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Tuesday 31 March 2020


The poem above is published in my latest book, Welcome To My Crazy Life (Bloomsbury). The other day I set a challenge on Twitter. I shared the poem, and encouraged children to come up with poems using their own 'silly similes'. I didn't set any more rules, I just waited to see what weird and wonderful ideas would results. I am delighted to say that many children got in touch with their own poems, and I am honoured to be able to share some up the results!

First up is Ashlynn, age 12, from Wisconsin USA:

Wonderful stuff! Next up is Ashlynn's sister Brooklynn, age 10:

Next, please give a big round of applause for Anna, age 9:

And let's hear it for Henry, age 7:

Let's hear it for Liberty, age 10!

And finally, a great big cheer for Lincoln, age 10. 

Silly Similes

As heavy as a flea,
As round as a box,
As as big as a pea,
As dumb as a fox.

As tasty as sand,
As square as a mule,
As quiet as a band,
As smart as a fool.

As flat as a ball,
As hot as ice,
As quiet as a call,
As giant as rice.

As friendly as a foe,
As tiny as a book,
As black as snow, 
As blunt as a hook.

As handsome as a squint,
As dry as the sea,
As slow as a sprint,
As boring as me.

Saturday 28 March 2020



At the current time it feels like every author and their dog are producing videos that are then being widely disseminated through social media. I therefore felt I had little option but to give it a go myself. The video above is entitled 'I Wanna Be a Bear', and contains a poem that is forthcoming in my book called Yapping Away, due to be published by Bloomsbury in 2021. After I perform the poem, I ask the audience: if they could be any animal, what would they be and what would they do? I'm delighted to say that several teachers got in touch with examples of students' responses to the poem, several of which I am now delighted to share. 

Here is 'I Wanna Be a Bee' by Ryan, in Year 6:

I think Ryan's use of rhyme of rhythm in this poem is really special. Next up is 'I Wanna Be an Eagle by Alex W (Year 6):

And finally we have 'I Wanna Be a Snake'. Unfortunately no name was supplied with this poem, but I love it nonetheless:

Thursday 26 March 2020


They tell me that now
is a good time for writing.

They say that 
with all this empty time

what is better or more natural
than for a writer to write?

What they don’t know
is that I’m too busy to try. 

I’m far too busy
refreshing the page

for how many have died.
As I lie awake on the sofa

for half the night
I’m actually very busy,

tangled up with the knowledge
that next might be my turn

to feel the loss
of something real. 

So as I lie here, 
the months stretching out

into fields of nothing, 
I’m really far too busy

for writing.

Monday 23 March 2020


The first thing to note is that this is a selfish blog post. At this time there are people all around the world doing amazing things: saving lives, looking after the most vulnerable, alleviating suffering and generally keeping things ticking along. Writing a blog post about how I am feeling seems more than a little self-indulgent. However, I feel unable to do too much else at present.

Basically I feel scared. I guess that's what a pandemic will do to you. I even feel scared writing this blog post. I feel under pressure to come up with something unique and interesting, and to express myself in a way that resonates profoundly with other people. I feel pressurized to create content that is going to go viral, and I am disconcerted that this should have taken on such significance for me. My primary way of interacting with the outside world is now via social media, and I can already feel myself starting to measure my self-worth in retweets and likes, and even to kid myself that these are valid substitutes for actually earning the money that will enable me to pay the bills.

Of course, I am worried about paying the bills as well. I am scared that the career I have built up over the last decade is unraveling in a way I cannot control. Furthermore, I look around and I see other writers, performers and freelancers seemingly starting to do interesting, innovative things involving the internet and technology, and I feel angry at myself for being unable to pivot in this direction at the drop of a hat. My career as a visiting poet in schools is supposed to be based on nothing more than my voice and my pen, and it began as a very slow-burning affair as I built up contacts and a reputation, and developed my writing. Now it feels like I am expected to change my whole approach overnight, and this feels scary. Normally I am pretty good at not comparing myself to others, but at this time it feels impossible not to, and I feel like I am being left behind, choking on mouthfuls of seawater as others surge ahead on speedboats. I have no idea how I am going to make money over the coming weeks, months and, dare I say it, years, which makes me feel anxious, and the more anxiety I feel the less able I feel to be creative and entrepreneurial. It is a vicious circle. I have always let my career develop somewhat organically, not thinking too far into the future, and I have been lucky enough that the quality of my writing and performance has propelled me in a direction that has enabled me to make a living. No more, apparently.

