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Last Updated: Monday, 11 June 2007, 12:48 GMT 13:48 UK
Michael Rosen's life of rhyme

By Mark Savage
BBC News entertainment reporter

Michael Rosen
The author is influenced by Spike Milligan and DH Lawrence
Michael Rosen has been named Children's Laureate, 33 years after he became a children's author "by accident".

"I wanted to write about my childhood, in the voice of a child, as a way of exploring who I was and where I came from," he told the BBC.

"I imagined adults would be interested, but publishers told me they wouldn't.

"Once I was in the children's book world, I never got out."

Rosen has had a supremely successful career since his first collection of poems, Mind Your Own Business, was published in 1974.

He has been involved with more than 100 books in one way or another. Among his most popular titles are We're Going on a Bear Hunt, Quick, Let's Get Out of Here and Don't Put Mustard in the Custard.

We're Going On A Bear Hunt
We're Going on a Bear Hunt won a Smarties Best Book award
The poems, which draw on his own experiences of childhood and family life, are gleefully silly, normally nonsensical, and frequently laugh-out-loud funny.

One of his personal favourites, Chocolate Cake, finds the author as a young boy creeping down to the kitchen in the dead of night to feast on cake - only to be found out the next morning because of his "dirty, sticky face".

Poetry rituals

Rosen was born in 1946 to Connie and Harold Rosen, two teachers in Pinner, Middlesex.

At school, he took exception to the "semi-religious" way poetry was taught.

"There was a ritual about it," he says. "Some people were made to feel a failure because they couldn't learn it."

You can have a take-over and a make-over
A take-away but not a make-away
You could get away with a take-over
You can have a take-off and a get-away
Or make off with a take-away
The make-over could be tacky
The take-off could be wacky
Which would make you wacko
That's barking. Not barko.
Michael Rosen, commissioned for BBC Radio 4's Word 4 Word

Perhaps as a result, the young Rosen was more interested in medicine and the theatre than a career as a writer.

On leaving school, he went to Middlesex Hospital Medical School to train as a doctor, before transferring to Wadham College, Oxford University.

There, he switched courses to study English language and literature, and became heavily involved with the institution's various drama societies.

He even wrote a play, Backbone, which was performed at London's Royal Court Theatre in 1969.

But Rosen was also something of a trouble-maker, becoming one of the leaders of the Oxford Revolutionary Socialist Students - who famously occupied the university's Clarendon Building in the summer of 1968.

After graduation, he joined the BBC, working on children's programmes like Play School and Jackanory, before taking a course at the National Film School and coming across "the freakiest people I've ever met."

Michael Rosen
Rosen's work includes poetry, short stories, picture books and novels
Throughout this period, he continued to write poetry - having first put pen to paper at the age of 16.

"The first thing I wrote was a poem about a moth," he says.

"It was sort of an imitation of a poem by DH Lawrence about a bat."

His first collection was published in 1974, at which point, he says: "It all fused: The writing, the performing, the popular audience. It was just incredibly exhilarating."

He has hardly looked back since, although he has handed over illustration duties to artists like Helen Oxbury and Quentin Blake because "I am absolute rubbish at drawing".

Tragic loss

Rosen says his best advice for budding poets is to "write about something that matters to you".

"That does not mean it has to be something very serious or sad - it could be something very funny, or very odd or a bit mysterious. As long as it matters to you."

While the author has mostly kept his own work light-hearted, he was compelled to turn to darker material following the death of his 18-year-old son from meningitis in 1999.

Michael Rosen's Sad Book opens with a picture of the author, who has a wide grin spread across his face.

"This is me being sad," it says - before explaining how people cover up their grief to make others feel better.

Michael Rosen
Rosen is also a broadcaster, hosting Radio 4's Word of Mouth
Although it was written for children, the book was praised by The Guardian as a "poignant and moving" account of how to deal with loss "for people of any age".

The English Association gave it the Exceptional Award for the Best Children's Illustrated Book of 2004.

Outside writing, Rosen has a parallel career as a broadcaster, and currently hosts the BBC Radio 4 programme Word of Mouth, which explores language and how it is used.

In the 1990s, he returned to education, getting an MA and a PhD.

Rosen also lectures at London's Metropolitan University, and travels schools and libraries to encourage young children to read and write poems of their own.

"It's an interesting and peculiar life," he says.

"When I go to bed at night, quite often I have no idea what I'm doing the following day."

Rosen is chosen for laureate role
11 Jun 07 |  Entertainment
Quentin Blake: A life in pictures
31 Dec 04 |  Entertainment


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