Guest Post by A.F.Harold
Although I’ve written a number of children’s novels (including the practically brand-new-as-this-blog-goes-up book The Afterwards (illustrated by Emily Gravett)), I began my journey into the world of children’s books as a poet.
In fact, I began my journey into books of any sort as a poet, making little photocopied-and-stapled-together booklets of (very bad) verse as a teenager. (If you wonder who kept jamming Horsham library’s photocopier in the very early ’90s… I’m afraid it was me, dutifully pumping coins in as if it were some sort of proto-literary jukebox.)
My first properly published book was a poetry collection (Logic and the Heart (Two Rivers Press, 2004)) and it certainly felt like that was where my path lay.
I was doing lots of poetry readings and poetry slams, and took over running a monthly poetry night in Reading (where I live), and when my first real job (only real job), as a bookseller, went belly-up in 2003 (we didn’t sell many books and Blackwell’s owned the freehold on the building… it was cheaper to make us all redundant then try to turn a profit) I set out in the world as a jobbing poet and never looked back.
Although I may not have looked back, but I did miss that cheque (miniature as it was) that turned up at the end of each month whether you’d done any work or not… being a jobbing poet meant a long time filling in benefit forms and working person’s tax credit forms and Art Council grant applications and (rarely) sending someone an invoice.
One of the ways a poet can earn money, I learnt, is by running workshops, and somewhere along the way I got invited into some schools, and so I started writing poems for the kids I met there, and I published a collection (I Eat Squirrels in 2009) through my own little cottage industry small press, and started flogging it on school visits.
Eventually, of course, I bumped into that schoolgirl we all meet at some point, the one who folds her arms and says, ‘Yes, Sir. Poems is all well and good, innit, but you ever written a proper book, like?’
And that, concatenated with various other thoughts and discussions going on at the time, spurred me to write Fizzlebert Stump: The Boy Who Ran Away from the Circus (And Joined the Library), which got picked up by the second or third publisher I sent it to (I have known rejection and disappointment, but also good fortune and kindness), which happened to be Bloomsbury, and they asked me to write more.
And so I got side-tracked into prose for some years (interrupted briefly by a single small press collection, Things You Find in a Poet’s Beard (Burning Eye Books, 2015)), and now, in 2019, six Fizzlebert Stump books, two Greta Zargo adventures and three standalone novels (The Imaginary, The Song from Somewhere Else and The Afterwards) later, Bloomsbury have finally allowed me to get down to doing some proper poetry on their list.
This autumn an anthology I’ve edited, Midnight Feasts (illustrated by Katy Riddell), comes out, filled with amazing food-related poems by a galaxy of wonderful poets, and next year a brand new collection of my own poems will appear, The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice, illustrated by Mini Grey.
Returning to poetry books feels like putting comfortable shoes on, after having trodden clumsily through the world of story-telling, and I really look forward very much to sharing the contents of these books in assemblies and at literary festivals and in people’s front rooms across the years to come. In performance is where I began and where I’m happiest and where many of these poems best belong… Hopefully I’ll see some of you out there, too.
Midnight Feasts is published by Bloomsbury on the 3rd October 2019.
The views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the FCBG.