James Norcliffe was born and educated in Greymouth. His family moved to Christchurch when he was still quite young and he has lived there since, apart from brief stays in China and Borneo. He is a well-known author, having published numerous poems and novels. As well as being a writer, James is also a teacher and editor. He has received a number of prizes, as well as important fellowships. He currently lives in Church Bay, Lyttelton, with his wife Joan. His novels for children, The Loblolly Boy, The Loblolly Boy and the Sorcrer and his new novel, Felix and the Red Rats, have all been shorted listed for the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards. He recently published a collection of poetry for children called Packing Your Bag for Mars. James often works with children.
My name is Henry Eglinton and I am eleven years old. I was born in Christchurch and lived there for most of my life with my mum Devonie, my dad Tim and my two brothers. I am currently in Year 7 at Medbury School. Outside of school my passions are cricket, tennis, football and reading.
1. Where do you get your ideas from for your books and poems?
From all over the place. I do live a lot in my imagination – I think I might have the storyteller gene – and finding a story and plotting it with characters and incident is such fun. I sometimes say it’s a way of allowing me to play as an adult. Poems, too, although these are often sparked by a word, or an image or by something somebody says to me. Here it’s more playing with words – their shapes, meanings and sounds and the way all these things pattern together.
2. How old were you when you decided you would be a poet?
I was quite young. I remember telling some older cousins on the West Coast when they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up that I wanted to be a pote. I was so young I neither knew how to spell it nor pronounce it.
3. What would you be if you weren’t a poet?
Well, I’m not just a poet. I’m already a lot of other things. Possibly, if I had the skill, a musician or perhaps a restaurant critic.
4. What is your favourite all-time book?
So many. As a child it was either Treasure Island or The Island in the Pines (by Elleston Trevor) a fantasy about English animals (squirrels mainly) living on an island and at war with ferrets, stoats and weasels. Now I see this book as an allegory about the 2nd World War, but that never occurred to me as a child. As a grown up, I regularly return every few years to Jane Austen and any of her delicious books. More recently the books of a Japanese writer Murakami and/or A.S.Byatt – The Children’s Book. Just great.
5. Who is your favourite poet?
Again, so many. Often somebody I’ve been reading recently who makes me look at things in a new way. Recently I’ve been thinking about prose poems and looking at James Tate, an American I heard read a few years ago, and an English poet Simon Armitage. Both of these guys write prose poems that set off crackers in your head.
6. How long does it usually take you to write a poem?
Sometimes a few minutes, usually much longer. Some poems never seem to get finished and you revisit them and tinker or reshape for months.
7. What do you like to do in your spare time?
Spend time with friends and family, go for walks and talks with Joan, read, write, try to turn my garden into a poem, listen to music, puzzle with really difficult cryptic crosswords, follow half a dozen blogs… Oh, did I mention food and drink?
Thanks James and Henry for a great interview. James has several poems in A Treasury Of NZ Poems including ‘Packing a Bag for Mars.’