great time doing my usual things, helping to make 'Word of Mouth' for Radio 4, visiting schools and book festivals and running workshops. I've had a fantastic time at Brook Sixth Form in Hackney where I live. I wrote a kind of 'Under Milk Wood' 'voice-play' about Hackney, and the students rehearsed and performed it to  a public audience at a local converted chapel. The 20 or so performers stood round the edge and the audience sat or stood in the middle. I'll put the text of the play up on my website.

Coming up I've got a whole raft of bookings and appearances which you can check out on the Booktrust website or on mine. And you might see me pop up on Matthew Wright's morning show on Channel Five talking about...yes, books for children.

 

 

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