Highlights of 2017

2017 saw the publication of The Dictionary of Dads

My first proper collection has been a long time coming so I was thrilled that Otter-Barry Books were keen to publish it - and delighted with Steve Wells' upbeat design and witty illustration.  I'm glad to say the book has been well recieved critically and it's sold pretty well for a poetry book too. Since it came out in May I have had a lot of fun taking the poems to schools, festivals and libraries across the country with more planned in 2018. 

In the book there are many different kinds of Dads including one Dad who likes to get on all fours and pretend to be a donkey. That was based on my childhood memories of me clambering on my Dad's back and imagining ourselves winning The Daddy Donkey Derby. One day while reciting this poem, I had a sudden revelation that my Dad wasn't just pretending to be a donkey, but that he actually was a donkey. I quickly wrote another poem My Dad is A Donkey - too late for the book, sadly, but it inspired a little show based around some animal and father themed poems which I toured to libraries in London to help celebrate the Summer Reading Challenge.

I had more equine fun with All Saints School  and Palace House, the National Horse Racing Museum in Newmarket, exploring the links between horseracing and literacy with young people and their teachers from Years 2, 4 and 6. A ten day project climaxed in three brilliant pupil-led poetry promanade performances around Palace House itself. I also wrote an educational resource Poetry Is A Horse based on this project and the returned to Newmarket to run an INSET training day for local teachers.

There were plenty of other great schools visits this year. World Book Day saw me in Harris Primary, London and my National Poetry Day celebrations took place with the inspiring Rap'n'Rhyme project in Brighton, St John and St James School, Hackney and St. Andrew's in Surrey. I took the opportunity to chant my new freedom-themed verse Freedom is A Bicycle! Meanwhile, I loved The Dictionary of Dads' cake flags made by the staff and pupils of West Thornton Primary as part of their brilliant book festival.  I also enjoyed running some great Able Writers Days with Authors Abroad at schools in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk.

It's been a busy year developing and touring spoken word theatre shows. In January I joined Boys Don't - an ensemble production involving myself and three wonderful writer/performers Tanaka Mhishi, Hadiru Mahdi and Steve Tasane. The play (produced, edited and directed by Rosemary Harris of Papertale Productions with support from Apples and Snakes and Half Moon Theatre) features our four individual stories inspired by the theme of boys and crying. We received some great reviews and lovely audience reaction during week long residency at Half Moon in March and then we took the show on tour - the highlights of which were two packed out performances at the main Brighton Festival, this year curated by MC and poet Kate Tempest.  My piece Elmo The Big Strong Man is loosely based on my family history. As well as carrying an important message - all men cry sometimes - I like to think it helps keeps my Grandad's creativity alive because the Elmo the Big Strong Man tales were really Grandads - the bedtime stories he told to my Dad and Uncles.

In between Boys Don't gigs, I continued to take my Big Wow Small Wonder show to theatres and libraries, including London's SPINE festival. After a year and a half on the road, it's final performance was at The Hawth Theatre, Crawley in August. Retiring this children's show, gave me time to concentrate on writing the new one  - Young Herbert's Horrors - supported by Arts Council England. The play explores the relationship between Young Herbert - a wannabe pirate - and his somewhat fraught and concerned mother. I spent the summer holidays and autumn term exploring the play's themes with groups of children at Eastwood Primary School, Southend General Hospital and with families at Village Green, Milton After-School Project, Southend Forum, Hamstel Junior School and Barons Court. We had a lot of fun writing cautionary tales both for children and parents. (For more details, go to the special Young Herbert blogs on this site.)

What with also making a start on my follow-up book to The Dictionary of Dads, it's been busy, but I still found time to FINALLY read a whole book by Charles Dickens - Bleak House this year...next year Great Expectations!

Justin chambers-coe