His next collection of poems, The Way Things Are, is out in September. His play for children, The Sound Collector,
begins touring next month. Every weekday afternoon he appears on The Max, on Carlton Kids ONdigital
Gimme an R! I enjoyed going to my Catholic primary school, Our Lady Star of the Sea, in Seaforth, Liverpool. It was near the docks (my father was a docker), but otherwise not nautical.I quite liked learning. I learned the letters from huge wall charts which were probably older than the school: "Ronnie's Red Rattle says R." That visual approach has stayed with me. Each letter has its own texture and colour: R is red and H is green. In the word "kettle", the first T likes to be next to its friend, another T, and the L is a would-be T, without its hat.
Beating the Beatles: At eight, we had a competition for designing a road-safety poster. John Askew was the best artist in the class but I won. As "Johnny Gentle" he later became a pop star, and the first tour the Beatles did was as the support band. Where is Johnny Gentle now?
Strapped for cash: My mother, who worked in a sausage factory, was very concerned about education and must have worked out the system. At 10, I went to the prep school of St Mary's College, a grammar school, and I got a scholarship to St Mary's itself, so we only paid for one year. St Mary's was run by the infamous Irish Christian Brothers, who have taken a bit of stick recently. They themselves used the carrot-and-stick method - without the carrot. You know the short, sharp shock system of punishment? They used the long, sharp shock. The strap was a teaching method; if you got your Latin verbs wrong, you would get the black leather strap. I remember once being strapped for walking through Coronation Park on the way to school - with a girl; I was stunned when the headmaster leapt out at me from behind a tree.
Kiss me, Laurie: The catchment area of St Mary's included Crosby, which was quite well-heeled. It seemed to us that at first, the streaming system was led by accent as opposed to ability. I enjoyed cricket - and the drama. I had my first stage kiss with [professor and broadcaster] Laurie Taylor. He was the Prince of Avignon; being younger and shorter, I was the beautiful Princess of Avignon. I've forgotten the play. Another triumph was for reciting Jabberwocky in a Crosby and Waterloo verse-speaking competition; I have the certificate on the wall.
Kiss me, Thomas Hardy: I was very good at English language, but I failed English literature at O-level. People think that Thomas Hardy wrote The Mayor of Casterbridge, but it was me. We had to learn a chapter of our set texts and write it out in our own words. I wrote the chapters without reading the books. I did History, Geography and French A-levels.
A lot of Larkin about: At 17 (going on 14), I went to Hull University, where I read a joint Honours degree - in French and Geography, because my best marks were in those subjects. Geography was a mistake, but when I was studying French literature, my writing started to take off. I got an Ordinary Degree; chances are that meant that I'd failed Geography but scraped through in French. I stayed on for a Certificate of Education. In my first year there, Philip Larkin was the sub-warden of my hall of residence. A tall, stooping man, he was a poet, and that really interested me. I never spoke to him, but I did write to him in my third year. I sent him some poems and he was very encouraging - although in his later letters to me he said his early kindness surprised him! I was also part of a skiffle group called Tinhorn Timmons and the Rattlesnakes. I was a Rattlesnake, and played a tea-chest base with a great deal of charisma but not much musical ability.Reuse content