And of course I feel scared that people are becoming ill and dying. I am scared for my grandparents and mother-in-law. I can see society changing, and I have never felt comfortable with change. I can also see society refusing to change, which makes me angry too. I feel that the current situation is bringing out both the best and the worst in people. From the nurse working a twenty-hour shift to Karen and Susan stockpiling hand-sanitizer; from people volunteering to deliver shopping to elderly neighbours to morons in collective denial and arrogance gathering in pubs, restaurants and parks. I am angry that people are not following the government's advice, and I am angry that the government, up until very recently, have not been providing particularly clear directives in the first place. And it's not like I'm a doctor, nurse, delivery driver or shop worker. I don't do anything nearly as productive or useful. There is nowhere for this anger to go other than into what you are now reading, and the more anger goes into it the less coherence, elegance and profundity emerges, which makes me feel even more angry. Another vicious circle.

With all this in mind, I have heard a lot about the impact of Coronavirus on people with pre-existing health problems. What I have seen much less of is discussion about its impact on people with pre-existing mental health problems. The aforementioned anxiety and anger are to a large extent natural corollaries of the current situation, but they also bespeak my particular pre-existing mental health concerns. In addition to this, the nature of my OCD, with which I have been suffering intermittently for the last few years, is that it latches onto entirely irrational worries. This hasn't gone away: what has happened is that the real and the unreal, the rational and the irrational, the appropriate and the inappropriate, has blended together and churns in my mind like streaks of coloured paint swirling around in choppy water. One minute I find myself worrying about something understandable (like where the mortgage money is going to come from, or whether there will even be a job to go back to once this is over), the next I find myself ruminating on something really esoteric and weird. And it just keeps oscillating and swirling. I always thought that my OCD was something like a defence mechanism, stopping me worrying about real-life concerns. I had this fantasy that, were something of truly monumental global significance to really happen, I would be snapped out of my OCD. Not so. One does not cancel out the other; the sum total of anxiety simply increases, and the circles get ever more vicious.

So far so self-indulgent. However, in amongst all the anxiety I do sense a subtle yet very real shift, somewhere deep inside me. The famous Rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel, states, "when I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older I admire kind people." This quotation captures something of what I have in mind. I don't know if it was inculcated in me or if it just simply happened, but I grew up viewing intelligence as the apotheosis of all human attributes (I just used the words 'inculcated' and 'apotheosis' - go figure). I also grew up thinking that the more high-status one's job, the more worthwhile that person somehow was. I don't think this was a conscious thought, but it was always latent within me. What is going on now has forced me to change perspective. We are seeing small acts of kindness every day, acts which make a real difference to human lives and which do not depend in any way on high levels of intelligence or formal education. We are also seeing how society cannot function without those who do the jobs that people such as me tend to take totally for granted, and usually not even notice. We are seeing that shop workers, delivery drivers, mechanics and mail workers keep our lives afloat and therefore deserve far more credit (and no doubt money) than we usually give them. Just one of these people is worth more than twenty stockbrokers or hedge fund managers. Maybe all this is not news to anyone else, and I suppose I always knew it in an abstract sort of way, but now is the first time I am really experiencing it first hand. We are basically seeing that what counts is not status or Intelligence Quotient; it is dedication, determination and Kindness Quotient.

Perhaps in time I will come to see this realisation as an unexpected gift bestowed on me by the pandemic.

