Interview with poet Nigel Tetley

Poet Nigel Tetley joins me today to chat about
his collection of poetry, It’s a Funny
Old World
Welcome, Nigel. Please tell us a little
bit about yourself.
It started with
a telephone call. In 2001, another teacher I had got to know in a neighbouring
school called me one November evening to ask me if I would agree to write some
children’s stories for a new numeracy project that she wanted to pilot in her
own primary school. Her idea was to teach basic mathematical ideas through the
medium of story. To this day, I do not know what made her think of me because,
as I told her at the time, I had never written creatively in my entire life. I
had only ever written irrelevant, boring, academic stuff at university, and I
hadn’t even been particularly good at that. My only writing experience had been
on philosophical and religious ideas, and now, as a teacher, the only writing I
ever did was when I was either marking homework or churning out reports (which,
all the evidence suggested, nobody read anyway). I didn’t have an imaginative
life, I told her. I was a teacher, after all. She would have none of it,
however, and so, if only to get her off my back, I reluctantly decided to give
it a go. The moment I started was one of total astonishment. I felt that I had
come home.
The numeracy
project drew to a close, but I carried on, and I have not been able to stop;
nor do I want to. Like a true addict, I don’t care about my dependency. All
that matters to me now is my next fix. I have since branched out from numeracy
topics to a diverse range of subjects and to a broader range of readers.
Please tell us about your current
It’s a Funny Old World is a collection of twenty poems written
primarily for teenage readers who regard themselves as reluctant readers. The twenty
pieces are short and accessible enough not to be threatening, but broad enough
in their range of topics to stand a good chance of hooking the reader in.
What inspired you to write this book?
In my job as a
teacher, I am continually confronted with the fact that most young people have
a purely functional understanding of reading; that the one and only purpose of
reading is to gain necessary information. The idea that one can approach a text
in exactly the same way that one can instinctively approach, say, a
piece of music, for example, is alien to most young people, in my experience.
This book is a small attempt to change that mindset. Thus, the book is
primarily for those who think that reading has got nothing to do with
Excerpt from It’s a Funny Old World:
am not who I am,
I am who I’m not,
a living and stark contradiction,
express what is true,
my life is a lie,
a fact even though I’m a fiction,
move that I make
an act of pretence,
sham from beginning to end,
sheer fabrication,
A glorified
I play Let’s Pretend,
is no human drama
cannot take part in,
perform every role unrestricted,
alone in my room,
no sign of myself,
a tenant now long since evicted,
essence is merely
bundle of roles with no core,
identity void
Of a real,
solid self,
collection of parts, nothing more,
when I use the word ‘I’
the course of a script,
is meant by this pronoun’s grammatical span?
I me when I act or somebody else?
who is now speaking:
mask or the man?
What exciting story are you working on next?
Ten Finger Rhymes (to teach the first five cardinal and
ordinal numbers).
When did you first consider yourself a
I have never
considered myself to be a writer. After all, Shakespeare was a writer, and I’m
no Shakespeare. What I am is somebody who loves to play with the English
language in the hope that I will entice others to do the same.
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s
your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find
time to write?
I am a teacher,
and so writing is just a hobby for me, but one of the great things about writing
is that it is a hobby that you can take anywhere. For example, I wrote the
words to one of my pieces when stuck in a traffic jam. I wrote another during
a free period at work when I should have been marking, and I wrote yet another during
a school staff meeting. That’s the beauty of writing. You can do it anywhere,
anytime, under any conditions, and nobody ever knows what you’re up to. It is
the greatest form of escapism, ever.
What would you say is your interesting
writing quirk?
I never write anything
down until the whole piece is finished in my head.
As a child, what did you want to be when
you grew up?
I wanted to be
a musician. Thankfully, the world was spared that particular affliction.
Anything additional you want to share
with the readers?
My earliest
memory is that of writing out each of the twenty-six letters of the English
Alphabet, over and over again, and each time being mesmerised at how the shape
of each one exactly matched the sound that it made. That perfect
correspondence is one that still bewitches me to this day. How is it that each
letter looks like its sound? (If you haven’t ever noticed this
before, go back and have a fresh look. You’re in for the shock of your life.)
Thanks for stopping by today! All the
best with your writing.

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