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Guest Author - Helen Mort

Your new book ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ was published at the start of September. Could you tell us a little bit about the poems in the book?

The book features a selection of poems for children of all ages and abilities to enjoy and many of these have brief introductions written by me. I think all the poems can be appreciated by children, but that doesn’t mean all of them were written specifically for children: I tried to include quite a few contemporary poems by authors who you wouldn’t normally associate with children’s poetry as well as well-loved classics. The book contains everything from ballads to Julia Copus’ ‘specular’ poem which reads like a mirror. There are poems by Tennyson and Wordsworth but there are also poems by Benjamin Zephaniah and Clare Pollard.

Over the years you have won a number of awards, including the Foyle Young Poets award five times! Out of all of your achievements what is your stand out moment?

I was really thrilled when my first poetry collection ‘Division Street’ was accepted for publication by Chatto&Windus. I signed the contract for my book in 2011 and it was an exhilarating moment. When you’ve been writing alone for years, nothing beats the feeling of knowing that your poems are going to appear in print together. I was proud to have written a collection and even more proud that a publisher thought people would like to read it.

You are currently the Derbyshire Poet Laureate, what does this involve?

I’ve been spending the past year travelling around the incredibly varied and vast county of Derbyshire giving readings, running workshops and writing commissioned poems for events – I’ve been Poet in Residence at Chesterfield Football Club, amongst other things! I grew up in North East Derbyshire and many of the poems in my first collection were inspired by place, so the Derbyshire landscape always makes me want to write anyway. Its been a privilege getting to know the county a little bit better and working with so many different people in libraries and schools.

Out of all of the fantastic poems in ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ which is the poem that you love most and why?

I’ve always loved Edna St Vincent Millay’s poem ‘First Fig’ because it manages to say so much in so few words and says it so elegantly. I like poems that you can carry round in your head, making them a part of you. To me, Millay’s poem is a call to arms: you should live life to the full and not worry too much about the consequences! Millay had a fascinating life and she’s always been very inspirational to me as a female writer. I wish I had as much passion and wit as she did.

Have you always loved poetry from an early age?

Yes – my mum says I dictated a poem about trains to her before I could even write! She was very long-suffering and wrote my early poems down for me. As a baby, apparently I used to cry and cry until somebody read me a story, so I must have always loved the sound of words in some way.

What is a typical ‘day in the life of a poet’ like for you?

The best thing about being a poet is there’s no such thing as a typical day and each one brings new challenges. Yesterday I was in London judging the Forward Prizes for Poetry ad attending the awards ceremony, today I’m back in Sheffield at my desk and typing up some drafts of new poems and tomorrow I’ll be reading in two Derbyshire libraries. Anyone who thinks writers spend all their time starting out of the window and waiting for inspiration is in for a shock though – I think a lot of poets nowadays have much more of a busy community role and a public function. I always enjoy encouraging other people to write as much as I enjoy writing myself.

If you could give a budding young writer one piece of advice about becoming a poet what would it be?

Read. Read as much and as widely as you can. Find the poems that you love, the poems that excite you and see if you can work out what sorts of things you love about them.

What are your plans for the rest of year?

I’m hoping to start work on a novel this autumn that I’ve been planning for most of the year. Prose is a bit of a new venture to me and I’m looking forward to holding all the characters in my head and trying to listen to them properly. Amongst other things, the novel is about rock climbing and I’m a keen climber in my spare time so hopefully this will give me an excuse to get out onto the Derbyshire gritstone edges as often as I can too!


You can find out more about The Owl and the Pussycat, published by Buster Books here.