Allan has been delighting children of all ages for more than thirty years. Classic characters like Burglar Bill and The Jolly Postman have become firm favourites with a generation of children who are now reading them to their own offspring. Innovative, funny and moving, his work encompasses storybooks, picture books, easy readers, joke books and novels as well as poems.
Many of his books were collaborations with his wife, Janet, an illustrator, and they quickly became one of Britain’s leading author/illustrator teams.
Influenced by comics and cartoons, their perfect partnership went on to produce masterpieces including Peepo!, Each Peach Pear Plum and The Baby’s Catalogue.
Janet sadly died in 1994, but Allan has gone on to work with other illustrators and is still producing lots of new books.
Allan’s work has been recognised by many of the top awards in children’s books, including The Red House Children’s Book Award for The Jolly Postman, The Man Who Wore All of His Clothes and The Pencil.
Interview with Alan Ahlberg
What kind of poems and stories do you write?
I enjoy writing different kinds of things so it isn’t just prose and verse, it’s also long and short, it’s happy and sad, books with letters in them, books with holes in them. It entertains me to try and make a different book each time. I don’t always succeed, but that’s what interests me.
When did you start writing poems?
When I was twelve, I enjoyed writing when I was at school. My handwriting was poor, my spelling was awful, I didn’t punctuate very well so I didn’t get very good marks, but I enjoyed writing and I did write the odd poem then. But I guess more effectively I began writing poems twenty-odd years after that in my thirties and I began to find things happening in schools that interested me and I found instead of writing stories I found that what I had to say turned into a little poem or verse.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Many of the poems I’ve written about school life were from things I saw and heard in schools, things that children told me or things that I remembered when I was a child in school. But it’s also true that things just pop into your head or that you make things up that never happened, they can be part of poems and verses as well. Finally I would say that in a way I don’t actually want to know where I get my ideas from. I just get on with it by instinct and see what happens.
How long does it take you to write a poem?
Yes a common question, how long does it take to write a poem? The easy answer is of course, “How long is a piece of string?” Some poems have only four lines some poems go on for ten pages in my case. I write stories in verse at times. So I think the quickest would be five or ten minutes and you never have to change it. It all comes out in one single bit. In other cases I’ve had to keep poems for years because I had three quarters of a poem, but I couldn’t find the ending or there was a bit that wasn’t any good.
I’d like to be a writer, what should I do?
If you feel like becoming some sort of a writer you have to find a way of getting the words down on paper in some form or other, preferably regularly in a place that you go to, a door that you close, with a note on the door saying “Do not disturb, writer at work” and keep doing it and fail and do it again and fail and hope that at some point you get good enough at it to satisfy yourself and then maybe somebody else.
Best thing about being an author:
Well, it’s not bad really. I just get up in the morning, go down into my little shed in the garden, sit there on my own and try to write stories. I write them, post them to my publisher, he sends me some money and I go out and spend it. So really I’ve got nothing to complain about. I used to be a teacher – and that was much harder.
If I hadn’t been a writer …
I would have been a footballer if I hadn’t been a writer. In fact, I would have been a footballer if I had been an author if I’d been good enough.