Tony Mitton

Poet & Children's Writer

About Writing

I first thought of becoming a writer when I was about 9. I was at school. I really enjoyed it when we were asked to write stories or poems. Also, I found that reading and spelling came easily to me and English was mostly my favourite subject. I began to write poems in my own time and in my mid teens kept a book of my best poems written in my best handwriting. When I went to university I kept up this habit and it ran on into my adult life. I often threw away my old poems and would start again, each time trying to write real, proper, grown-up poems worthy of a real poet. But I could rarely get anyone else to show an interest in my work, so from time to time I would try to "give up" writing poetry. This never lasted as the desire, the need, to write poems would always return and nag at me. I decided simply to do it as a hobby and this worked well. I would write poems and keep them in a folder. Now and again I would show them to people who were interested.


It was sharing books with my own children that turned me into a writer for children. By the time my children were born I already knew a lot about children's books and about how children learn to read. This was through my work as a primary school teacher. I spent a lot of time reading to and with my own children, from their first year of life onwards. Often I would play around with the books we were reading, adding things and playing around with the words and ideas, particularly when the books were humorous. I started to write poems just for my own children, sometimes including them in the poems by name, making them the heroes in their own little stories.


Gradually I began to notice that what I was writing for my children seemed to be of as good a standard as texts in published books. It was a small step to think of sending them in to publishers to consider. Things developed for me in the following order :  


1. I sent poems out for publishers to read.


2. At first a lot of publishers said it was really hard to get a volume of poems published, and politely rejected me.


3. I realised a lot of anthologies were being published around this time. So I sent sample poems to the anthologists. Soon they were sending me letters whenever they were planning an anthology (an anthology is a book of poems by a range of different authors). I was soon getting regularly published in anthologies.


4. I was also sending sample picture-book texts to editors, as I also wanted to break into this area of work. Again, it took me some time. But gradually I began to get work accepted. When titles did well this brought requests for more work of a similar nature.


5. I started to send round a rap version of the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Clearly, this was a comedy text, a jokey little poem. Soon Orchard Books had signed a contract on it and asked me to do a sequel title, which became Royal Raps. These did well enough to spawn a series of 10 books in the end. The series stayed in print for over 10 years and is still loaning well from children's libraries in UK.


6. David Fickling (at that time Managing Editor at Scholastic, London UK) saw Big Bad Raps in manuscript and asked to see me. The Raps had already been signed to Orchard by then, so he asked to see some of my other poems. This led to us doing my first proper solo collection of poems for children, PLUM. It did well and got plenty of notice and good reviews, widely.


7. By now schools and libraries were starting to contact me to ask if I'd do visits to read &/or perform my work for children. This soon became part of my routine. It also meant I had to give up my work as a part-time primary school teacher, as there just wasn't the time for everything. This meant that I was, at last, a full-time writer earning enough from my work not to need other work.