Tuesday 17 March 2020


When I Get to be a Chef - by Yaniv, Year 8
When I get to be a chef
I’m going to create a dish
Of happiness and tastiness
And watch people enjoy it
There will be meats and rice
Chicken and potatoes
And the sweet desserts will
Be the talk of the town
And once it is eaten
Smiles will arise on my customers faces
Talk will emerge
Of the greatest restaurant
and I will make dishes
For the best and most powerful people
I will open a place
For all to eat
All who go will be happy and full
All because I made it
When I am going to be a chef
I’ll make the world see
What cooking for you means to me
And when it is all over
When I am to weak
to carry on
I will remember the wonders of cooking
How I changed the world
And with my children
And my children’s children
They will carry on
And happiness will emerge again
But not until
I become a chef.

The poem above was inspired by Langston Hughes's poem 'Daybreak in Alabama'. The writing idea that followed was simple: think of something you'd like to be (it could be an occupation, or it could be weird and fantastical like a zombie or unicorn), and describe would you would do if you were that thing. Here are some previous examples of students' efforts.

Monday 16 March 2020


Come to a place full of wonder and light
and sparkling stories to brighten your night;
of tales and fables and beautiful beams
that flash in your mind and set fire to your dreams. 

Come to a place full of horror and dread,
of demons and dragons that howl in your head;
of terrible tigers with blood-spattered claws
and lives that are shattered in famines and wars. 

Come to a place full of dates, facts and figures
and jokes that will have you in stitches and sniggers;
a place you can stroll through the meadows of history,
scaling the sides of the mountain of mystery. 

Come to a place that can sate your addiction
to rollicking rhymes and to fabulous fiction;
a place you can travel through time at your leisure:
a library of pages to savor and treasure.

Sunday 15 March 2020


When I do one-off visits to schools, my aim during workshops is usually for each individual child to have written the first draft of their very own poem. I say 'first draft' because to complete a poem usually takes a lot of time - sometimes several days! I am particularly gratified when teachers get in touch to say their class has continued working on their poems after my visit, which is exactly what happened when I visited Castlewood Primary School recently. I am delighted to be able to share some poems that were sent to me after my visit. It is clear that the pupils worked very hard on their poems, as you will be able to see below!

Wednesday 11 March 2020


You can give her a ball
or a small fluffy toy;
you can hand her a plaything
for her to enjoy; 
you can come home all laden
with ramps, posts and blocks,
but all that she’ll want
is a plain cardboard box. 

You can go to the pet shop
and fritter your dosh
on fancy contraptions
that seem rather posh;
you can hope that your purchases
will entertain her,
but all that she’ll want
is the cardboard container. 

You can have lots of love
and the best of intentions
and spend all your time
coming up with inventions,
but all that you do
she will deem unacceptable:
all that she’ll crave
is the cardboard receptacle.

So listen in closely
and heed my advice:
no matter your gift
and no matter how nice,
the only thing certain
is this paradox:
all that she’ll want
is the damn cardboard BOX!

Tuesday 10 March 2020


I became a poet because I love words. The analogy I always use, when discussing poetry with children, is that words are like little Lego bricks, and a poem is like a Lego model made out of those bricks. Basically, making a poem is playing with words. I love the sound and feel of words themselves, and I enjoy exploring the different combinations that words can be put into.

With this in mind, I'd like to share the following fantastic poem, created by a group of Year 5 pupils during my visit to Kingslea Primary School, Horsham, recently. The poem is based loosely on my piece 'Friends', which is published in Little Lemur Laughing and can be read here. The trick to writing a poem like this is to think of a concept, and then to explore which adjectives can apply to this concept. It is important to keep a sense of rhythm in mind too. Here, then, is Year 5's wonderful poem:


Short words, long words, 
Make-a-little-song words, 
Words that make you feel kind of funny,
Happy words, mad words, 
Crazy words and sad words, 
Words that are as fluffy as a bunny. 

Sing-song words, story words, 
Happy, scary, gory words, 
Words that surely scare you in your sleep, 
Quiet words, loud words, 
Modest words and proud words, 
Words that make you want to start to weep. 

Brave words, shy words, 
Your words and my words, 
Scary, happy, crazy sad and mad. 
Feeble words, rhyme words, 
Words that measure time words, 
Words that love me just the way I am

Monday 9 March 2020


'Woof woof woof woof woof'.
Would you call this a haiku
Or just doggerel?