Is illustration important in your poems?
I think illustration is really important and I'd love be able to illustrate my own but there are wonderful artists around and I'm not one of them. I've had several different artists illustrating books. One of my favourites is Shirley Fells who is very good at illustrating mysteriously and she's got a very good feeling for a poem, she's done the covers for both of these books and she does some wonderful black and white pictures inside which really catch the mood in a few lines. I've been very lucky with illustrators, I've also had a new illustrator Jason Cockcroft, who did the pictures for Billywise and these are beautiful. This is a book for younger children about a young owl. This is an Italian illustrator called Giovanni Manna who did these pictures for this book (Someone I Like). 'Two Friends' - a great picture.
What was the first poem you ever wrote?
This is my very first poem that I wrote when I was six or seven. Our teacher was reading us Winnie the Pooh stories and she must have asked us to write a poem or a story to go with it and I think I must have been very proud of this because this is one I can still remember.
Eeyore's Birthday Eeyore had a birthday Although it was so funny Piglet thought he'd like a balloon Much better than a custard spoon So Pooh brought him a jar of honey But Piglet had a great big shock He tripped up in a rabbit hole And burst it with a POP!
What are your favourite books that you've written?
I think my favourite books are probably my own collections of poems and I've got a lovely one for small children which has been beautifully illustrated, Billywise, I'm very fond of that. Favourite poems, again not one in particular, but I like the sea poems, which are in Storm's Eye. Some of the animal poems which are in Dragon's Fire and in my first book, Magic Midnight Forest, a poem about learning to swim because I learned to swim when I was quite old, one about a dare, something I was really dared to do when I was about six. As far as other people's books go I have many, many favourites, many favourite poems. One of my favourite children's books is The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey which is a perfect story and perfect illustrations to go with it. One I'm very fond of.
Please read me your 'Tortoise and Hare Poem'
Tortoise and Hare Poem
Slowly the tortoise raised her head Stared slowly at the hare Slowly stepped towards the line And waited there. Calmly she heard the starting gun Crawled calmly down the track Calmly watched the hare race on With arching back. Quickly the hare ran out of sight Quickly chased through the wood Quickly fled through fern and moss Through leaf and mud. Swiftly he leapt past hedge and field Sped swiftly for his prize Briefly stopped to take a rest And closed his eyes. Slowly the tortoise reached the wood Slowly she ambled on The hare raced proudly through his dreams The tortoise won. from Midnight Forest (Faber & Faber, 1997), copyright © Judith Nicholls 1997, used by permission of the author and the publisher.
Where do you write your poems?
I'd love to be able to say that I write outside here in the garden and I do sometimes start poems out here, but it's quite distracting in the sun so usually even if I've started out here I move into the kitchen, on to the kitchen table, or more often I work here in my study which has been referred to as the most untidy study in the world, but I don't think it's quite as bad as that. I like to work with green paper and a 2B pencil preferably and that's how I start off the poems.
What makes your poems different from other people's?
It's very difficult to say what makes your own poems different because that's the way you work and you're very used to it but I think one thing I certainly do like to do a lot is to use a lot of echoes in the poems, lots of near-rhymes, not just the ordinary rhymes at the end of the lines. Things like tide and weed, gone and home, mind and sand. They don't rhyme exactly but they do make a little sound in your head. I do like to use those a lot.
What else do you like doing when you're not writing poems?
I love to go walking, especially over hills if possible and I really enjoy working in the garden here and I've also become very fond of painting which I started to do recently. My husband gave me my easel and oil paints for a birthday a couple of years ago and I was really pleased with these and I thought I was doing quite well - quite the painter - and for my first painting set out an aubergine and a pepper on the table. I did this painting, spent ages over it, then I showed it to him and he spoilt it - he thought it looked like a bottom.
When did you start writing poems?
I started scribbling away, not too seriously, when I was quite young, especially when I was about ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen. I was really shy about talking to people, so I liked to scribble the ideas down and work out in secret what I wanted to say, rather than open my mouth and let the words pop out and then regret it. I have a theory that everybody in the world likes to make something. Some people like to make a cake, or a painting or a model, I really like to get a pile of words and make a poem out of them.
Where do your ideas come from?
I try to be on the lookout for ideas the whole time, eyes open, ears open, absolutely anything might give you an idea. So anything you've seen or heard, perhaps you see a film which gives you an idea, maybe you meet someone who gives you an idea, anything like that I try to do, but also very often I'm just a little bit like children in schools, people will ask for a poem and I don't have any ideas at all to start with. I just have to get a blank piece of paper and really make myself start thinking and scribble down anything to get started and hopefully the ideas will then come if you work at it.