Saturday, 15 December 2018

The Best Children's Poetry Books To Buy This Christmas

Hi everyone.

It’s official. After wandering around in the wilderness for a few years (not helped by National Curriculum!) poetry for children is cool again. This is great news if you have presents to buy for children at Christmas. It’s also great news for me as it has spurred me on to finally start the process of getting my first collection of poetry for children out under my new children’s books imprint Black Bunny Books. If all goes according to plan, I hope that this time next year I’ll be recommending that you put There’s A Gorilla In My Pyjamas by Melissa Lawrence on your Christmas list!

According to the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CPLE) there has been an almost 70% increase in submissions for their prestigious poetry award (CLiPPA) with 32 books from 19 different publishers submitted in 2018. So, in no particular order as they say on Strictly Come Dancing, here is my personal selection of five of the many good poetry books for children that are currently out there and which might even get your kids off their various devices for five minutes on Christmas Day.

1) Rhythm and Poetry by Karl Nova (Poetry Caboodle)

This was the 2018 winner of the CLiPPA award. The collection reflects on the poet's journey from childhood to adulthood through the medium of Hip Hop Culture. (That's RAP for those of us who think decent music ended with the death of Elvis.) Here is what one parent had to say about the book in a review on Amazon.

"Absolutely brilliant. I bought this for my 11 year old and he loves it. Highly recommended!"

2) Where Zebras Go by Sue Hardy-Dawson (Otter-Barry Books)

On the shortlist for the same award in 2018, Where Zebras Go is a “diverse and exciting” debut collection from up and coming poet Sue Hardy-Dawson who performs regularly in schools across the country. I love the first lines of her poem The Weaver of Words.

Wind, rattles clouds
carrying the song
of the weaver of words.
nails, polished
to the points of needles.

Michael Rosen is one of the most tried and trusted poets writing for children today so any collection put together by him will be sure to delight and amuse even the most poetry detesting child. Here is a sample review from Amazon which says it all:

“My children love this book. They didn't look at much poetry so I thought I'd try them with it and they actually fight to read it out!”


4) The Humpback’s Wail by Chrissie Gittins (Rabbit Hole Publications)

I have this on my own bookshelf and I can definitely recommend it. There is humour, history, word play and wonderfully quirky subject matter such as in the poem Making Cream Cakes For Tina Turner. The delightful line drawings by Paul Bommer really add to the overall attraction of the book.

“Chrissie Gittins knows just what words can do. She makes them dance, sing, sit still for am moment and then leap across the page with joy!” Ian Macmillan


5) New And Collected Poems For Children by Carol Ann Duffy (Faber & Faber)

I’ve always really, really admired and enjoyed our current poet laureate’s poems for children and you may find yourself wanting to hang onto this anthology of Duffy’s poems for yourself. This book brings together some of the best poems from her four award-winning collections for children and there are new ones too. Here are the first lines from the poem The Words of Poems.

The words of poems are nails
which tack the wind to a page,
so that the gone hour
when your kite pulled you over the field
blows in your hair.


So here’s hoping that my small, personal selection of the many great poetry books for children that are out there might help you with your Christmas shopping and keep poetry for children “cool” into 2019 and beyond. All of the books I have mentioned were available on Amazon at the time of writing this blog (just click on the links above) and you could also check out the Waterstones list of children’s poetry books, many of which are under £5.00 and would make perfect stocking-fillers.

Have a very happy Christmas! 





Sunday, 22 July 2018

Poetry Revival

Hi everyone.

Did you know that poetry is undergoing something of a revival? According to Susannah Herbert, Executive Director of National Poetry Day, one in 33 of all UK adults wrote at least one poem last year which amounts to about two million people writing poems, although presumably not all at the same time. That is nearly double the number that were writing poems in the 1990s. New platforms are emerging for poets faster than you can say “I wandered lonely as a cloud”, with the gate-keepers of the traditional publishing houses being sidelined in favour of internet groups, social media (especially Instagram apparently), cafes, You Tube, theatres, poetry slams and clubs.

It seems that it has never been a better time to be a poet, so if you fancy joining the ranks of paper or performance poets, here are a few tips on writing poems that you might find useful.

