FAQ’s

Here are a few questions that regularly get asked :

Are you famous ?
I usually reply “have you heard of me” and when they say “no” … well, they’ve answered their own question ! Although I’ve found the books are more famous than me. Teachers and pupils will go “Oh yes, I’ve seen that one”

How old are you ?
I was born in 1961 – so you do the maths … then it’s like “Wow – you’re as old as my grandad!” … Thanks

When did you write your first poem?
Probably when I was about seven – at school. I can’t remember it though. It would have been because our teacher had said we had to. I only started writing poems because I wanted to as a teenager. I remember writing a poem about a beast called The Hippocrump – maybe it was inspired by The Jabberwocky

Who inspired you ?
Four people to begin with – and then loads more since. It’s a continuous process – there’s always more to learn, more people to inspire you. Firstly though …

Slade – yes, Noddy Holder, Jim Lea, Dave Hill and Don Powell. Now mainly famous for THAT Christmas song but back in the seventies they had six number ones and loads of hits. I wanted to write songs and be a star … I did write songs but to be honest, they were rubbish!

Mrs Graham – our secondary school teacher. I don’t remember doing much in the way of punctuation, tenses, grammar, literacy stuff – although I’m sure we did. I just remember her lessons being inspiring. She read us stories and poems, made us write stories and poems, read them out in class. I can still remember John Green ( Blood and Thunderguts as she called him ) writing stories where all the characters died in interesting and gruesome ways.

Two poets – one who made me want to write poems and one who made me want to read them out.

Roger McGough was – and is – one of my very favourite poets ever. Funny, concise, moving – his poems often didn’t seem like other people’s poems so they were accessible.

When I was 16 or 17 I went to Preston Guildhall to see a band called Be Bop Deluxe ( who were brilliant ) but the support act was a poet called John Cooper Clarke. Distinctive in appearance and performance style he brought poetry to life in a way that I hadn’t seen before. He has a great voice and was – and still is – genuinely funny. In fact my favourite poem of recent times is one called The Nation’s Ode To The Coast ( That’s where the sea comes in – you’ll find it on You Tube etc but be careful with his other stuff if you’re under 16 – some of it is a bit sweary … )

The lovely thing now is that I know both of them and they appear in my books. In fact John did a great quote for my Joke Shop book

“A fresh collection of Cookson’s verse
If its’ laughter you’re after you could do worse”

Brilliant!

When did you do your first book?
I published – well, self published a collection of poems when I was about 17 called Growing Older Soon with my then girlfriend – Lorraine. They weren’t that good in retrospect but we sold enough to make it worth doing. My friend Cliff Woodcock did the cover artwork and he went on to illustrate several of my earlier collections. He now specialises in wildlife artwork and you can see his work on his Facebook Page Cliff Woodcock Fine Art.

I’d started going to a festival called Greenbelt ( go – look it up ) and seen poets like Steve Turner, Stewart Henderson and Simon Jenkins who all carried on the inspiration that Roger and John started. Simon Jenkins had done a little book called Rhinoceros which he sold for £1 and that appealed to me. It was also the era of punk rock where people were forming bands, publishing fanzines and while I wasn’t a punk, the DIY ethos and attitude rubbed off. My mate at 6th Form Andy Hobbs had a done a fanzine called We Are The Martian Martians and sold it at school so I thought “why not do the same with poetry?”

I did quite a few of these books – just Cliff and me – but I wasn’t writing for children then.

How did you get into writing for children?
After college I became a teacher but was still writing, publishing and performing my poems for adults. I’d met the wonderful Henry Normal and we started a publishing press together. He also helped me get gigs in what were then “alternative cabaret” clubs – I was okay but never going to be top of the bill. Through Henry I met Ian McMillan and I can remember sitting on Sheffield Railway Station and saying that I didn’t want to get to fifty and look back and wonder if the writing could have gone anywhere. He said “Be a writer in schools” – I thought about this. I’d been a full time secondary school teacher for five years so I went part time and started writing and performing poems for schools – and never looked back !

How long have you been a poet as a job?
Since 1989 – that’s a long time ! Part time at first – with the teaching – but within five years I was only teaching one day a week and then gave the last day up. I reckon I’ve done between 3,000 and 4,000 schools – but then again, my maths is rubbish! It’s the best job in the world I love it – like the best bits of teaching – without the marking!

What is your best selling book?
The Works – a collection I edited for Macmillan. Right time, right place – it has sold over 200,000 copies and I think every school has one – at least one!

What’s your favourite book ?
It’s always the latest one. I’m really proud of the 100 Brilliant Poems For Children. Joke Shop has lots of my favourite poems of my own in … they’re all favourites on certain days.

What’s your favourite poem ?
Usually the one I’m just writing but there are a couple that stand out.

Let No One Steal Your Dreams

This was written over 20 years ago as I was starting out as a poet and looking forward to meeting some of my heroes ( Slade, Roger McGough, John Cooper Clarke etc ) … since then it’s taken on a life of its own and just grown. Schools seem to have adopted it as their school mission statement, school motto, painted it on walls, quoted it. It seems to have become the go to poem for the Year 6 ( or Year 11 ) Leaver’s Assembly. Scholastic used it on a poster – which helped – and Malorie Blackman said it was the poem she most wished her teenage self could have seen.

Recently, Hythe Junior School adopted it as their school song when talented teacher Joey Brenig Jones turned it into a song and the school recorded it. You can see the wonderful job they made on the video found here on the site.

Also, Sing Together have written another version for 5000 children to sing along to.

So – for all those reasons and many more – it’s become one of my favourites.

