Hi Shauna, and congratulations on the publication of your first book-length collection for children, Saturdays at the Imaginarium (Troika Books, 2020). How long did the book take you to write?
Thanks very much – and good question! I guess the process began five years ago when I spent a wonderful week at the Arvon Foundation with tutors Roger McGough and Rachel Rooney to explore writing poetry for children. Three years later, my manuscript was accepted by Troika. I wasn’t intentionally writing a book during all that time though (in case you think I’m super-slow!), it was more a case of learning and practising and experimenting – and somehow a book emerged.
I know your work from your two chapbooks of poems for adults, Love Bites (Dancing Girl Press, USA, 2019) and Blueprints for a Minefield (Fair Acre Press, 2016). Can you tell us something about your decision to write for children?
I’ve loved children’s books for as long as I can remember. The best ones have a magical quality that I’ve never grown out of. I’m often found loitering in the kids’ section of bookshops pouring over poetry and picture books, so I guess it was inevitable that I’d get a hankering to try to write some. Once I started I couldn’t stop, I have several more book projects on the go already!
Who is your imagined reader for Saturdays at the Imaginarium? Do you have an age of reader in mind? Who do you think will enjoy reading it?
I don’t tend to define readership by age. I guess I write what I write and then once a book goes out into the world, it sort of has a life of its own and whoever connects with it, connects with it. I’ve always loved children’s books that are multi-layered, the ones you keep coming back to at various times in your life and each time you do, you grasp something different in them; I’d like to think (hope!) my writing offers that to some extent. I get such a buzz when I hear about kids enjoying it, and when schools and libraries post online that they’re using it in teaching and creative events. I’ve been getting some lovely feedback and it makes me grin widely!
Can you tell us something about how you found a publisher for your book and what it was like working with Troika?
I had the very lucky experience of them finding me! I’d had poems published in various anthologies and Roger Stevens, who’d edited a couple of them, suggested me to Troika as he knew they were looking for new voices. Working with Troika was a very collaborative process, I had lots of involvement in illustration and design and layout and covers; in everything really, which is pretty rare.
What has it been like launching a book in the middle of a global pandemic?
I won’t lie to you, it’s been tough! While book sales have been burgeoning for established names, it’s an incredibly hard time to enter the market as an emerging author. All the events, book fairs and school and library conferences that would normally get the book seen are gone. But on the upside, the children’s poetry community is a hugely welcoming and supportive one and so it’s a pleasure and a privilege to be part of that group of people and to be able to support each other through good times and bad.
What advice do you have for poets writing for children?
Go for it! And never be tempted ‘talk down’ to children, kids are pin-sharp and capable of far more complex thinking and nuanced emotion than many adults imagine. Read lots of contemporary adult poetry. Hone your poetry skills with the same rigour you’d apply when writing for adults.
Who are some of your favourite poets for children?
I have so many favourite children’s poets. It’s tricky to name just a couple as I’d hate to accidentally leave any friends out! I can safely name a few late favourites though: Shel Silverstein, Spike Milligan, Roald Dahl, Mervyn Peake. Also, it took me a while to discover that Carol Ann Duffy writes for children; her poems sparkle with intelligence, humour and affection. And they absolutely don’t talk down to anyone.
Thanks for an enjoyable interview! Shall we close with a poem from the book to give readers a flavour of what to expect?
My pleasure, thanks for asking me! For sure. Here’s a prose poem, with Jude Wisdom’s wonderful artwork.
Saturdays at the Imaginarium by Shauna Darling Robertson is published by Troika Books.
Shauna Darling Robertson hails from the north-east of England and now lives in the south-west. She’s had lots of different jobs over the years – librarian, copywriter, chef, web editor, charity trustee, researcher, travel agent and more. Her poems for adults and children have been performed by actors, displayed on buses, used to compose music, turned into comic art and made into short films – as well as being widely published in magazines and anthologies. She enjoys working with other writers, artists and musicians to explore different ways of making, sharing and performing poetry.