Blog A Q&A with Christian Foley
Christian Foley is one of the only few poets in the world selected to complete a ‘Spoken Word Education Programme’ and Teaching MA at Goldsmiths University, an incentive which was created to transform professional poets into specialised facilitators. He is currently studying a PhD in Hip Hop Education. Christian works in a number of schools and alternative provisions in East London, as a poet in residence, and is the editor of fourteen poetry anthologies written with children between the ages of four and eighteen.
What inspired you to write The Oddsocktopus?
I grew up by the ocean and it has always featured in my storytelling. Living in a sprawling city, I miss my childhood by the waves. So there’s some of that appreciation for the natural world that’s woven into the book. I think I took it for granted growing up, that closeness to the sea. Am I too old to have a favourite animal? I would answer that it’s the octopus. They’re so smart and individual. Predictably unpredictable and magically mischievous. Also, as a character The Oddsocktopus goes on this journey of self-discovery, where he comes to this realisation that an accumulation of ‘stuff’ can’t replace a sense of being comfortable with being himself. I guess that’s the lesson of the story. At the same time, I wanted to have some fun with language. As a rap artist, I really liked the idea of spinning these tongue-twisting rhymes throughout and showing children that there’s a delight to playing with words.
How long did it take to write The Oddsocktopus & did you have any input in the illustration style?
The story itself probably took about forty minutes to write, but it existed verbally prior to that – much of it was formed before I wrote it down. I was performing it as a poem during shows, because I liked the title that I’d come up with, an octopus wearing odd socks, it has to be The Oddsocktopus. After a couple of months, I thought I’m actually going to type this up, so it exists somewhere outside of my head. After that, there weren’t too many revisions to the text, it reads pretty much as it did when I thought of it.
In terms of the artwork, yes I had a lot of input. The illustrator, Rob Turner is a close friend of mine, and he would consult with me every step of the way. He drew about ten different Oddsocktopuses and I chose the one I liked the best – I love his drawings. They’re full of character. Which is what you want when designing... a character.
Did the pupils you teach have any influence in writing The Oddsocktopus?
Yes. The story is hugely shaped by my work in education. I would often perform the poem to different age groups and get an honest gauge about what they wanted to hear more of. It’s a very student-led story in that sense. I made it for them.
Can you sum up The Oddsocktopus in just three words?
You’re perfect already.
Are there any plans for a second book?
Yes. But not a sequel. The Oddsocktopus is happy where he is right now. Me and Rob have another book in the works called "Some Bears". It is aimed for a younger age group, 3–4-year-olds and only contains three words per page, but it has a pretty deep message and we’re really proud of it. It’s completely different to the book we’ve just put out. Which is important. We don’t just want to do the same thing again and again.
Do you have a favourite place to write?
I wish I could say that there’s a bench overlooking the sea that I go to. That would be romantic. But there isn’t. I write most of my poems on the train on the way to school, because I’m a last-minute planner, and I have to get poems ready at short notice for a performance. Most of my work isn’t actually written down at all.
What was your favourite book when you were a child?
My favourite book in Reception was ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ by Michael Rosen which had just come out, I think. It’s strange to think Michael Rosen wrote the blurb to my first book. Funny how things work out.
We’ve seen your rap videos online and they are very impressive! Is there one rap artist in particular who influenced you the most when you first started making the rap videos? Why?
Hip Hop is educational and I’m most inspired by artists who not only have something to say, but something to teach. For me, Kendrick Lamar has probably had the most impact on my generation, in terms of showcasing what words can do, and the impact they can have. That doesn’t mean I’m teaching Kendrick to Year 1 – but we do rap over some of his instrumentals.
What is your number one tip for young Writers who aspire to be an author?
Writing isn’t about grades or levels. It isn’t pass or fail. It’s a playground (with no rules). Be free with it!
Where can fans find out more about you and your work?
@christianfoleyoetry – Insta
@cfoleypoetry – Twitter
@christianfoleyoetry – TikTok