You’ve been a published writer for over 20 years, what is your secret to success?
That’s a tricky one. Well, given the fact that children must enjoy my books and publishers must feel that they’re worthwhile and will sell, then I guess it would be perseverance. I spend lots of time sending ideas for collections and stories to publishers. And if I’ve written a book and a publisher says he or she is not interested – then I send it to another publisher. As the saying goes - If at first you don’t succeed... That’s so very true if you want to be a writer.
You write poetry, fiction and songs – do you have a favourite, why?
From a very early age I knew what I wanted to be. A rock star. I joined my first band when I was 13. It was called The Pathfinders and we were known as the little lads of R&B. Now I play keyboards in a band with the legendary Robb Johnson and I play solo with my guitar in folk clubs, performing my own songs. In 2012 I made my first album on a proper record label, I Don’t Wish to Alarm You But… (Irregular Records), and I’m working on a new one now. But writing stories and poems comes a close second. I don’t think I have a favourite of those two – but so far I’ve had most success with poetry. And poetry is great to perform as well. In fact, probably what I like the very best is sharing my poems live with a big audience of children.
Does it take a long time to create a collection of poetry?
Beware! Low Flying Rabbits, the most recent collection of my own poems, didn’t take very long at all, as I already had the poems written. It was just a case of choosing the best and putting them into the right order.The Penguin in Lost Property, with Jan Dean, took a little longer as I had to write the poems from scratch.What Are We Fighting For with Brian Moses, which came out at the beginning of the year, is probably one of the most difficult books I have written, and took quite awhile. I had to do a lot of research about the two world wars. And finding the right tone for the poems was tricky, too. However you look at it – war is a depressing business, but I couldn’t make the poems too gloomy.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Well, if I’m really stuck, I look down the back of the sofa. There I might find a pound coin. And so I visit our local Poetry Supermarket and use the pound to buy a couple of ideas from the Inspiration shelves. They’re in the chilled cabinets, just round the corner from the Metaphor section.
Do you have a special place you write, or a writing routine?
No, not really. Early mornings are usually good for ideas and so I always keep my notebook by my bed. Train journeys are good too. I have a couple of comedy thrillers coming out next year and I finished the rough draft of the second book last week on a train to Devon.
To rhyme or not to rhyme?
Like most children, I love rhyming poems. And they are a challenge to write – especially if you’ve chosen a difficult or unusual rhyming scheme. I like a challenge which is why I’m very fond of writing sonnets. But when I have an idea and I start to write, I don’t think about whether it will rhyme or not. I just write down what comes into my head. I then work on it. Sometimes it rhymes and sometimes it doesn’t. My advice would be that, unless you’re setting out to write in a particular style, a limerick for example, then don’t get hung up on rhyming. The rhythm of a poem is sometimes more important.
Do you have any advice for budding poets and writers?
Yes. Read lots. Read the sort of stories and poems that you enjoy. But read different things, too. If you’re a boy, read books for girls. If you’re a girl, read books for boys. And keep a notebook. If you haven’t got a notebook go out and buy one right away! You never know when you’ll see or hear something that will suggest a poem or story. And you never know when an idea will just pop into your head.
What is your favourite poem you’ve ever written?
That’s another difficult question. I’m very fond of the first poem that I ever had published.
When I write haiku
I always seem to have one
syllable left o
How will you be celebrating National Poetry Day this year?
As an NPD Ambassador (http://www.forwardartsfoundation.org/national-poetry-day/what-is-national-poetry-day/ambassadors/), I’ve been talking to journalists and radio and television broadcasters. Actually on the day, I’m at Hazelwood School in Surrey. The day before, I’ll be reading some poems at our local children’s book shop – The Book Nook in Hove – to make sure everyone knows the importance of NPD. And I’m running a special one day only competition on my website, The Poetry Zone.
Do you have any literary ambitions you’ve yet to fulfil?
Yes, I’d like to find a publisher for my grown-up novel.
Do you have any projects in the pipeline you can tell us about?
Yes, I have a book coming out in 2016 with an American poet, Steven Withrow, which is very exciting; a third book in the What Rhymes With Sneeze/Off By Heart series also, in 2016, called What Is a Poem? and a series of, hopefully, hilariously funny novels. My next book comes out next year. It’s for younger readers and is calledI Wish I Had a Pirate Hat and will be published by Frances Lincoln.
Where can fans, new and old, find out more about you and your work.
You can contact me through my website The Poetry Zone. I set it up as a place for children and teenagers to post their own poems. But there’s more about me and lots of writing ideas for children and teachers there. You can see me (and friends of mine – young and old) reading poems on You Tube. And you can read my grown-up poems on my blog. And, of course, you can buy my books online as well as in all book shops.
The Poetry Zone www.poetryzone.co.uk
Poems for Grown Ups http://rogerstevens.blogspot.com
Children's Poems on You Tube http://www.youtube.com/user/rogerstevenspoet
A huge thanks to Roger for answering our burning questions! You can find out more about National Poetry Day here. Please read Roger's poem 'Dear Mug', which has been written especially for National Poetry Day this year!