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A. F. Harrold - Author
A.F. Harrold is an English poet (1975-present). He writes and performs for adults and children, in cabaret and in schools, in bars and in basements, in fields and indoors. He was Glastonbury Festival Website's Poet-In-Residence in 2008, and Poet-In-Residence at Cheltenham Literature Festival in 2010. He won the Cheltenham All Stars Slam Championship in 2007 and has had his work on BBC Radio 4, Radio 3 and BBC7. He is active in schools work, running workshops and slams and doing performances at ungodly hours of the morning, and has published several collections of poetry. He is the owner of many books, a handful of hats, a few good ideas and one beard. He spends his time showing off on stage, writing poems and books, and stroking his beard (it helps churn the ideas). He is the author of the Fizzlebert Stump series and the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medal longlisted The Imaginary, illustrated by Emily Gravett. The Imaginary is the winner of the 7-11 category of the UKLA Awards. A.F Harrold lives in Reading with a stand-up comedian and two cats.
A Q&A with the author
1. What are your 5 favourite books, and why? Five books I like (the word ‘favourite’ is invidious and unrealistic, of course): Delight by J.B. Priestley (a collection of perfect tiny essays about things that made him happy); Gentleman Jim by Raymond Briggs (the only one of his books I had as a kid, and a wonderful sad-hopeful story); The Green Knight by Iris Murdoch (this could almost stand for any of her novels, odd unfashionable monsters that I adore); The Story Giant by Brian Patten (the poet’s lightness of touch makes this collection of folk (and other) tales a melt in the mouth read); Memorial by Alice Oswald (a marvellously moving piece of war poetry, a translation of the Iliad told as a list of the dead, simple and hugely effective).
2. Who are your 5 favourite authors/illustrators, and why? Again, no favourites, per se, but at various times in my life the following five have been important to me: Barbara Firth (the greatest illustrator of bears in children’s books full stop, no argument); J.R.R. Tolkien (for, almost accidentally, allowing us a glimpse into his lifelong private world-building exercise); Norman MacCaig (one of the great poets of nature and time and thought – never fussy and complex, but always sharp, charming and short); Iris Murdoch (for her ungainly, unlikely, unworldly novels of love and philosophy; Jill Bennett (I have a print of her drawing of the BFG (from Danny Champion of the World) on the wall by my desk, which is so many times more mysterious and fascinating than Blake’s BFG that became the standard).
3. What was your favourite book when you were a child? Let’s plump for The Hobbit. It was a book that certainly hooked my imagination and tangled me up in its world. I went to sleep listening to the tapes of it.
4. Who is your favourite hero in a book? How about the boy in The Witches simply for what he does and what he goes through and how he ends up. There’s pluck for you.
5. Who is your favourite villain in a book? I have a soft spot for both Mr Gum and Mr Twit. Every villain needs a good beard, surely?
6. If you could be a character from a book who would you be? I’d like to think I could be Professor Calculus, but I’d probably discover I was Thompson or Thomson.
7. If you could recommend just one book for everyone to read what would it be? I wouldn’t suggest there’s any book everyone ought to read, but one that I’d happily share out is Spike Milligan’s Silly Verse For Kids. It would take a sour puss indeed to not find something in there to raise a grin.
8. Who or what was your biggest influence in deciding to become a writer? My inability to think of anything else to do. To make poems was the only thing that felt right. Every now and then one of them isn’t terrible. And now stories seem to happen as well.
9. What inspired you to write your latest book? The Imaginary came about because of two thoughts that occurred around the same time. One was the image of an imaginary boy stood by the side of the road after an accident. He was on his own for the first time. He was beginning to fade. The other was a thought of a canteen, a greasy spoon sort of place, full of big blokes with ‘I love Mum’ tattoos and mugs of builder’s tea and cigarettes on the go. A foreman type walks in with a clipboard and says, ‘Little Billy Jones needs a friend …’ and one of the hairy Neanderthal-ish chaps gets up and says, ‘Okay boss,’ and goes out the door, squeezing himself into whatever shape Billy Jones wants his imaginary friend to be. So, an agency for imaginary friends. Neither of the those images/pictures/thoughts makes it unchanged into the book, but they were the initial spurs.
10. When did you start writing? I began writing poetry seriously (and awfully) as a teenager, but I’d had a typewriter as a kid and banged away on it, though I’ve no idea and no memory of what I was writing.
11. If someone wanted to be a writer what would be your number one tip for them? Just keep on with it. The more you do it, the better you’ll get. And read lots.