You don't need a publisher to be a poet

1.   Don’t feel you have to finish every poem that you start to write. If it’s not working, leave it and try something else. The work you have already done may spark off something else in your subconscious that could lead to a new and better poem later on. Nothing is wasted.

2.   Use the brainstorming technique if you want to write a poem on a particular theme. For instance, if you’re keen to write a poem on Brexit (and who isn’t?) put the word ‘Brexit’ in the middle of a sheet of paper and spend a few minutes writing down every single thought that comes into your mind. Don’t censor anything at this stage. Let your subconscious mind come up with ideas, then wait for a while to see which ones your conscious mind directs you towards.

3.   Keep an open mind and be prepared to step out of your comfort zone with a poem if you feel it is leading you that way. The poem will work itself out in the end if you trust your instincts, although it might not be the one you were expecting to write.

Step out of your comfort zone

4.   Don’t worry too much about metre, rhyme, metaphor and all that “poetry stuff” you were taught at school, especially in the first draft. Pretty much anything goes these days with poetry and although mastering such conventions can improve a poem’s intentions and help to engage the reader more fully, it is important that they serve you and not the other way round.

5.   Read other people’s poems or listen to poets performing their work. It sounds obvious but if you enjoy writing poems (and if you don’t, then please take up hang-gliding instead) you need to enjoy reading or hearing them too.

6.   Don’t be anxious about poetry. There are far more important things to be anxious about. (Did I mention Brexit?) As the American poet Allen Ginsberg said, “It’s that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that’s what the poet does.” So if you feel ready to make your private world public, just go for it.

Allen Ginsberg (Photo Credit: Ludwig Urning CC)

And just to prove that I can put my money where my mouth is (although as a poet there is not a lot of that about unless you happen to be the next Allen Ginsberg), here is one of my own poems.

Some Nights

Some nights, you just need burgers and chips
with cool-perfect onion rings,
slices of damp tomato
and sticky toffee pudding for afters.

Some nights, you just need dark, dreamboat sleep,
soothed by the somnambulant sirens
of the shipping forecast,
to a place where even dreams have ears.

Some nights, you just need steam-warm, silk-snagged skin,
pressed into the mirror of your thighs,
helping you to forget that today
someone laughed and pointed at a rainbow.

Copyright 2007 Melissa Lawrence, first published in The New Writer magazine.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Writers' Forum Magazine

Hi everyone.

As I type this post, I'm gearing myself up for the heatwave which is due to hit the UK later today. It's going to be hotter here than in Las Vegas apparently, so I'd better start cashing in my chips.

I thought I'd blog today about my recent return to reading writing magazines. For various reasons, I haven't been buying writing trade magazines for a few years now, even though I used to buy and read them, and even write for them sometimes, on a fairly regular basis.

Although the number of writing magazines on general sale in the UK has dwindled considerably, there are still one or two good ones on the market and one of my favourites has always been Writers' Forum. This publication has been going for quite a number of years now and I was pleased to discover when I recently purchased a print copy that it is still a useful and informative publication for beginner and more experienced writers alike.

One of my favourite writing magazines

To give you an idea of some of the topics that the magazine includes, here are a few of the 'How to' articles that were in the April 2018 issue:

* A step-by-step guide to crowd funding the publication of your book
* How to write the type of articles that magazine editors want to buy
* The importance of professional development for writers
* Thinking in terms of cause and effect when constructing stories
* Avoiding errors of logic in fiction writing.

Although I still read (and occasionally still write) 'How to' articles, especially if they are on a new angle such as the crowd funding one, I must admit that I've reached the stage in my writing career where I tend to fast forward to other slots in the magazine. I particularly like reading profile pieces about writers who have "made it" in areas where I feel I haven't (but would still like to) such as children's fiction and non-fiction books for adults.

In the same issue, one profile piece particularly caught my eye. It was an interview with writer Di Redmond whose bestselling series of books, which started with The Bomb Girls, was written under the pen name of Daisy Styles. What I found particularly interesting about Di/Daisy was that before writing these World War Two sagas, she wrote scripts for children's television, working on such iconic series as Bob the Builder and Postman Pat. I'm always fascinated by writers who have been successful in more than one genre as it proves that if you can write, you can write, no matter what genre you are writing in or what subject you are writing about.

