WRITING Poetry Q&A with Val Harris



Please welcome Val Harris, a poet and my former fellow-SCBWI critique group friend. As most students and grown ups are back to school and work this week, her poem First Day at School is very relatable to us all.


Words & Pictures Editor Gulfem Wormald talks to Val Harris about all things poetry.


Please tell us a bit about yourself as a children’s poet and your work.


During lock-down I began writing rhyming picture books for my grandchildren and I joined SCBWI. I also joined a local SCBWI critique group and enjoyed the help, enthusiasm and advice each person brought to the meetings.


At this time, I had been asked to write a poem for a local school to celebrate a teacher who was leaving. The poem was well received and acted out by the children in her class. I started writing more poems and read them to my grandchildren who marked them out of ten. Some of them were presented to the school they attended and this marked the turning point in my writing history. I began to write poems for children in earnest and it is now my writing priority.


Over the past year I have submitted my poems to various publications and since then I have had poems published in The Caterpillar; The Toy Press; Paperbound Magazine; Little Thoughts Press, and I have several poems flying with the Dirigible Balloon, who published my very first submission. I also have a poem included in the anthology Chasing Clouds.



Please tell us something about yourself that you have not told anyone publicly, some sort of an icebreaker fact about you!


I don’t really have any icebreaker facts – although I once worked for a young prince who is now a king!


Do you write in other genres or for other audience other than children?


I have been a writer for many years – beginning with two children’s novels a long time ago, when manuscripts were written on typewriters and we used stuff called Tippex to correct mistakes. Both were rejected, but I still have the rejection letters which were worthy of becoming keepsakes! Since then, over a span of many years, I have written adult poetry with some modest success, and I also wrote seven adult novels, and self-published four of them. I never initially intended to write for a living, just for the love of it, but I have enjoyed the experience of being published, and the self-publishing journey, and this year has been a particularly successful one as far as children’s poetry is concerned.


Had you always intended to become a poet? If not, what other career plans did you have?


Poetry, in all forms, has always been a great love of mine – both writing and reading it. My Dad was the one who introduced me to it when he bought me A Child's Garden of Verses, by Robert Louis Stevenson and the poems of Charles Causley. He read to me and encouraged me to read across a wide genre from Black Beauty and National Velvet (I was horse mad) to one of my most favourite real-life adventures - The Kon-Tiki Expedition. I learned about the Greek Gods through a book called Once Upon a Time (Children’s Stories from the Classics) and The Arabian Nights from my Grandfather's beautiful old book. They still resonate with me. Dad read me John Betjamin poetry when I was quite young and The Wasteland by T.S Eliot. Not forgetting poems by Louis MacNiece, Christina Rosetti, Maya Angelou and Emily Dickinson. They are poets whose poems I still turn to for inspiration. My dad’s interaction and enthusiasm was catching! I believe this is important for the attention of children with regards to reading. I was fortunate. My Dad was my reading role model. He took me every week to the library to read and borrow books. Ring of Bright Water was a favourite. But he also introduced me to new books and genres. We used to discuss what I liked and didn’t like about a piece of writing – a bit like an early book club. The only time we fell out was when I wanted to write an essay about The Rolling Stones! I was lucky enough to have enthusiastic English teachers when I was at school, who encouraged imagination and who steered us through grammar and punctuation! Like my father they were keen to encourage all kinds of genres. However, the teaching methods back in the fifties and sixties were more rigid and it ​ was harder to open up a discussion with a teacher when many were still working on the old adage of children should be seen not heard. BUT, despite this I am glad I learned some things by rote and repetition – poems, multiplication tables, dates, events etc.


In your experience, what do you think grabs the attention of children with regards to reading? What works and doesn't work for them?


I would advocate just spending time with them and finding out what interests them as the first step – then researching books that relate to their interests, and sharing their thoughts. 


Who are your favourite authors and poets?


Modern day poets and their poetry are more helpful to children of today and how they think and feel. I like the approach and poetry of poets like Joshua Siegal and Brian Moses, Coral Rumble and Carole Bromley, Pie Corbett, Debra Bertulis and Attie Lime, to name but a few. There are many great poetry books for children out in the world, as well as magazines and online resources like The Dirigible Balloon, created by Jonathan Humble, and full of great poem resources for children and teachers alike.


Have you got any advice for poets considering writing for children?


My advice for those wanting to write for children is to just do it. It’s like anything. If you don’t try, you won’t know what lies on the other side. I am just embarking on the journey – I have a long way to go to catch up with those who are dedicated in their work visiting schools and interacting and performing with school children, but just a year of some simple successes has propelled me forward with a determination to overcome any fears or doubts about facing a classroom! Here’s a little poem I wrote for my first visit.




I’ve got my bag It’s full of books. My hair’s been cut, Hope no-one looks.


My tummy’s turning, Knees are trembly, I’ve been asked to speak At school assembly.


A sea of faces And expectation Meet my eye And presentation.


A daunting debut, Can you guess? It’s my very first day As a poet guest.

*Header image by Tita Berredo. All other images by Val Harris




Val Harris writes poetry for children and has had her poems published in several children’s publications including: The Caterpillar, Paperbound Magazine, The Toy Press, Little Thoughts Press, and she has multiple poems flying on the Dirigible Balloon, an online poetry resource for schools and individuals. Val lives near Farnham and has been writing for many years, but is new to this poetry genre. She is available for school visits, book events and bookish talks. Her debut collection is currently available from Amazon.co.uk and Ko-fi.com Email: valliharris@btinternet.com Instagram: @valpoet Twitter: @dragontripper Val Poet (website coming shortly)


1 comment:

  1. Read and enjoyed! Also, wonder if Val knows of a book combining two loves — Poetry and the Kon-tiki Expedition — in Ian Serraillier’s The Ballad of Kon-tiki (OUP, 1952).


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