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Self-imposed mission to spread excitement of poetry

THE popularity of Michael Rosen’s books knows no bounds. He is so prolific and enduring that his books of silly verse and witty prose are mainstays of any child’s shelf.

Michael Rosen

WHEN Michael Rosen's not scribbling he’s entertaining. The irrepressible Children’s Laureate talks to Tamzin Lewis about the creative process.

THE popularity of Michael Rosen’s books knows no bounds. He is so prolific and enduring that his books of silly verse and witty prose are mainstays of any child’s shelf. So much so that I’m sure I’m not the only parent to end up with multiple copies of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.

And as any fan of Michael’s goggle-eyes knows, his energised writing is reflective of his boundless capacity for performance.

One of his missions as the fifth Children’s Laureate is to spread the excitement of poetry and his next appearance will be at an event held by Newcastle’s Seven Stories at Northern Stage.

Michael will appear with artists Polly Dunbar and Catherine Rayner, who will talk about illustrating poems and stories. They will also draw pictures as Michael performs his poetry.

So what is the relationship like between writers and illustrators?

“There is no one relationship between a writer and illustrator,” Michael replies. “It’s always very different.

“Sometimes it is like a great songwriting team, working side by side. Other times one hands something over to the other and says, ‘Get on with it.’ This is a bit like Elton John and Bernie Taupin working on different sides of the world.”

And which does Michael prefer, the John-Taupin method or the Lennon-McCartney?

Michael, 62, of London says: “I nearly always send a manuscript over to the illustrator. You have to trust an illustrator to do what they do. This is the case with illustrators such as Helen Oxenbury (We’re Going on a Bear Hunt) and Quentin Blake (Michael Rosen’s Sad Book).

“They do a visual reading of what I have written, representing my words.”

Does this make for a surprising process?

“I am nearly always surprised and amazed by what is produced. I think of Quentin like a mime artist, and if he was standing next to me he would act it out. Instead he creates the mine on the page.

“In the case of Bear Hunt, Helen was interested in creating landscapes with a particular meaning against which the family drama was set.”

Michael’s latest collab- oration is with illustrator Joel Stewart for the new (as yet unpublished) children’s book Red Ted and the Lost Things. He describes it as a graphic novel rather than a picture book.

“I did quite a lot of collaboration with the illustrator Joel Stewart, as I thought it would be nice to remove most of my text and turn it into speech bubbles. I thought that would go better with the action and Joel agreed.”

Interestingly, even a writer as eminent as Michael does not get to choose who illustrates his book. Sometimes he is consulted on a shortlist and occasionally books are sent out to several illustrators to see what they come up with.

But ultimately the partnership and making the book is in the hands of the publishing editor. Michael says: “I am happy to cede power to the editor as they are making the book, I am just writing the text.”

Michael Rosen started writing satirical poetry aged 12 and over the years has been involved with more than 140 books including anthologies.

He started his writing career with Backbone, a play which was staged at the Royal Court in 1969 but made his name as a children’s author. In addition to poetry he writes non-fiction, novels, picture books and retells classics for children.

His own classics include poetry collection You Can’t Catch Me and Michael Rosen’s Sad Book, which was published following the death of his son Eddie, who died from meningitis in 1999.

Michael also lectures at universities on children’s literature and visits schools with his one-man show to enthuse children with his passion for books and poetry.

Last year he was awarded the prestigious Children’s Laureate which runs until 2009. The award hasn’t interfered with what Michael describes as ‘scribbling’.

“It’s wonderful to get recognition from your peers but I don’t think life has changed much. It is still pretty hectic with every day jam-packed.”

He is currently writing a biography of Roald Dahl and over recent months has been working on new children’s poetry.

He says: “I have got two or three books on the go. I am doing a book of new poems for youngest children with some poems which are out of print. I have also virtually finished a book of new poems for older children.”

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