Updated: Sep 21, 2022
What’ya reading Mike?
I’m currently reading Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey. The reason is that my publisher, Penguin, made some comparisons between this book and my upcoming YA novel, What We All Saw. I’ve always enjoyed coming of age novels, where children find themselves in situations where they are forced to deal with something beyond their normal experiences. The book’s drama starts in the first few sentences, immediately drawing the reader in. I’m only a few chapters in, but I’m already getting a good feeling for the characters and anticipation of the events that are about to unfold.
You’re probably best known for your poetry. Was that something you set out to do, or did it happen by accident?
I’ve written poetry for as long as I remember, but I started writing funny children’s poetry when I lives in Switzerland. My family moved back to the UK a few months before me, and I started sending poetry to my young children as an alternative to reading them a story before bed. A few years later I was running the London Half Marathon when I decided to put a book together containing all my poems and sell it, with the proceeds going to UNICEF. It sold so well that I wrote more and, to date, I have written five collections of poetry.
Who is your favourite band, and is it more about the music or the lyrics?
I’m a big lover of music. My favourite musician is Bruce Springsteen and, for me, it is nearly always about the lyrics first. That’s what tugs at my heartstrings when I hear a good song. Obviously, the music has to hold something special too. I’m also a big fan of The Clash, Muse and The Gaslight Anthem for the same reason.
You have a lot of poetry collections. What is your favourite and why?
My favourite is my last anthology, Big Silly and Little Sensible. By the time I wrote this, I had learned a lot about what worked in poetry and what didn’t. Looking back at some of the poems in my earlier collections, I’m a little embarrassed. But they were all a part of a learning curve that got me to where I am now.
Do you think you would have become a children’s author if your wife, Becky, didn’t own Shakespeare’s Bookshop and love children’s books?
It’s actually the other way round. We opened the book shop when we arrived in Australia in 2010 based on the knowledge we gained from writing and self-publishing some poetry collections. In hindsight, that knowledge wasn’t great, so we had a steep learning curve when we opened. But now Becky does a fabulous job of running the shop as well as her booking agency, and I just do some of the more boring stuff behind the scenes.
Who or what inspired you to get your first tattoo?
There were three inspirations behind this. Firstly, my son was getting one for his eighteenth birthday and, as I had always wanted one, I decided to join him. Secondly, Stephen King – the tattoo is of the phrase Words have weight from his book On Writing. And thirdly, my mum. She never wanted me to have one when I was younger, and it’s never too late to rebel.
You are a dedicated fan of Steven King. How much of his influence is there in your upcoming YA release, What We All Saw?
I started reading Stephen King when I was eleven and have been an avid fan ever since. He has definitely had an influence on my writing from an early age and must have influenced What We All Saw. Several reviewers, and Penguin, have compared the book to the short story, The Body, which was made into the movie, Stand By Me. I love the way he captures the memorable childhood period of transition from primary school age into teen years in books like The Body and It. His book On Writing has a lot of invaluable advice that I used during the writing of a novel I have just finished.
Do any of the characters in What We All Saw represent yourself as a teenager?
The book is partly autobiographical, more around the locations within the story than the characters: the grass roundabout outside the house I grew up in; the wood we used to play in; the river; the old manor house we were warned to stay away from. But I suppose the narrator, Sam, probably reflects some of my own views of the world when I was eleven. Or at least of how I remember them.
If you wanted a giant caricature of yourself painted in a public place, who would you ask to do it and where would it be located?
Salvador Dali on top of the Nakatomi Building from Die Hard.
What is the most common distraction when you’re writing?
My job. I work full time as an engineer, so it does tend to get in the way. And my cats who like to lie on the keyboard. I think a whole chapter of my latest manuscript has been written by one of them.