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Ian McMillan Interview

Posted on 27 May 2004. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to poet, broadcaster, lyricist and dramatist Ian McMillan, who currently presents 'The Verb' for Radio 3

Tell us something about your background.

Blimey! Well, I was born in 1956 and I’ve been a full-time writer, broadcaster and performer since 1981; I’ve written books of poems for children and adults as well as stage plays, radio plays, lyrics for musicals. Currently I’m presenting The Verb on BBC Radio 3, a weekly programme of new writing and performance; writing weekly columns for the Barnsley Chronicle and The Yorkshire Post, writing a play for Chol Theatre Group and gigging and doing workshops all over the place, either on my own or with The Angel Brothers, a ‘world music’ band or Tony Husband, cartoonist of the year. I’m always trying to expand the range I things I do, both in writing and performance.

How did you start writing?

I’ve always wanted to write; I wrote a lot at junior school, encouraged by wonderful teachers, and it always seemed like the most natural thing to do

What poets have been a formative influence on your work?

Pete Morgan was a great influence and example, and people like Ted Hughes showed me that you can come from Yorkshire and be a poet. Shakespeare’s my main man!

How did you get your agent/first publisher/commission?

My agent came to see me at a gig in Kidderminster, and he now organises me completely; my first poem was published in the school magazine…I can’t recall my first commission…I’ve tried to remember, I promise!<br>

Do you have a writing routine? A place that’s special?

I don’t have a routine..I try and write every day, and mornings are best. I either write into my notebook wherever I happen to be, and then I work at the kitchen table on my laptop. I don’t like silence!

Who are your favourite writers and why?

That changes every day! Today I would say the great New York poet Frank O’Hara, who teaches me that I can write about anything, the old Northumbrian poet Basil Bunting who knows so much about how a poem should sound, and the American novelist Saul Bellow, who I’m just rediscovering. I read all the time, so ask me tomorrow and I’d say something else!

Do you ever get blocked?

No, I never do! You don’t hear about plumbers getting blocked! I feel that ‘blocked’ gives a kind of dignity to it. If you have to write something then you write it; so always write, every day, until it becomes the most natural thing in the world…

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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Comments by other Members

roovacrag at 20:30 on 27 May 2004  Report this post
Good interview.
As he lives not many miles from me , it was was a good to read what he had to say.

I agreed writing is natural thing to do.Something you start at School.

Enjoyed reading it and ,well biased as he comes from Yorkshire.

Great interview.
xx Alice

tinyclanger at 23:01 on 27 May 2004  Report this post
'you can come from Yorkshire and be a poet'

Thank God, I was beginning to wonder..;-)

I do enjoy reading these interviews, but I often find them disheartening, too, in that they all make it sound like such a breeze...no doubts? no self-doubt? no bad times? no piles of rejections? no struggling for appreciation/an audience?
I guess I'm being unfair and that's what was happening up until 1981?

I suppose I read these looking for some sort of identification -
"See, xxxx was just like me, once! If they can do it, so can I! "
but I don't often feel it, I just end up discouraged...


bjlangley at 09:03 on 28 May 2004  Report this post
"Crust Almighty" that's excellent.

Good interview too.

Mickey at 13:55 on 28 May 2004  Report this post
"Crust Almighty and the Holy Toast"?

Jim Beard at 13:52 on 29 May 2004  Report this post
Writing may be the most natural thing to do but we were not all blessed with the right environment from an early age and have therefore a lot of catching up to do. I too understand tc's sense of discouragement and am desperately trying to atone for the sins of a misspent youth.

tinyclanger at 17:39 on 29 May 2004  Report this post
Yes, Anna, thanks. That was perhaps more of the struggle and self determination that I was thinking about!
Just something that told me it was once hard for these folks who have now 'made it', just like its hard for those of us who are here trying..and that it's ALWAYS hard unless you're obviously superbly mega, mega talented right from the beginning...

I'm beginning to think that the best way to go, (the only way for a poet?), would be an MA in Creative Writing, so that one can get immersed in the world of writing, and maybe build up a few contacts, but I just can't afford it...

Hum ho, just feeling glum. Ignore me! Thanks for the re-direction, though.

TheGodfather at 16:42 on 22 July 2004  Report this post
Being super-mega talented from birth, I don't feel much like you do. Ha! No, I apologize for being cavalier. I know I'm nothing in the literary world for now. I also am looking for people with whom I can identify, people from whom I can hear the struggles of getting published, of writing, of being confident in your process.

Thanks for the interview. I always enjoy hearing success stories, however daunted I may feel afterwards.


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