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How not to get eaten by a tiger!

4th Sep 20

If you'd like to find out how to avoid being eaten by a tiger, or what blackbirds and bananas have in common, or dangers to avoid at breakfast time...?

Here's AF HARROLD's new collection of poetry, THE BOOK OF NOT ENTIRELY USEFUL ADVICE, illustrated by MINI GREY.

AF HARROLD tells us all about it here, and gives some great ideas to help you get started writing your own 'not entirely useful advice' poem:

Q: Can you tell us a little about The Book of Not Entirely Useful Advice?

A: The Book Of Not Entirely Useful Advice is a book of poems and pictures, by me and Mini Grey, that is designed to not only be entertaining, but also highly informative, useful, educational and a good general defense against tigers.

Q: And why you decided to make a collection of 'not entirely useful' advice?

A: It was time for me to make a new book of poetry, and I looked at all the things I'd written and it seemed there were quite a lot of poems that contained useful advice, and so it scooped them all together and handed them to Mini to work her magic on.

If, since the last book, I'd written lots of poems about broccoli, this would have been The Book of Not Entirely Useful Broccoli instead. So, I think we're lucky I've been in an advice-ful mood these last few years.

Q: How useful is it, really? Especially the bit about being eaten / not eaten by a tiger?

A: A lot of it is very useful. Entirely. Especially the poem that explains exactly how to avoid being eaten by a tiger. If I stop one reader from being eaten by a tiger, because of the advice they've read in our book, then I've done a Good Thing.

Q: What's the best / worst piece of advice you've ever been given?

A: "Don't touch that."

Q: What's your favourite poem, in the collection?

A: If I was allowed to have one favourite, from among all my babies, then it's probably, maybe, perhaps a poem called 'Blackbirds and Bananas', about the similarities and differences between those two things. It's a nice quiet poem that doesn't shout or show off, but just gets on and does what it says it's going to do.

Q: Many of these poems made us smile - which one made you laugh the most?

A: It's rude to laugh at your own jokes, but I think the thing that made me smile most is the index, because an index isn't supposed to have jokes in.

Q: How long has it taken to bring this collection together? Were there any poems that didn't make it?

A: I think the oldest poem in the book was written in 2001, so you could say it took nearly 20 years, but most of the poems were written in the last five or six years.

The first draft of the collection did have more poems in, but a dozen or so were cut to make space and because they didn't quite fit, or to improve the flow or the shape, or for any number of reasons. Sometimes they just weren't good enough.

But most of them will find homes in other books and other places later on. (Sometimes a poet will have an idea for a book and then write lots of poems for that project, this book is of the other sort, a collection made from a whole bunch of random poems written at various times various reasons.)

Q: If children wanted to write their own 'not entirely useful advice' poem based on one of your poems, which of these would be a good place to start?

A: The poem 'The Perils of Breakfast' is good place to start thinking about what other dangers might be at the breakfast table, besides the three that I outline in the poem. That could be a good way to make your own ideas.

On the other hand a poem like 'Jelly is Never Wrong' that has a regular rhythm and shape might be a good place to come up with your own flavours, fitting them into the same shape, effectively writing some more verses of your own.

And on the third hand, you could try your hand at making your own version of the Advice-A-Tron 216, a special machine that makes brand new bits of random advice - we've even given you a blank version of the machine in the book for you to photocopy and print out.

Q: What do you think about Mini Grey's fabulous illustrations? Any favourites? Did we spot a cameo appearance - or three - by you?

A: There is only one word to describe Mini, and that's 'amazing', also, 'brilliant', 'talented', and 'highly wonderful'.

It's hard to pick favourites when you've got such a plethora of marvelousness, but I will hold a hand up and say 'Her tiger at the picnic on page 21 is something very special'.

I was surprised to find myself in the book, but I'd said to Mini 'Here are the poems, do whatever you like with them,' and that's what she choose to do - make a mini-AFH to guide the reader through the poems. I couldn't have asked for a better collaborator to share this book with.

Q: Do you write your best poetry when you're sitting at your desk or when you're out and about?

A: I tend to do it all at my desk. I usually have a notebook in my pocket, and I might occasionally jot an idea down if something comes to me while I'm out, but it's vanishingly rare a whole poem appears in there.

I enjoy typing. I enjoy hearing the keys rattle and I like watching the letters appear on the screen... and then vanishing as I press 'delete'... and I then I have another go. Tip tap type.

Q: What's your favourite escape when you're not writing?

A: I enjoy reading, stories and poems, and I like looking out of the window - from my desk I'm looking at the garden in the sunshine and the bird-feeder covered with blue tits and robins and sometimes a great spotted woodpecker...

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