Brian Moses is, as Poetry Archive says, “One of the nation’s favourite children’s poets.” He taught in schools for 13 years and has been a professional writer in schools, libraries, theatres and festivals for 30 years. In that time 3,000 schools across the country have been the thrilled recipients of his poetry and percussion shows (‘The Alternative 3Rs – Rap, Rhythm & Rhyme’) and his expertise as an inspired poetry teacher in workshops, where he uses a variety of percussion instruments to both underpin the rhythm of his words and to add atmosphere.
He has also published over 200 books from publishers such as Macmillan, Hachette, Puffin, OUP, Collins, Longman, Heinemann and Frances Lincoln, and over a million of his poetry books have been sold by Macmillan Children’s books alone.
Brian is a generous and unfailing supporter of new poets, and he published my very first poem back in 2000, in A Sea Creature Ate My Teacher (Macmillan).
His first children’s fiction book Python has just been published by Candy Jar Books. His latest poetry books are The Waggiest Tails (Otter-Barry Books), written with Roger Stevens, and Lost Magic, The Very Best of Brian Moses (Macmillan), where you can read all his favourite own poems!
Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?
“Where do you get your ideas from,” is the question I’m most asked when I visit schools. Occasionally a curve ball comes in like – “Have you ever been arrested’ from a 6 year old in Southend, or ‘Have you ever used a ouija board?’ – but more often than not it’s the way ideas are born that fascinates children. They look at me as if I have a secret to impart, and that if they could share it they’d never struggle to find ideas for their own writing again. I toy with the notion of telling them that I purchase my ideas from an ideas super- market or discover them in some online catalogue, but mostly I try to satisfy their curiosity.
I tell them that all writers are ideas detectives, that we’re always on the look out for something strange or different that might lead to a poem. There are, of course, very few new ideas, but there is always the possibility of taking an old idea and looking at it from a different angle. Think of fireworks, for example, and avoid the whizz, bang, whooshes. Write instead about the charred and blackened treasures pulled from the bonfire ashes next morning.
An idea, of course, is like a knock on the door. Ignore the knocking and whoever it is gives up and goes away. So with poetry, when an idea calls, I need to be ready to act on it. Whatever I’m doing, wherever I am, I need to capture that idea, to scribble it down on a scrap of paper, file it away in a notebook, talk it into a voice recorder. My family became used to me suddenly getting up from where we were sitting to hastily find something to scribble on. Quite often too , they fed me ideas, and it still goes on. My older daughter’s partner is training to be a stuntman and on a family holiday this year he told us that he still hadn’t fallen from the saddle of a horse. I was onto that straightaway – Still haven’t found a rainbow’s pot of gold/still haven’t discovered a cure for growing old. Still haven’t painted a new Mona Lisa/still haven’t straightened the Leaning Tower of Pisa.’
Often it is the things people say that get me thinking. I was in a school staffroom once where I discovered that six teachers were all telling each other what they wore in bed. It was an absolute gift and I made notes as they spoke which later developed into my poem ‘What Teachers Wear in Bed. Another time I heard a young boy ask his Mum, ‘Did pirates wear make up?’ I ended up with a poem all about a topsy-turvy world of pirates.
Perhaps the poem I’m most associated with, and the one that seems to be the most listened to poem on the Poetry Archive for much of the time, is ‘Walking With My Iguana’ – a performance poem involving drumming which seems to inspire children to perform their own versions. (Take a look on YouTube.) The idea behind this came from a meeting with a man and an iguana on a very hot day on Bexhill beach. The creature was called Ziggy and only came out for a stroll during summer heatwaves. I love finding out about things that sound as if they shouldn’t be true, but actually are. I wrote the poem very quickly and premiered it a few weeks later at the Edinburgh Festival.
Signs that I see in the street or glimpse by the roadside as I’m driving are often a source of inspiration. In Nottingham once, a department store were holding a ‘Monster Sale’ . Well, obviously that meant there was to be a huge clear out of unwanted stock but looking at it another way, it might just have easily have been ‘Buy one monster, get one free’. A poem and a book resulted from that. On another occasion I saw a sign for ‘Carpet Warehouse’.
Not a terribly interesting subject for children, but split ‘Carpet’ in two and it becomes something quite different – ‘car pet’. What would we find in a ‘Car Pet Warehouse?’ Maybe earwigs to keep in ashtrays or a hamster for the glove compartment. Perhaps a snake on the back seat to deter would be car thieves. The possibilities are huge.
In any book that I write there are poems that I hope will make children smile or laugh, but poetry, of course, touches every emotion and I always make sure that in my books there are poems to make children shiver, or think, or wonder, or maybe a little sad at times. I always include a selection of these in any performance I give along with the humorous ones.
Friends ask how do I keep coming up with fresh ideas. Surely, they say, you’ll run out of ideas one day? But it’s what I’ve done all my life, as a teacher for 13 years with year 6 in the days when you opened them up rather than closed them down, and then as a professional writer for the past 30 years. I’ve searched out ideas, both for my own writing and ideas to inspire children in the writing workshops I run on my school visits. A cat called Elvis moved in next door, Laika, the space dog, troubled me till I finally found the right words and the right mood, turtles in captivity, a white feather (from an angel?), stars, unicorns, snakes. Recently too, I’ve written to order, writing 30 poems in six months about space, sport, war, scary stuff, pre 1066 history and most recently dogs. That’s a real challenge, the final poems often wrung out of me in pure desperation as the deadlines loomed.
There’s another question I’m asked too by children who see themselves as writers of the future. ‘What advice would you give to anyone who wants to write?’ First of all, I reply, if you want to write, then write. Don’t talk about it, do it. So many people talk about writing a book one day but never do.
Secondly, keep a writer’s notebook. Write down what you see, hear, jokes people tell you, thoughts about strange situations, odd signs. It will, as time goes on, become a treasure chest of ideas to refer to again and again. I have notebooks going back many years and they still prove useful. Finally, train yourself to be an observer. Look, listen, note it down. Be receptive to anything and interested in everything. Spot possibilities. Be that ideas detective.