Father’s Hands

A poem about my Father’s Hands – he was a farmer and had massive hands. I remember writing it in a school in Bradford with some year 10 boys who said they’d only write a poem if I wrote one as well. Thanks lads – genuinely. In fact, when my father died, I used several lines from it in the elegy I read out at his funeral.

How many books have you written?
There are about sixty books with my name on the front. Some, I’ve written all the poems, some I’ve written with other people and the others I’ve edited. See the list on biog.

Where was you brought up ?
In a village just outside Preston in Lancashire.

Do you have any brothers and sisters?
One brother, two sisters.

Are any of your family writers?
No – my dad was a Customs and Excise Officer who became a chicken farmer ! we had 10,000 chickens – maybe I got poultry mixed up with poetry! Mum was a housewife and occasional dinner lady at the local primary school.

Which football team do you support?
Everton ! See the Everton page and there are photos and poems about favourite Everton players.

Who is your current favourite Everton player?
Probably Lukaku, Ross Barkley but I do like Idrisse Gueye

Who is your all time favourite Everton player?
Alan Ball – he of the iconic white boots. Legend.

What / who makes you laugh?
Lots of people – writers like PG Wodehouse.

Comedians like Ken Dodd, Morecambe and Wise, The Two Ronnies, The Goodies, Count Arthur Strong, Tim Vine, Mike Harding

I always enjoy Would I Lie To You

When did you start playing the ukulele?
My wife bought me one as a Christmas present about 12 years ago. I’ve always wanted to play guitar but never really got on with it as well as I wanted. The uke is so easy to play
… well, it is at my standard ! Most of the chords I play only use a maximum of three fingers and I only know about four chords! Actually, I know about ten but only know the names of four of them. I’m not really a musician at all but the uke lends itself to comedy and cheerfulness and a few old poems suddenly found their place with the uke.

I’ve now got ten ukes ( I think ! ) including several electric ones. My favourite is a custom made gold one in the shape of Dave Hill’s Superyob guitar ( look it up ! ) and I’ve got a cigar box uke given me by good friend Stan which is great fun.

What about the poem / song “My dog is dead”?
This started off as a joke in a class when a boy said “Can you do sad songs with a ukulele?” so I played three jolly chords and sang / said “My dog is dead” and everyone laughed. It was a really good laugh so I thought “How can I make it funnier? How can I extend it?” – and so, it grew and now it’s one piece everyone remembers and requests. In fact it turned into the title of my latest poetry comic.

Why did you start doing comics?
I was always conscious that kids can’t afford £5 or £6 for a book at the end of a school day so I thought it would be good to do something affordable and fun. Plus, I can put all the fun / ruder (!!) poems in. And they are illsutrated fantastically by Simon Smith

Do you have a say in the illustrations for your books?
Self published ones – yes. With publishers – sometimes. Macmillan are great – I’ve been able to use David Parkins for many of them. He is brilliant and has loads of stiles but is probably best known for the fact he drew Dennis The Menace for The Beano and Desperate Dan for The Dandy. I once drew a blob on a Dennis The Menace pic that got published in The Beano – how cool is that?!
Do you listen to music?
All the time !

Who are your favourites?

Too many to mention … here’s a few :
The mighty Slade!
Be Bop Deluxe / Bill Nelson – genius guitar
U2
The Alarm / Mike Peters
Billy Bragg
The Housemartins
Martin Stephenson
The Wonder Stuff
Icicle Works / Ian McNabb
The Rubinoos
Status Quo
Thin Lizzy
Warren Zevon
Michael McDermott
Thea Gilmore
KT Tunstall
Chuck Prophet
Kate Rusby
Henry Priestman
Brooks Williams
Mike Harding
George Formby
Val Doonican
Vintage Trouble
Waterboys
XTC

And loads more – probably on a weekly basis !

Favourite Author?
Stephen King – love just about everything he’s done. Favourite book – The Stand, I’ve read it 3 times, and will do so again. In fact I got into The Stand through an Alarm song of the same name – so thanks to Mike Peters for that!

Stephen King has also written the best book about writing called On Writing. It’s fantastic.

Favourite Poets?
Too many to mention again – Roger McGough, John Cooper Clarke, Pam Ayres, Stewart Henderson, Gareth Owen, Steve Turner, Valerie Bloom, David Harmer …. and there’s loads more !

Do you write with other people?
I’ve written poems with David Harmer and Stewart Henderson where we’ve written for two voices / characters.

I’ve written songs with Stan Cullimore and Henry Priestman for children.

I’ve actually got a side project called OTHER PEOPLE’S VOICES where I’m writing songs ( not for kids ) with other people’s voices distinctly in mind. It may turn into a cd at some stage – who knows.

I did write a song called Indestructible with Miles Hunt out of The Wonder Stuff and it was released as part of their single FOR THE BROKEN HEARTED – you can buy it at Itunes etc. And it was released on 10” red vinyl ! I was so made up and excited.

I’ve just started collaborating with a few musicians and arrangers for an organisation called Sing Together – songs for choirs – and that is exciting too. It’s always good to bounce ideas off other people and see where they go!

Have you written a novel?
I haven’t finished it – it’s a good idea that I’ll finish one day. I have written a story in rhyme – all 300 four line verses ! Timothy Treble’s Troublesome Tum – not published yet though!

If you weren’t a writer what would you be?
Probably a teacher still – always enjoyed teaching. My dream job though would be to have my own radio show – play my favourite music, have favourite guests on – musicians, comedians, poets, writers …

Favourite snack?
Cheese on toast – you can’t beat it