Michael Rosen: Good writing and daydreaming

Celebrated children's author, Michael Rosen. Pic: Mathilde Ive

Celebrated children’s author, Michael Rosen. Pic: Goldsmiths

Many children – and adults – will vividly recollect the feelings of dread they had when “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,” the captivating story of the frightful voyage to the bear’s cave, was read to them by their parents and teachers.

The imaginative and skilful writing of its author, Michael Rosen, has enchanted children and their parents for decades. With more than 140 titles published, the author is one of the most important figures in children’s literature, winning numerous awards for his books and poems.

Born in 1946 in northwest London, Rosen moved to Hackney and spent 30 years in a place he calls “a model for future societies” because of the area’s vast diversity. Even though he moved to a northwestern suburb in 2011, Hackney continues to provide inspiration for his writing.

With an impressive resume as a poet, BBC broadcaster, performer, novelist and scriptwriter, Rosen said he was encouraged from a young age to pursue his gift of writing.

A gift he will now pass on to students as he joins Goldsmiths to play a key role in the new MA in Children’s Literature, to be launched in September 2014.

Marking his latest work released last week: “Alphabetical: How every letter tells a story,” EastLondonLines met with Rosen to talk about the values of childhood, his attachment to Hackney, and what it takes to become a writer.

What is your earliest memory of literature and reading?

“My mother. Every night she would sit at my side and read aloud ‘Little Red Engine’, Puffin Picture books and ‘Peter Rabbit’.

I learned the pleasures of books from my parents. They gave me the feel of reading, which is very infectious. Once you have it, you pass it on to others and it stays with you always.”

Is writing children’s literature a special gift?  

I believe anyone can do it, if they gave themselves the time to learn. Obviously everyone has been a child once so we’ve all got the experience.”

What defines children as an audience?

“You need to really grasp their world to be able to write stories that are relevant to them. Wear the glasses through which they perceive the world. It is really like the cliché: ‘We all have an inner child in us’.”

What role does literature play in a child’s upbringing?

“It is about exploring the world with your child through literature. Talking them through the possibilities of life in a language they can understand to try and make the world a little less bewildering.”

Is it hard to grasp the world of a child?

“Yes, it can be. Because of our existing ideas and education.

As adults we tend to look at the simplicity of childhood as something trivial. Sometimes we interpret the idea of growing up as diminishing the worth of childhood.

Children have a wonderful mind-set and pursue the world with an honest naivety. The curiosity and naivety of childhood is a terrible thing to lose.”

So we should not underestimate the ‘simple’?

“No. In the world of arts we in fact always look for the simplest way to get from one place to the other. Here the notion of doing something in a simple way is not dismissed just because it is connected to childhood. Sometimes the simple is good. In fact sometimes the simple is ideal.”

Tell me a bit about Hackney?

“Hackney is a truly diverse and interesting neighbourhood. Qualities I now appreciate much more than I did when I was growing up. I regard Hackney, as the finest representative of London as a whole. It showed us how we can, and should be, as a society.”

What would your advice be to aspiring writers?

“Read and daydream. And then read some more, daydream, read again, and daydream. Keep doing that, and the writing will come.”

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