Life lessons: Joseph Coelho shares what he has learned from his life.

May 8, 2024 | News

The current UK Children’s Laureate was born in London, raised there and wrote his first poetry – about a bear performing – in the 8th grade of secondary school. Writing led to creative workshops and performance poetry in schools. His debut poetry collection, published in 2014, was followed by many critically-acclaimed picture books, poetry collections, and novels for younger audiences. Coelho judges the Govia Thameslink national poetry competition for kids.

What is your morning ritual?

I am grateful for everything I have. I also reflect on my day and the things that I am excited about. Coffee is important too.

What makes you angry

We live in a clickbait culture, where everything terrible is pushed into our eyes. I choose not to check social media because the world is full of wonderful things.

I would have loved to be a poet if I hadn’t been a poet.

Archaeologist I studied archaeology in university and spent some time digging up pots. I joke that archaeology is not profitable, so I became an author.

The habit I have found most useful in my life is…

Strong work ethic I’ve worked my whole life. I did paper rounds as a child and worked all through university doing everything from brain scans to working in a gymnasium and selling advertising. The hustling attitude has served me well. I’m entering a phase of my life where I can be more intentional with what I do.

The habit that I’ve successfully gotten rid of…

It’s normal to be stressed out. Little things like realising your jaw has clenched over hours. I’m better at noticing this and taking action to de-stress and give myself space and time. I now give myself time to relax on the weekend, something I never did before.

What is your source of joy?

I love meeting young adults. Many of them want a taste of what it’s really like to be an author. They want to write right now, to be published in the next few days. I am often surprised and delighted to see little kids support each other without prompting. It’s for this reason that I think poetry writing competitions can be so beneficial, as they give kids the chance to express themselves, to share their voices, and to realize that their words are powerful.

What do you do if things get tough?

I love cycling and getting out to use my body. During lockdown, I bought rollerblades and felt as if I was a child again. This was a big discovery. Writing, of course. I keep a notebook on me at all times and try to write each day.

The book that I wish everyone read is…

Stop! is a beautiful picture book. That’s not my story! Smriti halls, illustrated Erika Meza. A little Indian girl navigates traditional fairytales but does not see herself in them. This is a story about a girl who takes charge and creates her own stories. It is relevant to everyone, in terms of empowerment and how and where you see yourself reflected.

I used to joke that archaeology was not profitable, so I became a writer

What is the biggest thing that you have changed your mind about?

I used to be very cautious as a child, thinking it would keep me safe. Now I know that it is anything but. We live in a world where things are constantly changing and developing. If you don’t want to change and develop with it, you may find yourself left behind.

What keeps you awake?

I have periods where I can sleep really well. When I don’t sleep well, the things I find that keep me up are usually silly, insignificant things that I feel that I haven’t done or done poorly.

My parents taught…

My work ethic and my creative freedom. My bedroom was a place where I could play and hang things on the wall. It has helped me a lot with my writing.

I believe that…

The spiral nature of life means that similar people, situations and events will recur. I keep a journal, and write a few sentences every day to see patterns. It’s fascinating and otherworldly but it makes perfect sense. The universe, with its spirals and circles, is like that. Why shouldn’t we live our lives in the same way?

I would like to tell my younger selves…

Don’t worry so much. It took me a while to realize my own agency and start taking risks. You can always ask forgiveness, as long you don’t hurt anyone and as long as your actions are good.

The Southern, Thameslink, and Great Northern railways will be judging the Poetry In Motion Competition for children aged 5-13. Ten winners’ poems will be displayed in stations and on trains throughout the rail network during summer. Enter here before 10 May.

Images: Peter Alvey, on behalf of Govia Thameslink Railway

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