I was born in Minster, on the Isle of Sheppey, in 1972. My Dad worked for the electricity board and because of his job (first as an electrician and later working in an office) we moved to a couple of different villages on the Kent coast.
As a child, I was clumsy and never felt that I was that much good at anything! I had a love/hate relationship with books. My favourite book at the time was Mr.Bump! I have great memories of one of my primary school teachers reading Roald Dahl’s James and The Giant Peach. But at other times I found it difficult to concentrate. I remember being sent to the hospital for a hearing test because my teacher thought I might have a problem with my hearing - but my ears were completely fine, I just wasn’t paying any attention. Eventually I learned to listen enough to get through my exams.
I loved words but sometimes found it difficult to organise my thoughts and feelings. I see now how writing poems helps me to master language and make sense of my emotions and my experiences.
One thing that I was consistently passionate about throughout my childhood was theatre. I still have the wooden mini-theatre my Dad built me that I used to put on plays for my family every Christmas. My Nan was a particularly harsh critic. When I lost her attention one year, I knew I had to work harder to make my shows more fun for the audience, not just for me!
My first paid writing job was reporting on Deal Town Football Club matches for the local paper. I was still at school then and I got paid £10 a game. I was offered the job after sending in reports on bike races for the local cycling club I rode with. But I turned down the chance to train as a journalist. Instead I volunteered at a project for young people leaving care in Chatham and then moved to Bradford to do a course in Applied Social Studies, while working part-time as a care worker.
I started writing poetry as a teenager. I kept a secret notebook, hidden under the bed. One day a friend of mine found it and, embarrassed by my writing, I had to chase him down the road to get it back! I began scibbling poems because, like a lot of teenagers, I felt pretty miserable and writing poems seemed to help. But by then I had given up the idea of ever being an actor.
It was while I was at University that I first came across Performance Poetry. I saw a poet called Attila the Stockbroker performing in a local café. From then on, I realised that there was a way I could combine my love of performance with all the poetry I had been secretly writing. And importantly, there were people who wanted to listen to poetry that was funny, accessible and had something to say.
I moved to Hastings, working in a residential home for people with mental health problems. While I was in Hastings there I found an open-mike poetry night in a pub called “Other Words”. I turned up with my latest poem. I was very nervous but it went so well that the organiser asked me if I would host the event next time. I ended up hosting this event every month for six years. I loved that we had a fantastically diverse range of poets of all ages and styles. And this event also gave me some stage time to improve my own poetry performance skills.
I lived in Brighton for a while and got involved in running poetry events with a whole new bunch of friends. In 1998, I wrote my first spoken word theatre show, finding a way to combine my poetic writing with drama and enabling me to tell a story while acting out all of the parts. I missed the first Poets Versus MCs Slam organised by my friend Paul Stones, but I performed at the second and third event. This slam became legendary on the spoken word scene in Brighton and ran every year until 2019.
I first got invited to a primary school to perform and run workshops by teacher and artist Kay Walton. At this point I hadn’t written any poems specifically for children but the audience still seemed to enjoy my performance. I absolutely loved the energy and enthusiasm of the children (and the teachers!) and vowed to go away and write more poems that I could perfrom in schools.
In Brighton, I made my living sometimes as a poet, sometimes as a care worker and sometimes an actor/stage manager for the You, Me and Everybody Theatre Company who worked with actors with learning disabilities. I also ran a monthly cabaret night called Don’t Feed The Poets! Back in Hastings., I put on a literature festival with my friend, writer John Knowles, and we were able to host some really exciting emerging talents as well as our poetry heroes, poets like Adrian Mitchell, Linton Kwesi-Johnson, John Cooper-Clarke, Zena Edwards, Inua Ellams, John Hegley, Matt Harvey, Jena Binta Breeze and Attila the Stockbroker (the artist who first inspired me to write and perform.)
I now live in Southend, Essex, with my wife and our three children. Over the last decade, I’ve earned a living specialising in visiting schools and libraries and creating work for families and young audiences, including a new spoken word show every year since 2010. All my shows use poetry but some are more theatrical, telling a story and using music and props, and others are more stand-up comedy style often featuring lots of audience participation.
My first full length family show The Jumble Book was about dyslexia and I was able to build on my own experiences of having a specific learning disability. More recently I have worked with a theatre company based in east London called Half Moon Theatre. With Half Moon, I wrote and performed Big Wow Small Wonder based on my experience of being the smallest kid in my school, which I was for a long time! I also worked on two ensemble shows (these were shows where I shared the stage with other spoken word artists) for Papertale Productions. In One Way Ticket I wrote and performed the part of a boy from the 1950's who was sent away to a brutal institution in Australia. For Boys Don’t , which was all about the challenges boys can have to express their emotions, I wrote a piece called Elmo The Big Strong Man, which was based partly on the stories my Grandad used to tell. We performed these shows in schools, libraries and theatres all across the country.
The first poem I had published had no words in. I wrote a poem called The Lost Poem- and that was the whole poem, just the title and a lot of empty space. It was published in a book called “The Secret Life of Pants”, edited by Roger Stevens. All the other poems I sent in (which had lots of words) didn’t get chosen! Still, my three word title earned me £30. Not bad!
Eventually I had my first book of poems published. The Dictionary of Dads (Otter-Barry books) came out in 2017. There’s been lots of good feedback from reviewers and readers and it is now on its second print run. I’ve now completed my second book of poems The Magic of Mums which will also be illustrated by Steve Wells and published by Otter-Barry and will be available from February 2020.
I am currently touring my latest show Young Herbert’s Horrors, which is all about a young boy who lives on a boat with his Mum and wants to be a pirate I am about to do my 80th performance of this show. I am also touring my stand-up poetry show Are We Being Silly? and a show called Mums, Dads and Little Monsters which mixes up poems from both my books with some new writing.
I’ve always loved this quote from Adrian Mitchell - “Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people”. As well as touring my shows, I love visiting schools, libraries, residential homes and community centres, encouraging others to write, perform and have fun with words.