Cover of The Bomb Girls by Daisy Styles

As well as articles, Writers' Forum also carries news items about "the latest in the world of books, the internet and publishing". These are mostly sent in by readers so they can be a bit "random" but definitely still worth looking at. Della Galton's useful "agony aunt" column is still going strong and in the issue I read, she tackled questions from readers about whether it's a good idea to work on two books at once, how you go about finding someone to write a treatment for a TV idea and how important it is for a writer to have an "online presence".

If you are new on the writing scene or looking for fiction or poetry outlets, Writers' Forum also provides several "open" opportunities for readers to be published in the magazine. As well as the aforementioned news items, there is a letters page and a number of competitions which may result in publication and useful feedback on your work from guest contributors. Some of the competitions also offer cash prizes or subscriptions to the magazine.

Cash prizes are on offer in Writers' Forum

If you are an established freelancer or author and are looking to submit article ideas to Writers' Forum, I have always found the editor Carl Styants to be very approachable and open to appropriate pitches. The magazine is quite "formulaic" in terms of having regular slots and features so do take a look through at least one copy before submitting ideas. There are submission guidelines at:

I have just started reading Mslexia magazine again for the first time for about five years (in digital format so it may take a while!) so watch this space as that could well feature in a blog post soon.

Happy writing and stay cool.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Commitment Phobia

Hi everyone.

What are you committed to in 2018?

To be honest, this time last year, I thought I was going to be committed to psychiatric hospital, given how "off my head" I was feeling with the whole menopause malarkey. However, thanks to the wonders of HRT, things are a lot better this time round.

My commitment for 2018 is to be a designer. I realise this might be a strange thing to say in a writing blog post as I should probably be saying that my commitment for 2018 is to be a better, richer, more productive or more frequently published writer. 

Actually, in a funny sort of way, I think I am saying all those things but not in the way you would expect.

To cut a long story short, as my late father was fond of saying, I feel that I have been "faffing around" (to put it politely) with my designing career since I made the decision in September 2015 to change direction career-wise once again and become a designer.

I thought it was lack of time, lack of confidence, health problems, the menopause, my age or my financial situation that was holding me back and preventing me from really moving forward with my new career. It turns out that it wasn't any of those things. It was simply a lack of commitment.

Is a lack of commitment holding you back?

I honestly thought I was committed. I'd made the decision, told everyone I'd made it, developed some of the skills I needed, set up the website, blog and Social Media pages, made contacts in the industry, added lots of products to my Etsy shop and filled a very fat book with all the things I could do to help me achieve my designing goals.

But I was wrong. I wasn't actually committed. I was still committed to being a writer and a crafter. Designing was something I was fitting in around those other two things, not to mention everything else in my life. 

Many years ago when I first became a writer, I had a very clear picture in my mind of a glass jar. The jar was filled with lots of large round stones and all the spaces between the stones were filled up with sand.

What are the stones in your jar?

To me, the stones represented writing which was at that time the most important thing in my life and the thing that took up most of my passion, time and energy. The sand was everything else, ie stuff that had to be in the jar but was far less important to me than writing. Because of that "commitment" to writing, I was able to forge a pretty successful career as a freelance journalist, given that I'd never had a day's journalism training in my life or been employed in a staff job first.

It was coming across an incredibly helpful blog post at the beginning of 2018 about the huge importance of commitment in career change that made me wake up and smell the ink on my designs. The line that really jumped out and hit me was "If you're not taking action toward your career change commitment, then you're still committed to something else."

I suddenly realised that the stones in the jar could no longer represent writing, they had to represent designing, otherwise another year was going to have passed and I would be no nearer to becoming the new Zandra Rhodes than I was in 2015. Yes, there could still be sand in the jar in the form of some writing and some crafting, but I knew I had to "get on the bus and stay there" as the blog post advised.

Zandra Rhodes by Phil Konstantin

So I made my decision to really "commit" to my designing career on January 2nd 2018 and although at the moment, I've no idea how I'll get any writing or crafting done as well, what feels really  important to me and has brought a surprising sense of relief and well-being, is to have made that decision. 

Interestingly enough, the blog post included a quote which I had blu-tacked to my office wall many years ago and had forgotten all about until I saw it again in the post. It is attributed to the German writer Goethe:

"The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.”

So I'll ask the question again. What are you committed to in 2018?