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Matt Goodfellow on Being Me

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Matt Goodfellow is well known and loved for his engaging poetry collections Chicken on the Roof and Bright Bursts of Colour. His first foray into picturebook writing has resulted in the captivating and heart-warming Shu Lin’s Grandpa. Matt has previously collaborated with Liz Brownlee and Roger Stevens on a collection of poems focusing on feelings and relationships, The Same Inside: Poems about Empathy and Friendship and later Be The Change : Poems to help you save the world . This new collaboration with Liz and Laura Mucha shares more emotive writing, with a focus on wellbeing that is of timely comfort in a difficult time for children and adults everywhere. This is the first poetry book to directly address children’s mental health and well-being.

When Liz Brownlee, Laura Mucha and I began writing a collection of poems that focused on children’s mental health, we were certain we wanted to create a book which provided a starting point, in homes and classrooms, for often difficult discussions about the ups and downs of life. We didn’t want to shy away from talking about sadness, despair and loss, but similarly wanted there to be light and hope running right through the collection.

In approaching the writing of the poems, we discussed themes and issues we thought it was important to cover and then set to work. 

Matt Goodfellow

Personally, in writing my share, I reflected on both my own childhood experiences and those of the pupils I encountered in my 12 years as a primary school teacher. 

My mum and dad divorced when I was a baby and there was a whole heap of animosity between them. Both parents started new relationships – and as the years progressed, with my sister and I living between two houses which never really felt like home, I began to resent the stepparents. And I’m quite sure they resented me! 

Moving schools a couple of times exacerbated the slightly spacey feeling of no continuity until I arrived at a different high school to all my junior school friends as my mum had moved to a new house. I knew nobody – and started again as the outsider. I remember feeling cheated. And incredibly angry about the cards I’d been dealt. 

My mum (who died tragically young at just 48) was a complicated person who carried an awful lot of baggage from her own childhood – she was extremely loud and brash yet was heart-breakingly vulnerable. I was aware of this and remember feeling so helpless when she was sad. My poem ‘A Thought’ is about her. 

I also wanted to write about the lives of children I’d encountered in my time as a teacher. ‘Michael’ was a child in one of my classes:

I find the process of writing poems to be cathartic – and what is poetry if not a way of trying to make sense of the world and our place within it?

I hope children and adults who read the book are able to recognise themselves within the pages and find comfort in the knowledge that we all carry things that affect our mental health – but that there are people who want to help. 

I think the 45 poems in Being Me reflect the strange, maddening glory of being alive. 

My royalties from the collection will be donated to the Tiny Changes charity who work tirelessly to support the minds of young people with the aim that every child has the opportunity to lead a happy and fulfilled life as they grow into adulthood. 

You can listen to Matt discussing his poetry in an interview with Nikki Gamble In the Reading Corner