Interview, research, review, write, publish
MANDY Coe is a prize-winning poet who has written six books. Her poetry collection for children called If You Could See Laughter was shortlisted for the 2011 Centre for Literacy in Primary Education award.
I was young when I picked up my first book (about 4). I was desperate to understand those little black marks on white paper. But it was a very long gap between reading my first book and writing one (maybe 25 years)! I had to find the words, the ideas and, more importantly, the confidence. But they are all to be found if you know where to look.
When you were young what did you want to be?
Bigger, older, away from things I didn’t like – and nearer the things I did. There are a billion jobs in the world, and yet we were only told about a few of them, so my friends and I didn’t know there was such a thing as a ‘career’. I did see Star Trek on tv, and fancied being a science officer (on a space-ship). When I was young, becoming a writer, was just as unlikely as me going into space… I guess that goes to show how dreams can come true.
What inspired you to be what you are today?
I take inspiration from the encouragement of friends, from other books. From how wonderful the planet is and how much pleasure is to be found celebrating it through art or writing. I was inspired by the idea that life is equally mysterious and ordinary all at the same time. I still inspired by people who see injustice (in politics, the environment, or to the animal world) and are brave enough to write down what they see!
What has been the proudest moment of your career?
When I got my first poem published in a magazine; I opened the letter on the landing and ran down the stairs shouting, ‘published! I’m published!’ I nearly flew down those stairs.
In your opinion, who is the most inspiring person that you have met?
I’m very proud of my sister, Sue – an artist who cares deeply about animals. She has gone into slaughterhouses to draw what she saw. Her hands shake and she goes home with blood staining her shoes. What she sees is sometimes beyond description, yet with her paints and pencils she is brave enough to describe it. I also like the art of Alfred Kantor, He was in a concentration camp in the WW2. He drew what he saw with such humility and beauty. I am always inspired by the artists, musicians and writers who create their own path. For them, being popular, famous or fashionable does not tempt them away from their own passions as artists.
Who did you see as a role model when you were young?
We didn’t have role models in those days. Children were meant to be seen and not heard. We just grew up and went to work in factories or on building sites. There was one teacher, Mr Bailey; he was so very kind and funny… he encouraged us to write poems. He would have very grey hair by now! Wherever you are Mr Bailey, you encouraged us – and look, it worked! I guess Mr Bailey showed the knack of teaching-with-kindness; the memory of him helps when I visit with schools and work with pupils.
What has been the scariest moment in your career?
The scariest moments come every day… when I wonder if I am good enough; if what I do is good enough. Then I remind myself that art doesn’t get made when you have those thoughts in your head. Creativity means taking huge leaping-into-the-abyss leaps of faith where even perceived failures are important. There is only way to get good at your craft: keep creating. You cannot know how it will turn out. If you do, it is not art, it is a factory.
If you weren’t what you are today what would you be?
I would be an officer of the star ship Enterprise on its five year mission to explore new worlds.
What do you do in your spare time?
I play guitar (not very well, but I am learning). I read, I drink coffee and watch films. I have an allotment with a pond and I watch the frog watching the insects. Sometimes I hoover, but not often. I like walking. I can walk miles round town or in parks.
Have you got any unusual talents?
I can swim a whole length underwater while holding my breath. It took months of determination, and a few near-drownings.
Have you ever had any pets?
Don’t you find that pets have us? They kind of move in and take over… and if they don’t like your house, they move on to someone else’s. So yes, I have been a hotel for a few furry ones.
What is your favourite music?
Currently… Thomas Tallis’ Te Deum, Halleluiah (by Leonard Cohen), the Ry Cooder Pull up some Dust and Take a Seat album and all of Cole Porter’s songs.
What has been your most embarrassing moment?
When a poetry reading got double-booked with a stag-night, and I got to read to some extremely drunken men (some of whom actually passed out while I was reading), while the entertainer, who danced in a sparkling bikini, wowed a literary audience with what appeared to be a very unusual mime-poem.
What do you think will be the best thing about 2012?
You students taking your first steps to being writers/journalists.
What is the weirdest thing about you?
Blah, who wants to be normal! We are all weird to some extent (though some keep their weirdness more of a secret than others), so I feel completely normal!